Petersburg FEBS Congress: Revival of Russian science

In July, the city of St. Petersburg hosted the 38th congress of the Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS). The event is one of the largest international forums in the field of natural sciences.

This is the second event of its kind and of this scale to be held in Russia; the FEBS congress was also held in Moscow in 1984. Biology has seen many revolutionary events take place since then: Laboratories have begun to clone mammals, scientists have learned how to transplant stem cells, and researchers have unlocked the human genome.

Many serious tests have befallen Russian science over the intervening 30 years—tests that did not fail to alienate the country from both cutting edge research and colleagues overseas.

Still, the international scientific community recently rated the Russian biology project “Iona Skulachev” highly. In 2004, biochemists led by Vladimir Skulachev synthesized the SkQ1 compound, which is being examined as a possible anti-ageing medicine.

Furthermore, Sergey Lukyanov, a biologist and scholar of the Russian Academy of Sciences, recently developed a unique, fluorescent, protein production technology, which allows living microorganisms to be studied on a cellular level. Moreover, scientists at the Institute of Gene Biology have created a molecular “nanotransporter” capable of delivering medicine into a cell nucleus; the innovation makes recovery from oncological diseases more effective.

At its 38th Congress, FEBS gave participants the opportunity to find out about colleagues’ projects from other countries—and this meant that young scientists could compare notes with the experts.

Alexander Gabibov, president of the Russian Society of Biochemists and Molecular Biologists and chairman of the FEBS Organizing Committee, emphasized how very important these contacts are. “The young, of which there are many among the [300] participants, will be the ones to rebuild Russian science in the future. For them, the opportunity to gain their first experience of discussions at this level is simply invaluable,” said Gabibov.

The organizers of the FEBS Congress in Russia had been waiting for this event for a long time—and they had high hopes for it.

“In comparison with previous forums, there are twice as many speakers taking part. Among the participants are 11 Nobel Prize laureates: Sidney Altman, Kurt Wuthrich, Ada Yonath, Roger Kornberg, Jean Maire Lehn, Dr. Richard Roberts, Susumu Tonegawa, Jules Hoffman, Robert Huber, Aaron Chiechanover, Jack Szostak,” said Polish professor and Congress Consultant Adam Szewczyk.

The scale of the FEBS Congress is clearer when one considers that 3,000 delegates from Europe, the U.S., Canada, China and Japan took part in the discussions.

The Skolkovo Innovation Center was most widely represented at the FEBS Congress. Representatives initiated an extensive lecture program, as well as discussions on topics such as stem cells, the bill on Russian biomedical cellular products, and developments to combat cancer. Professor Vladimir Zelman spoke about the results of the Human Genome program at one of the Skolkovo lectures. 

Pyotr Fedichev, a Skolkovo resident and scientific director of the company Quantum Pharmaceuticals, confirms that, without international contacts such as those made at the 2013 FEBS Congress and as part of the Skolkovo lectures, and without the support of large scientific centers, it is hard for scientists to achieve success. “We would most likely not have achieved today’s results without the involvement of the Skolkovo Center, which funds two of our projects,” he said.

Ada Yonath, Nobel Prize laureate for chemistry in 2009, thinks that it was scientific interest, first and foremost, that brought everyone together at the congress in St. Petersburg. “They have a complex future ahead of them, but a truly absorbing one,” said Yonath.

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