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Building human and industrial capacity in European biotechnology: the Yeast Genome Sequencing Project (1989–1996)

Parolini, Giuditta

During the years 1989-1996 the European Commission took a leading role in sequencing the yeast genome. The project was completed in April 1996 and celebrated as the success of a European research strategy based on a distributed model of scientific collaboration. Almost one hundred laboratories and private companies dispersed all over Europe took part in the sequencing work sponsored by the European Commission and an industrial platform was created to facilitate the exploitation of the genomic data by companies which were interested in yeast. The yeast genome project was part of the biotechnology strategy developed by the European Commission during the 1980s and 1990s. The Commission expected biotechnology to be relevant in crucial areas of political, economic and social intervention and wanted to promote economic growth and contribute to the process of European integration by developing a community strategy in biotechnology. Due to the strong industrial value of yeast, which is used by agrofood, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, sequencing the genome of this microorganism proved an ideal opportunity to pursue the Commission’s plans and the paper will examine how the yeast genome project was shaped to build human and industrial capacity in European biotechnology. By investigating capacity building, it will be possible to understand why the European Commission decided to sponsor and coordinate a scientific project in genomics, but with the real aim to strengthen economic growth in the biotechnology sector and promote integration among new and old member states of the European Economic Community.