Genomics, Biotech: 'Plants for the future' fashions vision for the future of plant genomics
An EU-backed technology platform that was launched earlier in the year is busily hammering out its vision of how plant genomics and biotechnology can contribute to sustainable growth and competitiveness in Europe.
Launched at the end of June, the ‘Plants for the future’ technology platform is made up of a broad range of stakeholders, including industry, consumer groups, the scientific community and policy-makers.
The platform has been charged with forging a vision that will plot a beneficial course for Europe through the short-, medium- and long-term challenges and opportunities in this promising field. In order to draft this complex vision, the members of the platform have been divided into four working groups: products, sustainability, basic research, and horizontal issues.
The groups gathered in Brussels earlier this month to discuss their preliminary findings. In 2005, the platform also plans to conduct a broad consultation in ten to 20 Member States.
The stakeholders in the platform believe that this process will enable them to formulate a balanced vision that is competitive, sustainable, ethical and serves Europe’s broader societal good.
At the end of the process, the ‘Plants for the future’ platform will produce two documents: a strategic research agenda until 2020 and a more detailed action plan until 2010.
Roots for change
Former Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin officially unveiled the platform on 24 June 2004. He also launched a special report on the future of plant genomics and its applications in Europe. Entitled ‘2025: a vision for plant genomics and biotechnology’, the document explored the promise and risks of this important emerging field in which Europe must claim a lead role.
“Despite Europe having been at the forefront of plant science and biotechnology, its leading position has drastically deteriorated in recent years,” Mr Busquin told a Brussels press conference at the time. He attributed this “to public concerns over the impact of these technologies, insufficient communication of the benefits… to the public, and lack of strategic research programmes as compared to our competitors”.
But the stakes are high, the paper points out. For instance, the EU’s agri-food industry generates €600 billion a year and employs 2.6 million people – excluding farmers – mainly in small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the EU-15 alone.
Handled correctly, plant genomics and its biotechnological applications hold significant promise of improving the sustainability and productivity of modern agriculture, as well as creating a whole range of biodegradable products, including plant-based oils, lubricants and plastics.
Nevertheless, US biotech firms spend €650 million a year on R&D, while their EU counterparts invest only €400 million. Last year, the American government launched a National Plant Genome Initiative with a total budget of €1.1 billion from 2003 to 2008. EU-15 support is estimated to be around €80 million annually.
Reflecting the importance of the sector, leading European and international personalities signed up to the 2025 vision document. They include Federico Mayor, president of Spain’s Foundation for a Culture of Peace and former UNESCO director-general, German and UK Nobel laureates Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Tim Hunt, as well as Mohamed HA Hassan, executive director of the Third World Academy of Sciences.
Press release on launch of platform
2025 : a vision for plant genomics and biotechnology [ - 704 Kb]