Biotech a path for higher economic status: Prof. Vitarana

Friday, 19 September 2014 00:51 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Shabiya Ali Ahlam A top Minister yesterday called for increased efforts in biotechnology in Sri Lanka to achieve and retain a higher economic status. Senior Minister Scientific Affairs Prof. Tissa Vitarana addressing the first National Conference on Biotechnology noted that with the global requirement for hi-tech products continuing to increase, it is imperative for Sri Lanka to make the shift and focus on biotechnology as it is an area that has immense potential for growth. “The potential for biotechnology is vast in Sri Lanka as it is a biodiversity hotspot. The country has tremendous resources readily available that will help develop this industry. While required is a direction to move forward in this path, with increased focus in this area I am confident the country can make a niche position for itself in the global market,” he said at the conference held under the theme ‘Biotechnology for Wealth Creation’. The conference featured University of Georgia Professor of Bio-Chemical Engineering and Microbiology and Journal of Biological Engineering Editor-in-Chief Dr. Mark. A. Eiteman and Hayleys Agriculture Holdings Managing Director Rizvi Zaheed as keynote speaker and Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal to deliver a special guest address. Acknowledging it is possible for Sri Lanka to successfully use biotechnology for improvement in manufacturing and production across diverse sectors, Prof. Vitarana added it is imperative to make the shift sooner as that is an area where large markets operate. The global market for biotechnology products has been growing at an annual average of 11% and in 2013 increased to $ 290 billion. The Governor noted that while the transformation is necessary, he stressed the need for a continuing process that ensures commercialisation of research. “Science should not be seen as a cost but a resource that can be fed into operations. The new economy suggests that science and technology has an important role to play in development. Looking at success stories of countries such as USA and Korea, it is identified that biotechnology has a role to play in wealth creation. The potential is there,” said Cabraal. COSTI Project Director Professor de Alwis asserted the need for researchers to look at converting “science into rupees” by taking up projects that addressed the needs of the nation. He noted that while an “innovation mindset” is certainly required, it is important for researchers to take up work that can be monetised. “Only if the idea can be converted into rupees there will be interest in the project,” he emphasised. Pix by Lasantha Kumara