New lab for biodiversity research


Adenan (second from left) hearing out Dr Charlie Yeo before launching the research facility and LitSara products at the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre. — ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE / THE STAR

Adenan (second from left) hearing out Dr Charlie Yeo before launching the research facility and LitSara products at the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre. — ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE / THE STAR

KUCHING: A new laboratory for plant tissue cultures and chemical structure studies has been opened at the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre near here.

Its chief executive Dr Yeo Tiong Chia said the lab includes a RM2mil instrument that “can tell us to the exact mass of a compound to the fourth decimal place”.

The machine, he added, marked a milestone for the 18-year-old research body, which began operating out of wooden buildings and barracks at the old Forestry Training School.

“Technically, this is where we want to be and we will begin to use our full spectrum of technologies to discover new natural compounds,” Dr Yeo added.

Presently, the centre has about 30 collaborations with local and foreign institutions and companies.

Dr Yeo said research was underway with PepsiCo, the soft drinks manufacturer, to look for “sweeteners from the jungle”, and Mitsubishi on algae for biofuels.

“These are a combination of long and short term goals. We are also developing three more plants (for commercialisation).”

During the lab opening yesterday, Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem launched “LitSara”, named after the plant Litsea cubeba and this state.

LitSara, an essential oil, is from leaves and fruits, and has antimicrobial properties that makes it suitable as an active ingredient in personal care products.

The centre developed the plant’s commercialisation potential with traditional knowledge from Bidayuh, Kelabit and Lun Bawang communities.

Adenan said it was practically unknown how much more wealth could be found from Borneo’s flora and fauna – or how much has been lost because of environmental degradation and extinction.

“Sometimes, we do not appreciate the wealth that already surrounds us. If you look and care to see, if you hear and care to listen, you will discover so much more potential from what we have.

“This is the main reason why we have this biodiversity centre to research and develop,” Adenan said.

The Chief Minister said his administration’s policy on forests was to look upon nature “as naturalists and scientists would”, rather than how “timber merchants” viewed trees as dollar signs.

He reiterated calls for conservation as the first step in innovation.