Biotech Activities Soldier on in Johor

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Scientists working with large vat in the lab

Recalling my interview question for my first job; how do you explain Biotechnology to a 5-year-old kid? My answer was simply; using any form of living organism to convert low value products into high value products. The simple definition basically means that humans have been practising biotechnology from ancient times when our forefathers made cheese, yogurt and beer through fermentation. Fast forward to the 21st century, we are now able to understand biological sciences in depth and develop technologies to alter genetic and biological processes to improve the quality of human life and address the demand to support exponential human population growth, while ensuring our natural resources are not depleted.

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Malaysian National Biotechnology Policy (NBP) was launched in 2005 and will reach its full term in 2020 with a projection to create 280,000 jobs in this sector. Without dwelling too much on projects that have failed to see the light of day, Biocon in Johor and CJ Arkema in Terengganu stands out as a major success in the Malaysian Biotech scene. Adding to that list, a new kid on the block has just landed in Johor, Nutritional Technologies (NT) aims to dispel a common misconception that Biotech is a game only for the big boys, mainly due to the long gestation periods and its huge investment.

Coming back to my simplified answer, NT is just doing that, converting plant proteins into high value animal proteins and fats by use of living organism to address the global animal feed challenges. NT aims to be one of the top worldwide manufacturers of sustainable insect protein and oil for the animal feed and pet food industry. With a proprietary technology centred on the bio-conversion of upstream food waste, using a unique high-tech combination of bacteria and insects, NT aims to build a resilient network of large scale, modern and eco-friendly production sites spanning multiple continents.

Capitalising one of nature’s best food recyclers, Black Soldier Fly larvae (in photo), NT has developed a sustainable production system after spending considerable time and money on research focusing on production growth, whilst developing the company’s technology in-house. Their tropical production system turns low-value by-products into high-grade feed ingredients in just 10 days, with minimal operating costs. NT’s process integrates cutting edge off-the-shelf equipment, to ensure consistent quality and standards.

With a strong push from Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA) and Malaysian Investment Development Authority (MIDA), NT could not resist Johor’s offering and decided to establish their first manufacturing footprint in Johor before venturing into other countries in the region. Taking over an existing building in Senai allows NT to enter commercial scale production in record time. The facility is designed to be a zero-waste facility where all by-products can be used as fertilizers for variety agricultural sector.

Raw materials are biological (vegetables) in nature and no chemicals are used throughout the manufacturing process. Raw material goes through a proprietary controlled fermentation process with unique microbials selected by NT before it is fed to the Larvae. At the end of the 7th day growth cycle, matured larvae are processed to Hi.Protein, Hi.Oil and Hi.Frass. The products have gained acceptance in the global market while NT predicts that by the end 2020, they will be supplying close to 18,000 tons of insect-based feed ingredients and organic fertilisers every year.

Back in 2005 when I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology (coincidentally the same year NBP was launched), many had high hopes that biotech industries will contribute extensively to Malaysia’s bioeconomy and create skilled jobs. Instead, many graduates ended up working in sectors not related to Biotech, but slowly the tide seems to be shifting direction. It is also heartening to see companies like NT collaborating with local universities (UTM in Johor) to further advance research in their respective field. Johor being strategically located close to Singapore and with strong support from the state and federal agencies, should continue attracting foreign investment while not forgetting to nurture local start-ups and SME’s in the Biotech sector.

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About the Author

A trained Medical Lab Technologist (Diploma, USM), educated in Biotechnology (Bachelor’s Degree, USM) and accomplished Project Manager have executed multimillion $$ Construction Projects for German MNC in Singapore, Malaysia & Indonesia. Without any formal engineering and construction qualification, he was handed down responsibility to manage a large team of engineers to execute complex projects. In 2017, he was appointed as the Director and General Manager for the same organization in Malaysia. After 15 years in corporate life, he decided to pursue his childhood passion on Information Technology and programming to establish Disruptor Sdn. Bhd., an organization with an aim to Disrupt traditional Project Management processes in the construction sector by integrating Industry 4.0, AI, cloud computing and Software as Service (SaaS). He can be reached at joel.william@disruptor.com.my & https://www.linkedin.com/in/joel-william-a1901310/


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