The 60-year partnership between the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is set to be revitalized with the establishment of the UPLB Genome Agricultural Research Center, a flagship project supported by IRRI and funded by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA).
Creating innovation and building capacity in cutting-edge crop sciences will be critical for future food and nutrition security. The KOICA-UPLB-IRRI collaborative project plans to tackle advanced bioinformatics, genomics, proteomics, and transcriptomics research, as well as develop strategies to address the current challenges of agriculture in the Philippines, Korea, and other countries. To do this, project activities will include establishing an advanced agricultural genomics center at UPLB, PhD programs at hub universities in Korea, and MSc programs and internships at IRRI to research genomics and OMICs in plant, animal, insect, and microorganisms.
Last October 20, UPLB Chancellor Dr. Jose Camacho and IRRI Director General Dr. Jean Balié held a high-level meeting at the Chancellor's office to discuss the project. Accompanying the Director General were Alvin Poncin, Chief of Staff and Head of Portfolio Development and Management Office; and Benedict Pamatmat, Senior Manager of Portfolio Development. With the Chancellor were Dr. Nathaniel Bantayan, Vice Chancellor for Research and Extension; Dr. Fernando Paras, Vice Chancellor for Planning and Development; Roberto Cereno, Vice Chancellor for Community Affairs; and Rolando Bello, Vice Chancellor for Administration.
During the meeting, Chancellor Camacho opened the discussion by saying that the project signaled the revitalization of UPLB-IRRI ties, and lauded how IRRI was one of the biggest factors that led to the internationalization of UPLB, through international scientists teaching as adjunct professors and weekly seminar meetings at IRRI that welcomed and benefited UPLB students and faculty. He shared that his administration plans to make the genomics research center a frontline project for UPLB.
Several updates on the UPLB Genome Agricultural Research Center were provided by the UPLB delegation. Dr. Paras reported that the project has already been approved and endorsed by the University of the Philippines President and its Board of Trustees, and that the relevant papers have already been sent to the Philippine President for his signature. Dr. Bantayan said that UPLB already had preliminary discussions with the famed Palafox architectural firm for the infrastructure development, which is planned to be a 4000 sq. meter facility beside the AMTEC building along Pili Drive. Dr. Bantayan also shared that they are developing 3 graduate degree courses and 1 undergraduate degree course (with ICS on informatics) for the project.
After the discussion of the project, the two leaders continued to talk about matters of common interest, such as security and health, use and access to facilities, and the ongoing roads and infrastructure development in the surrounding areas of IRRI, among others. Both parties agreed to keep lines of communication open and continue to meet on a regular basis in order to facilitate mutual concerns, apprise the status of collaborative activities, and explore areas for future cooperation.
Capping off the positive and highly-constructive meeting, Dr. Balié thanked his hosts and shared his vision for UPLB as a world-class and preeminent scientific and learning institution, supported by international centers like IRRI, SEARCA, and the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, all working together for the benefit and advancement of the wider Los Baños community.