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UN Opens Trieste Biotech Lab

TRIESTE—This week Arturo Falaschi takes charge of 900 square meters of laboratory and office space in a newly completed facility just outside Trieste in northern Italy. He does so as director of the Italian portion of the new International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), set up by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) to bring the benefits of recombinant DNA and associated technologies to Third World countries. The Trieste lab and its coun

By | April 6, 1987

TRIESTE—This week Arturo Falaschi takes charge of 900 square meters of laboratory and office space in a newly completed facility just outside Trieste in northern Italy. He does so as director of the Italian portion of the new International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), set up by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) to bring the benefits of recombinant DNA and associated technologies to Third World countries.

The Trieste lab and its counterpart in New Delhi, India, will each have 30 scientists, 20 postdoctoral researchers and 40 technicians. Many of the staff will be on two- to three-year appointments.

Both Falaschi and the ICGEB's General Director, I.C. (Irwin) Gunsalus, face uncertainty about future funding and the problem of attracting top-quality senior staff. Gunsalus, emeritus professor of biochemistry at the University of Illinois, was named this winter to head the new institute, following the abrupt departure two years ago of Burke Zimmerman, the original project leader who had hoped to become overall director.

Gunsalus, now working with UNIDO in Vienna, plans to join the Trieste center later this year. He recently appointed Krishna Tewari, chairman of the department of biochemistry and molecular Biology at the University of California, Irvine, as director of the ICGEB's New Delhi component. Six years after the ICGEB was first conceived, it has yet to become an independent entity. Only 14 of the 24 founder countries have ratified their decision to support the center, forcing UNIDO to operate it temporarily. But the Italian government, under an agreement signed last October, will give UNIDO both resources and authorization to operate in Trieste.

Full Agenda Planned

The Italian laboratory, in addition to ongoing work in energy and industrial microbiology, hopes to focus on virus infections and their spread in developing countries. "We plan to begin investigations into human papilloma virus and rotaviruses, as well as continuing my present research into DNA replication and regulation," said Falaschi, who will describe his intended program to the ICGEB Scientific Board in June. He also hopes to attract to Trieste part of a $1.5 million program on the breakdown of lignocellulose by microorganisms, which is already being financed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Despite the problems that have surrounded the ICGEB's birth, Falaschi remains optimistic. "This is a great opportunity, and also the right moment for scientists to work at a laboratory whose goal is to become a major center for research into improved health care in the developing countries."

Bono is editor of Biotec in Milan.

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