EU Funding opens the way for a new age in biosociety
The European Commission has made EUR 1.75 billion available for the funding of projects in 32 areas of research as part of the Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7). These monies have been slated for projects ranging from environmental science to sustainable transport, from nanotechnology to biotechnology. The funding targets the key areas outlined in the Lisbon Agenda and will further Europe's standing as a leader in research and biotechnology.
Biotechnology is having an increasing impact on a range of economic sectors and disciplines, and the EU plans to be at the forefront of these changes, as well as to reap the rewards. No one recognises the need for action more than the European Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik. 'There is no time to lose in research', he announced.
Speaking at the announcement of the funding, the Commissioner further commented: 'The EU's research framework programme has seen a smooth start in 2007, mobilising researchers from across Europe and beyond to compete with their best ideas and to cooperate in tackling many challenges. Today, we are continuing this effort and we call on all researchers to participate.'
Developing the bioeconomy
One of the key areas targeted by FP7 is the field of biotechnology. This area is defined as the application of scientific and engineering principles to the processing of materials by biological agents to provide goods and services. Recent years have seen advancements in the life sciences and biotechnology occurring at a breathtaking pace. Increasing genetic knowledge is paving the way for new gene therapies, agricultural products, foods and even renewable materials, such as biodegradable plastics.
All these advancements have a favourable impact on the bioeconomy of Europe. While still a relatively new concept, bioeconomy refers to a broad range of economic activities which benefit from discoveries, and related products and services arising out of the biosciences. In Europe, the life sciences and biotechnology are already the main scientific drivers of the bioeconomy, with estimates of its value reaching an astonishing EUR 1.6 trillion per annum. This is beneficial not only for profits but also for employment. The agro-food industry in the EU alone employs over 4 million people and is worth more than EUR 800 billion annually. If the EU is to build the world's most competitive knowledge-based economy and stay ahead of the pack, continual research and development is needed. This also requires the existence of an efficient and effective bio-based economic infrastructure to support it in a sustainable fashion.
The impact of a bioeconomy would be far reaching as it would assist rural development and sustainability, ensure the long-term competitiveness of the European agriculture, food and chemical industries, and reduce climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions.
Biotechnology is opening up new possibilities in terms of tailor-made foods targeted at specific consumer groups. In addition, industrial biotechnology is breaking new ground in understanding microbial biodiversity and bioprocesses that could lead to valuable bioproducts and biomaterials.
FP7 places a strong emphasis on international scientific collaboration in all areas of research. Open partnerships with countries from outside the European Research Area are also foreseen. In addition, specific activities have been identified, such as joint research with India on materials science and with Russia on power generation from biomass and tools for large power systems. This year will also see the creation of the Marie Curie International Staff Exchange Scheme, to strengthen research partnerships through staff exchanges and networking activities among research organisations both within and outside Europe. This will reinforce the relationships of European research organisations with their international counterparts, and there are specific calls for proposals from researchers in India working on materials and in Russia working on energy.
A network of national contact points is available (http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/ncp_en.html) to help researchers identify areas of interest and to help create the partnerships that are generally required for accessing European funding.
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