DUBLIN, Ireland - Research scientists have not played a sufficiently active role in the current debate about biotechnology in Europe, according to microbial geneticist Catherine Adley, in the department of chemical and environmental sciences at the University of Limerick.

Adley is also Irish director of the European Commission-backed European Initiative for Biotechnology Education, which is launching a free educational CD-ROM aimed at 16- to 19-year-olds. The CD-ROM, which was developed over the past three years with IEP250,000 (US$350,000) in funding, covers 14 topics in biotechnology. Four more will be added shortly. The CD-ROM will be distributed to schools and other outlets in 17 countries across Europe.

Educators in some European countries are not paying sufficient attention to biotechnology issues, Adley said, and those with the most advanced biotechnology industries - such as the U.K., Germany, France, and Scandinavia - tend to give more emphasis to the topic than countries where the industry is less well developed, such as Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Spain.

The current media storm over biotechnology is frightening people away from the topic, according to Adley. She questioned the impartiality of some anti-biotechnology campaigners, several of whom have vested interests in opposing the technology, she said. "There's a very small number of people making a very loud noise," she noted.

Preliminary findings from research carried out by Shane Morris, a graduate student of Adley, indicate that Irish science teachers regard university scientists as the most trustworthy source of information on biotechnology. Morris is also compiling data on the attitudes toward biotechnology of secondary school students, farmers and legislators. Adley cited the intervention of Swiss scientists in last year's referendum on biotechnology as an example of effective public communication on the technology.