Germany and France plan to intensify their collaboration in the field of plant genome research (PGR). New research funding programs in both countries are accelerating Europe's research in a field that is expected to lead to breakthroughs in agriculture, pharmaceutical and environmental sciences, and nutrition. For young scientists, transnational research projects can open additional job markets and may become an increasingly valuable steppingstone for academic careers in the developing European Research Area.
According to recent surveys, plant genome research will essentially contribute to the innovate power of Europe's agriculture and pharmaceutical industry. PGR's discoveries will facilitate breeding of useful plants and may help plant production become less polluting. Plants could also produce agents for pharmaceuticals as well as for other industrial applications in a highly efficient manner, experts say.
"PGR is currently in an extremely exciting transition phase, where we learn to transfer our knowledge from model plants to domestic field crops," Andreas Graner, director of the Institute for Plant Genetics' (IPK) gene bank, tells Next Wave. And markets for plant biotech products are rapidly expanding; the branch grows globally by more than 15% annually.
Researchers in the United States are currently leading their European counterparts. In order to catch up, European countries are joining forces. Germany's Science Minister Edelgard Bulmahn and her French colleague Roger Schwartzenberg agreed earlier this year on a closer collaboration in the booming field of PGR. Currently, experts are negotiating details of the first shared projects, identified by the 150 scientists from both countries that participated in a workshop at the end May in Bonn. "Early next year, the first joint projects can be launched," expects Rudolf Straub of the science ministry's project management organization, BEO.
The groundwork for the new collaboration has already been laid. Each of the two countries has attractive PGR projects that include basic, applied, and industrial research partners. The new partnership will further stimulate development by taking advantage of thus-far-neglected synergistic effects and by avoiding duplicative work, the ministers believe. Both projects have an annual budget of about 25 million euros. Common research aims of GABI ("Genomanalyse im biologischen System Pflanze") and Genoplante are a deeper understanding of gene function in model plants as well as the transfer and application of this knowledge to domestic field crops. The German and French teams will also share gene databases and exchange scientists. Graner agrees that coordinating the two new national PGR projects, GABI (Germany) and Genoplante (France), is a step in the right direction and will strengthen Europe's position in the long run.
Students interested in participating in the international PGR race can get a good start at the newly funded German-French University (DFH). The popular university was founded last fall and already has 3000 students. That is not surprising, because DFH graduates find good jobs fast. Less than 5% of the DFH's recent graduates needed more than 6 months to find a position, Christine Klos, DFH's general secretary, tells Next Wave. And corporations from both countries are willing to pay considerably higher entrance salaries to graduates who have participated in the DFH programs. "Studying in two countries also provides the keys for two hot job markets for young scientists," says Klos. "I can only recommend to get a sound knowledge of a second culture during your studies. It will help you to organize yourself wherever you go later in your career."
The DFH will sponsor its second German-French Career Fair on 20 to 21 October 2000 in Saarbrücken. The university expects about 6000 participants.