German Government Program Boosts Biotechnology

The ministry of science seems to be taking action now that 2001 has been proclaimed the Year of Life Sciences. Two weeks ago the German government decided on a special funding program to advance biotechnology. With 1.5 billion DM for the next 5 years, the government wants to support promising fields of biotechnological research and the creation of qualified jobs.

According to Edelgard Bulmahn, head of the ministry of science, education and research have been greatly improving in Germany since 1999 due to the government's new strategy in science policy. And indeed, the total R&D budget was increased by 9.5%, to almost 16 billion DM. Apart from the money, this strategy also includes the ongoing reform of the academic structures and the goal of improving cooperation among the different parts of Germany's public research structure.

The time for action is ripe. For years now, economists and representatives of trade associations have complained about antiquated conditions at universities. But there had been no real effort for change. Consequently, qualified scientists drifted to other European countries and the United States. The number of students studying the natural sciences has also declined in recent years.

Now, it seems, the government has decided that the time has come to attack the problem at its roots. The ministry of science has published a priority list containing research fields that deserve strong promotion, such as genomics and proteomics, structural molecular biology, bioinformatics, nanobiotechnology, and neuroscience. Moreover, the program will try to encourage structural improvements such as closer coordination of the 16 national research centers (HGF) and their collaborations with universities, Next Wave reported. An additional 350 million DM from the recently auctioned Mobile Telephone Frequency Licenses (UMTS) has also been allocated to set up a National Genome Research Network. Bulmahn is sure that the analysis of the human genome will lead to a massive gain of knowledge, which in turn will provide starting points for fighting many diseases. Also in this context, she emphasized once more the vital importance for Germany of international cooperation as well as cooperation between academia and industry within the country.

One of the program's essential parts deals with the education and encouragement of young scientists. "We need the promotion of qualified staff in Germany, because innovation is the result of the collaboration of young and experienced researchers," says Bulmahn, who just returned from a trip to the United States, where she talked to many young German scientists about their reasons for leaving Germany. With well-aimed actions like the organization of new bioinformatic courses at universities (see Next Wave feature Bioinformatics) and the "BioFuture" competition, the minister intends to combat the lack of young talents in the field of life sciences. And for making Germany more attractive to foreign students, international courses of studies will be established at universities, where it will be possible to get bachelor's or master's degrees.

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