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Dutch Government Commission Debates Future of Genomics in the Netherlands

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, Jan. 31 - Five ministers of the Dutch Parliament met as part of a temporary commission here last week to discuss what direction genomic research should take in the coming months.

The ministers agreed that genomics represents a growing part of the biotech landscape in the Netherlands, but differed on how the government can help.

Most of the legislators concluded that genomics is something worth researching but feared that research financed by the Dutch government and universities would lead to a brain-drain of scientists from other disciplines.

"Every professor who develops something, discovers something, begins immediately his own company, with financial support from other companies," said a commission member affiliated with the Socialistic Party.

In contrast, Erica Terpstra, a vocal parliamentarian and the commission's leader, said that increased government funding would dissolve the gap between universities and industry. She also made a plea to have as little regulation as possible that could hinder economic development in this field.

"In the field of genomics there are enormous possibilities, according to the [Dutch Liberal Party], but because of its boundless dimension it is also a very fragile field," said Terpstra. "Therefore I ask attention for a strong petition of a great number of organizations for a clear choice for a better biotechnology climate in the Netherlands."

Roughly 200 genomics companies make the Netherlands their home, including the firms DSM, Akzo-Nobel, Numic, Crucel, and Isotis. Terpstra told the commission that the country had a strong position in the field but added that other countries were gaining ground. 

To counter this, the legislator pleaded for "better school programs" in biotechnology, even for school children, and as well as "a better climate" for industries. Others present at the meeting feared that developments would go too fast or that too much attention and money for genomics would pose other research and research with financial problems.

Minister of Education Loek Hermans, meanwhile, said he was pleased with the positive attention for genomics in Parliament. "Genomics is indeed one of the most important parts of biotechnology development for the next years," he said. "Even if you are not a big supporter of these developments, they will happen around you. In my vision it will be a good thing to use the excellent position we have at this moment.

"The Netherlands has an excellent position to become a strong player on the field of genomics," added Hermans. "We have many publications, much research in that field, and are prominent in this field in the world."

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