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Status and prospects of biotechnology in the Middle East and North Africa


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Title: Status and prospects of biotechnology in the Middle East and North Africa

Status and prospects of biotechnology in the
Middle East and North Africa
  • First Jordanian Swedish Biotechnology Symposium
  • 26-27 March 2007
  • Dr. Amjad Khalil
  • Associate Professor of Biotechnology
  • Biotechnology Research Group
  • College of Science


  • What is Biotechnology?
  • Biotechnology applies scientific and engineering
    principles to living organisms in order to
    produce products and services of value to
  • Biotechnology has been identified as one of the
    frontline technologies today being developed and
    used to understand and manipulate biological
    molecules for applications in medical,
    agricultural, industrial and environmental
    sectors of the national economy.

  • Biotechnology is not new.
  • Examples of the old technologies include
    fermentation (such as in the production of beer
    from malt) and plant propagation and breeding.

  • However, there is a new biotechnology which has
    emerged in the last 25 years and which has been
    built on new knowledge of DNA structure and
  • In particular, it has allowed geneticists to move
    genetic material from one life form to another in
    a way that was not previously possible.

Importance of Biotechnology
  • Biotechnology is expected to be the engine of
    global economy during the 21st century.
  • The growing biotechnology industry and its
    sectors considered the new directions for
    long-term economic growth.

Importance of Biotechnology
  • - Rabid advances in genome science are opening
    up a multitude of new business opportunities in
    the life science-related industries.
  • - To accompany this growth, manpower
    appropriately trained and educated in
    biotechnology is certainly needed.

  • Recent advances in biotechnology provide good
    opportunities for immediate benefits to
    developing countries.
  • The innovations made in biotechnology
    applications include
  • A- the development of micro-propagation
    systems for many plant species and of new plant
    varieties with highly desirable characteristics.
  • B- the manipulation of genetic material and
    its cloning into other organisms.
  • C- the production of genetically engineered
    plants that are resistant to viruses, insects and

  • D- fermentation technology producing many human
    and animal health products, as well as food and
    feed ingredients.
  • E- treatment and utilization of liquid and solid
    wastes. These developments could have wide
    applications in agricultural production and
    environmental protection.

  • Most countries in the Middle East and North
    Africa are characterized by severe weather
    conditions, lack of fresh water and widespread
    soil erosion.
  • As a result, viable agriculture to produce food
    of both plant and animal origin is strictly
    limited and is below consumption levels.
  • Since the population is expected to double in the
    next two decades, the countries in this region
    face a food supply problem of some magnitude.
  • They already suffer from a low standard of
    living, inferior quality of food, poor health and
    weak economies.
  • This clearly indicates the need of these
    countries to gain access to the new advances and
    products of biotechnology.

  • In order to achieve this goal, a long-term
    program should be established for the generation,
    transfer and development of biotechnology to the
    Middle Eastern countries.
  • Major components of this program will be
  • A- the development of trained personnel,
  • B- the strengthening of research and technology
    transfer facilities
  • C- the establishment of international and
    regional collaboration in the field of

  • This PRESENTATION analyses the major trends of
    biotechnology in the region as a whole as well as
    in individual selected countries then examines
    the prospects of strengthening biotechnology in
    conjunction with conventional technologies and
    finally, it outlines the strategies for the
    promotion of biotechnology in the region.

Major trends and prospects of biotechnology
  • The main challenges facing the Middle Eastern
    countries are related to food supply and
    conservation of resources. Using biotechnological
    approaches, different resources can be utilized
  • A- increasing soil fertility through
    biological activities
  • B- increasing food production through genetic
    manipulation and plant cell culture
  • C- biological waste water treatment
  • D- bioconversion of waste for food and feed
  • Most biotechnological activities present in these
    countries are limited to traditional methods to
    serve their needs, i.e. industrial fermentation,
    soil microbiology and bioconversion of waste.

  • There are various sources of raw materials for
    fermentation in the Middle Eastern countries.
  • A- Huge quantities of hydrocarbons and methanol
    are found in oil-producing countries,
  • B- carbohydrate by-products (molasses) and
    lignocellulose waste (cardboard, paper) are found
    in most countries.
  • C- Agricultural and forest residues generated in
    some countries (Morocco, Turkey, Yemen, Iraq and
    the Syrian Arab Republic) are considered
    renewable resources that can be utilized by
    biotechnological means for the production of
    food, feed, fertilizers and fuel.

  • The majority of these countries have established
    A- traditional fermentation industries, i.e. (the
    United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman,
    Kuwait, the Syrian Arab Republic and Egypt)
  • B- baker's yeast production (The Syrian Arab
    Republic, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt)
  • C- methanol and acetic acid production (Iraq, the
    Syrian Arab Republic, Lebanon and Egypt) and D-
    acetone, butanol and citric acid (Egypt).
  • E- Fermented dairy products' plants have been
    established in all countries.

  • F- Most of these countries have established
    biological treatment plants for sanitary waste
    water and have utilized the treated waste water
    for landscaping and agriculture. However, there
    is still a need for more research and development
    to adapt and optimize treatment technologies, to
    upgrade the quality of treated effluent and for
    proper management of sewage sludge.

  • In 1982, the production of dates in the Near
    Eastern and North African countries accounted for
    about 73 percent of total world date production
    (1.9 million tonnes). Iraq and Saudi Arabia were
    the leading producers, followed by Egypt,
    Algeria, Yemen and the Sudan.
  • The date-palm produces, in its long lifetime,
    relatively few offshoots which are suitable for
    transplanting. Vegetative micropropagation
    through tissue culture is therefore a promising
    technique for multiplying elite, high-yielding
    and disease-resistant trees. The results obtained
    in Saudi Arabia as well as in Morocco, Algeria
    and Tunisia have shown that in vitro
    micropropagation can be very successful. However,
    future research is needed to overcome the
    difficulties related to early flowering and lack
    of uniformity of the cloned plants.

  • It is particularly important to create date-palm
    clones resistant to the disease caused by
    Fusarium wilt, which is threatening the palm
    groves in Morocco. In the date-producing Arab
    countries, high-quality dates are still imported
    even though domestic production exceeds
    consumption. In these countries, the application
    of tissue culture techniques to improve date-palm
    varieties, coupled with progressing, packaging
    and marketing efforts, would lead to major
    changes in their capacity to export high-quality

  • As regards plant production, most countries that
    responded to the questionnaire adopted tissue
    culture techniques to improve plant production,
    in addition to conventional methods of plant
    breeding. These countries are cooperating with
    international organizations for the adoption of
    advanced plant biotechnological techniques .
  • Some activities related to animal health were
    reported from Egypt and the Sudan. The Animal
    Health Production Institute (AHRT) and the
    Veterinary Serums and Vaccine Research Institute
    in Egypt were cooperating with FAO and
    international institutes in Finland and the
    United States in combatting brucellosis and other
    animal diseases.

  • Successive governments have had to search for
    means to increase food production and reverse the
    downward economic trend.
  • The government intends to develop
    self-sufficiency in cereals.
  • Algeria depends on imports of durum wheat. This
    dependence on cereal imports is reflected by the
    focus of several biotechnology projects which
    have been implemented under government auspices.
    Both the National Institute for Agricultural
    Research and the Department of Plant
  • Currently, these institutions also use various
    biotechnology approaches to look for alternative
    sources of protein, such as potato and chickpea.
  • The Department of Animal Production focuses on
    the protein content of straw for livestock feed.

  • Basic biotechnology research is mainly carried
    out at the Houari Boumedienne University of
    Science. .
  • The relationship between universities and
    commercial breeding companies is still in a state
    of evolution, the only successful undertaking so
    far has been a program for potato
    micropro-pagation supervised since 1989 by the
    Institute for the Development of Vegetable Crops.
  • In 1988, plans for future biotechnology research
    were formulated by the High Commission for

  • Five priority areas were identified
  • A- Food industries. Production of single-cell
    protein, Spirulina, enzymes and solid-state
  • B- Increase and improvement of agricultural
  • C- Production of pharmaceuticals. For the
    extraction of biologically active plant
  • D- Immunology. Production of vaccines and
    monoclonal antibodies.
  • E- Use and recycling of agricultural and
    industrial wastes and by-products. For the
    production of ethanol, acetone butanol and

  • In Egypt, biotechnology activities were initiated
    in the early 1950s..
  • The government showed its interest in providing
    support to biotechnology by offering to host one
    of the principal laboratories of the
    International Centre for Genetic Engineering and
    Biotechnology (ICGEB)
  • this culminated in the agreement that Egypt would
    establish an affiliated ICGEB biotechnology
    centre with the Academy of Scientific Research
    Technology (ASRT) as the principal liaison
  • The academy established a national biotechnology
    committee in 1984 since then, research in plant
    biotechnology has been carried out in different
  • The Cell Research Section of the Agriculture
    Research Centre (ARC) in Cairo became the
    Biotechnology Centre of the Ministry of
    Agriculture. In 1990, the Ministry of Agriculture
    decided to create a

  • National Agricultural Genetic Engineering
    Laboratory (NAGEL).
  • The main research objective of NAGEL is to
    apply genetic engineering and tissue culture for
    transfer of desirable traits such as tolerance to
    salt and drought and pest resistance in the major
  • - Tissue culture is used for micropropagation
    of strawberries, potatoes, bananas, and

  • At the National Research Centre (NRC), a Division
    of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology was
    established with the following departments
  • Molecular biology for enzyme production for
    industrial and clinical diagnosis.
  • Cell biology for animal cytogenetics (chromosome
    and gene mapping) biotechnological methods for
    embryo technology (embryo culture, transfer,
    sexing, splitting pre-implantation, embryo
    freezing and twinning).
  • Plant cell and tissue culture for plant tissue
    culture to produce secondary metabolites the
    selection of plant cell lines for stress
    tolerance e.g. to salinity and drought the
    production of virus-free potato planting
    material and the micropropagation of plants with
    difficulties for conventional propagation.
  • Microbial biotechno1ogy for ethanol production
    from sugar by-products and methane production
    from agro-industrial wastes.
  • Microbial genetics for the production of useful
    microbial compounds through genetically improved
    strains such as saponin production in Poinciana
    regia to Azotobacter elimination or degradation
    of pollutants transformation of cellulolytic
    nitrogen fixers construction of Saccharomyces
    cerevisiae strains capable of cellulose,
    cellobiose or lactose consumption.

  • sterility in indica x japonica crosses, fixing
    inherited traits such as protein content and
    starch characteristics and generating
  • Research on the use of the biofertilizers to
    increase rice yields in Egypt has demonstrated
    the beneficial effects of the blue-green algae,
    Cyanobacteria, for rice growth and yield
    increase. Algal supplementation has been found to
    reduce the need for inorganic nitrogen by 30 to
    50 percent, and to maintain soil fertility and
    gradually improve the content of soil organic
    matter. Another major advantage of this
    biofertilizer is the ease with which it can be
    produced, stored and distributed. The Ministry of
    Agriculture has set up a programme for the
    production of sufficient Cyanobacteria inoculum,
    to cover an area of about one million feddans
    (400 000 ha).

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Need for Biotechnologists in the Kingdom
  • Despite the urgent needs for biotechnologists as
    professional manpower, none of the academic
    institutes in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia offers
    any program of biotechnology.
  • One of the main objectives of the suggested
    program is to supply the market of the Kingdom
    and the region with well-trained, professional

Need for Biotechnologists in the Kingdom
  • KFUPM could become the first university in the
    Kingdom and the gulf region to successfully
    graduate biotechnologists with strong background
    in different disciplines of biotechnology.
  • In the near future ,hospitals, pharmaceutical
    industry, and research institutes will need a
    well trained biotechnology professionals.

Need for Biotechnologists in the Kingdom
  • In the last few years, the gulf region lunched
    two projects on Biotechnology. First, Jeddah
    BioCity as an international pioneering company in
    the transference of biotechnology via the
    creation of projects in research and development
    to produce a high economic return.
  • Second, Dubai Biotechnology Park (DuBiotech) is
    designed to be the center of excellence in
    biotechnology that will link government, academia
    and industry through national and international
    collaboration to develop new technologies and
    products to address regional health and
    environmental issues.
  • The presence of these biotechnology centers in
    the gulf region will increase the demand for well
    trained and professional biotechnologists in the
    near future.

Why at KFUPM?
  • KFUPM has established a very strong and reputable
    sciences and engineering programs, Thus it
    could play a very important role in preparing
    students with strong science background in the
    field of Biotechnology.
  • KFUPM will be the first university in the area
    that has taken the lead in proposing to design
    such a program, which could serve the community
    and the students by transferring the new
    technology to Saudi universities and companies.

  • Taking a strategic decision by KFUPM to go for
    Biotechnology program will be an excellent point
    in its history.
  • The opportunity exists for KFUPM to position
    itself as an important contributor to the
    advancement and evolution of biotechnology in
    this century.
  • The Biotechnology team believes that KFUPM can
    become known as a major national key player in
    the area of biotechnology.
  • The university support for this strategic
    initiative is an opportunity to build excellence
    in an area affecting all forms of life.

  • To achieve success in the area of
    biotechnology KFUPM should do the followings
  • Formation of Biotechnology steering committee .
  • Build human resources in the area of
  • Develop scientific and technological
  • Linkages between academic institutions and

  • Successful Examples from the rest of the world
  • There are a variety of lessons that KFUPM can
    learn from the organization and management of
    biotechnology in other countries, particularly
    developing countries such as Cuba, Brazil,
    Argentina, Thailand and China, which have made
    significant strides in the development and
    commercialization of biotechnology over the past
    two decades.

  • Brazil is emerging as one of the developing
    country leaders in biotechnology .
  • Excellent achievement in citrus crop diseases and
    cancer .
  • Development of vaccines for diseases such as
    tuberculosis, and hepatitis B.

  • Nigeria is one of the African countries that has
    embarked on a determined program to exploit
    biotechnology for the benefit of its peoples and
    to ensure that Nigeria becomes a key participant
    in the international biotechnology arena within
    the next decade.
  • The Federal Government provided the National
    Biotechnology Development Agency with US 263
    million per annum for three years as a take-off
    grant to fund the executive programs in
    agriculture, health, industry, environment and
    human resource development.

  • - Cuba is a developing country that has
    made significant strides
  • in biotechnology.
  • - 35 national research institutes dedicated
    to health-related
  • biotechnology
  • - 25 agricultural centers apply
    biotechnology approaches.
  • - Produces the worlds only successful
  • vaccine, which is patented worldwide.
  • - Cuba has invested more than US 1000
    million in its
  • biotechnology research centers alone.

  • USA has the largest and most profitable
    biotechnology industry, consisting of more than
    1,300 companies, with combined revenues of over
    22 billion and employing 162,000 people.
  • Some of the biotechnology companies
  • are of the top 15 Nasdaq-listed
  • companies .

  • The number of biotechnology companies 160
  • The total biotechnology sector generates annual
    revenue of roughly R4 billion.
  • The Australian Government spends roughly one
    billion rand a year on biotechnology research.
    Most of this money is spent through the

  • In the last 10 years, Jordan moved into the area
    of Biotechnology and achieved number of good
    goals such as
  • 1- Four universities offer undergraduate
    Biotechnology programs, and one graduate program.
  • 2- Two centers of Biotechnology
  • A- Biotechnology center at Jordan University
    affiliated with Hamdi Mango Center for Scientific
  • B- The Virtual Biotechnology Center directed by
    The Higher Council for Science and Technology .
  • 3- Two Pharmaceutical Companies work in the area
    of Biotechnology for developing Recombinant
  • 4- Jordan developed a National Biosafety
    Framework as main components of Cartegena
    Protocol on Biosafety.

Conclusions of Part A
  • To achieve a significant progress in the field of
    biotechnology, KFUPM requires a body (committee)
    to champion biotechnology.
  • establishing well-funded and staffed agencies
    dedicated to biotechnology is essential.
  • The need to build up a scientific and
    technological capabilities.
  • Investment in biotechnology must be based on an
    explicit national goal of generating products and
    processes and commercializing these on domestic
    and international markets.


  • The KFUPM undergraduate program of Biotechnology
    aims at taking a leading role in research,
    innovation, education and postgraduate training
    in the Gulf and Middle East regions.
  • The program will support and enhance the
    technology transfer, industrial development and
    community services .

  • The mission of the program will be provided high
    quality education, research, and community
    service in the area of biotechnology and related

  • Specific components of this mission are
  • 1- To conduct basic and applied research that
    expands knowledge in the area of biotechnology
    and provides innovative solutions and
    differentiating technologies for the Saudi
    industries and for the healthcare services.
  • 2- To provide high-quality education in
    biotechnology and its related sciences, and to
    prepare professionals for the ever increasing
    complexity of the systems in this field and
    extend collaborative links both nationally and
  • 3. To provide high-quality professional
    training and consultation in the area of

Program Objectives
  • Develop basic laboratory skills, perform standard
    techniques, and work with the state of the
  • To broadly educate students for positions in the
    biotechnology industry and to prepare students
    for graduate and professional study in the life
  • Students will be able to solve problems in
    biological sciences using biotechnology
  • Linking research establishments with economic and
    service sectors by concentrated comprehensive
    marketing to facilitate the creation of new
    highly skilled work force and jobs that will
    benefit the Saudi community.


Benefits to the society
  • the biotechnology program is beneficial to
    the society as a whole because KFUPM, a leading
    university in science and technology, will
    contribute to the scientific training of under
    graduate student of this program and provide the
    community with well trained graduates with
    adequate scientific knowledge and skills.

Benefit to KFUPM
  • The University will play an important role in
    creating, developing and advancing research and
    development in biotechnology which benefit the
    Kingdom and the region.

Benefit to the Industry and Economy of KSA
  • Biotechnology is a goldmine in the developed
  • KFUPM will help in linking research
    establishments with economic and service sectors
    by concentrated comprehensive marketing to
    facilitate the creation of new highly skilled
    work force and jobs that will benefit the Saudi
    industry and economy.
  • KFUPM biotechnology program will encourage the
    government to support the investment in
    Biotechnology applications which are expected to
    have futuristic concept that blends innovative
    research and manufacturing in an economic
    container that would contribute to the welfare
    and prosperity of KSA society.

Benefit to students
  • Biotechnology program will help the students to
    acquire a strong foundation in biology,
    chemistry, and physics.
  • This program will put heavy emphasis on
    methodology through laboratory experience that
    provides students with state-of-the-art
    biotechnology instruments and skills.
  • Students will be able to apply the principles of
    biotechnology to solve problems encountered in
    medicine, public health, research and
    development, agricultural, industrial and
    environmental sciences.

Major Biotechnology Courses
  • This program should expose the students to number
    of core courses in Biotechnology in order to give
    them the knowledge and the experience to be an
    excellent professional Biotechnologists and
    become qualified to into the market of the
    biotechnology positions., such courses include
  • General Microbiology
  • Introduction to Biotechnology
  • Principle of Genetics
  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Microbial Biotechnology
  • Molecular Genetics
  • Methods in Recombinant DNA Tech
  • Applied Molecular Biology
  • Proteomics and Protein Technology
  • Mammalian tissue culture
  • Plant Tissue Culture
  • Ethics in Biotechnology
  • Bioinformatics

Career Opportunities
  • Lab specialist in biotechnology, food,
    pharmaceutical, medical and agrotechnology
    industries .
  • Research assistant as part of a larger research
    team, conducting experiments in the laboratory or
    in the field.
  • Forensic and medical laboratory specialist.
    Examine DNA and other scientific evidence
    relating to criminal investigations and analyze
    DNA from clinical samples from patients for
    diagnosis of genetics diseases.
  • Environmental consultant by assess and monitor
    environmental contamination and help in
    developing and implementing bioremediation
    programs to clean up the environment.
  • Scientific journalist and media presenter by
    writing articles and help in preparing broadcast
    programs to communicate the importance of
    scientific development to the public.
  • Sales representative / marketing professional
    sell and provide advice about special scientific
    products to clients in research, help to solve
    specific problems related to equipment
    applications and experimental procedures.

List of Universities
  • 1- Drexel University / USA
  • 2- Whitehead University/MIT
  • 3- University of Queensland / Australia
  • 4- North Iowa University / USA
  • 5- University of Maryland University College/USA
  • 6- Purdue University Calumet / USA
  • 7- University College London / England
  • 8- Indiana University / USA
  • 9- University of Georgia / USA
  • 10- Lund University / Sweden
  • 11- University of Helsinki / Finland

  • Biotechnology is one of the frontline
    technologies today and considered to be the
    engine of global economy during the 21st century.
  • Biotechnology solve problems in biological
    sciences for the benefits of humanity, provided
    high quality education, research, and community
  • Lessons should be learned from the experience of
    other countries , and to start now is better than
    10 or 15 years later.

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