Biotechnology and Society

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  • Advances in biotechnology raise numerous questions about human rights, the rights of animals, and the potential impacts on environmental and human health. Through the Biotechnology and Society Programme, the UNU Programme for Biotechnology in Latin America and the Caribbean (UNU-BIOLAC) aims to empower the general public and researchers in the Latin American region to be capable of analysing and assessing the potential risks of biotechnology activities based on solid scientific knowledge. To fulfil the programme’s objectives, short training courses, thematic workshops and research networks are developed around specific areas of interest, as are short-term fellowships. Training exercises emphasize the unique needs of countries in the region, with a specific focus on developing countries.

    Focal Points

    UNU-BIOLAC’s coordinator and advisors are responsible for the management and coordination of all activities.


    Since biotechnology, like other technologies, implies potential risks to the environment and human health, this programme identifies which of those risks can affect the Latin American region. Issues include those such as biosafety (the environmental impact of recombinant crops), bioethics (for example, the appropriateness of using animal subjects) and public perception, among others. UNU-BIOLAC, together with other leaders in the region, identifies the critical issues of biotechnological activity and its potential impact to the region.


    Special attention is made to inform countries, institutes and young scientists about what and how biotechnology can imply potential risks to the environment and human health. Follow-up information is disseminated via electronic communications, web page announcements and online scientific and social networks.


    UNU-BIOLAC takes into account gender balance when analysing and approving proposals, also in considering fellowship applications.

    Target Audience

    The targeted audience consists of government regulatory offices, business (agroindustry) and environmental protection agencies.

    Intended Impact

    Impact: Capacity development in developed/developing countries
    Target: The target audience consists of young scholars with varied backgrounds (law, biology, veterinary science, etc.) interested in the impact of technology in society. The programme also targets regulatory agencies enabling countries to deal with proposals from transnational biotechnological companies and private companies that need to comply with countries’ regulations.
    How: This will be achieved through disseminating information; visiting governments of the region; launching special calls to environmental protection agencies and medical and veterinarian institutions; diagnosing countries’ needs regarding particular problems; customizing special programmes for countries; attending to demands for training from countries; providing orientation on how to contact experts; and finding relevant information about the problems that exist in the region.

    Value Added

    The results of these efforts will have a positive impact on the UN system as a whole by increasing levels of capacity development, dissemination and transfer of knowledge in developing countries. The programme will also have a significant impact on government and policymakers as well as international organizations, non-governmental organizations and the general public.


    Dissemination will take place through presentations to governments and decision-makers, editions of manuals discussing specific regional problems, calls for public debates involving stakeholders and by maintaining discussion networks among participants.

    Timeline/Programme Cycle

    This is multi-year, continuous programme that is frequently updated.


    The programme will measure how many trainees are inserted in public or private institutions and are using the knowledge acquired in the training and the impact of their contribution to the solution of the problems of their countries. There are periodic checks to determine whether these trainees experience job continuity and if they follow up advances on the targeted problems.


    Challenges include making countries conscious of the importance of providing stability to trainees; improving the communication between scientists, industrialists and the general public to correct misconceptions; and introducing solid scientific criteria into the discussions.

    Expected Duration

    The programme is expected to run for a duration of 24 months, from 1 January 2012 through 31 December 2013.

  • United Nations University
    Biotechnology Programme for Latin America and the Caribbean

    María del Valle Bello.

    Carretera Nacional Hoyo de la Puerta. Instituto de Estudios Avanzados IDEA.
    Edificio Bolívar.
    Piso 3.
    Oficina UNU-BIOLAC.
    Caracas, Estado Miranda, 1080.

    T: +58 (212) 9621120
    +58 (212) 9621644
    +58 (212) 9621605
    F: +58 (212) 96202223