Last week I attended and taught a workshop for the Moroccan American Society for Life Sciences (Biomatec-US) at their 2nd International Workshop and 9th Annual Meeting, in Ifrane Morocco.
I was thoroughly impressed. Impressed with Morocco, Moroccan Scientists and Moroccan students. I had the opportunity to interact with all three. First this students. I taught three workshops, including a tour of genomic resources and two how-to’s for the UCSC Genome Browser and Table Browser. All were enthusiastically received. But more than that I was impressed by the enthusiasm these students showed for genomics and bioinformatic research. After each talk and later in the day, I was barraged with questions and requests (which I love). Their enthusiasm for science matches or surpasses any other group of science students I’ve met in my 20+ year career in biology. In addition to that, I met several students who I was able to discuss their research with a bit.
Also, I was able to discuss research in Morocco with several Moroccan scientists informally and attend a roundtable discussion about advancing Moroccan science, specifically biological and bioinformatics research. Moroccan scientists, both within and outside of Morocco, are doing worldclass research, including my host of course. The research done within Morocco and by the Moroccan ‘diaspora’ of scientists (there were Moroccan scientists from the US, Europe and the Middle East there), seems to be a ripe network that, together with the enthusiasm of the students, is a great resource for that nation.
If the level of research and enthusiasm of the researchers and students are any indication, Moroccan science will be making great strides in the years to come. Of course, this isn’t anything new I’m sure, just new to me :D.
I learned (relearned) two things on this trip. The world is very small, and very big. I met several people who with whom I had crossed paths with before or who we had mutual friends. There was the Moroccan scientist who I briefly met in Germany while doing a postdoc there and the Moroccan student who knew someone I knew from Qatar. I was asked to talk briefly and the roundtable discussion and I mentioned a virtual African conference I had given a workshop at, and that I thought there was a Moroccan hub at that conference. Sure enough, one of the scientists at the discussion had attended my workshop (and had good words for it :D). Ok, you might say, that’s the ‘world’ of science. Well, it got down to even the woman I met in the hotel who was a Fulbright scholar doing research on Berber and Arabic music… and the man who gave me a ride from the conference the last evening, who just happened to be her Moroccan supervisor.
And it’s a huge world with a lot to discover and awe my sometimes jaded self (rarely, but I can be there). I never had heard of Argan oil before,
traditionally produced from seeds collected from the feces of goats (today it’s more likely collected and processed by more modern methods :), or even considered touring the magical medina of Fes (to which I MUST return). I had no inkling of the existence of Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, a small liberal arts school in the cool (it snows) mountains of Morocco in Ifrane (why do I want to keep writing that as iFrane :D? ). Beautiful campus.
The other thing that came to mind while attending this conference and speaking with Moroccan scientists is the potential (and unnoticed reality) of the research possibilities outside of the US-European-Japanese triangle. Of course India and China are producing great research more and more over the years, but there are another 100 or so countries out there with another few billion people with huge potentials. Of course these smaller countries have always produced great scientists, but I was beginning to think that genomics and bioinformatics is beginning to assist smaller countries ‘leapfrog’ biological research much as cell phone technology allowed some developing countries to ‘leapfrog’ from traditional telephone lines (expensive, hard to do) to wireless (less expensive). Biological research has traditionally be resource intensive: labs, larger universities, equipment. Bioinformatics and genomics research, though still requiring infrastructure, has a lower barrier of entry I believe. I made a comment in my talk, “There is no lack of data,” and it’s true. The amount of data available for analysis is staggering. The number of publicly available tools and databases is overwhelming. One doesn’t have to do “big science” in genomics (though there sure is that) to do world-class research. Thar’s research gold in them thar data hills (sorry for the reference to the California gold rush, I _do_ live in what was the center of it all). Gold that can be mined by any individual, lab or nation with a bit of education and enthusiasm.
I hope to return next year to Morocco and next years conference. I have a lot more to learn :D. And maybe I can teach a bit too.