On 21 August, 86 Danish ambassadors went on a study trip to DTU to learn more about the Danish strengths within research and innovation.
On a visit to DTU, arranged by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 86 Danish ambassadors were welcomed by President Anders Bjarklev, who talked about DTU’s long tradition of finding collaboration and alliance partners. Such worldwide collaboration contributes to the dissemination of DTU technologies that support the development towards achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
In recent years, DTU has been involved in wind projects in Mexico, water and energy projects in India, and recently a food safety project in Saudi Arabia. These projects are often created in collaboration with, or at the request of, the Danish embassies. At present, DTU is looking for possible alliance partners in growth and developing countries.
“We would like to join projects where other Danish forces are present, because in our experience this is an important prerequisite for a successful collaboration. Therefore, our choices will largely depend on what we hear from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Danish embassies,” said Anders Bjarklev.
Later that day, the ambassadors visited DTU Energy, Powerlab DK, DTU Fotonik, DTU Compute, and DTU Food. Here, they were given examples of research and innovation from DTU, which can potentially be disseminated and applied elsewhere in the world, where the representative offices may play an important role.
For example, during the visit to DTU Food, Professor Frank Aarestrup told the ambassadors about his long-standing commitment to developing a system for global monitoring of infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance. Despite significant improvements in public health, infectious diseases are still some of the biggest killers in low- and middle-income countries.
“The reason for the success of total sequencing of life’s genetic code (DNA) is twofold: One is the dramatic reductions in costs of DNA sequencing, but it is even more important that we in every analysis get a standardised and electronic language—that is, the four only letters in the DNA’s alphabet (CGAT)—which ensures that data across national borders are comparable, and that we are not limited by communication subject to human errors in language and spelling.
But it is already too late, if you have to ask for data. We would like to be ahead of the epidemic curve to give us time to take action before diseases spread,” said Frank Aarestrup.
Despite the system being run as a pilot project with participants from more than 100 countries and with centres in countries such as Tanzania, Nigeria, and South Africa, the idea is challenged. For example, in some African countries, they now refuse to grant western researchers access to disease data—currently in relation to the Ebola epidemic in Congo—due to previous examples of the data having been exploited commercially.
Frank Aarestrup hopes that the Danish embassies can help establish some of those connections that are necessary to make a global collaboration work, and that they can spread the message that in spite of a few bad apples in some countries, Danish researchers respect data ownership and the need for personal, national, and regional confidentiality.
His hopes are backed by Jesper Kamp, who is Denmark’s Ambassador to Nigeria:
“Right now, there is an Ebola outbreak in Congo, Nigeria’s neighbouring country, so I have an obvious interest in hearing more about it. On the whole, I believe we should be better at figuring out how to use each other’s competencies. The embassies are often the facilitators, because we know the local players, we know the local challenges, and therefore we know the needs and are able to see if they match something that DTU can offer and that they themselves prioritize,” he says and continues:
“Of course I already knew that was the case, but today I was reminded how quickly the world is moving. What we have heard today tells me that if you can make such innovative jumps like global disease monitoring, there is a huge potential in research and innovation. As an ambassador in an African country, my thought is, ‘If we are to achieve the sustainable development goals, these are the ways to do it’. We do it through research and innovation, by using new technologies and getting new ideas. We will never achieve them in a conventional manner.”