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  Graphic element POLICY: European Council backs role of research in powering economy (30/03/01)
    Research and innovation policy must play a key role in making the EU the most competitive and dynamic economy in the world, according to the European Council.
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  Graphic element SCIENCE, SOCIETY: New service seeks greater public involvement in science policy (30/03/01)
    A new web service has been launched to bring European citizens closer to science and research policy - and to stimulate debate on a range of related issues.
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  Graphic element AWARDS, SCIENCE: Last chance to enter for Descartes Prize (30/03/01)
    There is still time to enter applications for a major European prize for scientific research.
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  Graphic element SCIENCE, PUBLIC OPINION: The ambiguous face of modern science (22/03/01)
    Recently released survey results paint a clear picture of current perceptions of the role and effects of science and technology on modern life. While the positive effects of scientific progress on daily life and health are recognised, other developments provoke suspicion and ethical concern amongst the general public.
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  Graphic element SCIENCE AWARDS: Nominations open for top European science prize (22/03/01)
    The European Science Foundation (ESF) is inviting nominations for the European Latsis Prize 2001. The prize, worth 100 000 Swiss Francs, is presented each year to a scientist or research group in recognition of outstanding and innovative contributions in a selected field of European research.
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  Graphic element MEDICAL, DYSLEXIA: International study reveals common factors amongst dyslexics across EU. (22/03/01)
    A study carried out by an international team of researchers has shown, for the first time, that the analytical problems associated with dyslexia are common to the English, French and Italian, even if these difficulties emerge in a different way in each language.
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  Graphic element EXPERTISE, POLICY: EU questions policy-making process (15/03/01)
    The European Commission is exploring new ways to organise the use of expertise to improve the quality of policy-making and public debate.
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  Graphic element RESEARCH, STRATEGY: Ministers endorse key principles of new framework programme (15/03/01)
    Europe's research ministers have welcomed the "strategic vision" offered by the next framework programme.
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  Graphic element LIFE SCIENCES: Pushing back the limits of brain research (15/03/01)
    Hundreds of events around the globe are helping to promote Brain Awareness Week (March 12-18) in an effort to convey to the public both the importance and the promise of brain research.
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  Graphic element ENVIRONMENT, ECOLOGY: New biodiversity body starts work (09/03/01)
    The first meeting of an international organisation which aims to expand current knowledge and understanding of biodiversity takes place this week with heavy European backing and involvement.
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  Graphic element ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE: European project monitors impact of climate change (09/03/01)
    The European Phenology Network (EPN) - which aims to increase the use of phenological data to stimulate monitoring and research on climate change - was officially launched this month at Wageningen University, the Netherlands.
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  Graphic element FOOD, GMOs: A European Integrated Discussion Platform has been set up to assess the safety of genetically modified food crops (09/03/01)
    Market introduction of GM food crops in Europe has given rise to public concern, due to both ethical reasons and general unfamiliarity with the new techniques being applied.
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  Graphic element GLOBAL WARMING: Problems caused by climate change set to worsen (02/03/01)
    The Earth is in the grip of major changes brought about by global warming and the problems are likely to get worse, warns a report compiled by hundreds of scientists.
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  Graphic element FOOD SAFETY: Experts complete inventory of TSE research (02/03/01)
    A group of national experts has completed an inventory of research currently being carried out in Europe on TSE (transmissible spongiform encephalopathies).
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  Graphic element MEDICINE, REPRODUCTION: Freezing human eggs - study heralds improved techniques (02/03/01)
    Freezing human eggs is one of the most difficult techniques to master in reproductive medicine but new research could pave the way for greater success.
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graphical element POLICY: European Council backs role of research in powering economy (30/03/01)
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  Research and innovation policy must play a key role in making the EU the most competitive and dynamic economy in the world, according to the European Council.
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The European Council met in Stockholm last week to discuss the goals and objectives of EU economic and social policy. It was the first regular meeting of the Council following the Lisbon summit in March 2000 where an ambitious ten-year programme of economic and social reform was laid down.
At Stockholm a number of new targets were agreed across a range of policy areas including research and development. The presidency of the Council concluded that: "Europe must do more to harness research, finance and business talent to ensure that European ideas reach the European market place first."
To that end, the presidency has invited the Council to:

  • adopt, with the European Parliament, the Community's next Framework Programme for research by 2002
  • examine a specific strategy for mobility within the European Research Area, on the basis of the proposals announced by the Commission
  • consider ways in which Member States' ideas for, and experience of, boosting R&D through economic incentives could be shared

The European Investment Bank was also invited to increase support for R&D.
Special mention was made at the meeting of the need to ensure that the best conditions are available for European businesses to harness the use of 'frontier technologies' such as biotechnology and nanotechnologies. The presidency called for the Council and the Commission to examine measures to utilise the full potential of such technologies and to strengthen the sector's competitiveness.

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Source: Stockholm European Council, presidency conclusions

Contact: michel.claessens@ec.europa.eu

More information on this subject:
The European Council web page
http://www.consilium.europa.eu/newsroom/main.cfm?LANG=1
The next Framework Programme proposals
http://ec.europa.eu/research/nfp.html

 
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graphical element SCIENCE, SOCIETY: New service seeks greater public involvement in science policy (30/03/01)
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  A new web service has been launched to bring European citizens closer to science and research policy - and to stimulate debate on a range of related issues.
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In order to promote interaction between policy-makers and the public, the Science and Society website provides an on-line forum where users can post their comments and suggestions on research matters in general and on the EU's next Framework Programme proposal in particular.
The Commission hopes the new service will become a valuable resource for citizens and stakeholders, ensuring that they play an active part in shaping the future landscape of European science and innovation policy.

The ethical debate
CORDIS has dedicated a section of the Science and Society service to opening up the debate about ethics and research. This specific site offers direct links to the activities of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies whose work has touched on many issues such as gene therapy, stem cell research, and genetically modified organisms. Access is also available to European and international texts and legislative documents relating to ethics, including those on the role ethics plays in EU's research programmes.
The Science and Society site was launched after the recent meeting of European science and education ministers who are keen to open the debate on science to as wide an audience as possible. Along with ethics, other issues which could be explored on the site and through its virtual forum include: levels of science and technology awareness; women in research; and the role of science in governance and policy-making. To participate in the science and society debate, please use links below.

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Source: CORDIS website

Contact: barbara.rhode@ec.europa.eu

More information on this subject:
Science and Society website
http://cordis.europa.eu/science-society/
Science and Society forum
http://cordis.europa.eu/rtd2002/
science-society/forum.htm

 
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graphical element AWARDS, SCIENCE: Last chance to enter for Descartes Prize (30/03/01)
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  There is still time to enter applications for a major European prize for scientific research.
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The Descartes Prize is awarded by the European Commission for outstanding scientific and technological achievements resulting from European collaborative research. It is open to all fields of scientific endeavour including the social and economic sciences.

The projects entered must have been implemented through European collaborative research, and involve teams established in Member or Associated States.
Project entries must be sent to the European Commission and be received by no later than 5pm on 6 April 2001 (Belgian local time) at the following address:

Descartes Prize
The Research Proposal Office (ORBN 8)
Rue de la Loi 200
1049 Brussels - Belgium

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Contact: melanie.kitchener@ec.europa.eu

More information on this subject:
Descartes Prize web pages
http://ec.europa.eu/research/
improving/descartesprize.html

 
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graphical element SCIENCE, PUBLIC OPINION: The ambiguous face of modern science (22/03/01)
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  Recently released survey results paint a clear picture of current perceptions of the role and effects of science and technology on modern life. While the positive effects of scientific progress on daily life and health are recognised, other developments provoke suspicion and ethical concern amongst the general public.
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The French Ministère de l'Éducation nationale and the magazine l'Usine nouvelle commissioned the Sofres group to carry out surveys in France to measure changes in public opinion towards science over the last 20 years. The same questions were then posed for cross-comparison in Germany, Great Britain and the United States. A specific survey was also carried out amongst French schoolchildren and students on their perceptions of scientific careers.
The survey results show that in France overall confidence in science and research has improved since the beginning of the nineties. However, in all four participating countries there is a strong feeling that there must be moral limits to the intervention of science in nature.

Topical issues
Feelings run high regarding developments in areas such as biotechnology and cloning, which put in question the very definition of life itself; while issues such as mad cow disease, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and climate change all cause broad public concern.
Although the survey results in France demonstrated that scientific knowledge is today considered to be the most important qualification of a cultured person, the number of young people choosing to pursue scientific careers is in decline. However, 57% of secondary school children interviewed in France expressed an interest in scientific studies. Among the 42% who do not intend to enrol in scientific studies, the main reasons are "no interest in science", "too difficult", "too much mathematics".

The results of the three surveys are available on the Sofres website.

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Source: Taylor Nelson Sofres Website

Contact: Didier.Witkowski@fr.tnsofres.com

More information on this subject:
http://www.sofres.com/etudes/
dossiers/d_science.htm#intro

 
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graphical element SCIENCE AWARDS: Nominations open for top European science prize (22/03/01)
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  The European Science Foundation (ESF) is inviting nominations for the European Latsis Prize 2001. The prize, worth 100 000 Swiss Francs, is presented each year to a scientist or research group in recognition of outstanding and innovative contributions in a selected field of European research.
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The chosen field for the 2001 prize, which is awarded by the Latsis Foundation at the ESF Annual Assembly, is climate research. The Earth's climate system represents a complex set of interactions between the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, cryosphere and the lithosphere. The prize will be presented for outstanding contributions to the understanding of the climate system as a whole or of the various components, including both present and past climate studies. The criteria for selection will be scientific excellence, societal impact and contribution to European progress.

Website application
Nominations, which should be received by the ESF by 31 May 2001, can be sent for individual scholars or for research groups (but no self-nominations are allowed). Curriculum vitae of the nominees should be attached to the nomination statements.
Forms can be downloaded from the ESF website (see link below), or by ringing the organisation's Strasbourg office on +33  (0)3  8876  7116. The prize will be awarded at the Annual Assembly of the European Science Foundation when it meets on Thursday 22 November 2001, in Strasbourg.

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Source: ESF website

Contact: prize@esf.org

More information on this subject:
European Science Foundation web page
http://www.esf.org/prize/

 
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graphical element MEDICAL, DYSLEXIA: International study reveals common factors amongst dyslexics across EU. (22/03/01)
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A study carried out by an international team of researchers has shown, for the first time, that the analytical problems associated with dyslexia are common to the English, French and Italian, even if these difficulties emerge in a different way in each language.

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Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that hinders literacy learning. The extent to which dyslexia shows up varies according to country. English and French are the most 'irregular' languages with many different letter combinations to represent the sounds of the language. Italian, however, is considered a 'regular' language, with little ambiguity between letter combinations and pronunciation. In an attempt to assess analytical problems according to nationality and language spoken, the international research team undertook a study of 72 dyslexic people of English, French and Italian mother tongue. All of the subjects had succeeded in higher education in spite of their handicap.
While a test to measure short-term phonetic memory showed little variation across the nationalities, a second test, focusing on reading, saw the Italian dyslexic students come out better than their French and English counterparts.
Brain Power
To try to determine if there is a common biological origin linking dyslexia sufferers, the researchers used a technique called 'Positron Emission Tomography' to scan brain activity. When compared to non-dyslexics, the dyslexic subjects, regardless of nationality, experienced reduced activity in the same part of the brain, i.e. in the lower part of the left temporal lobe.
This research not only proves the existence of a common neurological basis for dyslexia, but also highlights the impact of the complexity of different language structures in identifying dyslexia and the degree of severity.

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Source: INSERM (Institut national de la santé et de la recherché médicale) news on AlphaGalileo press service

Contact: demonet@purpan.inserm.fr

More information on this subject:
INSERM website
http://www.inserm.fr/

 
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graphical element EXPERTISE, POLICY: EU questions policy-making process (15/03/01)
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  The European Commission is exploring new ways to organise the use of expertise to improve the quality of policy-making and public debate.
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In the light of recent debates on such controversial issues as BSE and GMOs, the Commission has identified the need for better understanding between scientific experts, policy-makers and the general public on issues affecting the daily lives of EU citizens. As part of the process, a working group has been set up on "Democratising expertise and establishing European scientific references". The group seeks to examine issues such as the transparency, access, plurality, accountability, quality, integrity and independence of expertise in policy-making. Findings will feed into the preparation of a White Paper on European Governance, "Enhancing Democracy in the European Union".

Views welcome
The working group hopes to receive the views of policy-makers, experts (especially those who have contributed to the policy-making process), and the public through a web-based questionnaire. This invites opinions, both positive and negative, on a number of issues such as: the role of experts in policy-making and general issues relating to public debate; the timing of expert consultation in the different phases of the policy-making process; the sharing of information; how to inform the public about expert advice used in policy-making; the role of the media; and making expertise understandable and accessible to the public.
Details about where to find the questionnaire and related information are listed below. Contributions should be submitted by Tuesday, 15 May 2001 (new date!!).

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Source: The European Union's Europa website

Contact: rtd-governance@ec.europa.eu

More information on this subject
(and to link to questionnaire): http://ec.europa.eu/research/
improving/intro_en.html

 
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graphical element RESEARCH, STRATEGY: Ministers endorse key principles of new framework programme (15/03/01)
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  Europe's research ministers have welcomed the "strategic vision" offered by the next framework programme.
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Commissioner Philippe Busquin presented the new programme for research - which will run from 2002 to 2006 - at an informal meeting in Uppsala, Sweden earlier this month. The shift proposed is that the framework programme, which so far has been the essential element of the Community's strategy for research and technology development, becomes the financial instrument for implementing the European Research Area. The Commission has proposed a budget of €17.5 million. The ministers (as noted in the Presidency summary of the meeting) endorsed the key principles of the proposals after being briefed on the framework's structure, priorities, methods and budget. In particular, they favoured "focusing on a limited number of priorities to achieve critical mass", although some pointed out that "concentration should not marginalise the interests of smaller research actors".

Boosting science and education
Mr Busquin announced the Commission's intention to organise a seminar in April, which will be open to representatives of Europe's research community, to discuss methods and procedures for implementing the framework programme.
The Uppsala meeting also examined links between science and education. Ministers discussed demographic trends affecting science and technology, and related problems such as recruitment difficulties across these sectors. There was agreement on the need to foster better teaching of science and to attract more women into research careers. Work to address these difficulties will continue in the Commission's Scientific and Technical Research Committee (CREST). Concrete proposals will then be discussed by the Research Council when it meets on 26 June 2001.

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Source: Commission internal report

Contact: Michel.Claessens@ec.europa.eu

More information on this subject:
Europa website. Press release on the framework programme's proposal
http://ec.europa.eu/research/
press/2001/pr2102en.html

Proposals for the next framework programme:
http://europa.eu/
comm/research/nfp.html


Paper addressing trends on demography relating to education and research (presented at the Uppsala meeting)
http://www.eu2001.se/education/eng/
docs/uppsala_diskussion_sommestad1.pdf

 
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graphical element LIFE SCIENCES: Pushing back the limits of brain research (15/03/01)
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  Hundreds of events around the globe are helping to promote Brain Awareness Week (March 12-18) in an effort to convey to the public both the importance and the promise of brain research.
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The Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives in Europe (EDAB) and its sister association in the USA, both non-profit organizations with a mission to advance and promote brain research, are coordinating Brain Awareness Week. More than 300 neuroscientists who are members of the Dana Alliances have reinforced their commitment to brain research in a new visions and goals statement which invites the reader to envisage a future where brain diseases and mental illness do not severely compromise people's lives. The statement is accompanied by a report entitled "Visions of the Brain". This charts landmarks in our understanding of the brain since World War II such as brain mapping, genetics and the biological basis of behaviour. EDAB member, Professor Richard Morris, who recently completed trials in mice of a possible vaccine that could protect people from Alzheimer's disease, commented: "Dialogue between scientists and the public is essential to seek broad agreement to proceed with research that tends to generate controversy, such as animal or genetic research."

Global Interaction
An exciting programme of activities has been organised by universities, hospitals, schools, museums and even the arts during Brain Awareness Week. "This worldwide effort surely demonstrates how firmly neuroscientists believe in sharing their knowledge with the public to ensure that they support us as we increase the pace of progress in brain research in the next decade," said Professor Colin Blakemore, Chief Executive of EDAB.
For further reading on this subject, RTD Info No. 28 has a special focus on brain research (see link below).

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Source: AlphaGalileo news service

Contact: edab@which.net

More information on this subject:
The EDAB website
http://www.edab.net/
RTD Info online version
http://ec.europa.eu/research/
rtdinfo/en/28/index.html

 
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graphical element ENVIRONMENT, ECOLOGY: New biodiversity body starts work (09/03/01)
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  The first meeting of an international organisation which aims to expand current knowledge and understanding of biodiversity takes place this week with heavy European backing and involvement.
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The Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) has been established to design, implement, co-ordinate and promote strong links and dissemination of the world's biodiversity data - within an appropriate framework for property rights and attribution. To carry out its role, the Facility will work closely with established organisations and programmes that compile, maintain and use biological information resources. GBIF's inaugural meeting is being held in Montreal, Canada (9-11 March) at the same time as a major international convention on biodiversity.

Clear European commitment
Currently, 11 countries and international organisations have signed up to GBIF. These include several EU Member States, and last week the European Commission committed itself as an associate member.
Three Member States - Spain, the Netherlands and Denmark - have put themselves forward as candidates to permanently host the GBIF secretariat. Their bids, along with that of Australia, will be heard at the meeting, which will also elect an executive secretary and chairman.
The Commission wants to see Europe play a significant and responsible role in promoting the sustainable use of biodiversity, and hopes that its commitment will strengthen the chances of a Member State becoming the host for the secretariat.

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Source: EC press release and GBIF website

Contact: (for EC involvement): carlos.martinez-riera@ec.europa.eu

More information on this subject:
The GBIF website
http://www.gbif.org/

 
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graphical element ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE: European project monitors impact of climate change (09/03/01)
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  The European Phenology Network (EPN) - which aims to increase the use of phenological data to stimulate monitoring and research on climate change - was officially launched this month at Wageningen University, the Netherlands.
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Phenology studies the timing of recurring natural cycles and their causes. The phenophase may be the date of first flowering, unfolding of first leaf, first bird migration, etc. Such observations help scientists to monitor changes in biological systems, since the timing of phenophases influences factors like the length of growing seasons and the timing and duration of pests and diseases. Phenological records therefore provide a useful indication of the sensitivity of natural systems to climate change and they have clear value for climate impact assessment.

Improving links
The EPN will encourage better integration and cooperation between existing phenological networks while seeking to create new ones. It will exchange information between phenologists of different disciplines such as ecology, agriculture, and human health, on the tools and techniques used for phenological monitoring and impact assessment. And it will try to demonstrate the wide variety of applications for phenological research results and their benefits to ecology, agriculture and society. The Network also hopes to stimulate the participation of the general public in monitoring activities and has plans to involve 12-18-year-old school pupils in scientific research.
The EPN project has received funding for a three-year period (2001-2003) from the European Commission and involves 13 partners from several European countries.

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Source: AlphaGalileo news service

Contact: Gert.vanMaanen@alg.vl.wau.nl

More information on this subject:
The EPN website
http://www.dow.wau.nl/msa/epn/

 
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graphical element FOOD, GMOs: A European Integrated Discussion Platform has been set up to assess the safety of genetically modified food crops (09/03/01)
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  Market introduction of GM food crops in Europe has given rise to public concern, due to both ethical reasons and general unfamiliarity with the new techniques being applied.
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The ENTRANSFOOD project comes under the umbrella of the European Commission's Fifth Framework Programme 'Quality of Life Management of Living Resources'. This thematic network will address underlying issues of the genetically modified debate and aims to:

  • Examine the effectiveness of current safety evaluation methods
  • Co-ordinate ongoing safety testing research into transgenic foods
  • Address gene transfer risks
  • Develop new strategies for detection
  • Assess quality-control systems used for tracking and tracing of genetically modified raw materials and processed products
  • Design test methodologies for safety and nutritional evaluation of whole complex foods
  • Develop a communication platform of GMO producers, scientists, retailers, regulatory authorities and consumer groups

Expected results
The network will co-ordinate the work of a cluster of ongoing EU-RTD projects through four working groups. This will allow for regular integration of review and position papers and production of recommendations and research proposals. Results will be published in press releases or on the website.

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Source: European Commission

Contact: entransfood@rikilt.wag-ur.nl
barend.verachtert@ec.europa.eu

More information on this subject:
http://www.rikilt.wageningen-ur.nl/
euprojects/ENTRANSFOOD/
entransfood.html

 
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graphical element GLOBAL WARMING: Problems caused by climate change set to worsen (02/03/01)
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  The Earth is in the grip of major changes brought about by global warming and the problems are likely to get worse, warns a report compiled by hundreds of scientists.
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'Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability' has been penned by a working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It is the culmination of more than two years' work to assess scientific literature on climate change by experts from universities, industry, environmental and other organisations worldwide.
The report states that regional temperature changes have already led to significant shrinkage of glaciers, lengthening growing seasons and shifts in the ranges of plants and animals.

The report paints a grim picture for society and nature as world temperatures increase. Europe could lose up to half its alpine glaciers as well as large parts of its permafrost areas by the end of the 21st century. Availability of water is likely to decrease in southern Europe while the north of the continent could suffer loss of important habitats such as wetlands and tundra.

Sea-level rise
According to the report, a widespread increase in flooding is probable, brought about by more rainfall and sea-level rise. The disintegration of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Greenland Ice Sheet could raise global sea levels by up to three metres over the next 1 000 years. And as the world warms up, releases of carbon from permafrost and methane from coastal sediments could further increase greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere thereby adding to climate change problems.

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Source: The climate change report, summary for policymakers.

More information on this subject:
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change website
http://www.ipcc.ch/

 
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graphical element FOOD SAFETY: Experts complete inventory of TSE research (02/03/01)
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  A group of national experts has completed an inventory of research currently being carried out in Europe on TSE (transmissible spongiform encephalopathies).
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The report identifies strengths and weaknesses in TSE research and suggests ways of improving its impact through better collaboration and co-ordination of national and Community research activities. Established in December last year by the European Commission's Research Directorate-General (in consultation with the Health and Consumer Protection DG and the Joint Research Centre), the group includes scientists from all Member States. Their main findings point to substantial research being carried out in some Member States. At the same time, at EU level, an Action Plan on TSE has encouraged collaborative research among Member States and Associated Countries, with the JRC playing an important role in the evaluation of diagnostic tests.

Significant progress
These efforts have led to significant progress in monitoring the outbreak, understanding the infectious agent, and to a greater perception of how the disease develops. The inventory has identified a number of topics as research priorities including transmission mechanisms, methods for inactivating prions, and the development of in vivo pre-clinical diagnostics.
Overall, the experts stress the urgent need for enhanced networking between research teams in Europe to exchange information on ongoing research, and to co-ordinate efforts at European level. This will avoid duplication and identify research areas that need to be strengthened.

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Contact: stephane.hogan@ec.europa.eu

More information on this subject:
The EC's web newspages: earlier press release:

 
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graphical element MEDICINE, REPRODUCTION: Freezing human eggs - study heralds improved techniques (02/03/01)
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  Freezing human eggs is one of the most difficult techniques to master in reproductive medicine but new research could pave the way for greater success.
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Italian fertility experts, lead by Dr Rafaella Fabbri from the IVF Centre, Human Reproductive Medicine Unit at the University of Bologna, have identified crucial factors that contribute to the difference between success and failure in reproductive medicine. Putting their findings into practice in the laboratory, they achieved a much higher than normal rate of egg survival, fertilising 57% of their sample by using ICSI (i.e. the injection of a single sperm into the egg).

More gentle approach
The key to the research team's success was to increase the time the oocytes (eggs) were exposed to chemical protectants and to double, or triple, the normal amount of sugar in the freezing solution. This action increased egg survival rate from 34% to 60%, and if the solution was tripled survival rose to 82%. The main reason that human eggs disintegrate in the freezing process is poor dehydration. Longer exposure to the protectant and the extra sugar meant that the eggs were dehydrated gradually and more completely. This gentler freezing process minimised the formation of ice crystals which can pierce the egg membrane and kill the cell.

The findings - which will eventually improve women's chances of becoming pregnant through the use of their frozen eggs - are published this week in Europe's leading fertility journal, Human Reproduction.

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Source: The journal, Human Reproduction

Contact:
m.willson@mwcommunications.org.uk

More information on this subject:
European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology web page
http://www3.oup.co.uk/eshre/press-release/mar01.pdf

 
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