BMBF: Bioeconomy – new concepts for the use of natural resources

The better we can describe and understand the elements and structures of biological systems in their complexity and predict their reaction to external factors, the more will we be able to use them for technologies that benefit humankind and the environment. Biotechnology is an important driver in this process. With the “National Research Strategy BioEconomy 2030,” the Federal Government is laying the foundation for realizing a vision of a sustainable bio-based economy by 2030 – one which produces sufficient healthy food to feed the world and supplies quality products made from renewable resources.

Bioeconomy refers to the sustainable use of biological resources such as plants, animals and microorganisms. It involves a large number of industries including agriculture and forestry, horticulture, fishery and aquacultures, plant breeding, the food and drinks industry, as well as the wood, paper, leather, textile, chemical, and pharmaceuticals industries, and even parts of the energy industry. Bio-based innovations also drive growth in other traditional sectors, such as the commodity and food trade, the IT and automotive industries, and environmental technology. The Federal Government’s goal is to use research and innovation to facilitate a structural transition from an oil-based to a bio-based industry, which will also offer great opportunities for growth and employment. At the same time, research and innovation will be the basis for taking on international responsibility for global nutrition, the supply of commodities and energy from biomass, as well as for climate and environmental protection. This research strategy sets five priorities to continue Germany’s path towards a knowledge-based, internationally competitive bioeconomy:

To resolve conflicts arising from the different objectives of these priorities, we need holistic approaches which take into account the ecological, economic and social concerns in equal measure and integrate them in sustainable solutions.

Funding Success

In 1974, the Federal Ministry of Research and Technology (BMFT) had already commissioned a study from DECHMA to look into the promising future of biotechnology. However, an influential manager of a chemical-pharmaceutical enterprise advised the Research Minister at the time against establishing a targeted funding programme for biotechnology. A few years later, the industrial sector complained that Germany lacked know-how in modern biotechnology. At the beginning of the 1980s, Hoechst AG invested 70 million dollars in a research cooperation with Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, USA, so as not to miss the chance to gain access to newly developed genetic technology. In response, the BMFT funded gene centres in Berlin, Heidelberg, Cologne and Munich from 1982 to 1995, in order to establish research centres for molecular biology in Germany.

The funding had a long-term impact: even today, German biotechnology is concentrated in these regions. The industrial use of biotechnology received a clear boost during the wave of start-ups triggered by the 1995 BioRegio Competition, which was won by “BioRegions” Heidelberg, Munich and Rhineland. Meanwhile there are over 500 biotechnology companies in Germany with more than 15,000 employees and over 2 billion euros in sales. Germany has caught up in both modern life sciences and commercial biotechnology.

Domestically, the biotechnology programme set the trend for further funding measures: the BioRegio Competition (starting in 1995) was imitated by numerous competence networks and the Leading-Edge Cluster Competition, which started in 2007. BioFuture (starting in 1998) set standards for the promotion of young talent, and BioChance (starting in 1999) became a model for KMU-innovativ, providing funding for small and medium-sized enterprises. After the end of the framework programme “Biotechnology – using and shaping opportunities” (2001-2010), funding for biotechnology continues to be provided through the funding programmes for health and bioeconomy.

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Source: BMBF Newsletter July 2013 (04.07.2013)