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[DAMASCUS] Biotechnology, technology transfer and science journalism in the Arab world will receive a boost with six new networks and five initiatives to strengthen the region's science community.

The initiatives were revealed on 14 December at a conference on Arab science and technology held in Damascus, Syria and organised by the Arab Science and Technology Foundation (ASTF).

A new Arab Science Journalists Association will hold workshops and boost networking between science journalists to improve their skills and popularise science.

It will also improve the links between the science community, the public, policy makers, and local industries.

"The Arab science community needs the media more than the media needs us," Abdalla Alnajjar, head of ASTF, told SciDev.Net.

Some 1,100 Arab scientists, as well as international donor agencies and other stakeholders in the Arab science community from 33 countries attended the Fourth Symposium on Scientific Research Outlook and Technology Development in the Arab World.

The five other networks will cover nanotechnology, microelectronics research, 'specialised fields of science', electronic engineering and open source software, and development and innovation.

Two initiatives will support the formation of an Arab biotechnology industry by funding research and development and setting up a private equity fund for investment in biotechnology industries.

The biotechnology sector holds "tremendous opportunity" for the Arab world, according to Moncef Jendoubi, founder and president of Milagen, a biotechnology company based in the United States.

"Governments cannot do it all," he said, but "we, the scientific community, can make it happen".

Jendoubi suggested that the region should use its "huge manpower" and wealth, including that of Arab executives living abroad, to boost the field.

To link Arab universities and industry, young Egyptian engineers will lead a 'Made in the Arab World' competition that will offer the winners training in product marketing.

A pan-Arab technology marketplace and the first Arab technology transfer and licensing conference will be set up to boost technology transfer.

Efforts towards this have already started with 'Technology Developers', a commercial arm within ASTF that will get technologies licensed for the global market.

Major universities and research centres will also benefit from a network of technology transfer and licensing offices.

"We need to start thinking out of the box," Al-Najjar told SciDev.Net. "Scientific research in the Arab world is not weak. We need [to] emphasise the positive instead of the negative to bring optimism to our policy makers," he said.