Science Spain , Salamanca, Thursday, June 16 of 2016, 00:58

Improvements in training and technology transfer are required in order to boost Iberoamerican Biotechnology

'BIO.IBEROAMÉRICA 2016' ends with new proposals on bioenergy, agriculture and the environmental preservation

JPA/DICYT A conference of Pedro Alvarez, a renowned Nicaraguan scientist at Rice University in Houston (Texas, USA), has been an exceptional finishing touch for 'BIO.IBEROAMÉRICA 2016, which throughout the last four days has gathered in Salamanca more than 600 researchers from 22 countries and several scientific areas such as agriculture, environment, medicine and energy. Mexico will take over to host the second edition, to be held in June 2018.

Precisely Mexico has been the country with more attendees to this first edition, after the host. Among them is Enrique Galindo, researcher at the Institute of Biotechnology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) president of Agrobiotecnia, an agricultural specialized company. "Our job is to develop products that can control plant pathogens in agricultural crops," said Galindo; "we have developed a system based on microorganisms fungicide that is effective against three different diseases caused by fungi and is currently registered in Mexico for 20 different crops, including mango, papaya, citrus, cucumber, melon and watermelon ".

These are the results of more than a decade of research and technology transfer through a spin-off, something still rare in Latin American countries. "There are a lot of quality research, but few products on the market; we have leading researchers whose work need to be transform in a proper way to leave the lab and become working products which solve real problems in agriculture," he said. However, Galindo is optimistic, since the organic market is growing because of "consumers demand for healthy and safe products. That is something that cannot be achieved with synthetic chemical pesticides."

Microorganisms against oil spills

Using microorganisms to solve problems is also the specialty of Chilean Michael Seeger, who works at Federico Santa María Technical University, but in this case he is focused on a very different problem: severe damages caused by pollution, such as those caused by an oil spill. "In central Chile we have been able to isolate bacteria that degrade hydrocarbons, we have selected some of these microorganisms and we have used them in bioremediation processes in soils" he explains. In the future, they hope to do the same with oil spills that occur at sea.

The analysis of the ecosystems in which they carry out these processes reveals significant changes in the microbial community. "We use massive sequencing techniques to see what happens with all microorganisms in those ecosystems and thus we see how bacteria proliferate playing a prominent role in the removal of contaminants," said Seeger.

In addition to research, the scientist coordinates a network of 16 Latin American universities with doctoral programs in biotechnology. His aim is to train new specialists. "The number of leading researchers in biotechnology is absolutely insufficient in our countries, we need to train more people in these areas. By joining forces in the network, you have a much greater mass of teachers and take advantage of all infrastructures to advance scientific research in our countries, "he said.

Brazilian bioethanol power

Brazilian researcher Lucilia Domingues was in charge of another outstanding presentation about the advances in the production of second generation bioethanol. "The problem is to make it economically profitable even though this issue has been investigated for years," she said.

Her research focuses on the development of a yeast used in fermentation that results in this fuel from plant debris, but is key to improve all stages of the process. "Brazil is an important power in the production of bioethanol, first with the first generation from sugar cane, but now we go for the second generation," she said.

FIAMBiot public presentation

BIO.IBEROAMÉRICA 2016 has been organized by the University of Salamanca, the Spanish Society of Biotechnology (SEBIOT) and the protuguese Society of Biotechnology (SPTB), with the support of the Mexican Society of Biotechnology and Bioengineering, the Colombian Society of Biotechnology and the Brasilian Society. This event is part of the celebration of the VIII Centenary of the University of Salamanca, which will be commemorated in 2018.

The closing ceremony of the conference has also served to introduce the new Iberoamerican Federation of Biotechnology (FIAMBiot), which brings together all these societies and will be responsible for organizing the biennial conferences that have started with Salamanca´s meeting.