Pakistan is a country with diverse geographic and climatic conditions. High mountains, deserts, plateau, rivers, oceans and fertile plains are all present in the country. Still there are some remote areas in this country, which have not yet been spoiled by the evils of environmental pollution. These regions are likely to have unique indigenous microbes.
In Pakistan, MELGRD serves as the focal point for developing biosafety guidelines. It has set up a National Biosafety Committee. The National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (NIBGE) has also prepared a document outlining the basic principles for the "code of conduct" for research projects related to recombinant organisms, genetically modified organisms, (GMOs) and other areas of biotechnology research.
In Pakistan, work in the area of strategies, policies or legislation in this field is confined to a few institutes. These are listed below in Table 11.1 along with some of the major projects presently underway.
Table 11.1: Institutions Involved in Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in Pakistan
Agriculture University Faisalabad, HEJ Research Institute of Chemistry (University of Karachi), Botany Department of Punjab University (Lahore), University of Peshawar, PFRI (Gatwala Faisalabad), NARC (Islamabad)
The Nuclear Institute of Agriculture and Biology (NIAB) and the Cotton Research Institute (CRI) are the premier institutes that develop new varieties of pest-resistant cotton and wheat. Before the recommendation of release of new varieties, extensive field trials are done at the research facilities and then at the adaptive research demonstration plots of the provincial agriculture departments. Success has been achieved in tissue culture technology especially in the potato crop at the NARC. Some private tissue culture companies have also entered the market. The Punjab Forestry Research Institute (PFRI), Gatwala, has also established tissue culture facilities for tree crops. The new technology of Essential Micro-organisms (EM) started in the early nineties. And has now been applied at the farm level. The NARC has extracted biofertilisers from algae like Azolla. The HEJ Institute of Chemistry, Karachi and the PCSIR laboratories, Lahore, has had successes in extracting and marketing pesticides derived from Neem. The National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad, and the Veterinary Research Institute (VRI) have made Pakistan self sufficient in most of the vaccines for common diseases including snake bites.
It is important to emphasise that one specific area that has been ignored in Pakistan is microbial diversity. Microbes significantly exceed plants and animals in both number and diversity. Their diversity is reflected by the multitude of ecological habitats they occupy. This ecological distribution is a clear indication of their metabolic diversity and adaptability. Historically the cataloguing and documentation of Biodiversity has focused on flora and fauna. Therefore, microbes have largely been ignored, or at best relegated to a secondary position. This has happened despite the fact that the role of microbes in the production of fermented foods dates back to prehistoric times. It is believed that this role has spanned a period of eight millennia. The few thousand microbes that have been discovered, identified and catalogued represent only a fraction of what is believed to be present.