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[SANTIAGO] An ecological research centre will become Chile's third World Bank-backed 'millennium institute', replacing a centre for biotechnology that closed this year when the government withdrew funding after staff disputes.

The World Bank-funded Millennium Science Initiative (MSI) announced that the Institute for Ecology and Biodiversity had won a contest to become the last of three centres intended to become world-class institutions last month.

Claudio Wernli, MSI's executive director, said the institute was selected because of "the high quality of the project and its scientists, and its potential to become a research centre of international relevance".

It will study the effects of climate change and how the El Niño weather system affects vegetation. It will also take on an ambitious project to study biodiversity along the Andes mountain range from northern Chile to Tierra del Fuego in the South.

The institute, based at the University of Chile in Santiago, will get 700 million pesos (US$1,285,000) every year for five years. Funding will be renewed for five more years if the centre passes a performance assessment.

It beat 13 other centres in a contest to replace the disbanded Millennium Institute for Cell Biology and Biotechnology (CBB), whose funding was withdrawn in April 2005 (see Staff dispute prompts closure of top Chilean institute).

The CBB was one of three institutes set up in 1999 by Chile's Ministry of Planning and Cooperation (Mideplan) with support from the MSI.

In May, seven international scientists published a letter in Science protesting against the MSI's decision to end the CBB's funding.

A reply by Yasna Provoste, minister of Planning and Cooperation and chair of the MSI's board of directors, and Eric Goles, president of the National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICYT) was published in the journal in August.

It said funding for the CBB had been discontinued because of "a deep split between the director and the six leading scientists of the institute, caused by differences in research objectives, approaches and internal procedures".

Wernli told SciDev.Net that a lawsuit and two complaints against the MSI presented by the CBB's director Ricardo Maccioni after the institute closed had been rejected by the Court of Appeals and the Office of the Auditor General.

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