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More Cash for Biotech Research

Government spending on biotechnologies has increased significantly, with the key areas for research now being genetically modified (GM) crops, the development of vaccines and fermentation technology, an official said on Thursday.

With the successful development of GM rice and corn, the government is now in the process of deciding whether or not to produce the crops on a large scale, Wang Hongguang, director of the China National Center for Biotechnology Development, told China Daily in an exclusively interview.

During the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010) period, the government will spend about 1.5 billion yuan (US$214 million) a year on biotechnologies, with the total rising to about US$800 million a year with the addition of contributions from commerce and research bodies, he said.

The China National Center for Biotechnology Development is affiliated with the Ministry of Science and Technology.

A recent report from Stanford University said China is currently outspending the US government on biotechnology, and that its total investment could be more than US$20 billion over the next two decades.

"There has definitely been a huge rise in the amount of government money being spent, but the figure is just a fraction of what private biotechnology firms in the US spend on R&D," Wang said.

During the 10th Five-Year Plan (2000-2005) period, the government spent about 1 billion yuan a year on the development of biotechnologies. As a result, the country has enjoyed success in developing GM crops and more than 70 percent of the cotton planted in China is genetically modified, he said.

"We are awaiting approval for a large-scale application of our achievements on GM rice and corn," he said.

More attention will also be paid to monitoring the safety of GM crops and the creation of standards for genetic modification, Wang said.

Recently, a National Key Laboratory was set up at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the first of its kind, to focus on agricultural biotechnologies, primarily those designed to increase rice output and improve the nutritional value of the grain.

The government will also spend more on developing environmentally friendly biological fertilizers and pesticides in order to reduce the pollution caused by chemical ones, Wang said.

China is a world leader in vaccine development and research into fermentation technologies, such as those for antibiotics and liquor, and further government spending is also earmarked for these fields, he said.

(China Daily April 5, 2008)

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