Regulatory Science Group, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), Trieste, Italy
In 2014, with the mud up to his knees, Felix Moronta was sampling rice plants in a tropical paddy field in Venezuela. His background in environmental bacteriology (PhD in Spain), let him begin a postdoctoral position aimed at isolating beneficial plant-associated bacteria; a prerequisite to formulating microbe-based fertilizers for sustainable agriculture. This position, finally, conjugated his two passions: biotechnology and agriculture. The most promising bacterial isolates were deposited in an international microorganism culture collection and their genome sequences were elucidated. It was at this point that he confronted all the procedures for fulfilling national and international agreements on biohazard and biological material transport. His postdoctoral project, which he continued at the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) was completed in 2018 with a comprehensive description of the bacterial community that colonised the sampled material. This knowledge is still being used to better characterise the core rice bacterial microbiota.
During his research, Moronta became concerned about the deep gap between scientific innovations, especially in agriculture, and their applications in society. Determined to contribute to filling these gaps, he took training in scientific communication, science advice and science diplomacy. Immediately after finishing his postdoc, he joined the ICGEB Regulatory Science (formerly Biosafety Group) to help developing countries to fulfil their international agreements on the safe use of biotechnology products. For the past two years, Moronta has worked as a programme specialist, managing diverse project portfolios on biosafety. For instance, he administrates an eLearning platform on biosafety that it is being used by a number of regulatory agencies across Sub-Saharan Africa. Within the modules, one on Biosafety & Biosecurity has received special attention due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He also is involved in European working groups, through the COST Action Programme, related to regulations and policies of emergent biotechnologies. In June 2020, he co-authored a reviewed paper that provides specific recommendations to European authorities to perform better risk assessments on genetically modified plants based on RNA interference. He is also co-authoring a Policy Brief addressed to the G20 leaders that will deliver specific recommendations for enabling sound regulations of genome-edited plants as a way to achieve sustainable agriculture by 2030. Moronta is also providing technical help to the Government of Panama for updating its national regulatory framework on biosafety.
Moronta also co-founded a non-governmental organization that promotes a scientific culture in Latin America, he promoted the constitution of the Latin American Network for Scientific Culture and more recently the Latin American Network for Science Diplomacy. His strong social commitment and his academic excellence were recognised by the Global Young Academy, which accepted him as a member in 2019. Since then, he is co-leading the working group on Science Advice.
He no longer has his feet in the mud, but Moronta has reached a privileged position where he actively helps to bridge science and society, working closely with biosafety policymakers around the globe.