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Uzbek, U.S. Scientists Plan to Expand Partnerships

Top U.S. and Uzbek scientists explored potential research collaborations in human health, agriculture, and environmental sciences at a 3-day conference convened by AAAS in Tashkent.

Uzbek and U.S. scientists have worked together previously on cotton and clean water research, and participants from both countries were enthusiastic about expanding collaborations in genomics, proteomics, and climate change.

Microbiology and solar energy research are also emerging as promising fields for cooperative science, said Norman P. Neureiter, senior adviser to the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy and acting director of the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy. “Uzbekistan has a collection of opportunities for considerable cooperative work,” he said.

These opportunities have grown steadily since a 2010 Science & Technology Cooperative Agreement signed by the U.S. and Uzbekistan, as well as a 2011 visit to the country by U.S. State Department science envoy and former AAAS Board member Alice P. Gast.

More than 70 researchers and dignitaries, including Shavkat Salikhov, president of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Uzbekistan, and U.S. Ambassador George Krol, attended the 27 to 29 September meeting. Former AAAS President Gilbert S. Omenn and current AAAS Board member Inder Verma also spoke at the conference; it was organized by Gwenaële Coat, a senior program associate at the AAAS Center, and Uzbek Academy researcher Ibrokhim Abdurakhmonov.

The role model for many gathered in Tashkent is a decade-long collaboration in cotton genetics between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Texas A&M University, and the Uzbek Academy of Sciences. Abdurakhmonov and Texas A&M’s Alan Pepper described how the program has produced high-quality studies and supported a remarkable cotton-breeding program in a country at the same chilly latitude as Chicago.

Joy Ward, a University of Kansas professor, is pursuing collaborations with senior Uzbek scientists to focus on important plant genes that may respond to environmental change. She and many others also spoke about expanding international opportunities for the next generation of Uzbek researchers. “We need to bring more early-career scientists to conferences like this one, as they are the hope for continued collaborations between our nations.”

Many of the researchers noted the need for funding to move these partnerships beyond the talking stage, said Jacqueline Fletcher, an Oklahoma State University scientist who pointed to the USDA program as an inspiring example. “Uzbek and U.S. scientists share many common goals and productive interactions are often easy to envision, but consistent financial resources are needed to engage and continue that engagement over time,” she said.

“I think, currently, we—both the U.S. and Uzbek sides—must concentrate on finding the funding resources for the collaborations intended,” Abdurakhmonov agreed. “This requires good ideas and continual discussion.”

The researchers plan to continue their discussions and define specific cooperative projects at a meeting in the United States in 2013.