"We are killing science in the university and research organizations" | Science

"We are killing science in the university and research organizations" | Science

The biochemist Luis Serrano (Madrid, 1959) chairs the lobby of the highest quality public science.The Somma alliance It groups the 25 Severo Ochoa centers and 23 María de Maeztu units. Each member has been selected by a panel of international experts and receives four million euros of state funding for four years, after which they must renew their candidacy. This program was created in 2011 by the Executive of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, with Cristina Garmendia as Minister of Science, continued with that of Mariano Rajoy, who extended it to the María de Maeztu units, and persists with Pedro Sánchez and his minister of science , Pedro Duque. Serrano, also director of the Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG) in Barcelona, ​​regrets the lack of communication with the Executive and denounces that the Government has not yet approved the package of urgent measures for science that Minister Duque promised at the end of 2018, in an interview in this newspaper.

Question. What is the main problem faced by the centers it represents?

We can not even spend well the money we have

Answer. There is a financing problem, but also a bigger one; we can not even spend well the money we have. In some cases we are throwing the money away. The most important example, which only happens in Spain, are the research plans. Most of the country's research groups depend on national plans, which are supposed to be granted each year and provide funding for three years. This allows people to be hired, to do research and, if it is the case, to patent innovations. We have seven years in which the National Plan is called randomly, with differences of seven or eight months, there are even years that do not go until the next. This disrupts the plans. When you go to ask for the next one, there is not; must dismiss staff for one year, half close the lab and then start over. So we throw away the three years of money. Minister Pedro Duque would go down in history if he could get the plans to go out on the same day of the year. The idea was for this to be done by the State Research Agency, but it still does not have a multi-year budget that would allow it to do so. If the budgets of 2019 are not approved, we will continue another year. We would have to talk to the political parties and find another solution.

Minister Pedro Duque would go down in history if he could get the plans to go out on the same day of the year

P. Is the viability of the research centers dangerous?

R. There are big centers like the CRG, the CNIO (National Center for Oncological Research) or the IRB (Biomedical Research Institute) that have a structural budget that allows them to survive. But with this we are killing science in the university and in public research organizations such as the Council [Superior de Investigaciones Científicas CSIC]. A country can not live alone from centers like the CRG or the CNIO, there must be CSIC and university doing quality science, but that is impossible.

P. Duke promised a package of urgent measures for science before the end of the year. What happened?

R. As soon as he was appointed minister, we asked Pedro Duque for a meeting as Somma centers. We are in February and he has not yet given us an appointment. It is depressing. Duke has very good will and has said that he will do things, but we have not seen them yet. One can have very good will but then comes up against the administration of the State. We need to start seeing facts. You have to push those changes in some laws that they are limiting much the investigation in replacement of personnel, regravación of the VAT, the public contracts. All political groups are willing to approve them. It is very good that there is a budget increase as announced, but first we must solve these more basic problems.

P. Has the independence process in Catalonia harmed science?

R. We have lost the momentum that was ten years ago. Then there was a very clear idea that Catalonia was an engine of innovation. Lately the debate goes through other paths and that push has been lost that made Catalonia become the most powerful autonomy in research.

P. What failures do you think the scientific community has?

Catalonia has lost the push in research

R. Our primary objective is to do high quality science, but we also have to think if it can have application. For many years it has been thought that this was prostitution. You have to change that mentality. We must always think if the science we do could be translated into a company, a medicine, a cure. It is not worth just to publish, you have to return value to society. In addition, the private sector bets very little on real innovation. If the main banks and Ibex companies allocated 0.001 of their profits to create venture capital funds to support the creation of scientifically based companies, this country would change radically. You have to think about a country strategy. Do we want to be a retired country or the California of Europe? In Spain in 15 years have been created centers that are among the best in the world, there is nothing genetic or geographical that says we can not be an innovative country. The politicians fill their mouths with innovation but none of them really believes it, and that is the problem.

P. At what point is your research in gene therapy with bacteria?

R. We want to quantitatively understand a living being, a very small bacterium that is in the human lung, and then apply that knowledge to modify it so that it is not pathogenic and secretes therapeutic compounds. This year we will start looking for funding to find a company to develop therapies against pulmonary infections, especially those that occur in hospitals when they cover patients and are resistant to antibiotics. We are also exploring the possibility that they produce anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic compounds.

As soon as he was appointed minister, we asked Duke for a meeting as Somma centers. We are in February and he has not yet given us an appointment. It is depressing

P. How far do you think the application of the CRISPR technique in humans can go?

R. Imagine that you are going to have a child and they tell you that if you modify your genome you will never have cancer, but in exchange you will be creating a difference with the rest of humanity. What would you do? We are reaching that point. If I do it and that modification is transmitted to the germline, you are creating differences between human beings that are no longer economic, but genetic. On the other hand, CRISPR will allow to cure a lot of genetic diseases of children and improve animal production, has a very positive side. The problem will not come with cancer, but when a family comes who wants their daughter to have four breasts, choose the body as we now choose the name. It is society that must say how far you can go. Do we admit it or not? How far do we want it to be?

Bacteria to cure infections


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