BRUSSELS, Belgium - Breakthroughs in biotechnology research, ranging from neuroscience to biodiversity research, have been identified by the European Union-United States task force on biotechnology research over the last 10 years, said its leading figures as they celebrated the task force's 10th anniversary last week in Brussels.

"There is an increasing realization of the need to collaborate globally," said Mary Clutter, assistant director of the U.S. National Science Foundation and U.S. co-chair of the task force.

"The task force has brought together leading scientists from both sides of the Atlantic to discuss future directions for research, giving Europe the possibility to contribute as an equal partner in determining how front-line scientific research will happen," said Bruno Hansen, director of life sciences coordination in the European Commission, and co-chairman of the EC-U.S. task force.

The task force's aim is to exchange ideas among program managers and administrators on the directions of biotechnology research. It says it has helped strengthen collaborations through workshops on bioinformatics, genomics, nanobiotechnology, neonatal immunity, biosafety and biodiversity.

A working group on neuroscience announced the first EU-U.S. initiative to agree on guidelines and standards for interoperative databases - intended to benefit international collaborative research projects in neuroinformatics through the exchange of raw data. Its co-chair, Arthur Toga, said the advantages of international collaboration include access to large numbers of images in investigating the observability of brain differences in people with the ApoE4 gene (which predisposes to Alzheimer's disease) and people with other gene types.

Other working groups have exchanged results from projects on farm animal genomes in a bid to increase understanding of human diseases, as well as improving livestock breeding programs; presented new biological sensing devices and miniaturized methods for rapid sequencing of DNA using nanobiotechnology; and presented biosafety research results in symposia relevant to European concerns about the safety of genetically modified crops and foods.

Jim Edwards, of the National Science Foundation, coordinated the U.S. side of a joint workshop on nanobiotechnology, and said he hopes that the newly established Nanobiotechnology Center at Cornell University will act as a magnet for U.S. researchers and their worldwide partners in this emerging field. Work on biotechnology and genetic resources in the task force has led to the imminent formation of the global biodiversity information facility, an international network of interoperable databases containing information about the world's living species, now backed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and scheduled to start work in 2001.

"The EC-U.S. Task Force on Biotechnology Research has enhanced communication across the Atlantic and established many important researcher-to-researcher relationships," says Neal Lane, science and technology assistant to President Bill Clinton.

The task force operates in parallel to the recently established EU-U.S. biotechnology consultative forum of non-government experts, which is to produce a report on biotechnology for the EU-U.S. summit in December. The forum has been mandated to assess the benefits and risks of modern biotechnology, including health, safety, economic development, food security and environmental aspects. It also will address issues such as the role of science, the ethical dimension, consumer information, public perceptions, risk analysis and intellectual property rights.

The European Union recently named Ruud Lubbers, former prime minister of the Netherlands, as European co-chair of this forum. Lubbers is professor of globalization at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. His counterpart as the U.S. co-chair will be Cutberto Garza, chair of the Institute of Medicine's Food and Nutrition Board.

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