Российская наука и мир (дайджест) - Декабрь 2007 г.

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2007 г.
Российская наука и мир
(по материалам зарубежной электронной прессы)

январь февраль март апрель май июнь июль август сентябрь октябрь ноябрь декабрь

    Medical News Today / 25 Nov 2007
    Cellular therapy of a stroke
    Специалисты ООО "Транс-Технологии" при участии ГУ НИИ экспериментальной медицины РАМН проверили на крысах возможность применения клеточной терапии для лечения последствий ишемического инсульта. Оказалось, что внутривенная трансплантация мезенхимных стволовых клеток восстанавливает кровоснабжение головного мозга и защищает его нервные клетки от гибели.

Specialists of the "Trans-Technologies" Open Joint-Stock Company, with participation of Scientific Research Institute of Experimental Medicine, Russian Academy of Medical Sciences (St. Petersburg), have tested on rats the capabilities of cellular therapy for ischemic stroke treatment. It has turned out that intravenous transplantation of mesenchymal stem cells restores cerebrum blood supply and protects its nerve cells from death.
Under anaesthetic, the rats' medium cerebral artery was pinched in order to impair the blood supply in the left hemisphere. Three days later, the animals were intravenously injected the mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) from the marrow. These cells are able to differentiate into the cells of other tissues, including nerve cells. Part of the animals was false operated the operation was performed on them but the artery had not been pinched. The reference group animals' artery was pinched but the stem cells were not introduced. The MSCs for transplantation were singled out from the marrow of thigh-bones of other animals of the same laboratory line, the MSCs were marked by a fluorescent dye and injected into the laboratory rats' caudal vein. The animals' cerebrum was investigated six weeks later.
There turned out to be unexpectedly few luminescent cells in the cerebrum specimen, and they were located not in the affected cortex zone but nearby ventricles of brain. This is strange as the specialists of "Trans-Technologies" have experimentally proved that stem cells introduced into the bloodstream come to the damaged tissue in several days. But nevertheless the stem cells introduction turned out effective for restoration of the affected brain. The area of affected zone with the experimental rats was less than that with the untreated animals. Transplantation enables to preserve the parts of brain responsible for formation of emotions and motion regulation. With the untreated rats, these sections were noticeably damaged. Their stroke area was surrounded with an extensive zone of dying nerve cells. The stem cells increased almost by twice the number of blood vessels in the injured left hemisphere, which contributed to cerebral blood supply restoration. It is interesting that more vessels appeared in the symmetrical unaffected hemisphere. This phenomenon has not been described in scientific publications, therefore the researchers are planning to investigate it separately.
Thanks to the stem cells, the rats successfully passed the test in two or three weeks after transplantation. They became calmer, they better orientated themselves in space and memorized disposition of surrounding objects. Besides, the animals restored symmetry of reactions in the left and the right side of the body and in utilization of extremities.
In the researchers' opinion, the mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) is practically an ideal material for cellular therapy as they can be introduced directly into the blood. This allows to avoid serious operations under general anaesthetic, which are necessary for cell injection directly into the brain.
Although the researchers are now unable to fully explain the MSCs mechanism of action, but their beneficial action on the brain after a stroke is evident. Possibly, in case of earlier MSC transplantation, more cells will be able to get into the brain, and the beneficial action will be even more apparent.

© 2007 MediLexicon International Ltd.
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    Innovations report - Bad Homburg, Germany / 20.11.2007
    Is the test-tube conception dangerous?
    Число "детей из пробирки" растет с каждым годом и в развитых странах скоро будет достигать до 3% от общего числа новорожденных. Но насколько безопасны вспомогательные репродуктивные технологии (ВРТ)? Этим вопросом занялись ученые НИИ медицинской генетики ТНЦ СО РАМН, проанализировав накопленные мировой наукой данные в одном из аспектов - вероятности возникновения болезней геномного импринтинга.

The number of "infants from a test-tube" is growing year by year, and in highly developed countries it will soon make 1% to 3% of all new-borns.
But how safe are the auxiliary reproductive technologies (ART)? Having summarized the data accumulated by the world science, specialists of the Research Institute of Medical Genetics (Tomsk Scientific Center, Siberian Branch, Russian Academy of Medical Sciences) tried to look into only one aspect of the ART safety - risk of genomic imprinting diseases.
What kind of diseases are they? Normal mammal development requires that maternal and paternal gene sets differed functionally. In certain genes, only the maternal copy should work. And in others - only the paternal copy should. The mechanism regulating functional differences of parental genomes is called genomic imprinting. This is a complicated and multi-step process, which starts in the parental gametal cells, where special enzymes mark and disconnect the required genes (a human being has about 70 of them), and continues after impregnation. Heavy pathologies can be caused by failure of such marking at some stage, and several genomic imprinting diseases are known with human beings.
Genomic imprinting reacts to external factors, and the researchers expected that the auxiliary reproductive technologies could influence it. The first example of such influence was discovered in experiments on animals' artificial impregnation. The "large posterity syndrome" sometimes develops with big horned cattle and sheep after embryo cultivation, the posterity weight often by twice exceeding the norm. Another important indication is increased fetus mortality in the course of pregnancy and in labour, at that the pregnancy is long and the delivery is difficult. The deceased fetus and new-borns have internal pathologies. The "large posterity syndrome" caused by derangements of genomic imprinting is very similar on the surface to the Wideman-Beckwith human syndrome arising for the same reason. In case of the Wideman-Beckwith syndrome, infants are born very big and with multiple pathologies. The syndrome frequency is normally one case per 12 to 15 thousand of new-borns, but it is several times higher with the children born with the help of the ART.
The researchers suggest several hypotheses explaining why genomic imprinting diseases occur more often in case of the ART than in case of traditional conception. Firstly, the process may be influenced by methodical peculiarities of artificial impregnation. In case of extracorporal fertilization, women are injected hormones to stimulate the ovulation. Possibly, gonadotropins accelerate maturation of ovums, which have not finished yet the genomic imprinting process.
In some cases ovums have to be cultivated in nutrient medium prior to fertilization, and after fertilization embryos are bred on it before transplanting in the maternal organism. The nutrient medium composition and the lack of signals coming from the maternal organism in a normal case can also impact genomic imprinting, which takes place both in maturing ovums and in the developing embryo. It is not improbable that the genome marking can be influenced by cryopreservation of gametal cells and embryos, which is often practiced.
Secondly, the ART enables the events that would have never happen in a natural way. Thus, "anomalous" ovums can mature in case of hormone stimulation, such ovums would have scarcely mature during a natural cycle. Spermatozoa also can have imprinting defects. Normally, their fertility is low but they can be used for artificial impregnation, and then trouble is inevitable. Finally, artificial impregnation makes it possible that ill children are born with infertile married couples who have predisposition to genomic imprinting diseases.
Now, there is no unanimous opinion among the researchers as regards to the ART and genomic imprinting diseases. Some assume that the birth "the test-tube" children is an extremely rare event and it cannot be the reason for rejection of artificial impregnation. Their opponents believe that the genomic imprinting abnormalities cases known to us make only the visible part of the iceberg. We do not know too many things, and the risk of giving birth to infants with imprinting defects is although little, but important. Therefore, it is necessary to investigate the problem and to make extracorporal fertilization safe in every respect.

© 2000-2007 by innovations-report.
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    CNNMoney.com - USA / November 19, 2007
    Leading Russian Cancer Center Acquires CyberKnife® System
    Acquisition Marks First Robotic Radiosurgery System in Russia, Expanding Patients' Cancer Treatment Options
    Российский онкологический научный центр имени Н.Н.Блохина РАМН приобрел роботизированную радиохирургическую систему CyberKnife®, которая позволяет удалять злокачественные опухоли в любой части тела без повреждения окружающих здоровых тканей. Это первая подобная система в России.

SUNNYVALE, Calif., Nov. 19 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ - Accuray Incorporated, a global leader in the field of radiosurgery, announced today that the N.N.Blokhin Cancer Research Center in Moscow, Russia has acquired a CyberKnife® Robotic Radiosurgery System. Once installed, this will be the first CyberKnife System in Russia, giving patients access to the benefits of robotic radiosurgery.
"We are extremely excited to see the benefits of whole body radiosurgery expand into Russia, the largest and one of the most populated countries in the world," said Euan S. Thomson, Ph.D., president and chief executive officer of Accuray Incorporated. "This acquisition paves the way for greater patient access to CyberKnife radiosurgery, thereby providing patients an additional treatment option that can improve their quality of life."
The Blokhin Cancer Research Center comprises four separate Institutes, including a 1,600 bed hospital devoted to cancer patients. It is one of the largest in Europe employing 700 scientists and 2,000 medical personnel. The Blokhin Cancer Research Center is part of the American-Russian Cancer Alliance, which also includes the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center in Baltimore, Md., the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, Pa., and the Kurchatov Institute. The U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) provides the infrastructure for the Alliance.
About the CyberKnife® Robotic Radiosurgery System
The CyberKnife Robotic Radiosurgery System is the world's only robotic radiosurgery system designed to treat tumors anywhere in the body non-invasively. Using continual image guidance technology and computer controlled robotic mobility, the CyberKnife System automatically tracks, detects and corrects for tumor and patient movement in real-time throughout the treatment. This enables the CyberKnife System to deliver high-dose radiation with pinpoint precision, which minimizes damage to surrounding healthy tissue and eliminates the need for invasive head or body stabilization frames.
About Accuray
Accuray Incorporated, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., is a global leader in the field of radiosurgery dedicated to providing an improved quality of life and a non-surgical treatment option for those diagnosed with cancer. Accuray develops and markets the CyberKnife Robotic Radiosurgery System, which extends the benefits of radiosurgery to include extracranial tumors, including those in the spine, lung, prostate, liver and pancreas. To date, the CyberKnife System has been used to treat more than 40,000 patients worldwide and currently more than 100 systems have been installed in leading hospitals in the Americas, Europe and Asia. For more information, please visit http://www.accuray.com.

© 2007 Cable News Network. A Time Warner Company ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
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    Science Centric / 19 November 2007
    Fish helps geologists
    По мнению специалистов российского ВНИИ рыбного хозяйства и океанографии и НИИ минералогии, геохимии и химии кристаллов редкоземельных элементов, рыбу "антарктический клыкач" (длина 135-190 см, вес 35-90 кг, обитает на севере Атлантики и на юге Индийского океана.) вполне можно использовать в качестве драги для исследования морского дна. Дело в том, что в желудке у пойманных особей часто обнаруживаются камни весом до полукилограмма, которые могут заинтересовать геологов и минерологов, занимающихся изучением морского дна.

The valuable food fish - Antarctic toothfish (D. mawsoni) - can be used as a bottom dredge with a large collection area. Such proposal was made by the specialists of the All-Russian Research Institute of Fish Industry and Oceanography and the Institute of Mineralogy, Geochemistry and Crystal Chemistry of Rare Elements. It makes no difference to the toothfish as the fish swallows stones all the same.
The Antarctic toothfish is a big fish about 135 centimetres long, its average weight making 35 kilograms (although some specimens are known to have an adult man's parameters: 190 centimetres and 80 kilograms). The toothfish inhabits Antarctic waters of the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans southward of the 58th parallel. It can be also found near the coast, and in the open ocean, at the bottom and in mid-water. The Antarctic toothfish was named so for its big mouth full of fang-like teeth. It is a predator, which feeds on squids and fish, but the toothfish itself makes part of the menu of sperm-whale and, certainly, of human beings. Such noticeable and useful fish attracted attention of biologists who found stones in the toothfish stomach, the stones being rather heavy, up to half a kilo. Frequency of stomachic stones discovery depends on the fish size. The toothfish shorter than 80 centimetres have no stones in the stomach, stone occurrence with longer fish varies from 0.7% through 1.1%, and with the fish longer than a meter the occurrence increases up to 2.7-3%.
The researchers have not explained yet why the toothfish needs stones. Probably, the fish uses them for grinding food in the stomach, or perhaps as ballast during its migrations up and down the mid-water. The researchers have suggested that the toothfish stomachic stones should be used for the ground composition analysis of the continental slope and the seabed. These areas are hidden from the researchers by ice, and the toothfish is swimming there and swallowing the stones from the bottom. During two fishing seasons, specialists collected stones from the Antarctic toothfish stomachs in the Antarctic Ross and Amundsen seas. The researchers have assumed that the fish swallows stones without distinction, therefore they can be used for geological characteristic of the oceanic bed.
Even preliminary analysis of stones from the Ross Sea bottom enables to provide qualitative assessment of geological structure of the coastal strip and the continental slope. The toothfish swallowed samples of various rock, at that intrusive rock (diorites, granites and others) noticeably prevails, the second place is taken by metamorphic rock, including quartzites, sandstones, aleurites, limestone and a palaeocoral fragment. From the Amundsen Sea bottom, the toothfish picks up mainly metamorphic and sedimentary rock, and most unexpectedly, sterile coal with fragments of fossilised wood, which testifies to different geological structure of adjacent sections. Thus, the Ross Sea area corresponds to a larger extent to the shield, and the Amundsen Sea area - complies with folded area at the platform outskirts.
The overwhelming majority of stone fragments extracted from the toothfish stomach are of angular shape, more rarely - of faintly waterworn shape, and only individual fragments have the look of coastal pebble, and one of the fragments from the Ross Sea has glacial hatching traces on its surface. Taking into account discovery of intact coral springs, it can be assumed that ice and sea currents carry stones at short distances. It is difficult to say yet how far fish can carry them, but the toothfish caught in the same region has similar stone 'filling' in the stomachs, i.e. the fish collects stones at the same sections. Actually, the Antarctic toothfish has provided the researchers with a low-capacity bottom dredge, which covers the area much larger than that in case of ordinary dredging. Now, geologists will disembowel fish for the benefit of science, not only for their own good.

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    NewsBlaze - Folsom, CA, USA / Nov 19, 2007
    U.S. and Russia Sign Plan for Russian Plutonium Disposition
    Will Eliminate Enough Russian Plutonium for Thousands of Nuclear Weapons
    Руководитель российского Федерального агентства по атомной энергии Сергей Кириенко и министр энергетики США Сэмюэл Бодман подписали Совместное заявление о взаимопонимании в области сотрудничества по программе утилизации избыточного плутония оружейного качества. В документе излагается план утилизации 34 тонн избыточного плутония из российских оружейных программ, основанный на технических и технологических решениях, обеспечивающих достижение стратегических целей развития ядерной энергетики России.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman and Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency Director Sergey Kiriyenko have signed a joint statement outlining a plan to dispose of 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium from Russia's weapons program.
Under the new plan, the United States will cooperate with Russia to convert Russian weapon-grade plutonium into mixed oxide fuel (MOX) and irradiate the MOX fuel in the BN-600 fast reactor, currently operating at the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant, and in the BN-800 fast reactor, currently under construction at the same site. The United States and Russia also intend to continue cooperation on the development of an advanced gas-cooled, high-temperature reactor, which may create additional possibilities for disposition of Russia's plutonium.
"This joint statement between the United States and Russia reflects measurable progress towards disposing of a significant amount of weapon-grade plutonium in Russia," Secretary Bodman said. "Along with the U.S. program to dispose of plutonium as mixed oxide fuel in light water reactors, the Russian program will ensure that enough plutonium for thousands of weapons is converted into a form which cannot be used to construct a weapon and will instead be used to provide fuel to produce clean electricity."
The United States and Russia agreed that the BN-600 and BN-800 fast reactors will dispose of Russia's surplus weapons plutonium without creating new stocks of separated weapon-grade plutonium. Under the new plan, Russia would begin disposition in the BN-600 reactor in the 2012 timeframe. Disposition in the BN-800 would follow soon thereafter. Once disposition begins, the two reactors could dispose of approximately 1.5 metric tons of Russian weapons plutonium per year.
Russia intends to implement this program, with the U.S. contributing $400 million, as previously pledged for cooperation under the 2000 Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement and subject to appropriations by the U.S. Congress. The agreement commits the United States and Russia to dispose each of 34 metric tons of surplus weapon-grade plutonium.
"This joint statement is part of a comprehensive and cooperative approach to countering nuclear proliferation around the world. A balanced, effective nonproliferation program should provide for the disposal of dangerous materials along with securing and detecting them," said William Tobey, NNSA's Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation. "Through this program, the United States and Russia will dispose of at least 68 metric tons of surplus weapons plutonium."
U.S. and Russian officials will meet in the coming months to amend the existing plutonium disposition agreement between the United States and Russia to reflect today's joint statement as well as related technical discussions and other modifications necessary for cooperation to proceed.
Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a separately organized agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the United States and abroad. Visit www.nnsa.doe.gov for more information. Source: U.S. Department of Energy.

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    Indian Muslims - San Diego, CA, USA / Thu, 11/29/2007
    Russian archaeologists find unique mummies in Egypt
    Российские археологи обнаружили в египетском оазисе Эль-Фаюм несколько мумий греко-римского периода, аналоги которых до сих пор не были известны в египтологии.

Al-Fayum (Egypt): Russian archaeologists have found well-preserved mummies in Egypt, dating back to the Ptolemaic era, the head of the Russian Academy of Science's Egyptology department has announced.
"Well-preserved mummies of this period are extremely rare," Galina Belova said. The discoveries were made in the Egyptian oasis of Al-Fayum, where several mummies, combining traits of Hellenic and Egyptian traditions, have previously been found.
Teams of Russian archaeologists are currently carrying out excavations in Memphis, the ancient capital of Egypt, in Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast, and near Luxor in the country's south.
"Burials from the Greco-Roman period are laid at the depth of two meters or lower," Belova said, adding that as a rule, coffins of the period are not decorated.
However, the Russian team found a 2,000 year-old family tomb containing three well-preserved mummies from the Ptolemaic era.
The wooden coffins were ornamented with coloured paintings and carved with hieroglyphs recounting the family's story.
A man, probably the head of the family, was buried with a gold-plated mask. The remains will be x-rayed to establish his true age and to reconstruct his appearance.
The tomb also contained 1.4-meter coffin made of compressed papyrus. Judging by the illustrations adorning the coffin, it contains a mummy of a child, probably a girl, but researchers have decided not to open it "in the field".
A mummy of an old woman with well preserved hair has also aroused interest, as well as the tomb of a baby, buried with mummified dogs, cats, monkeys and ibises (long-legged wading birds).

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    Russia Profile / November 30, 2007
    The Preservationists
    Russia's Seed Bank Maintains the Resources for Plant Diversity
    • By Lara McCoy Roslof

    Всероссийский научно-исследовательский институт растениеводства имени Н.И.Вавилова по-прежнему хранит одну из крупнейших коллекций растительных генетических ресурсов в мире.

ST. PETERSBURG / Standing in the center of St. Isaac's Square, beside the monument to Emperor Nicholas I, facing St. Isaac's Cathedral and the Astoria Hotel, it is easy to ignore the 19th century buildings flanking the square. And yet the history preserved in these two yellow buildings rivals that of any of their neighbors. Once the home of the Imperial Ministry of State Property, since 1920 they have housed the offices and preservation facilities of the Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry, the world's oldest seed bank. The institute, known as VIR, preserves more than 323,000 accessions of plant genetic material in a variety of forms and oversees the work of 14 research stations across Russia. VIR's history is the stuff of a legend - its most famous director, Nikolai Vavilov, after whom the institute is named, was a victim of the Stalinist purges; several scientists died of starvation in the buildings during the siege of Leningrad, surrounded by seeds; one of the institute's Soviet-era research stations, in Sukhumi, Georgia, was destroyed during that country's civil war in the early 1990s and part of its collection of subtropical plants had to be evacuated into Russia. But the history of the institute is secondary to the work it is doing today, duplicating, maintaining and monitoring one of the world's most extensive collections of plant genetic material in an era when plant diversity is at risk due to climate change, genetic modification and geopolitics.
The Vavilov Institute is one of more than 1,400 seed banks around the world. It maintains the genetic material of plants in several forms for use in breeding new types of plants and studying the changes in plant diversity over time. While much has been made of the role of seed banks in preserving crop strains that could rejuvenate agriculture in case of a cataclysmic disaster, the day-to-day work of a plant research institute is not focused on a potential apocalypse, but rather on gathering and preserving plant material for short-term use. Vavilov himself began acquiring the VIR collection soon after he started working at VIR's predecessor, the Bureau of Applied Botany, in 1917, making more than 100 collecting trips to 64 countries in the 1920s and 1930s. While scientists at VIR still average five to six collecting trips a year, there is not a lot of financing for travel. According to Sergei Alexanian, director of VIR's foreign relations department, "today our focus is on preservation and regeneration, since our collection is very old." In fact, some specimens brought back by Vavilov himself remain in the institute, although these are primarily in the section known as the herbarium, where dried plants are maintained for study and comparison with newly acquired varieties. Until the 1970s, VIR had no facilities for long-term storage and all specimens were stored at room temperature.
A seed to sow
"The shelf life of seeds at room temperature is between one and five years," says Boris Makarov, the manager of VIR's long-term storage facility. After that, the seeds are unable to germinate. In order to maintain these strains, the seeds have to be regenerated - planted, grown and harvested - every two to three years, an expensive and time-consuming process. In addition to the logistical problems, "frequent resowing leads to some modifications in the plant's genetic material, making the initial specimen drastically different from the latest version," Makarov explains.
Medium- and long-term storage allows the original accession to be maintained in a viable form for longer, reducing the risks of genetic shifts. Take the soybean. "The shelf life of a soybean is two to three years," says Makarov. "But in medium-term storage, at a temperature of -4 °C, a soybean can be maintained for 15 years. In long-term storage, the shelf life can be several decades."
At VIR, the short-term storage consists of paper packets of seeds kept in tin boxes on shelves in the institute's various departments. VIR has the world's largest collection of potato genetic material; but internally, the wheat collection is the biggest. The institute also has significant collections of vegetable crops, legumes and tree fruits like apples and pears. Russia's largest medium-term storage facility is at the Kuban research station in Krasnodar Territory, which was established in 1976 and today stores around 270,000 accessions. There is also a smaller medium-term storage facility at the St. Petersburg site. In medium-term storage, seeds are put into multi-layered foil packets, sealed, labeled and put into plastic crates, which are then placed on shelves in a locker kept at -4 °C.
In the late 1990s, the United States government, as part of the work of a commission led by then-Vice President Al Gore and a series of Russian prime ministers including Viktor Chernomyrdin and Yevgeny Primakov, helped fund the construction of VIR's first long-term storage facility. The seeds in long-term storage do not look very different from those in medium-term storage; they are kept in the same packets and crates, but they have been specially prepared to allow for maintenance at a colder temperature -11°C; they are dried and treated with silica gel before being sealed in their packets. VIR also has a cryogenic lab for keeping plant genetic material that cannot be stored any other way, such as cuttings, pollen and tissue samples. The material is put into special plastic vials or foil packages, which are then stacked into stainless steel tubes that can be suspended in vats of liquid nitrogen at temperatures approaching -162 °C. "Freezing and thawing things this way is very difficult," says Makarov, "the genetic material has to be cooled slowly in order to prevent ice crystals from forming that could then split the organism. The gradual freezing allows a protective coating to form instead."
In addition to the collections stored in St. Petersburg and in other research stations, known as ex situ collections, VIR maintains a large portion of its collection in situ - in the field. VIR has experimental growing stations across Russia, "from Adler to Vladivostok to just south of Murmansk," specifies Nikolai Dzyubenko, the director of the institute. And it was at meetings with directors of these stations and members of the Russian Academy for Agricultural Sciences that Dzyubenko first began talking about how changing weather patterns were affecting Russian agriculture. "We noticed that winter wheat was beginning to move north thanks to changes in temperature and rainfall patterns," says Dzyubenko. "New plants are beginning to arrive in Russian agriculture and the range of crops is broadening. There is a tendency towards a northern expansion of agriculture in Russia."
At the same time, milder winters and droughts began affecting traditional growing regions, like Ukraine. "This year, the crop yield in Ukraine was 20 percent lower due to drought," said Dzyubenko. And this could provide an opening for Russian agriculture to expand. "Climate change may be beneficial to Russian agriculture," says Dzyubenko. "It is now becoming possible to grow wheat, corn and cereals in northern Russia and subtropical fruits in the south." Dzyubenko speculates that this continued warming could increase Russia's arable land by 30-40 percent. While these changes may benefit the Russian agriculture industry, Dzyubenko is concerned about the overall ecological changes in the country. "Much of northern Russia is permafrost," he says, "and as this permafrost melts, the foundations of some cities may start sinking along with their infrastructure. Sinking pipelines could cause serious ecological damage." The loss of permafrost may also lead to the extinction of some northern plants and microflora, as land that was once mostly frozen transforms into ponds and bogs.
International cooperation
Although since the time of Vavilov VIR has focused on maintaining plant genetic material that can be used to develop hardier, more productive plants that would benefit the agriculture industry and feed more people, seed banks also have an obligation to preserve these threatened plants. To this end, VIR maintains a wide collection of wild and weedy plants in addition to the cultivated ones. The fear of disappearing plants and the consequences of climate change for plant diversity provided a good deal of the motivation behind the Global Crop Diversity Trust, an international organization focused on maintaining the ability of a wide array of plants worldwide in order to secure the global food supply for the future. This simply means preserving samples of currently available plant genetic material that can be accessed by future farmers to help their crops adapt to yet-unknown conditions. The trust is also the organization behind the creation of a global seed vault, currently under construction on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard.
The director of the trust, Cary Fowler, came to St. Petersburg this spring to discuss with Dzyubenko the status of the collection and the possibility of VIR contributing seeds to the vault. "Without a doubt, the Vavilov collection is an important world collection today," said Fowler in an e-mail, "But a number of scientists do question how much of the diversity collected over the years has managed to survive the less-than-adequate conditions and the resulting frequent grow-outs." Fowler hopes the Vavilov Institute will contribute to the global seed vault both because of the institute's historical significance and also as a way to preserve its collection permanently. "If the institute is ready and willing to play a global conservation and distribution role," he said, "we are ready to help it assume its rightful place as one of the leading conservation centers in the world. It can and should be an integral part of a rational and effective global system for the conservation of crop diversity."
Unfortunately, Fowler left St. Petersburg without a concrete agreement. "I am in favor of us sending seeds," says Dzyubenko. "The technical conditions at the Svalbard vault are good enough to protect seeds from global catastrophe, but our institute is a public institution and our collection is state property. It is not the prerogative of our institute to decide to contribute seeds."
VIR is generally under the supervision of the Russian Academy of Agricultural Sciences, but its work also falls under the purview of the ministries of agriculture, natural resources and education and science. The Vavilov Institute is one of only 56 institutes out of thousands in Russia to be designated a state scientific center, which gives the ministry of education and science some responsibility for it. Recently the Academy of Agricultural Sciences granted VIR permission to accept the offer from the Global Crop Trust. Now the decision rests with the institute's scientific council. "I am 80 percent sure we will do it," says Sergei Alexanian. "But the average age of the agricultural scientists on the council is more than 70 years old. It is hard to convince them of the usefulness of these new ideas." While Alexanian agrees with Dzyubenko that there are scientific reasons to contribute seeds to the vault, he also thinks it is important from a political perspective. "We have to share material. It doesn't matter how, but we have to do it, and in situations like these, it is better to be in from the beginning."
Alexanian's office maintains relationships with international institutions such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Bioversity International, the European Cooperative Programme for Plant Genetic Resources (ECPGR), the Nordic Gene Bank and a network of Asian and Transcaucasian plant research institutes, but VIR is unable to participate fully in the activities of ECPGR and the Nordic Gene Bank because the government will not free up money for membership fees, which, in the case of ECPGR, is 15,000 euro.
Nevertheless, VIR is active internationally, sending between 3,000-7,000 accessions every year to companies and breeding centers both inside and outside of Russia and receiving 2,500-3,000 accessions each year from abroad. Alexanian's office also manages the visits of foreign delegations and scientists, hosting between 75-100 foreign scientists every year. This November, the institute sponsored the second International Vavilov Conference on Crop Genetic Resources in the 21st Century in honor of the 120th anniversary of Vavilov's birth - a meeting that attracted more than 350 scientists.
Many scientists, particularly from institutes in the former Soviet republics, also come to VIR to train. The institute mainly relies on graduate students to carry out its work. As agribusiness develops in Russia, young scientists are lured away from academic institutions for bigger salaries in the business world. Alexanian speculates that it will be difficult for the institute ever to offer proper salaries for its scientists, but the loyalty among those who have devoted their lives to the institute is as legendary as its founder.
While VIR has been open to new developments in technology and training, the institute takes the European position on genetically modified foods. "We do not maintain any genetically modified organisms in our collection," says Dzyubenko emphatically, going on to say that the institute was developing measures to protect the collection from genetically modified plants, including purchasing equipment and training people to detect genetic alterations, particularly in crops like soybeans and corn.
Dzyubenko thinks that evolution is a better, if slower, option than genetic modification. "If the money used for genetic modifications were put into evaluating collections like ours and finding the natural genetic material that could provide resistance to diseases or pests," he says, "the same results could be achieved, but in a more natural way. Natural selection has already chosen these best plants for us."
The same argument could be made about VIR itself. Through changing state policy on genetics and agriculture, and even through a change of states, the institute has continued its mission, adapting to new conditions and new technologies. The Vavilov Institute, like the plants it maintains, keeps evolving.

© Russia Profile.org 2007.
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    International Herald Tribune - France / November 30, 2007
    Putin pledges to double Russia's spending on science in next 2 years
    На встрече в Российской академии наук президент страны пообещал, что в ближайшие два года финансирование науки удвоится.

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin pledged Friday to double the Russian government's spending on science in the next two years, saying it was crucial to ensuring the country's development.
Putin promised to boost government spending on science to more than 400 billion rubles (about US$16.5 billion) by 2010, which is twice this year's spending.
The pledge, made at a meeting with some of Russia's leading scientists and academics, was the latest in a string of apparent campaign promises made before Sunday's parliamentary elections.
Putin has encouraged voters to hand his party, United Russia, an overwhelming victory, suggesting it would give him a mandate to retain influence over the government when his second term expires in May.
The president also criticized the Russian Academy of Sciences for engaging in commercial activities, saying that as many as 200 of its 600 scientific institutions were not used for scientific research.
"The Academy of Sciences is not a business corporation, it's not a commercial organization," he said.
When state funding dried up after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, many institutes have leased their premises to businesses or moonlighted for private companies.
Putin said he also expected private companies to contribute to the regeneration of Russian science by investing 200 billion rubles by 2010. "We need to create stimuli to involve the business community," he said.
The president stressed the need to develop new scientific fields such as nanotechnology, nuclear physics, bioengineering and others to provide for the country's defense needs and social development.

Copyright © 2007 the International Herald Tribune All rights reserved.
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