Government pronouncements in Moscow, Washington, and other capitals about the remarkable advances in the biological sciences and biotechnology increasingly underscore the scientific, economic, health, and environmental importance, as well as the security significance, of these achievements.1 Meanwhile, the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission (BPC) that was established in 2009 continues to signal endorsement by both governments of joint science and technology efforts in areas of common interest. As of September 2012, 6 of the BPC’s 22 working groups had interests in engagement in different aspects of the life sciences.2
Major issues addressed in this report include the types and levels of support that the governments have provided to take advantage of important opportunities for mutually beneficial bioengagement. Anticipated budget reductions throughout the U.S. government will likely constrain new initiatives. In recent years, the Russian government has established a number of outreach programs within elite universities, the Skolkovo Foundation, Rusnano, and other organizations, as discussed in the Introduction. Financial support for these initiatives by the Russian government will most likely continue, although the announced levels of governmental support may not be reached. At the same time, the level of fulfillment of the often-stated commitments of the two governments to share the direct costs of many types of bioengagement is uncertain.
Against this background, the arguments for reversing the decline of financial support for U.S.-Russian bioengagement during the past several years are presented throughout this report. The list of benefits to both countries from a robust bioengagement relationship has been extensive. And many successful early programs were to be only “stage setters” for expansion of bioengagement activities.
Revitalization of collaborative efforts can benefit from more sophisticated research, diagnostic, and remediation tools that are now available. The governments have drawn on important experience for more-effective synchronization of parallel activities, such as disease surveillance activities of global interest. At the same time, cumbersome approaches of the past for developing and managing joint efforts can be replaced by streamlined efforts that reduce impediments to cooperation and increase opportunities for positive impacts.
This chapter provides a broad overview of the unique opportunities for obtaining higher returns on investments in bioengagement. The discussion addresses special attributes of the U.S.-Russian relationship that can continue to lead to significant scientific results, while underscoring the importance of government financing to initiate long-term programs. Many examples of specific activities that have led to mutual benefits during the past decade along with suggestions for new approaches are then presented in subsequent chapters.
IMPORTANT CHARACTERISTICS OF THE U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONSHIP
Extensive Scientific Capabilities of the United States and Russia
Many tens of thousands of scientists and members of their support staffs in both the United States and Russia, with ages ranging from the early twenties to the eighties, are engaged in (a) carrying out research activities in a number of subfields of biology and (b) promoting applications of biological and biotechnology advances at home and abroad. Skilled scientists in the two countries account for an estimated 20 percent of the world’s highly trained specialists involved in activities linked to the life sciences.3 Of course, with the rapid growth of the high-skill labor pools in India and China, the percentage will decline. However, for the next decade, the number of experienced life scientists and skilled young investigators in the two countries will continue to be a significant portion of worldwide capabilities.
Reflecting the importance of the life sciences, a large percentage of the global scientific work force, including both researchers and service providers, is involved in advancing the biological sciences and biotechnology. They assist in protecting human health, increasing the food supply, developing new energy sources, and enhancing the quality of the environment. The intensity of international interest in advances in the biological sciences and biotechnology, which address the very basis of life, continues to rise. At the same time, many countries are becoming more deeply immersed than ever before in interdisciplinary approaches that attract increased attention of specialists in a variety of fields, which intersect with biology—e.g., physics, chemistry, mathematics, computer science, engineering, and bioinformatics. Adequate recognition of this convergence of various disciplines is important for designing and carrying out research
in both countries, and particularly in Russia. There, the physical sciences have for decades been the greatest strengths of the scientific enterprise, but too often they have been somewhat isolated from important biological research efforts.
In addition to the communities of well-established specialists in biology who will continue their careers in the United States and Russia during the next decade, the number of temporary scientific workers and of advanced students from abroad at U.S. universities, and to a lesser but still significant extent at Russian research centers, is growing. In short, the total efforts focused on moving forward the frontiers of the life sciences in the two countries are extensive. During the next decade, only a handful of countries will have the large number and diversity of biology-oriented scientific institutions that can rival the capabilities of institutions located either in the United States or in Russia.
In Soviet times, both the United States and Russia devoted significant resources to many areas of the biological sciences that were of international interest. The United States was among the world’s leaders in achieving scientific breakthroughs as the nation expanded its portfolios of science-intensive activities. But for decades, the USSR was recovering from the Lysenko era of the late 1940s, when his theory of “inheritance of acquired characteristics” had for a short time become the official dogma.4 Thus, it is not surprising that for many years the scientific productivity of American researchers and the number of articles published in international journals with roots in the United States were much stronger than productivity and publications in the USSR.
The publications gap has continued in recent years, further aggravated by a brain drain of some of the most productive young Russian scientists, including a significant number who have moved to the United States.5 The gap, in large measure, reflects the inadequate number of active Russian investigators currently in the 40–50 age group. Thus, in the near term, Russian science will gain substantially from bilateral cooperation that provides access to a broader range of specialists.
While the overall number of researchers in Russia has stabilized, as indicated in Appendix F.2, the impact of the brain drain is best measured by the quality rather than the quantity of the scientists who have left Russian laboratories. According to a number of Russian laboratory leaders, far too many of the best young researchers have departed for positions in the United States and Europe. However, opportunities for Russia to participate in international projects that involve recognized scientific leaders from abroad has at times been an effective way to encourage outstanding investigators to return to or to remain in Russia.
American researchers also benefit from cooperation. Those who do not regularly scrutinize Russian-language journals and have not been able to assess in detail the scientific methods used in Russia are given the opportunity to fill in many gaps in their understanding of Russian achievements through scientist-to-scientist contacts. In short, while the United States has been the international leader in the biological sciences, Russia has been an action-oriented follower,
although some of its achievements have been overlooked by the international community. Unfortunately, the Soviet-era legacy of not involving in joint activities many important Russian specialists who had been isolated from the mainstream of international science still remains in a number of topical areas.
An exception to U.S. dominance in significant scientific fields has been the extensive investigations of dangerous biological pathogens within the Soviet defense sector during the 1970s and 1980s. In this period, the USSR mounted large and unique programs to explore the capabilities of biological pathogens that might be produced in large quantities. At the end of the 1960s, the United States reduced the size and scope of its defense-related research in compliance with the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), which would soon enter into force. Then in the early 1990s, Russia abandoned inappropriate research efforts as it announced its commitment to the BTWC as well.
From the earliest days of defense-oriented research, many potential spin-off benefits for civilian science became apparent to scientists in both countries. It was obvious to them that scientists could and should improve understanding of the characteristics of diseases caused by exposure to dangerous pathogens that occurred in nature or could be manipulated in laboratories for destructive purposes. Among the pathogens of interest were those that caused plague, hemorrhagic fevers, and anthrax, which were encountered naturally in some areas of both the United States and Russia.6
The Russian workforce suffered severe reductions in both quantity and quality of its research and application efforts during the economic crises of the 1990s. Brain drain, equipment obsolescence, loss of respect for science, and low priority for research in Russia took a huge toll in reducing the productivity of the research community. But the country is now slowly returning to a prominent position in a few areas, and U.S.-Russian bioengagement has been a significant factor in this recovery.7
Looking ahead to the next decade, the history of a strong Russian system of higher education, developed largely in the Soviet era, then weakened by the economic crisis of the 1990s, and now supplemented with an increasing emphasis on university-based research, will continue to be of considerable importance. While these universities are becoming stronger, few have kept pace with leading universities in many other countries. The Russian government is expecting substantial payoffs from its large investments in both universities and other research centers as well as in applied biotechnology activities. However, biotechnology hubs should be effectively linked to the research and educational establishment if Russian investors and investigators alike are to work successfully on the frontiers of biotechnology.
As to the size and strength of the scientific workforce in the many fields related to biology (such as agriculture, health, environment, pharmacy, veterinary science, and bioengineering disciplines), the Russian commitment to producing well-trained specialists in the foreseeable future seems clear. Many industrialized
countries will increase their investments and the number of participants in their research programs. However, Russia plays an important and sometimes a unique role in some niche areas of biology of general interest to the global community, including the United States.
The Cold War Legacy
For the next few years and probably longer, the experiences during the cold war will at times continue to have a chilling impact on the U.S.-Russian relationship in a number of areas, particularly in fields that encompass technologies that can be misused by malcontents for hostile purposes. The deep roots and expansive dimensions of this sensitive bilateral relationship are unique in the world. Significant progress in developing mutual trust and respect concerning intent and activities of the two governments and particularly within their highly skilled workforces has been repeatedly recorded in recent years. But suspicions about past and present intentions have not completely disappeared in Washington or in Moscow. A strong bilateral relationship in biological research and biotechnology that rests on transparency and activities of mutual interest has been and can continue to be critical in preventing miscalculations or dangerous scenarios by either side or by third countries that have access to U.S. or Russian expertise. An increased focus on bioethics, which is currently gaining international attention, by both parties would be helpful in this regard.
As noted earlier, the productive interactions involving highly accomplished scientists who had worked on defense-oriented programs in the two countries have declined since the early 2000s. This reduction of collaborative activities has at times raised questions as to whether the early initiation of joint programs was based primarily on mutual interests in advancing science or was motivated primarily by efforts to simply obtain information on past and current activities of former enemies with uncertain future agendas. While both objectives were probably important, the primacy of contributions to advance science rather than to collect information needs to be continually emphasized. The approaches adopted in joint U.S.-Russian research programs to investigate the characteristics of dangerous biological pathogens might be considered as a standard that could be applied more widely beyond the two countries. (See, for example, Appendixes C.2, C.3, and C.4 concerning successfully conducted joint research projects involving many types of technologies, including some of particular concern.)
Geography and Ecological Diversity of the Two Countries
Russia occupies about one-eighth of the land surface of the world, spanning thousands of miles. The United States encompasses a land area about 60 percent the size of the surface of Russia. Together they occupy 34 percent of the land mass of the northern hemisphere, with many shared ecosystems and species. Each
of the countries has vast experiences in investigating living organisms under a variety of climatic conditions—from human populations currently surviving and indeed thriving in harsh environments to microbes of historical interest. Their diverse resources have been the subject of many common studies by scientists of the two countries.
Aquatic and wetland systems are of considerable interest in both countries, and indeed on a global basis as well. The characteristics of these systems and their maintenance in a changing climate are particularly significant in drought or flood conditions. The vegetation in both countries is of importance as a carbon sink, as are the large carbon-laden deposits of resources that underlie the forests and other vegetation of the northern reaches of the world.
Both countries routinely collect extensive information from their sensors on satellites, as well as data from field expeditions, about ecological resources of potential interest to both countries. Russia has records of research and scientific applications under conditions not encountered in the United States, but of sufficient similarity to warrant interest of American biological scientists. For example, Russian data on fishery resources in the oceans are important in ensuring survival of certain species, but are not always fully utilized. At the same time, U.S. analyses of vast amounts of data through satellite, aerial, and ground explorations concerning the natural environment on several continents, which in some regions have similarities to conditions encountered in Russia, has been of considerable interest to Russian scientists.
In summary, the case for working together in different geographical environments to gather missing data concerning complex living systems under different, but related, conditions seems clear.
Surveillance for Trends and Outbreaks of Human and Animal Diseases
Both the United States and Russia have well-developed disease surveillance systems for tracking trends and identifying outbreaks involving human and animal diseases in their respective countries. Also, both countries give considerable attention to trends and outbreaks throughout the world.
With regard to human health, the United States relies in large measure on surveillance activities that are responsibilities of the 50 states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides coordination and standards for the overall national effort. Russia has a national network of nearly 2,400 standardized surveillance stations of different levels of capabilities. The nation’s activities are coordinated regionally and nationally by the Federal Service for Surveillance for Protection on Consumer Rights and Human Well-Being. Reports from field stations are processed and analyzed both in the regions and in Moscow.
During the past 15 years, the capabilities of U.S. disease surveillance systems have improved, with the introduction of advanced communication, analytical, and data processing systems that have led to better and more timely reporting
at the local level. During most of this time period, the Russian systems suffered from financial cutbacks. Nevertheless, they continued to operate without many difficulties. They are now recovering from the temporary decline in capabilities due to obsolescence of equipment, continued use of outdated methodologies, and aging of the workforce.
In the agricultural field, the national governments in the two countries, with the support of nationwide networks of research centers and of inspectors in the field and at food-processing facilities across their countries, maintain surveillance to detect plant and animal diseases of concern. Both countries have extensive experience in consolidating and distributing reports from their internal systems. Internationally, they are interested in linking these internal systems with other networks of the international community through the World Organization for Animal Health and Food and Agriculture Organization.
The experience of the two countries in carrying out surveillance activities over large urban and rural areas is vast. In the years ahead, this experience can provide lessons learned for many other nations with different demographic situations, geographic terrains, and technical capabilities. In all countries, standardization of approaches that support international efforts is important, although limitations on financial, technical, and human resource capabilities often constrain near-term adoption of compatible approaches among countries. The combined experiences of the U.S. and Russian systems can at times be helpful to other nations aspiring to achieve reliable surveillance capabilities.
International Outreach of the Two Countries
In recent years, the United States and Russia have each conducted many types of cooperative bilateral programs in the biological sciences with dozens of countries throughout the world. While the United States has had more financial resources to devote to this outreach, Russia has maintained an important array of international programs; and its linkages with institutions in distant lands are now increasing. These programs have usually been embraced by individual institutions and specialists that maintain their contacts over the long term. Of course, availability of financial support and the possibility of professional rewards can be strong incentives for participation.
Often the interactions between Russian and American specialists working abroad on separate missions intersect, although Russia and the United States may be following different paths for cooperation with other countries. Russia has focused most of its cooperative programs abroad in the states that were components of the former Soviet Union. Collaboration with colleagues in India, China, Mongolia, Vietnam, Cuba, and other old and new partner countries continues to develop. Meanwhile, thousands of professionals in the United States have longstanding ties with colleagues throughout the countries of the Americas, the European Union, and East Asia—with its foreign assistance, disease surveillance, and
health infrastructure programs extending the outreach into Africa and to middle-and low-income countries on other continents as well. As an example of unique aspects of this outreach, which is of considerable interest to Russian scientists, the United States is expanding its integrated surveillance of human and wildlife populations in developing countries, in anticipation of the emergence and spread of zoonotic diseases from animals to human population in and near urban areas.8
The international outreaches of the two governments, when aggregated, cover most areas of the world. Activities sponsored by international organizations and international companies also involve Russian and American specialists. In addition, important cross-boundary activities have been initiated by individual research and education institutions, with or without government support. They often are based on the interests of specialists who have developed professional and personal relationships with like-minded colleagues.
In summary, there are few areas of the world where the presence of Russian and/or American biology-oriented specialists—from doctors to engineers, from teachers to practitioners, and from researchers to entrepreneurs—has not become commonplace.
BENEFITS FROM BILATERAL COLLABORATION
Building on the background described above, a variety of benefits that would accrue from bilateral cooperation in the biological sciences between the United States and Russia during the next decade are set forth below. Examples of research topics that offer high promise as focal points for engagement are presented in Chapter 10. This forward look is based in large measure on experiences of the two countries in scientific cooperation during recent years, which are documented in Chapters 2, 3, 4, and 5, as well as in the appendixes.
Internal capabilities and international interests of both countries in biology-related activities will continue to grow. The opportunities for cooperative endeavors will increase. The major uncertainty, as previously noted, is the level of financial commitments that the governments are prepared to make to bilateral cooperation. Of course, these financial commitments are usually linked to the political relationship between the two countries. Also linked to financial commitments is long-term continuation of both large and small efforts that in time can fully demonstrate their value.
Benefits to the United States
The importance to the United States of a sound bilateral relationship with Russia has been regularly emphasized by senior American government officials, particularly since 2009, when the “reset” of the relationship was highlighted by the secretary of state.9 Bioengagement has been one of the important aspects of this relationship.
As previously noted, Russia has a large number of experienced scientists, including both researchers and practitioners, often probing a variety of geographical areas to obtain insights on biological conditions and transformations affecting both the residents and the ecological resources that are unique to Russia but are also of interest to the international community. Russian institutions have extensive data banks of scientific interest that are difficult to access and to use efficiently without active collaborative projects. Also, a number of these institutions have traditions of innovative approaches both in the laboratory and in the field. But some of their successful methodological approaches are not well known internationally.
Russian institutions have developed considerable experience in analyzing a wide variety of organisms and ecosystems that are of interest to American investigators but have not been well studied in the United States. For example, Russia has extensive research experience in the fields of forestry, plant science, and soil science, giving particular attention to the characteristics of various ecological zones. Bilateral collaboration encompassing ecological considerations in Russia enables American researchers both (a) to witness firsthand the basis for Russian reports on these organisms and ecosystems and thereby be in better positions to judge the importance and authenticity of relevant Russian publications and (b) to recommend supplemental investigations that augment initial Russian findings, which are of particular importance in providing a global context for investigations of ecological phenomena in the United States.
Many Russian colleagues are interested in participating in bilateral cooperation, often at low costs to the Russian or U.S. financial sponsors of such cooperation. Once Russian investigators interact with American colleagues, they usually devote considerable time and effort to continuing mutually beneficial cooperation through adjustments of their personal research agendas. In general, Russian scientists are noted for being “all in” with joint U.S.-Russian undertakings.
In applied technologies, Russia is likely to be a growing future market for U.S. biotechnology products as the Russian economy continues to develop, with demands for a wider variety of high-technology medical and agricultural products. The quality of imported drugs, vaccines, and diagnostic systems into Russia from some countries—particularly developing countries where corruption is of concern—has long been questioned by both Russian officials and the general population. Products of well-known U.S. pharmaceutical companies have usually commanded greater respect, particularly products with complicated vaccine and drug formulations. As potential opportunities for profitable U.S.-Russian joint ventures and other types of international investments increase, the reputation of U.S. achievements in biotechnology will continue to command considerable attention within Russia.
Bilateral cooperation that is endorsed by the two governments should continue to open otherwise closed doors in Russia. Thus, it is important for security as well as for scientific reasons for U.S. institutions to be engaged in coopera-
tive research and related field activities in Russia. The alternative is to sit on the sidelines speculating on developments within Russia. Such long-distance impressions can result in false alarms within the United States in reacting to uncertain allegations of disease outbreaks, misinterpretations of Russian technical objectives, lack of awareness of existing Russian data that are available, and administrative difficulties in organizing ad hoc visits to obtain snapshot impressions of the quality of activities in research institutes that were once recognized as international leaders.
As previously noted, Russian scientists do not publish in English-language journals as extensively as scientists of the United States and many other countries. Cooperation often leads to publications, documenting Russian past and current achievements. American scientists can help Russian colleagues overcome their lack of experience in dealing with western publishers and their difficulties in handling the English language. An increase in such publications will provide American researchers with easier access to Russian data that might otherwise remain in inaccessible libraries. (See Appendix F.1 concerning the relatively small number of jointly authored articles involving Russian coauthors in peer-reviewed journals and related publications.)
Benefits for Russia
Many of the world’s leading biomedical laboratories are in the United States. They offer a variety of opportunities for visiting Russian scientists to improve their insights as to recent research achievements in the life sciences. Russian scientific visitors may have opportunities to assess methodological approaches that are appropriate for their laboratories in Russia as well. Also, U.S. laboratories are usually well connected internationally with contacts of possible interest to Russian colleagues.
Many U.S. universities have become magnets for attracting outstanding research-oriented students from throughout the world, including Russia. Contacts that develop among important counterparts from many countries visiting U.S. universities during the early stages of their careers are often beneficial for visiting Russian specialists in both the short and long terms.
Overall, U.S. laboratories are better equipped with modern instrumentation than Russian laboratories. Exposure of Russian specialists to advanced instrumentation may at times help their laboratories make wise investment decisions in choosing equipment that is most cost-effective for their needs. Also, bilateral cooperation can provide training opportunities for Russian specialists to become familiar with equipment operations, thereby reducing costs in Russia in bringing new equipment online. Russian exposure to equipment in other countries will also be useful, but there will be lingering questions among some Russian specialists as to whether they have seen the best, which is often equated with the state of the art in the United States.
The United States is a world leader in agriculture research, including approaches to reduce animal and plant diseases and increase agricultural productivity—topics that are of particular interest in Russia. Countries other than the United States also have strong agricultural research activities. However, the breadth of experience available in the United States often provides more complete coverage of areas of priority concern to Russia than experience of other countries. Recent bioengagement in this area has been beneficial for both countries, as discussed in Chapter 4. This cooperation provides a basis for future efforts.
The United States has more experience than Russia in the introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops into large-scale production. If the Russian government increases its interest in encouraging developments in this field, the approaches of the United States to evaluate food safety and to limit environmental effects can be helpful to both Russian scientists and regulators. Important Russian scientists are particularly hopeful that the positive U.S. experiences will counter some of the misleading European commentary about GM organisms. Many protocols for carrying out both research activities and for introducing new GM crops into production have been well developed and adopted in the United States, and they can provide models for Russian approaches.10
The U.S. government and indeed many of the nation’s scientists active in biological research and biotechnology have embraced the concept of responsible research in the life sciences. Exchanges can help Russian scientists join the international dialogues on this topic. Also, bioengagement can quickly lead to new insights about recent international developments concerning the handling of pathogens that should help avoid missteps in Russia.
Finally, for many Russian scientists, one of the most important aspects of engagement is the opportunity to upgrade skills in research management. The transition from Soviet-style management to western-style management has not been easy. Twenty-two years after the splintering of the Soviet Union, Russian researchers and their mentors in the universities and at research institutes are still in the early stages of mastering new management skills. These personal capabilities need to be compatible with decentralized planning and free market economies while taking into account traditions and practices in Russia. In short, research planning, execution, and evaluation often improve during joint activities.
Benefits for Both Countries
Investigations of outbreaks of contagious diseases are a priority activity in both countries. The likelihood of major scientific advances in addressing widespread concerns will be increased through coordination of parallel efforts of the two countries, as an important component of the broader international effort. A bilateral commitment to sustain these parallel efforts and share their results over the long term can improve the prospects for important advances.
Of particular importance are activities of outstanding young scientists and
entrepreneurs in the two countries and opportunities for international outreach. Both governments recognize that the technological futures of their countries are increasingly in the hands of new generations of scientists and are giving them special incentives to become leaders of initiatives of the government, such as priority for involvement in the laboratories at Skolkovo. At the same time, the U.S. scientific community continues to rely on the unbounded energy and ideas of fresh graduates of leading U.S. universities to find new trails through the challenges of biotechnology at home and abroad. Of course, continued involvement in joint activities of experienced managers, scientists, and other specialists, who are recognized leaders in their fields, is important. But the preparation of their successors for international leadership roles is of comparable importance.
Turning to biosecurity in the broadest sense, there are opportunities to strengthen and build on bilateral foundations that have been put in place during the past two decades. Now there is widespread concern that past achievements may atrophy with the changing status of the International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) and the declining budgets in the United States for support of Russian-oriented programs. New bilateral mechanisms to carry on the work initiated through the ISTC can increase the likelihood that momentum in gaining common understanding on biosecurity issues throughout the states of the former Soviet Union will not decline significantly. The roles of the United States and Russia will be at the center of the debates over successor mechanisms for cooperation to the ISTC. While these discussions will continue to be multilateral efforts, common U.S.-Russian views will be important in determining the outcomes of preliminary consultations that are under way.
The United States and Russia have the deepest histories in the world in dealing with extremely potent pathogens, and their experiences provide a strong basis for partnerships. The degree to which they cooperate directly will have a profound influence on the international community’s attitudes and actions concerning the handling of pathogens and associated technologies that, if misused, can lead to catastrophes.
Bilateral cooperation between two countries that have been at the center of heated international debates over biosecurity obligations of state parties to the BTWC is important in overcoming the weaknesses of the BTWC. As the international community searches for acceptable procedures for compliance with the BTWC and related UN resolutions, U.S.-Russian collaborative efforts can continue to play a catalytic role in crystallizing common interests.
Through bilateral cooperation, the two countries can effectively contribute to the broad international agenda for addressing biosafety issues. These issues include, for example, (a) routine handling of dangerous pathogens; (b) responses to unanticipated health and safety problems that can arise when handling pathogens; (c) the need, criteria, and guidelines for establishing and operating high-containment facilities; and (d) coping with accidents involving a wide range of dangerous pathogens.
With or without bilateral cooperation, the two countries are viewed as pathfinders in many aspects of biosafety. The stakes are large, as the safety of people is on the line. Thus, it is better for the two countries to be working together and exchanging experiences in this regard than working along uncoordinated separate paths. Bioengagement can help ensure that this is the case.
The two countries have different sets of international contacts that open doors between counterparts and collectively provide excellent global coverage of almost all important research that could lead to significant discoveries in the biological sciences. Many developing countries have very few scientists who can address rapidly the emergence of new biology-oriented issues. For them to be able to simultaneously draw on U.S. and Russian mentors can avoid waste of time and money and reduce international misunderstandings and confusion.
In summary, historical reasons account for the different paths of the two countries in exploring many aspects of the phenomena encountered in the life sciences. They have established different priorities and developed different capabilities; but their common interests are magnified as both countries uncover new phenomena and attempt to assess the long-term impacts on health, agriculture, and the environment. Cooperation in understanding scientific discoveries, giving due consideration to both historical insights and biases, can increasingly benefit scientists and policy officials in the two countries.
Whether Russia’s new innovation complex at Skolkovo, for example, meets its biomedical goals or falls short, the energy and resources of leading U.S. and Russian officials and investors devoted to this high-profile undertaking will probably be substantial. It is better for respected U.S. and Russian scientists to be jointly involved in assessing the potential benefits of devoting efforts to this route of cooperation, which seems to have assured financial support from the Russian government, than simply to speculate about the biomedical activities that are carried out or should be carried out by others. While the short-term payoff from such cooperation may be difficult to measure, collaborating scientists will be able to provide insightful perspectives that might not be otherwise raised in discussions of this important development. In doing so, important personal and organizational relationships will emerge.
The foregoing snapshots of some of the benefits from bilateral cooperation— benefits that have already been observed and additional benefits that are anticipated—lead to the following conclusions:
1. In recent years, bioengagement activities have been undervalued in Washington and Moscow, as reflected in the steady decline in financial support in Washington for joint activities and the reluctance in Moscow to meet commitments to cover one-half of the direct costs of bioengagement.
Common interests in the characteristics of large geographical areas, common commitments to pursue responsible science, and unrivaled experience in jointly addressing some of the most challenging biological developments in recent decades provide a strong basis for collaborative efforts of the future. Both countries have invested heavily in changing cold-war hostilities in the biological sciences into productive relationships that have involved thousands of specialists and hundreds of institutions. Now is the time to capitalize on the vast networks of personal and institutional relationships. It is not the time to walk away from investments that provide a unique foundation for future achievements that will benefit the two governments, the populations of the two countries, and the global scientific community.
The positive impacts of bioengagement activities in many areas of security, education, the economies, and the social lives of the two countries have been extensive. Indeed, many new dimensions have been added to the U.S.-Russian political and economic relationship through such engagement activities. Continuation of successful programs and initiation of new activities are in order.
The number of activities need not rival past numbers. But they should be at a level that will continue to provide continuing access by specialists of both countries to highly relevant activities in the other country. Joint programs should provide opportunities for laboratory, field, and academic partnerships in both countries.
2 Individual investigators with appropriate skills who are prepared to pursue cooperative activities over the long term greatly increase the likelihood that cooperative activities will pay off for both countries.
While past engagement activities have been organized largely on the basis of interests of institutions in the two countries, the most successful projects have usually relied heavily on individual scientific leaders who have taken responsibility for ensuring successful outcomes of complicated programs. These leaders should be selected with care. Among the primary selection criteria should be technical and managerial capabilities, skills in relationship building, and commitments to continue efforts for extended periods of time.
3. Exceptionally well-qualified scientists, who are conducting research and related activities during the early stages of their careers and therefore are in positions to effectively promote continuation of international programs, should have greater opportunities to participate in important bioengagement activities sponsored by the two governments.
The future leaders of science can bring new ideas and new vitality to bioengagement. They can help ensure that cooperation looks to advancing technological opportunities and is not frozen by nostalgia for outmoded methodologies of the past. Also, their involvement will provide a strong foundation for developing approaches that have high probability for being continued over the long term.
Special programs for young investigators may be necessary, given the frequent propensity of older scientists to dominate international activities of both countries. Consideration of jointly organized summer camps and meetings devoted to the frontiers of science in various subsets of biology seems warranted. Also, establishing special quotas for young investigators who apply for competitive international programs may be appropriate. A particularly noteworthy development has been the agreement between the Russian Ministry of Education and Science and the U.S. Department of Education calling for exchanges of a limited number of outstanding university science students. While there have been thousands of student exchanges that have touched the life sciences, this is the first time that the importance of exchanges of science students have been formally recognized in an agreement by the two governments.
In addition to reaching the foregoing conclusions, this chapter has set the stage for discussion of other conclusions in the chapters that follow.
1. The plans of the U.S. and Russian governments to promote biotechnology, for example, are set forth in the White House, National Bioeconomy Blueprint, April 26, 2012, http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2012/04/26/national-bioeconomy-blueprint-released and Decree of the Chairman of the Russian Government, Complex Program, Development of Biotechnology in the Russian Federation until 2020, No. 1853P-P8, April 24, 2012, http://s3.amazonaws.com/zanran_storage/www2.foi.se/ContentPages/115876758.pdf.
2. Appendix E.1 summarizes some of the relevant interests of the BPC.
3. Estimate is based on data provided by the Higher School of Economics (HSE), Moscow, May 2012. See, for example, HSE, Science Indicators: 2012, p. 48.
4. David Joravsky, The Lysenko Affair, University of Chicago Press, 1986.
5. Op. cit., Science Indicators, pp. 372–375.
6. Committee members have had many discussions over the years with experts from both countries concerning the intersections of civilian and defense research interests.
7. National Research Council, Biological Science and Biotechnology in Russia, Controlling Diseases and Enhancing Security, Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2006.
8. Stephen A. Morse, “Public Health Surveillance and Infectious Disease Detection,” Bioseecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense Strategy, Practice, and Science, Volume 10, Number 1, 2012.
9. In a speech at the Eurasia Foundation in Washington, D.C., in May 2012, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns described this relationship as follows: “Few regions matter more to our success and security than Russia and the other independent nations that emerged from the break-up of the Soviet Union…. Home to a quarter of a billion people, the countries of the region hold vast hydrocarbon reserves and pipelines critical to a secure global supply of energy. Beyond its oil and gas riches, Russia remains an influential player on the world stage…. It remains deeply in the interest of the United States to see a strong Russia continue to re-emerge, a prosperous and modernizing Russia fully integrated into the global economy, a Russia which makes it possible for their citizens to realize their extraordinary potential…. We cannot afford to be detached observers.”
10. See Appendix F.4 concerning a U.S.-Russian assessment of the scientific basis for regulating GMOs.
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