Prof. Anne Muigai, in collaboration with her fellow researchers, under the umbrella of The African BioGenome Project (AfricaBP) published a position paper in Nature highlighting the goals, priorities, and roadmap of the impressive Africa-led effort to sequence the genomes of plants, animals, fungi, and protists that are endemic to the continent of Africa.
“I am glad my hard work, dedication, patience, sweat and tears have paid off.” This was the response by Prof. Muigai, a Professor of Genetics in the Department of Botany, JKUAT, who has yet again published an article in Nature.
This is her third publication in the revered journal and the second one in 2022, an accomplishment she says is no mean feat.
The paper titled ‘Africa: Sequence 100,000 Species to Safeguard Biodiversity’ aims at building a major genomics resource on the continent to help breeders and conservationists.
“This store of reference genomes — built in Africa, for Africa — will help plant and animal breeders to produce resilient and sustainable food systems. It will inform biodiversity conservation across the continent. And it will strengthen Africa’s ability to deliver on the goals of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD),” read part of the paper.
Under AfricaBP, researchers are sequencing 2,500 indigenous African species, and are also mapping out the ethical, legal and social issues raised by a major biodiversity sequencing project — because of cultural sensitivities around certain species, or questions around who has access to the data and who benefits from any resulting discoveries.
Prof. Muigai, who is also the current Chair of AfricaBP, says since its inception in 2021, AfricaBP has built a strong case for the need to understand the continent’s biodiversity through genomics and ensure sustainable use of native plants, animals, fungi, and protists.
“For example, culturally relevant food resources, such as orphan crops, and other staples that are crucial to regional food security, remain unsequenced. This genetic information is important to safeguard biodiversity and improve resilience in response to future environmental pressures such as climate change,” read a statement disseminated by AfricaBP.
AfricaBP, hosted by JKUAT’s Institute of Biotechnology Research, acknowledges that its goals cannot be accomplished without support from African governments, the African Union Commission, national and regional agencies, and international partners and organizations.
“With the relevant support and collaborations, AfricaBP will ensure that cutting-edge scientific technologies that have mainly been accessible in high-income countries are available for use within the continent,” said Prof. Muigai.
AfricaBP will bring together national and regional institutions, countries and corporations with the aim of achieving three main goals including; providing a resource that enables plant and animal breeders to use various approaches (from conventional breeding to gene editing) to build resilient and sustainable food systems; make it easier for researchers to identify species and populations that are at risk of extinction, and design and implement effective conservation strategies; and kick-start a process in which existing multilateral agreements around data sharing are improved and harmonized across the continent — to ensure that the benefits derived from genetic resources are shared equitably across Africa.
AfricaBP now hosts 109 African scientists and 22 African organizations, representing researchers, institutions and corporations from all five regions in the African Union and is currently in discussion with leading institutions about the development of mobile sequencing platforms and integrated mobile laboratories.
“We ask all African life-science agencies to join AfricaBP and the African Union Commission in conjunction with the African Academy of Sciences to provide the core funds – US$100 million per year for the next 10 years. In our view, this investment will be dwarfed by the economic and other pay-offs that will stem from AfricaBP-enabled innovations and discoveries,” concluded the paper.