University of the Philippines Los Baños

Oh yes, you are reading it right. UPLB is “melting the new gold.”

A pioneering nanotechnology study conducted by scientists at the UPLB National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (BIOTECH) is exploring the potentials of plantgrowth- promoting bacteria (PGPB) in the biosynthesis of nanogold.

Dr. Lilia M. Fernando, Dr. Florinia E. Merca, and Dr. Erlinda S. Paterno are looking at how nanogold could be produced in large quantities using PGPB as this could bring down medical diagnostic and treatment costs especially against a dreaded disease - cancer.

Gold, a very expensive element, is used to detect pathogens and cancer cells in the body. It would therefore be in the best interest of every Juan if a substitute could be found especially because gold not only detects but also destroys cancer cells without killing the healthy cells. According to Dr. Fernando, gold is an inert element and does not react to other body parts.

Conventional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation, on the other hand, kill healthy cells in the process of destroying the cancer cells, causing all sorts of side effects such as hair loss, skin change, or worse, organ damage.

“Our study primarily aimed to find a less expensive source of gold through the biosynthesis of the element by microorganisms.” Dr. Fernando explained. “Gold costs around 200 to 300 US dollars (or about Php9,000 to Php14,000), at kaunting particles lang ng nanogold iyon,” Ms. Fernando added.

Furthermore, PGPB is abundantly available in the soils of the Philippines. In fact, the researchers carried out their collection of PGPB in Tarlac and Bohol. Moreover, cultivation of PGPB does not require any special incubation procedures in order to maintain its nano-size because it can survive at room temperature. This makes the cultivation of PGPB easier and less expensive compared to other microorganisms.

This pioneering study that was published in the June 2013 issue of the Philippine Agricultural Scientist is just one in the initial foray that UPLB is making into the field of nanotechnology. More novel materials have been discovered and will be discovered with the creation of the UPLB Center for Nanotechnology Application in Agriculture, Forestry and Industry that will be housed at the Institute of Chemistry. Dr. Fernando acknowledged the UPLB administration and the Department of Science and Technology for their full support in nanotechnology research.

Aside from the Nanotech Center, 17 other interdisciplinary studies centers have been created to consolidate the expertise of UPLB scientists and researchers in finding holistic and lasting solutions to current and future development problems.

As to the environmental health risks that nanotechnology could possibly bring, Dr. Fernando said that as far as their study was concerned, it did not pose any such risks mainly because PGPB is non-pathogenic to humans and are considered good bacteria. She also said that such risks are mostly associated with nanotechnology applied to materials science or industry.

She added that the environmental health risks that nanobiotechnology could possibly bring was a research gap that they are planning to fill in their future studies.