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UNU Programme for Biotechnology in Latin America and the Caribbean (UNU/BIOLAC)
UNU Programme for Biotechnology in Latin America and the Caribbean (UNU/BIOLAC) was established in January 1988 in Caracas, Venezuela. The Programme promotes the development of biotechnology in the Latin American and Caribbean region. In 2000-2001, the Programme will focus on bio-safety and bio-ethics the major priority areas.
UNU/BIOLAC Academic ActivitiesStrategic directions
Biotechnology involves a wide variety of biological manipulations such as cell and tissue culture, embryo transplantation, vaccine production, transfer of DNA across sexual barriers, fermentation and various ways of degrading complex macromolecules found in biomass into simpler molecules to serve as sources of food, energy and other useful products. Some of these techniques such as fermentation have evolved over centuries of use by man. However, modern biotechnology is rooted in recombinant DNA technology which is the outgrowth of advances made in the past four decades in biochemistry, molecular biology, immunology and related disciplines. Although modern biotechnology involves the application of research at the cutting edge of basic sciences, it is a technology that is appropriate for solving the problems of nations at various stages of development.
UNU/BIOLAC started in 1989 as a forerunner of the Institute of Biotechnology whose establishment was recommended by a UNU feasibility study conducted in 1983. Its overall objective is to promote the development of biotechnology in the region through academic exchanges by awarding fellowships for research and advanced training in selected leading biotechnology laboratories within the region and by organizing short training courses.
To achieve UNU/BIOLAC goals, several actions are taken, including: raising the level of expertise of scientists and others through capacity-building; creating knowledge and carry out problem oriented research in the areas of health, environment, agriculture and food; encouraging discussion of issues of major concern; disseminating results of research; empowering people by discussing risks and benefits of the biotechnological activity and seek a balance between the biotechnology, society and the protection of the environment. Year 2000 was a transition period: new strategies aligned with direction changes at the UNU, a new Coordinator and internal modifications in the organization were the features of year 2000. Below are the major programme developments during year-2001:
In the 1998-1999 biennium, the Programme had two active networks. The Network on Brucellosis Research has been concerned with the development of vaccines against Brucella abortus and effective diagnostic methods for its detection in man and livestock. Brucellosis is a zoonotic disease, which affects man and domestic animals with serious economic and social consequences. Support for the research activities of the Latin American laboratories involved in the network is obtained from the Government of Canada. The second network has been concerned with the application of biotechnology to research in tuberculosis which is the most wide-spread single infectious disease causing an estimated seven million deaths each year world-wide. In line with the recommendations of the SAC, support for the Brucellosis network ended in 1999. Activities of the Tuberculosis Research Network ended in 2000 with an international workshop that met all active regional and international researchers, and young researchers and scholarships working in this area. As recommended by the SAC, new UNU/BIOLAC networks will not be supported for more than three years.
In 2000-2001, the UNU/BIOLAC fellowship activities continued, but with a more flexible and dynamic structure that will allow the rapid and efficient mobilization of young scientists and technicians, both from academia and the private sector. Guidelines for planning fellowships will be in order to achieve the aims of bio-ethic, bio-safety and bioinformatic networks. Fellowships on the rest of scientific priority areas are awarded too. They will be widely advertised through e-mail, over the Internet, and in newspapers in Latin America. The length of fellowships will be reduced to a minimum of two weeks and a maximum of four months with a clear preference for shorter training periods. The Programme will streamline the application and approval process making use of the Internet and electronic (e-mail) applications.
Two types of courses are being supported by the Programme: (1) international courses organized at designated centres of excellence for which experts from outside the region will be invited; and (2) specialized regional courses which are targeted primarily to serve the needs of the lesser developed countries in the region.
The Programme supports networks on bio-ethics, bio-safety and bioinformatics according to the new reorientation. Well defined aims guides the planning of fellowships, training courses, and workshops only addressed to young scientist and professionals identified by the network coordinators and collaborators. The main purpose is to develop a career for these selected participants who will have the responsibility to teach other. This capacity development has a train the trainers approach.
The programme is coordinated from the UNU/BIOLAC office located in Caracas, Venezuela with technical and administrative back up support provided by the Capacity-Building unit at the UNU Headquarters. The programme coordinator is Dr. José Louis Ramirez and a Scientific Advisory Committee made up of distinguished experts from within and outside the region makes recommendations on programme content and manner of execution.
Address in Caracas: UNU/BIOLAC, Carretera Nacional Hoyo de la Puerta-Baruta, Instituto de Estudios Avanzados - IDEA, Edificio Bolivar, Planta Baja, Baruta 1080, Estado, Miranda, Venezuela. Bus: +58-212/962-1644 or 962-1605; Bus Fax: +58-212/962-1120; E-mail: email@example.com
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