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November 13, 2014

Microorganisms Can Save the World!
The largest microorganism depository center in Southeast Asia inaugurated

Bread, yogurt, cheese, wine, pickles, antibiotics, cosmetics and sewage treatment plants. What do all of these things have in common? They all depend on the activity of microorganisms.

It is likely that there are many people who are not familiar with such term. Many objects we use in our everyday lives are made with the help of microorganisms. These include foods, such as cheese, yogurt and other dairy products, antibiotics and cosmetics. Because microorganisms can decompose organic matter, they also play an important role in sewage treatment and water purification. It is no exaggeration to say that microorganisms are vital for a wide range of activities that we carry out every day.

Microorganisms supporting our daily lives

photoVice President Boediono expresses his gratitude for Japan’s cooperation at the opening ceremony of the Indonesian Culture Collection.

On September 11, 2014, Indonesia’s Vice President Boediono, Indonesia’s Minister of Research and Technology Gusti Muhammad Hatta, chairman of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) Lukman Hakim, and Governor of West Java Ahmad Heryawan, were among those who witnessed the inauguration of Southeast Asia’s largest national depository center for microorganisms. Named the Indonesian Culture Collection (InaCC), the center was constructed in Cibinong, West Java Province, with funding provided by the Government of Indonesia. In a speech at the inauguration, Boediono expressed his gratitude for Japan’s cooperation. The Government of Japan – through JICA – has established a record of providing support to Indonesia in areas such as capacity improvement and initiatives for implementing biology research.

photoThe national depository center for microorganisms, known as the Indonesian Culture Collection (InaCC)

With the third largest tropical rainforest area in the world, Indonesia has some of the highest biological diversity in the world. The Indonesian species most widely known are its native mammals, such as the Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, the Sumatran elephant and the Sumatran tiger, but there is a strong likelihood that many new microorganisms will be discovered in Indonesia. Given the possibility of finding microorganisms that are beneficial for humanity, discussions have been held on the need for further studies and research.

Two decades of cooperation give birth to Southeast Asia’s largest microorganism depository center

photoAbove: The Research Center for Biology (RCB-LIPI) has played a core role in microorganism research. Below: Middle school students on excursion visit the RCB-LIPI.

Given the potential to find microorganisms, research has been actively pursued in Indonesia in recent years. The facility taking the lead in such work is the LIPI’s Research Center for Biology (RCB-LIPI) in Cibinong.

If we look back at RCB-LIPI’s history, we can glimpse how Japan has provided cooperation to Indonesia for many years. In 1995, the RCB-LIPI’s Zoology Division, or Museum of Zoologicum Bogoriense, was constructed in Cibinong and equipped with grant aid from Japan. Between 1995 and 2003, a JICA technical cooperation project (TCP) on biodiversity conservation was implemented to promote research on biodiversity and the management systems of collecting animal specimens. To assist in those efforts, the RCB-LIPI was constructed – also with grant aid from Japan – as a research facility for both the Botany Division and Microbiology Division. The RCB-LIPI then became the project site for a TCP titled Improvement of Collection Management and Biodiversity Research Capacity of the RCB-LIPI. Through this project, plant and microorganism research has improved as has the system used for managing the specimen collection.

Through a series of cooperation projects like these, a wide range of specimens and a database of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, insects, crustaceans, and plants from all over Indonesia can be found in the RCB-LIPI, which therefore looks like a real-life encyclopedia. The specimens and database are not only utilized for biodiversity research and conservation work in Indonesia, but are also visited by researchers from all over the world as well as middle and high school students for educational purposes.

photo(Left to right) Specimens of birds, a row of specimen cases, and an Indonesian coelacanth specimen

Carving the future together with microorganisms

Since 2011, the RCB-LIPI and others have been working on a five-year project titled “Development of World-class Microbial Resource Center to Promote Life Science Research and Biotechnology.” A Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development (SATREPS) project (1), it has benefited from Japanese experts from the National Institute of Technology and Evaluation, the University of Tokyo, as well as RIKEN, who have been sharing their knowledge and technology in managing bio-resources and researching microorganisms.

photoAn RCB-LIPI staff member describes a plant specimen.

For the project, the researchers collect microorganisms that are potentially useful for agriculture and livestock production, determine their characteristics, and build a database for the preservation and sustainable use of microbial resources. Discoveries made through this project include a microorganism that helps the production of fertilizer to promote the growth of crops, a fungus that helps the growth of trees in forest logging areas and on degraded land, and a lactic acid bacterium that helps maintain the health of livestock, and these microorganisms are expected to be used in biotechnological applications. These research and development efforts may lead to the use of new energy as an alternative to fossil fuels, as well as new business opportunities in the fields of health foods, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, and animal husbandry.

In addition to microbial collection storage and management, the project is developing a system that would allow private companies and research institutions to order and buy microorganisms for product development and research at reasonable prices.

One of the main outcomes of these activities is Indonesia’s initiative and capacity to establish Southeast Asia’s largest depository center for microorganisms.

About the RCB-LIPI, Kenichiro Suzuki, project leader and principal researcher of the Japanese expert team, said, “There are microorganisms that possess a high potential that animals and plants do not have. As Indonesia is said to possess the world’s second largest biodiversity in its tropical rainforests, there are countless opportunities to find undiscovered microorganisms, and sampling can be done in hot springs as well as in the deep ocean. A ‘vessel’ in the form of InaCC has been established, and we must fill that vessel, enhancing the collection going forward. What’s more, while we have established a collection system, utilizing Indonesia’s unique microorganisms requires a high level of biotechnology, and so we must next focus on the quality of the technology.”

Utilizing Indonesia’s valuable assets

In 1993, the Convention on Biological Diversity took effect, and with that, states now have the sovereign rights over their own biological resources. The Nagoya Protocol (2) on the access and benefit-sharing of biological resources came into effect in October 2014. The InaCC, which was established contemporaneously with the Nagoya Protocol, is expected to provide opportunities to both domestic and foreign research institutions in new areas of research and development.

JICA strives to maintain its cooperation through the ongoing SATREPS project, contributing to the enhanced utilization of Indonesia’s valuable bio-resources toward solving global problems in the near future.


Notes
1: SATREPS is a Japanese government project that promotes international joint research. The program is structured as a collaboration between the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), which provides competitive research funds for science and technology projects (three to five years each), and JICA, which provides development assistance (ODA).
2: The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity is an international agreement that was adopted by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity at its tenth meeting (COP-10) on October 29, 2010, in Nagoya, Japan.

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