Brussels, 08 Oct 2003
Researchers and EU officials recently met to chew over ways in which genomics can improve food quality, disease control and biodiversity - subjects close to European hearts and minds.
Project leaders and European Commission representatives met last month to discuss what European research has to offer in the important field of genomics. Also introduced at the meeting were the findings of ten successful projects funded under the EU's Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) for research. The gathering was a suitable platform to review the needs of industry in this important area, taking into consideration societal and ethical issues.
Discussions during the meeting focused on what EU funded research can offer the sector, in particular what industry expects from policy-makers. The participants concluded that supporting genomics research for livestock was important both for European competitiveness and to address public concerns - heightened by heavily publicised scares - over food safety and sustainable agriculture.
The general consensus reached was that there should be increased focus on pre-competitive research leading to new tools to study livestock genomics and genetic animal sequencing. Comparative genomics - between human and livestock science - was also emphasised.
Another issue debated at the gathering was what to do with intellectual property rights given that more and more livestock genome sequences are being mapped. The consensus was that this sequencing information should be more accessible across the Union. Various options were considered, such as the setting up of an interconnected 'grid' of databases. Industry's role in helping to develop such technology should not be ignored, the participants noted.
Making better use of the data out there
In the broadest sense of the word, genomics research combines approaches from a variety of scientific disciplines, including biology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, computer science, and engineering. This complementary approach to solving European problems is one of the main reasons the EU devised its 'networks of excellence' instrument in the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) for research.
FP6 has also set aside up to €685 million for research focused on the thematic priority 'food quality and safety', as well as resources for research which would 'strengthen and structure' the European Research Area.
Numerous examples of value-adding research performed by EU-backed projects in FP5's 'quality of life' programme can be accessed on the website. Ten were selected to present at the meeting. Two of these projects studied ways of improving product quality and disease control in sheep: the first called 'Econogene' looked at the human health aspects, while the second 'Genesheepsafety' studied the biodiversity and socio-economic issues of farming sheep and goats in Europe.
Importantly, the gathering concluded that, although livestock genomics research is important for the commercial sector - especially for European competitiveness - there is no demand foreseen for products resulting from the more controversial aspects of the science, such as transgenesis of livestock or cloning. The potential of the field lies in using the genetic material already available and using genomics as a tool to exploit inherent characteristics more effectively.