09ASTANA254, KAZAKHSTAN: U.S.-FUNDED PROJECTS IN STEPNOGORSK SHOW

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09ASTANA254 2009-02-12 08:42 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Astana

VZCZCXRO9928
OO RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK
RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLH RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHNEH RUEHNP RUEHPOD RUEHPW
RUEHROV RUEHSK RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHTA #0254/01 0430842
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 120842Z FEB 09
FM AMEMBASSY ASTANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4592
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE 1171
RUCNCLS/SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0568
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 1274
RHEBAAA/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHDC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFAAA/DIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC 0745
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC 0661
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RHMFIUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ASTANA 000254 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR SCA/CEN, ISN, EEB 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PINR PREL EAID EAGR TBIO KNNP KZ
SUBJECT:  KAZAKHSTAN:  U.S.-FUNDED PROJECTS IN STEPNOGORSK SHOW 
SCIENTIFIC RESULTS AND COMMENDABLE INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION 
 
1.  (U) Sensitive but unclassified.  Not for public Internet. 
 
2.  (SBU) SUMMARY:  PolOff recently met with various interlocutors 
working on several U.S.-funded nonproliferation-related projects in 
Stepnogorsk.  Stepnogorsk today represents the opportunities and 
challenges the Kazakhstani government faces in modernizing its 
scientific institutions.  Project managers told PolOff their 
facilities are modern, despite persistent maintenance issues, and 
the scientists are well-trained, if not entirely well-versed in the 
use of recently-acquired equipment.  The four projects in 
Stepnogorsk have all successfully produced scientifically-valuable 
results.  One project related to producing silage for dairy cattle 
is approaching commercialization.  The other three projects suffered 
from problems related to changes in Kazakhstani project management. 
END SUMMARY. 
 
FROM SECRET CITY TO KAZAKHSTANI BIOTECH CENTER 
 
3.  (SBU) PolOff recently met with various interlocutors working on 
several U.S.-funded nonproliferation-related projects in 
Stepnogorsk.  Once a secret "closed" Soviet city primarily dedicated 
to research on biological weapons, Stepnogorsk today represents the 
opportunities and challenges the Kazakhstani government faces in 
modernizing its scientific institutions.  Stepnogorsk's biological 
weapons research and production facilities were dismantled under 
U.S. nonproliferation initiatives in the 1990s, and most of the 
former scientists who remained in Kazakhstan are now employed by 
several biological research institutes, namely Biomedpreparat, and 
its two spin-offs, the Institute of Agricultural Biotechnology (IAB) 
and the Institute of Industrial Biotechnology (IIB).  IIB, which 
separated from Biomedpreparat in 1995, has 60 employees and three 
labs, and specializes in microbiology, particularly the isolation, 
purification, and chemical analysis of enzymes.  The government of 
Kazakhstan has also launched two public-private ventures, working on 
biotechnology-related production, both of which are located at the 
former biological-weapons site known as the Progress Plant. 
 
4.  (SBU) PolOff observed that the facilities have been modernized 
and contain sophisticated equipment.  IIB, for instance, recently 
acquired a $30,000 spectroscope.  Local scientists are well-trained, 
and have been producing high-quality data.  However, as PolOff 
personally observed, and as U.S. scientists involved in the projects 
recounted to PolOff, it is difficult to maintain the facilities and 
sensitive equipment like the spectroscope when long power-outages in 
freezing weather are frequent occurrences.  Moreover, many of the 
scientists lack training on certain specific techniques, or on using 
recently-acquired equipment.  For instance, during PolOff's visit, 
one mid-level scientist used the visit of the two U.S. scientists to 
get some basic training on reading the results from the 
spectroscope.  Moreover, many of the scientists struggle with 
designing "Western-style" experiments, commercializing projects, and 
getting their results published in journals outside of the former 
Soviet Union. 
 
U.S.-FUNDED PROJECTS IN STEPNOGORSK PRODUCING RESULTS... 
 
5.  (SBU) The U.S. government has been financing and providing 
advice on four projects in Stepnogorsk.  One is a project to 
identify naturally-occurring enzymes in Kazakhstan that can be 
effective additives to silage for dairy cattle, the second is a 
project to use enzymes to produce growth-promoters for wheat 
proteins, the third is a project to produce amylolytic enzymes, and 
the fourth is related to fighting cancer.  According to both its 
U.S. and Kazakhstani project managers, the dairy-cattle silage 
project, which is midway through its projected time horizon, has 
shown tremendous progress.  Bill Orts, project manager for the 
second and third projects, told PolOff that that while initial 
scientific results had been positive, the sudden death of the 
Kazakhstani project manager in June 2008 caused serious delays.  The 
wheat-protein project will conclude in September 2009, although Orts 
told PolOff he planned to apply for future funding based on the 
initial research results.  Orts also told PolOff that the research 
on enzymes done by the first three projects is wid
ely-applicable, 
 
ASTANA 00000254  002 OF 003 
 
 
noting that the same enzymes used in dairy silage can be used for 
production of ethanol fuels and biodegradable packaging material. 
Orts applied to convert the wheat-protein research program into a 
project to develop biodegradable packaging material starting in 
February 2009, but the USDA rejected the proposal in December 2008. 
Another possible application is using enzymes to develop 
nutriceuticals.  Orts has been working collaboratively on the third 
project with a prominent USDA scientist, Dominic Wong.  (NOTE:  Wong 
generates a significant amount of revenue for the USDA from his 
highly successful McDonald's apple dippers patent.  END NOTE.)  On 
Wong's behalf, Orts conducts the in-country reviews in Kazakhstan 
and Wong advises the project from the United States.  Orts told 
PolOff that Wong is pleased with the research from the third 
project. 
 
...IN SPITE OF CHANGES IN MANAGEMENT 
 
6.  (SBU) After the death of the original project manager for three 
of the four projects, the replacement project manager, Baltayev, 
became another serious obstacle.  Erlan Ramankulov, Director of the 
Astana-based National Center for Biotechnology (NCB), which is the 
parent-organization of IIB and Biomedpreparat, told PolOff and 
visiting program advisor Mark Cutler that he fired Baltayev for 
allegedly embezzling funds, among other forms of professional 
misconduct. (NOTE:  Ramankulov, a U.S.-trained scientist and former 
employee of the U.S. Center for Disease Control, has been very 
supportive of U.S.-funded ISTC projects in Stepnogorsk.  END NOTE.) 
Ramankulov also told PolOff he had had previous conflicts with 
Baltayev over the veracity of his results, and said Baltayev had 
committed acts of nepotism, allegedly having hired a number of his 
family members as well as Uzbek scientists.  Ramankulov said he 
suspected Baltayev had been extracting money from the Uzbek 
scientists for finding them good positions at the IIB.  Ramankulov 
and Cutler agreed upon nominating the capable and reliable deputies 
for each project as the new project managers. 
 
SILAGE PROJECT READY FOR LARGE-SCALE TEST 
 
7.  (SBU) PolOff separately accompanied two USDA scientists, Paul 
Weimer and Richard Muck, on their annual visit to the Institute for 
Industrial Biotechnology (IIB) to review the dairy silage project. 
During the review period, under the management of microbiologist 
Slava Kenzhebayev, IIB's team identified an enzyme which could 
potentially be highly-effective in producing dairy silage.  During 
the visit to Stepnogorsk, Weimer and Muck evaluated the research 
data, concluded that the findings justified conducting a large-scale 
dairy cattle feeding-trial, and identified potential partners which 
could produce and process the enzyme in the quantities necessary for 
the feeding trial.  Muck and Weimer told PolOff that they were 
"impressed by the quality of IIB's data." 
 
SOVIET-STYLE INPUT-CONTROL VERSUS THE ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT APPROACH 
 
8.  (SBU) Despite the sophisticated understanding of science shown 
by IIB scientists involved in the daily silage project, the IIB is 
still adjusting to U.S. research methods.  The IIB team, 
particularly one older Kazakhstani scientist, proposed a research 
plan for the feeding trial based on Soviet studies, which called for 
providing the cattle with incremental additions of treated silage on 
top of normal dairy rations.  Essentially, this study would have 
focused on determining how much additional milk could be produced by 
adding as little enzyme-treated silage as possible.  In contrast, as 
Muck and Weimer quickly pointed out, U.S. feeding trials provide all 
cattle with as much feed as they can eat, with one set of cattle 
provided with enzyme-treated silage and another with unmodified 
feed.  The U.S. "all-you-can-eat" feeding trial also ultimately 
investigates how much additional milk can be produced.  Previous 
feeding trials, however, have demonstrated a key difference in 
outcomes based on the two approaches; at low levels of 
enzyme-addition, it is difficult to observe a significant effect. 
The U.S. project managers therefore advocated for the second 
approach, and also recommended that the first trial be conducted in 
Wisconsin, where the USDA already has a site often used for such 
 
ASTANA 00000254  003 OF 003 
 
 
feeding trials.  The IIB team accepted both suggestions.  USDA 
project managers Muck and Weimer, along with their IIB counterparts, 
tentatively agreed to field trials during the spring of 2009. 
 
SILAGE PROJECT REQUIRES EXPANSION TO PRODUCTION FACILITIES 
 
9.  (SBU) In order to conduct the feeding trial, IIB announced they 
will need a larger quantity of enzyme than IIB can produce in-house. 
 During their visit, Muck and Weimer identified two partners that 
could produce and dry the enzyme in the required quantities.  They 
located the first facility through the assistance of Erlan 
Ramankulov (see para 6 above).  Ramankulov, who was visiting 
Stepnogorsk to meet with the regional governor and other project 
leaders during Muck and Weimer's visit, encouraged Muck and Weimer 
to consider Biocomb as a source for the production of enzymes 
necessary for the feeding trial.  Ramankulov offered to use his 
influence as a member of the Biocomb Board of Directors to secure 
enzyme production on an "at-cost" basis.  Biocomb, a public-private 
venture located at the former biological weapons-site known as the 
Progress Plant, recently installed seven large fermenters, which 
would provide enough capacity for the mass culture of the IIB 
strains for enzyme production.  However, while Biocomb has some 
freeze-drying capability, neither IIB nor Biocomb have the equipment 
necessary to freeze-dry large enough quantities of enzyme for the 
feeding trials.  Muck and Weimer also visited Biocorm, another 
public-private facility located at the Progress Plant.  The plant, 
which has 32 huge fermenters with a capacity of 67,000 liters each, 
dwarfs Biocomb's seven fermenters with a capacity of 630-1000 liters 
each.  However, the units were no longer operational because the 
electronics had been removed following the break-up of the Soviet 
Union.  Biocorm has more than sufficient capability, and plant 
manager Natalya Pokoevea indicated willingness to undertake the 
spray-drying necessary for the feeding trial.  Biocorm estimated the 
cost would be approximately $1000, although company managers also 
indicated that if the product moves into the commercial phase, 
drying could be done at a lower cost per liter.  Mark Cutler, who 
has been advising the project, told PolOff that until the efficacy 
of the enzyme is demonstrated in a field trial, it is impossible to 
proceed with commercialization of the project.  Muck, Weimer, 
Ramankulov and the IIB team have therefore been working together to 
confirm whether the current year's project budget will be sufficient 
to cover the costs of preparing enough enzyme and silage for the 
feed test. 
 
TOP MANAGEMENT PROMOTING INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION IN SCIENCE 
 
10.  (SBU) The IIB's new director, Oleg Ten, who graduated with a 
Ph.D. from Moscow State University, actively participated in all of 
the meetings reviewing U.S.-funded projects, including the Muck and 
Weimer visit and the subsequent Cutler and Orts review in 
Stepnogorsk.  Ramankulov, who has known Ten for many years, told 
PolOff that he is "a good scientist, very conscientious," and that 
he should make a well-qualified overall manager for IIB and its 
projects.  PolOff personally observed that Ten demonstrated strong 
interest in the U.S.-funded project and asked detailed questions 
about the design of the experiments.  Ramankulov told PolOff that 
his main goal is to encourage projects, such as the four U.S.-funded 
projects at Stepnogorsk, which enhance cooperation with scientists 
in the United States and Europe.  Ramankulov said that he is 
offering free English-language training to all of the National 
Biotechnology Center's staff, including scientists at the IIB in 
Stepnogorsk.  Ramankulov told PolOff that if scientists wish to be 
promoted inside of his organization, they must publish in English. 
With this goal in mind, joint projects such as the U.S.-funded 
programs in Stepnogorsk, are leading the way.  Slava Kenzhebayev, 
project manager for the dairy-cattle silage project, plans to 
present his work at the next "International Silage Conference," to 
be held in the United States, and to publish his first paper in 
English. 
 
HOAGLAND

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