"Biotechnology will be a key discipline for the sustainable development of the Iberoamerican region"
JPA/DICYT Next Sunday 5th of June, starts in Salamanca the first edition of the Iberoamerican Biotechnological Conference, BIO.IBEROAMÉRICA 2016 ‘Biotecnología Integrando Continentes’. Salamanca will host during the next four days researchers from different biotechnological areas, and among them some such prominent as the Nicaraguan Pedro Álvarez, scientist at Rice University in Houston (Texas, USA), who has been involved in the development of new methods to assure drinkable water to the population.
His speech will focus on the importance of water for public health and economic development. "The convergence of nanotechnology with biotechnology can help us in the development of advanced processes for decentralized water treatment to provide humanitarian aid, emergency response, revitalize our urban infrastructure, water purification, protect public health and facilitate sustainable development," says the expert, who is the director of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Rice University and founder of the Academy of Sciences in Nicaragua.
At the conference, he’ll explain how nanomaterials interact with biological systems, which is important to develop more efficient disinfection processes and to mitigate unforeseen unintended consequences. His contributions in this field enabled him to win the prestigious Clarke Award, granted by the National Water Research Institute of the United States.
Throughout his career, he has made significant contributions to the cleanup of areas contaminated with hazardous wastes and the protection of water quality. For example, he has developed new strategies to stimulate biodegradation of toxic substances in polluted aquifers. It has also analyzed the mechanisms by which biofuels like ethanol increase the range of gasoline spills and antibiotic resistance in water treatment plants. Also, his team has decided to use the extraordinary catalytic, photonic and magnetic properties of some nanomaterials to disinfect water without the "collateral damage" caused by chlorine and ozone and have studied how nanomaterials interact with bacteria that are the basis of the ecosystems.
The challenge of climate change
This experiences provides Pedro Alvarez with a thorough knowledge of the environmental challenges that humanity will face in the coming years, especially regarding climate change. "It is a great challenge in many dimensions, including water security, as is exacerbating the shortage of fresh water with more frequent droughts and saline intrusion of nearshore aquifers" he warns. Therefore, he calls for a more proactive attitude to mitigate climate change and adapt to it, as he says "to avoid the unmanageable" and "manage the unavoidable".
"We are using nanotechnology to develop reactors that are compact and easy to deploy, and able to treat water of all kinds, including seawater, to provide access to unconventional sources in an economical manner. These reactors will help us to confront climate change consequences. They will be like cell phones of the water industry, in the sense of providing service with little infrastructure, "says the expert.
In his opinion, interdisciplinary research is nowadays the most important from a practical point of view, and the most interesting from an intellectual standpoint. Regarding to water research, would be desirable an integral management strategy, finding opportunities for reuse and minimizing energy use. On the other hand, "the development of new materials, many of them biomimetic, would allow us to treat drinking water from unconventional sources more economically ".
Adding value to natural resources
Regarding the congress BIO.IBEROAMÉRICA 2016, which brings together experts from various countries, Pedro Alvarez believes that biotechnology will be a key element for the Latin American region. "Biotechnology is an important tool for our sustainable development, it will help us to build a knowledge-based economy, adding value to our natural resources" he says. In addition, "it can help us to exploit our rich biodiversity and to contribute to food security, in the production of biofuels and medicines and, of course, also to recycle water increasing water security".
Although this Nicaraguan scientist has developed his career in the United States, he believes that "it is not absolutely necessary to emigrate, because in the Latin American region there are many universities and research centers with excellent programs in biotechnology," although "it helps to have an international perspective acquired in countries where science and engineering in general, are more advanced. " In addition, "there is a syndrome that nobody is a prophet in his own land, and it is easier to be recognized locally when you have success abroad".
The biotechnological potential of Latin America region
From his point of view, Latin American region stands out in agricultural biotechnology, given the competitive advantage of having almost a quarter of the productive land on the planet. "We have also developed advanced fermentation processes, for example, the production of biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel." Finally, "we have excellence research centers to produce biopharmaceuticals including vaccines, and in environmental biotechnology latin american centers excel in anaerobic processes for treating wastewater and sludge".
All this biotechnological potential should contribute to the economic development of the area, since "it not only can generate jobs and foreign exchange," but also it can contribute to food security, "increasing food production and nutritional value" and public health, because biotechnology produces antibiotics, vaccines and all kinds of drugs.
The importance of the conference
The Conference will be an important milestone for the diffusion of Latin American potential in biotechnology. Besides the creation of a federation of Latin American societies for biotechnology, which will come out of this meeting, is "an excellent opportunity to share knowledge and practices, as a forum for the development of joint strategies in production and export of biotechnological products and results, and also a tool for boosting an innovative regional ecosystem "says scientist at Rice University.
BIO.IBEROAMÉRICA 2016 will be held between 5th and 8th of June 2016 in the Center for Congresses and Exhibitions of Castilla y Leon and it has been organized by the University of Salamanca, the Spanish Society of Biotechnology (SEBIOT) and the Portuguese Society of Biotechnology (SBPT), with the support of the Mexican Society of Biotechnology and Bioengineering, the Colombian Society of Biotechnology and the Brazilian Society of Biotechnology, plus some centers and research groups in Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica and other Latin American countries.