August 2011

International collaborative science courses

South and North American scientists team up to offer training in biochemistry and cell and molecular biology. 


Undergraduate students in South America have limited opportunities to interact with researchers from outside of their institutions and countries. In addition, academic and private-sector research scientists in South America historically have had limited opportunities to present and discuss their work in an international setting, thereby diminishing the broader impact of their work and training. Although investment in scientific infrastructure has grown in some Latin American countries, it is increasingly apparent that a platform for discussion and communication of scientific activities is needed within South and Central America as well as with partners from the greater international scientific community.

For more information about IICBB-sponsored events, visit their website.

In 1993, three Brazilian researchers joined eight Uruguayan researchers to host a course about the molecular basis of muscle contraction in Montevideo, Uruguay, for 28 undergraduate and graduate students (1). The course had several purposes. First and foremost, the pedagogical mission was to advance undergraduate teaching and research by providing hands-on research experience in biochemistry, cell biology and molecular biology complemented by lectures from established investigators from throughout South America. In addition, the course focused on strengthening discussion and collaboration among South American scientists with common interests who otherwise would have had limited opportunities for interaction. This first course was sponsored by the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology as well as Brazilian and Uruguayan funding agencies.

The student and faculty evaluations of the 1993 course reflected its value to South American students. Indeed, the course proved to be the sole opportunity for many students to have a rigorous introduction to the curriculum topics. Research and training collaboration among scientists from neighboring South American countries was an important by-product of the course for its participants. The success of the course indicated that expansion to include participants from nations beyond South America was a worthy goal.

An early focus of the International Institute for Collaborative Cell Biology and Biochemistry was to facilitate discussion and collaboration among the small community working on non-muscle myosin V motors at that time. In 2000, the International Symposium on Myosin V was held in Paraty, Brazil. As a result of the scientific connections and personal friendships forged at the meeting, Ernesto Carafoli proposed the formation of the International Cell Research Organization course on molecular motors, which was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2001. The course was organized such that experts from broad disciplines in cell and molecular biology presented in three educational forums: 1) general lectures in their respective fields geared toward a general audience with a broad science background, 2) specific lectures relating to their own research and 3) research laboratory practicals using state-of-the-art methodologies and analyses to investigate the behavior of biological systems. This three-tier format has been utilized by subsequent courses.  

Present course format

IICCBB courses have been held in the U.S., Mexico, Brazil and Uruguay. They typically have about 100 attendees and span two weeks: two one-week lecture series and lab practicals with a research symposium during the intervening weekend in which faculty present seminars on their current research activities. The faculty members are diverse, spanning disciplines from neuroscience to proteomics. Students present their work in posters and short research talks during the symposium as well as in presentations of the results from lab practicals, which cover protein biochemistry, computational modeling of biological processes, analysis of cellular function, generating and analyzing gene expression/protein profiling data, and investigating phylogenetic relationships between protein family members. The lab practicals are limited to 30 to 40 students, since the goal is to have hands-on research experience in small groups.

Students participating in the 2010 Pan-American Advanced Institutes program on the function and regulation of the cytoskeleton, hosted in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. This and another PASI were initiatives of the IICCBB group.



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