The Primate Mind Workshop, Erice, Sicily June 3-7, 2009

Recently, Frans de Waal and Pier Francesco Ferrari hosted the Primate Mind Workshop in Erice, Sicily. This conference brought primate researchers from across the globe together to discuss how primate minds connect with other minds.

There were 18 main speakers as well as a select few student/young scientist talks and a poster session. You can go to the Primate Mind website to read all of the abstracts from the conference.

This event was a wonderful opportunity for students (such as myself) and young scientist to interact with some of the most influential people involved in primate work. Not only were the talks excellent, there was also time to talk individually with some of these preeminent scientists.

One unexpected outcome of the conference was the Erice declaration on the use of nonhuman primates for biomedical research. Christophe Boesch headed this statement in response to a recent article in Nature about a new technique of genetically modifying non-human primates for use in biomedical research.

The declaration has three main points regarding these genetically modified animals. First, that these animals should be kept in self-breeding colonies so that the endangered wild populations are not further threatened and that researchers using this technique should contribute to conservation efforts. Second, the animals in captivity must be given environmental enrichment to promote their psychological well-being. Finally, researchers should continue to use the methods of reduction, replacement and refinement to minimize the amount of animals used in this type of research. You can read a draft of the Erice declaration here.

In addition to the scientific portion of the conference, we also went as a group to several ancient ruin sites around the island of Sicily. The highlight for me was a visit to the amphitheater at Segesta.

We also explored the town of Erice. This is a very old city whose origins are lost to history. Today the city feels medieval with tiny cobblestone roads throughout and old stone buildings. It was a wonderful setting for a conference. You can learn more about Erice here.

Be sure to check out some of the photos from the conference at the Primate Mind website.