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Microalgae: A natural green superfood for fish

Spirulina harvested from the Alson Aquaculture Corporation Phil. Photos- Dr. DayritOne of the most important inputs in aquaculture is feed, and the most significant criteria of it are price, quality, quantity, availability, and efficient feeding system. The natural foods of fish are algae and plankton. However, under contained cultivation condition, the quality of the farmed fish depends mainly on the quality of the food that is being provided.

Today, defatted soybean meal is the most common, low-cost food for fish. However, soybean meal is not the natural diet of fish because it lacks in key compounds required for proper fish nutrition. Thus, the use of soybean meal presents a major limitation in providing healthy growth conditions in Philippine aquaculture. The challenge, therefore, is to provide the ideal natural foods for fish such as microalgae at a competitive price, high quality, and adequate quantity.

To address this, the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), funded a project titled, “Development of Technology for Efficient Microalgae Production: Photobioreactor Design, Feed and High-value Metabolites” that aimed to provide superior fish food through the development of local microalgae. Under the leadership of phycologist and chemist professor, Dr. Fabian M. Dayrit of the Ateneo de Manila (ADMU), he developed a technology that is simple, reliable and efficient photobioreactor (PBR) design system to maximize the yield and optimized culture conditions for microalgae production of Spirulina.

The optimized Photobioreactor PBR systems developed by ADMU for the microalgae production of spirulina  Photos -LFontanil

Spirulina (Arthrospira platensis) or the blue-green photosynthetic microalgae, known as the highest natural protein source, contains about 55-70 percent essential protein profile with a complete set of key compounds such as amino acids, polyunsaturated fatty-acids (PUFA’s), carotenoids, and vitamins A, C, D, E, B12 or cobalamin that boost the required nutritional diet of fish. One of the characteristics of this quality feed is the presence of natural constituents that has high value of nutraceuticals. These compounds include omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, dietary minerals, and phycobiliproteins.

Due to its boundless nutrient contents, Dr. Dayrit highlighted the main benefits of feeding Spirulina for aquaculture purposes. Among the benefits include: 1) increase and give a more uniform growth rate for fish; 2) improve the digestion; as a result of more nutrition are extracted from the food and there are no indigestible components; 3.) boost the immune system and aid prevention of swollen abdomens due to blocked intestinal passages; and 4) enhance production of special enzymes that break down digested fats into energy rather than letting them build up in the fishes body.

Seeing its importance, Dr. Dayrit and his team fabricated an optimized PBR system and culture condition for the production of Spirulina. Unlike other PBR designs for algae growth, the features of developed enhance PBR are inexpensive, easy to clean, and re-use, subject in efficient illumination, and the materials are readily available so that the fabrication is easy and scalable.

Using the transparent polyethylene bag with cut-out plastic jug for its support are the inventive technology developed by the team as the PBR housing or the culturarium for algae. Part of their worked on photobioreactor systems is the involvement of prototypes designed to probe the effects of various parameters on microalgae growth in terms of the modification of culture media, light configuration and its culture process. As a result, the alpha PBR prototype showed a significant increase in growth rates in terms of cell count and cell size of Spirulina. The cost of power used for lighting system was low; the culture time was decreased and created as highest biomass yield improvement with approximately 70 percent increase in microalgae production.

The developed PBR system is now being undertaken by the Alsons Aquaculture Corporation, an industry partner based in Sarangani, Province, and one of the major aquaculture companies in the Philippines. The optimized PBR system and culture condition of Spirulina are transferred to Alsons where it will be scaled-up, further optimized and pilot tested to make the product market-ready. ### (Leoveliza C. Fontanil)

Identifying Phl citrus varieties using molecular markers

Citrus is the most important fruit in the world in terms of production, processing and trade. In the Philippines, calamansi is the most popular type of citrus due to its abundance and popularity of use as an ingredient in our local cuisine. Aside from the popular calamansi, there are many other types of citrus grown in the country like sweet orange, orange, ponkan, pummelo, and mandarin.

Experts mentioned how the origin and identification of citrus is a complicated, confusing, and controversial matter due to the intra- and interspecific hybridization, high frequency of mutations, long history of cultivation, and dispersal. In fact, even the most widely-accepted classifications of citrus have differences in their concepts of classifying it.

According to Karen Tonogbanua of the Institute of Crop Science, College of Agriculture and Food Science, University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), “a well-established identity is the key in protecting and preserving any plant genetic resource. Researchers and breeders can properly utilize plant genetic resources in their researches if the materials are well characterized and identified to exploit their potentials as breeding materials.” She also mentioned that, “in other countries, researchers geared their studies toward profiling their materials.” Therefore, she together with Dr. Rene Rafael C. Espino, UPLB professor, took it upon them to develop an identification key for citrus varieties and species in the Philippines using molecular markers.

The research project titled, “Identification of Variety-Specific Alleles and Loci in Philippine Citrus Collection Using Simple Sequence Repeat (SSR) Markers,” was recently published at the Philippine Agricultural Scientist Journal in September 2017. Dr. Espino acknowledged the Bureau of Agricultural Research for funding their research, saying that “it serves as a contribution of the Bureau to furthering science in the country.”

DNA profile of citrus collection in the Philippines

For the research project, they utilized 44 citrus varieties belonging to nine citrus species obtained from Baguio National Crop Research and Development Center, Bureau of Plant Industry, Baguio City. These include 13 mandarins (Citrus reticulata and C. unshiu Marc.), 11 pummelos (C. grandis), 10 sweet oranges (C. sinesis), three lemons (C. limon and C. volkameriana), three limes (C. aurantifolia), three trifoliates (P. trifoliata) and calamansi (x Microfortunella microcarpa).

Over the past 20 years, SSRs are used for genotyping plants because they are highly informative, codominant, multi-allele genetic markers that are experimentally reproducible and transferable among related species, according to Mason (as cited in Vieira et. al., 2016). For the research project, 44 SSR markers were used to construct the DNA profiles of the 44 citrus varieties from nine species. These SSR markers that were screened from previous works provided sufficient information to identify unique alleles and/or loci that were used to establish an identification key for citrus.

“A haplotype map was constructed where alleles are presented accordingly with the loci that were observed. A total of 268 alleles were observed for 44 polymorphic primers used in this study, “according to Tonogbanua. More so, the identification of markers for each agronomic type (mandarins, pummelos, sweet oranges, lemons, limes, trifoliates, and calamansi) was done manually by using the banding patterns on the haplotype map. Tonogbanua also mentioned that, “the use of markers in determining varieties for the study is arbitrary; no strict order of the markers was followed.” ### (Rena S. Hermoso)

2018-02-23 lab

Photo Caption

Karen A. Tonogbanua, research assistant, preparing the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) cocktail. PCR is the technique used to create multiple copies of a particular section of DNA.

Photo Courtesy of Karen A. Tonogbanua

BAR supports commercialization of canned chevon

Picture3Chevon or goat’s meat is a common dish in the rural areas. Various celebrations would often include specialty cooked goat dishes such as kaldereta, kilawin, pinapaitan, and sinampalokan.

Putting added-value to the usual goat’s meat, the Isabela State University - Cagayan Valley Small Ruminants Center (ISU-CVSRRC) in Echague, Isabela developed various products from chevon which are now packed into canned and microwavable meals capturing a wider scale of the Filipino market.

Now under its trade name, Chevon Valley, ISU-CVSRRC developed various products from chevon: canned and ready-to-eat. Among the canned chevon products include Goat’s Happy Feet, Chevon Curry, Chevon Mechado, Chili-garlic Chevon, and Pounded Chevon with filings; while the ready-to-eat products include chevon meat balls and classic dip, chevon with white sausage toppings, and chevon ribs with chestnut sauce.


“Canning was conducted to preserve the food from one year or more. By doing so, chevon products can reach market outside the country, such as Middle East wherein demand for goat is high,” said Dr. Jonathan N. Nayga, director of CVSRRC who also serves as the project leader.

He shared that goat meat production is regarded as the principal function of goat raising among developing countries. In the Philippines, the province of Isabela as dominated by Ilokanos are known to be “goat-eating” people. And as a common practice in the past to sell goat on a per head basis, Filipinos are now introduced with the healthier option of consuming chevon among the usual red meats available in local markets such as pork and beef, and even chicken meat.


Chevon can be consumed fresh, chilled, or frozen. It has lower amount of saturated fats and has high levels of unsaturated fats as compared to other meats. Saturated fats increase the risk of acquiring cardiovascular diseases while unsaturated fats help improve blood cholesterol levels and lowering the risk having heart diseases. It has lower calories and cholesterol, and has high levels of iron and protein when compared to equal serving sizes of chicken, beef, and pork. Compared to other commercially-available canned meat, ISU’s products have no preservatives.

Seeing the potential to capture larger Filipino consumers, capturing the exquisite tastes of the local delicacies, especially those living in the urban areas and at the same time to help the goat raisers in the country, the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) funded in 2014 the technology transfer of chevon product processing and commercialization of new chevon products under the National Technology Commercialization Program (NTCP).

Realizing the potential of this growing industry, Region 2 has implemented various R&D projects encompassing the whole production-to-processing cycle since 2006. Goat raising in particular is an ideal livelihood options for farmers in the rural areas since goat raising has low capital investment, and can make use of locally available forages and grasses. “Moreover, the current demand for chevon in the international market also initiates local producers to raise more,” Dr. Nayga added.

Based on the computed return of investment (ROI), all chevon products has a positive profitability with chevon meat balls having the highest ROI at 62.32 percent among the processed chevon sold at meal boxes.

The product development was made possible with the support from the Commission of Higher Education (CHED), Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARRD), DOST-Industrial Technology Development Institute (DOST-ITDI), Bureau of Animal Industry-Animal Products Development Center (BAI-APDC).

The ISU collaborated with Agricomponent Co., a private company, to be the exclusive franchisee of Chevon Valley. Agricomponent served as the private-partner of ISU responsible in the manufacturing and distribution of products nationwide. All products undergo proximate analysis to make products ready for commercialization. ### (Ma. Eloisa H. Aquino)

CPAR farmers’ field days showcase corn production technologies in Region 2

3Farmers, researchers, project implementers, national and local government units, and other stakeholders gathered for the farmers’ field days in the provinces of Quirino and Cagayan, Cagayan Valley. The two-day event carried the theme, “Negosyo sa Sakahan at Pangisdaan, Laban sa Kahirapan” that aimed to share farming knowledge and experience, highlight on-farm demonstrations and technologies, while building strong farming communities through Community-based Participatory Action Research (CPAR).

Two projects titled “Community-based Participatory Action Research (CPAR) on Sustainable Corn Production in Sloping Areas (SCOPSA) in Corn-based Hilly Areas in Maddela, Qurino” and “Community-based Participatory Action Research (CPAR) on Corn-based Integrated Farming System in the Riverflood Plain in Alcala, Cagayan” carried out their farmers’ field day activities in each of the project sites.

With corn as Region 2’s primary commodity, the CPAR projects target to address common agro-climatic conditions in the province in relation to corn production. The region, with its hilly and river-flood prone areas, deals with adverse circumstances affecting farm productivity. The interventions identified by the Department of Agriculture-Regional Field Office (DA-RFO) 2 through CPAR include suitable land use management approaches, water conservation practices, and soil health preservation measures. In both projects, the farmer-cooperators showed positive returns from production to income.

Elvira Verzola, one of the farmer cooperators from Alcala, Cagayan, presented the results of her involvement in the CPAR project from input cost, labor cost to income generated. She provided actual results which summed up to a 47.97 percent return of investment (ROI) from 23.42 percent prior to CPAR intervention.

But more than the earnings, the CPAR farmer-cooperators learned the value of protecting the natural resources available to them. Through the SCOPSA program of DA, they were able to integrate through participatory research certain practices on conservation that, according to DA-RFO 2 Research Manager Lovelyn Gaspar, are beneficial to the corn areas in the region. “The CPAR projects we conducted in these areas served as our means in contributing to a climate resilient agriculture, where the farmers were taught to take good advantage of the available resources, without compromising them,” she said.

Ms. Salvacion Ritual, chief of the Program Monitoring and Evaluation Division (PMED) of BAR, attended the field days. In her message, she emphasized the formula of success of CPAR saying that “CPAR has consistently proven that getting the community involved in program design and implementation helps ensure that strategies are appropriate, acceptable and effective in the community.” During the farmers’ open forum, she addressed issues encountered during project implementation while emphasizing the BAR’s continuous support in the undertaking of CPAR in the region. She also thanked the participants from the LGUs in their active involvement in the project. ### (Daryl Lou A. Battad)

BPI, BAR project to develop organic seed production system

R0034102Organic farming plays a crucial role in helping farmers and producers meet consumers’ demand for organic food products. Organic agriculture advocates view the farming system as an alternative method of reducing the effects of chemical-based fertilizers in the food production processes. It also provides a healthier alternative farming by not using excessive chemical farm inputs.

Central to organic farming is producing the seeds. Production of organic seeds on a much larger proportion must respond to the demands of the organic farming industry.

To address this, the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), funded a project “Development of Organic Seed Production System of Lowland Vegetables and Field Legumes at BPI-LBNCRDC and Strengthening Partnership in CALABARZON, MIMAROPA and Bicol Region” that aimed to establish a national organic seed production area and broaden the science-based knowledge on organic seed production technologies.

Implemented by the Bureau of Plant Industry–Los Baños National Crop Research, Development, and Production Support Center (BPI-LBNCRDC), the project is led by its center chief, Dr. Herminigilda A. Gabertan.

Specifically, the project looks into: 1) increasing the production of certified organic seeds of NSIC varieties and promising lines of field legumes and selected vegetables; 2) maintaining organic certification from Organic Certification Center of the Philippines (OCCP) for the organic seed production system of the Center; 3) strengthening partnership with identified organic stakeholders in CALABARZON, MIMAROPA, and Bicol Regions; and 4) disseminating organic seed production technology to farmers and interested individuals in said regions.

The organic seed production area for tomato, eggplant, squash, ampalaya, bottle gourd, sponge gourd, mustard, okra, pole sitao, and cowpea consists of a three-hectare land inside BPI-LBNCRDC. The harvested organic seeds were conserved for future use and a significant amount of seeds was distributed to farmer groups in partner areas and to other interested individuals.

Since the project was implemented in 2013, significant outputs were obtained resulting to the expansion of organic area and distribution of organic seeds. The project proponents believed that one of their major contributions to the OA industry is the supply of organic planting materials.

BAR and BPI’s partnership led to the distribution of more than 1,112 kilograms of assorted organic seeds to farmers, producers, and other stakeholders as well as disseminated organic farming technologies in selected municipalities of CALABARZON, MIMAROPA, and Bicol regions.

Under the project, there were more than 2,000 farmers and technicians trained on organic seed and vegetable production. The trainings were conducted in Palawan, Albay, Sorsogon, and Oriental Mindoro, which led to the identification of possible collaborators of the project like the Organization for Industrial Spiritual and Cultural Advancement (OISCA), Lucban Quezon; Christian Life Community (CLC), San Fernando, Camarines Sur; Dr. Minerva Jovilla of the Sorsogon State College; Mr. Nestor A. Nava, Philippine International Agricultural Training Exchange Inc. (PIATE); and Mr. Rudy C. Carticiano, an organic farmer in Calapan Oriental Mindoro; among others.

Evaluated seed performance of the different varieties and results showed that cowpea yielded 1.05 tons per hectare; pole sitao-1.54 tons/ha; mungbean-0.88 ton/ha, and tomato-0.057 ton/ha.

Also, one of the noteworty accomplishments of the project was the granting of “Organic-in-Transition” Certification by the Organic Certification Center of the Philippines (OCCP) to BPI- LBNCRDC for the seeds it produced in June 2013. ### (Patrick Raymund A. Lesaca)