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India is to host a US$7 million centre to provide biotechnology training and research opportunities for scientists from across Asia.

The centre, which was given official backing by UNESCO last month, will also be a hub for biotechnology research, promoting South-South cooperation.

The Indian science ministry's department of biotechnology will run the centre, which is likely in the capital New Delhi, although this has not yet been confirmed.

India is contributing core funding for the centre, but once it is set up, the government will seek additional funds from UN agencies and other international bodies.

In addition to holding biotechnology training courses, the centre will hold international conferences and workshops. It will also set up a central database of information on Asian biotechnology research.

By promoting networking between researchers in different countries, the centre aims to encourage collaborative research and development programmes between research centres in Asia.

Anwar Nasim, president of the Federation of Asian Biotech Associations and chair of Pakistan’s National Commission on Biotechnology, welcomes the initiative's policy of strengthening South-South cooperation.

Asian countries such as India, China and Malaysia have shown increasing competence in agricultural and health biotechnology, he told SciDev.Net, adding that such nations would benefit by sharing their knowledge and experiences.

Biotechnology capabilities vary widely among Asian countries, however, and if they compete rather than work together, this could be a barrier for technology and knowledge transfer.

But Nasim said that such international competition occurs all over the world.

"In a way, this [competition] could be healthy, and an incentive for the weaker partners to try and catch up," he said. "However those countries that are ahead hopefully will be generous enough to carry others along."

Nasim added that agencies such as UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) should intervene to make it easier for scientists to get visas to travel between India and Pakistan.

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