JKUAT Steps up Bid to Host ICGEB Regional Research Centre

Dr. Banks and Prof. Ngumi follow presentations during the meeting.

Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) has continued its charm offensive towards attaining the host status for the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB). If granted, the University will serve as ICGEB’s Regional Research Centre (RRC) for East Africa.

On Tuesday, February 1, 2022, JKUAT hosted a high-level delegation from the ICGEB Facility Inspection committee led by the Director General, Dr. Lawrence Banks, with a mission to assess the University’s suitability as a host for the Centre. The team also comprised a delegation from the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI), led by the Director General, Prof. Walter Oyawa.

ICGEB is an independent international organization with a mandate to provide a Centre of excellence for research and training in molecular biology and biotechnology.

Committee members follow presentations by the JKUAT team.

This mandate is actualized through cutting-edge scientific research in the organization’s laboratories spread across the globe, long and short-term fellowships for PhD students and post-docs, special Courses and Workshops, provision of research grants for scientists in Member Countries, technology transfer to industry for the production of biotherapeutics and diagnostics, and general scientific services and advice.

ICGEB’s Regional Research Centres are crucial in furthering their mandate, as well as ensuring that it taps into the various local scientific communities, and explore topics and problems relevant to various regions. Currently in Africa, there’s only one such centre, located in South Africa.

Dr. Banks opines that Africa being a priority for ICGEB, the board of governors felt the need to have another RRC in the East African region, which kickstarted the process of finding the most suitable country and university to host the centre.

In her submission to the committee, Vice Chancellor, Prof. Victoria Wambui Ngumi underscored JKUAT’s pre-existing strong national, regional, and international collaboration infrastructure in the fronts of research, training, technology transfer, and capacity building. This, she averred, were crucial tenets that make the university most suitable to host the ICGEB RRC.

Chair of Horticulture Department, Dr. Lucy Kananu takes the ICGEB team through one of the greenhouses at the University.

“Among key research centres we currently host include the European Union-funded Maritime Technology Cooperation Centre for Africa, hosted at our Mombasa Campus, as well as the EU-funded Food Fortification laboratory, which serves as a national reference laboratory for food safety. Additionally, JKUAT is host to the China funded Sino Africa Joint Research Centre (SAJOREC) which has been at the forefront in advancing biodiversity research and conservation in the continent,” said Prof. Ngumi.

“JKUAT also hosts the Pan-African University Institute for Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation (PAUSTI), which trains students drawn from over 43 African countries. The institute produces leaders and innovators in the fields of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, Mathematics and Engineering,” she added.

Prof. Ngumi further cited the University’s robust and supportive policy environment for research and innovation, which has over the years resulted to consistent partnerships and funding from national and international organizations.

Ifeoluwa Gbala Deborah, a PhD Molecular Biology and Biotechnology student at PAUSTI explains her research to Dr. Banks and Dr. Dinakar Salunke

The proposed RRC in JKUAT will focus on areas of nutrition and Agriculture (animal and plant biotechnology), which are in line with the national research priorities. The activities of the centre would include training (Postdoctoral, PhD, MSc training), research, enhancing capacity building in the region as well as other universities in Kenya, technology transfer to communities, as well as knowledge translation to influence policy.

If the host status is granted, the University will be keen to leverage on its current active collaborations with institutes involved in Plant and Animal Biotechnology Research, including Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KEMFRI), and Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI).

JKUAT also boasts of collaborations with various international research institutes that have seen the university leverage on available infrastructure and conduct multidisciplinary, collaborative research and innovation activities.

Dr. Zerbini and Dr. Vittorio Venturi (ICGEB, Trieste), interact with students at SAJOREC labs.

In his reaction to JKUAT’s submission, Dr. Banks expressed optimism for the research landscape in the region, affirming that Kenya is perfectly placed to host the Regional Research Centre.

“I’m pleased to note that you have such a robust existing research culture and infrastructure. When the goal of having a regional centre comes to pass, we want to see synergy and multidisciplinary collaborations. The objective is to have a centre carrying out top-notch scientific research, and a place where our students drawn from our 66 member states can come for research and exchange programs,” he said.

The ICGEB Inspection committee were also taken on a guided tour of the University, in their bid to evaluate further the infrastructure, location and capacity of laboratories and the possibility of their expansion, as well as interacting with researchers, students, and taking a look at the functional programs and activities that the RRC can leverage on. The committee is expected to settle on a host institution for the Centre by the end of the week.

ICGEB Inspection Committee members in a commemorative photo with the JKUAT team.

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