Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Using radiation to grow herbs: Tongkat Ali, Kacip Fatimah and Ginseng

BANGI: Low dosage radiation has been used to spur the growth of Tongkat Ali, Kacip Fatimah and ginseng in a pilot project by the Malaysian Nuclear Agency.

This technology can produce about 100kg of Tongkat Ali within 60 days and ginseng within 30 days, said the agency's Agrotechnology and Biosciences Division mutation breeding and plant biotechnology senior research officer Dr Rusli Ibrahim.

“For Tongkat Ali that grows in the wild, it would take 20 to 25 years to produce only 4kg,” he said after the launch of the Symposium on Radiation and Nuclear Technologies for Crop Improvement and Productivity in Sustainable Agriculture.

Dr Rusli said they would use low dosage radiation, such as gamma rays, on the roots of Tongkat Ali, Kacip Fatimah and ginseng.

“This will accelerate the growth of the root,” he said, adding that the pilot project was located in the Industrial Park in Nilai.

“The system is the first of its kind in Malaysia and South-East Asia,” he said, adding that he had studied about the technology in South Korea.

Toxicity tests will be conducted at the end of the production to ensure they are safe for consumption.

He said the three plants were chosen as there was high demand for them in the United States, South Korea, Europe and the Middle East.

“We are looking for industry partners who are interested in taking up the technology for commercialisation purposes.”

Dr Rusli stressed that the agency had come up with a safe way to use nuclear technology to increase the productivity of agriculture products in the country.

It is a common misconception that nuclear radiation is dangerous, he said.

“We are talking about using gamma rays and X-rays in small amounts to accelerate the growth of the plants.”

“X-rays are being used on humans for health check-ups. So, it is safe,” he said.

Its director-general Datuk Dr Muhamad Lebai Juri said they had been able to increase the productivity of certain plants in a shorter time due to the use of nuclear technology.

“This advanced bioreactor system was developed for the production of raw materials and bioactive compounds from herbal and medicinal plants for commercial production.”

Earlier, Forum for Nuclear Cooperation in Asia coordinator Dr Sueo Machi said the use of nuclear technology played an important role in agriculture.

“It reduces the excess use of pesticide and chemical fertilisation. The overuse of chemicals can possibly pollute the environment,” he said.


By WONG PEK MEI 
The Star/Asia News Network

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