- Open Access
Enzyme technology in Brazil: trade balance and research community
© The Author(s). 2016
Received: 4 February 2016
Accepted: 2 May 2016
Published: 11 May 2016
Despite Brazil’s large numbers and its position as one of the world’s ten largest economies, its exports are mainly composed of non-industrial or low-technological goods. It results in a trade deficit and technological dependence that affects several sectors, including biotechnology. The present study aims at analyzing the Brazilian trade balance (from 1996 to 2013) of enzyme-related goods and correlating such data with the scientific community, number of scientific publications and filings of patent applications related to four technological areas that commonly use lipases, the most important enzyme studied in Brazil. Brazil seems to have a sufficient, but not saturated, technical staff working in enzyme-correlated areas, while the trade balance is deteriorating over the years. The major problem seems to be that the increase in the number of scientists is not accompanied by a proportional increase in effective development policies. These conclusions are corroborated by the number of scientific publications and patent documents related to the industrial use of lipases, one of the most important enzyme group: while Brazil has an important contribution in publishing scientific documents regarding the industrial use of lipases, its contribution in filing patent applications is only marginal.
Brazil is a country of large numbers: it is a continental size country, the fifth most populous country in the world (United Nations Population Found 2010) and one of the world’s richest countries in biodiversity terms (Mittermeier et al. 2005). Brazil occupied the seventh position in the ranking of world’s largest economies in 2013 (Centre for Economics and Business Research 2013). Despite of the above, Brazil’s exports are mainly composed of non-industrial or low-technological goods. In 2010, the commodities accounted for 51 % of Brazil’s exports, representing around 5 % of all commodities traded in the world. In parallel, Brazil’s contribution to the global exportation of high-technological goods was of around 0.5 % in the same period (Em discussão! Revista de Audiências Públicas do Senado Federal 2012).
Besides affecting the Brazilian trade balance, this scenario causes a high technological dependence that reaches several areas, including the biotechnology sector. Even though the significant growth of this sector in Brazil is worldwide recognized (Nature Editorial 2010; Resende 2012), studies involving Brazilian biotech companies showed that 86 % of them depend on imported goods and services (BRBiotec Brazil 2011). Enzyme technology is a subfield of biotechnology where new processes have been and are being developed to manufacture both bulk and high added-value products utilizing enzymes as biocatalysts. Food, fine chemicals, pharmaceuticals and biofuels are examples of products manufactured using enzymes. This kind of catalyst are also used to provide services, as in washing and environmental processes, or for analytical and diagnostic purposes (Buchholz et al. 2012).
Enzymes are an important branch of biotechnology market, and the world demand on several enzymes is expected to rise 6.3 % annually to U$7 billion in 2017, with Latin America being responsible for a significant percentage of such consumption (Freedonia Group 2014). Considering the rising economic importance of enzyme technology, the present article analyzes the Brazilian trade balance of enzyme-related goods and discusses such data in terms of the Brazilian scientific community, which discussion is further corroborated with bibliometric studies, aiming at answering the following questions: If Brazil’s biotechnological potential is high, why is the enzyme market so in deficit? Has Brazil enough technical staff for developing enzyme technologies?
Mercosur Common Nomenclature (MCN) codes and their respective description
Preparations with xylanase and Beta-Glucanase, supplemented with wheat bran
Diagnostic reagents of microbial origina
Drug containing streptokinase, except in doses
Drug containing l-asparaginase, except in doses
Drug containing deoxyribonuclease, except in doses
Drugs with other enzymes, without vitamins, etc., except in doses
Drug containing Streptokinase, in doses
Drug containing l-asparaginase, in doses
Drug containing deoxyribonuclease, in doses
Drug containing other enzymes in doses
Enzymatic preparations for pre-tanning
Rennet and its concentrates
Other amylases and their concentrates
Mixture of streptokinase and streptodornase
Other proteases and their concentrates
Lysozymeand its hydrochloride
Other enzymes and their concentrates
Other prepared enzymes
Reagents for determination of blood or urine composition, paper support, etc.a
Other diagnostic or laboratory reagentsa
Statistic analyses on the number of master’s and doctoral degrees granted by December 2013 in Brazil were made based on data obtained at the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) website (www.cnpq.br). Information on the number of researches involved in areas related to enzyme technology and their scientific production were collected at the same website, by searching for keywords in the researchers’ online curriculum (lattes.cnpq.br).
Patent search strategies set up for each of the four applications of lipase
((((LIPASE?)/BI AND (ENANTIO+ OR STEREO_SELECTIV+ OR (OPTIC+ W (ACTIV+ OR PUR+ OR ISOMER+)) OR RESOLUTION OR ((SPLIT+ OR SEPARAT+ OR RESOLV+ OR ESTERIF+) S (CHIRAL+ OR RACEM+)))/BI AND (C12P OR C07C OR C07D OR C12R OR C12N)/IC) NOT (LIPASE S (INHIBITOR+ OR MODULAT+ OR DEFICIENCY))/BI)) AND (EPRD = 1983-01-01:2012-12-31)
Production of detergents
(((LIPASE?)/BI AND (DETERGENT? OR +WASH+ OR LAUND+ OR BLEACH+ OR CLEAN+ OR SOAP+)/BI) AND (C11D OR C12N)/IC) AND (EPRD = 1983-01-01:2012-12-31)
Production of food and feed products
((((LIPASE?)/BI AND (FOOD+ OR FEED+ OR JUICE OR BEVERAGE+ OR FISH OR DOUGH OR MILK+ OR CHEESE+ OR BUTTER+ OR MEAT OR EGG OR YOLK OR BREAD))/BI) NOT ((INHIBITOR+) S LIPASE/BI)) AND (A23+ OR A21+ OR C12N)/IPC AND (EPRD = 1983-01-01:2012-12-31)
Production of biodiesel
(((LIPASE?)/BI AND ((+FUEL? OR +DIESEL?) OR (FATTY ACID W (METHYL OR ALKYL) W ESTER?) OR FAME OR FAAE)/BI) AND (C12P OR C10L OR C12N OR C11C OR C10G)/IC) AND (EPRD = 1983-01-01:2012-12-31)
Publication search strategies set up for each of the four applications of lipase
TITLE:(LIPASE$) AND TOPIC((KINETIC OR CHIRAL OR LIPASE OR HYDROLYSIS OR ENZYMATIC) NEAR/1 RESOLUTION) AND PUBLICATION YEARS:(1983–2012)
Production of detergents
TITLE:(LIPASE$) AND TOPIC(*DETERGENT$ OR LAUNDR* OR DISH* OR ((REMOV* OR CLEAN* OR WASH*) NEAR/1 (STAIN* OR OIL$ OR GREASE OR FAT* OR TRIGLYCERIDE$ OR SOIL$))) AND PUBLICATION YEARS:(1983–2012)
Production of food and feed products
TOPIC:(LIPASE* AND (((FOOD* OR FEED) NEAR/5 (INDUSTR* OR FORMULATION* OR PRODUCT*)) OR (CHEESE* NEAR/1 (RIPENING OR FLAVOR* OR MAKING OR PRODUCT*)) OR ((BUTTER OR MILK) NEAR/0 (EQUIVALENT* OR SUBSTITUTE*)) OR “DAIRY PRODUCT*” OR DOUGH*)) AND PUBLICATION YEARS: (1983–2012)
Production of biodiesel
TITLE:(LIPASE$) AND TOPIC(BIODIESEL OR DIESEL OR BIOFUEL$ OR FUEL$) AND PUBLICATION YEARS: (1983–2012)
The data obtained from these searches also resulted in a study that aimed at evaluating the biotechnological interest towards lipases, which study was published by our research group in the journal Plos One, in 2015 (Daiha et al. 2015).
Results and discussion
Such difference between imports and exports is more significant when the analysis is performed considering the value of the goods (Fig. 1a). This is so since Brazil’s exports are mainly characterized by low value-added goods, whilst the country depends on high value-added goods produced abroad.
Comparing Brazil’s biotechnology potential expressed by its great biodiversity found in many biomes (e.g. Amazon Forest, Cerrado, Atlantic Forest, and others) with Brazil’s trade balance deficit the contradiction is visible. Why Brazil has one of the most important biodiversity of the world but has a negative trade balance in enzyme market? Could the trade balance deficit be explained by a deficit in technical staff? In order to answer these questions the researcher community in Brazil has been analyzed using data obtained at the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq)’s database.
Furthermore, Brazil’s participation in the global scientific production remarkably grew over the last 20 years. In 2009, Brazil occupied the 13th place in the international ranking of scientific publications, surpassing countries such as Belgium and Denmark, which have more experience and tradition in the development of science (Almeida and Guimarães 2013). According to Almeida, the current performance of the country in producing science may be directly related to the expansion of the postgraduate system, which has been growing at a rate of 10 % per year in terms of new courses and number of master’s and doctoral degree holders.
Accurate phrases related to the enzyme technology field searched in the online curriculum of the researches
Research community specialization
Correlation of the MCN codes with the scientific production of Brazilian researchers
Number of DSc + Other researchers
“Production of (keyword)”
In order to access information regarding the type of work that has been realized by such scientific community, a bibliometric study related to scientific publications and patent documents was performed. Four industrial sectors that employ lipases were took into consideration—kinetic resolution, production of food and feed, detergent and biodiesel. Lipases were chosen as the enzyme model as they are one of the enzyme groups most researched by the Brazilian scientific community (Table 5).
In kinetic resolution, Brazil is in the eleventh position in the ranking of scientific publications, totaling 52 documents between 1983 and 2012; in the triennium of from 2010 to 2012 Brazil occupied the second position in such ranking, only behind China. Nevertheless, Brazilian participation in the filing of patent applications is not as significant. No patent document found in the searches claims priority for a Brazilian document.
In production of food & feed, industrial sector that demands the greatest amount of enzymes in Brazil, 29 % in 2012 (Freedonia Group 2014), only one patent document claiming priority for a Brazilian document was found, which was filed by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the company Phoneutria Biotecnologia e Serviços Ltda. On the other hand, Brazil ranks fifth in number of scientific documents published in this sector from 1983 to 2012, with 16 publications.
Brazil is the fourth largest global market of cleaning products, and in 2012 had revenues of 14.9 billion reais (ABIPLA 2013). In the searches for scientific documents published by Brazilian research groups, only eight articles were detected in the period from 1983 and 2012, five of which are authored by groups from the State University of Campinas—UNICAMP). Moreover, despite the growing importance of the Brazilian market, only two patent documents have national applicants in the same period, one of them being co-assigned with Unilever N.V.
The Brazilian global participation as biodiesel consumer and producer is significant. In 2013, the country was the second largest consumer of such biofuel, with a demand of 2.9 million m3. In the same year, the country ranks third in the production of biodiesel, yielding 3.0 million m3 (Ministério de Minas e Energia 2014). Brazil also stands out in studies related to biofuels. With specific respect to the scientific research related to the use of lipases for biodiesel production by enzymatic route, the country occupied the second global position up to 2012, with 52 publications. However, despite the country’s expressiveness in scientific publications directed to biodiesel production by transesterification involving lipases, only five patent documents, among the 165 documents found in the search, were filed by Brazilian applicants. It is noteworthy that the participation of Brazilian public universities in the filing of patent documents is more expressive than that of Brazilian companies.
Taking all data together, it can be assumed that the deficit in the Brazilian trade balance of enzyme-related goods is not entirely due to a lack of technical staff, since a considerable number of DSc and MSc are formed every year in areas related to enzyme technology. However, taking into account the bibliometric study carried out, and considering that the Brazilian contribution in the filing of patent documents is only marginal, it can be assumed that theses researchers have not been producing knowledge inside the productive sector (i.e. industries), but mainly in universities and governmental research centers. These results may be explained by the fact that only 42 % of the Brazilian researches are employed in firms, while 79 % of North American researchers leave the university (Em discussão! Revista de Audiências Públicas do Senado Federal 2012). These findings can be related to the type of industrial production performed in Brazil, which is specialized in producing low-value added products, and to the low public and private investments in scientific researches.
Brazilian Industrial Policy related to biotechnology
Although the development of the biotechnological field has been a priority of the Brazilian government since 1970 (Ferrer et al. 2004), it seems that the different programs created ever since have not been effective in transforming the country into a reference in industrial biotechnology. It is only from 2004, with the Industrial and Technological and Foreign Trade Policy, that biotechnology has been considered as a “strategic field” (Bianchi 2013).
In 2007, the Brazilian government launched the Biotechnology Development Policy (Decree No. 6041), which, according to its first article, “aims to establish a suitable environment for the development of innovative biotechnology products and processes”. It has also created the Biotechnology National Committee, responsible for coordinating the implementation of the Biotechnology Development Policy.
The industrial policy currently in force is the Greater Brazil Plan, launched in 2011. In a document published in 2013 by the National Confederation of Industry called “Bioeconomy: an agenda for Brazil”, it is proposed the inclusion of biotechnology in the “Structuring Guideline 2—Expansion and creation of new technological and business skills”. Such inclusion would allow that all measures being taken in other sectors to boost investments were extended to biotechnology (Harvard Business Review Analytic Services 2013).
Despite all these policies, the biotech sector in Brazil is yet weak, as it has been shown in 2011 by the Brazilian Biotechnology Association. The Brazil Biotech Map—2011 (BRBiotec 2011) is a report about private companies in Brazilian territory. This report has showed that Brazil had 237 biotech companies; most of them being micro and small sized-companies. Among these companies, 56 % have annual revenues of no more than R$ 2.4 million (around 1.5 million dollars), 20 % have no revenues, and 85 % have up to 50 employees (20 % of them between 1 and 5 employees and 25 % of them having between 6 and 10). Furthermore, 25 % of the companies export, but on the other hand, 86 % of them import especially reagents and equipment for the production and development of technology.
The trade balance of enzyme-related goods in Brazil is negative, and despite the Brazilian industrial policies and the Biotechnology Development Policy created in 2007, it has a tendency to become even more negative. The data presented herein suggests that Brazil has a sufficient technical staff. However, it does not means that the community research in enzyme technology is saturated. The major problem seems to be that the increase in the number of scientists is not accompanied by a proportional increase in the indicators of innovation in the country, which can also be observed in the bibliometric studies involving lipases, the most studied group of enzymes in Brazil. One other possible explanation for such disparity is the lack of demand by the Brazilian private firms.
On the other hand, when the entire Brazilian trade balance is analyzed, it is possible to conclude that the majority of Brazilian exports are composed of non-industrial or low-technological goods. The loss of national industrial competitiveness is another result of the lack of innovation, which will not be overcome if additional public and private investments are not made in science and technology.
RVA conceived of the study, and participated in its design and coordination and helped to draft the manuscript; KGD participated in the design of the manuscript and drafted it; GCB, ALL and DMGF critically revised the manuscript for important intellectual content. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
We would like to thank FAPERJ, CAPES, CNPq and PETROBRAS for their financial support and Banco Central do Brasil for providing the numbers of trade balance.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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