Biotechnology in Mexico
Dr. Enrique Galindo
Code Number: BA00001
The level of Mexican biotechnology is high. Mexico has first-line scientists in many fields, including modern biotechnology. It has many research institutions of excellence that work on biotechnological topics. More than three hundred scientists are dedicated full time in Mexico to study different biotechnological aspects. There are many high quality postgraduate programs that prepare new biotechnologists. Besides the large number of enterprises dedicated to the production of alcoholic beverages and dairy products, there are more than seventy companies in Mexico manufacturing most of the more than one hundred totally biotechnological products found in the Mexican market. There are also companies with important technological capabilities that have placed totally Mexican-made pharmaceuticals in the market using genetic engineering techniques. A particularly dynamic entrepreneurial sector using biotechnological techniques is dedicated to the treatment of waste water and residual gases and to the micropropagation of plant species.
Mexican biotechnologists are organized in the Mexican Biotechnology and Bioengineering Society (abbreviated in Spanish as SMBB), which is the most important local organization in its field and the only one in Latin America. This professional society, founded in 1982, has eight hundred members, including professionals (53%) and students (47%), 70% of which are postgraduate students. SMBB also includes members from many other Latin American nations. Its main activities include: book publishing; the issuing of an information and analysis journal named BioTecnología and a web site in Internet; prizes to award young biotechnologists that have followed their careers in Mexico; and the organization of congresses, conferences, forums and courses, both at a nationwide level or at its nine regional chapters. Facing the ever-growing need to popularize trust-worthy information about biotechnology, SMBB makes a particular effort to reach the general public. SMBB has also assisted the contacts between industry and the academic sector and has a recognized voice to express its viewpoints in legislative and regulatory issues related to biotechnology.
Admission to SMBB is granted by a curricular evaluation made by a Membership Commitee. SMBB includes professionals related to biotechnology in the academic, industrial and service sectors, and has become an important source of contacts in Mexico for the different disciplines included in biotechnology, as the term is understood in its widest sense.
An index of the high level of the biotechnological activity that is taking place in Mexico is the congresses SMBB organizes since 1983. The number of paper presentations in these congresses has increased fourfold in the past six years. The most recent congress-that took place in 1999-accepted a total of 609 papers. This figure represents an increase of more than 30% in relation to the previous 1997 congress, which itself represented an increase of more than 60% in relation to the congress held in 1995. There is no doubt that these congresses have become biotechnology's most important forum in Mexico. Although it is true that the authors from the nation's capital (the Federal District) have been the most numerous, in percent figures the mayority of the papers came from as much as twenty states of the Mexican republic outside the capital.
The paper presentations in the last two congresses-that have been organized simultaneously with international meetings (an International Symposium on Bioprocess Engineering in 1997, and a Latin American Congress in 1999)-include the important participation of foreign authors, that represented almost one-fourth of all the paper presentations. The contribution of Cuba, Argentina, Brazil and Chile was the most outstanding in percent figures. This shows that the forum of Mexican biotechnology is also attractive for Latin American biotechnologists. In terms of topics, environmental biotechnology has been the one with the largest number of paper presentations, representing almost one-fourth in the congress. It is not rare that in this field Mexican biotechnology has been particularly successful in its industrial implementations.
Besides environmental biotechnology, biochemical engineering and fermentation has been a topic with more than one-fifth of the paper presentations in the congresses. Topics like microbial physiology and biochemistry, and agricultural and plant biotechnology are included among the four topics that have also provided the largest number of papers. The congresses' proceedings-that include extended abstracts-contain very rich, varied and high quality information. These documents are an inventory of the topics studied and of the researchers that are active in Mexican biotechnology. On the other hand, the low level of participation by the industrial sector has been a characteristic of these congresses, although its participation trend is growing.
SMBB has an eighteen-year-old tradition and continuity, and has managed to become an organization that has earned the recognition by both Mexican and foreign biotechnologists in terms of its assembling capacity and organizing quality, as well as becoming an influential organization among the different sectors of Mexican biotechnology.
There is no doubt that biotechnology is bound to revolutionize the century that is soon to begin. In Mexico-as well as in other Latin American nations-there is enough scientific, technological and organizing capabilities to capitalize the numerous advantages offered by this technology as well as to measure and handle-carefully and objectively-its potential inherent risks. I believe that we have much to learn from the experiences of other countries and that we should be more imaginative to overcome our weaknesses and to make the best of our respective strengths.
Copyright 2000 Elfos Scientiae