BCCM go south:
launching of the Moroccan Co-ordinated Collections of Micro-organisms
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.
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.
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.
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
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: http://www.cnr.ac.ma),
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
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.
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
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.
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).
The international co-operation programme of the BCCM is developed
in compliance with the Convention on Biological Diversity, which
includes capacity building activities.
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