Country Position Paper of Bangladesh
Biotechnological research in Bangladesh has been initiated in the recent past with real
earnestness. Biotechnology work, specially involving the genetic technology had not been persued
seriously in our country. At the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC) a programme on
‘genetic improvement of industrial microgranisms’ was initiated as early as 1970’s. The primary
tool for such work was the gamma radiations emitting from a Co60 source. Although genetic
improvement of citric acid fermenting strains of Aspergillus niger has been obtained through
mutations but their practical applications could not be attained due to lack of further technological
development, i.e. development of suitable industries. The introduction of gene transfer
technologies also could not be attained due to shortage of fund and proper training facilities,
although initiation has been made very recently.
In spite of all difficulties and bottlenecks, one area in which we have made a modest
headway is the ‘plant tissue culture’. The work was initiated in late 1970’s, in the Department of
Botany, Dhaka University and disseminated through Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI),
Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute (BARI), Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission
(BAEC), Bangladesh Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (BCSIR), Bangladesh
Agricultural University (BAU) and host of other institutes and universities within a short span of
8-10 years. Now, a good number of scientists are present in the country, who if given further
incentives through facilities and training could hopefully show dividends in the near future in the
area of plant improvement.
Microbial technology is a diversified area, and we have a good team of microbiologists
working in areas like human healthcare, agriculture, industry and even environment pollution
control. With the introduction of gene transfer technologies it is hoped that the work of this group
will show up better results in the near future.
Bangladesh being an agricultural country the prospect of utilization of biotechnological
practices in agriculture is very bright. Our agricultural production has risen in the recent past due
to concerted efforts in plant breeding and agricultural management. For further increase modern
biotechnological practices like tissue culture, protoplast culture and fusion, embryo rescue
technique and also gene transfer technologies have recently been introduced. The areas of
aquaculture, biofertilizers, biopesticides is receiving special attention along with the development
of new plant varieties. Another area of thrust is the human health care or medicine of which
vaccine development is getting special attention. In this respect the initiative taken by Institute of
Public Health (IPH) and International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh
(ICDDRB) is worth mentioning. Other areas which is given attention is the ‘biomass’
development through plant improvement, and fermentation technology based on microbial
processes. Bangladesh is a country with rich biodiversity, a country with ideal soil for plant
growth and an ideal abode for microbes. If these are harnessed with biotechnological approach
could give good results and the present research activities are aimed at to this end.
Bangladesh being an agricultural country, biotechnological application in this area has
received sufficient attention. Tissue culture, embryo grafting, somaclonal variation, micro-
propagation, etc. of various types of economically important plants are being pursued in
Universities and research organizations. Besides these, researches on transgenic plant development
and production of high yielding and pest/insect resistant varieties through genetic engineering, and
biochemical study programmes of some key crop plants have also been initiated at several
Bangladesh Livestock Research Institute (BLRI) and Bangladesh Agricultural University
(BAU) are working to adopt modern livestock biotechnological programmes. Techniques like
artificial insemination and selective breeding are being applied quite seriously. In vitro
fertilization and embryo transfer have been carried out successfully in the laboratories and in the
field level, and are being used in some selective areas. A number of vaccines have been developed
against cattle, poultry and Goat, e.g. Goat Plague (PPR), at BLRI. Besides, vaccines against
rinderpest, ranikhet, and foot & mouth diseases are under field trial.
Artificial fish production has gained popularity. Researches for the improvement of fish
through hybridization and genetic engineering are being carried out at Fisheries Research Institute
and Bangladesh Agricultural University.
Methods have been developed for artificial production of fish fry at BAU and extension
work of which are being pursued.
Biotechnological approach is being applied for the improvement of silk-worm, biological
pest control, hormonal and pheromonal control of insects and production of bio-pesticides at the
Institute of Food and Radiation Biology (IFRB), BAEC. Success has been achieved in the Sterile
Insect Technology Program for the dry fish Industry and this would reduce the use of pesticides
reducing health hazard. Efforts are underway to control mosquito larvae with Bacillus
thuringiensis and B. sphaericus. Genetic Engineering work on the isolation and transfer of Bt gene
(CryD) has also been initiated.
Artificial production of Fish fry and improvement of Fish though hybridization is being
pursued at the Fisheries Research Institute, Mymensingh. Large scale production (1000 kg/ha/day)
system of Azolla, an aquatic fern round the year in Bangladesh environment has been developed at
the Dept. of Botany, Dhaka University. The plant has several uses, such as biofertilizer, fish &
poultry feed and as fodder. Large scale production of Duckweeds, their use as feed & fodder as
decontaminant have been tested and found to be accepted by rural communities of Bangladesh.
Bangladesh Rice Research Institute and Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute have
developed HYV, disease resistant and widely adapted varieties of important crops like rice, wheat,
pulses, potato, fruits, vegetables, etc. BCSIR has developed Spirulina tablets that are used as
medicine and health food. Bioprocessing of cereal food by microbial fermentation is being carried
out and the fermented foods are found to be nutritive with rich enzymes, proteins, vitamins, etc.
Methods for the artificial production of fish fry have been developed, extension work of which are
Feed and Fodder
The Azolla plant has been found to increase egg production by about 5%, if it is added only
at 2% with the normal food. Use as fish feed has been found to increase fish production by about
20%. Duckweeds are being used extensively as fish feed in rural areas. Both the duckweed and
Azolla (anthocyanin rich) have been found to be effective feed and fodder during flood period, and
could be used in an integrated approach.
This is in an initial state. R&D programmes for the production of Bakers yeast, citric
acid, ethyl alcohol, vinegar, Soya sauce, etc. are going on in various laboratories. Research
projects on the production of amylase, cellulase, protease, etc. have been undertaken. Spirulina
tablet is being produced commercially, while Rhizobium biofertilizer production has reached at
commercialization stage. There are four distilleries in the country and are utilizing about 65,000 M
tons of molasses for the production of ethyl alcohol. Scientists are engaged in the utilization of
Only a very few laboratories are working on gene transfer in some key crops like rice and
jute. DNA fingerprinting, and genetic transformation of rice and jute for salinity tolerance and
fungus resistance respectively are being carried out at the Department of Biochemistry, Dhaka
University. Genetic transformation of pulses for fungus resistance is being carried out in the
Department of Botany, Dhaka University. Development of Shigella vaccine is being carried out at
ICDDR’B. R&D of animal genetic engineering is very limited.
Biotechnology in health care and diagnostic services is at the preliminary stage. The two
organizations engaged are International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research ‘Bangladesh
(ICDDR’B) and Institute of Public Health (IPH). In the ICDDR’B, PCR and microsatellite marker
based diagnosis of Diarrhoea, Cholera and Hepatitis A, B, C has been established. Development of
Shigella vaccine is being carried out at ICDDR’B. R&D of animal genetic engineering is very
The IPH are engages in the production of vaccines and antisera. Intensive effort of
scientists of IPH has made small pox eradication program successful by producing sufficient
quantity of highly potent small pox vaccines. Since 1992 the IPH is also engaged in the production
of high quality Tetanus vaccines.
Bioenergy and Bioconversion
Bangladesh being an agricultural country has a good biogas potential. The day to day
biomass waste and other aquatic plants could be effectively used to obtain high-grade fuel through
anaerobic digester. Addition of 50% Azolla with cow-dung yielded 63-65% methane compared to
57-58% with only cow-dung. Use of poultry droppings in the biogas plant gained popularity. So
far about 25000 biogas plants (of which 87% is based on cow-dung, 10% with poultry droppings)
have been installed of which about 80% are in operation. In addition to cooking, the biogas is used
for lighting in many cases.
Azolla has been found to contribute about 500 kg N/ha/year and could be used as a supplement of
chemical fertilizers and thus improve soil texture and fertility, and reduce eutrophication of water
bodies. Legume crops as biofertilizer are being used for centuries in rural Bangladesh.
Rhizobium biofertilizer production in a pilot scale had been successful and its use in pulse
crops has been found to be effective in farmers field.
The residue of a biogas plant amounts to about 25 kg/day on dry wt. basis containing about
1% N and is effectively used as fertilizer in crop production.
Very high population pressure and industrialization have increased environmental
pollution and threatening human health and ecological balance. Almost all the industrial effluents
are discharged untreated into the environment polluting almost all the rivers. Researches have
been initiated only recently for environment pollution assessment and control.
Recently a very high concentration of arsenic is detected in groundwater used for drinking and
irrigation. It is causing Arsenocosis in human and also seriously affects the growth and physiology
of crop field biota. Arsenic has been found to be accumulated in rice grain. Technique for large-
scale bioremediation (through duckweed) of arsenic from groundwater has been innovated.
Bioindicator (Azolla filiculoidis) for arsenic pollution has been developed.
Azolla has been found to contribute about 500 kg N/ha/year like legumes and could be
used as a supplement of chemical fertilizers and thus improving soil texture and fertility, and
reducing eutrophication of water bodies.
Second generation biotechnology like genomics, proteomics, etc. in Bangladesh have not started
yet due to lack of skilled manpower, funding and laboratory infrastructure.
In a recent survey by a group of experts engaged by UNDP the following situation in
Biotechnological research laboratories has been found:
a. Lab. Infrastructure is highly inadequate in all laboratories except two NGO’s and
Bangladesh Livestock Research Institute (BLRI).
b. Only NGO’s have nearly adequate equipment.
c. Only Universities have sufficient manpower.
d. Skilled scientists and technicians are lacking.
e. There are major problems for the procurement of chemicals.
f. Supporting facilities like IT, repair of equipment and extension services are highly
g. GMO containment facilities do not exist.
An analysis of the actual situation in different Universities, Research Organization,
NGO’s, etc. also revealed that:
a. Universities have skilled personnel for Biotechnological research but there is serious lack
of laboratory, infrastructure, space and equipments. Many of the Universities have separate
Department of Biotechnology & Genetic Engineering
b. NARS (National Agricultural Research System) have enough laboratory infrastructure but
lack of sufficient skilled manpower.
c. NGO’s like BRAC, PROSHIKA, GKF have excellent laboratory infrastructure but lack
skilled manpower and leadership.
d. Private companies, like Biotech Seeds, Rantic, Grameen Seeds and DEBTECH lack both
skilled manpower and infrastructure.
e. NATIONAL INSTITUE OF BIOTECHNOLOGY has been established and most of the
modern/sophisticated equipments are being added including Hardening and Green
Houses. Sufficient manpower has not been recruited yet.
There are nearly 1500 agricultural scientists working in different agricultural institutes and
universities in Bangladesh. The number of other scientists working in other field of biological
sciences will nearly equal them. But, most of them have very limited training of hardcore
biotechnology. A good number of scientists have training in plant tissue culture, genetics and
breeding but not in molecular biology and genetic engineering. However, over the years they have
acquired the necessary skill in understanding strategic research in first generation Biotechnology
through various training. So with due orientation a good number of scientists could be converted
to hardcore biotechnologists who could take due initiatives for Biotechnology development in
Bangladesh. Similar orientation could also fill up the gap in the area of regulatory control and
Funding support in Biotechnological research in Bangladesh is extremely low. Of the limited
public sector allocation of funds to agricultural research only 3 to 4 percent are allocated to
biotechnology. In a recent survey by UNDP (SPPD) it has been revealed that during the last 10
years only the following amount was spent for biotechnology research in Bangladesh: (SPPD:
Special Programme for Project Development)
a. Total GOB Funding: 6 million US$ (39.72 crore Taka) (that means, regular research
funding by GOB is only 1 million US$ annually).
b. Funding by foreign Agencies for biotech research: 2.26 million US$.
c. Investment by NGO’s: 1.5 million US$.
d. Investment by Private Biotech laboratory: 1 million US$.
Therefore, the status of utilization of Biotechnology in Bangladesh is not up to the mark and in
the summary of the report given by the same group of UNDP (Under Status of Utilization) it is
mentioned that, “Use of modern biotechnology (recombinant DNA) at the most, is at an infancy
stage in Bangladesh. It has so far mainly been confined to development, standarization, and use of
in vitro culture and micro-propagation of different crops like cereals, vegetables, horticultural
crops. Anther culture, embryo rescue and somaclonal variation have also been used, but generally
fall at the lower spectrum of the biotechnological gradients. In fisheries and livestock sectors the
progress is also insignificant”.
However, the overall situation is not as gloomy as has been depicted in the report. Bangladesh
has a good number of research institutes to take up biotechnological research given due incentives
with regards to funds and necessary hands-on training of the working scientists. The number of
scientists capable to take up the new challenges of modern biotechnology are not that meager.
What is needed an appropriate action plan and allocation of necessary funds for the purpose.
2. GOVERNMENT INITIATIVES
Biotechnological development in Bangladesh is still at the primary stage. Whatever has
been possible is through individual efforts working in different laboratories. Proper initiatives and
investments had been lacking in the past. Fortunately, our present Govt. is showing good interest
in this area in terms of policy planning, institutional development and funding. Some research
programmes are supported by the Govt. through S & T special grant. It is expected that in the near
future more and more programmes on biotechnology will get full support from the government.
Meanwhile, the National Institute of Biotechnology is being established by the Govt. of the
People’s Republic of Banglaedesh and is expected to start operation in July 2006. The National
Institute of Biotechnology is aimed at to fulfill the following objectives:
a. Application of biotechnology, specifically recombinant DNA technology to solve
problems of the nation in agriculture, industry, health and environment.
b. Integration of molecular and cellular biology with conventional breeding technologies
for the development of new crop varieties, improvement of feed and livestock as well
as facilitation of development of new tools for health, diagnostic and energy sector.
c. Enhancement of collaborative research required to augment the flow of work at other
d. Delivery of product/processes involving recombinant DNA technology to the field and
compliance with national and international standards especially those involving release
of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s).
e. Systematic transfer of technology from the Institute and abroad to other institutes and
industry facilitating commercial development.
3. BIOETHICS AND BIOSAFETY
With respect to ‘Bioethics and Biosafety’ Bangladesh has taken due initiatives in the recent
past and a Biosafety Guidelines has already been approved by the Govt. and gazetted. A draft
‘Biosafety Act’ has been prepared which is under consideration of the Govt. of Bangladesh. Two
National committees have recently been formed-one for the promotion of biotechnological
research in the country headed by the Secretary, Ministry of Science and Information &
Communication Technology and the other for the regulation of such activities headed by the
Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forestry. The respective committees have already started
4. SPECIFIC AREAS AND NATURE OF INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION
Biotechnology is a multidisciplinary knowledge based modern & emerging discipline of
Science. In terms of human resource, expertise, infrastructure and investments there is wide gap
among the various countries of the Asian region. China, India, Japan, South Korea, Singapore,
Malaysia and Thailand are the major partners of development in Biotechnology in the region while
other countries are yet to start the programme with due incentives and investments. Among the
SAARC countries India is marching forward in terms of investments, research, human resource
and infrastructure development. The key elements of biotechnology developments are:
a. Capacity building
b. Human Resource development
d. Policy framework on Biosafety
e. Bio-industrial development
Generation of strong knowledge base is the key to all biotechnological development.
International cooperation is important for the promotion of biotechnology in a coherent manner.
Such cooperation could address the needs of:
(i) Technology development, access and transfer
(ii) Joint research activities
(iii) Capacity building
(iv) Sharing of investment in the region.
This also may help in formulating unified and balanced views in international forums
related to biotechnology, biosafety, biodiversity, trans-boundary movement of GMO’s including
risk management and assessments. BINASIA (Biotechnology information Network in Asia) may
help in fulfilling these objectives quite substantially. Through this information network all the
participating countries of the Asian region may receive up-to-date information on biotechnology
development in the region as well as outside the region. This will accelerate the pace of
development of Biotechnology in the region. It will bring the scientific community more close to
each other and through the exchange of research findings and developments, the scientific
community will be in a better position to serve each other and the teeming millions of the region.
BINASIA may also publish special Bulletin and Journals on biotechnology development of the
region, and may organise periodic seminar and workshops to keep abreast the working scientists
on the latest developments in Biotechnology. The specific objectives with which BINASIA may
work could be:
a. Creation of institutional linkages for sharing facilities and expertise.
b. Development of common strategies on issues of bio-resource utilization, conservation and
c. Promotion of genetic engineering and biotechnology for addressing common problems of
development and assist in strengthening the scientific, technical and manufacturing
capabilities in the region by mutual cooperation.
d. Harmonization for regulatory guidelines, and building capacities for risk assessment and
e. Formulation of balanced opinion in the international forums on biotechnology.
f. Help in the preparation of a road map for bio-industrial development of the region with a
strong knowledge base.
g. Help address trade and economic issues related to biotech products and processes in terms
of technology access, IPR, investments and barriers.
5. POSSIBLE SUPPORT AND PARTICIPATION IN BINASIA BY BANGLADESH
Bangladesh may support the formation of Biotechnology Information Network in Asia
(BINASIA) because it will help in the development of Biotechnology in the country as well as in
the region of Asia. Majority of the Asian countries are lagging substantially in the development of
this New and Emerging Science and Technology. Lack of political commitment and foresight is
the major cause for this backwardness. Fortunately, countries like China, India, Japan, Singapore,
South Korea and also a few others could realise its importance in time and took appropriate
measures for development. Now, the other countries, who are still behind in the race may take
advantage of BINASIA and try to develop the subject as soon as possible. Bangladesh being a
predominantly agricultural country, Agriculture Biotechnology may be given special priority for
development. And with this end in view the Govt. of Bangladesh in the recent past has given
special attention for Biotechnological development in the country. An UNDP supported special
project is under the active consideration of the govt. and a National Institute of Biotechnology,
specially aimed for biotechnological research in Agriculture, is going to start soon. Being a
member of BINASIA Bangladesh may take advantage of Biotechnology Network in the region
and help develop the subject more efficiently and quickly.
6. CONCLUDING REMARKS
Biotechnological researches have been initiated only very recently. Lack of infrastructure,
sufficient funding and skilled manpower with commitment has hindered the progress. Some
progresses that have been made are not effectively used due to lack of interested entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs are more interested in the import of technology to get a quick return of their
NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF BIOTECHNOLOGY has been established and is
expected to start its journey by end of 2006. Special attention by the Govt. of Bangladesh is
needed to make it an effective organization to fulfill the need of the country.
BINASIA through the exchange of information, ideas and research findings may help in
the quick progress of the subject. This may help in forming a CONSORTIUM for the Asian
countries for speedy application of the research results overcoming the barriers of tran boundaries.
(Prof. Dr. Abdul Aziz)
National Institute of Biotechnology
Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission
Phone: 8616029(off.), 8612472 (Res.), Mob: 0189-143537
Fax: 880-2-865583, E-mail: email@example.com
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