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Strait of Sicily - A European Maritime Day coloured with blue technologies

Published the 8 July 2016

The European Maritime Day (EMD) is the annual meeting point of Europe’s maritime community and its aim is to increase awareness of activities within various maritime sectors such as shipping, clusters, port infrastructure, environmental associations, scientific organisations and research and education institutes. This year, with a view to raising the profile of the event and encouraging wider involvement of participants from different backgrounds, such as Tunisia, the EMD committee of the Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries under the tutelage of the European Commission, invited the National Institute for Sciences and Technologies of the Sea (INSTM) to organise the first EMD local event to be held on the southern shores of the Mediterranean.

This first Tunisian event of Blue Biotechnology was held on 31 May, 2016 in a new laboratory in the INSTM La Goulette Centre, which was built as part of the BIOVecQ project. The event aimed to foster links between researchers, students, local stakeholders and SMEs. It was also an opportunity to introduce the equipment and new technologies acquired, and research results / innovations achieved, through the two Italy-Tunisia ENI cross-border projects: BIOVecQ and SecurAqua.

After the welcome speech, given by Ms. Saloua Sadok, Laboratory Head and principal coordinator for the two projects, sector expert Mr. Haithem Bergaoui, gave a presentation on the various theoretical and physical aspects of Supercritical CO2 equipment, as well as the benefits of its use.

This presentation was followed by two workshops on:

  • Using Supercritical CO2 equipment, the first equipment acquired in Tunisian laboratories which allows extraction with CO2 liquid, a non-toxic natural solvent and foodstuff, thereby avoiding organic solvents harmful to human health and the environment.
  • Spray drying technology using the newly acquired Spray drying equipment. The principle is based on the dehydration of a liquid into spray powder in a hot air flow. This process not only increases the product's shelf-life and stability, but also gives it a particular texture, structure or feature.

A coffee break where participants could sample new Halio-food products developed as part of the BIOVecQ and SecurAqua projects (smoked fish and surimi coated with natural dyes also produced in the laboratory) gave participants from different sectors a chance to meet and share ideas.

Coordinating transnational efforts in Blue Biotechnology

This open day also included a brainstorming session on future research priorities and how to better coordinate transnational efforts in Blue Biotechnology. Experiences and ideas for promoting Blue Growth using biotechnology as a tool for development were discussed. The session was chaired by Prof. Khaled Ghedira, Director General of the National Agency for Promotion of Scientific Research (ANPR) of the Ministry of Higher Education and Research, and Ms. Narjes Maslah El Hammar, Managing Director of the Technical Centre for Agro-food (CTAA) of the Ministry of Industry.

Mr. Ghedira began the debate by promoting BIOVecQ biotechnology projects that can be carried out on an industrial scale. He also noted the importance of having a financial return on the BIOVecQ laboratory investment in order to invest in improvements, and set up new laboratories. According to Mr. Ghedira, maintenance should be taken into consideration in order to sustain the laboratory and its equipment. He also stressed the need to develop the research results and know-how, both in the public and private sectors, which could in turn encourage international publication.

Ms. Saloua Sadok added that the aim is to create a virtual transnational laboratory that has already been launched with the BIOVecQ project. This laboratory would provide activities and services for companies and also other laboratories through collaborations between the research sector and the private sector. She also stressed the importance of institutional support to provide financial backing to maintain new equipment and to increase the size of the teams. On this point, Mr. Khaled Ghedira announced the implementation of a portal for the National System of Research and Innovation (SNRI) called TUNISIA INNOVATION. This portal, managed by ANPR and API, allows players in innovation to be put in touch with potential collaborators in the economic sector. Ms. Rafika Chekir, Professor at the Institute of Biotechnology of Sidi Thabet (ISB Sidi Thabet) took the floor to explain the importance of integrating Start-ups in this dynamic in order to sustain the BIOVecQ project on a cross-border scale. Ms Maslah El Hammar suggested the signing of a partnership agreement between the CTAA and INSTM to promote such research, facilitating the link between research and industry and to educate industry on new products developed during BIOVecQ. She also proposed the nutritional characterisation of new products to demonstrate their therapeutic and nutritional value, thereby making it easier to convince manufacturers to invest in bioproducts. Ms. Sadok raised the difficulties in engaging Start-ups, due to the ambiguity regarding their creation. Mr. Ghedira intervened on this point to give an example instead of Spin offs that have been launched by the ANRP for young researchers to support them logistically in launching their own projects. Ms. Balkiss Bouhaouala, Professor at the Pasteur Institute in Tunis (IPT) stressed the importance of inviting applications exclusively for biotechnology projects and that these invitations should be made by developers in order to launch the Biotechnology sector in Tunisia. She also stressed the importance of biotechnological development at production unit level, and developing expertise in quality control acquired over the course of the project. It will be possible to develop such expertise delivering the service via the platform.

The debate continued around the posters outlining the doctoral research of INSTM and other project partners. These discussions led to new collaboration ideas.

In conclusion, this half-day brought together more than fifty people from different backgrounds, including academics, researchers, professionals, interprofessionals, students and even schoolgoers. This event allowed newcomers to discover new skills and resources, prompting more sustained and open collaborations.


Mme Saloua Sadok, Laboratory Head and principal coordinator for the two projects BIOVecQ and SecurAqua


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