Are genomic technologies the answer to world hunger?

Genomic technologies may have the potential to alleviate food insecurity and food shortages around the world. Researchers believe that biotechnology has the potential to improve the nutritional content of food crops and, crucially, resistance to insects and disease. This could lead to improved yields of food crops for both human and animal consumption. Researchers are also working on 'molecular farming' production of pharmaceutical products in plants, with the potential to revolutionise vaccination procedures. However, these technologies are only likely to impact on world hunger if there is effective and efficient exchange of knowledge and experience through partnerships.

A keynote speaker at the ESRC Innogen Centre's Annual Conference to be held on 5th-6th September at Regent's College, London warns of a caveat to this enthusiasm for the introduction of genomic technologies. Dr Simon Best, Chairman of the Board of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid tropics (ICRISAT) highlights the need for greater and more efficient collaboration between the public and private sectors involved in this research. The Director of Development Partnerships for the International Potato Centre (CIP), Dr. Roger Cortbaoui, echoes these arguments saying there is a need to construct, "useful partnerships and networks including with the private sector" in an industry where basic research is dominated by public funded research centres.

Others argue that even greater private-public interactions are not sufficient. Dr Andy Hall, from the Maastricht Economic and Social Research and Training Centre on Innovation and Technology, believes members of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) such as ICRISAT and CIP, are "struggling to deal with its limitations". Dr Hall argues for a strengthening of interactions with communities and society in general. Prof. Paul Richards of Wageningen University, says that not enough attention is being placed on involving the poor in decisions and research on the role of genomic technologies in dealing with food insecurity. The importance of these voices is explained by other speakers at the conference who highlight the complex negotiation of priorities by the different groups involved in these research decisions that usually exclude the poor who ought to benefit most as end users of these products.

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These issues and more will be discussed at the ESRC Innogen Centre's annual conference entitled 'Genomics for Development: The Life Sciences and Poverty Reduction' to be held at Regent's College, London on 5th-6th September 2006.

FOR FURTHER DETAILS CONTACT: Contact Alexandra Saxon/Annika Howard at ESRC, on 01793-413032/413119

Email: alexandra.saxon@esrc.ac.uk / annika.howard@esrc.ac.uk

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

1. Innogen, a collaboration between the University of Edinburgh and the Open University, is the ESRC centre for social and economic research on innovation in genomics. For more information visit: www.innogen.ac.uk

2. Innogen's annual conference entitled 'Genomics for Development: The Life Sciences and Poverty Reduction' will be held at Regent's College, London on 5th-6th September 2006. For more information visit: www.innogen.ac.uk/Events/Annual-Conference

3. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It provides independent, high quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC total expenditure in 2005/6 was 135million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk


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