GM crop biosafety lab folds

A fully equipped laboratory for studying pathogen-resistant transgenic plants will close its doors by the year’s end. The International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) Biosafety Outstation in Ca’Tron di Roncade, Treviso, Italy, was set up to study potential risks concerning genetically modified crops and plant pathogens of importance to the developing world. The outstation’s facilities, part of the ICGEB, were refurbished with financing from Treviso-based Cassamarca Foundation, supported by banking group Unicredit. But the bank’s financial woes have prevented the foundation from renewing the €4-million ($5.7 million), 5-year contract, says Mark Tepfer, leader of the outstation’s Plant Virology group. Tepfer will transfer some his projects to his permanent appointment at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research in Paris. “I’m fairly optimistic that we’ll find a way to continue,” he adds. The ICGEB operates under a treaty signed by 59 countries within the United Nations system to conduct research and education in biomedicine, crop improvement, environmental remediation and biopharmaceutical and biopesticide production throughout the developing world. ICGEB administrator Decio Ripandelli hopes to shift some of the outstation’s research and education programs to the Trieste and New Delhi groups. Ripandelli says he lobbied the Cassamarca Foundation to put the facilities, including a high-containment greenhouse, into a “pharmacological coma” to avoid restarting from scratch but the foundation is noncommittal. Ripandelli says, “It’s really a pity and a scandal if the facilities are not used.”

First published by Nature Biotechnology: [html] [pdf].