Science - March 28, 2013

'Wageningen is growing steadily'

Utrecht study: 'Wageningen second biotech town in the world.'
More national than international collaboration.

Wageningen is the second most important town in the world when it comes to the generation of new biotechnological knowledge. So say two Utrecht researchers who counted the publications in three major biotechnology journals between 1986 and 2008. They used the data to define the competitive strengths of various knowledge regions. 'I was quite surprised that Wageningen was such a big player in the field of biotechnology,' says Gaston Heimeriks, one of the two researchers. He counted the articles in Biotechnology and Bioengineering, Biotechnology Progress and the Journal of Biotechnology. Of the articles coming out of Wageningen, most are the work of the university, says Heimeriks. But DLO and Keygene, a company, also contributed to the score of 353 Wageningen publications between 1986 and 2008. Only Cambridge Massachusetts, the home of MIT, produced more new biotechnological knowledge over the past 20 years.
Heimeriks' study shows that knowledge production has shifted from one city to another. American and European cities are losing ground while Asian stars are rising fast in the development of biotechnological knowledge. Wageningen, meanwhile, is growing steadily. 'Wageningen researchers work on subjects that offer a lot of scope for further development,' explains Heimeriks.
'New knowledge comes out of a continuous recombination of ideas,' the researcher explains. 'That is why cities with a broad and diverse knowledge base have a lot of potential. The importance of collaboration with other cities is clear as well. Plenty of collaboration goes hand in hand with more growth.' In spite of Wageningen's international profile, it transpired that Wageningen researchers collaborate the most with colleagues in Amsterdam, followed by researchers in Enschede, Zeist, Bilthoven, Delft and Ede - all Dutch towns. Only then came scientists from Grenoble and Galway.
That Wageningen biotechnologists mainly collaborate with other Dutch researchers is not unusual, says Heimeriks. 'Collaboration is always concentrated locally: that is a universal fact. For good collaboration, researchers really need to be able to talk to each other face to face and have personal contact, partly in order   to communication tacit knowledge.'