Learning the different advantages of engaging to nuclear science, the help it can give in terms of agriculture, and its essential applications in the environment.

by Zac B. Sarian

Nuclear science and technology are not only for building power plants that produce cheaper and cleaner electricity. They also have important applications in other fields such as agriculture, medicine, and the environment.

In agriculture, one very recent achievement of the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI), an agency of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), is the development of a plant growth enhancer that results in higher rice yields ranging from 15 to 30 percent.

This is called the “Carrageenan Plant Growth Regulator,” (CPGR) which was achieved by subjecting carrageenan (a seaweed extract) to irradiation.

Rice treated with CPGR produce long panicles and have high yields.

By so doing, the carrageenan is degraded to minute particles that are easily absorbed by plants. The increase in yield was demonstrated in multi-location trials in Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, and Iloilo. CPGR promotes heavier tillering, longer panicles, and heavier grains. The plants treated with CPGR have been observed to produce strong stems, and are hence more resistant to lodging. The plants are also more resistant to the tungro virus and bacterial leaf blight which are very destructive rice diseases.

Much earlier, PNRI scientists also produced rice mutants with desirable traits such as high yields and resistance to pests, diseases, and other stresses. These have been turned over to PhilRice as possible sources of germplasm for their plant breeding program.

The Philippine Nuclear Research Institute in Diliman, Quezon City.

Sterile Fruitflies

Many years back, the facilities of PNRI were used to produce millions of male fruitflies that were irradiated to make them sterile. These sterile fruitflies were released in the mango farms in Guimaras Island so that they would mate with the female fruit flies there. The mated female fruitflies produced eggs that never hatched. Eventually, Guiamaras was depopulated of fruitflies, which are a menace to the mango industry.

Seedless calamansi produced through irradiation.

Seedless Calamansi

In 2009, National Scientist Dr. Benito S. Vergara, with the help of PNRI scientist Fernando Aurigue, irradiated budsticks of Luz Calamansi. This resulted in some trees that produced seedless fruits. These seedless trees were then propagated by marcotting or grafting and budding to produce trees with seedless fruits which naturally produced more juice that was more convenient to extract.

Dwarf kamuning grown by Mae Magnaye of Davao City. It is more than 10 years old.

Ornamental Plants

Irradiation is another way of producing new forms of ornamental plants. The first mutant ornamental we know of that PNRI scientists produced is the dwarf kamuning, a tree that produces fragrant white flowers and berries that are bright red when ripe. This mutant is some kind of a curiosity plant.

Seedlings often start flowering and fruiting even if they are just two to three inches tall. It can also be grown into bonsai or into full-grown dwarf ornamentals, just like what Mae Magnaye from Davao City has done.

Beautiful variegated Sanseviera could be a product of irradiation.

Today, Boyet Ganigan and Jay Silvestre are producing new forms of ferns and Sansevieria through irradiation. By irradiating the spores of the asplenium (pakpak lawin), they were able to produce golden aspleniums. In the case of polypodium, another fern, the irradiated spores produced leaves with a lot more branches.

Sansevieria is a hardy plant for the indoors. There are many different varieties that come in various sizes, forms, and color patterns. Boyet and Jay have been irradiating leaves to produce many different forms of the species. While there are cheap varieties, the new ones with outstanding traits can cost a fortune.

In Japan and Thailand, Boyet said, irradiation has been practiced for many years to produce new forms of ornamentals that sell for a high price in the market.

This story appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s January 2017 issue.