Creation of a multidisciplinary network for the study of biological systems in Palestine PalBioSys

On April 16th in the Said Khoury amphitheater of the Birzeit University has been founded the multidisciplinary network for the study of biological systems in Palestine (acronym PalBioSys). There is the history of this network, its objectives and its program. PalBioSys members invite you to join them in order to make this network an efficient tool for developing education and research in Palestine.

The history

The PalBioSys initiative stems from personal experiences, from meetings and from the need to overcome barriers.

Personal experiences. Physicists, chemists, computer scientists and mathematicians who crossed the frontiers of their academic discipline to study biological systems have experienced the interest and the difficulties of interdisciplinary projects. They find support and inspiration in scientific societies, research consortiums and networks such as the GDR Microscopie et Imagerie or Physique de la cellule au Tissu in France, Consortium for Logical Models and Tools

Meetings. The PalBioSys initiative started after meetings with Yaqoub Ashhab a biologist working with computer scientists at the Palestine Polytechnic Institute (Hebron) and Johnny Stiban who joined Birzeit University’s faculty of Science to study chemistry and is now doing biochemistry in living cells. During these meetings emerged the idea that computational research which plays a new and important role in biology for both the conception and the analysis of experiments, in data mining, modeling and simulation, offers new opportunities for the development of research in Palestine behind a wall, in the same way as theoretical physics became a domain of expertise for scientists in Eastern Europe before the fall of the iron curtain.

After emails and Skype exchanges to better define the outlines of the initiative, the support of the French Consulate in Jerusalem, the Medlink association and the Lille 1 University allowed us to organize a mission to meet colleagues and students interested in interdisciplinary approaches of biological systems, to discuss about their experience and perspectives. From April 13 to 20 we visited the An Najah, Al Quds, Bethlehem, Birzeit Universities, and Palestinian Polytechnic University (Hebron). We met colleagues from different departments (Biology and Biotechnologies, Physics, Chemistry, Computer Sciences, Mathematics, Engineering and technology, Environmental engineering); we have been impressed by their willingness to develop new education and research programs in Palestinian Universities. We also met master students at An Najah, Birzeit and Palestinian Polytechnic Universities whose enthusiasm was obvious.

Barriers to overcome. Most of our Palestinian colleagues have obtained their PhD in Europe, in Japan, in the US or in Israël. Back in Palestine, they have to face a heavy load of teaching, with a minimum of 12 hours/week in front of students (400h/year) “This leaves no time or little time to do research. We have to do everything from A to Z; we do not have hands”. They also told us that the key to overcome this barrier is to develop local and international collaborations.

During our visit we discovered the master program in Biotechnology organized by the PPU (Hebron) in collaboration with the Bethlehem University, the new interdisciplinary master in Environmental Biology of the Birzeit University and the new master « Advanced computing for science and engineering » for students in Physics, engineering and biology at the An Najah University, as well as the Palestinian Museum of Natural History. The ignorance by the international scientific community of Palestinian situation, achievements and perspectives is another barrier.

The objectives

The aim of the PalBioSys network is to foster national and international collaborations for the development of interdisciplinary research and training programs in the study of biological systems and processes in Palestine.

A major emphasis is put on hands-on training for students, through student and faculty member exchanges, M.Sc and PhD co-supervisions.

The program

You will find attached the founding statement of this network, the list of current members and the program of our mission.
Our first task is to recruit in the PalBioSys network colleagues who share the vision and the values described in its founding statement:

  • an experience or an interest in interdisciplinary research which requires team work, precision of language, a sense of his/her own limits and the respect of partner’s competence.
  • an experience or an interest in the interplay between theory and experiments for the study of biological systems at different levels of complexity
  • the willingness to contribute to the development of Palestine through high education and research.

The list of PalBioSys members, the description of their activities and perspectives will be a first tool to foster collaborations between individual members, within sub-network or working groups.

From these activities will emerge themes that will help us to define specific workshops or courses and to define the program of a 2016 meeting.

This list will set the grounds of an Erasmus+ Capacity Building in High Education (CBHE) project in which each member will hopefully find his benefit!

A scientific board will be identified whose members will represent PalBioSys in their Institutions. This board will orchestrate the network activities and assume related responsibilities, while promoting collective decision making.

Thank you for joining us to contribute to the development of education and research in Palestine!

Claudine Chaouiya (Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, Portugal),
Eva Frickel (The Francis Crick Institute, UK),
Jean Pierre Mazat (Université Bordeaux Segalen),
Cedric Lhoussaine and Bernard Vandenbunder (CNRS & Université Lille1)