Gene insights could aid African food systems

Wednesday 16th March 2022, 5:00pm

Information on the genetic code of relevant species could help ensure more resilient and sustainable food production in Africa.

long-horned cattle in a field - credit CTLGH

A consortium of scientists, including Professor Appolinaire (Director of the Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health at the Roslin Institute), claims insights into the DNA of plants, animals, and other organisms that are endemic to Africa would help understand the continent’s biodiversity.

Information obtained from the genetic code of organisms can help understand factors such as their responses to disease, climate change, and their surrounding environment.

The African BioGenome Project (AfricaBP), a consortium of African scientists and organisations, calls for efforts to decipher and study the genomes of more than 100,000 endemic species, in a paper published in Nature.

This would enable better understanding of resources that are crucial to regional food security, and help build resilience in breeding, sustainable food systems, and biodiversity conservation across the continent. Researchers say that providing the required technology and training to local scientists is the most efficient way to improve resilience and sustainability of food systems in Africa.

AfricaBP will work with policymakers on recommendations for legislation governing national access to resources, to ensure equitable sharing of the gains obtained from its activities. Scientists claim achieving these goals requires support from African governments, the African Union Commission, national and regional agencies, and international partners and organisations.

The estimated cost for AfricaBP, including for infrastructure to support genomics and bioinformatics in Africa, is US$1bn over 10 years. The return on investment is expected to be multiple times that in economic development. The project’s objectives would deliver on the goals of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework of the Convention on Biodiversity, and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, while complementing efforts by the Human Hereditary and Health consortium.

“Our priorities are safeguarding essential biodiversity, improving food security and resilience, and advancing infrastructure and training capabilities in Africa. Investing in early career scientists through education, training and technology will provide opportunities and incentives for African scientists to stay in the continent to work in related projects. AfricaBP complemented by the Africa Animal Breeding Network (AABNet), which brings together leading experts from industry, academia, government and international research organisations, are a pathway towards utilisation of genomic resources for better animal breeding in the continent.”

Professor Appolinaire Djikeng, AfricaBP Co-Chair, AABNet Co-Founder, and Director of the Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health at the Roslin Institute

“AfricaBP is not just a scientific project, but a socio-scientific project through which we hope to bring genomics and bioinformatics capacities closer to the African people.”

Dr ThankGod Echezona Ebenezer, Founder and Co-Chair of AfricaBP, European Molecular Biology Laboratory, European Bioinformatics Institute