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[SANTIAGO] Chile has announced that it is creating four new research institutes around the country as an extension of its efforts to boost research and innovation in its less developed regions.

The new institutes, which will receive a total of US$9.5 million for their first five years from the National Committee of Science and Technology (CONICYT), are expected to begin operation in the next four to seven months.

Each will carry out research on topics that are economically and technologically relevant to the regions where they are based.

The first of the institutes — Consortium of Research in Nutrition, Food Technology and Sustainability of Aquiculture — will be based in the 'lakes region' of southern Chile, where there is a high level of salmon production.

"We expect to become an international centre for [salmon-breeding] and for introducing new species into aquaculture," says Ana Farias, director of the new institute.

"We are keen to create a critical mass of multidisciplinary research in innovative technologies and services for aquaculture, particularly in the context of food production."

The second institute, the Center for Scientific and Technological Research in the Mining Industry, will be based in the Antofagasta Region in Northern Chile, where half of the country's mining — which itself represents about half of Chile's exports — is carried out.

Scientists at this centre will carry out research into issues relevant to the mining industry such as 'bio-mining' — the use of bacteria to extract minerals — alternative energy sources for mining, and mountain medicine.

The other two new institutes are a Center for Nutritional Genomics for Agriculture and Aquaculture, and the Centre of Patagonian Ecosystems, both of which will also be based in southern Chile.

The creation of new research centres is part of CONICYT's regional programme that has already led to the opening of five Regional Research and Cooperative Development Consortia, the official name of such institutes.

Funding for each of the new centres will be provided equally by CONICYT and regional governments. Additional funds, as well as personnel and infrastructure, will be provided by local universities and public or private organizations.

One of the objectives of the regional programme is to promote collaboration between existing research institutes, academic centres and local universities, hoping to create a synergy between their research activities.

"The regional programme seeks to stimulate enthusiasm [about research] through the country," comments Eric Goles, president of CONICYT, who points out that, like many developing nations, Chile is highly centralized, with about one third of the population living in Santiago, its capital.

"Through the programme, we are building a national platform for research and innovation, with the regions themselves deciding the direction in which they want to develop."

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