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EMBL/EMBO Joint Conference 2000

Charles Kurland, Evolutionary Biology Centre, BMC, Uppsala, Sweden


Charles Kurland received his PhD in Biochemistry from Harvard University in 1961, and did postdoctoral work at the Microbiology Institute of the University of Copenhagen. Since 1971, he has been a Professor of Molecular Biology at Uppsala University, Sweden.

Professor Kurland has been a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization since 1994, and has represented Sweden on the Councils of both the EMBC and the EMBL (1989-1992). He has been chairman of several national councils and committees, and is a member of the Royal Science Society, Uppsala, the Royal Academy of Sciences, Stockholm, the Royal Academy of Sciences, Copenhagen, the Estonian Academy of Science, Tallinn, and the Royal Physiographical Society, Lund.

Professor Kurland has published more than 170 scientific papers, among them a series of signal papers on the biochemistry and biophysics of the ribosome. His prominence in this field was witnessed by his contribution to the authoritative text √ęThe Ribosome1. Kurland's study of the E. coli ribosome is, however, but part of a career devoted to the molecular biology of bacteria, the most recent avenues of which have led him to study the evolution of endoparasitic bacteria and cellular organelles.

Professor Kurland continues to be an enthusiastic promoter of molecular biology, whilst taking a keen interest in the communication of science to the public. As well as chairing the EMBO committee on Science and Society, he co-wrote the EMBO statement on genetically modified organisms and the public, which was published in February this year, and which is the starting point for the EMBO on-line discussion forum on GMOs.


Biotechnology, bio-industry, bio-business

There has been a marked change in the attitudes of governments and politicians in Western Europe to the conduct of research since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Whether the demise of the USSR is the reason for this change in priorities is debatable, but the shift in attitudes emerged most perceptibly in the early 1990s. Science is now valued in political circles as a means for the accumulation of wealth, period! The ambition to understand our world is now considered a naive expression of "mere curiosity". Government policies in general and EU policy in particular seem to be based on the premise that it is far better to develop a new product-concept than to solve a problem. That is to say Science has been "globalized".

There is a vast array of applications of science that are useful but not perceived as profitable. An obvious example is the provision of new therapies for diseases prevalent in economically underdeveloped populations. Of course, that perception may change a bit when TB resistant to antibiotics gains a foothold in Western Europe. Likewise, problems whose solution will provide applications and products ten or more years down the road are invisible to politicians and the bookkeepers of industry. So, their sensible budget reductions will continue until stagnation is a fact. Then of course the hue and cry will be to get our scientists working again!