Hot on the heels of news about serious biotech investment in Kazakhstan comes an update on similar efforts in the Middle East. In the latest Nature Biotechnology, Cormac Sheridan describes (PDF only) initiatives in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia to nucleate biotech business and education.
Tax incentives, government sponsored facilities and infrastructure, and multi-billion dollar endowments for training and scientific grants are all part of efforts to bootstrap local technology development. Strong, well-funded connections are being built with western educational institutions. The story notes that countries in this region do not have a strong history (recently, anyway) of scientific research, and that part of the challenge will be to create a culture of innovation and competition to produce new results. Oil money is paying for all of this, and I have to say that I am not unhappy some of the profits from filling my gas tank will go to this sort of investment.
In the long run, I wonder what will be the domestic social and political impacts of encouraging inquiry and increased contact with western scientists. It's also worth asking, given historical Arab leadership in education and scholarship, about the local mores (Islamic or otherwise) regarding cloning, stem cells, genetic modification, and cell based therapies. Does anyone have suggestions for reading along these lines?