Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Group that promotes biotech crops finds home in California

Sacramento Bee

-- Starting in July, the University of California, Davis, becomes home to an initiative called the Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture. PIPRA is a collection of about 20 universities and philanthropic groups that united last summer to overcome the legal barriers that slow development of biotech crops.

PIPRA is funded by the McKnight Foundation of Minneapolis, Minn., and the Rockefeller Foundation of New York. The cost for the first three to five years of PIPRA is pegged at approximately $1 million.

The UC Davis role, made public Thursday, boosts its already considerable status in the world of ag biotechnology, and campus leaders quickly embraced PIPRA as an important part of the university's educational and research mission.

"We felt we had a public responsibility to this particular program because it would benefit the entire world," said Lynne Chronister, associate vice chancellor for research administration at UC Davis.

UC Davis was chosen from among four possible sites because it offered space, computers and administrative support for the infant operation, along with biotech expertise, said Rex Raimond, who helped manage the site-selection process as part of the consulting group Meridian Institute. The campus' start-up contribution is $75,000.

Alan Bennett, a UC intellectual property guru, was tapped to lead PIPRA during its first year.

"It's a high-profile organization and the campus takes some pride in hosting it," he said. "It's seen as an organization that can solve problems and really address the issues that have been out there."

The newly formed PIPRA advisory board at UC Davis includes Gurdev Khush, one of the world's foremost rice breeders; Kent Bradford, director of the Seed Biotechnology Center on campus; and Martina Newell-McGloughlin, director of the UC system-wide biotech program housed at Davis.

Biotech crops are rejected in spots around the world because of potential environmental or human health concerns that come with moving genes around in ways not possible in nature. For instance, Mendocino County banned the growing of genetically engineered crops in March.

(Distributed by Scripps-McClatchy Western Service, http://www.shns.com.)

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