RUSSIALINK TRANSCRIPT: “[Putin at] Meeting of the Council for Science and Education” – KremlinRu
(Kremlin.ru – February 8, 2018)
The President held a meeting of the Council for Science and Education in Novosibirsk.
The agenda focused on the sector’s main tasks and prospects, as well as the key areas of international research and technical cooperation.
Transcript of meeting of the Council for Science and Education
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,
I would like to congratulate you, together with all Russian researchers, on Russian Science Day. I wish you success in your profession and all the best, including health and prosperity.
I propose that today we discuss further measures to strengthen Russia’s research potential. This issue is really of crucial, vital significance for the country’s future.
Dramatic technological change is underway in the world. In terms of scale, it is comparable to the periods of industrial revolutions and scientific discoveries that have changed people’s lives drastically.
It is clear that leadership will now go to those who have their own technology, knowledge and competencies. They are becoming the main development resource that is literally an earnest of national security.
We must achieve a breakthrough in science, as well as in all other areas. We must stop supporting, once and for all, ineffective, obsolete and outdated approaches to organising research. Of course, the country is also waiting for new scientific solutions that will change the quality of people’s lives and boost Russia’s development.
These goals have been outlined in the National Science and Technology Development Strategy. And it is these goals that must be in the focus of our research institutes, R&D organisations, ministries and agencies.
Assistance should be provided to the best researchers and research groups. At the same time, the key principle for providing state support should be practical results and the creation of internationally competitive products and breakthrough technologies.
Today our researchers help Russian companies to win the technological race, including in such areas as processing and transferring big data.
Cooperation of science and business should become the key condition for implementing the digital economy programme. Using cutting-edge solutions, we must organise the activities of public and social organisations as well as transport and city management at a new level and to take leading positions in developing and using artificial intelligence systems.
Russian scientists have made an enormous step forward in such relatively new cross-disciplinary areas as bioscience, combining the study of biology, chemistry, genetics, medicine, bioinformatics and physics.
New technology to diagnose and treat cardiovascular diseases has emerged. We are meeting with significant success in regenerative medicine. I mean innovations, which allows us to save people whose skin was almost entirely damaged, or to help those who had a brain injury or a stroke to return to their normal lives, or to change heart valves with less risk.
I believe the intellectual and scientific potential we have makes it possible to organise large-scale genomic research in Russia. I ask you to develop a corresponding programme in the short term providing support mechanisms for strong research teams, establishing advanced infrastructure and training personnel. We have just discussed this with representatives of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences in detail.
We should apply the convergent approach and nature-like technology wider in genetics as well as in other areas. Using this base, we will be able to create new medicines and methods to treat serious diseases as well as a new energy industry based on technology that treats resources as sparingly as possible. Of course, I would like to hear your suggestions.
Colleagues, Russian science has seen game-changing transformations in recent years, which did not come about all by themselves, but were a result of colossal efforts of the state and the academic community.
In real terms, science funding has increased by 3.7 times over the past 17 years. It grew much more in current prices; the financing of civil science has increased by 23.6 times.
Major investment went into developing higher educational institutions and research infrastructure. The share of equipment at most leading universities that is five years old or less amounts to 65-85 percent today. Of course, this is not enough. Today, I also discussed this with our colleagues. We agreed that we need to expand this base, including in the regions with well-developed research capabilities that have good prospects for their effective use.
Young researchers now have new horizons open to them. The issue is about their ability to fulfil their own long-term projects and work at world-class labs. They are led by researchers with experience of work at leading international research centres who set the international research agenda. There are many of our outstanding fellow citizens among them.
Importantly, if we want to be leaders and be able to improve the global competitiveness of Russian science, we definitely need to go further.
Here are the areas where I think we must focus our efforts and attention.
First, it is imperative to continue to expand the research infrastructure, as was just mentioned, including the megascience class facilities, which are already operating in Gatchina, Dubna, Troitsk, Nizhny Novgorod and at the Budker Institute here, in Novosibirsk.
Such infrastructure should form the basis for the implementation of major research programmes, and be the centre of scientific cooperation across Eurasia.
We will continue to work at major international projects, such as the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, the experimental thermonuclear reactor ITER in France, and the free-electron laser in Germany.
As you may recall, as a participant, Russia is entitled to the intellectual results obtained in such projects. We must think about ways to effectively use them for the benefit of our country, economy and the social sphere.
I would like to say a few words again about a recent meeting at the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Everything I have mentioned above is very important. We certainly contributed a lot to the preparation of these projects, and we are now working at these facilities successfully. But we also need to create our own centres like this. Our colleagues have proposed establishing one of them in Novosibirsk, at the Academy’s Siberian Branch. I believe they are right. We will definitely analyse this possibility and implement this project.
Second, we should keep the focus on supporting and promoting talented young researchers. Everyone who has shown good results must have an opportunity to make a research career in Russia, implement large research projects and look beyond the horizon when planning their activities.
The main thing is to help gifted young people start their careers in science already at school. This is why we have decided to establish an international research and technology cluster at the Sirius Educational Centre. Major Russian companies are ready to take part in this project.
At the same time, we must never lose sight of what we have achieved. We must not neglect either the prominent centres that won their repute back during the Soviet period, or the new centres such as those that have been recently established in Moscow.
Third, we should continue to promote interaction with other countries and to enhance the transparency of our science. The mega-grant programme has turned out to be very effective. We must devise instruments that will not just encourage prominent researchers to head our laboratories, but will also help us create powerful teams of international researchers in Russia.
It should be said that the recipients of these mega-grants, the researchers who have come to Russia under these projects have proposed such solutions. They have made very good proposals, which will certainly get the necessary funding, and we only need to organise this work properly now.
I want to say that scientists of global repute and young researchers alike should see that working in Russia is interesting, that we formulate ambitious goals that meet today’s challenges, and that we create the necessary conditions for making a breakthrough in attaining the goals set to the country.
Mr Kovalchuk, please. The floor is yours.
Director of the National Research Centre Kurchatov Institute Mikhail Kovalchuk: Thank you very much.
Mr President, colleagues,
Today we are discussing ways to ensure independence and global competitiveness of Russia and the competitiveness of Russian science as an important factor in reaching these goals.
There are three elements determining the development level of science in the country: ideas, personnel and research infrastructure, which the President has just mentioned.
In today’s world, well-developed national infrastructure for research and innovation is a fundamental component providing an identity and sustainability to science. This component, in many senses, determines the development of the other components: ideas and personnel.
This infrastructure as it stands today was created as part of the atomic project. And, since the atomic project, the development of research infrastructure has had two specific traits: while emerging as purely scientific, it has become technological and transformed into an important technological tool of modern industry.
At the dawn of the atomic project, at first, there was work with isotopes of, let’s say, plutonium or other elements, it was already technology, and today it is an amazing thing: the synchrotron centre we have here in Novosibirsk and at the Kurchatov Institute is becoming the base for medicine production, for example. You need to know atomic structure to make medicine. Today, 100 percent of structures are deciphered through synchrotron radiation. Although about ten or fifteen years ago many people were sceptical about it, today it works like that. This means that the production of medicines is completely determined by the development level of synchrotron radiation and understanding of the atomic structure.
The second thing is nuclear medicine. Everyone is familiar with it. The base of nuclear medicine is accelerators and isotopes – everything this megascience is based upon.
What is most important? Initially, this structure was created for servicing – it was a complex piece of infrastructure, it took two thirds of the money, but it served 15 percent of the scientific community: nuclear physics, elementary particles and accelerators. Now there has been a conversion. Today these mega installations are needed for the entire scientific community. The President here has spoken about physicists, chemists, biologists and Earth scientists – everyone needs this equipment. Creating it will serve current needs in all of science.
I would like to point out that Russian and Soviet researchers have made an enormous contribution to expanding international science infrastructure. Suffice it to say that the major international project ITER, which you, Mr President, launched in 2006, having signed an agreement with French President Chirac in Paris, is based on Soviet physicists’ research ideas. The tokamak – a term coined in the Soviet times meaning a toroidal chamber with magnetic coils – is being built there.
Importantly, the world’s first accelerator on colliding beams – the prototype of the hadron collider – was launched at the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Novosibirsk 55 years ago today. All the world’s colliders use this principle, which was implemented here by Budker 55 years ago. The ability to develop, create and use such installations has become one of the most important indicators of a country’s scientific and technological development. Any state, embarking on the path of technological development, gets this installation in order to demonstrate that it can afford it. The countries that develop and create these devices form an elite club in which Russia has always taken a leading place.
However, human civilisation, having undoubtedly reached the highest level of development, paid a high resource price, primarily energy price, for it, in fact, bringing the world to the brink of a resource crisis.
The history of the development of science, above all physics, shows that the ultimate result of the study of the properties of matter was the discovery and use of ever more efficient forms of energy: thermodynamics, steam energy, the steam engine, electrodynamics, electric power, the electric generator, the electric engine, atomic physics, nuclear energy, thermonuclear energy, and so on.
Importantly, in the course of these processes, the efficiency of generation from coal to atom increased by over 3 million times. That is, from a kilogramme of uranium we extract 3 million times more energy than from a kilogramme of coal. Importantly, consumption grew faster than generation and, as a result, civilisation is still headed towards a resource crisis. This means that increasing the efficiency of generation is not enough: we need revolutionary changes in the technology of energy use and consumption.
I will use an example as evidence. A very simple thing. Everyone owns a smartphone. Processing and recognising one simple voice command on a personal smartphone consumes, on average, energy sufficient to boil one litre of water. We should remember this each time we press that button.
Here is my second point, very important. I will cite an example related to resolving the most important task which is creating a digital economy. Speaking of the digital economy as a major breakthrough (which is true), we should understand that, according to the International Energy Agency, in the coming years, the share of energy consumption of the info-communication network (just networks, without the end devices, such as user network equipment, communication, or Wi-Fi) and without the production of computing information infrastructure, will exceed a third of the world’s electricity generation.
When we discuss digital economy, we need to understand that if we do not develop energy properly, we will not have a digital economy. In the short term, this creates major energy-resource constraints for creating a digital economy. Meanwhile, nature does not know resource crises or energy hunger. An explanation of this can be found in the extremely high energy efficiency of natural objects.
I will repeat an example which I have already cited many times. The human brain which, in fact, created a unique civilisation on Earth, consumes 30 watts, whereas a modern super computer uses dozens of megawatts. And the efficiency of all the computers in the world does not even approach the efficiency of the brain of an average person.
So, to resolve the issue of sustainable energy supply for humankind, what is needed is a transition to technologies based on the principles that nature runs on – nature-like technology. These technologies should form the foundation of a fundamentally new technological base for our country’s economy.
Mr President, I would like to quote from your speech at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly, when the Kyoto Protocol was discussed. You said that we support the Kyoto Protocol, but it is only a partial solution to the civilisational problem. The issue should be about introducing fundamentally new environmentally friendly technologies that do not damage the environment, but co-exist with it in harmony, and will allow us to restore the balance between the biosphere and the technosphere that humans upset. This is indeed a challenge of a planetary scale.
I would like to say that a number of technologically meaningful results have already been obtained, both in the sphere of energy generation and the sphere of its consumption. For example, technologies have been developed to generate electrical energy on the basis of metabolic processes of living organisms. These so-called biofuel cells can be used for powering biological microsensors and implantable medical devices.
And the second area is consumption technologies. Technologies of hardware – let me stress, hardware, not software – representation of artificial neuromorphic networks for computing devices which operate on the principles of the human brain and, as a result, consume considerably less energy, are actively developing. I should note that such research and design work in all these fields are being actively and comprehensively conducted in many countries.
I would like to say that today we are at the world level in studying living nature and creating nature-like technologies. And this, so to say, is indirectly shown by the explosive growth of papers published by Russian scientists, primarily in the field of live systems. This is really an objective indicator of development.
Now, to achieve a scientific and technological breakthrough and confirm our leading positions in the strategic perspective, we need to take a new step in the coming five to seven years in the study of natural processes, mainly in the vital processes of living nature. And to do that, a number of qualitatively new experimental facilities must be designed which would allow for direct study not only of the structure of living objects but also of the processes of their functioning.
I want to say a few words on an unrelated note. Think about all we have done already. We take an object, an existing material, regardless of whether it is a mineral or an object of living nature. Then we use synchrotron radiation, x-ray to see the diffraction picture, study the positioning of the atoms, and then, having the knowledge of the atomic structure and properties, we empirically select a technological process that will let us create this material with pre-set properties.
But imagine, all those atoms we currently observe in their final positions, came there a long time ago either due to the Big Bang or in the result of specific chemical reactions. And we could see in nature how these reactions proceed, how atoms move in the process, we could see in nature how it creates these material, which means we could shift our technological capabilities to a qualitatively new level. In general, moving is key to understanding functions. And these new research facilities, on the one hand, will let us see what is going on in living nature, and on the other hand, I would like to say, they are metrological facilities.
Just look, when we had macromechanics, we used to make mechanical parts: we would make a drawing, manufacture parts, then we could check if the part corresponds to the drawing by means of a drawing ruler, a micrometre, a beam compass. When we moved on to microelectronics, the drawing ruler no longer worked, but we could do the same optically. And today, when we create nanomaterials on the atomic level, we should control it as well. This could only be done by synchrotron radiation.
This is why these facilities are a way of securing technological independence. Because even if you buy a technology and do something, and then I change something in that technology without telling you, if you can’t see it you will be kicked off of the market. That is why even nations that aren’t wealthy such as, for instance, Spain, are building their national facilities.
When building such facilities, the results obtained by Russia as a key partner in large international projects should be fully utilised. First of all, this applies to XFEL – the x-ray free-electron laser in Germany which you, Mr President, spoke about, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, ITER and so on.
By participating in these projects (this has never been the case before) Russia has become a rightful co-owner of unique knowledge, the most advanced technologies, technical and design documentation. In fact, we have designed the world’s best facilities (XFEL, ESRF) together with a pool of top scientists of the world, and we are currently co-owners, participants in creating the best intellectual property in the world. And this can in fact make a contribution to establishing a new national research technology structure.
In the past years following major government decisions, work began on a number of international infrastructure projects in our country. You mentioned several centres. I would like to say that there are six such projects. Two projects – NIKA in Dubna and the PIK reactor in Gatchina – are in full swing. NIKA is approaching completion. And there are four more projects. One of them is IGNITOR, a new tokomak, a Russian-Italian project, an agreement which was signed during your visit to Italy, Mr President. It is moving at full speed. Now there is the fourth generation of synchrotron radiation source. And two projects. One of them is powerful lasers, the Panchenko Institute, this is one thing. And designing new accelerator facilities in Novosibirsk, which you have just mentioned.
I would like to speak about the importance of two facilities in ensuring that tasks are met. This is the International Centre of Neutron Research based on the PIK reactor, and a specialised fourth-generation radiation source – ISSI-4 in Protvino.
The first facility is in the completion stage. The PIK reactor characteristics exceed those of all functioning research reactors. ISSI-4 is the fourth-generation synchrotron, it is a fundamentally new research and technology tool. The building of this facility will proceed on the basis of broad international cooperation. On the one hand, it is our intellectual property, it belongs to us. And currently it is being adapted to our capabilities.
The second important thing. The Logunov Institute of High Energy Physics is located in Protvino. It also has the most powerful proton accelerator in Russia, which is also the third most powerful in the world, and our collider was built there. There is a 20-kilometre-long tunnel with power supply, a direct wire from the Smolensk Nuclear Power Plant. This means it has a unique infrastructure, where our CERN was being built, a project suspended in the 1990s. This is why we are now discussing how we can use this infrastructure, and, having documents from the XFEL and ESRF, we can build this unique installation – the best in the world – together with our colleagues in a short period of time, five to seven years.
Two days ago, we signed a document with the XFEL and ESRF management where we stated our common interest in creating such an installation and cooperating in this project.
The unique research infrastructure we are creating will become the centre for concentrating and increasing Russia’s intellectual potential. International research and education megaclusters can and must be established on the basis of this research and technological infrastructure. They could become centres that draw talented youth from Russia and other countries as well as Russian and foreign scientists and specialists. This would result in a growing number of foreign students and graduates studying in Russia. In fact, we would create conditions for knowledge and technology to flow in from the global market. Federal and national research universities, institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences and other scientific, research and industrial organisations must be widely involved in creating and using these complexes.
It would also be necessary to design a series of measures, which would solve these issues including, in particular, the establishment and development of the national system of interdisciplinary education you mentioned in the very beginning and strengthening the existing mechanisms of attracting foreign and Russian scientists and specialists. In this sense, the unique research and technological infrastructure we establish will give us a chance to see how and during which processes nature creates its materials and objects, and, in the end, this would allow us to take our technology to a different level and secure the country’s leading positions.
Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.
Mr Kovalchuk, you said that everyone has a smartphone, except me. You don’t have one either. See? But yes, everybody has one.
And about boiling water. If it is clean, boiling is not necessary.
Mr Sergeyev, please.
President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander Sergeyev: Mr President, colleagues, let me share some of my thoughts about increasing the global competitiveness of our science given the internationalisation of scientific research.
We understand that scientific research is becoming more international, and there are many reasons why this is so. Of course, there is a synergy of thought, when researchers from various countries work together. Sometimes it is necessary to involve the financial resources of other countries to build a machine that one country could not afford by itself.
Finally, there is the issue of global challenges, which can be addressed only by using global efforts. In this case, the consolidation of efforts is very important. Thus, it is true that science is becoming internationalised, and we must realise that while taking part in it, we should make sure that the overall brain flow moves in our direction. Unfortunately, the current situation is different, in my opinion. In general, if we speak about some consolidated intellect of the nation, we see that it is leaving the country. Therefore, we need working instruments to turn this flow back.
What kind of instruments could those be? Of course, we need to support the wonderful programme that was launched by Mr Fursenko at the time; I mean the programme to create new laboratories headed by leading scientists. It has worked perfectly so far and we need to expand it.
However, on the other hand, we cannot beat the US or China in terms of attracting scientists. They have more to offer, so this instrument is not enough.
The second important instrument is what Mr Kovalchuk told us about today: scientists are leaving the country not because they get better pay someplace else, but they are driven by interest. It is more interesting for them to work with one-of-a-kind equipment. Of course, they will go to work there. So the more such mega scientific equipment we create, the more human capital we will receive to be able to turn the flow, which is so far directed outwards.
Maybe it is not only about such super-equipment. I think that we could have done the same with our existing experimental equipment, which is also interesting and unique; we should develop this project so that foreign scientists could take part in it too.
I think we should adopt a law on the creation of international research organisations. Foreign countries are used to working this way. In case they want to contribute, they should know they would be able to take part in managing this project, have the right to form a programme and that their scientists will be able to work with this equipment.
At the moment, unfortunately, there is only one such organisation in the country: the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, which works as an international research organisation under Russian law. If we had the opportunity to establish such international research organisations under Russian law, I think we would attract interest, capital and scientists as well. I think this is important.
Of course, researchers are attracted not only by advanced equipment and a cutting-edge infrastructure. They want to take part in interesting new projects. And I believe that we should add an international status to some of our interesting projects as well.
We spoke a lot about Novosibirsk and our Siberian branch, so I would like to give some examples from other regions of the country. I think it would be interesting to make the Crimean archeological project international. Crimea is an archeological treasure, no less than Israel and Palestine. It is where roads and civilisations cross. We got a huge amount of artefacts during archeological excavations conducted as part of the construction of a road. Foreign researchers are very interested in them. It would be crucial for us because it is easy for researchers to overcome political barriers. In physics, there is this term, barrier tunneling. Researchers, if they are interested, will come, and we could gradually introduce the international system of division of research labour with the help of this project.
Another project could be developed in the Far East. Colleagues, we talk so much about the colonisation of the Moon, other planets, and so on. But as you know, we have a lot to research and explore here, on Earth; I am referring to the depths of the oceans. In terms of size, there is more life in the ocean than here on earth. Its biotope is approximately two orders of magnitude greater than the one on dry land. Deep-sea exploration is very complex and requires modern equipment. In this sense, the establishment of an international project on deep-sea research in our Far Eastern seas would be very interesting.
You see, this region is becoming the centre of geopolitical activity. We have a base there to do research, and we also have a research fleet. We have wonderful institutes that make deep-sea robots. In Vladivostok, we have an amazing oceanarium and a biobank. So, there is something to work with. I think it would be good to use some funds and make some organisational changes to make this project a centre of interest for many scientists. This, in turn, will help to turn the brain flow in our direction.
Another instrument is a new (both for us and for the country) form of cooperation: the so-called brainstorm consolidation of research groups. I think my colleagues know that leading experts are invited to various countries for three-four weeks and are provided with good working conditions. These leading international researchers establish working groups to discuss various matters, to analyse the results of recent experiments and to outline development prospects. Taking part in such a working group will guarantee that you will have a leading position in terms of the relevant subject, strategy planning as well as participation in various international committees.
You know, it would be good to build this research mobility directed towards us. It would not require too much money, but we need to finally develop a programme on this academic research mobility that ended here in 2013. The Academy of Sciences does not have such an expenditure item, and Federal Law No 253 and the main objectives of the Academy do not include international activity. We need to restore it, and we are ready to work on it.
I told Mr President some time ago about our intention to update the objectives of the Russian Academy of Sciences and to introduce amendments to Federal Law No 253. It is absolutely necessary to do so in the area of international scientific and technical cooperation.
I have two more short remarks. Of course, when we speak about these instruments and the principles of research diplomacy, the domestic ‘front’ is very important. But there are, of course, external ‘fronts’ as well, there are developed science-oriented countries, and there are the CIS and our neighbouring countries.
You know, we have an instrument that does not work at all. The Russian Academy of Sciences has some 500 foreign members – prominent scientists from major developed countries. They are fond of our country and our science, but it is vitally important for us to systematise cooperation with them. We must establish a network of the Academy’s representative offices in the leading countries. They will help us improve bilateral cooperation and we will have an entire contingent of leading, influential people in other countries who will promote scientific relations with Russia. I would like to ask the Foreign Ministry to support this idea.
And one last point. The neighbouring countries are an important area for our scientific diplomacy. Unfortunately, in the past few years we have lost our influence there. We need to review the situation and consider re-establishing our ties with them.
Here is an example. Our colleagues from Uzbekistan have shown an interest in cooperation over the past few years. I believe that we can significantly increase our influence there by boosting our joint work in research and education. Colleagues, as you may know, many people there have not yet forgotten the Russian language. We should invite researchers from Uzbekistan to take part in our postgraduate and doctorate programmes. We need to send our leading experts there to give lectures in Russian. You know, the Russian language is a powerful force, and it is crucial that it retains its influence in these republics.
Of course, it would also be good to launch some large joint international projects. Here is an example. As you may know, the construction of the Suffa radio telescope is almost finished. There are instructions from the two presidents that we finish the construction and set up a serious international project there. We must do this as soon as possible. Given all this, we will be able to retain our influence and will not lose these countries.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Thank you, Mr Sergeyev.
Ms Dontsova, please.
Department Chair at Moscow State University Faculty of Chemistry Olga Dontsova: Thank you.
Mr President, colleagues,
I would like to thank the President for calling life sciences and genome research important.
I also would like to draw your attention to a breakthrough in technology that has appeared recently and that completely changes our view on what can be done with a genome. I am talking about the recently developed technology of genome editing.
This technology allows for changing the genome in a specific, desired place. This is a nature-like technology because it is based on the system used by bacteria to protect themselves from bacteriophages. Scientists have changed this system and made two molecules work in such a way that one molecule is the aimer and directs the system at one concrete place in the genome, while the second molecule serves as “molecular scissors” and cuts through the DNA leaving behind a rupture. This rupture will be repaired by the cell and during this process, there is a slight change in the genetic material. So, this is not an artificial system.
Ruptures can happen in cells spontaneously. In particular, when we go out and breathe in the smell of fresh asphalt, we inhale benzo pyrene, which modifies our DNA and ruptures it. When we are sunbathing, UV rays affect our DNA causing ruptures as well. Ruptures also occur during the normal operation of the DNA in our cells. These are very natural phenomena that occur in the DNA and are repaired in a natural way. So this is the genome editing technology, not the creation of transgenic organisms, when alien genes are introduced to the genome in a chaotic way and can change its entire functionality.
It is understandable, that if researchers get hold of such an instrument, it opens up amazing horizons both in fundamental science and in its application. One cannot imagine what can be achieved using this directed evolution in agriculture. Knowing a plant functioning mechanism, for instance, we can breed plants with desired properties: drought and cold resistant and containing or not containing the desired elements.
For instance, everyone likes potatoes, but they are high in starch. In Russia, especially in the cities, and around the world in general there is the growing problem of obesity and diabetes. With this technology, we can reduce or even eliminate starch in potatoes. And so on.
Speaking about livestock breeding, we can breed animals with more meat, more milk, more or less wool, we can breed a featherless chicken, you name it.
For instance, a big problem today is that many children are born with intolerance to cow’s milk. Using the genome editing technology, it is easy to breed a cow whose milk will be easily digested by such children.
It is hard to overestimate the importance of this technology for medicine as well, because many defects can be fixed. For example, there are many genetic disorders. Naturally, we cannot fix them in embryos. There is the Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which weakens muscles and shortens the life of the affected person. We can take this person’s cells and fix the specific genome in these cells, grow the desired cells and return them back to the affected person, who will receive healthy cells that will grow healthy muscles. There are many such genetic disorders; they are also called orphan genetic diseases. This discovery provides us with unique opportunities.
I can go on about such diseases, but I have to mention that this technology creates absolutely unique opportunities for scientific development. We all know about the genes in our bodies, but there are so many of them that we cannot know everything about them and how they interact with each other. We have not researched thousands of genes yet. The possibility to make targeted changes in a gene will help us understand the connection between various processes in our body and improve early diagnostics and the potential for treating such multifactorial diseases as multiple sclerosis, which is now considered incurable.
Or another example: nobody wants to grow old, but we do not understand what makes us grow old. So by studying these issues we will find answers to questions considered unsolvable at the moment. There is a huge upsurge of interest in this area in the world at the moment.
I must say that such research is conducted in Russia. Lomonosov Moscow State University is an example: its rector Viktor Sadovnichy supported the creation of a genome editing laboratory. As of now, the lab has bred 17 strains of mice with edited genomes and at the moment is studying them.
The Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology has made a great contribution to genome editing research. It has been developing applications of this technology and also has been improving the technology itself. I must also mention the institutes of the Academy of Sciences in Moscow, St Petersburg and here in Novosibirsk that use the technology at the cell level. The Kurchatov Institute is also worth mentioning. I am not sure if you know this, but they are creating unique software that will help point aimer molecules in the desired direction. The genome is big and we need a lot of accuracy to work with it. It is a huge matter at present.
I must also say that until recently, these studies were developed with the support of scientific foundations. But this is a global issue, for it is not only science, but also potential technology. It is understandable that it cannot be dealt with using the support of foundations and separate institutes alone. I think that Russia must not miss such breakthrough technology. In order to have leading positions in the world, I think, there must be a state programme of financing for this area. We need to train personnel, we need the possibility to bring back personnel from abroad, to create infrastructure, and not only by purchasing foreign equipment. Finally, we need to begin manufacturing our own equipment.
Another crucial matter that has already been mentioned by Mr Nikitin, who was awarded the Presidential Prize today, is the supply of chemical agents. Let me just give you one example to help explain why we are losing out to the competition in areas where we can compete. If I worked abroad, I would be able to get the chemical agent I needed the next day or it would take no more than two days. But in Russia I would have to wait for at least three months and pay one and a half to three times more for this chemical agent than if I were abroad. This really undermines experimental research and makes Russian research less attractive for young people or the international community, which is what we are discussing here today. I believe that this is something critical and a priority that must be dealt with at the government level.
Thank you for your attention.
Vladimir Putin: I think that you are right. There is demand for a programme of this kind. We will think about it together with you and come up with a proposal.
Olga Dontsova: Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: I am not even talking about the related subjects, about the chemical agents and so forth, but overall we do need such a programme, of course.
Olga Dontsova: Mr President, but this matter concerning the chemical agents is very serious. This is what actually forces young people to work abroad instead of staying in Russia.
Vladimir Putin: I understand. We will try to resolve the issue with chemical agents as part of the programme. Would that suit you? We do need to think about a programme like this, I agree.
What matters is that instead of turning into rats, mice in this laboratory turn into cows that make the right kind of milk.
Olga Dontsova: Still, we need to begin with mice, and move on to cows later.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, this is true. And you do need the right chemical agents. I also agree. They must be provided on time. Thank you.
Mr Dynkin, you have the floor.
Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Secretary of the Global Issues and International Relations Department of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Alexander Dynkin: Thank you Mr President.
I would like to follow-up briefly on what Mr Sergeev said about the tunnel effect. I believe that researchers and people with a scientific outlook have an edge when it comes to resisting propaganda and ideologies. When diplomats and the military are no longer able to understand each other, I think that researcher-to-researcher dialogue remains the last channel in interstate relations.
In this case, I would like to add that Russian international relations experts take an active part in searching for a solution of the current crises, such as Syria, or Donbass, or the situation around the Korean Peninsula. I can tell you that famous expert in Orient studies Vitaly Naumkin, aide to Staffan de Mistura, has been living and working actively between Moscow, Damascus and Geneva for almost two years now.
I would like to say that holding large international conferences has become a new form of competition in our areas. China and India are becoming especially competitive now. We can see it while preparing the Primakov Readings International Forum. I can tell you today that, according to global rankings, the Primakov Readings have not only made it to the top 10, but hold the seventh position. The Asian Shangri La Dialogue international security conference held in Singapore and the Munich Security Conference hold the first position and we, the seventh. Not bad, I believe.
Of course, your attention and your participation in this conference played an important role. I would like to say that Chair of the Organisation Committee Yury Ushakov as well as Andrei Fursenko, who is also here today, and, of course, Sergei Lavrov help us a lot. I believe this is exactly the form we should support and develop.
I would like to add regarding global competitiveness that my institute, IMEMO [the Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations] despite a lot of prejudice towards us, our projects and our publications, improved its position in the global ranking by three points and took 28th place. Let me add that IMEMO scientists also rose in this ranking.
If we speak about the things we need today to actively increase our competitiveness, some reserves either at the Russian Science Foundation or at the Russian Foundation for Basic Research to translate our works into English would increase our citation ratio and competitiveness.
Secondly, I believe (Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov is here today) that many countries have a scientific adviser at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Maybe we should think about it and coordinate this work?
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.
Mr Sadovnichy, you have the floor.
Lomonosov Moscow State University Rector Viktor Sadovnichy: Thank you, Mr President.
You have noted the importance of training personnel as a way of taking care of the future. As President of the Russian Union of Rectors, I would like to discuss the university corporation and its contribution to international science and technology cooperation.
First of all, this is a venue for holding forums. Since 2000, we have held 50 forums. Dozens and even hundreds of rectors from around the world come to Russia or we visit them and study their national education systems and monitor developments at leading universities worldwide. In the past three years, since 2014, the forums have involved 2,000 rectors from foreign countries. Mr President, as head of state, you attended some of these signing ceremonies in Japan and China. These forums are a highly important aspect of cooperation in science and technology.
Mr President, we are leaving for Beirut, Lebanon, in several days. Once there, we will hold a forum involving Arab League rectors and Russian rectors. This trip will involve about 40 Russian rectors and 60 rectors from Arab countries. I will only list the countries whose representatives will attend this Arab League conference on February 18: Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Algeria, Somalia, Oman, Yemen, Kuwait, Palestine and others. Considering the fact that they have suggested organising this meeting, and that the rectors of all these leading universities from Arab countries are scientists and well-known people in their respective societies, I believe that this will become a major event and it will take place in just a few days from now. Ms Vasilyeva will attend this forum, and a school will be opened there.
I would like to note that communication at the level of rectors (in my opinion, such communication is very intensive) has drastically increased the number of foreign students in Russia. According to overall statistics, their influx has increased three-fold. Regarding Moscow State University, I can tell you that I once dreamed that foreigners would account for about ten percent of the total number of our university’s students. And now, foreign students account for 25 percent, with 9,500 foreign citizens studying at Moscow State University.
Is this important? This is certainly important because these future scientists will work on our joint projects and at our research facilities. Most importantly, these contacts make it possible to effectively monitor new developments in the education sector. If we do not lag behind others in the education sector, we will surge ahead in science.
To be continued.
[featured image is file photo]