Amaret Bhumiratana

color = "#B693B5"; Profile: Amaret Bhumiratana An accomplished academic scientist believes innovation in the private sector is the key to Thailand’s future. By Klomjit Chandrapanya © Tatree Saengme-Anuparb Amaret Bhumiratana believes that one of the key factors missing in Thailand’s advancement in science and technology is the lack of entrepreneurial spirit among young Thais. A product of American education, Amar

Klomjit Chandrapanya
Jan 12, 2010

Profile: Amaret Bhumiratana

An accomplished academic scientist believes innovation in the private sector is the key to Thailand’s future.

© Tatree Saengme-Anuparb

Amaret Bhumiratana believes that one of the key factors missing in Thailand’s advancement in science and technology is the lack of entrepreneurial spirit among young Thais. A product of American education, Amaret admires the can-do American character and the new ideas and businesses it spawns.

“Thai students think about where they can apply for work, while American students ask themselves what they can do or create that they can call their own,” says Amaret, who has spent 36 years teaching and conducting research at Mahidol University’s Faculty of Science.

Amaret, who received his PhD in microbiology from Michigan State University when he was only 26, knew he wanted a career in science and chose Mahidol because of the science that was being done there. One of his research...

© Tatree Saengme-Anuparb

Amaret Bhumiratana believes that one of the key factors missing in Thailand’s advancement in science and technology is the lack of entrepreneurial spirit among young Thais. A product of American education, Amaret admires the can-do American character and the new ideas and businesses it spawns.

“Thai students think about where they can apply for work, while American students ask themselves what they can do or create that they can call their own,” says Amaret, who has spent 36 years teaching and conducting research at Mahidol University’s Faculty of Science.

Amaret, who received his PhD in microbiology from Michigan State University when he was only 26, knew he wanted a career in science and chose Mahidol because of the science that was being done there. One of his research projects focused on the physiology and genetics of the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis . His work on improved strains of this bacterium has been developed into the manufacture of effective biopesticides.

However, he is best known for his research on Aspergillus oryzae, a fungus used to ferment soybeans for Thai soups, stir fries, and sauces. A typical Thai cupboard has at least one sweet soya sauce, one salty, and one with chunks of soya beans floating in the bottle. Amaret is credited with improving the quality of soybean fermentation and manufacturing techniques for these products.

The soybean industry, dominated by family-run, small-to-medium–sized producers, used to rely on manufacturing techniques that were passed down from generation to generation with little or no improvement. The lack of personnel and financial investment meant that little was put into research and development. Results from Amaret’s work were transferred to businesses through the Quality Control and Training Center for Soybean Fermentation, a consortium of small- and medium-scale producers. The initial stage of the project was supported by the Thailand Research Fund, a governmental agency, with the consortium contributing more funding later on.

Amaret believes the success of the soybean project illustrates the importance of collaboration between Thailand’s public and private sectors, and he’d like to see more of it. “The Thai private sector has been too reliant on imported technology,” he says. “They should be investing more in research and developing homegrown technology. If they aren’t ready yet, then this is where the government can intervene and get things started: lower taxes for research material and equipment, provide research grants, or co-fund research with private companies.”

The 62-year-old professor is doing his bit. He was instrumental in creating a new course offered by his Biotechnology Department this year called Biotechnology Commercialization. He wants to encourage a business culture and push his students to start thinking about creating new business sectors based on their innovations.

The course covers the evolution of the biotechnology industry, its impact on existing Thai industries and society, and building a business based on intellectual property. It touches on technology licensing agreements, business development, and starting up companies.

Until recently, Amaret served as dean of the Faculty of Science, but he says university regulations that prohibit professors over the age of 60 from holding administrative positions have freed him to do the work he has always wanted to do. He still oversees some research projects along with teaching basic genetics and the physiology of microorganisms to undergraduates. However, it was while talking about plans to get students to be more creative and think like entrepreneurs that he was positively beaming.

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?