“Sustainable production and use of bioresources from agriculture and forestry have a long tradition in Austria and besides the use of wood for construction, composite materials and energy production, the use of renewables and organic waste for the production of fibres, paper, chemicals, biodiesel, food&feed and pharmaceuticals are crucial to internationally leading Austrian industries active in production and engineering”. To say it in this exclusive interview with us is Anton Glieder, associate professor at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of Graz University of Technology and Scientific Director, Ceo and Cso of the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (ACIB GmbH). With Glieder we talk about industrial biotechnology and the role of Austria in the European bioeconomy.
Interview by Mario Bonaccorso
Professor Glieder, please tell us first what is ACIB GmbH?
The Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (ACIB) is a public private partnership for research in industrial biotechnology. ACIB combines the expertise of 70+ scientific and industrial partners and a large worldwide scientific network with 25+ years of experience in applied biosciences. We replace traditional industrial processes by new, more ecological and economic methods that are adopted by nature and develop new cell lines and processes for biopharmaceutical production. At ACIB more than 200 scientists work in more than 40 research projects – focused on biocatalysis, enzymes, protein production and purification, bioinformatics and synthetic biology. Acib translates academic knowledge into new industrial applications.
The organization is Austrian but operates in a highly International context. Is that so?
Our headquarter is in Graz, Austria, but we operate highly international. Actually we have scientific and industrial partners from more than 10 countries (including Germany, India, Italy, UK, USA) and research sites in Austria, Germany, Italy and Spain. Researchers from 24 nations work at acib. Since founding acib in 2010, acib scientists took part at 268 scientific events in 45 countries. 92 ACIB-publications were produced with co-authors from 21 countries (6 continents).
You have recently signed an agreement with the Lombardy Region. What’s the content of this agreement?
ACIB signed a full partnership with the University of Pavia in 2013, where acib gained its first research site in Italy. Due to the obvious synergies between acib and additional leading scientists as well as industry in the region there is a common understanding to extend the current partnership and to support the formation of an industrial biotech centre in the Lombardy region.
What’s the governance of ACIB GmbH?
ACIB is a non for profit research organization acting as a limited company owned by 4 universities and an Austrian research and technology organization. Its management structure includes a managing board, board of owners and supervisory board as well as the scientific board, international scientific advisory board and a strategy board where major decisions are discussed. ACIB’s focus is on research for innovative applications of biotechnology for industrial production. The major areas of research are in biocatalysis, enzymes & polymers, cell design & engineering, protein design & engineering, bioprocess engineering and emerging sciences such as metabolic modeling and synthetic biology. Expert teams with researchers from different scientific disciplines and universities as well as from industrial partners secure scientific progress and the technology transfer in individual projects.
Austria has an important role in the bioeconomy in Europe. Have you already a Nation Plan for the bioeconomy?
Sustainable production and use of bioresources from agriculture and forestry have a long tradition in Austria and besides the use of wood for construction, composite materials and energy production, the use of renewables and organic waste for the production of fibres, paper, chemicals, biodiesel, food&feed and pharmaceuticals are crucial to internationally leading Austrian industries active in production and engineering. However, inspite of a few smart and comprehensive biorefinery approaches there is a lack of cross-disciplinary approaches between stakeholders in energy-, fiber-, and biotech industry as well as agricultural production including harvesting technologies. In 2013 several organizations in Austria started to promote the development of an Austrian action plan to support future biobased industries and an Austrian bioeconomy. In contrast to other countries there is no national action plan so far.
Are there particular policies to support the bioeconomy in Austria?
There are a few smaller funding initiatives in Austria such as the research and technology initiative “production of the future” but generally in Austria we see stronger support for existing proven strengths of industrial/academia collaboration networks rather than policies to support new initiatives selectively.
As far as you’re concerned, which will be the role played by Italy in the European bioeconomy?
Similar to Austria I see specific strengths in specific fields of bioeconomy such as agricultural production, food and feed industry, biotechnology and others but a lack of coordination between different traditional disciplines and the use of biotechnology to add value to renewable bioresources. This is in contrast to strong efforts in Europe, Asia and the US. Italy and Austria will need a focus and a strong commitment of national and regional policies to keep track with major initiatives in other European countries such as Germany, Netherlands and Belgium. Besides a direct involvement in the production of biorenewables and value added products Austria and Italy have a strong track record in engineering. This will be another crucial factor for success in a future biobased production and bioeconomy and sustainable future of a world wide growing population.