WMU News

WMU biologists selected for worldwide biosafety effort

July 8, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- Two Western Michigan University biologists are part of an international science consortium that will share nearly $15 million in U.S. funding for research aimed at promoting biosafety in the world's developing countries.

Dr. Hector Quemada, adjunct associate professor of biological sciences, will direct WMU's part of the research that will bring $1.3 to $1.5 million in research funds to the University, an amount believed to be the largest grant ever awarded to WMU's Department of Biological Sciences. Dr. Alexander Enyedi, the department chairperson, will serve as co-director of WMU's part of the work.

The United States Agency for International Development is funding the global effort, known as the Program for Biosafety Systems, with a $14.8 million award that will be used to assist developing nations to enhance biosafety policy, research and capacity. The program has selected Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and East and West Africa as its initial areas of focus, with expansion to other countries and regions in the future likely. The addition of countries in the southern region of Africa is currently being seriously considered. The five-year project will formally begin July 1.

"The purpose of the work is to help developing countries both establish the capacity to do research on biosafety and use that research to make sound policy decisions when it comes to introducing genetically altered crops," says Quemada. "The WMU portion of the work will involve administering a program of competitive grants to researchers in the focus countries and regions."

Quemada says the WMU program will work with a sister program--the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program, based at Cornell University--to help support the work of individual researchers. He will be in charge of overseeing the grant program, organizing meetings of the researchers to share and review research, and assembling a scientific panel to review both the completed research and the impact of the data on the introduction of genetically altered crops in the individual countries.

The lead organization in the six-member consortium is the International Service for National Agricultural Research, which is located in the Netherlands. Other members include the International Food Policy Research Institute of Washington, D.C.; the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center of St. Louis, Mo.; Agriculture & Biotechnology Strategies of Merrickville, Ontario; and Michigan State University. The consortium was assembled to take advantage of the researchers' extensive background in and knowledge of biosafety policy development in poor countries.

Quemada, a former research scientist with the Upjohn Co. and the Asgrow Seed Co., is a specialist in genetically engineered crops and an expert on biotechnology product development and regulatory policy. He led a research and development group at Asgrow that developed and commercialized the world's first crop--a variety of squash--that was genetically engineered to be disease resistant. Since joining the WMU research staff in 1997, Quemada has performed research for the U.S. Department of Agriculture that focuses on assessing the environmental risk of genetically altered crops.

Enyedi, a WMU faculty member since 1993, became department chairperson in 2001. He is an expert in plant physiology and an active researcher who is developing biotechnology related to enhancing disease resistance in plants.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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