The BCCM go south:

The launching of the Moroccan Co-ordinated Collections of Micro-organisms

Novembre 26, 1996:

somewhere between Casablanca and Marrakech, the moonless night is brightened by the dazzling flashes of the headlights of the trucks rushing by on the road and shivering our car. My colleague, Prof. Mohamed Amar, is tired so I talk to keep him awake. It was a very busy day, we left Rabat early this morning to visit the Faculty of Sciences and the Institute Pasteur in Casablanca, and we are driving now to visit the INRA research centre in Marrakech. The visit is scheduled for early tomorrow morning.

Minister Fassi-Fehri (second from right) and Minister Ylieff (right) are listening to Prof. Amar (left) presenting the activities of the CCMM freeze-dry unit. In the background are Mr. Kaizin and Mr. Pierce from Belgian Technical Cooperation, who are in charge of the administrative follow up of the CCMM project. Also present were Dr. Nicole Henry, Head of the R&D Department of OSTC, in charge of the BCCM, Dr. Saïd Bel Cadi, Director of Research and University co-operation, and representatives of both the BCCM and the CCMM collections.
Ministers Fassi-Fehri and Ylieff exchanging presents during the last working session organised at the Ministère de l'Enseignement supérieur, de la formation et de la Recherche. This Ministry has invested in the infrastructure of the CCMM freeze-dry and conservation units, in a generator set, in AC system, and in a dust-free room among other things. The Belgian Federal Public Service of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Co-operation funded the scientific equipment chosen by BCCM and CCMM experts to equip the laboratory.
Already in 1996: BCCM had contacts with several microbiological institutes in Morocco. Both our Belgian and Moroccan colleagues realised that long-term conservation of microbial resources was needed in Morocco. To preserve and study the local microbial diversity, we wanted to start a network of Moroccan laboratories.

What we did not yet know is that it would take us seven years to do it. During this long journey, we encountered human, scientific, technical and logistic difficulties, but the final results are beyond all of our hopes and expectations.
Some were sceptical about the success of the endeavour; others were reluctant to share their resources and information for the benefit of the Moroccan scientific community. Then there was the logistical burden of getting the strains from and back to Morocco for cross-analysis as well as the purchasing, testing and shipment of all equipment, the associated administrative paperwork mountain, and the numerous small technical defaults. However, these were all overcome with the support and willingness of the various partners.

Finally, in March 2003
: the Moroccan Co-ordinated Collections of Micro-organisms (CCMM) was established.

At present, the CCMM constitutes a network of ten (1) laboratories, which network, it is expected, will be extended in the future. They have a central freeze-drying facility and a collection of micro-organisms selected for distribution. With the support of the BCCM, an electronic database was designed to ensure data management. The CCMM also have an internet connection hosted by the CNRST (URL:, a library of reference books on microbiology and culture-collection management, and a capacity-building programme with training courses and workshops (2). The publication of the first catalogue of microbial resources isolated in Morocco crowned the work and highlighted all the other aspects of the project.

The CCMM is the first national network of culture collections on the African continent. Both the network and the catalogue were set up in close bilateral collaboration with the BCCM.

In addition to this scientific and technical capacity building (3), the BCCM urged their colleagues to develop in parallel appropriate legal and administrative rules to protect their progress in biotechnology and suggested that Morocco should ratify the Budapest Treaty on the international recognition of deposits of micro-organisms for patent purposes. The Moroccan authorities took this seriously, and the Moroccan Industrial and Commercial Property Office organised a two-day seminar on the Budapest Treaty in April 2002. Speakers of the World Intellectual Property Organisation as well as of the BCCM were invited to share their knowledge and experience with Moroccan scientists and industrial property representatives.

Well aware of these activities and the subsequent perspectives of biotechnological development in Morocco, the Minister of Research, Dr Fassi-Fehri invited his Belgian colleague, Minister Yvan Ylieff, who is in charge of scientific research, for a working visit in Morocco last March. This visit was the occasion for the Ministers and their staffs to build on the current realisations and to foster future collaboration in biotechnology between the two countries bilaterally as well as in the context of European scientific co-operation.

It was also a good opportunity for the representatives of the competent administrations to meet: in Belgium, the Federal Public Planning Service for Science Policy has initiated and still manages the project via the BCCM, while the Federal Public Service of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Co-operation contributed to fund the project; in Morocco the Ministère de l'Enseignement Supérieur, de la Formation des Cadres et de la Recherche has initiated the project with its Belgian counterparts and is still funding and closely monitoring it. These bodies have bridged their respective scientific communities to make durable biotech development possible that will be beneficial to all of the partners: capacity building for some and access to microbial resources for others.

As in 1996: the four days of March 2003 were busy. While the Belgian and the Moroccan Ministers and their teams were visiting laboratories and research institutions around Rabat and Casablanca, the CCMM and BCCM partners met to prepare the next phase. After having set up the CCMM as a tool to preserve, study and characterise microbial resources, it is time to valorise it in a specific research programme with a view to direct and indirect socio-economic



CCMM catalogue

The 2ed edition of the CCMM catalogue was prepared in collaboration with the BCCM.
It contains 913 strains of bacteria, fungi and yeasts representing 366 species, subspecies or pathovars divided into 153 species of
bacteria and 213 species of fungi and yeasts. 


The CCMM and the BCCM intend to develop specific research activities in applied medical and agro-food mycology as well as in applied food bacteriology. Both partners have focused their research on essential sectors where there is an urgent need for updated technical information to help appropriate decision-making and to initiate efficient problem solving. The next phase of the collaboration involves BCCM/MUCL in the investigation of the micro-rhizosphere of the date palm, the Argania tree and their associated cultures, all of which have important socio-economic significance for the local population. BCCM/LMG and its Moroccan partners plan to characterise, preserve and valorise lactic acid bacteria and water bacteria, the former for their important role in diary nutrition, the latter for the safety of the water supply. In the field of human health, BCCM/IHEM wants to collaborate on an epidemiological study on skin and scalp diseases to help the authorities take appropriate prophylactic and curative measures. In conclusion, the journey started in 1996 is still continuing with encouraging prospects and an even longer way to go.

1. Under the Ministère de l'Enseignement supérieur, de la formation et de la Recherche: Faculty of Sciences of Marrakech, Faculty of Sciences of Meknès, Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy of Rabat, CNRST- National Centre for Scientific and Technical Research and ENA- National School of Agriculture; under the Ministry of agriculture: IAV Hassan II Rabat, IAV Hassan II Agadir and the INRA network (Rabat, Kénitra, Marrakech); under the Ministry of health: Institute Pasteur; under the Ministry of equipment: ONEP- National Office for drinking water.

2. Among others the Training Course on Management of Culture Collections of Micro-organisms (Jointly organised by the World Federation for Culture Collections (WFCC), US Federation for Culture Collections (USFCC), CCMM and BCCM (Rabat, 3-7 May 2004).

3. The international co-operation programme of the BCCM is developed in compliance with the Convention on Biological Diversity, which includes capacity building activities.

Philippe Desmeth
BCCM Officer for international cooperation
Tel.: +32 (0)10 47 89 36
+ 32 (0)2 238 37 13
Fax: +32 (0)10 45 15 01




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