Norwegian roadmap for Research Infrastructure

Biotechnology

Biotechnology encompasses all studies involving organisms and parts of organisms that aim to increase knowledge and develop products, processes and services. Biotechnology requires up-to-date, costly equipment to stay on the cutting edge of research, promote quality across the full range of Norwegian research activities, and support knowledge-driven innovation.

Research objectives

According to the Government’s Long-term plan for research and higher education 2019-2028 (Report No 4 to the Storting (2018–2019)), biotechnology is an enabling technology that, together with other disciplines and technologies, will help to promote innovation and address societal challenges. The plan states that there is large, untapped potential for biotechnological innovation.

A national strategy for biotechnology was drawn up for the period 2011–2020. This states a clear expectation that biotechnology as a field is to help create sound solutions for the public and private sectors. As one of the enabling technologies, biotechnology offers great economic potential in marine industries, health care, agriculture and process industries. Biotechnology is viewed as essential to the development of the bioeconomy, which in the coming years will comprise a significant part of the global economy, in keeping with the increased focus on sustainable utilisation of bioresources. The bioeconomy should therefore be a chief consideration in future investments and activities in the biotechnology field.

Transdisciplinary and cross-sectoral areas such as biostatistics, bioinformatics/systems biology and synthetic biology are identified as important areas at the research front where the public agencies within the research and innovation system have a special responsibility for building capacity. This is manifested through e.g. the national collaborative platform National Centre for Digital Life, as well as interdisciplinary efforts at the R&D institutions. Research infrastructure plays a vital role in enabling research activity using computational methods and modelling. Biotechnological methods and research infrastructure must also accommodate the scales relevant to biology – both in reach, from biomolecular and individual cells to entire organisms and ecosystems, and in time, from microseconds to years.

The Research Council supports biotechnological research and innovation in a variety of portfolios, with Enabling Technologies as the key individual portfolio for following up the national strategy. The portfolios for Industry and Services; Life Sciences; Natural Science and Technology; Health; Land-based Food, the Environment and Bioresources; and Oceans provide important guidelines for biotechnological R&D&I infrastructure needs.

Existing research infrastructure

The available infrastructure for biotechnological research groups is largely based on technology platforms that were established under the National Programme for Research in Functional Genomics (FUGE) and further developed through funding from the National Financing Initiative for Research Infrastructure. This includes infrastructures related to human biobanks, bioinformatics/systems biology, gene sequencing, proteomics, imaging technologies, NMR analysis and biorefining, as well as super-resolution light microscopy, structural biology and high-capacity analysis of chemical libraries. The infrastructures for four of these fields (bioinformatics, biobanks, light microscopy and analysis) are associated with joint European cooperation on infrastructure under ESFRI. Additional infrastructure and core facilities have been developed in a number of important areas through investments on the part of R&D institutions.

Need for new infrastructure, upgrades and/or coordination

To achieve the objectives of the national strategy for biotechnology, investments in infrastructure must ensure that advanced technology is accessible and benefits Norwegian researchers in academia and industry by enhancing the quality of research. Greater technological expertise must be developed to achieve optimal use of infrastructure for new scientific research questions and innovation.

The rapid pace of technological advancement taking place in many areas is due to combinations of and convergence between technologies. Such technological convergence is considered critical for addressing the major societal challenges where biotechnology can provide a valuable contribution. Analysis is trending towards the level of individual cells and molecules, and imaging technologies are being developed across the board.

Data-driven and computational methods will become more and more common in biotechnology research and innovation in the coming years. The importance of machine learning and artificial intelligence is increasing rapidly in research and development in the life sciences. There is thus a large and growing need for competence-based services that can process and utilise the large volumes of data generated in modern biotechnology. In light of this, there will also be a demand for services for making data accessible and establishing evidence bases on organisms that are important for Norway and that can support innovation based on interpreting and understanding large volumes of data.

State-of-the-art biotechnological infrastructure makes a major contribution to establishing and developing outstanding research groups, knowledge and expertise, and creates more opportunities for collaboration and value creation with industry in Norway and internationally. Achieving new biotechnological innovations requires that investments in existing and new infrastructures also accommodate the needs of the business sector. Other needs and priorities for research infrastructure in this field will be viewed in the context of national strategic initiatives, and will take the following factors into account:

  • Need for upgrades, further development and coordination of already-established infrastructures;
  • Support for infrastructure that enhances quality and capacity in Norwegian biotechnological R&D, including the development of cutting-edge technology in high-throughput screening and sequencing at molecular and cell, tissue and organism level, 3D cultivation/processing, fermentation technology, downstream processing and separation technology, a broad scope of imaging technologies, structural biology, the ‘omics’ technologies, including digitalisation of stored samples in human biobanks, bioinformatics/systems biology and synthetic biology;
  • Particular priority must be placed on the development of artificial intelligence with associated infrastructure capacity, including personnel resources, hardware/computing capacity and storage capacity. Legal and research ethical perspectives in connection with the utilisation of new technology must be in focus when establishing this type of infrastructure;
  • Infrastructure with novel functionality and the capacity for studies and development of gene-edited and genetically modified plants and organisms is imperative to socially responsible development that supports several of the UN Sustainable Development Goals;
  • Support for infrastructure that ensures data management across technologies in keeping with the FAIR principles (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable), including processing of metadata, and legal and ethical perspectives on processing of sensitive data and new technology that can pose a threat to the protection of privacy;
  • Support for infrastructure that facilitates biotechnological research that has a broad basis for applications, extends across multiple sectors, and facilitates collaboration between universities, research institutes, hospital trusts, the business sector and a wide range of relevant societal stakeholders;
  • Support for infrastructure to promote the strategic initiative ‘Digital Life – Convergence for Innovation’ and other Research Council biotechnology initiatives;
  • Efforts to foster effective cooperation and task-sharing on research infrastructure, nationally and internationally. In particular, assessment of the value of participation in joint European infrastructures in the field (including ESFRI projects) and Norway’s role in these, specialising in and focusing on areas where Norwegian researchers can take a leading role in selected technologies.

Interface with other areas

Biotechnology is an enabling technology for fields such as medicine and health care, marine industries, climate and environment, and bioresources. Greater focus on interdisciplinary cooperation and technological convergence also enhances the interface with nanotechnology, ICT and collaboration with the humanities and social sciences.

In thematic areas such as the environment, ecology, biodiversity (eDNA) and paleobiology (aDNA), tiny amounts of DNA (trace DNA) need to be analysed. This requires specific procedures and equipment that can be established and coordinated nationally, and will strengthen Norway’s position in environmental and climate research.

Biotechnological infrastructure, expertise and methods are key to developing the bioeconomy. It is crucial to develop cost-effective processing of different types of biomass. Pilot processing facilities are an important infrastructure to this end, enabling testing and development spanning from R&D to an industrial scale. Facilities adapted to testing gene-edited and genetically-modified algae and other microorganisms will be essential in these value chains.

There is a need for infrastructure at the interface with medical R&D&I that enables validation of novel biopharmaceutical products and formulations. Such infrastructure will support medical needs and Norwegian pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical production industries. Norway has many strong expert communities in the field of personalised medicine that need to utilise adapted national infrastructures of relevance to R&D environments and as GMP facilities for production for clinical trials.

RESEARCH INFRASTRUCTURES RELATED TO BIOTECHNOLOGY

Projects Status
ELIXIR.NO – A Norwegian ELIXIR Node ESFRI Landmark
NALMIN – Norwegian Advanced Light Microscopy Imaging Network – National node in Euro-Bioimaging ESFRI Landmark
NAPI – Network of Advanced Proteomics Infrastructure Under establishment/in operation
NorSeq – National Consortium for Sequencing and Personalized Medicine Under establishment/in operation
NNP – The Norwegian NMR Platform Under establishment/in operation
NOR-OPENSCREEN – The Norwegian EU-OPENSCREEN node ESFRI Landmark
NORCRYST – Norwegian Macromolecular Crystallography Consortium Under establishment/in operation

 

Projects Status
Biobank Norway – A national infrastructure for biobanks and biobank related activity in Norway – National node in BBMRI ESFRI Landmark
E-INFRA ved UNINETT Sigma 2 – a national e-Infrastrucure for science Under establishment/in operation
ESS-Lund – European Spallation Source ESFRI Landmark
NBioC - Norwegian BioCentre - Norwegian Centre for Bioprocessing & Fermentation Under establishment/in operation
NORBRAIN – Norwegian brain initiative: a large-scale infrastructure for 21st century neuroscience Under establishment/in operation
NORMOLIM – Norwegian Molecular Imaging Infrastructure- National node in Euro-Bioimaging ESFRI Landmark