Science Speaks - Blog by ISAAA

ISAAA Conducts 3rd ASCA for Capacity Enhancement of International Scientists, Regulators, Beneficiaries

By Zabrina J. Bugnosen
December 16, 2020

ISAAA and its partners recently completed its conduct of the 3rd Asian Short Course on Agribiotechnology, Biosafety Regulation and Communication (ASCA). The course was conducted online via Zoom for four days, which enabled participants from 12 different countries from North America, South America, and Asia and Oceania to attend in the comfort of their own offices and homes.

ASCA is a series of training-workshop course that aimed to capture audiences who are interested to learn about the entire value chain related to research, development, commercialization and trade of living modified organisms or LMOs. The first ASCA was held in Malaysia in 2018 and was spearheaded by Dr. Mahaletchumy Arujanan, ISAAA Global Coordinator and Executive Director of the Malaysian Biotechnology Information Center (MABIC). It was a platform created to enhance the capacity building of Asian policymakers and regulators in modern agribiotechnology. The second ASCA was co-organized by MABIC, ISAAA and the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), and was held in December 2019 in the Philippines. It involved lectures, practical lab exercises, and field trips designed for the policymakers, researchers, regulators and some members of the media to gain first-hand knowledge about the process of developing biotechnology products. For its third year, ISAAA, MABIC and SEARCA partnered with the U.S. Soybean Export Council and the U.S. Grains Council with special support from CropLife Asia.

The third ASCA was conducted online as a response to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic which limited international travel among the participants, resources persons and organizers. While the course was originally designed as a face-to-face event, the organizers opted to maximize the opportunity of using an online platform to capture a wider range of audiences while also being able to invite a pool of international scientific resource persons. By the time that the course was conducted, ISAAA and its partners were able to gather 43 participants from the countries of Australia, Canada, Brazil, Japan, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Mexico, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan and Myanmar. The diversity of resource persons, which most of the participants hailed as one of the strongest points of the course, came from Singapore, Australia, Spain, United Kingdom, Philippines, and Argentina.

The online course was conducted in a span of four days with the participants spending 3 hours per day online, from November 23 to 26, 2020 via Zoom. Sessions 1 and 2 opened with a brief introduction about the modern biotechnology methods of genetic engineering and genome editing for both plants and animals. Resource speakers for Session 1 included Dr. Maribel Zaporteza and Dr. Ma. Genaleen Diaz from the University of the Philippines Los Banos, Dr. Jimmy Botella from the University of Queensland, Australia and Dr. Martin Lema from the University of Quilmes in Argentina. This was followed by nine participants gave their 10-minute presentations about their respective country’s biotechnology status in terms of research, development and commercialization of biotech products, as well as the implementation of their respective national biotechnology frameworks. Session 3 focused on the environmental, and food and feed safety assessments and regulations related to both assessments. The session focused on discussions about international regulatory standards such as the OECD guidelines, CODEX Alimentarius, IPPC, and the OIE delivered by Dr. Saturnina Halos of the Department of Agriculture, and Dr. Ernelea Cao of the University of the Philippines Diliman. Dr. Glenn Gregorio of SEARCA also talked about the SEARCA’s experience on the academe-industry-government partnership in agricultural biotechnology to achieve food security goals, while Dr. Gabriel Romero of the Philippine Industry Association provided an overview of genome editing policy approaches from the industry perspective.

Session 4 allowed the participants a glimpse on the science and potentials of new breeding technologies, starting off with another presentation from Dr. Martin Lema about the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and how it relates to national systems when constructing and implementing their own biosafety frameworks. Dr. Ibon Cancio of the University of Basque County in Spain provided an interesting presentation about the advantages of digital sequencing information when it comes to accessibility and benefit-sharing, while the topic about the science and applications of gene drives was discussed by Dr. Isabelle Coche of the Outreach Network for Gene Drive Research in UK. Session 5 focused on science communication, a field that ISAAA has been excelling at and promoting in order to get the message of biotechnology’s benefits using science-based facts across to farmers, consumers and other beneficiaries. The ISAAA team led the session by discussing the key elements in communicating agribiotechnology delivered by Dr. Mahaletchumy Arujanan, and how to optimize social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and photography to capture a diverse audience when communicating science and biotechnology were delivered by Kristine Grace Tome, Clement Dionglay and Eric John Azucena, all members of ISAAA’s Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology. Ms. Ma. Aileen Garcia of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) also provided IRRI’s in-depth experience in promoting Golden Rice in the Philippines through science communication.

The course ended by asking the participants to evaluate with their experience. 79% of the participants accomplished the online evaluation and more than half of them expressed that they will recommend the course to their colleagues. They indicated that the strong points of the course included the appropriateness of the topics that were discussed, the selection of the resource speakers, and how the course was organized. Because the course was conducted online, some of them suggested to revert back to a face-to-face setting to allow more interaction among the participants and the resource speakers. This may be possible once the COVID-19 pandemic is over and international travel restrictions are lifted.

ISAAA will continue its advocacy to promote agricultural biotechnology across the globe, and will not limit itself to advocating only genetic modification of plants but will start to explore animal biotechnology and new breeding techniques as well. The initiative comes from having to keep up with the fast-changing advances in agricultural biotechnology. To know more about ISAAA’s future plans and events, subscribe to the Crop Biotech Update and follow ISAAA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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