July 2021

Senior Member's Write-up

My Journey to AFOB

Dr. Md. Mozammel Hoq, (Professor Honorary), Department of Microbiology, University of Dhaka, and AFOB Vice President, Bangladesh Region

AFOB has been working as a strong platform to promote biotechnology researches for the economic development of its 14 member countries in Asia since its formation in 2008. Bangladesh as a region became its youngest member approved in the 11th Board Meeting held in Ghent University Global Campus, Incheon, Korea on April 7, 2017. The impact and benefit of this membership are so great which can be understood from the critical analyses of how the biotech research outputs contributed to the economic success of some countries of Asia, and ASEAN countries in particular. It may be mentioned that these are not only due to the effective tripartite interactions between researchers, industry, and regulating bodies in the countries concerned, but the successful international collaboration functions. The close cultures, climate, and agricultural resources in ASIA are also helpful for biotech innovations. My past experiences suggest that the cooperative network and practices before 2000 in ASEAN countries based in Japan, was catalytic to made this AFOB platform potential by the dynamic leadership and commitment of the teams since 2008. So, to connect my country to this platform, the journey started through my first participation in ACB held in 2013, New Dehli, India.

This achievement was not so straightforward. It was so surprising and frustrating not to see other people from home country when I attended the ACBs at New Dehli-2013 and Malyasia-2015 meetings; nevertheless, Bangladesh was riding on biotechnology wheels mastering enough activities. I must acknowledge Professor VS Bisaria who encouraged me in 2013 to take initiatives for Bangladesh to enter in AFOB platform. In the following ACB-2015 at Kuala Lumpur, I was invited to attend the Board meeting as an observer. I was privileged to present 'Bangladesh Biotech' there that eventually opened up windows of opportunities to get admittance in AFOB Global map. The formal application for AFOB Membership was submitted in 2016 after thorough analyses of the country's biotech capacity in terms of academic, research and bio-industrial strengths. I take pride that my alma mater, the University of Dhaka welcomed and approved the proposal designating the Department of Microbiology, University of Dhaka as the focal point of the Federation. It was an enormous satisfaction and happy day for me when the AFOB in its 11th Board meeting held on April 7, 2017 in Ghent University Global campus, Incheon City, Korea approved Bangladesh Region as its 14th member.

Since then Bangladeshi researchers have been joining in different events such as ACB, ARS, Summer Forum, Bioeconomy Forum and others with lots of enthusiasms. Immediately after becoming the new member of AFOB in 2017, we were asked to organize the 10th AFOB regional symposium, and we did in style in January, 2018 in Dhaka, as rated by most of the participants. With more than 60 international delegates, 350 participants attended the 3-day Symposium themed on "Innovation in Biotechnology for Economic Development". This event allowed the international participants know about the culture, education and life in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Professor Ho Nam Chang, Ex-President of AFOB told me earlier "I am very much interested to attend the AFOB event in Bangladesh as to experience how so many people live in a very small geographical region". The 3-day program included a brief sightseeing tour, industrial tour, cultural programs and scientific events. Quoting the then Secretary General, AFOB, Professor Yoon Mo Koo opined, "Your students and young faculties are very smart with high intelligence, I am amazed". He also commented, "Bangladesh is in a position to organize ACB successfully". He continued, "It was my impression that Bangladesh, though not a big sized country, should lead Asia in culture with friendship." The Indian friends enjoyed their foods with Hilsha fish served and wanted me to organize more scientific programs here. More importantly, the interaction opened avenues for students to pursue their higher studies in the labs of some of the visiting Professors of South Korea, China and Japan immediately.

Bangladesh also has got enormous potential for bioeconomy

Bangladesh is a densely populated country of about 160 million people live in an area of 147,570 sq. km whose economy is mainly based on agriculture. It has abundant agricultural resources, which can be used as bio-resources for transformation into value-added products and bioprocess development. The present production of agricultural grains, estimated 490,000 metric tons is nearly self-sufficient, as compared to only 40,000 MT in 1973 to 1975, a 10-time increase over the last four and half decade. This is mainly due to R &D, aided by good management practice, despite decrease in agricultural lands by erosion, salinization and infestation, and urbanization. However, to achieve sustainable development goals (SDG), industrial development is urgent where biotech researches and its transformation/ applications can play a big role. There are 52 publics and 105 private universities including 13 Science and Technology, and Agriculture Universities and a good number of notable bio-research based institutes. Recently, the Government is keen to develop Biotech park, Genome center, and bio incubators in order to promote biotech R & D for start-up, SME and bio industries. At this setting, partnership with AFOB activities and international collaborations could play a catalytic role towards a paradigm shift to promote biotech industries and bio-economy enhancement. This is an urgent need while Bangladesh is on the transition to graduate into a developed country.

My experience during pre- and post AFOB period

After studying biochemistry and microbiology, I gained special interest in biotechnology while I attended One Year International Post Graduate University Course in Microbial Engineering (later Biotechnology) at the International Center for Biotechnology (ICBiotech) Osaka University, Japan in 1981. I was amazed at the lectures and their research achievements by the then famous Professors (Professor Taguchi, Professor Aiba, Professor Tanaka and others) from seven public universities. Their contributions were very much applied and notable for the welfare of health, industry and agriculture. I observed a tremendous effective network of collaboration developed amongst the ASEAN countries that helped to develop biotech researches in this part of the world. I did my PhD work in Nagoya University, a university of two Nobel prize winners. I went back to my country and joined newly started Department of Microbiology, University of Dhaka. I remained engaged not only for teaching and researches, but for its infrastructural development as a new department. Except my post doc research for about two years in Germany as Alexander Humboldt fellow, my time did not allow me to re-visit Japan for 18 years until I was invited as a Visiting Professor Chair at the ICBiotech, Faculty of Engineering, Osaka University in the year 2000, by the then Director, Professor Yoshida, who was the first President of AFOB. So, I find the ICBiotech collaborative network for biotechnology catalyzed the formation of present AFOB in a greater form beyond ASEAN countries with wider missions and visions. I am amazed at the development of South Korea, the biotech team is so coordinated planned and committed, I wait for the invited lecture of Professor Sang Yup Lee, KAIST at the ACB which is always so impressive. I was really impressed at visiting INCHEON City the hub of Biotech industries there. I am amazed at the development of Wuhan, China where Universities are so coordinated with bio-Institutes and Industrial ventures around the lakes. AFOB events allowed scientists to learn the coordinated effort and strategic policies behind biotech and bioeconomy of other countries like Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore and India as well. It seems to me that all these 14 countries of AFOB are working on biotechnology under a single roof through the AFOB leadership.

I believe that the strong networking in AFOB Member regions; development of bilateral and trilateral collaboration coordinated by AFOB leadership with specific support for academic and training workshop under each division could be more productive. Every AFOB member region should be keen to take the advantages of this unique platform of Biotechnology for bioinnovation and bioeconomy for their sustainable development towards a better ecosystem in the world. Bangladesh has huge agricultural bioresources, which can be transformed into value added products through fermentation and bioprocesses development. The present infrastructures, experienced researchers, young faculties and present Government policies of Bangladesh would be helpful for developing mutual and reciprocal collaborations with AFOB towards the sustainable development of bioindustries and bioeconomy.