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Swiss scientists hold biotech open house

Swiss Scientists involved in bioengineering research have held an open house day in Berne in an effort to gain public confidence in their work.

Swiss Scientists involved in bioengineering research have held an open house day in Berne in an effort to gain public confidence in their work.

"There is nothing to fear from bioengineering and gene technology, and we have to make up for a lot of lost time in explaining our work to the general public". This was the basic message delivered in Berne on Friday by several leading Swiss researchers in the field.

They claimed that Swiss universities are now at the international forefront of bioengineering innovations that can later be taken over by private firms to market commercially.

The motto of the open house day was "Gene Technology -- Hands On". To demonstrate the usefulness of their work, the scientists set up an open-sided tent in the centre of Berne where visitors could see research work in progress and talk with the scientists and their students.

In an informal, festive atmosphere, visitors were also served free beer, wine and soft drinks, as well as tasty snacks, some of which were made of bio-engineered ingredients. The beer made with gene-manipulated maize was a particularly big hit.

One research project featured was the development of a kind of vaccine to prevent Rhesus blood factor conflicts in pregnant women that can have serious consequences after the first pregnancy. The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne is doing this work. It is considered high priority work, because the previous serums for this purpose based on human starting materials are in ever-shorter supply.

The Swiss bioengineering field is booming at the moment, compared to five years ago when activity was practically non-existent. But since Swiss voters gave biological and gene technology a green light in a referendum in June 1998, a number of so-called "start-up" research and development companies have been springing up like mushrooms.

Much of their activity is based on initial basic research done by Swiss universities and schools of technology. In fact, growth in this field has been so great that Switzerland is now among the big three, along with the United States and Germany.

Further open-house events are planned for May in Zurich, Basel, and Geneva.

by Bob Zanotti



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