Norwegian-Indian research collaboration
Vaccine development will ensure healthy fish and animals
Researchers and research fellows at a number of Norwegian research communities are taking part in four Norwegian-Indian cooperative projects on fish and animal vaccines. At least as many people at Indian universities and research institutions are participating in the projects.
Cooperating on fish and animal vaccines is part of the large-scale collaboration on vaccine research agreed upon in Delhi in December 2005 by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Indian Minister of Science and Technology Kapil Sibal. The actual research contract is between the Research Council of Norway and the Department of Biotechnology under India's Ministry of Science and Technology.
The four projects currently under way are the result of a joint call for proposals in Norway and India. The deadline for submission of grant applications was April 2007, and a joint panel of experts was appointed to assess the scientific merit of the proposals received. The relevance and suitability of proposals in the context of Norwegian-Indian project collaboration was assessed by the research councils of both countries. Funding awards were approved in March 2008, and by 1 January 2009 all formal agreements had been entered into and the four projects were up and running.
The project managers of the Norwegian projects recently met at the Research Council to exchange insights about the status of the projects and their experience with the process, and to ensure coordination of the Norwegian efforts. There was broad consensus that this cooperative effort would be beneficial to all:
"India has a high degree of expertise in many of the relevant areas, with much to contribute to this research collaboration. We are working side by side on these projects as equal partners," emphasised Kari Kolstad of Nofima, who represented one of the projects.
Roy Dalmo, Siri Mjaaland, Espen Rimestad, Kari Kolstad and Ingrid Olsen by the carp pond in the Research Council's garden.
India as an aquaculture nation
Little is known in Norway about India as a fish-farming nation. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), however, India is the world's second-largest aquaculture nation, with a production volume of farmed fish in 2007 nearly 4.5 times that of Norway. China tops the FAO list, while Norway, the world's leading producer of Atlantic salmon, ranks ninth.
The most important production species in India are various types of carp, a freshwater fish, and prawns, which thrive in brackish water. Carp is farmed in small facilities across the entire country and is intended for local markets. Tiger prawns are a high-value item on the global market, so production is interesting to larger companies - but producers are struggling with significant disease problems.
Although India's aquaculture yields more volume than Norway's, we tend to associate India more with cattle than farmed fish. Since cows enjoy very special status in India, it is especially important to prevent bovine disease through vaccination. In addition to the work on fish and prawns, the collaboration also extends to vaccines against bovine tuberculosis as well as avian influenza.
Since research aimed at developing vaccines against fish and animal diseases can lead to lower production costs, better products and less environmental strain from aquaculture activities, it is highly suitable for cooperation between India and Norway.
The projects involve bacterial and viral diseases, genetics, and selective breeding programmes for the major production species of India and Norway. Much of the work is basic research - dealing to a large extent with establishing and optimising methods and tools - but the projects include applied research as well. Industrial players such as companies specialising in selective breeding or pharmaceuticals are taking part in the projects alongside research institutions in Norway and India. The cooperation involves the delegation of tasks, the exchange of materials and findings, and not least the exchange of researchers.
Researcher training is another vital aspect of the projects. A total of 15 research fellows are being employed under the four Norwegian projects.
Norwegian vaccine initiative
The projects under the cooperation with India are an important part of the Research Council's initiative on fish and animal vaccines, which encompasses a dedicated vaccine platform within the HAVBRUK programme as well as vaccine projects under the FUGE programme. Their combined budgets total about NOK 130 million for the 2008-2012 period.
"This is a substantial investment that can help to give a real boost to research in this area," says Rolf Giskeødegård, Programme Coordinator of the HAVBRUK programme. "These are large projects with many researchers and research fellows involved from a number of research communities, not to mention our many Indian partners." Promising more project meetings to come, he adds, "It is essential that we coordinate efforts and share experience and knowledge along the way."
So far, both sides agree that the cooperation is fruitful. The sizeable differences relating to culture and language, however, add to the challenge of making things run smoothly. It can take time, for instance, to get in contact with the right person, and it takes practice to be able to understand one another fully.
In situations such as this, when cultural and linguistic differences are so great, much can be gained from getting together face-to-face. A variety of meetings between each project's Norwegian and Indian groups have therefore been planned.
The Norwegian-Indian cooperative effort encompasses the following projects:
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