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Nobel laureates have created a US$10 million fund for sustainable science development in a bid to promote trust and scientific cooperation in the Middle East.

The new fund was announced last week (15 May) at the third conference of Nobel laureates held in Petra, Jordan.

Made up of donations from the private sector, the fund will support Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian scientists and will eventually be expanded to include other countries in the Middle East.

Areas of research will include solving water shortages, tackling desertification, producing crop plants suitable for the environment, working on pervasive diseases such as Hepatitis C, and developing shared Internet-based science curricula and teacher training.

The board of directors will include a number of Nobel laureates, such as Richard Ernst, who won the 1991 Nobel Prize in chemistry and is based at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

Ernst told SciDev.Net that promoting joint scientific efforts in the Middle East is "one of the few hopes we still have for a future in peace and happy coexistence".

Universities provide "inspiration for respectful collaboration across all political borders" for future generations, including public leaders responsible for shaping the future of the Middle East, he said.

David Gross, winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize in physics and director of US-based Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, said scientists have "a long tradition of working together, across political boundaries".

He cites the collaboration between American and Soviet scientists during the Cold War, and their work to control arms and end the conflict.

"I hope that similar efforts can be initiated in the Middle East," he said.

Hanan Malkawi, director, UNESCO Chair for Desert Studies and Desertification Control at Yarmouk University, Jordan said the fund will make cooperation between Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian scientific entities financially possible.

The fund will be administered by the King Abdullah Fund for Development, a Jordanian organisation promoting sustainable socio-economic development.