Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Inmegen: ¿good or bad news?

By Martín Bonfil Olivera
Published in
Milenio Diario, September 9th, 2009

On August 26 mexican newspaper MILENIO Diario reported that the Federal budget for 2010 will feature a 47% cut to the National Institute of Genomic Medicine (Inmegen). 120 million pesos less (from 252 in 2009 to 132 in 2010).

The natural reaction would be anger, sadness or resignation in view of another example of the lack or value our government assigns to scientific research. Inmegen would be an isolated step in the right direction, and this cut is a worrying symptom against which we should protest. This is what Gerardo Jiménez, the Institute's head, did when he declared that the decision "puts several projects of scientific research related to the study of chronic and degenerative diseases at risk".

But there's another side of the coin. Inmegen has been questioned from several fronts. The most serious one is about corruption in the construction of their building, started in 2006 and today still unfinished and abandoned. Several damages to the Federal Treasure were identified, worth 33 million pesos, as well as overexpenses for 78 million (111 million in total). Its administrative director was fined with almost 3 million and incapacitated for 10 years by the recently disappeared Public Function Ministry (the architect responsible of the building was also incapacitated, for 15 years).

And the science being done at Inmegen also has its own problems. Their relatively modest study of "the Mexican genome" was artificially blown up to turn it, according to Mexican president Felipe Calderón, into "our entrance into XXI century medicine". The still distant benefits of genomic medicine have been exaggerated wildly. Its capacity for sequencing (reading) genomes, under-used during the influenza epidemic, has now been exceeded by the National University (UNAM), which –even with its ever-present limitations and its budget problems has just inaugurated superior installations. And its reductionist approach, patent in talk of "Mexican" or "sonoran" (from the mexican state of Sonora) genomes, is biologically and even ethically questionable.

The traditional image of Mexicans is one of lazyness: a guy with a big "sombrero" and a sarape sleeping against a cactus. I think our real problem is one of perseverance: when necessary, we are able to start taking actions to solve our problems.

But sadly, we do not follow up. We build the road but don't give it maintenance. We created a Federal Elections Institute, but we didn't protect it so it wouldn't fall apart and loose all credibility. We created the Inmegen, but we don't guarantee it an appropriate building, personnel nor budget, and we don't ensure that budget is spent honestly.

What a waste.

(translated by Adrián Robles Benavides)

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