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An Interview with UGA Professor, Dr. Wayne Parrott

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Last 15th of November, U.S. Embassy Manila, Philippines gave a great opportunity for executives and science enthusiasts to hear a lecture by Dr. Wayne Parrott, Professor of Crop Science, University of Georgia. The event was held at Manila Elks Club, organised by the Agribusiness Committee of American Chamber of Commerce in the Phils., Inc. (AmCham) with Mr. Philip Soliven as moderator. The topic discussed was about Global Trends in Biotechnology as part of the U.S. Embassy Biotechnology Outreach, to promote a healthy dialogue and better understanding of biotechnology.

 

Present during the event were executives from laboratories, agribusiness companies and members of AmCham. The Philippines is a major importer and producer of genetically modified (GM) crops. When it comes to safe and successful commercialisation of GM crops, the Philippines has been active in establishing and implementing guidelines on biotechnology policy and regulation.

 

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Dr. Wayne Allen Parrott, professor of Biotechnology in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, University of Georgia ~  “2016 U.S. Embassy Biotechnology Outreach: Global Trends in Biotechnology” 15 Nov. 2016, Manila Elks Club, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines

 

Dr. Wayne Parrott is a professor of Biotechnology in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, University of Georgia since 1988. He has a BS degree in Agronomy, and Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics. Dr. Parrott is elected chair of the biotechnology section of the Crop Science Society of America and plant section of the Society for In Vitro Biology. He is the scientific advisor to the Biotechnology Committee of the International Life Science Institute. This committee aims to bring the best science available for regulatory policies.

 

While he was in Makati City last month, Expatch magazine interviewed Dr. Parrott about his lectures on genetic engineering that is applied in agriculture. We also asked him about his impression of this country, local culture, cuisine, and the many things that he appreciates about the Philippines (our usual Expatch survey questions). Prior to this interview, we initially featured food safety and the science behind genetically modified crops in the article “Important Notes from 2016 U.S. Embassy Biotechnology Outreach”.

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Marcelle: Good afternoon, Dr. Wayne Parrott. Thank you for joining us today. To start with, how many times have you been here in the Philippines?

Dr. Wayne: It is my third time.

 

Marcelle: When was your first time here?

Dr. Wayne: It might have been 10 years ago maybe.

 

Marcelle: Was it for lectures?

Dr. Wayne: Yes, it was set of lectures and visit to farmers.

 

Marcelle: How do you find the Philippines so far?

Dr. Wayne: Good. As I say, I just like the environment very much. I like the people. I like the culture.

 

Marcelle: What about the tropical weather here?

Dr. Wayne: I like tropical weather. I like hot humid [weather]. From where I live now, the summer is very hot.

 

Marcelle: So, which places have you visited here in the Philippines?

Dr. Wayne: Besides this island [Luzon], previously we’ve been to Mindanao and we’ve been to Bohol.

 

Marcelle: Did you like it there in Bohol?

Dr. Wayne: Yes, I do.

 

Marcelle: Have you seen the Chocolate Hills?

Dr. Wayne: I did. I saw those. It’s very interesting. I also saw the churches before they fell.

 

[Editor’s Note: Bohol was struck by 7.2 magnitude earthquake on 15 Oct. 2013 and then a second natural calamity on 8 November 2013 by Typhoon Haiyan. These calamities destroyed century-old churches in Bohol.]

 

Marcelle: Have you seen the churches now after the restoration?

Dr. Wayne: No, but that was fast.

 

Marcelle: Yes. The church restorations are still ongoing but much has been done since. By the way, were you here during the time when Typhoon Yolanda [a.k.a. Typhoon Haiyan] hit the Philippines?

Dr. Wayne: I was here right before that, I believe.

 

Marcelle: That’s good. You’re lucky for not being here in November 2013. Typhoon Yolanda was the strongest landfalling tropical cyclone on record.

Well, moving forward, what do you like most about the Philippines?

Dr. Wayne: I like the people, followed by the landscape.

 

Marcelle: Tell us more about the landscape.

Dr. Wayne: You know, again it gets back to the mountains, the volcanoes, the greenery…the shade of green that you have. It is very beautiful.

 

Marcelle: Have you been to Taal Lake?

Dr. Wayne: I have not.

 

Marcelle: It’s very nice there with a beautiful but unusual landscape.

Dr. Wayne: I haven’t done any tourism visits.

Marcelle: I see. There is a volcano within a volcano which makes the place special. Taal Lake used to be a giant volcano that became a lake. There is a small volcano in the lake, Taal Volcano.

Dr. Wayne: Oh, really? And where is that?

Marcelle: Here in Luzon [Province of Batangas]. It is actually a 2-hour drive from Metro Manila.

Now, for my next question, is there anything that you dislike about the Philippines?

Dr. Wayne: The fish you have for breakfast, but I don’t like fish. But [generally] I haven’t had any bad experiences, though.

 

Marcelle: That’s good. Would you recommend to other Americans to come here to the Philippines? And why?

Dr. Wayne: Oh, yeah! I’m comfortable here. I don’t see any reason why not.

 

Marcelle: About food, have you tried our local cuisine? What kind of food do you like here in the Philippines?

Dr. Wayne: I have but I won’t be able to tell you the names.

 

Marcelle: Well, much of our local dishes are also Spanish food or Chinese food. Have you tried pancit? Chinese noodles.

Dr. Wayne: I have had those.

Marcelle:  Here, it is customary to eat those during one’s birthday for good luck and long life.

Dr. Wayne: I did not know that.

 

Marcelle: I mentioned pancit because this particular dish is full of vegetables, and most vegetables we have are genetically modified crops. So let’s talk about GMOs [genetically modified organism]. Not everybody is positive-minded about GMOs. Here in the Philippines, did you encounter people who are close-minded about it?

Dr. Wayne: Not among the users and not among the researchers. You tend to find them in the city. Unfortunately, the Philippines is recognised as one of the world leaders in adopting the technology. And that means that you attract a lot of attention for that reason. I think the NGOs or the people who are opposed to that technology want to stop it in the Philippines before it spreads. So that makes you ground zero. It means there’s a lot of misinformation, particularly in the cities.

 

Marcelle: Have you met these people?

Dr. Wayne: Either here or somewhere else.

Marcelle: Okay. But are these people in the scientific field?

Dr. Wayne: No. Every now and then you find an activist who honestly believes that GMOs are bad and they are protecting either the people or the environment. But those are very few. Most of them are trying to protect their self-interests. Most of them don’t want to lose the current markets they have, or they are trying to raise money by scaring you.

 

Marcelle: Okay. Do you think ignorance is also a factor there on why they are opposed to the technology?

Dr. Wayne: For the innocent bystanders, in the sense that if you don’t live on a farm, you have no reason to know what one is. So you just hear what people say and the people who talk about it are really…you know, Greenpeace to name one and some of the other ones.

 

Marcelle: I see. Thank you for sharing all these information about GMOs.

In relation to an award that you received recently, the D.W. Brooks Faculty Award for Excellence – Global Programs at the University of Georgia, I have a few more questions.

From the beginning, what inspired you to pursue a career in science and lab research? And then, eventually, what motivated you to specialise in Plant Genetics and Plant Breeding?

Dr. Wayne: I grew up in a tropical region, very much like the Philippines. The plant life all around me was amazing, and the diversity of plants fascinated me. I was hooked before even getting to high school.

 

Marcelle: What words would you give to the youth of today that may enkindle in them the interest or passion for Biotechnology or any career related to lab research? Or for those students who are currently studying science courses, what would you advise to them about pursuing this career path?

Dr. Wayne: For me, the only question was whether to study botany or agronomy. Both allowed me to work on plants and genetics. However, at the end, I decided it was important to me that my work would lead to food on somebody’s plate. Doing something useful with plants was much more satisfying than simply studying plants for knowledge’s sake.

 

Marcelle: That’s a very good message or lesson for all of us in the scientific field. Well, thank you so much for your time for this interview. And thank you for dropping by the Philippines again to share with us the latest trends in biotechnology. It is an honour to meet you.

Dr. Wayne: Thank you as well and it’s nice to meet you.

— [End of interview] —

 


 

 

 

Author: Marcelle Villegas

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Photo caption:

1. Dr. Wayne Parrott during a forum on the Development, Adoption, and Regulation of Gene Transfer Systems and other New and Emerging Technologies in Plant Breeding in Makati City. The event was conducted by the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines (NCBP) in partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

2. At Manila Elks Club

3.-5. Dr. Parrott’s lecture and presentation about the Global Trends in Biotechnology

6. Open forum, with Philip Soliven of Cargill Phils. Inc. and AmCham – Agribusiness Committee Chairman with Perfecto G. Corpuz, USDA, Foreign Agricultural Service and Ms. Maria Theresa Villa of U.S. Embassy Manila, Philippines (Photo: courtesy of U.S. Embassy Manila)

7. (Left) Dr. Wayne Parrott was presented with a gift from AmCham Philippines, Inc. by the event moderator (Right) Mr. Philip Soliven (President of Cargill Phils. Inc. and AmCham – Agribusiness Committee Chairman). (Photo: courtesy of U.S. Embassy Manila)

8. Members of AmCham, executives from laboratories and agribusiness companies with Dr. Wayne Parrott | 15 November 2016, Manila Elks Club, Makati City | (Left to Right) Alyssa Dispo (Committee Coordinator, AmCham Philippines, Inc.), Maria Theresa Villa (US Embassy Manila), Perfecto G. Corpuz, (USDA, Foreign Agricultural Service), Daniel Javellana Jr. (President, Javellana Livestock Farms, Inc.), Dr. Wayne Parrott (guest speaker from University of Georgia), Vincent P. Mercado (President, Microlab Inc.), Ebb Hinchliffe (Executive Director, AmCham Philippines, Inc.), Philip Soliven (President, Cargill Phils. Inc. and AmCham – Agribusiness Committee Chairman), Marcelle Villegas (Editor, Expatch magazine for MultiRational Corporation), Faye Ismael (Technical Recruiter, ZMG Ward Howell) and Arthur Alejar (Director-Executive Search, ZMG Ward Howell). Photo courtesy of US Embassy Manila

9. The House of Representatives Committee Affairs Department (CAD) holds a round table discussion on the topic: “Prevailing Global Trends and the Emerging Biotech Products and Processes.” The main discussant was Dr. Wayne Parrott, a world-renowned biotechnology scientist from the University of Georgia, USA, who gave an informative briefing on the benefits of the safe and responsible use of biotechnology. The activity formed part of the CAD’s Continuing Learning Series. The participants included: House Secretary-General Cesar Pareja; committee secretaries and senior technical staff from the Committees on Agriculture, Food Security, Aquaculture and Fisheries Resources, Science and Technology, Trade and Industry, and Health; and officers and staff of the Reference and Research Bureau and the Congressional Planning and Budget Research Department (CPBRD).

10. Dave Hall’s Twitter post – Great discussion at the workshop with Prof Wayne Parrott of

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Photo source:
Main photo and others – Dr. Wayne Parrott at Manila Elks Club, Makati City –  by Marcelle for Expatch
Dr. Wayne Parrott at The National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines (NCBP) – 
http://ncbp.dost.gov.ph/15-announements/47-ncbp-and-usda-features-forum-on-genome-editing-technologies
A round table discussion with the Philippine House of Representatives – http://www.congress.gov.ph/photojournal/zoom.php?photoid=1120
All other photos – courtesy of U.S. Embassy Manila and AmCham

 

Acknowledgement:

  • Thank you to Dr. Wayne Parrott for your guidance for this article and the opportunity to interview you.
  • Mr. Ebb Hinchliffe, Mr. Philip Soliven and Ms. Alyssa Dispo of American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Inc.
  • Ms. Maria Theresa Villa of U.S. Embassy Manila, Philippines
  • Mr. Perfecto G. Corpuz, United States Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Service

 

Reference:
https://www.princeton.edu/morefoodlesscarbon/speakers/wayne-parrott/
https://iapps2010.wordpress.com/2016/08/26/a-plant-breeder-takes-the-mystery-out-of-gmo-crops/
 
To know more about the positive impact of GM crops and biotechnology on Philippine agriculture, please see:
Philippines to allow GMO crops, Filipino farmers describe impact of biotech
repost by Genetic Literacy Project
 
 

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