Carnegie Mellon Qatar offers new biological sciences programmes

Carnegie Mellon Qatar partnered with Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q) to start offering biological courses, with two new undergraduate degree programmes in biological sciences and computational biology.

“Graduates will be uniquely qualified to solve problems and contribute to cutting-edge research in fields such as biomedicine, healthcare and global health,” said Ilker Baybars, dean of Carnegie Mellon Qatar.

The two new courses will offer a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in biological sciences and a B.S. in computational biology. The courses are offered in collaboration with their associated departments at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh.

These are the first biological courses in Carnegie Mellon Qatar. Students enrolled in any of the university’s three existing undergraduate programs — business administration, computer science and information systems — will be able to participate in the new programmes by taking courses in biological sciences or computational biology.

Once the courses are complete and fully established, between 20 and 25 students are expected to enroll in the programmes annually.

The core curriculum will include mathematics, physical and life sciences, computational biology and laboratory courses. Students may also apply for elective courses in neuroscience, immunology, computational biology and liberal arts classes.

Javaid Sheikh, dean of WCMC-Q, said the new programs offered “would be an important contribution to the vision of Qatar becoming a knowledge-based society by 2030.”

Mixed results to Egyptian university professors general strike

<img alt=“Cairo University.jpg” align=right src=“http://blogs.nature.com/houseofwisdom/images/Cairo%20University.jpg” width=“280” height=“204” />A full strike organized since the first academic day by university professors from over 19 Egyptian universities, calling for the removal of all university leaders appointed during the previous regime’s rule, has seen several gains. However, it was not free from sporadic violence either.

The protesters wanted to replace all university presidents, deans and department heads appointed before the 25 January revolution through a transparent electoral process. The interim government has promised this will take place before the start of the academic year, but stopped short of forcing university leaders to resign. This prompted the professors to threaten a full strike.

Hossam Kamel, president of Cairo University, Egypt’s oldest university, resigned a few weeks earlier but was reselected through elections held in the university, thus becoming the first elected university president of Cairo University since its establishment in 1908.

Beni Suef University, Beni Suef, has also completed its elections for the post of university president along with Benha University, Benha.

In Ain Shams University, Cairo’s second biggest university, the president and all other university leaders have resigned and a timetable for the new elections was set in place, which will start with the deans in mid-October and end with the university president on 24 November.

However, things went less smoothly in Alexandria University. An open-strike by some 200 students in support of the professors’ demands was violently dispersed, according to eyewitnesses.

This came as the university president, Hend Hanafawy, continues to refuse to step down. The students vowed to continue their sit-in until she resigns, along with all deans.

In another incidence, 15 students were injured after the president of Mansoura University, Mansoura, <a href=”http://bikyamasr.com/45767/egypt-15-students-injured-after-university-dean-runs-them-over/ “>allegedly ran them over with his car when they tried to block his way with their protest.

University professors have vowed to continue their strike, although stressing it will be a partial strike rather than a full strike, to reduce the disruptive effect they are having in students. Students in all universities continue to hold protests in support of the demands of the professors.

New KAUST expedition to explore the Red Sea

<img alt=“Red_sea_satellite.jpg” align=right src=“http://blogs.nature.com/houseofwisdom/images/Red_sea_satellite.jpg” width=“260” height=“280” />Following two previous expeditions in spring 2010 and fall 2008, the KAUST Red Sea Expedition (KRSE) set out on its third trip mid-September, with about 60 marine biologists on board to study and document the Red Sea further.

The expedition be be exploring and collecting samples to study from brine pools, colds seeps and deep amd mid-water environments. The researchers will explore and collect microorganisms and fauna from the different environments they will visit.

While the expedition mostly involves researchers from KAUST’s Red Sea Research Center, there are several international research partners involved, such as Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) , Massachusetts, USA, the American University of Cairo (AUC), Egypt and Hellenic Center for Marine Research (HCMR), Greece.

“The scale of KRSE 2011 is just tremendous, given the peculiarities of the research objectives involved and the challenges associated with achieving the sampling requirements to meet these,” explains Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Suwailem, CMOR Core Lab Manager, in a press release. “Our studies have become more diversified in scope, all geared towards advancing the marine science agenda of the University.”

The researchers will stay aboard the 62-m long research vessel R/V Aegaeo of HCMR for 81-days during the sea voyage, which will return to the KAUST campus 15 December.

The Red Sea remains one of the least studied water bodies in the world. The two previous expeditions yielded important scientific discoveries about the temperature, salinity, currents and radiation. Researchers used the data to model the circulation and current patterns of the Red Sea. The trips also gathered unique bacteria samples from brine pools that were taken back ashore and studied ifurther, paving the way for some interesting discoveries, such as extremophile bacteria that can have useful industrial applications.

United Arab Emirates students shunning science universities

Students at the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are increasingly rejecting science universities, choosing more literary courses, reports the online news portal Gulf News from the second annual Education Conference in the UAE.

The story quotes Abdullatif AlShamsi, the managing director of the Institute of Applied Technology, UAE, who explains that students find medicine or mathematics field as “dry and boring,” and that all attempts so far to change this has been unsuccessful.

The UAE has been taking steps to reform education across the country to satisfy the needs of the marketplace and to fulfill its vision to create a knowledge-based society. The shift away from science universities could disrupt these plans, however.

The problem is not localized to the UAE. In October 2010, the Center for Future Studies, an Egyptian government think-tank, published a report (abstract here) which warned that a majority of pre- and university students are opting not to apply for scientific courses, and a low number seek science and mathematics majors in universities.

The report commented that this could hamper Egypt’s vision of becoming a developed country by 2030, an integral part of the center’s proposed Vision2030 strategy.

Thirty infected with Hepatitis C in public hospital in Egypt

Thirty patients with kidney failure who went to the Kafr El-Zayat Public Hospital in Gharbeya, Egypt, were diagnosed with Hepatitis C – with initial investigations suggesting they were infected from unclean dialysis filters used in the haemodyalisis therapy they were on.

The patients were found to carry the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) during a 3-month regular blood screening.

Amr Helmy, the Egyptian health minister, commented in a statement to the press that the dialysis filters were probably not the culprit, since “they can transfer Hepatitis B, but not Hepatitis C.”

However, Medhat Khalil, a private nephrologist, commented during an interview on the Sabah On TV show on OnTV channel that this is not true. “Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV can all be transferred through haemodialysis machines. I’m not sure why the health minister said that but maybe he was misquoted.”

Pictures taken from within the kidney dialysis room and displayed during the show have a technician and a nurse wearing their normal clothes, with no gloves, masks or overshoes. The walls and floors were also unclean.

“Unclean equipment, such as the dialysis machines – and not just the filters – is an issue that desperately needs to be raised in Egypt,” added Khalil.

“We need simple procedures. Any patient who is diagnosed with kidney failure must be screened for HCV, HBV and HIV before he’s put on the dialysis machine. If they are found to carry any of these viruses then they must be put on specified machines set apart and labeled accordingly,” he continued.

The health ministry has launched an investigation into the incidence to determine how the patients were infected. Some doctors at the hospital have suggested that a batch of erythropoietin, a drug given to patients with chronic kidney diseases, imported from China may have been infected with HCV rather than the dialysis machines.

Bahraini medical staff receive harsh sentences

A court in Bahrain has sentenced 20 doctors and nurses to long jail-terms, ranging from five to 15 years, after indicting them of plotting to overthrow the government.

The medics were involved in treating injured Shia protesters during mostly peaceful protests that broke out in February and March 2011, before they were put down by the Sunni government with support from neighboring Gulf states.

Though the doctors and nurses have been acquitted of charges of stealing medication and equipment from the Salmaniya Medical Compound (SMC), a large hospital in the capital Manama, they have been charged with forcefully occupying SMC.

Other charges include inciting sectarian hatred, plotting to overthrow the ruling Sunni monarchy, refusing to treat injured police, and position of unlicensed weapons.

The medics were previously releases on bail after they went on a hunger strike, so the charges took human rights activists by surprise, who argue against the ruling, saying the doctors were only doing their job.

Relatives of the accuses doctors and nurses said in June that they were tortured to make false confessions, <a href=”http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-15105270 “>reports the BBC.

The verdicts may still be appealed at the National Safety Court of Appeals, but so far 13 of the accused will get 15 years, two will get 10 years, and five will get five years each.

Google offers Egyptian technology entrepreneurs 1.2 million EGP

<img alt=“ebda2 with google.jpg” align=right src=“http://blogs.nature.com/houseofwisdom/images/ebda2%20with%20google.jpg” width=“280” height=“175” />In an effort to spur a new age of entrepreneurs in Egypt following the 25 January revolution, Google launched the competition “Ebda2 with Google” (Ebda2 means “start” in Arabic). The competition will see hopeful entrepreneurs present technology ventures which can affect the society at large.

It will run for eight months, where the budding entrepreneurs will go through a selection process through an independent jury and will be coached by industry experts, executives, and other established entrepreneurs. The winner will receive 1.2 million EGP (US$200,000) – no strings attached.

Competitors can start submitting their technology business ideas to <a href=” http://www.startwithgoogle.com/frontend/index.htm “>www.startwithgoogle.com right away (they only have a little over a month to do so though). The projects can involve several areas, including cloud computing, e-commerce, mobile applications and the promotion of Arabic content online.

“‘Ebda2 with Google’ couldn’t have come at a better time. The impact will be felt nationwide and will provide hope to many Egyptians seeking to fulfill their dreams,” Mohamed Aboud, business development consultant at SAS said in a press release.

Besides the prize money, contestants will have other benefits, such as training workshops from Google employees from all over the world, besides learning how small and medium size enterprises work.

“This project is Google’s platform to inspire Egyptians to start their own technology businesses, to give them hope in the future, and to ultimately benefit Egypt,” said Wael El-Fakharany, the regional manager at Google Middle East.

You can watch a short introductory clip about the competition below.

Stars of Science returns next month

<img alt=“stars of science 1.JPG” align=right src=“http://blogs.nature.com/houseofwisdom/images/stars%20of%20science%201.JPG” width=“280” height=“192” />The reality TV show Stars of Science, which puts the light on innovative young people across the Arab world, will return 6 October 2011 for its third season in Doha, Qatar. The show, which runs for eight weeks, culminates with prizes for the winners and runner-ups worth US$600,000 and support to bring their innovations to light.

The first two episodes of Stars of Science will have the jury travelling to cities in Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, to look for potential candidates with exciting innovations. Following these casting episodes, the selected contestants will vie to convince the jury and the audience to support their projects so they can continue on to the next week, until a process of elimination leaves only four projects standing.

The final, live episode will announce the winners and runner-ups.

The third season, like the previous two, is hosted by the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF) at the Qatar Science & Technology Park.

“Our goal is to show that science can be entertaining and enlightening,” said Sheikh Abdulla bin Ali al-Thani, vice president of Education at QF, during a press release.

Unlike the previous two seasons, which were broadcast on over a dozen TV satellite channels, this season is exclusive to the channel MBC4.

Mysterious prehistoric structures found in the Middle Eastern deserts

<img alt=“Wheels in Middle East desert.jpg” align=right src=“http://blogs.nature.com/houseofwisdom/images/Wheels%20in%20Middle%20East%20desert.jpg” width=“280” height=“186” />

Mysterious circular stone structures found scattered all over the deserts in the Middle East have researchers baffled as to what role they may have played in human culture thousands of years ago in the region.

The circular structures, which researchers refer to as ‘wheels’, stretch from Syria all the way to Saudi Arabia. Thousands of them dot the desert and, while it is hard to make out their shape on the ground, are clearly visible from aerial shots and satellite imagery, such as Google Earth.

David Kennedy, a professor of classics and ancient history at the University of Western Australia, compares the wheels to the nazca lines, ancient “geolyphs” that span across Peru and can show drawings of a monkey and a spider.

“In Jordan alone we’ve got stone-built structures that are far more numerous than (the) Nazca Lines, far more extensive in the area that they cover, and far older,” Kennedy told <a href=” http://www.livescience.com/16046-nazca-lines-wheels-google-earth.html>Live Science.

They are often found on lava fields and can range from 25 metres to 70 metres across.

Sometimes the wheels are spread out in the desert, in other instances the researchers have found hundreds of them clustered close together, such as those found near the Azraq Oasis in eastern Jordan.

Kennedy and his team believe the structures go back at least 2,000 years. However, because they were never excavated in the past, it is impossible to accurately date them.

“There seems to be some overarching cultural continuum in this area in which people felt there was a need to build structures that were circular,” Kennedy told Live Science.

The shapes of the wheels in Syria and Jordan are different from those found in Saudi Arabia. In the latter, some of the wheels are not even circular, but are rectangular in shape. Those that are circular often contain only two spokes that form a bar that is often aligned to sunrise and sunset in the Middle East.

The wheels in Syria and Jordan have several spokes and Kennedy comments that they don’t seem to have any astronomical orientation as those in Saudi Arabia.

Kennedy’s research will be published in an upcoming issue of the <a href=” http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/journaldescription.cws_home/622854/description”>Journal of Archaeological Science.

Horses domesticated in Saudi Arabia 9,000 years ago

<img alt=“Arabian horse.JPG” align=right src=“http://blogs.nature.com/houseofwisdom/images/Arabian%20horse.JPG” width=“280” height=“236” />

Excavations in a new archaeological site in the southwestern Asir province in Saudi Arabia may reveal that horse domestication in Saudi Arabia, started 9,000 years ago – challenging previous theories that the practice started in the Arabian Peninsula 5,550 years ago only.

“This discovery will change our knowledge concerning the domestication of horses and the evolution of culture in the late Neolithic period,” Ali al-Ghabban, vice-chairman of the Department of Museums and Antiquities told reporters in a press conference in Jeddah.

The newly discovered civilization was named al-Maqari, after the site’s location, reports Reuters.

The archaeologists also unearthed several mummies and statues of animals, including a one-metre high bust of a horse.

“A statue of an animal of this dimension, dating back to that time, has never been found anywhere in the world,” said Ghabban, according to Discovery News.

They also found arrowheads, scrapers, grain grinders, tools for spinning and weaving, and other tools that are evidence of a civilization that is skilled in handicrafts.

“The Maqar Civilization is a very advanced civilization of the Neolithic period. This site shows us clearly, the roots of the domestication of horses 9,000 years ago,” Ghabban told reporters at the press conference.

During the time when the al-Maqari civilization lived in the valley where the excavation site was found, the area was much less arid than it is today and the civilization was probably based near a riverbed on fertile grounds, according to the researchers.