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[KUALA LUMPUR] Crop breeding and aquaculture in Malaysia have received a boost with the news that a facility using DNA to improve plants and seafood will be established in the country.

The Centre for Marker Discovery and Validation (CMDV) will speed up studies of plant and animal genomes, and accelerate the development of Malaysia's agriculture and aquaculture industries.

The centre will use marker-assisted selection (MAS) technology, a method that detects short sequences of DNA — or markers — that are inherited together with genes, to determine whether a seed has a desired gene.

This speeds up breeding improvement because favourable strains are identified without having to go through the long process of breeding species and then observing the traits the offspring inherit. This cuts the time to achieve the desired results to two years instead of the usual 5–6 years, said Dato' Mohd Nazlee, chief executive officer of BiotechCorp, a government science agency involved with the venture.

The CMDV, which was announced last month (21–23 November) at the BioMalaysia 2011 conference, is a joint venture between the Malaysian Agriculture Research and Development Institute (MARDI) and BiotechCorp, a government science agency. MARDI will house the centre.

The centre
is intended to provide agricultural companies with access to the latest equipment for methods such as MAS.

Three parties have signed up as early users
of the MAS technology facilities. One is Green World Genetics, a research organisation dealing with a range of tropical hybrid crops that include maize, sweetcorn, melon, cucumber, hot chilli, tomato, sweet pepper and rice.

Chua Kim Aik, chief executive officer of Green World Genetics, said: "With MAS technology we will be able to verify the purity of products and improve our quality control".  

The other parties are JEFI Aquatech Resources and the Malaysian Palm Oil Board. JEFI will use the MAS platform for breeding shrimp and other seafood products, while the board plans to genotype the oil palm crop.

C.L. Lee, senior manager of JEFI Aquatech Resources, said the technology will help the company to identify healthier shrimps, for example. "These shrimps will be able to grow faster, have stronger immunity against diseases and will be safer to consume as they do not go through chemical alterations."

The MAS technology is expected to boost the competitiveness of Malaysia's aquaculture industry in the South-East Asian region. "In the long run, JEFI hopes to bring Malaysia's aquaculture industry up to the same level as neighbouring countries, such as Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam," Lee added.