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  • Cassava breeders benefit from SNP workshop

    22nd Nov 2009

    November 2009

    The ACGT recently hosted an international workshop at the University of Pretoria (UP) aimed at sharing knowledge on the use of molecular tools for cassava breeding – in particular, SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) Marker Technology. The workshop, which was held from 9 – 12 November 2009, was attended by cassava breeders from a range of African countries – including Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana, Malawi and Uganda – as well as from Brazil.

    Organised as part of the CGIAR Generation Challenge Programme (GCP) Cassava Project, the workshop introduced participants to DNA variation and SNP Marker Technology and its applications. Also included as part of the programme was a demonstration of the recently installed Illumina BeadXpress platform at UP.

    Cassava is an important root crop in unfavourable environments in poor areas of developing countries and is of both industrial and commercial significance. The crop is often cultivated in dry areas as well as being susceptible to certain devastating pests and diseases such as Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD). As such, there is a great need for research towards improvement of drought tolerance and the combating of disease in cassava.

    In keeping with the aims of the GCP Cassava Project, the SNP workshop sought to create a platform for cassava breeders learn about the progress and latest developments in molecular tools and the opportunities that exist for their application in the breeding process.

    According to Emmanuel Okogbenin of the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) in Nigeria, the rapid evolution of the genomics of cassava makes it vital for breeders to constantly be aware of the opportunities that are available to them to improve their work. “The workshop has provided a good networking platform. Working together as a community, we will be able to improve access to facilities and the tools needed to enhance speed and efficiency in the breeding process”, he said.

    Anthony Pariyo from Uganda – where cassava is the second most important crop after bananas – believes access to cutting-edge technologies like SNP has the potential to revolutionise cassava breeding in his country over the next 20 years. “Previous methods relied solely on the phenotype. Being unable to see what was happening on the inside of the plant made it difficult to keep up with the fast evolution of diseases. From this workshop we have learned about the genotyping and marker support services that are available through GCP. These will help us to move our materials faster and greatly improve efficiency”, said Pariyo.

    Applied Biotechnologist, Jedidah Danson from the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI), represented the University of KwaZulu-Natal – where ACCI is running a PhD programme on conventional breeding. According to her, SNP technology adds great value in terms of the volume and quality of data produced. “This technique generates the kind of data that will not only be applicable but invaluable to our students”, she added.

  • EU gives boost to regional natural products research and policy development

    21st Nov 2009

    The SABINA network has successfully secured European Union funding for a project which aims to support natural products research and policy development in the Southern African region.

    The project, titled Policy and support actions for Southern African Natural Product partnership (POL-SABINA) will receive €950 000 over three years from the EU African, Carribean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) programme.

    The activities of POL-SABINA will be directed towards co-ordination and networking in applied research and the development of a knowledge management system (Virtual Research Environment) for SABINA. A major focus will also be on the development of policies to support the scientific use of natural products. This aspect will involve the NEPAD SANBIO office and look at intellectual property issues as well as trans-boundary access and benefit-sharing.

    Additional focus areas include the provision of training to the scientific community in research methodology, project management, research fund management and grant writing; linking the SABINA network to policy makers, farmers and entrepreneurs; establishing external peer review and evaluation procedures for SABINA; and extending the nodes to other institutions in SADC region.

  • Plant biotechnology under the spotlight at Wits Inaugural Lecture

    20th Nov 2009

    ACGT contributor, Prof Chrissie Rey of Wits University presented her Inaugural Lecture titled Plant Biotechnology: key to future food security in Africa on 19 October 2009. Representing the University’s School of Molecular and Cell Biology, Prof Rey’s talk focused on the background, promise and impact of biotechnology with a particular focus on cassava.

    Plant Biotechnology offers innovative genetic solutions to improving food crops, in particular for resource-poor people on the sub-Saharan African continent. In 2003, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the International Food Policy Research Institute championed the humble cassava as the key to future food security in Africa.

    Professor Rey runs the Cassava Biotechnology Programme, which undertakes research to improve cassava germplasm with regards to resistance to Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD). She is working in conjunction with Mozambique in developing cassava for the southern African region, and building capacity for cassava transformation.

  • ACGT supports initiative to boost African drugs and diagnostics research

    19th Nov 2009

    The ACGT was recently represented at the 2nd Stakeholders Meeting of the African Network for Drugs and Diagnostics Innovation (ANDI) to discuss plans for the first African-owned and managed innovation fund to finance drugs and diagnostics research. The meeting was held at the Medical Research Council (MRC) in Cape Town from 4 – 7 October 2009.

    Administered through the World Health Organisation Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (WHO-TDR), the ANDI network concept was launched in Abuja, Nigeria, in 2008. Its main goal is promoting and sustaining African-led product research and development innovation though the discovery, development and delivery of affordable new tools, including those based on traditional medicines.

    The meeting was attended by close to 300 researchers and other stakeholders – including African research institutions; ministries of health and science & technology; science academies; policy makers; donor agencies; health product manufacturers; NGOs; international organisations; Africans in the diaspora and others interested in supporting R&D in Africa. As part of this contingent, the ACGT was represented by its Director, Dr Jane Morris, through her role as chairperson of the steering committee of the South African Malaria Initiative (SAMI). Also present were ACGT contributors from the University of Pretoria and the Biosciences and Materials Science & Manufacturing units of the CSIR.

    The three-day event featured over 100 scientific presentations on a wide range of topics to demonstrate the level of R&D innovation and capabilities in the African continent. In addition, the ANDI Task Force – comprising of members of WHO-TDR, the African Development Bank (ADB) and the European Commission – presented its report and the proposed ANDI strategy and business plan for 2010–2015, which was subsequently approved by meeting participants.

    The plan calls for a R4.4 billion endowment fund in Africa that will generate a sustainable income of up to R230 million a year to support African drug and diagnostic innovation by funding direct research and networking between scientists, contributing to building a sustainable research environment and helping translate research into products.

    The ANDI Task Force is now in discussion with various international and multilateral organisations to source funding, including the ADB – which has provisionally agreed to manage the funds. Initial funders will decide where on the continent ANDI will be based, and five research hubs are planned for Central, North, East, West, and Southern Africa.

    For more information on the meeting, visit the ANDI 2009 website.

  • US policy think-tank looks to ACGT for local perspective on GM crops

    18th Nov 2009

    The ACGT received a visit in early November from a representative of the USA-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Africa Programme. The aim of the visit was to source expert views and information on the latest scientific developments in the field of GM crops.

    The CSIS is currently conducting a major project on food security in Africa and looking at ways to better engage with African stakeholders. A key element of the project research involves relooking the debate over GMOs. To this end, Richard Downie – a CSIS Africa Programme research fellow, was in South Africa from 2 – 6 November to interview key individuals and organisations in the country to gauge the current status of the debate.

    During his visit, Downie met with ACGT Director, Dr Jane Morris, to get an overview of the current status of and latest scientific developments in the South African GM field. The information contributed by the ACGT will be included in a draft report on which contributing organisations and individuals will be invited to comment.

    According to Downie, the CSIS has undertaken this initiative in an attempt to afford African stakeholders an opportunity to have a voice in a discussion that has previously been dominated by those of Europeans and North Americans.

    One of the world’s preeminent international policy institutions, the CSIS is a bipartisan, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, DC. CSIS conducts research and analysis and develops policy initiatives that look into the future and anticipate change. Its Africa Programme conducts centrist, activist, and forward looking research and analysis on major elements of U.S. policy toward Africa.

  • SABINA looks back on its first year at the 2nd Annual RISE Meeting

    17th Nov 2009

    November 2009

    Representatives from the ACGT associate network, SABINA (Southern African Biochemistry and Informatics for Natural Products) recently gave progress feedback at the second annual The Carnegie-IAS Regional Initiative in Science and Education (RISE) Meeting in Nairobi Kenya from 28 – 29 September.

    The five RISE networks were all represented at the meeting where issues relating to students and mentoring, communication, institutional buy-in and equipment were among the topics of discussion. In attendance on behalf of SABINA were Jane Morris of the ACGT, Martha Kandawa-Schulz from the University of Namibia, as well as John Saka and Frank Ngonda of the University of Malawi.

    SABINA’s report focused on the groundwork that has been successfully laid in its first year of operation. This progress includes the establishment of a secretariat, the appointment of a project administrator at the University of Malawi and the creation of a website. In addition, two cohorts of students have already been recruited and a number of contacts made at the ISP/AAU conference in Addis in September. Larger developments include the securing of a €1 million grant from the EU-ACP Programme and engagement with NEPAD on the development of IP guidelines for the SADC region.

    The RISE meeting was followed by a visit to the University of Pretoria, CSIR and Wits University by a representative of the Science Initiative Group (SIG) – which administers RISE in partnership with the African Academy of Sciences.

    Arlen Hastings, Executive Director of the SIG, was in South Africa from 18 – 19 October during which time she interacted with the students and supervisors at the ACGT partner institutions that are part of SABINA. Her visit also involved engaging with participants on discussions around the effectiveness of the Carnegie-IAS programmes, their future outlook and possible areas for improvement.

    About RISE
    The Carnegie-IAS Regional Initiative in Science and Education (RISE) aims to develop human capacity through science and technology training and research in a regional context in sub-Saharan Africa, enabling individuals to use Science and Technology to contribute to national and regional economic development.
    RISE https://sig.ias.edu/rise/

  • Wits officially on board as ACGT partner on Generation Challenge Programme

    22nd Oct 2009

    The ACGT has recently recommitted to its participation in the Generation Challenge Programme (GCP) by signing a revised Consortium Agreement on behalf its partner institutions. This latest development means that the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) is now officially a GCP Consortium member – the first signing took place in 2005 before Wits was included as the third ACGT partner.

    Challenge Programmes are an initiative of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) that partners with a wide range of institutions, both inside and outside of the CGIAR, to address complex issues of global or regional significance with a high likelihood for great impact. The GCP specifically aims to improve crop productivity in drought-prone environments. The Programme’s partners draw on plant diversity and new technologies to improve crops with desired traits, focusing on drought tolerance.

    Through its wide range of partners, GCP links basic science with applied research and helps to weave an effective and interactive community of crop researchers at both global and regional level. The select group of consortium partners currently comprises centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), advanced research institutes, and national agricultural research systems in developing countries.

    The GCP Consortium members aim to create a platform to assemble and use the intricacies of applied genomic sciences for the benefit of crop improvement efforts. The re-signing of the Consortium agreement consolidates Wits, CSIR and the University of Pretoria’s – through the ACGT – ability to participate actively in the Programme’s competitive grant process.

    ACGT Director, Dr Jane Morris also currently sits on the Programme Steering Committee.

  • South African scientists and scholars engage with TWAS

    21st Oct 2009

    South Africa will experience one of the largest-ever influxes to the country of notable scientists and scholars this week when the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) hosts the meeting and conference of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS).

    More than 400 delegates and guests from 63 countries will attend the three-yearly General Conference of the TWAS – themed “Science for Africa’s Development” taking place in Durban from 19 to 23 October. For those unable to attend, the conference will be available on the web from 20 October at 11 am as a live stream.

    The conference aims to mobilise the scientific community to generate collective, evidence-based solutions to national problems, and to play a critical role in global endeavours to promote science and technology. It is sponsored by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF), the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

    TWAS, an autonomous international body, was founded in Italy in 1983 by a distinguished group of scientists from the South. Its aim is to promote scientific excellence and capacity in the region for science-based sustainable development. The Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, will participate in a symposium on the “Impact of the Global Financial Crisis on Research and Education in Developing Countries” with her counterparts from India, Brazil and China.

    Six other symposia in which South Africa will feature strongly include “Astronomy in Developing Countries” and “Science and Technology Education for Development”. The programme features distinguished scientists such as Michael Atiyah, who will deliver a lecture titled “Truth and beauty in mathematics and physics”.

    ASSAf will at the same time launch The State of Science in South Africa book at the conference. The book reflects on the state of science in South Africa; considers the historical context and the key features that have shaped scientific research in the country and are determining its current trajectories; highlights some of the future challenges and opportunities; and celebrates some of the achievements of South African scientists.

    To promote science and careers in science among Grade 10 and 11 learners, TWAS fellows, South African scientists and other role models will meet teachers and learners in Empangeni, Port Shepstone and Durban. This “Meet the Scientists” initiative will be launched as a side event on 24 October by the DST and the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA). The Conference of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS) will be held at the Durban International Convention Centre.

  • New state-of-the-art equipment spurs sequencing and genotyping workshop

    The Illumina Bead Express at UP.
    20th Sep 2009

    The Illumina Bead Express at UP.
    The Illumina Bead Express at UP.

    ACGT partner institution – the University of Pretoria (UP) hosted an Illumina Sequencing and Genotyping Workshop on 20 August 2009 at UP to showcase the powerful application of next-generation DNA sequencing technology and introduce the newly installed SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) Genotyping platform at UP.

    The Workshop was hosted by the Department of Genetics at UP in collaboration with Whitehead Scientific (Pty) Ltd, with ACGT contributor – Prof Zander Myburg of UP – heading up the organisation of the event. The workshop programme featured speakers from UP, University of the Western Cape (UWC) and Whitehead Scientific and focused on the practical application of Whole Genome Sequencing on the Illumina Genome Analyser at the UWC and Multiplex Genotyping Analysis on the Illumina BeadXpress Platform at UP.

    The BeadXpress system from Illumina offers a cost effective platform for assaying SNPs in essentially any number of individuals.
    The BeadXpress system from Illumina
    offers a cost effective platform for assaying
    SNPs in essentially any number of individuals.

    UWC took the opportunity to share its experience of using its Genome Analyser by way of a talk by Prof Jasper Rees, while Ryan Vogt of Whitehead Scientific explained the practical genotyping and sequencing applications of both the Genome Analyser and the BeadXpress, respectively. Prof Myburgh then completed proceedings with a discussion around considerations for planning genotyping projects using the BeadXpress Platform.

    The Illumina BeadXpress Platform at the University of Pretoria was acquired as part of the ACGT’s participation in the Generation Challenge Programme, and has recently been installed for use, the initial application focusing on the screening of cassava varieties for SNP markers linked to drought tolerance.

    The BeadXpress system from Illumina offers a cost effective platform for assaying 1 to 384 SNPs in essentially any number of individuals. Its main advantages include lower costs per SNP than on the Bead Array Reader, easier assay of variable numbers of samples, and the ability to create ASPE assays for small numbers of SNPs.

  • Cell-based Therapies: Adult Mesynchymal Stem Cells or Pericytes

    Cell-based Therapies: Adult Mesynchymal Stem Cells or Pericytes
    19th Sep 2009

    Prof Arnold Caplan from the Skeletal Research Center, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland (Ohio) gave a talk on his pioneering research on stem cell-based therapies, at University of Pretoria on Wednesday, 15th September 2009. (more…)