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Bioeconomy school: from basic science to a new economy

 Abstract

The increasing importance of biological sciences in the creation of value added in many economic sectors contributed to the rise of the now popular term “Bioeconomy”, referring to “the set of economic activities relating to the invention, development, production and use of biological products and processes” (OECD, 2009). These activities are characterized by the focus on the reduction of environmental pollution and the adoption of sustainable practices. Accordingly, the implementation of circular Bioeconomy will be crucial. Since new scientific advancements in Biology and Biotechnology can be applied to an increasing number of fields, the Bioeconomy revolution is expected to provide solutions and benefits for a wide variety of human necessities, such as health care (e.g., biopharmaceuticals), agriculture (e.g., bio-pesticides), industrial processes (e.g., bio-refineries and biopolymers), food (e.g. production and packaging) and environmental sustainability (e.g., bioremediation and biofuels), in both developing and developed countries.

However, the positive impacts of a knowledge-based Bioeconomy will not unfold automatically.

From a mainstream economics point of view, Bioeconomy-related innovations (like many other types of “environmental innovations”) may suffer, without an appropriate public intervention, from a chronic under-provision by private businesses, since they are characterized by two kinds of positive externalities (the so-called “double externality” problem): the first one relates to the problem of knowledge spillovers and risk of imitation that affect every innovation phase; the second one is mostly related to the positive effects occurring during the (final) diffusion phase, when society as a whole obtains, from the adoption of these innovations, additional benefits (in terms of, for example, reduction of waste and energy consumption) that cannot be internalized and appropriated by the entrepreneurs who have borne the cost of their invention and development.

From an evolutionary economics point of view, which stresses the qualitative and transformative nature of an unfolding Bioeconomy, a further major problem stems from the disruptive nature of Bioeconomy innovations for both producers and consumers. Established industries are suffering from a so-called not-invented here syndrome, because overcoming the lock-in of fossil-based technologies displaces their traditional business models. Consumers are confronted not only with new products and services, but often are required to change their consumption behaviour and preferences. The Bioeconomy transformation asks for enormous creativity, from both technology-driven and social entrepreneurs, together with normative considerations concerning the overall design and regulation of the economic systems.

Because of the pervasiveness of applications (that may span across different industries) and because of the type of knowledge (mainly scientific and codified) Bioeconomy innovations rely on, the potential transformation is very complex.

This implies that the future of Bioeconomy will be heavily shaped not only by the new discoveries in the related scientific disciplines and in their applications, but also by the design and implementation of public policies (concerning, for example, the incentives, regulations, standards, intellectual property rights) and by the emergence of new markets and business models requiring actors with novel, advanced and heterogeneous competences.

The aim of this Summer School is to offer an overview of the main scientific topics, related to these advanced competences, to PhD students and young scholars from different disciplines. The program offers a set of multi-disciplinary lectures, organized in sub-modules, ranging from the main scientific toolbox used in Biology and Biotechnology, to more specific topics related to the main economic, managerial, sociological and ethical issues. Mastering these aspects is expected to be relevant for entrepreneurs, public institutions and researchers working on this topic. Alongside the classes, the instructors of the school will provide mentoring for the participants that are interested in an academic career, by providing feedback on their research topics and works.