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October 7, 2014

Microorganisms Can Save the World!
–The Largest Microorganism Depository Center in Southeast Asia Inaugurated–

Bread, yogurt, cheese, wine, pickles, antibiotics, cosmetics, sewage treatment plant. What do you think is the common point between these objects? The answer is "microorganism."

However, even though such answer is provided, it is most likely that there are many people who are not familiar with such term. Whereas, so many products that play important role in our lives, such as food (dairy products; e.g. cheese, yogurt), medicine (antibiotics), cosmetics, are made with the help of various microorganisms. Moreover, microorganisms also have the effect of decomposing organic matters; therefore, they play an important role in sewage treatment and water purification. Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to say that our daily lives are very much supported by various microorganisms existing on earth.

Microorganisms Supporting Our Daily Lives

PhotoVice President Boediono expressed his gratitude towards Japan's cooperation, at the Center's opening ceremony

On September 11th, 2014, Indonesia's Vice President H. E. Prof. Boediono, the Minister of Research and Technology H. E. Dr. Gusti Muhammad Hatta, the Chairman of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) Prof. Lukman Hakim, the Governor of West Java H.E. 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 facility was constructed with the budget of the Government of Indonesia (GOI) in Cibinong City, West Java Province. During his speech at the inauguration, Vice President Boediono expressed his gratefulness towards Japan's cooperation. The Government of Japan (GOJ) – through JICA – has been supporting Indonesia in terms of the improvement of capacity as well as initiative in implementing biology researches.

As a country with the world's third largest tropical-rainforest area, Indonesia is the home to some of the highest levels of biological diversity in the world. The most renowned ones are its native mammals, such as the Sumatran and Borneo orangutans, Sumatran elephants, Sumatran tigers, but there is a strong chance to discover a very large amount of microorganisms in Indonesia. It is likely that many of the microorganisms could be beneficial for humanity, however they are still undiscovered nor unknown, thus created the discussions on the need for further studies and researches.

PhotoThe National Depository Center for Microorganism, known as the Indonesian Culture Collection (InaCC)

The 20-Year Cooperation Giving Birth to Southeast Asia’s Largest Microorganism Depository Center

PhotoThe Research Center for Biology (RCB-LIPI) that has been taking the core role in microorganisms researches (Above), The RCB-LIPI being visited by various middle-school students (Below).

Based on such background, in recent years, researches on microorganisms have been actively implemented in Indonesia. Meanwhile, LIPI's Research Center for Biology (RCB-LIPI) has been taking the core role in these researches.

If we look back at RCB-LIPI's history, we can catch a glimpse of Japan's many years of cooperation. In 1995, the Center's zoological research facility (Zoology Division or the Museum of Zoologicum Bogoriense) was constructed and equipped through the Grant Aid of Japan, also in Cibinong City. Between 1995 and 2003, a JICA Technical Cooperation Project (TCP) on biodiversity conservation was implemented for the purpose of promoting researches on biodiversity as well as management system of animal specimens' collection. Consecutively, RCB-LIPI was constructed - also through the Grant Aid of Japan - as a research facility for both the Botany Division and Microbiology Division. The Center then became the project site for the TCP on the Improvement of Collection Management and Biodiversity Research Capacity of the RCB-LIPI. Through this project, the researches on plants and microorganisms as well as the specimens' collection management system have improved.

Through the series of cooperation, a wide range of specimens and database of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fishes, insects, crustaceans, and plants from all over Indonesia could be found in RCB-LIPI, thereby it looks like a real-life encyclopedia. The specimens and database are not only utilized for biodiversity researches and conservation works, but also visited by researchers from all over the world as well as middle and high school students from all over Indonesia for study purpose.


Photo(Left to right) Specimens of birds, a row of specimen cases, and a specimen of Indonesian Coelacanth

Carving the Future Together with Microorganisms

Since 2011, a Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development (SATREPS) project[1] has been implemented by, among others, RCB-LIPI on "Development of World-class Microbial Resource Center to Promote Life Science Research and Biotechnology" for the planned five (5) years. Through this project, Japanese experts from the National Institute of Technology and Evaluation (NITE), the University of Tokyo, as well as RIKEN, have been sharing their knowledge and technology in managing bio-resources and researching microorganisms.

PhotoA staff of LIPI explains about the specimen of a plant

In terms of research, the project's researchers collect microorganisms that are potentially useful for agriculture and livestock production, determining their characteristics, and creating a database that contributes to the preservation and sustainable use of microbial resources. For instance, microorganism that helps the production of fertilizer to promote the growth of crops, a fungus that helps the growth of trees in the forest logging area as well as degraded land, and a lactic acid bacterium that helps maintain the health of livestock have been discovered through this project and are expected to be commercialized as environmental-friendly biotechnology. Such research and development (R&D) could lead to promoting the use of new energy as an alternative to fossil fuel in addition to creating new business chances related to healthy food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, and animal husbandry.

In terms of microbial collection management, apart from supporting for the appropriate storage and management system, the project also develops a system in which private enterprises and research institutions could order and buy the needed microorganism for product development and researches with reasonable prices.

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

The Project Leader who is also the Principal Researcher of the Japanese expert team, Dr. SUZUKI Kenichiro, stated "Among the microorganisms, there are those possessing a high potential that animals and plants do not. As Indonesia is said to possess the second largest biodiversity in its tropical rainforests, there are countless chances to find undiscovered microorganisms, thus sample collections could also be done in hot springs as well as deep oceans. This time, a "vessel" in the form of InaCC has been established, but the crucial part is the enhancement of the collections in the future. Collecting Indonesia's characteristic microorganisms is one thing, but to utilize them would require high-level biotechnology, thus the next issue is the quality improvement (of the technology)."


Utilizing Indonesia's Valuable Assets

In 1993, the Convention on Biological Diversity entered into force, 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 the biological resources comes into effect in October 2014. InaCC, which has been established in time with such global movement, is very much expected to provide opportunities for new R&D to both domestic and foreign research institutions.

JICA strives to continue its cooperation through the ongoing SATREPS project in contributing to the enhanced utilization of various bio-resources as Indonesia's valuable assets, so that it could solve various problems faced globally in the near future.

Notes

  • [1] SATREPS is a Japanese government program 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 (3-5 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 29 October 2010 in Nagoya, Japan.

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