Category Archives: People

Kodjo Glato was one of 157 passengers and crew who tragically perished in the crash of flight ET302 on 10 March 2019

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA)-ILRI Hub express their profound sympathy to all those who were bereaved when their family members, friends or colleagues tragically lost their lives in the Ethiopian Airlines crash on Sunday, 10 March 2019.

A Togolese national, Dr Glato was an assistant professor and researcher at the University of Lomé, Togo, a partner institution of ILRI’s. He was on his way to Nairobi to attend a BecA-ILRI Hub training course that is part of the Community Network for African Vector-Borne Plant Viruses (CONNECTED).

Dr Glato was a biotechnologist and plant physiologist working on agricultural genetic diversity and smallholder farming practices associated with sweetpotato cultivation. He received his PhD in 2015 from the University of Lomé.

Staff and partners at the BecA-ILRI Hub knew him as a hardworking, affable and dedicated young professional. He was part of a new generation of scientists contributing to Togo’s agricultural development.

Kodjo Glato inspired many with his drive and tenacity. He was known to take on challenges with monumental zeal. His passion for the smallholder farmer will be badly missed. May he rest in peace.
—Jacob Mignouna, director of the BecA-ILRI Hub
It is always sad to lose a colleague suddenly. But to lose a colleague at the very start of his career, with so much left to contribute, is a tragedy.
—Jimmy Smith, director general of ILRI

‘On behalf of ILRI’, Jimmy Smith said, ‘we extend our deepest condolences to Kodjo Glato’s family, friends and colleagues as well as to all those who lost colleagues, friends and loved ones on flight ET302.’

Florence’s study aims to save smallholder farmers’ from losing passion fruit production

Florence Munguti was an ABCF fellow at BecA-ILRI Hub in 2014 when she began her study to identify viruses associated with passion fruit woodiness disease.

In Kenya, the passion fruit is one of the top three export fruits, coming close behind the mango and avocado in terms of foreign exchange earnings.  It is grown mainly by smallholder farmers for subsistence and commercialization and has great potential to alleviate poverty due to its high market value and the crop’s short maturity period. However, many farmers are making great losses due to the devastating effects of the woodiness viral disease that stifles passion fruit production. This makes it one of the most dangerous diseases of the purple passion fruit.

In November 2014, she began her study with the collection of passion fruit leaf samples already showing symptoms of the disease in Njoro, Nakuru county, Kenya. At our laboratories, she used next generation sequencing to identify viruses associated with passion fruit woodiness disease in Kenya. The sequence analysis revealed the presence of complete genome sequences for Cow pea aphid-borne mosaic virus (CABMV) previously associated with woodiness viral disease in Kenya.

Woodiness disease is caused by the CABMV, transmitted by sap sacking insects such as aphids and mites as well as using infected tools in the management of the crop for example during pruning. The disease is characterized by light yellow discoloration on the leaves and a woody hard fruit, hence the “woodiness” name.

The sequences and information obtained in this study will be useful in development of more sensitive diagnostic assays that can be used to detect the disease. Florence’s paper titled: Transcriptome Sequencing Reveals a Complete Genome Sequence of Cowpea Aphid-Borne Mosaic Virus from Passion Fruit in Kenya is available here



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Bunmi Olasanmi, a lecturer and a researcher at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, swears that the most exciting thing about science is developing improved varieties of crops for greater yields.

Olasanmi’s work focuses on cassava, he chose to work on cassava because it is vital to the economy of Nigeria, which is also the world’s largest producer of the crop in the world mainly through subsistence farming.

A new variant of the root crop is the yellow cassava, that is fortified with Vitamin A, a critical nutrient that meets nutrition requirements and improves human health. But biofortified varieties of cassava are susceptible to cassava mosaic disease (CMD). They also have poor plant architecture making them unsuitable for intercropping, which is important to small-scale farmers.

Selecting outstanding genotypes to develop CMD resistant varieties of cassava using conventional screening methods alone may take about 10 years. As an ABCF fellow, Olasanmi used molecular markers to accelerate the process of developing new varieties. Out of over 600 genotypes screened at BecA-ILRI Hub, he was able to identify 68 cassava genotypes with resistance to CMD and high beta carotene content. The clonal evaluation of cassava genotypes for desirable traits are ongoing and the field evaluations will be conducted at different locations in Nigeria for two seasons starting in 2019.

The University of Ibadan has a laboratory where Olasanmi could have done this work. However, it does not have adequate infrastructure to support all his research activities. Olasanmi received his PhD in plant breeding from University of Ibadan. He was awarded a fellowship from the Institute for Genomic Diversity at Cornell University and was a finalist in the third Africa-wide young professionals in science competition that was run by the Young Professionals in Agricultural Research and Development.

Despite the growing demand for cross-nationally-comparable statistics on women in science, national data and their use in policymaking remains limited. A study conducted by UNESCO, published in June 2018 indicates that women account for 28.8% of the world’s researchers

BecA-ILRI Hub is constantly seeking to close the gender gap by encouraging women researchers to participate in the different opportunities the platform provides.

Obaiya Utoblo is a PhD student at the University of Ghana, West Africa Center for Crop (WACCI), who had the opportunity to participate in one of BecA-ILRI Hub’s trainee workshops that equipped students with skills in science communication. The trainees were equipped with data management and communication skills, which provided them with the essentials of effective communication especially while speaking to a non-scientific audience.

While at BecA, Obaiya had the chance to interact with other women in science which gave her the valiance necessary to work towards her career goals.

Read more about her experience as a woman in science on the ISAAA website here

Growing up in Uganda, Joanne Adero’s dream was to be a doctor. Unfortunately, her dream to study medicine was not actualized, so instead she opted to embark on a course in biomedical laboratory technology at Makerere University. She discovered her love for science when she took a module on microbiology, this which led to her passion for research that put her on a path to study sweet potatoes.

Adero is a research assistant at the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) in Uganda where she is part of the Genomic Tools for Sweet Potato Improvement Project team. Besides developing genomics and modern breeding tools, the project places emphasis on capacity building and empowering research staff of national partners to carry out molecular work within their programs.

Due to its outstanding effort in capacity building, the BecA-ILRI Hub offers a perfect base to train in the use of modern, high-end bioscience technologies including genomics, genetics and bioinformatics tools to facilitate crop improvement and improve genetic gains in sweet potato.

Adero secured an opportunity to conduct her research at BecA-ILRI Hub through the ABCF program. “Conducting my research at BecA-ILRI Hub was one of my best career decisions because it gave her the opportunity to develop my capacity in molecular biology, genomics and bioinformatics,” she says.

While at BecA-ILRI Hub, Adero worked on molecular variability of sweet potato viruses to understand the nature of viral disease-causing organisms that are heavily affecting production of sweet potato in Uganda.

The project enabled the determination of sweet potato viruses that exist in Uganda and their genetic diversity and distribution. Ten different viruses were detected including sweet potato badnavirus and sweet potato symptomless virus which have not been previously reported in the country.

In addition, her work helped generate the full genome sequence of the sweet potato feathery mottle virus, sweet potato virus c and sweet potato chlorotic fleck virus in Uganda.

The Genomic Tools for Sweet Potato Improvement Project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and led by the North Carolina State University (NCSU) in partnership with the International Potato Center (CIP), the Boyce Thomson Institute at Cornell University, Michigan State University, the University of Queensland, the Uganda National Agricultural Research Organization, National Crops Resources Research Institute, the Ghana Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Crops Research Institute (CRI) and BecA-ILRI Hub.

By Jane Githinji, assistant director of veterinary services, Kenya and ABCF alumnus

Jane githinjiAs head of the virology laboratory at the Central Veterinary Laboratories in the Directorate of Veterinary Services (DVS) in Kenya, my responsibilities include laboratory surveillance, and confi rmation and reporting of animal viral diseases. My reports form the basis upon which disease control strategies are developed. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance that these reports refl ect the true picture of the disease situation in the country, from which appropriate disease control policies and strategies can be derived.

Like in most developing countries, poultry farming in Kenya is mainly in the hands of the smallholder rural poor, mostly women and young people, and is usually the only livelihood source for smallholder farmers. Outbreaks of infectious viral diseases that cannot be treated pose a major constraint on poultry production. Vaccination is the recommended method of control for these diseases. But vaccines do not always prevent occurrence of a disease.

The apparent failure of vaccines to protect chicken from infectious bursal disease (IBD) got me interested in understanding the cause of the disease despite prompt vaccinations by farmers (IBD causes immune suppression, making chicken more prone to other infectious diseases). I wanted to improve my understanding of the epidemiology of IBD in Kenya, starting with the comparative molecular characterization of the circulating viruses with the currently used vaccine virus strains.

The facilities available at the central veterinary laboratory are suitable for carrying out basic molecular analysis. However, to undertake more advanced molecular research required to gain a better understanding of IBD viruses circulating in Kenya, I needed access to the facilities at the BecAILR Hub. Under the mentorship of the BecA-ILRI Hub scientists, in a very conducive research environment as an ABCF fellow, I learned many skills, including sequence editing and analysis, primer design, scientific paper writing and communicating science to non-scientists. These crosscutting skills will be very useful in improving my diagnostic capacity, and ultimately, scientific data collection for policy development at the DVS.

Based on the feedback and recommendations I gave to the DVS director, I am confident my research findings will form the basis for developing effective IBD control strategies, including diagnosis, vaccination, hatchery surveillance and certification, IBD vaccines registration and vaccine production. Implementation of such strategies will have far reaching impacts on poultry production, poverty alleviation, nutritional security, economic empowerment for women and young people, and self-employment. Reducing antimicrobial residues in poultry products will also contribute to a reduction in antimicrobial drug resistance in humans.

With my newly acquired skills, I will be able to contribute more to livestock research: science, technology and innovation. I am a better mentor to young people, a better leader and manager, a more fulfilled person, and, above all, an asset to my country. My time as an ABCF fellow marked the beginning of what I believe will be a journey full of discoveries, networking, research development and fulfilment.

chicken and chics

Read more about the bioscience research and innovations that underpin development outcomes in the BecA-ILRI Hub 2016 Annual Report.

Enhancing aflatoxin detection for safer maize in Rwanda

ABCF alumnus Kizito Nishimwe is currently at the Iowa State University through a scholarship from the Borlaug Higher Education for Agricultural Research and Development (BHEARD) program (photo: BecA-ILRI Hub)

ABCF alumnus Kizito Nishimwe is currently at the Iowa State University through a scholarship from the Borlaug Higher Education for Agricultural Research and Development (BHEARD) program (photo: BecA-ILRI Hub)

By Kizito Nishimwe, an alumnus of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub’s Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund program, and lecturer at the School of Food Science and Technology at the University of Rwanda’s College of Agriculture, Animal Sciences and Veterinary Medicine

Maize is a leading food crop in Rwanda, representing 60 per cent of the cereals produced in the country. Its production has risen steadily from 120,000 tonnes of grain produced in 2006 to over 500,000 tonnes in 2011 according to Rwanda’s National Institute of Statistics. However, maize is susceptible to accumulation of aflatoxins, toxic chemicals produced by a fungus. Hazardous to humans when eaten at high levels, these toxins have been associated with cancers, suppressed immune systems, reduced nutrient absorption and the stunting of children.

In 2014, I received an ABCF fellowship from the BecA-ILRI Hub to conduct research that would help fi ll gaps relating to aflatoxin detection in maize in Rwanda. During the first East African Conference on Food Science and Technology, in March 2016, and at the FARA 7th Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW7) and General Assembly held in June 2016, in Kigali, Rwanda, I presented my findings to national policy stakeholders, including the Rwanda National Agricultural Export Development Board, the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources, Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) and Rwanda Standards Board (RSB), as well as to international, regional and national researchers.

My research will greatly contribute to strategies being put in place to ensure safer maize in the value chain in Rwanda. Further support is being provided by the BecA-ILRI Hub, which has donated aflatoxin testing kits to progress research in this area by my home institution.

The advanced skills in aflatoxin research that I gained through the ABCF fellowship have enabled me to secure a PhD scholarship at Iowa State University under the Borlaug Higher Education for Agricultural Research and Development (BHEARD) program. I have also secured a one-year grant to facilitate the development of management strategies for minimizing afatoxin levels in animal feed. The grant is supported by Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems-University of Florida and is a collaborative effort between Iowa State University, the University of Rwanda and the BecA-ILRI Hub.

Read more about the bioscience research and innovations that underpin development outcomes in the BecA-ILRI Hub 2016 Annual Report.

Aphids, leafhoppers and whiteflies are responsible for the spread of diseases causing significant crop yield losses globally. On 5 July 2017, the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub hosted a symposium to explore ways in which the knowledge of plants, disease-causing organisms and their vectors can be used to combat devastating crop diseases in Africa.

Stephen Runo of Kenyatta University (left) with JIC scientists Beccy Corkill, Olu Shorinola and Sam Mugford (photo JIC/Matt Heaton)

Stephen Runo of Kenyatta University (left) with JIC scientists Beccy Corkill, Olu Shorinola and Sam Mugford (photo JIC/Matt Heaton)

In sub Saharan Africa, the aphid-transmitted bean viruses—bean common mosaic virus (BCMV) and bean common mosaic necrosis virus (BCMNV)—cause up to 100 percent losses for smallholder bean farmers. Growers of cassava—a staple food for over 250 million people— experience losses of up to 23 million tonnes annually across Africa due to disease caused by whitefly-transmitted Cassava mosaic viruses.

In the face of increased regulations on the use of pesticides, a better understanding of the plant-microbe-vector interactions could lead to the development of urgently needed bio pest-controls. The July forum brought together researchers from the BecA-ILRI Hub, Kenyatta University, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Auburn University and North Carolina State University based in Africa; and the John Innes Centre (JIC) from UK.

From left to right: Josiah Mutuku (BecA-ILRI Hub), Olu Shorinola (JIC), Steven Runo (Kenyatta University), Beccy Corkill (JIC) and Sam Mugford (JIC) at the BecA-ILRI Hub greenhouses (photo: JIC/ Matt Heaton

From left to right: Josiah Mutuku (BecA-ILRI Hub), Olu Shorinola (JIC), Steven Runo (Kenyatta University), Beccy Corkill (JIC) and Sam Mugford (JIC) at the BecA-ILRI Hub greenhouses (photo: JIC/ Matt Heaton

The symposium was held under the Alliance for Accelerated Crop Improvement in Africa (ACACIA) initiative—a new initiative established to harness diverse research efforts for hastened crop improvement in Africa.

Read full story: Deciphering Plant-Insect Interactions on the ACACIA website.

Read about the ACACIA initiative: New initiative to accelerate crop improvement for food security in Africa

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Goat in a market in Nigeria (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

Goat in a market in Nigeria (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

From 19–30 June 2017, the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub will host the third edition of the Animal Quantitative Genetics and Genomics annual training workshop. The training is strengthening the capacity of researchers in Africa to apply an in-depth understanding of livestock genetics to the design of livestock breeding programmes.

Early this month (8–12 May 2017) over 250 experts from the public and private sectors in more than 50 countries across the globe gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to discuss the benefits and potential of livestock during the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL). The increasing demand for animal protein in emerging economies in Africa presents the challenge of sustainably improving livestock productivity while at the same time maintaining genetic diversity.

Since 2012, the BecA-ILRI Hub has been conducting research to improve performance of indigenous goats using their genetic diversity. Working in Cameroon and Ethiopia, the “Harnessing genetic diversity for improved goat productivity” project looked at the genetic adaptation of goat populations in the two countries to environmental challenges including drought and disease.

To Getinet Mekuriaw, an assistant professor at Bahir Dar University in Ethiopia and a visiting scientist at the BecA-ILRI Hub, the key to sustainable development of livestock in Africa is in the optimal exploitation of genetic resources to improve indigenous breeds.

‘We have the evidence of a rich genetic resource in livestock in Africa, and particularly in indigenous goats,’ Mekuriaw said ‘the next step is investing in research that will link this intelligence to the design of trait-focused breeding programs.’

Mekuriaw’s PhD contributed largely to establishing the extent of diversity among indigenous goat breeds in the two countries of interest for the BecA-led research. He also investigated the genetic potential of the goat populations in adaptation, disease resistance, reproduction and hair fibre production.

Strategies to enhance livestock production–including exploiting the natural potential of local breeds–could greatly contribute to the realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through increased agricultural capacity in developing countries.

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Read more about the 7th Multi-stakeholder partnership meeting of the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock

Read related post – Cooperating with the future: Towards multiplying the multiple benefits of sustainable livestock 

Molly McDonough from the Smithsonian Institution and Maryanne Gitari from University of Nairobi working at the BecA-ILRI Hub (photo: BecA-ILRI Hub/Eleni Vikeli)

Molly McDonough from the Smithsonian Institution and Maryanne Gitari from University of Nairobi working at the BecA-ILRI Hub (photo: BecA-ILRI Hub/Eleni Vikeli)

The Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub, Nairobi recently hosted American scientist recognised for the discovery of the Wilson’s bonneted bat.

For two weeks in April 2017, Molly McDonough who was part of a team credited with discovering a new bat species from the lowlands of western Ecuador and Peru, conducted research on African predators––the leopard and hyena––at the BecA-ILRI Hub. McDonough is a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex.

McDonough, who was accompanied by Maryanne Gitari, a Kenyan graduate student from the University of Nairobi, is investigating the effects of climate change in the Mount Kenya region on the predators’ ecosystem. Her research seeks to determine how the alteration of the unique ecosystem over the last decades is affecting the diet and prey base of the two carnivores.

The regulatory hurdles of transferring animal dropping DNA samples from Kenya to the Smithsonian in the US, as well as the challenge of preserving sample quality led to the search for an alternative research base.

‘The BecA-ILRI Hub is an oasis for sequencing in the middle of Africa,’ said McDonough, ‘the next generation sequencing facilities are excellent and all the scientists are helpful and approachable!’

On the potential of such collaborations between international research institutions, national institutions and the regional hub, McDonough cited the affordability and easy access to the facilities as critical to time-strapped studies like hers.

‘The 24-hour access to the facilities is very important when you have limited time to execute the experiment and collate data,’ said McDonough. ‘We definitely intend to come back!’

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Article written by Eleni Vikeli, PhD researcher at the John Innes Centre (JIC), UK. Vikeli is at the BecA-ILRI Hub in Nairobi, Kenya as a communications assistant under the BecA-JIC alliance which supports capacity building, resource mobilization and technology transfer activities.