A future outlook for Argentine Science

The high standards of research and teaching centres have allowed the local scientific tradition to preserve its prestige and meet the new challenges.

International cooperation is also evident at a basic science level.

Science in Argentina has a history that extends far beyond the listing of its three Nobel lauretes in scientific categories (Bernardo Houssay, Luis Federico Leloir and César Milstein).

The high standards of research and teaching centres have allowed the local scientific tradition to preserve its prestige and meet the new challenges under the driving momentum of the recently created Department for Science, Technology and Productive Innovation.

In addition to the archetypical biochemical and medical research schools, current Argentine science has added the ability and means required to conduct cutting-edge research in areas such as software, nanotechnology, and very recently biotechnology, which applied to the provision of goods and services, or the improvement of productive processes, benefits from tax-cuts and other exemptions granted by the state.

Over the last five years the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (known as CONICET) has signed agreements with technology-based private companies by which these provide 50 % of scientists ´salaries paid by the CONICET The CONICET is the leading institution of national science , with approximately 10.000 scientists distributed along the five categories of the scientific career, (assistant, associate, independent, main and top researcher), or as assistant technicians, or within its fellowship program. The National Agency for Science and Technology Promotion represents another major branch of Argentine science, that for the last 10 years has been financing projects through credits granted by the Inter-American Development Bank (BID).

Biotechnology is probably one of the best examples of how to take advantage of the opportunities that lay within research niches. Despite the backdrop of the 2002 economic crisis, regarded as a critical year for the country´s institutional life, Argentina announced the birth of the first cloned and transgenic cows.. Such an achievement resulted from the cooperative efforts of scientists belonging to the UBA’s School of Agronomy, the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA), the CONICET and the Biosidus Laboratory. When it comes to milk production, using a non-cattle gene aims at producing milk that can have a pharmaceutical added value. It is particularly important that such milk can actually produce a human growth hormone.

The “pharmaceutical farm”, as it came to be called, made the headlines once again back in 2007, with the announcement of the first transgenic human insuline-producing cow . This hormone is currently regarded as key in the treatment of one type of diabetes. The hormones consumed in Argentina are imported.

It is worth mentioning the case of Biosidus, a private company whose current strategy is to engage in R&D activities; in other words, innovation. Some of the company`s scientific undertakings involve the development of recombinant proteins in bacteria, their clinical research, and the controlled release systems for macromolecules and vegetal biotechnology (including virus resistance and herbicides).

But there is a lot more to add when it comes to national scientific research. The aforementioned advances are just a small step in scientific development. One of the reasons for the national economic revival experienced after the 2001/2002 crisis had to do with the ability to adapt to such circumstances developed by some of the transgenic seed farmers, above all of those engaged in the production of soybean, whose value experienced a significant growth in the international market. Argentina stands as one of the five countries that more land devotes to this type of crop. In addition, when it comes to choosing the equipment for planting purposes, farmers bet on innovation. In this regard, the work conducted by the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) is paramount, especially in achieving joint cooperation between the schools of agronomy of several universities. (The Institute has also signed agreements with the CONICET, the Science Department and INTI, among others. Some of the compelling challenges for scientists working in this area include the monitoring of soil, animal and vegetation response to new conditions.

Rosario´s Biotechnology Complex, in construction since 2004, is expected to be one of the major biotech-research centers in Latin America, not only because of the extent of the investments allocated to it for many years, but also because the city, located in Santa Fe province, can be considered as one of the cities that has flourished the most over the last years. Both the Vegetal Genomics Research Argentine-Spanish Binational Center (CEBIGEVE) and Rosario Agrobiotechnology Institute (INDEAR) will operate within this complex. Similarly, a large number of foreign companies is also expected to invest in it. The paradigmatic Bioceres, for example, a company from Rosario, is a conglomerate of more than a hundred farmers seeking to finance R&D projects in order to link science to production.

According to some analysts, nanotechnology is considered today the backbone of the new industrial revolution. In fact, it involves the handling of materials at a level that is invisible to the human eye. Thousands of million dollars are expected to be invested in less than a decade, and sectors like textiles, electronics and cosmetics, among others, are betting strongly on it.

Currently, there are four Argentine nanotechnology networks where 200 scientists, most of them CONICET researchers, conduct research work;. Interesting enough, nanotechnology research projects are cooperative endeavours involving multiple research centers, perhaps more than any other traditional science projects.(already regarded as cooperative projects embodying a large number of these centers). In this sense, the participation of Argentine nanotechnologists´ both in the virtual and binational center established in Brazil, and in the NanoForumEULA, which brings together Europe and Latin America, is of outmost significance. The Balseiro Institute , located in Bariloche, the National Atomic Energy Commission and the UBA are considered key places for training nanoscientists.

Nanotek, located in Santa Fe province, one of the twenty businesses engaged in development projects, has already patented a product for cleaning waters polluted with heavy metals. Furthermore, this product is also being tested against a pollutant known as PCB. The above mentioned company has come to be part of the Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Argentine Network (where the Balseiro institute itself, the CNEA and two CONICET, Inquimae and Inifta, participate).

The Argentine Nanotechnology Foundation was created back in 2005 within the Ministry of Economy. The goal of the Foundation is laying the basis to promote technical and human infrastructure in this area, and help add value to national production.

The Interdisciplinary Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (CINN), was set up financed by the following four enterprises: Nanotek, Tenaris, and the chemical producing companies Darmex and B&W, next to INVAP, an state-owned company of the province of Río Negro. This center has a a four-year budget of roughly a 4 million dollar-budget for tools, industrial projects a post doctoral fellowship program, in addition to funding the return of 12 young scientists from abroad, and the completion of 60 phd programs.

Tenaris, also engaged in nanotechnology development, has signed an agreement with the CONICET to create job positions for trained researchers, or for those undergoing training. This company stands as a clear example of the so-desired articulation between the productive and scientific sectors.

Software and IT services
In the same breath, the development of software or computing national programs also appears to be a highly dynamic sector. As a matter of fact, IT services and software companies recorded a twofold increase between 2002 and 2006. Therefore, the number of companies being registered increased from 500 to over 1000. Likewise, the number of workers hired showed a threefold rise. As a result, the number of employees increased from 15.000 to almost 47.000 workers back in 2007. In fact, it all indicates that such a rising trend is not expected to decline considering that exports have risen by 400%. One of the IT major business lines is that of videogame creation, consoles usables, the Internet and even cellular phones comprising a very wide scope of professionals that are working on their development. The professionals involved in this sector range from programmers to designers, including professions such as music, appearing to be alien to the IT sector. As an example, large foreign television companies hire the services rendered by MP Advanced, an Argentine company which is engaged in designing games targeted at promoting its most popular programs.

Ninety per cent of all the software production is based in Buenos Aires city , its urban areas, and the province of Santa Fe. Still, there have been some promising breakthroughs in the provinces of Córdoba, and Mendoza and inland Buenos Aires province. According to 2006 data, Argentina´s major software buyers are Venezuela, accounting for 16% of all exports, and the United States and Chile, reaching a figure amounting to 11%. Nevertheless, the domestic market keeps on being significantly relevant, thus accounting for 80% of all exports.

Furthermore, it is really interesting to point out that software and IT services areas are closely related to the development of other national scientific-technological advances. They play a key role on the industry, biotechnology and medicine, among many other areas. Therefore, it might be argued that it all appears intersected and interrelated.

Argentine technology to the world
These are not the only projects in which Argentina seizes niches of opportunity in the worlwide market in order to introduce high value added products, which implies making a large number of investment efforts and spending on human resources. INVAP managed to win an international bidding in June 2000, thus rising above specialized companies from countries such as Canadá, Germany and France. This initiative involved a 20 megavat power reactor which was sold for approximately 200 million dollars to Australia. Around 200 technicians and national engineers became involved in its construction. Similarly, five scientists staying in that country also took part in this project to supervise that the reactor would work properly within the two-year guarantee term.

The reactor known as OPAL is used in different purposes, such us scientific research applied to medicine, natural envionment and industries and also to supply medical radioisotopes for Australia, New Zealand and South Asian market.

The benefit of the above mentioned sale is that was made in a First World country, without such country having a nuclear tradition, though. Argentina, always through Invap, had already sold reactors to developing countries like Algeria (a research nuclear reactor in 1989), Egypt (a fully operating reactor similar to the one sold to Australia, sold for 90 million-dollars in 1998), and Lybia (where a lower power reactor built by the Soviet Union was repaired).

INVAP is also engaged in satellite construction. Three satellite devices have already been built by Argentina and are part of the SAP Project (Scientific Applications Satellites). The SAC-A was the first satellite to be launched into orbit back in 1998, and its mission was to test Argentine technology. The other satellites currently in orbit are the SAC-B, used for the study of solar rays, and the SAC-C, for environmental studies. The SAC-D is scheduled to be launched on May 25, 2010, in commemoration of the National Bicentenary, to detect ocean salinity and gather data on current climatic change. Furthermore, a geostationary satellite is currently being developed by INVAP itself and the state-owned company ARSAT Satellite launching operations are carried out jointly with the US spacial agency, NASA.


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