Italy leads the way in supporting African biotechnology

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In your News story 'African science drops down G8 agenda' (Nature 460, 16; 2009), you express concern about the lack of interest that has been shown by the G8 countries in the development of science in Africa. But there are bright spots: for example, a laboratory of international standard recently opened in South Africa as a direct result of G8 discussions, with Italy taking the lead towards its rapid realization.

In the final declaration of the 2005 G8 summit in Gleneagles, heads of state and government considered the possibility of establishing an African branch of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB, to do research into diseases afflicting the continent. Action followed promptly, and the new ICGEB component was inaugurated in Cape Town in September 2007, joining others in Trieste and Delhi. In less than two years, the difficulties inherent in establishing a new research institution were overcome; these included meeting complex legal requirements as a result of the intergovernmental nature of our organization.

This achievement was possible because of generous funding and support by the South African and Italian governments. Today, more than 50 scientists are working in the new laboratories, producing high-level biomedical science, sparking collaboration with other research institutes in Africa and training young scientists from the whole continent.

ICGEB is also implementing an important project from Cape Town, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and aimed at building technical and scientific capabilities in sub-Saharan Africa for the effective regulation of biotechnology in agriculture.

Although ICGEB activities in Africa are still limited, they are actually happening. Regrettably, these activities are not as adequately noticed as they should be, perhaps because of a preference for highlighting projects rather than facts.

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Baralle, F. Italy leads the way in supporting African biotechnology. Nature 460, 1079 (2009) doi:10.1038/4601079a

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