Research on increasing rice production through biotechnology

Food security has long been one of the major interests in the Sultanate that requires great and extensive effort to achieve and maintain it, especially our staple food, rice. In His Majesty’s Titah on the occasion of his 62nd birthday on July 15 2008, it was mentioned that Brunei Darussalam should not be dependent on other countries for rice supply; we should have our own strategic plan to ensure food security.

Brunei Agriculture Department aims to increase rice production in the Sultanate to 60% by 2015. More efforts have been carried out to achieve this goal which includes cultivating new hybrid line like paddy Laila, which is known to grow into maturity faster than some traditional paddy cultivars that have been cultivated in Brunei like Pusu.

With this urgency to ensure food security in mind, I was interested to do an undergraduate final research project related to paddy. It started with a simple aim which was to increase rice production and with the advice and guidance from Associate Professor Dr Kushan Tennakoon, we came up with the study on the effect of salinity on growth performance of paddy Laila and Pusu.

From the undergraduate research, we found out that paddy Laila showed better resistance to salinity compared to paddy Pusu. From here, with the knowledge, an optimistic but yet significant project research for my graduate study was proposed. With the support, advices and guidance from both my supervisors, Associate Professor Dr Hjh Zohrah binti Hj Sulaiman and Associate Professor Dr Kushan Tennakoon, we came up with a project that employs biotechnology to produce a better paddy variety which able to resist salinity.

With the objective to increase rice production through biotechnology, the first method for my graduate research project was an attempt to produce transgenic paddy Laila by employing previously successful published methodology. Once successful, we plan to perform physiology experiment that would expose the transgenic Laila and its wild-type to different salinity levels and compare their growth performance and yield. By referring to previous research, it is expected that the transgenic line will show better growth performance and higher yield when compared to the non-transgenic line.

Second project was the genetic variation study for selected rice cultivars that have been cultivated in Brunei using microsatellite markers. It is hoped that by studying the genetic variation of the paddy cultivars, the result could help plant breeders to select the best parents faster compare to using the conventional method, which is more laborious, in order to produce new generation which show better performance when compare to both parents.

Both research projects have been presented in conferences locally and internationally. The first project was presented in The 11th Biennial Conference of the Borneo Research Council on 25th-27th June 2012 in Universiti Brunei Darussalam. The latter was presented at the 7th International Rice Genetics Symposium which was held in Manila Philippines from 5th to 8th November 2013 organized by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

It was hoped that this project can act as guidance or perhaps as a pioneer for future researchers especially Bruneians to produce a project that can help to diversify Brunei’s economy generally and to produce better paddy cultivars that can help ensure food security in the Sultanate specifically.

It is definitely a challenging journey with many hurdles in finishing the project, where not every experiment goes as what we expect. However, I have always maintained a positive mind in everything that I do, that is, if other researchers can do what seem to be a difficult task, why not us. As long as we put our heart to it and do it sincerely, with God’s willing we will get there somehow. I can proudly say that studying in UBD taught me well in shaping myself to be a better person, not just academically. Thanks to UBD, I am more confident in taking up  challenges in the real working world.  I would like to thank Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD), for the scholarship and opportunities. Both my supervisors, Lecturers of Environmental and Life Sciences Program (Faculty of Science) who have given numerous advice, lessons and guidance throughout the project time, lab technicians whom I regard as dear friends and all research mates who have made this journey a  meaningful, exciting and wonderful experience.

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