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Working groups

 

Grouping together for success

For more than 20 years, the EU-US Task Force has sponsored a number of working groups on topics of mutual transatlantic interest. Its activities are focused on a series of important research areas key to enhancing transatlantic biotechnology innovation potential and for which international coordination has been highlighted by the scientific community and Task Force members. Currently, there are six active working groups under the Task Force i.e. Environmental Biotechnology; Bio-based Products and Bioenergy; Marine Genomics; Plant biotechnology; Animal biotechnology and Synthetic Biology.  The structure and the number of working groups is flexible, allowing new groups to be established as needed while ending those whose work has been completed.

The EU US Task Force on Biotechnology Research 1990-2010 "Biotechnology research for a complex world" (PDF icon 875 KB) report highlights the different working groups collaborative activities and the role of the Task Force in bringing together researchers from both sides of the Atlantic.

In 2011, the Task Force and related working groups developed a Strategic Plan (2011-2015) (PDF icon 267 KB) that is elaborated on different opportunities to explore new and innovative ways for the different working groups to collaborate in the future.

Guidelines for working groups (PDF icon)

Current working groups:

Environmental biotechnology working group

The Environmental Biotechnology working group was established in 1994 to foster collaboration and exchange ideas on using emerging biotechnology capabilities to address environmental challenges. At the heart of the working group mission is the establishment of collaborative ties among US and European scientists, particularly early career scientists. 
A number of workshops have been organised under the Environmental Biotechnology working group umbrella:

  • Environmental biotechnology, Brussels, Belgium, 1994
  • Molecular and biochemical bases of biodegradation, Granada, Spain, 1996
  • Genomics and environmental biotechnology, Rockville, USA, 2004
  • Metabolomics and environmental biotechnology, Mallorca, Spain, 2008

The group has also held a very successful series of summer short courses and a short-term exchange programme:

  • Theoretical and Practical Course on Molecular Approaches for In Situ Biodegradation, New Brunswick, NJ, USA, 1998
  • Second Theoretical and Practical Course on Environmental Biotechnology, Madrid, Spain, 2003
  • Theoretical and Practical Course on Molecular Approaches for in situ Biodegradation, Oklahoma, USA, 2009
  • Microbial Catalysts for the Environment Shortcourse,  Lausanne, Switzerland, 2011

For the 2011-2015 period efforts will be stepped-up identifying research areas and topics of mutual interest that can provide key understanding to some of the most globally significant and challenging environmental problems such as climate change effects, environmental contamination and bioenergy production. At the heart of the working group's activities is the desire to explore the remarkable metabolic abilities of microorganisms.

 

Bio-based products working group

The Bio-Based Products and Bioenergy working group focuses on bio-based products and the potential for plants to become an expanded source of industrial feedstocks, reducing dependence on petrochemicals and creating new markets for farmers. This joint working group was established in 2004 to facilitate and coordinate research in Europe and the US, combining research, training and dissemination of outcomes through workshops and flagship projects.
A number of workshops have been organised under this working group umbrella:

  • Engineering Plants for Biobased products and Biofuels, Albany, CA, USA, 2004
  • Biobased Product Research, Beltsville, MD, USA, 2005
  • Development of Sustainable Bioenergy, San Francisco, CA, USA,2008
  • Sustainability of Biomass Production for Bioenergy, Illinois, USA, 2011

The activities of this working group provided also the foundation for the EPOBIO Initiative, which was funded by the EU Framework Programme 6 (2002-2006). Within EPOBIO, partners from Europe and the US drawn from academic research institutions and from industry work together with policy makers to assist US and EU decision-making to design a new generation of eco-efficient bio-based products derived from plant raw materials. In addition, the working group developed three initial flagship projects on addressing constraints to bio-based products presented by the plant cell wall, and oilseed crops, and biopolymers. The flagships build on the respective strengths and complementarities of the European and US scientific and technological knowledge base and industries. Website: http://epobio.net

Report (PDF icon 155 KB)

Topics of particular importance for the working group to be developed for the 2011-2015 period include: methods for assessing sustainability of bioenergy/bioproducts, added-value bioproducts from plants and novel sources of biomass.

 

Marine Genomics Working Group

The aim of the Marine Genomics Working Group, establish 1998, is to foster transatlantic collaboration to best address challenges and opportunities in emerging areas of marine ecology and biotechnology.

A number of workshops that underpin different aspects of marine genomics has been organised under the Marine Genomics working group umbrella:

  • Genomic approaches for studying marine environment and resources, Bremen, Germany, 2005
  • Cyber infrastructure Resources for Genome-Enabled Research on Microbial Life and the Marine Environment, Arlington VA, US, 2007
  • Marine Genomics: The Interface of Marine Microbial Ecology and Biotechnology applications, Monaco, 2008
  • Marine Genomics: High throughput technologies and their application/influence on marine microbial genomics and biotechnology, Washington D.C., 2010

Over the 2011-2015 period Marine Genomics working group will focus in two key flagship areas. First flagship area includes high throughput technologies and related opportunities and challenges in marine (meta) genomics. Activities on optimization of data utilization and next generation scientist training, are been considered. The second key flagship area of this working group will be driven by how better link marine biotechnology development to environmental and ecological concerns. At the core of this area activities is the cross fertilization between marine biotechnology and marine biodiversity efforts which promises to result in a series of innovative and transformative technologies.

Plant biotechnology working group

The EU-US Working Group on Plant Biotechnology Research was established in July 2006 to provide an overall vision to guide the EU-US Taskforce in developing future activities on plant genomics and plant biotechnology research. The Working Group is composed of 4 members each from the US and EU side including a chair, two additional scientists and a representative of the research funding administration. Since its creation it has met to explore areas of mutual benefit and prepared recommendations on specific topics and mechanisms for increased scientific collaboration. In December 2009,  it organized a workshop on Plant Bioinformatics, focusing on education, standards, cyberinfrastructure, and stewardship
A number of meetings and workshops have been organised under the Plant biotechnology working group umbrella – the first ones taking place before its formal establishment:

  • Plant and Animal Bioinformatics, Arlington, VA, USA,1999
  • Biotechnological Approaches to Disease Resistance in Plants and Animals, Washington, DC, USA, 2003
  • Plant Bioinformatics, Hinxton, United Kingdom, 2009

Conclusions of the 2009 plant bioinformatics workshop have been summarised in a report and resulted in recommendations for collaboration on bioinformatics training, data standards, infrastructures and stewardship of data resources. Work over the 2011-2015 period, will build on these recommendations with the aim of establishing a platform for regular discussions, events and scientific partnerships in the interface between plant sciences and bioinformatics. This area is seen as crucial to exploit the wealth of genomic and other 'omics resources with the aim to translate these into applications for plant improvement.

 

Animal Biotechnology working group

The mission of Animal Biotechnology working group, established in 2009,is to foster collaboration to best address challenges and opportunities linked to the scientific and technological progress on genomics and bioinformatics in the fields of "animal health": understanding the links between the genetic code and diseases; and "animal production": gene discovery, validation and epigenetic research on animal breeding.
Following the background and stated needs the group is organising a workshop:

  • Priorities to Realize the Promise of Genomics to Animal Health, Well Being & Production, Beltsville,  2011

Over the 2011-2015 period the working group intends to concentrate its efforts on the enhancement of genomic data visualization; physical database coordination and genome assisted selection. Calls to encourage coordinate research projects are also envisaged.

 

Synthetic Biology working group

Synthetic Biology is rapidly consolidating as one of the important fields with significant potential applications and implications in biotechnology. There have been a number of efforts throughout the world to identify the barriers and realize the potential of the Synthetic Biology. There is complementary as well as overlapping expertise in the area in the US and the EU. There is an underlying need to enable sharing and cooperation across national and regional boundaries in order to make progress.  As with all new and emerging technologies, there are also some unknowns with respect to the environmental and health impacts of synthetic biology. Given the potential of synthetic biology to change the way we do molecular biology or metabolic engineering, there is compelling need to work together to overcome barriers to practice and implementation in the field along with the safety, biosecurity, ethics and education issues.
The Synthetic Biology working group was established in 2010 to foster exchange of views and collaboration on scientific and technical progress in implementing synthetic biology principles in such areas as standards, orthogonality, minimal genomes, ethics, biosafety (including environmental safety), biosecurity, and education.

Following the background and stated needs the group already organized a successful workshop:

  • Standards in Synthetic Biology, Segovia, Spain, 2010

Over the next 2011-2015 period the working group will focus on standardisation needs not met or realized yet via current practice; it will follow Ethical, legal and social issues in relationship to the scientific and technical progress of synthetic biology; and will pay special attention to the contribution of synthetic biology to the different domains of Biotechnology. Calls encouraging coordinated research projects on synthetic biology standardization of biological parts have recently been launched.

Earlier working groups included the:

Bioinformatics working group

The Bioinformatics working group was set up out of recognition – in the early years of the information revolution – that biology has become a ‘mega science’. In the early 1990s, this working group helped to facilitate multi-investigator, multi-disciplinary research in biology by documenting the many challenges and opportunities in the field of bioinformatics.

Informatics systems for brain structures and functions working group

In the mid1990s, there was an increasing awareness among neuroscience researchers that, in order to understand the brain properly, it would be necessary to take advantage of the huge advances in information science to integrate multiple layers of information about the brain. This working group catalysed the emerging field of neuroinformatics, focusing on information exchange on the Informatics systems for brain structures and functions. The working group sponsored an important workshop on Neuroinformatics in Arlington, VA (USA) in September 1995.

Farm animal genomes working group

The organisation of genes in animals and birds is much the same regardless of species. Humans share all but one of their pairs of chromosomes with apes. Over greater evolutionary distances, more shuffling occurs, causing duplications, inversions and rearrangements of chromosome segments. But the order of the genes on each segment remains largely the same. This means that lessons can be drawn for other animals from work done to decode the human and mouse genome. The Farm animal genomes working group was set up to encourage co-operation in the mapping of the genomes of farm animals. The working group came into being as a result of the Farm animals genome workshop that took place in Brussels in September 1998.