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Establishment of a Center of Plant Systems Biology and Biotechnology for the translation of fundamental research into sustainable bio-based technologies in Bulgaria

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - PlantaSYST (Establishment of a Center of Plant Systems Biology and Biotechnology for the translation of fundamental research into sustainable bio-based technologies in Bulgaria)

Reporting period: 2018-06-01 to 2019-08-31

The overall objective of project PlantaSYST is to establish a Center of Plant Systems Biology and Biotechnology (CPSBB) in Plovdiv (Bulgaria) and hence to enforce it as a leading plant science research center in Bulgaria with world-class standards.

The strategic objectives of the CPSBB are:
• Highest research quality and productivity in the field of plant systems biology and biotechnology (up to the highest international standards).
• New products for the Bulgarian and the global market (breeders, farmers, end-users).
• Retaining and re-gaining the best specialists in the fields of plant science and bioinformatics.
• Educating next-generation researchers in the fields of plant systems biology and biotechnology.
• Establishing an excellent service-orientated management structure, effective innovation management, and intellectual property mechanisms.
• Bringing sectors together (policy, science, industry) for social and economic development. Clustering with other research institutes, universities, industry and regional authorities in Plovdiv.

Overall, the newly established CPSBB will increase Bulgaria’s research and innovation potential, significantly enhance the capacity of the Bulgarian science in the fields of plant systems biology and biotechnology, and stimulate the local scientific, economic, and social development in Plovdiv.
In the first two reporting periods, CPSBB continued to develop and upgrade its organizational structure. Significant progress has also been made regarding infrastructure development, scientific activities and publications, increasing international visibility, and international cooperation.

The organizational structure of CPSBB is now fully established and the core CPSBB personnel has been employed. The CPSBB has functional Administration department, Technical Support Unit, IT department, six research departments, and two service-oriented departments. As of 01.06.2019 CPSBB is now the new PlantaSYST Coordinating institution.

In November 2018, Plovdiv City Council voted unanimously the donation of the right for construction on a piece of land of 23,447.00 m2 to CPSBB (28.11.2018). The commercial value of the donation was calculated to be 1,870,727.00 BGN (956,487.00 EUR).

A new CPSBB building and campus shall be constructed on this land with co-funds from the Bulgarian Government, Operational Program Science and Education for Smart Growth (project BG05M2OP001-1.003-0001-C01 29,998,861.62 BGN equal to 15,338,756.00 EUR). Furthermore, CPSBB was included in the Bulgarian National Roadmap for Research Infrastructure 2017 – 2023 (NRRI) and received funding for equipment (153,387.00 EUR) in 2019 from the NRRI.

In parallel, CPSBB continued to develop its building located in the campus of the Maritsa Vegetable Crops Research Institute (MVCRI, a PlantaSYST partner). The building, fully functional now, has accommodated all the administrative and technical personnel of CPSBB, as well as the research departments.

CPSBB, with the cooperation of the PlantaSYST partners and the international partners, is currently conducting high-level research that has already resulted in a number of quality publications. Some of the highlights include publications in high-ranked journals such as Cell, Nature Communications and Biotechnology Advances, just to name a few. For the past two years, CPSBB has quickly established itself as a leading plant science institute in Bulgaria.

The PlantaSYST consortium and CPSBB have organized major events (conferences, symposia, workshops), such as Plant Innovation Workshop, Plovdiv (Bulgaria) 28–30.09.2017 the European Researchers’ Night in Plovdiv (2017, 2018, and 2019), 4th International Conference on Natural Products Utilization: From Plants to Pharmacy Shelf (ICNPU-2019)

CPSBB and the PlantaSYST partners have continued to develop strong connections with many national and international research organizations, universities, and companies. Leading CPSBB scientists have joint research projects with more than 20 partner organizations over the world (Europe, USA, South Africa, and New Zealand).
The PlantaSYST project is of significant socioeconomic importance for the region, as more jobs are created and the region becomes more internationally recognized. In the last three years of the PlantaSYST project, the newly established CPSBB has made a substantial impact on the research landscape in Bulgaria and is becoming now a recognized plant science center in Europe. As Deputy Minister Karina Angelieva stated: “PlantaSYST is our flagship project and CPSBB is a center of strategic importance for Bulgaria”.

CPSBB has become one of the most productive plant research centers in Bulgaria. CPSBB, with the cooperation of the PlantaSYST partners and the international partners, is currently conducting high-level research that has already resulted in a number of quality publications. Some of the highlights include publications in high-ranked journals such as Cell, Nature Communications, Trends in Plant Science, and Biotechnology Advances. This sustained increase in scientific production is important for the international visibility and the long-term sustainability of CPSBB.

Internationally, CPSBB is building a strong reputation. It already has a large network of academic and industry partners and this network continues to grow. CPSBB is now frequently asked to participate in various consortia and regional/international centers. The impressive publication record of the CPSBB scientists attracted attention to the center and contributed to the building of strong image of CPSBB. Large international conferences such as ICNPU 2019 and ICPSBB 2020 further showcase CPSBB and put it on the world scientific map.
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