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Our daily food – the crop plants we depend on – our state of health – improved medical treatments – our impact upon the environment: all these issues are linked together in many ways. The classical breakdown in scientific disciplines no longer reflects social and economic realities. Therefore, it has become necessary to consider all these fields of research that are linked to our life as a whole, a concept we have to refer to as “life sciences”.

The steadily increasing importance of life sciences for the economy and for our daily lives, was already reflected convincingly in the multiple R&D projects funded under the Fourth Framework Programme(1). Under the current Framework Programme (FP5), the European Commission has once again increased both funding and the number of projects selected, thus demonstrating the outstanding importance being attributed to the life sciences.

Now, as the end of FP5 approaches, we have presented a selection of projects to illustrate the broad range of research on “life” topics. In addition to the actual resources resulting from a higher than ever commitment by the European Union, the R&D achievements which have gradually come to the surface also reflect that there is another way of conducting responsible research. The projects described here have been managed through well-coordinated consortia, with great care being given to sets of measures designed to create value from knowledge through a joint technology implementation plan. Most of them have developed active interfaces with stakeholders and end-users. All have been performed within an ethical framework setting agreed boundaries and subjecting research practice to monitoring and assessment. Each project has its special importance for society; each is likely to contribute in a decisive manner to progress in its respective field and, subsequently, to improving our lives.

But, above all, the results presented here demonstrate superbly what Europe can achieve when it coordinates its resources, i.e. human skills, know-how, and financial means, across national and institutional boundaries including, indeed, those of the European Union, for many partners came from countries outside the EU.

We are now crossing the threshold to the next Framework Programme, FP6, which is due to start sponsoring new research in 2003. It has been designed to focus European research on the major topics of public interest, among them: improving and preserving the quality and safety of our health and our food. We are convinced that the life sciences will continue to make an essential contribution to the success of the research in these fields, by concentrating the R&D potential from all continents on problems of outstanding future importance.

B. Hansen signature
B. Hansen

(1) See “Biotechnology - Selected Achievements”, 1997; Success stories from the agro-industrial research programmes, 1998; Examples of demonstration projects in the life sciences programmes, vol.1-3, 1997-2000; Renewable biomaterials: non-food research, 1997.

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