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Against the crisis, invest in science

Researchers present strategy to stimulate innovation-based economy in Southern Europe

Oeiras, 03.02.2014

A group of fourteen European scientists, including two Portuguese (Helena Santos, Full Professor at ITQB and César Fonseca from Laboratório Nacional de Energia e Geologia), has designed a strategy to stimulate the innovation-based economic revival in Southern European countries. In an opinion article published in the journal Environmental Microbiology entitled Pipelines for New Chemicals, researchers suggest a stronger focus on biodiversity to identify new chemical compounds with added value for multiple economical sectors.

According to this group of scientists, the austerity measures in course in Southern European countries are discarding the potential contribution of an entire generation of highly qualified and motivated young scientists. On the other hand, the planet has a rich and unexplored microscopic world, which could contain answers to current and urgent needs in sectors such as health, fuels, food, or the environment. The solution would be to create a network of decentralized national centers, concentrated on the discovery of new products or applications in the microbial world. Partnerships with the industrial sector would ensure the full exploitation of these findings.

In the case of Portugal, the strategy should focus on marine environments”, says article co-author Helena Santos. “If only decision makers were aware of the huge biological potential of the exclusive economic zone of Portugal, we could build a real network supported by modern infrastructures to scan the bottom of the ocean and search for bio-active compounds. We already have the competences for testing these compounds for their potential benefits; we just need to get organized”. This experienced scientist, specialized in microbes living in extreme environments, is all too aware of the current economic constraints but “one has to establish priorities and turning our backs to the sea just doesn’t make sense”.

Researchers stress that the budget for this network is not to be found in the already stretched research and education national budgets but should instead be part of the European strategy for economic growth. With an estimated cost of about 120 M€ for ten years, the system would be sustainable after this period. The result would be the creation of a whole set of regional motors for economic growth, potentiated by qualified and creative young scientists, which in turn would promote new industries in a self-sustaining reaction process such as the one observed for information technologies in the Silicon Valley.

Original Article

Environmental Microbiology (2014)16 (1): 9–18

Pipelines for New Chemicals: a strategy to create new value chains and stimulate innovation-based economic revival in Southern European countries

Kenneth Timmis, Victor de Lorenzo, Willy Verstraete, Jose Luis Garcia, Juan Luis Ramos, Helena Santos, Ioannis Economidis, Balbina Nogales, James Kenneth Timmis, César Fonseca, Carla Pruzzo, Amalia Karagouni, Nickolas Panopoulos, Bernard Dixon


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