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Checkbiotech: Green biotech is still a tender plant in Germany
Posted by: Prof. Dr. M. Raupp (IP Logged)
Date: October 07, 2005 09:38AM

The German state, Saxony-Anhalt, wants to establish itself as the
leading location for industry and research of plant biotechnology - and
its chances are good. October 2005 by Patrick Eickemeier translated by
Shelley Jambresic, Checkbiotech.

Green biotechnology is worldwide considered as a key technology with a
large market potential. Green biotechnology is also considered by
Saxony-Anhalt as the chance to be at the forefront of an emerging
industry, because the conditions offered by the region are comparatively

In Saxony-Anhalt, the research of crop plants has a long traditional.
The sandy-clayish soil of the Magdeburger Boerde is the most fertile
agricultural cropland in Germany. Long before the era of biotech, in
this area, seeds were produced and the characteristics of different
species were researched. Nowadays, the most important research
institutes in the region are the Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop
Plant Research (IPK) in Gatersleben, the Institute for Plant
Biochemistry in Halle and the German Institute for Breeding Research in

Due to a "high scientific potential", five years ago the German Ministry
of Research assigned 20 million Euro of government aid to the region
Nordharz/Borde, the center of the German crop breeding. In 2002, the
provincial government launched a biotechnology-offensive in order to
expand the industry.

Innovation makes an impact

"We have the highest frequency of new start-ups in plant biotechnology
Germany," said Jens Katzek. Katzek is the director of Bio
Mitteldeutschland, a company that is supported by 20 companies from the
plant biotechnology sector. Katzek?s company supports Early Stage
Companies, when it comes to attracting investors and facilitating
business and marketing needs.

"We also represent the political interests of the industry," said
Katzek. ?In addition, there is a tight cooperation with Saxony and its
neighboring state Thuringia.?

"Generally biotechnology is well represented in the East," said Steffi
Ober from Germany?s Wildlife Preservation Department (Nabu). There are
great chances for the new German states to establish themselves in
biotechnology research and industry.

However, Ober counters with possible risks. Genetically modified plants
could cross with wild species through pollen dispersion. In a similar
fashion, genetically modified plants could also leave traces in
traditionally cultivated fields. "Cultivation, which a lot of people
reject, is taking place," said the Nabu consultant.

Especially the Greens are against it, who have shared power in Germany?s
government for seven years now. Thus, strict rules were included into
the amendment of the GMO law, which were intended to prevent possible

Katzek calls it a "Biotech?Preventative law". The government of
Saxony-Anhalt filed a lawsuit against the new law in April. If the next
German Government does not retract the law, the German Constitutional
Court will need to decide if the law competes with the basic rights of
freedom of research and choice of profession.

So far the industrial sector is a rather tender plant. Plant
biotechnology offers currently about 1,500 positions in Saxony-Anhalt.
In 1998, the company Sungene was founded as a joint venture of BASF
Plant Science and the IPK. Sungene is researching how a plant?s
metabolism can be altered to allow it to produce new substances. Further
IPK affiliates are Novoplant, which produces vaccines for livestock
husbandry with help of plants, and Traitgenetics, which develops
analytical methods for plant breeding.

In 1999, Icon Genetics relocated from the USA to Saxony-Anhalt ? with
promised federal aid as a significant incentive. Icon Genetics in Halle
works on generating plants that can produce pharmaceutical drugs. The
existing infrastructure made it possible for Icon Genetics to start new
experiments only two months after the relocation. "That was incredibly
fast," said Yuri Gleba, CEO of Icon Genetics.

However, according to Gleba the crucial benefit is being in the vicinity
of research. While Bio Mitteldeutschland provides Saxony-Anhalt the
highest research potential in the area of plant biotechnology, Gleba
goes even further, "Worldwide there are only three or four comparable
locations with such a high concentration of plant research."

White biotechnology:
Producing proteins and chemicals for industrial purposes. Therefore
using genetically modified microorganisms such as E. coli bacteria.

Red biotechnology:
Biotechnology for medical purposes, where microorganisms, animal or
plant cells produce the desire product.

Green biotechnology:
Altering the genetic material of plants, which are cultivated for food
or renewable primary products. Also substances useful for medical
purposes can be produced through this approach.

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