AS PLANTGROWTH BOOSTER Re­search on ir­ra­di­ated car­rageenan shows prom­ise

Business Mirror - - SCIENCE MONDAY - Story & photo by Stephanie Tu­mam­pos

RICE is a ma­jor sta­ple for Filipinos, and the de­mand for suf­fi­cient sup­ply has made the Philip­pines one of the world’s largest im­porters, with 1.8 mil­lion tons in 2008 alone, ac­cord­ing to the World Rice Sta­tis­tics.

There are a lot of fac­tors af­fect­ing the pro­duc­tion of rice. In­creas­ing pop­u­la­tion, lim­ited land area and con­stant calami­ties make rice yield lower than what is ex­pected. Farm­ers use fer­til­iz­ers, such as the in­or­ganic ones, to boost rice pro­duc­tion.

Con­stant re­search and ex­per­i­ment have led the re­searchers of the Depart­ment of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy ( DOST), par­tic­u­larly its agency, the Philip­pine Coun­cil for Agri­cul­ture, Aquatic, and Nat­u­ral Re­sources Re­search and De­vel­op­ment (PCAARRD), to the dis­cov­ery of the po­ten­tial of ir­ra­di­ated car­rageenan as an ef­fec­tive plant- growth reg­u­la­tor.

“This is food for rice,” Dr. Jo­ce­lyn Euse­bio, di­rec­tor of the Crops Re­search Divi­sion of the PCCAARD, told the Busi­nessMir­ror in an in­ter­view.

“In our re­search, the car­rageenan plant-growth reg­u­la­tor [CPGR] has a po­ten­tial to help farm­ers get a higher rice yield of 15 per­cent to 30 per­cent, and re­sults are con­sis­tent,” Euse­bio ex­plained.

The sci­ence of ir­ra­di­ated car­rageenan

CAR­RAGEENAN is an in­di­gestible polysac­cha­ride. Polysac­cha­rides are large chain-like car­bo­hy­drate mol­e­cules and are en­ergy sources. Car­bo­hy­drates are a great source of en­ergy for hu­mans, as such they are also good for other liv­ing things. The re­search started as a con­cept for plant growth and in­duc­ers of re­sis­tance against pests.

“We started the pro­ject with car­rageenan as bios­tim­u­lant for plant growth in rice, mung beans and peanut,” said An­gelito T. Car­pio, PCAARRD sci­ence re­search spe­cial­ist and pro­ject co­or­di­na­tor.

“Within a three-year plan, sig­nif­i­cant re­sults oc­curred in rice and, thus, nar­rowed the road to fo­cus on rice ap­pli­ca­tions alone,” Car­pio added. Al­though there has been stud­ies on the po­ten­tial of car­rageenan as growth reg­u­la­tor, the method the DOST-PCAARRD used, to­gether with the Philip­pine Nu­clear Re­search In­sti­tute (PNRI), the coun­cil that per­formed the ir­ra­di­a­tion of car­rageenan, en­hanced the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of car­rageenan to a more use­ful prod­uct for rice.

“Car­rageenan drip­pings have al­ready been used as growth reg­u­la­tors and have given good re­sults. Its ex­tract is used by some farm­ers. Yet, upon ap­pli­ca­tion on rice fields, the amount of time for rice to ab­sorb th­ese drip­pings took longer,” Euse­bio said. This has led the team to ex­plore the pos­si­bil­i­ties of car­rageenan, if fur­ther bro­ken down into smaller mol­e­cules.

Through the PNRI, car­rageenan was sub­jected to ir­ra­di­a­tion, or ex­pos­ing the prod­uct to lowlevel ra­di­a­tion. Ir­ra­di­a­tion of prod­ucts, in­clud­ing food, is safe, ac­cord­ing to the PNRI. The car­rageenan, orig­i­nally from red ed­i­ble sea­weed, when sub­jected to ir­ra­di­a­tion, en­hances the avail­abil­ity of its mi­cronu­tri­ents. “Th­ese mi­cronu­tri­ents, such as boron, cal­cium and zinc, are needed by rice at small but suf­fi­cient amounts to en­hance its growth,” Euse­bio added.

The car­rageenan is first pro­cessed into pow­dered form and dis­solved in wa­ter. When dis­solved, it is then sub­jected to ir ra­di­a­tion to fur­ther break down its par­ti­cles. The ir­ra­di­a­tion does not only en­hance the avail­abil­ity of mi­cronu­tri­ents but also breaks the car­rageenan down to nanoscale level for the rice to eas­ily ab­sorb when sprayed by farm­ers.

“We need to break down the car­rageenan into smaller par­ti­cles and re­duce its molec­u­lar weight so it can be eas­ily ab­sorbed by plants,” Euse­bio ex­plained. The ef­fects of us­ing the CPGR on rice plants does not only make rice re­sist dis­eases but also in­creases its im­mu­nity, hence, with­stand cer­tain ad­ver­si­ties than those not ap­plied with CPGR. Promis­ing fu­ture BLAR­ING re­sults were def­i­nitely noted, most es­pe­cially when Typhoon Land oh it the multi lo­ca­tion­trial rice fields. There was a good har­vest of rice, de­spite the farms hav­ing been hit by the typhoon. The fields that were not treated by the prod­uct were lodged. In mul­ti­lo­ca­tion tri­als held in Bu­la­can, Nueva Ecija, Iloilo and La­guna, par­tic­u­larly at the Univer­sity of the Philip­pines Los Baños, in­creased yields of about 15 per­cent to 30 per­cent have been found. A higher ap­pli­ca­tion of the CPGR gave a 60- per­cent in­crease in Bu­la­can. “This is a promis­ing tech­nol­ogy, be­cause it is com­pat­i­ble with farm­ers’ prac­tice,” Car­pio told the Busi­nessMir­ror.

He said there is no ge­netic in­ter­ven­tion, which makes this break­through a non­genet­i­cally mod­i­fied prod­uct. “CPGR is ap­proved by the Food and Fer­til­izer Au­thor­ity as a plant- growth pro­moter,” Car­pio added. Sci­ence Sec­re­tary Mario G. Mon­tejo was also im­pressed with the re­sults of this pro­ject.

Dur­ing last week’s Sci­ence Na­tion Tour in Gen­eral Santos City, Mon­tejo high­lighted the re­search as a so­lu­tion for af­ford­able and ef­fec­tive growth reg­u­la­tor.

“The in­vest­ment in this pro­ject is around P15 mil­lion, and imag­ine the thou­sands of hectares that can ben­e­fit from [it],” Mon­tejo said.

As for the cost, Euse­bio re­it­er­ated that the tech­nol­ogy is com­pet­i­tive and can lower the cost of ap­pli­ca­tion.

“The CPGR costs around P700 for a hectare. The re­duc­tion [in price] is big com­pared to in­or­ganic fer­til­iz­ers and other va­ri­eties that cost around P1,000 to P1,500 per hectare,” Euse­bio said.

Be­cause of the pos­i­tive re­sults, the DOST has part­nered with the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, to­gether with Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Pro­ceso Al­cala, through a mem­o­ran­dum of agree­ment in 2015 to up­scale the ver­i­fi­ca­tion tests in seven re­gions in the coun­try.

STEPHANIE TU­MAM­POS

DR. Jo­ce­lyn Euse­bio, di­rec­tor of the Crops Re­search Divi­sion of the Depart­ment of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy-Philip­pine Coun­cil for Agri­cul­ture, Aquatic, and Nat­u­ral Re­sources Re­search and De­vel­op­ment, talks about the sci­ence of the car­rageenan plant­growth reg­u­la­tor which en­hances rice yields 15 per­cent to 30 per­cent.

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