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A Site Selection Web Exclusive, April 2013
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Competitiveness Evolves from Competence

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Costa Rica is among the biotech leaders in Central America, with 32 research centers in three public universities.

An insider describes how one university is improving biotech education, research and development in Costa Rica.

By MIGUEL ROJAS CHAVES, PhD
Coordinador, Centro de Investigación en Biotecnología, Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica
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iotechnology in Costa Rica has considerable political support, being one of the seven areas of the 2011-2014 Science, Technology and Innovation Plan. It is also a strategic sector under the Free Trade Zone Regime. Costa Rica has shown a tendency to develop the biotech field better than any other country in Central America, with 32 research centers in three public universities.

The Costa Rica Institute of Technology (TEC) is a public university, and part of Costa Rica's superior state education system. It is located in Cartago, about 25 km. (15 miles) east of the capital, San José. The Biotechnology Engineering (IBio) career center and the Biotechnology Research Center (CIB) at TEC are key players in educating highly competent human resources destined to strengthen biotech research and industry in Costa Rica. Both entities are part of the Biology School at TEC.

This career track was first offered in 1997 in Cartago. Since then, it has been characterized by high demand, high selectivity and academic excellence. Our motto is "Biotechnology: evolving towards excellence." The career training lasts eight semesters, consisting of 58 subjects and 134 credits. The degree offered is Bachelor, with a possibility to also acquire a licentiate degree. It is accredited by the National Accreditation System of Higher Education (SINAES).

Currently, IBio at TEC accounts for 418 alumni, with an average of 4.5 years to graduate. The annual enrollment median rate is 40 students, with only 4 percent of people seeking admission to the program are actually admitted. In addition, 60 percent of our students are females.

IBio has incorporated biotechnology techniques at the undergraduate level that traditionally are only taught in graduate courses, such as micropropagation, cryopreservation, tools of molecular biology, industrial microbiology and environmental biotechnology. Today as an inroad in the bioprocess and biomedicine field it's desired, because of the importance for national development.

Our Biotechnology Engineers are innovative, enterprising, competitive and creative with good negotiating and analytic skills, oriented towards research and environmental responsibility. They can work in many diverse areas, such as in vitro plant biotechnology, management of wastewater treatment plants, solid waste management, quality assurance of different industrial processes and the identification of organisms by molecular biology tests, among others.

IBio strongly encourages the development of an entrepreneurial spirit among its students, which has allowed them to stand out as finalists in entrepreneurship competitions nationally and internationally. These successful projects have not only been interesting and innovative scientific and/or technological processes, but also economically viable.

Furthermore, IBio has been characterized since its inception by a very active interaction with universities, research centers and foreign companies. It is known that to maintain a level commensurate with the demands of modern times, a close relationship with many counterparts outside our borders is essential. For this reason this career program has been a pioneer in promoting the realization of student graduation projects abroad, and, thanks to support from TEC, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Telecommunications (MICITT) and students' own resources, it has been possible to develop such projects in countries such as Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, Cuba, Denmark, Spain, USA, Netherlands, Mexico and Switzerland.

Each year, IBio organizes a Biotechnology Week, and offers a continuing program of conferences and international exhibitions, for academic, business, industry and the public sector. In parallel, in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012 our BIOTICA activity took place, aimed at business and government, to expand opportunities for market development in biotechnology at the national level.

The biotechnologists' work has significantly increased productivity and application of new scientific and technological processes in their workplaces or in companies that they have established. In this sense, graduates of IBio have been marked by helping to improve the quality of life of the general population.

Biotechnology Research Center (CIB)

The Biotechnology Research Center (CIB) works rather closely with the Biotechnology Engineering career program. The CIB combines different areas of biotechnology under the same roof, contributing with integral solutions to the fields of agriculture, food industry, forestry, environment and biomedicine. It has three main research areas: plant biotechnology, environmental biotechnology and biomedical applications, encompassing the following transversal areas: molecular biology, bioinformatics, biochemistry, ecology and bioprocess. CIB also works in collaboration with other programs and research groups from TEC in the following transversal areas: nanotechnology, electronic microscopy and radiation technologies.

Annually, around 20 projects are developed at CIB, comprising a fifth of all projects hosted by the Vice-Presidency for Research and Extension (VIE) of TEC. Moreover, 68 percent of all these projects are related to productive sectors. Therefore, it is necessary to interact with partners as diverse as community groups; micro, medium and large companies; and even government institutions and transnational consortiums.

MiguelRojas

Miguel Rojas Chaves, PhD, is Coordinador, Centro de Investigación en Biotecnología, Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica. To learn more, visit www.tec.ac.cr (Spanish only) or contact him directly in English or Spanish: mirojas@tec.ac.cr, (506)22509027.

The IBio students are an active part of the research done at CIB as assistants. Given the number of projects per year, we account for an average of 50 students attending CIB per semester. In addition, our academic staffs supports the development of student projects, in which students have the opportunity to do their own research, sponsored by TEC.

By the end of 2013, CIB will have new modern laboratories for plant and environmental areas. Adding the current and new infrastructure, it will have 14 laboratories covering 1,300 sq. m. (13,994 sq. ft.). The new building is located on the southeast side of the campus, within an area of 15,000 sq. m. (161,464 sq. ft.) allocated to CIB.

Next to the new building will be located three 100-sq.-m. (1,076-sq.-ft.) ponds for growing microalgae and CO2 capture, a 2,500-sq.-m. (26,910-sq.-ft.) fruit field and two greenhouses. Also, a space of 400 sq. m. (4,305 sq. ft.) has been reserved for a three-story building devoted to the biomedical applications area, designed for research, postgraduate teaching and production of human tissues such as skin for therapeutic use. The aim is to raise funds for this new infrastructure of other public and private sources. Finally, the most ambitious part is the space for possible bio companies generated within TEC.


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