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FAO/IAEA Agriculture & Biotechnology Laboratories

Situated 35 km southeast of Vienna, Austria, the FAO/IAEA Agriculture & Biotechnology Laboratories are an integral part of the Joint Centre, each of the five specialized laboratories reporting to its respective Section within the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre. The laboratories specialize in applied research, which includes developing, adapting, validating and transferring appropriate nuclear, isotopic and related technologies of importance to agriculture — technologies designed to meet specific local needs and environmental conditions.

The FAO/IAEA Laboratories also provide technical training for scientists from Member States, including guidance in the application of the technology, the underpinning science, hands-on use and practical aspects, such as maintenance of laboratory equipment, which, in turn, ensures best practice, safety and quality control. They also supply specialized services in nuclear technologies to FAO and IAEA Member States.

The FAO/IAEA Laboratories spearhead the use of "atoms for peace and development", with emphasis on research for development. They apply their expertise at the forefront of worldwide efforts to fight global hunger and malnutrition, mitigate the impacts of climate change, improve environmental sustainability, protect plants and livestock, improve farmers' income, and ensure safe and authentic food for consumers. The socio-economic impacts derived from the application of these technologies are frequently measured in millions or billions of US dollars annually.

The mandate of the FAO/IAEA Laboratories is to assist Member States in the safe and appropriate use of nuclear techniques and related technologies in food and agriculture. Applying cutting-edge technologies adds value to global agricultural research in the areas of animal production and health; food and environmental protection; insect pest control; plant breeding and genetics; and soil and water management and crop nutrition.

The mission of the FAO/IAEA Laboratories focuses on:

Applied research and development. The R&D activities undertaken at the FAO/IAEA Laboratories are linked to coordinated research projects (CRPs) and technical cooperation projects (TCPs). These are the Joint Centre's two main delivery mechanisms for developing and transferring nuclear and nuclear-related technologies to Member States. These activities play a central role in most CRPs and provide technical backup to TCPs. The Laboratories provide crucial input and innovative solutions to national and global agricultural development challenges and provide vital scientific evidence to support the solutions, decision and policymaking as well as international standards.

Training and capacity building. These activities are essential components of technology transfer. While almost 90% of the Laboratories' training activities are conducted in Member States, numerous training courses, workshops, seminars and individual fellowships are also held each year at the Laboratories. These involve several hundred trainees annually, with the overall goal of building sustainable capacity in each Member State. While the main focus is nuclear and nuclear-related technologies, emphasis is also placed on understanding the wider aspects of the problems to be studied and solved. This ensures that the trainees return to their home country properly equipped with the knowledge needed and extensive scientific and technical networks ready to assist them whenever required.

Training activities at the FAO/IAEA Laboratories are generally linked to TCPs and are commonly funded through the Technical Cooperation Fund. They may also be funded by the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre itself through extra-budgetary funds or by a Member State. Training activities are related to specific topics and requests and may take the form of i) training courses with 20-25 participants each and lasting generally from 1-6 weeks, ii) workshops with around 10 participants and lasting for 1-2 weeks or iii) individual fellowships or internships that may last from three months to a year or more. Trainees are proposed by the individual Member States and assessed for appropriate experience and suitability by the IAEA prior to being accepted for participation in such training activities. The Laboratories also host numerous scientific visitors and graduate students each year.

Technical and analytical services. The FAO/IAEA Laboratories provide technical and analytical services to Member States. These services include, amongst others, mutation induction treatment with gamma- and X-rays, including radio-sensitivity testing to determine optimal dose rates of gamma or X-ray irradiation; proficiency testing; and evaluation, method development, validation, standardization and selection of appropriate equipment and processes for specific uses. Laboratory staff also share with trainees and partners their extensive experience in niche and routine operations and processes, as well as in the maintenance and repair of equipment.

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