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Biotechnology Could Sustain Economy, Gov't Told

Biotechnology-related industry is being hailed as a new engine to sustain China's economic miracle in the years to come, a high-profile research team has told the government.

Claiming Chinese scientists at home and abroad are taking the lead in the world's "sunrise" industry, the team is confident that China can become a powerhouse of international biotechnology within 15 years.

The team, headed by staff from the National Development and Reform Commission, suggested in its final report that the government should increase its support for the research and application of biotechnology, mainly in agriculture and health.

Labelling the suggestions a "new national development strategy," the team intends to include them in the 11th (2006-10) National Economic and Social Development Plan and the National Medium- and Long-term Science and Technology Blueprint.

Hundreds of researchers and officials have already been involved in mapping out the two national plans.

The team's leading adviser Zhai Huqu said the government should encourage scientists and researchers to attempt to make breakthroughs with their own patents.

"We have a solid foundation from which to work towards realizing the goals," said Zhai, president of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

He said China was one of the world's heavyweights in biotechnology. "We are only behind the United States by five to 10 years in terms of overall research and development capacity."

China has almost 200 major biotechnology laboratories funded by governments at various levels, with more than 40,000 technological and research personnel. It also has some of the richest and most diverse biological resources in the world, with about 260,000 varieties of animals, plants and microbes.

"By using the resources, we have already made breakthroughs in some fields in the past two decades," said Zhang Xiaoqiang, vice-minister of the National Development and Reform Commission.

China has contributed in the international human genome project and independently completed the sequence for gene groups of a hybrid rice.

It was also the first country to locate and clone a gene causing high-frequency nerve deafness and some genes responsible for hereditary diseases. And research into anti-pest cotton has reached international levels.

To continue the momentum, Zhang said China would focus its research workforce and input on biotechnology-based agricultural and health industries, which are essential to the 1.3 billion people in China.

But there are still problems in research and development input and the industrialization of research results.

Chen Zhu, vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the government's total investment in R&D accounted for 1.3 per cent of gross domestic production in 2004.

(China Daily May 23, 2005)



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