Mexico: a new scenario for synthetic biology
A process is never easy. There is a long road to travel and many obstacles to overcome. The development of science in countries like Mexico and those in Latin America are a clear example of this. In 2006, the first Latin American team participated in iGEM. Mexico participated for the first time in 2007 along with only one other Latin American team. There has been great growth in the participation of our region, but when we compare ourselves to other countries and regions, we still aren’t close to their numbers.
We’ve come a long way but, can we go further? We believe that Mexico and countries in Latin America can continue on their road and let science and synthetic biology thrive. Our purpose is to understand more about the current situation in Mexico regarding scientific advance, its strong points and barriers, and ultimately strive to provide proposals to contribute to its progress.
Mexico is a country with a lot of potential for science development. However... students and researchers always confront many different problems that reduce the rate of progress. The question is: why? What is still holding us back? Since 2010, Tec-Monterrey has been analyzing the situation and has identified the main problem: customs.
We share a border with the United States, our main provider of imported material, so in theory, we shouldn’t have a problem. Unfortunately, the reality is totally the opposite.
When we want to import material directly from a provider, everything goes well until the moment it arrives at customs. Custom brokers don’t know the protocol to follow when they receive our material, for the simple reason that there is nothing written about it.
Continuing work from past years, we decided to read the current legislation, and with the help of the lawyers Donato Cardenas, Ph.D and Eloisa Fernandez, we were able to come to a consensus: the main problem with customs is the lack of proper categorization. Donato and Eloisa helped us see that most of the material used in our line of research such as DNA, enzymes and others, that is imported to Mexico, falls under a generic category which causes important setbacks. We got in touch with the office of Customs Regulation and Normativity located in Mexico City and are currently working on a way to be able to report the material we will receive, so that customs' brokers can know exactly what’s being received.
With this open dialogue, we hope to be able to help establish guidelines and provide the information needed so that when the material is received in customs, the brokers know exactly what it is and therefore will be able to continue the process without any setbacks. We are also in the process of receiving an appointment with the Secretary of Health of our state so that we can establish an agreement that facilitates the process of importation.
To learn more about this problem, we wanted to analyze if other teams have had the same problems with customs as we have. To achieve this, with the help of other iGEM teams, we recollected information via surveys to understand the general situation of customs and the difficulties they have had with receiving material ordered from abroad. The survey can be found here.
After analyzing responses obtained from the survey, we were able to see clear tendencies. 83% of teams have ordered material abroad. When asked if they had any trouble with receiving their materials through customs, 100% of the Latin American teams answered yes, when only 21.4% of teams from other parts of the world answered the same. This shows that there is a clear difference between some teams. According to the answers we received, over 40% believe that it is due to regulation and laws.
It was even more surprising when we learned that those from non-Latin-American countries, when they said they had problems with customs, they were mainly for late arrival, stopping their work for two days. We had to stop our work for two months for the same reason. Why does this difference continue existing?
Most teams that haven’t had problems with customs answered that they hadn’t even heard of these problems. The team USCF answered “Our team is lucky in that the vast majority of reagents and supplies we use come from vendors in North America, so we have not experienced many problems. We hadn't realized until this survey how significantly this might affect other teams, and we hope this will help you draw attention to the situation so as to get it fixed! We'd love to support you in any way we can!” We are glad that not only were we able to shed light on a problem that affects a specific part of the world, but that we received such great responses.
We received feedback from the teams who participated on the survey, learning what they do regarding the problem. Basically, we all do the same and we still have the same problems. This is the signal for things to change.
Watch the video here.
We are barely starting out in the area of research, compared with others that graduated and started researching many years ago. To get the perspective of experienced researchers, we decided to interview 3 professors and researchers from our university. In the video above you’ll be able to see their point of view. Their experience in the field allows us to have a clear idea of the current situation in Mexico and the progress that has been made. But most important, it is a way of motivating ourselves and other young researchers in Mexico. We should not get limited by the situation our country is living; On the contrary, we must be the change we want to see.
Statistics in Mexico
Despite the difficulties that Mexican scientists encounter, there has been much progress throughout the years. In 2007, there were over 27,000 scientific projects being worked on throughout the country, a number a decade ago would have been inconceivable. CONACYT is one of the organisms in charge of promoting scientific research in Mexico. It has founded investigations and has given scholarships to help people continue their studies and ultimately help research in our country to continue its growth. This organization has also carried out diverse efforts like the creation of a National System of Investigators in 1984, which allows scientific development in each state of the country and gives prestige to the scientists within this community. Mexico spent 0.43% of its PIB in science and development in 2009. In 2014 it grew to 0.54%, the highest amount in the history of our country, and has the promise to increase up to 2%.
Mexico is a developing country and right now is on the verge of breaking though the barrier that has been holding it back in biotechnology. The path has been carved by current and past scientists. Their efforts have created a platform for science so that we can build on it and ultimately become one of the leading countries in research. Our country has the talent and the desire to continue progressing, and the resources have become more and more available. Our team hopes to contribute to this progress by making the process of receiving something as fundamental as material, easier. With this we would break one more barrier in the hope of making science and biotechnology part of our culture and a core part of our society.