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  • 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…)

  • ACGT lays the foundation for broader regional cooperation in plant biotechnology

    Clockwise from right: Prof Ignatius Ncube (UL), Prof Jane Morris (ACGT), Prof Chrissie Rey (Wits) and Prof Mary Scholes (Wits)
    22nd Aug 2009

    The ACGT recently hosted a regional Plant Biotechnology Workshop aimed at discussing opportunities for plant biotechnology in the context of national priorities, while considering the impact of climate change.

    Clockwise from right: Prof Ignatius Ncube (UL), Prof Jane Morris (ACGT), Prof Chrissie Rey (Wits) and Prof Mary Scholes (Wits)
    Clockwise from right:
    Prof Ignatius Ncube (UL),
    Prof Jane Morris (ACGT),
    Prof Chrissie Rey (Wits)
    and Prof Mary Scholes (Wits)


  • ACGT partners in international project on climate change and food safety

    22nd Jul 2009

    ACGT partner institutions, the CSIR and University of Pretoria – with the Agricultural Research Council, are the South African consortium members on the European Union (EU) funded VEG-i-TRADE project.

    The project, which is being co-ordinated from the University of Gent in Belgium, provides platforms to identify impacts of anticipated climate changes on food safety as well as microbiological and chemical hazards of fresh produce. This multi-disciplinary project is aimed at developing control measures of a managerial and technological nature in the food chain of crop production, post-harvest processing and logistics to minimise food safety risks.

    The CSIR Biosciences and Natural Resources and the Environment (NRE) units are both involved in the project and focus on DNA microarray techniques for predicting risk of mycotoxin contamination and the impact of climate change on food trade and safety, respectively. The University of Pretoria’s Department of Microbiology and Plant Pathology – represented by Prof Lise Korsten – will be looking at aspects of microbiological food contamination and trade.

    The food safety challenges raised by climate-related changes highlight the need for timely scientific advice to guide risk management decisions. Some of these challenges include the transmission of infectious disease and factors associated with mycotoxin production, such as temperature and humidity. In addition, the impact of globalisation will also lead to extra requirements on the agricultural and processing sectors.

    VEG-i-TRADE aims to develop recommendations on a European and global level for quality assurance and setting of performance objectives based on science. Activities include an assessment of the performance of horticultural food safety management systems exemplified by countries of northern, middle and southern Europe as well as on a global level – including major EU trade partners of fresh produce from various climate zones, such as South Africa. Other countries represented in the VEG-i-TRADE project consortium include Norway, Spain, The Netherlands, Thailand, Egypt and Yugoslavia.

    It is expected that the project output will lead to a discussion forum for stakeholders in the global food chain to reflect on acceptable risk, the sustainability of fresh produce production and enable the development of a long term strategy on international food trade.

  • Grand Challenges in Global Health – GC9 meeting in Beijing, China

    22nd Jun 2009

    Drs Rachel Chikwamba (Principal Investigator of the Africa Biofortified Sorghum project) and Maretha O’Kennedy – both from CSIR Biosciences – recently participated in the Grand Challenges in Global Health, GC9 meeting in Beijing, China from 8 to 11 May 2009.

    The goal of the six-monthly research update meeting of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation GC9 project teams was to build mutual understanding of plant science and nutrition goals and efforts and to share highlights of GC9 research programmes to create nutritionally complete staple crops. The meeting placed specific emphasis on Golden Rice, Africa Biofortified Sorghum, BioCassava Plus Programme and Banana Biofortification.

    Representatives of the Gates Foundation commended the research teams for their superlative research output over the last three years. Featured highlights included the HarvestPlus China Showcase which included leaders from the Chinese agriculture, plant science and nutrition fields. A new initiative from the National Science Foundation (NSF) also announced partnership with Gates Foundation to foster sustainable agricultural solutions around the world.

    The Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Development (BREAD) Program presented by Prof Deborah Delmer – NSF program director for BREAD, will support basic research to build a foundation for generating sustainable, science-based solutions to problems of agriculture in developing countries, testing innovative hypotheses leading to novel and creative approaches and technologies. The Program, which is a continuation of ongoing activities funded under the Plant Genome Research Program, will be supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation through funding provided to NSF.

  • ACGT hosts visit by senior SABINA participants from University of Malawi

    21st Jun 2009

    From 9-12 June 2009, the ACGT hosted visitors from the University of Malawi as part of the Southern African Biochemistry and Informatics for Natural Products (SABINA) network programme. The recently appointed SABINA Project Manager, Dr Frank Ngonda and Academic Director, Dr John Saka, were both in attendance.

    The visit began with a dinner for SABINA participants that was held on 9 June. Dr Ngonda used the remainder of the four-day visit as an opportunity to meet with SABINA participants and students at the CSIR, Wits University and University of Pretoria. Two new calls for Masters and PhD, and post-doctoral SABINA scholarships were also announced, respectively.

    Before joining SABINA, Frank Ngonda was responsible for the coordination and management of the HIV and AIDS programmes at district and community levels and as Programme Officer for Malawi Traditional Healers Umbrella Organization – a project under the Ministry of Health, Clinical Services. He was involved in the creation and strengthening of collaboration between Biomedical Health Practitioners and Traditional Health Practitioners, which included co-ordination of programmes such as the development of proposals, tools, protocols, guidelines and structures of the collaboration.

  • e-Research seminar and workshop held at the CSIR

    16th Jun 2009

    The African Digital Scholarship and Curation Conference held at the CSIR International Conference Centre from 12 – 14 May 2009, attracted a number of international leaders in the field of e-Research to South Africa. In order to capitalise on this opportunity, the University of Pretoria (Prof Robin Crewe: Vice-Principal) and the CSIR (Dr Thulani Dlamini: Group Executive: R&D), under the ambit of the SERA Alliance, co-hosted a pre-conference seminar-workshop on e-Research at the CSIR Knowledge Commons. Representing ACGT were Prof. Jane Morris and Prof. Braam Louw.

    The seminar-workshop served as a platform for local and overseas e-Research role-players to rub shoulders and share lessons and experiences. It is envisaged that lessons learnt by the local e-Research role-players will serve as input into the review and mobilisation of the South African e-Research blue print. In addition, delegates at the seminar-workshop brain stormed around South Africa’s e-Research direction. Emphasis in that discussion was placed on:

      • Crafting the vision; (key elements to consider)
      • Critical requirements for success
      • Infrastructure requirements for collaborative environments
      • Intellectual Property, security, data-preservation and curation

    Seminar organisers, presenters and delegates indicated that they were content with the quality of dialogue and knowledge-exchange that took place at the workshop. The local e-Research role-players expressed their satisfaction with the confidence afforded to them to map-out and implement a collaborative programme to benefit the SA research community.

    The workshop’s outputs will be vital for the inclusive development of a strategic e-Research framework. Among others, the framework – which will paint a five to 10 year e-Research scenario for South Africa – will advocate for adequate e-Research funding, resources and governance locally. It will also address issues surrounding South Africa’s e-Research technology-backbone, and services required for effective and efficient linkages to similar users and providers locally and abroad

    The seminar-workshop proceedings were facilitated by Awie Vlok, of the CSIR Innovation Leadership and Learning Academy.