Biotech in Russian post crisis economy: visionary plans or a call of duty?

01.12.09
Эксклюзив

Biotech in Russian post crisis economy: visionary plans or a call of duty?

Эксперты МГИМО: *Коротков Андрей Викентьевич, д.экон.н., к.филол.н.

This paper surveys the potential impact of biotechnology on preliminary investigation of future post-crisis economy in Russia Federation. Looking beyond the immediate challenges, the new sectors of scientific research in the frontiers of bio-, nano- and organic technologies provides the opportunity for the emerging economies to find free niches on the global markets. We review the impact of mathematical methods in biotechnology, focused on improving capabilities to detect and diagnose new, reemerging, and antibiotic-resistant pathogens in both rural and urban settings and upgrading communication systems to provide timely and accurate information enhancing disease surveillance, monitoring food and water supplies for safety and potability.

I. INTRODUCTION

Esteemed colleagues, it is my honor and pleasure to participate in the Forum of Bio-economy and International Biotech Plans: — Social, Economy, Ethic, Policy and Public Acceptance. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our host, the Information Research Center of International Talent, SAFEA, China Medicinal Biotech Association, Guangdong Science and Technology Department and People’s Government of Foshan for their excellent organizational arrangements, and hospitality.

Before moving on to the main topic of my presentation, I would like to underline the importance of this dialogue. Strong scientific and economic cooperation ties now bond not just our regions, but the whole world. During last year a constellation of global and regional economy and financial crises both in Asia, Europe and Americas moved the governments and the scientific community to rethink their mutual interests in promoting and deepening further partnership. Chinese sages taught us that the state well-being depends directly on the well-being of its citizens. Governments can learn much from the rich history of regional scientific cooperation and integration.

Both information and biotechnologies is something that is close to my heart. As a First Deputy Minister of Informatics of the Russian Federation my team were responsible for an «e-Russia» program which was valued highly from the broad support we receive from the scientific and specifically biotech community. At the very beginning of the first decade of the new millennium the Russian mathematicians were deeply involved in the creation of algorithms of several brand new semantic search engines that were later used as the basis of search engines of critical infrastructure of very large information systems.

I would like to acknowledge, in particular, the generous contributions of biotech in the post-industrial economy of the Russian Federation and to ensure that these technologies and the scientific human capital resources are put to the best possible use in post-crisis economy of the region.

Now, I would like to touch on two topics in our agenda. First, I would like to make some observations about Russian regional activities in the wake of the current crisis through innovations in the very top scientific areas, such as biotech. Second, I will make some observations about the evolving international scientific cooperation in biotech and, in particular, actions that are being taken by the Russian specialists from the Institute of Mathematical problems of Biology, I am representing here.

II. IS BIOTECHNOLOGY NEW?

Esteemed colleagues, the problems related to enhancing disease monitoring, and ensuring the safety and beneficial effect of food and water supplies have always been considered by the Russian government as key priorities. These technologies have become in the past ten years critically important for the Russian Federation — all research in this field is being financed with the state budget.

Why do we talk today about implementing new approaches to ‘old’ tasks?

Firstly, it is due to wide range of opportunities which information technologies provide researches with. «Network is a computer» — this ‘mantra’ was repeated all over again by the early enthusiasts in network computer technologies. Their dreams came true. Communication networks, such as GRID, turned into a giant super computer.

Secondly, in 2008 the Russian government adopted a programme for nanotechnologies development which envisages the development of biotechnologies as well. The Laboratory of Mathematical Problems of Biomechanics, IMPB RAS in collaboration with some Russian and foreign laboratories is involved in devising new methods for noninvasive assessment of the functional state of soft biological tissues and diagnosing their pathologies, including cancer. Considerable effort is being made to develop methods for detecting such pathologies at the earliest stages. Central to the methods is the fact that mathematical characteristics of tumor tissues differ from those of normal ones. Besides this, normal tissues also exhibit different properties as they are in different functional states. Therefore tissues are deformed differently upon external loading. Reconstruction of the spatial distribution of the mechanical properties of soft tissues from the data on their deformed state just serves to detect cancer pathologies and to identify a particular type of pathology.

Thirdly, we continue to look answers to certain fundamental mathematical issues cut across all of these challenges. How do we incorporate variation among individual units in nonlinear systems? How do we treat the interactions among phenomena that occur on a wide range of scales, of space, time, and organizational complexity? What is the relation between pattern and process?

Fourthly, now we can talk about significant success achieved in the field of structural biology. Structural biology includes the analysis of the topological and geometric structure of DNA and proteins. It also includes molecular dynamics simulation and drug design. Mathematical and computational methods are essential to complement experimental structural biology by allowing the addition of motion to molecular structures. We made a progress in creating artificial neural networks represent mathematical or technical constructions built from neuron-like elements. Neural networks are used for mathematical modeling in neurobiology and for designing artificial intelligence systems. Accordingly, investigations on neural networks can be divided into two subfields: mathematical (computational) neurobiology and neurocomputing. Mainly, the research work of the laboratory is directed at modeling biological neural systems with the aim of understanding neurophysiological principles of information processing in the brain.

Experimental studies of the brain show that the dynamics of electrical activity play an important role in the interaction of brain structures. In particular, rhythmical activity and its synchronization may represent one of the general mechanisms of information processing in the brain. The work of the brain is characterized by a wide spectrum of rhythms which correlate with external stimulation and internal psychological state of the organism. Stable patterns of rhythmic spiking have been discovered in various parts of the brain in the recordings of the activity of single neurons, neural populations, and brain structures. Such experimental data were obtained in the studies of primary areas of visual and olfactory cortices, sensorymotor cortex, thalamus, hippocampus, and other brain structures.

Fifthly, the development of networks and WEB 2.0 technologies created new opportunities for the scientific community to discuss further progress of the new technologies. For example, a number of large corporations such as IBM conducted online forums on the prominent trends of IT development. At the moment we are ready in terms of technologies to hold such discussions in the field of biotechnologies. Let me please describe how it works. First of all a representational expert community is formed. For example, during Innovation Jam 2008, there were over 60 000 experts participating in the online discussion. Then the participants of the virtual forum bring forward ideas and discuss the issues on the agenda online within 3 days, for instance. The discussion is being coordinated by skilful moderators. At the end of the discussion comes the most interesting stage which is conducted on the basis of business intelligence methods. Clusters are identified, and correlation schemes are formed. Such method of collective intelligence, or collective brainstorming is called ‘crowdsourcing’, as it is performed by a broad range of experts which can be attracted worldwide through Internet. We welcome all interested scientific communities to participate in this joint work and hold a Biotechnology Jam in 2010 or 2011 году.

III. THE BIG PICTURE

To achieve this goal of a more robust public health system, the Russian government strengthened the regional policies and programs by:

  1. focusing on surveillance, laboratory diagnostics, and the development of countermeasures (e.g., drugs, vaccines) capable of addressing diseases in the broadest sense
  2. improving capabilities to detect and diagnose new, reemerging, and antibiotic-resistant pathogens in both rural and urban settings and upgrading communication systems to provide timely and accurate information
  3. enhancing disease surveillance, encompassing affected species of significance
  4. monitoring food and water supplies for safety and potability
  5. supporting well-focused research projects that strengthen the base of fundamental scientific knowledge
  6. strengthening programs to facilitate the commercialization of scientific findings within a regulatory framework that supports public health and the protection of agriculture
  7. developing an improved understanding of the relationships between infectious agents and important chronic diseases, a priority of growing international interest
  8. supporting the emergence of a strong biotechnology sector that enhances efforts to combat infectious diseases affecting the Russian population
  9. developing and implementing effective security procedures at the hundreds of facilities that can propagate, store, or distribute pathogens that, if diverted, could be used for bioterrorism; an important initial step is to conduct a careful nation-wide inventory of the many collections in Russia and consolidate collections where appropriate
  10. promoting broad transparency of Russian research and disease-prevention and control activities involving dangerous pathogens in order to reduce international apprehensions regarding the possible misuse of Russian research or unauthorized diversion of infectious agents, with comparable transparency also expected in other countries
  11. recruiting, training, and retaining an expanded cadre of biomedical scientists, medical doctors, veterinarians, plant pathologists, epidemiologists, and other relevant specialists who are equipped with modern technology and positioned to deal with infectious disease threats.

Russia has well-established institutions that are needed to support the achievement of these objectives. Among the priorities of the Presidential Innovation Program Russian scientific institutes are integrated is realistic, five-year goal for Russia is the evolution of a stronger, more flexible public health system that is increasingly integrated into the global community. This evolution will continue even as Russia responds to endemic and emerging diseases, including zoonotic diseases. On a broader scale, Russian achievements would make greater contributions to a more effective global approach to combating infectious diseases as improved and enhanced international cooperation develops.

IV. HOW FAR IS THE TRANSHUMAN FUTURE?

RNA, protein, biomembranes, etc. are of a size compared to that of nano-fractions, nanopipes, quant dots.

Semiconductive fractions, fullerenes or carbon nanopipes creates a new category of materials for developing unique electronic or optical systems. The key fields of nanobioelectronics include creation of biosensors and complex nanoelectronic DNA systems based on such hybrid infrastructures, as well as construction of nanobiotransistors, diods, nanomotors, etc.

In order to create these devices it is necessary to build their quantomechanical models and conduct supercomputer calculations.

The success of biotechnologies in the fields of gene diagnostics, gene engineering, gene therapy, gene identification of personality and others puts forward the question of traditional boundaries for the start and the end of human existence, demarcation of norms and pathologies, differentiation of one’s own and alien, moral and immoral, legal and criminal. The lack of control and unpredictability of the consequences of manipulations at the fundamental biological (including genome) level turns ‘playing god’ into a Russian roulette of a kind.

V. CONCLUSION

In closing, esteemed colleagues, I would like to reiterate that Russia is not in the grip of a new crisis. While growth in this region may slow, the recovery process, based on very new scientific areas, should continue. Over the medium term, prospects hinge largely on successful restructuring efforts and reform initiatives. The recent recovery within the region, however, should not allow for complacency.

My esteemed colleagues, we all agree that closer integration with the global economy offers immense promise. But, equally, it requires increased vigilance to safeguard gains from market turbulence. ADB is working with its developing member countries in collaboration with other international financial institutions and developed countries, to strengthen their capacity to manage risks in the globalized market. I should emphasize that we need a safe and sound international financial system if we are to achieve ADB’s overarching goal, that is, poverty reduction in the Asia and Pacific region.

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