Ashok Parthasarathi in his Commentary “India: a champion of new technologies” (ref. 1) rightly affirms India's bid to play a leading part in global technology developments. India's technological independence has come mainly in the physical sciences, such as space research, telecommunications, software, defence systems, energy and supercomputing.

Although Parthasarathi lists biotechnology as a key 'champion technology', a tremendous boost is needed for it to make a global impact.

India shares this predicament with other developing countries that have a vast research force but the training and infrastructure of pre-genomics days, and little experience of the research skills required for post-genomic biology. With the genome sequence data for several organisms, including humans, now available, the rules of knowledge-based commercial ventures have changed and an era of 'omics' — genomics, proteomics and so on — has emerged2, with functional genomics as the new 'mantra'.

In order to become a champion of biotechnology, India needs a paradigm shift in the organization of research and training, priming research institutions and universities to change gear and meet global challenges. Two aspects need urgent attention: establishing functional-genomics centres for biotechnology and related basic science research, as is done in China3; and training researchers in state-of-the-art skills, along the lines of initiatives by the European Molecular Biology Laboratory.

All the stakeholders — in the fields of policy, administration, science and industry — have to address this problem and give a directional nudge to research initiatives.

Nature has covered some of these issues recently, for example the low impact factors of Indian biological-science journals4; the urgent need to explore the best scientific options for sustainable development by regional centres of the International Council of Science5; and the effect of post-genomics research on traditional methods of food production6. Informal articles on topics such as these serve as a compass for framing policies and making course corrections during implementation.