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Argentina will establish its first Ministry of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation, the newly-elected government announced last week (14 November).

President-elect Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who will assume power in December, has appointed molecular biologist Lino Barañao as minister of science in her new cabinet.

Barañao is a researcher at Argentina's National Council of Science and Technology (CONICET), and the current president of the National Agency of Science Promotion.

The announcement marks a major shift for science in Argentina. Science was undervalued in the 1990s, with scientists experiencing poor pay and working conditions. Science was not seen as central to development strategy by the government of the time.

Barañao told SciDev.Net that the creation of the ministry "indicates a new valuation of science".

He said the ministry's main aim will be the implementation of science and technology for economic development, with particular focus on information technology software, biotechnology and nanotechnology.

Science currently falls under the combined Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, with science secretary Tulio del Bono in charge of relevant policies. A separate education ministry will now be formed.

According to Barañao the ministry will continue the government's current science plan, launched in 2004 and continuing until 2010.

The main goal of that plan, says del Bono, is to increase investment in science and technology to one per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2010, with 50 per cent from public investment and 50 per cent from the private sector.

Del Bono said that investment in science and technology currently stands at 0.65 per cent of GDP. In 2006, Argentina's GDP was US$212 billion and this is has now increased by eight per cent, according to the country's secretary of commerce and international economic relationships.

"After the economic crisis of 2001, there has been an increasing support to scientific research," says Carlos Abeledo, ex-president of CONICET. "That has helped to create a climate of stability that allows for the creation of medium-term programmes needed for scientific development."

Diego Golombek, a researcher from the National University of Quilmes in Buenos Aires, says Argentina's scientific community has long waited for its own science ministry.

He says there has been a positive change in science policies with the current government in the last four years. "This measure will strengthen these policies, so I am very optimistic about the future."