Berlin places genomics among top funding priorities

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Hotspot: a laboratory building of the Max Delbrück Centre for Molecular Medicine. Credit: MDC

Research in Berlin that is supported by the German capital is to be focused on twelve areas — including genomics. The areas have been identified by an expert panel as reflecting the city's scientific strengths.

Ingolf Hertel, the state secretary for research in the Berlin ministry of science, has also announced plans to increase competition for funds between universities and research institutes. A small percentage of the DM3.5 billion (US$1.8 billion) annual budget for institutional funding of science and education will be distributed competitively.

Both moves are intended to improve the quality of publicly funded research and the effectiveness with which research funds are used. Priority areas include molecular medicine and genome research, information technology, transport research, material research, optics, Earth sciences, applied mathematics and social studies.

The topics were selected by the so-called strategy forum on science, research and innovation. This was set up in January by university presidents, science ministry officials and representatives from industry and from the large science and technology centres Buch and Adlershof.

Since reunification, Berlin has become one of Germany's scientific hotspots, and now hosts three universities and 38 research institutes. But the science budget of the formerly isolated — and heavily subsidized — city has fallen by several hundred million Deutschmarks since 1990 as subsidies from the federal government have been cut.

“Re-modelling Berlin's scientific landscape under constant budgetary constraints was, and is, a notoriously hard job,” says Hertel. “Streamlining research and enlarging technology foresight will therefore be major political priorities in the next years.”

But he adds that the ministry has no desire to dictate the kind of research scientists should do. “The new funding concept will be worked out jointly with the scientific community,” he says.

Hans Lehrach, director of the Berlin-based Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics, hopes the new scheme will boost genome research in Berlin. Together with other leading genomics researchers, Lehrach has drafted a proposal for an interdisciplinary genome research centre that would bring together the various aspects of genome research carried out in Berlin.

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Schiermeier, Q. Berlin places genomics among top funding priorities. Nature 402, 568 (1999) doi:10.1038/45036

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