Being a scientist is often considered to be having an unconventional lifestyle. Constant researching, sleepless nights and chasing the unknown are typically the routine. Is anyone really up to the challenge? Is it a skill or rather a calling? EdgeKz sought answers to those questions in an interview with 30-year-old Yerbol Burashev, a researcher at the Scientific Research Institute for Biological Safety Problems (SRI) in Almaty.
“If I think about whether working at SRI is a calling or a skill, a lot of conflicting thoughts come to mind. From the first days of work at the institute, you realize that all the knowledge acquired at the university is only a beginner’s guide and after that you start passionately reading scientific literature and mastering new methods. A lot of time passes until you become a professional in your area and science becomes your lifestyle,” he said.
Burashev believes the selection of a future profession is a very important question people start thinking about in school.
“There are as many opinions about the choice of profession as individuals. In my case, biology lessons were the turning point, probably where multiple life processes found their answers,” he added.
He noted his student years at the university ultimately tempered his character as a scientist.
“The university years, of course, are the most interesting years in the lifetime of any person. Among the faculty, in the spirit of a healthy competition there was always a desire to win and be the first, not only in studies but also in sports. Participation in various competitions was part of the wonderful time of the students,” he said.
SRI, one of Kazakhstan’s leading scientific centers in the biological safety, medicine, biotechnology, virology, immunology, molecular biology and mycology fields, has a modern base for research to be conducted at world-standard levels, noted Burashev.
“The structure of the institute includes research laboratories as well as technological, scientific information, engineering, technical, administrative and economic departments. SRI employs specialists in medical and veterinary virology, biological safety, epizootology, immunology, molecular biology and biochemistry, biotechnology, microbiology and phytopathology,” he said.
The work at the institute occurs in the molecular biology and genetic engineering lab.
“This laboratory is one of the fundamental and oldest subdivisions of the institute that was assembled back in 1958. The main activity of the laboratory is the study of physicochemical properties of micro-organisms, analysis and genetic mapping of the virus genome and use of reverse genetics and transgenic plants for the development of diagnostic tools,” he said.
SRI currently has 20 offices with approximately 230 staff members, 110 of whom are researchers. The institute has 47 preliminary patents, 43 innovative patents and 62 patents for inventions. During the years of Kazakhstan’s independence, the institute has developed the technologies to produce 33 vaccines and 48 diagnostic test systems. SRI provides the agro-industrial complex with vaccines and diagnostic tools for its own production which are widely used in veterinary practice in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Some vaccines were exported to Turkey.
Established Aug. 7, 1958, SRI was formerly known as the Scientific and Research Agricultural Institute of the USSR Ministry of Agriculture. The main reason for its founding was the need to protect the southern borders of the USSR, in particular the regions of Central Asia and Kazakhstan, from particularly dangerous infectious diseases in agricultural and wild animals that could be brought from neighboring countries.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the institute was reassigned to the Main Veterinary Department of the Kazakh Ministry of Agriculture and since 1993 has been included in the National Center for Biotechnology of the Ministry of Science and New Technologies.
In 1999, SRI was transferred to the Ministry of Energy, Industry and Trade and in 2001 was reassigned to the Ministry of Education and Science. It was renamed the Scientific Research Institute for Biological Safety Problems on Aug. 7, 2006 and received the status of a subsidiary state enterprise of the National Center for Biotechnology of the Ministry of Education and Science.
“For me, in terms of research the most interesting thing is the study of the genome of micro-organisms. Every year, we can observe the appearance of new subspecies of viruses and other micro-organisms that lead to large outbreaks, which are the result of genomic mutations. The determination of the mechanism of variability in the genome of micro-organisms would allow predicting the appearance of new mutants, therefore, to be ready for new epidemics,” said Burashev.
One of the most important aspects of the institute’s policy is improving the qualifications of young employees.
“Our young scientists studied at leading research centers in Europe and North America, mastering completely new methods of research and analysis. Along with other employees, I also took trainings and internships in the U.S., Russia and Turkey, where after learning new opportunities of molecular biology and genetics, I was inspired for new discoveries,” he added.
The development of green energy, he believes, should be the country’s focus.
“In my opinion, one of the highest priority areas in terms of inventions and innovations for our country is the development of green energy, which is in its ‘infancy stage.’ This was the theme of the international exhibition EXPO 2017 in Astana. I believe this great event will give a strong impetus to the development in this direction, because Kazakhstan generates less than one percent of electricity from renewable sources which is 10 times less than that of developed countries,” he said.
After getting his scientific feet wet, Burashev admits there is still a plethora of the incomprehensible and indefinite to be discovered.
“After working for some time at the institute, you understand the immensity and unlimited nature of science. Although we also hear about the perfect developments in such areas as biotechnology, medicine and genetic engineering, the world of discoveries and innovations remains full of mysteries and unfulfilled ideas,” he said.