ICGEB New Delhi Alumni

Lawrence Banks: Biotechnology for a Sustainable Future

This month Lawrence Banks writes from China, where he attended the Signing Ceremony for the establishment of the First ICGEB Regional Research Centre

“In the past two months, ICGEB’s presence across Asia has been particularly significant, with the establishment of the first-ever ICGEB Regional Research Centre in China being officially sealed on 6 January 2020, and with the Ministry confirming its commitment to expand interactions with ICGEB.

Renu Swarup, Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India, attending the ICGEB New Delhi Annual Symposium, reaffirmed the ICGEB’s Host Government of India’s support for the Organisation and, as part of that support, she announced an exciting new initiative for Women in Science. For our PIs in Delhi, it was a year of recognition of their scientific excellence, with Dhiraj Kumar receiving the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar award for his achievements in the Medical Sciences. In addition, Pawan Malhotra and Sneh Lata Singla Pareek were elected Fellows of the Indian National Science Academy. My own visit to the ICGEB New Delhi Component in December was a wonderful opportunity to meet with the Group Leaders and with all the students.

Earlier in December I was honoured to be the Guest Speaker at the 75th Annual Session of the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS), to deliver an address on Biotechnology for a Sustainable Future, published below. An earlier trip to Vietnam provided the chance to hold an ICGEB Awareness Workshop and to meet with our Vietnamese colleagues.

I look forward to another year of expanding interactions across the globe thanks to the research collaboration and activities of the ICGEB.”

Biotechnology for a Sustainable Future
Address by Lawrence Banks at the 75th Annual Session of the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS)

Biotechnology has long held a huge promise for improving the well-being of our populations all over the world. From the very first examples in the mid 80’s where the cloning and expression of insulin revolutionised the treatment of diabetes to the establishment of major Biotechnology companies, the economic and social impacts of Biotechnology have been clear. However, the benefits of Biotechnology have not been equally distributed throughout the world. In far too many cases the major advances have been restricted to the world’s most developed countries; and the developing parts of the world, where the benefits of modern Biotechnology are in greater demand, have too often lagged far behind. The ICGEB was created to alleviate this problem and we have a wide range of programmes to support this aim.

The ICGEB addresses the needs of developing countries and emerging economies in the sphere of Biotechnology through a holistic 360o approach, aligned directly with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This ranges from the pursuit of cutting edge research, aimed at directly addressing the needs of our Member countries through solving pressing problems related to health, food and energy security, through to the provision of world-class educational and capacity enhancement programmes and direct assistance in the Transfer of Technologies associated with the production of a wide range of Biotechnology derived products.

Only through the pursuit of top-class basic science will breakthroughs be made that will solve many of humanities major problems. Health, in particular, remains one of the pillars of the SDGs and within this, infectious diseases represent major health burdens on many emerging economies. ICGEB pursues major research activities within virology and parasitology aiming to develop novel diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. With increasing life expectancy, non-infectious diseases are an increasing burden on health systems also in the least developed parts of the world, and in particular, ICGEB focuses on the reduction of cancer burden and development of novel therapeutics for cardiac and neurological disorders.

In the call for sustainable development, food security is paramount. Only through the development of disease-resistant crops, expansion of cultivatable areas and provision of improved crop nutrition and productivity will many of our countries be able to cope with the effects of climate change coupled with an increasing population. ICGEB pursues all of these, whilst at the same time, ensuring countries have the legislative frameworks in place to be able to take advantage of the latest improvements offered through the production of new crop varieties.

Sustainable development demands sustainable energy. Whether this is through the development of novel biological processes for bioremediation or development of second and third-generation biofuels. ICGEB is a world leader in such technology.

Imperative in all of this is the training and education of our next generation of young scientists. This is achieved through the provision of Fellowships to young scientists, allowing them to gain expertise in the most up to date technologies. However, local training in specific technologies is equally important, and this can be achieved through the provision of courses and practical workshops on particular technologies and techniques. We must never forget the young people are the future and ICGEB pursues a world-class outreach programme to schools and the lay public to provide a better understanding and to foster excitement as to the solutions and discoveries that science can provide.

A cornerstone of the SDGs is the provision of equal opportunities for all, thereby ensuring social cohesion, equality and workforce optimisation. ICGEB operates a very active programme of gender equality and in particular, aims to promote opportunities for women in science, particularly where there are gaps in gender equality.