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Iran has agreed a science cooperation plan with Syria, and will spearheaded a network to strengthen research capacity in biotechnology in the Middle East and Central Asia.

The plan was signed by Syria's prime minister Mohammad Naji Otri and Iranian vice president Parviz Davoudi at the Syrian-Iranian Economic Cooperation Commission meeting in Tehran, Iran last week (12–14 March).

It highlights various scientific fields for collaboration including medical research, industrial production, energy, petrochemical research, agriculture, environmental research, water and sewage, higher education, and information and communication technology.

Iran will set up a centre to equip Syrian trainers teaching technical and scientific research skills to Syrian scientists and technicians in the agreed fields of cooperation.

Iran is also spearheading an agricultural biotechnology network to connect national biotechnology institutes, researchers, scientists, engineers, and policy-makers from member countries of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) and promote the continuous exchange of knowledge and research results.

The network was approved at a two-day agriculture meeting for ECO member states — Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — also held in Tehran this month (5-6 March).

The network will set up a website and establish a biotechnology database listing institutions, scientists and their respective capabilities, and research programmes. It will also launch a public awareness programme for biotechnology.

It will be coordinated by the Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran, which will provide training, consultancy and laboratory facilities for joint research activities.

Nazar Mohammad Halim, of the faculty of science of Kabul University, Afghanistan, welcomed the network.

"It will enhance the capacity of ECO's member states in agricultural biotechnology research and development to face the combined regional agricultural challenges of reduced water availability, soil degradation, and rapidly increasing pressure of disease and pests," Halim told SciDev.Net.

Fredun Hojabri, founding president of Sharif University of Technology Association, a global organisation for alumni of Iran's top scientific university, emphasised that the network would benefit the region.

"I am very pleased to see that the scientific cooperation between Iran and its neighbouring countries is increasing," he told SciDev.Net.