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  • Lessons from Brazil's genome project go global

The leader of Brazil's world-class genome project has moved to the United States to help replicate Brazilian success in other developing countries.

Andrew Simpson, a British cancer geneticist who worked for São Paulo's branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research for 13 years, arrived last week in the New York branch to take over a programme that supports researchers in developing countries.

The programme, which was launched almost three years ago, aims to bring scientists in developing nations into the Institute's international research network. So far, it has supported research teams in Russia and China with a total annual budget of about US$700,000, but with expansion into Brazil and South Africa, this might swell to US$1 million a year.

An average grant of US$50,000 would cover only one salary in Europe but can support an entire lab, including young researchers and graduate students, in Russia or China.

"[The Ludwig Institute] can make more of a difference in these countries where there is a lot of talent, but not a lot of financial opportunities for scientists," says Victor Jongeneel, director of Ludwig's Office of Information Technology and coordinator of the programme in its early stages.

Simpson was an obvious choice for running Ludwig's programme, says Jongeneel, because he "knows what it's like to work in conditions that are less than ideal".

Under Simpson's leadership, 200 Brazilian scientists across the state of São Paulo teamed up to decipher the world's first genome sequence of a plant pathogen, Xylella fastidiosa. They published their work in the journal Nature last year, and soon after a group representing American vine growers commissioned the Brazilians to sequence a related Xylella strain that attacks grapes in California.

Although some US researchers were angered that the "US turned to little Brazil for help," this and other ongoing successes demonstrate that Brazil has become a world-class player in genome sciences within just a few years, says Simpson.

Simpson believes the Ludwig Institute is making a savvy investment. The Institute has the "foresight now to increase the per cent invested in developing countries like Russia, China, and Africa. It's a tremendously important tendency," he says. "There's no geographical restrictions on talent and intelligence," he adds. "The more that talent can be nurtured, the more everyone will benefit."
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