ACGT participates in South Africa’s Bioinformatics plans

The African Centre for Gene Technologies (ACGT) is taking up its role as partner in the National Bioinformatics Network (NBN) that has been created as part of the government’s National Biotechnology Strategy.

Based at the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Unit, the R6 million facility with cutting edge technology dedicated to Bioinformatics, has been completed. The ACGT is one of the six Bioinformatics nodes of the NBN, incorporating the Bioinformatics activities of UP, the CSIR, the University of the North and ARC/Onderstepoort.

According to Professor Jane Morris, Director of the ACGT, the Bioinformatics Centre is largely being funded by UP, which has committed R3,8 million towards computer hardware for the Centre, while the NBN’s Bioinformatics nodes also receive funding from the Department of Science and Technology (DST). The money was made available in the current financial year to start implementing the National Biotechnology Strategy, which, among others, provides for the establishment of three Biotechnology Regional Innovation Centres (BRICs) as well as the NBN. It represents the first direct government investment in biotechnology.

The University of the Western Cape will host the administrative centre of the NBN, but the ACGT has been earmarked to become a major service node. The nodes’ main tasks are to build capacity in Bioinformatics and to provide for the Bioinformatics needs of the participating institutions, as well as the BRICs and researchers in general.

“For the year 2003/4 the node received R1 million from the DST to boost Bioinformatics capability. The money will be used for hardware, research and training, and the appointment of a specialist bioinformaticist. Research will focus on the use of open source software for molecular modelling, while the application of biological research will include the identification of new genes from African plants and the development of drugs and vaccines against malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS,” Professor Morris said.