Three new assistant professors joined the Department of
Biology at the beginning of the 2003-04 academic year: Michel Bariche,
a marine biologist; Imad Saoud, an aquatic scientist, and Colin Smith,
a molecular biologist.
Two of these young professors, both Lebanese, who had never
met before joining AUB, share startlingly similar and remarkably
coincidental interests, goals, and circumstances. In their research,
both Bariche and Saoud work with the seas around us. Both are studying
a local fish introduced into the
Mediterranean Sea with the opening of the
Suez Canal, the
rabbit fish. Both are passionately interested in preserving the
environment of Lebanon and in developing awareness among students of
the many possibilities the study of biology offers—over and beyond
that of a gateway to the study of medicine. Saoud has a Norwegian
wife; Bariche has a Norwegian fiancee. Both are accomplished scuba
divers. Both men are enthusiastic cooks. Saoud, who, at his father's
urging, had turned down acceptance by "a really good cooking school in
Switzerland" before he became an ichthyologist, says that when he and
his wife entertain, he does the cooking.
After completing his baccalaureate at Mont LaSalle, Bariche
continued his studies in France, following his professors around from
1993 to 2002, moving from Grenoble (General University Diploma in
Sciences in 1995 and licence in biology in 1996 from Université Joseph
Fourier), to Montpellier ( maîtrise in aquatic ecology from Université
Montpellier II in 1997), to Paris for an MS in animal and plant
systemic from the Museum of Natural History in 1998, and then to the
sea for his PhD in marine biology (2002) at the Université de la
Méditerranée at Marseilles.
Only three years old at the start of the civil war, when
Bariche left for
he was glad to get out of the war-torn country and thought he would
never return, but, he said, "I missed my country and I missed my 'big
blue.'" His professors in France were interested in the fish of the
Eastern Mediterranean, so when he received his PhD, AUB seemed the logical place to apply
for a teaching job.
Why marine biology? "I always wanted to be a marine
biologist. I think I was a naturalist before I learned to walk. When
the kids were playing football or basketball I was always in the
corner of the field watching the ants; on the beach I was always
checking the small fish. . . Now at home I have my own library, my own
museum, my own fish collection." He plans, however, to offer his own
collection to AUB.
In his PhD studies Bariche focused on two species of the
rabbit fish, signus rivulatus and signus luridus, which came from the
Red Sea and
settled in the eastern Mediterranean. Bariche, who says he used to
conduct his studies at home, finds that teaching marine biology at AUB
"couldn't be better." "If I were offered the same position in Harvard
University I would have preferred AUB. I'm doing what I always wanted
to do in my own country." And, he is near his rabbit fish.
Among Professor Bariche's courses this year is one in
conservation biology, an applied ecology course taught with two other
teachers. They want to show the students the damage done to the
environment, but that
Lebanon is not a
hopeless case, that repairs can be made. Bariche tries to lead his
students to the beauty of the environment in which they live.
Unfortunately, he says, most Lebanese always look somewhere else—on
the Discovery Channel or on National Geographic. "They cannot see that
one meter below the surface we have some beautiful things. We have
whales; we have sharks; we have turtles, but we need to show people.
We need to cultivate awareness, awareness, awareness."
Professor Bariche tries to establish such awareness by
taking students into the field (the department has just bought a boat
which it will use this summer), by bringing specimens to class, by
giving outside lectures to other faculties and to communities in
abroad, and by advising students. "I tell the students, don't let
yourself get pushed. Do what you want to do, because if it works, you
will be working all your life on something you love to do. If it
doesn't work you cannot blame anyone else."
Colleague Imad Saoud is also working on the rabbit fish.
He does not describe himself as a marine biologist, but rather as an
aquatic scientist specializing in environmental physiology. Most of
his research is in the field of aquaculture, focusing on how aquatic
organisms react to stress in aquaculture situations.
Take, for example, he said, a large mouth bass, which
usually grows in a solitary way in its natural environment. What
would happen if you decide to grow it in a pond with 50 bass per cubic
meter? How would they all react? How would their feeding, digestion,
respiration, growth, and reproduction be affected?
Professor Saoud's concentration on aquaculture has a
practical spin off for the fish farming industry in
Professor Bariche, Saoud is also working on the rabbit fish, but
whereas Bariche did his work on the ecology of the rabbit fish, Saoud
is working on actually growing the fish in ponds and cages. He is
examining the optimum temperature, water salinity, and density of fish
per cubic meter. He is also developing a possible diet--how much
protein, fat, and other ingredients are needed. "I want to find a
simple method to grow rabbit fish commercially in Lebanon and to allow
fish in our sea to diversify so that all those fishermen who tend to
work with diminishing returns today can get a new source of income
while reducing pressure on our wild populations.” This would help, he
continued, both the fishing industry and the environment. It's a
After a BSc in biology at AUB in 1987 Saoud studied
biological marine science at the
Southern Mississippi (MS, '92) and aquaculture at Woods Hole in
Starting his PhD in zoology at the
in the same year, he completed his work in aquaculture and fisheries
at Auburn University in Alabama, where he was awarded three separate
prizes for academic excellence. He continued at the university in a
post-doctoral program until he took up his position at AUB in the fall
In the present academic year Professor Saoud has been
teaching Freshman Biology, Plant and Animal Systems, Environmental
Physiology of Aquatic Organisms, and Oceanography-Introduction to
Marine Science. A course he particularly enjoys, Biology 106,
Contemporary Issues in Biology, which he teaches to non-biology
students through recent newspaper clippings on the environment,
evolution, diseases such as SARS and Asian bird flu, and biological
weapons of mass destruction. He is also the coordinator of
Professor Saoud is currently building his own "system of
fish tanks in an environmentally controlled room downstairs (the
basement of the
I will get fish, sort by size, and try different salinities. We will
watch them for several months and check growth, survival, and
reproduction.” Heaters and coolers will control the temperature in the
A master navigator and scuba diver, Saoud likes hiking,
traveling (he hiked up the Amazon for three days last year), and
playing with his two boys, aged almost two and four.
The third new member of the Biology Department is a
molecular biologist, assistant professor Colin Smith, who came to AUB
from Molgen AG,
(2000-03). After taking his BA in chemistry at
in Oregon, he worked as a research assistant before completing his PhD
in chemistry at Washington University in Missouri. He was then a
post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics
at the University of California, San Francisco.
Understanding Professor Smith's field of interest is
daunting for the non-biologically trained layman. He is interested "in
how macromolecules recognize each other in biological systems. There
is incredible diversity in mechanisms and strategies. I am interested
in how large the diversity is,” he said, "how the parts bind to each
other, how things work."
Pointing to an intricate, colorful model of RNA on the top
of his file cabinet, he continued: "The things I'm interested in are
easy to visualize. Very often regulatory events in the cell have to do
with one molecule binding to another molecule. Whether or not they
bind properly has to do with where they bind and exactly what the
constituents are and how flexible the molecule is."
When asked about the practical side of such research,
Professor Smith reiterated his interest in basic research where "the
stated goals are not immediately practical." An important impetus
driving research in Smith's field is the desire "to understand how
biological organisms are regulated. Some of the practical applications
involve drug targets, materials with which to purify drugs,
bio-sensors, and many others."
Professor Smith feels that although the Biology Department
is satisfyingly diverse, few are involved in his particular branch of
research. "We are a small department,” he said, "and we can't cover
everything, although we do pretty well, considering the number of
people we have."
This year Professor Smith has been teaching Introduction to
Biology, a course for non-majors; one freshman and sophomore course
for prospective majors; Genetics; two sections of an undergraduate
seminar for biology seniors; and a graduate class in the structure and
functions of nucleic acids.
Like many a new professor before him, Smith spoke of the
onerous burden of first semester teaching. "Three courses are a lot of
work. If I'm teaching, I want to teach as well as I can. In addition,
I have to get my research started. At research universities in the
States," he said, it's the standard that there is no teaching in the
first semester. And there are substantial start-up funds." Despite
these thoughts, Smith says he did not come to AUB with any false
illusions. "I knew that the job here was heavily undergraduate
teaching. That I'm allowed to and am given an opportunity to do
research is wonderful."
Although living on campus with his Lebanese wife and two
young children is so peaceful, quiet, and insular that he doesn't even
feel he is living in
"the kids are in absolute heaven. They go across the street to ACS,
love their teachers, and play outside with neighbor children. For
children it's better than any other place I've lived or could imagine
For Smith, family comes first, but when he has time, he
enjoys photography and hiking. Having come from an enriching diet of
music in San
Francisco and Berlin, Smith is delighted with the excellent concerts
on campus in the Assembly Hall. The fact that they are within walking
distance is an inviting plus.