Continuing the French Connection
March 10, 2006
URBANA - A twenty-year marriage of minds has been renewed. A ceremonial signing took place on Wednesday, March 1 in the Heritage Room of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences library. The signing renews the Memorandum of Understanding that has existed between the University of Illinois and L'Institut Nationale de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) since the early 1990s.

Headquartered in Paris, INRA is the largest agricultural research institute in Europe. U of I Provost Jesse Delia made introductory remarks along with those who signed the memorandum -- Bernard Charpentier, director of international affairs at INRA, Robert Easter, dean of the College of ACES, and U of I Chancellor Richard Herman.

"Twenty years ago, the Urbana campus and L'Institut Nationale de la Recherche Agronomique began an historic journey," said Chancellor Herman in his opening comments. "At that time, the Berlin Wall still divided Europe. The World Wide Web did not exist. And we had only a dim understanding of the mysteries of DNA. Today, Europe is united as a powerful economic force. We are able to share critical scientific data via the Internet. And U of I researchers and their partners at INRA and elsewhere are sequencing the pig genome for the first time."

Herman said that the pig genome sequencing project led by U of I geneticists Lawrence Schook and Jonathan Beever is one of more than 40 collaborative projects between the University of Illinois and French institutions.

In another one of the research projects, U of I animal science geneticist Harris Lewin has been working with Jean-Paul Renard at INRA, Joey-en-Josas, on a pioneering project to determine the genes responsible for normal embryonic and fetal development in cattle. The research involves a high level of planning and collaboration, utilizing state-of-the-art microarray technology developed at UIUC and cattle clones produced at INRA. The research results shed new light on the genomic factors that influence normal embryo development and cloning efficiency in mammals.

The signing took place within the context of a three-day workshop entitled, "Multi-Functionality: Implications for Markets, Trade, and Environment." The workshop addressed policy and economic issues, largely surrounding agriculture and food, that have proven challenging for the United States and France within the larger international economy. The workshop involved a dozen French researchers from INRA and the French National Center for Scientific Research, a representative from the Office of Science and Technology of the French Embassy, and 15 economists and attorneys from UIUC.

Although the cooperation between U of I and INRA has been focused on genomics and biotechnology, the workshop was an effort to broaden the cooperation to an interest in engaging policy, trade and environmental issues.