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Playing it safe: JIC Scientist tutors for first International Biosafety Diploma course

Whilst many of us are preparing for the school holidays, John Innes Centre Emeritus Fellow Roger Hull is preparing lectures for an International Diploma of Biosafety starting at the University of Concepción (UDEC) in Chile later this month.

This is a 12-month distance learning based course run by the Biosafety International Network and Advisory Service (BINAS) of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and gives researchers, policy makers, lawyers, ethics experts and biotechnology regulators the skills to deal with the complex issues surrounding the assessment and management of biological risks. The course has been piloted at UDEC for past two years and is now being expanded into a network of other centres across the globe.

With the number of commercially available biotechnology products rising exponentially each year, it is vital that safety standards are set to safeguard public health and the environment without hindering technological advancement. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety came into force in 2003 to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by modified organisms and many developing countries are setting up national biosafety frameworks to implement this protocol. However, this involves the interaction of several diverse disciplines and there is an urgent need for people with the expertise required to put these frameworks into action. The Biosafety Diploma will help solve this problem by training students in the latest developments in biotechnology, showing them how to conduct risk assessments and informing them of the national and international regulations currently used in the biotechnology industry.

“This is the first academically accredited postgraduate biosafety course in the world” says Roger who studied plant viruses at the John Innes Centre before retiring in 1997 and being awarded an Emeritus Fellowship. “This course is really important because it trains professionals in all aspects of biosafety and enables them to implement the biosafety regulatory structures in an informed manner. The programme lasts a full year so covers a more comprehensive range of subjects than previous training courses that only last one or two weeks. The combination of distance-learning and on-campus training sessions allows trainees to study flexibly whilst working full-time”.

The diploma is currently running from a network of regional international centres based at the Universities of Concepción (Chile), Malaya (Malaysia), Dar es Salam (Tanzania) and the Biosciences Eastern & Central Africa (Kenya); further centres are being planned for the future. It comprises one or more weeks spent on campus where trainees can meet tutors and other participants and a series of online lectures and group discussions. Trainees are assessed throughout the course with coursework, a dissertation and final exams. The teaching faculty draws on a broad base of international expertise, with the tutors coming from Switzerland, Argentina, Israel, the Netherlands, Austria, Chile and the UK. Roger will be travelling to Kuala Lumpur in September and then Chile in October to teach the campus-based parts of the diploma in these two international course centres. For more information about the Biosafety Diploma please visit

Vicky Just | alfa
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