August 27, 2014

Cornell Alliance for Science Awarded $5.6 Million Grant

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With a $5.6 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Cornell Alliance for Science will enable collaboration between organizations and individuals around the world to depolarize the debate around agricultural biotechnology.

Established earlier this month, the alliance will help to inform decision-makers and consumers through an online information portal and training programs, according to Prof. Sarah Evanega  Ph.D. ’09, plant breeding and genetics, who is also the project’s lead. The alliance will then help researchers and other stakeholders communicate the function and potential effects of agricultural technology.

“[We] engag[e] with organizations and individuals whose positions reflect a spectrum of beliefs around biotechnology, but share some of our core values around sustainable agriculture and expanding the range of choices for farmers and consumers,” Evanega said.

Though the concept of the Alliance for Science has been considered since Evanega received her Ph.D. in 2009, she said it “all came together” at a February meeting where representatives from the public sector and not-for-profit organizations convened to discuss biotechnology communications.

“In my travels … investigating various GMO technologies as a plant biologist, I met many scientists and farmers who were angry that they did not have access to what they considered were very sustainable technologies,” she said. “We have been in what I call the discovery phase since then, with discussions with various partners from both developed and developing countries.”

Now that the grant is in “full swing,” according to Evanega, the alliance is planning activities, including annual conferences and certificate programs in biotechnology leadership.

She added that members of the team encompass the entire globe, with a “core staff” remaining at Cornell in hopes of engaging members of the Cornell community, including staff, students and faculty.

“We are a global team. One of the goals of the project is to help coordinate, and empower a global network of science communicators,” Evanega said. “The ‘core’ members of the alliance [are] the group that came together in February from around the world. But we are building the ‘alliance’ itself, encouraging people to join and let their voices be heard.”

Evanega also said that in the long run, the Alliance for Science hopes to address major agricultural challenges through policy innovation.

“We hope to foster more constructive policies about biotechnology as one useful tool to address major agricultural challenges,” she said.