Category Archives: People

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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.

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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.

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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 

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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.

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Anne Njoroge of CIP-SSA at a biotech potato confined trial site in Uganda (photo: NARO-KaZARDI/G. Baguma)

Anne Njoroge of CIP-SSA at a biotech potato confined trial site in Uganda (photo: NARO-KaZARDI/G. Baguma)

Anne Njoroge is a molecular pathologist working at the International Potato Center (CIP) in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Through a one year Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellowship awarded by the Biosciences eastern and central Africa–International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub, Njoroge has access to state-of-the-art research facilities that will accelerate her quest to defeat potato late blight disease.

Despite the pivotal role of women in agriculture in Africa, the contribution of women in research remains below the desired level. In recognition of International Women’s Day 2017, marked every year on March 8, CIP-SSA celebrates Anne Njoroge for her boldness in following her passion into a male dominated field.

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Read the full article: Bold for change: fighting potato late blight disease in Africa.

Read related article: Three women, three countries, one passion: Celebrating International Women’s Day 2017 at the BecA-ILRI Hub

 

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Every year on the International Women’s day observed on March 8, the BecA-ILRI Hub celebrates women who are contributing to shaping the agricultural research for development agenda in Africa. They may be involved in research, support research or have inspired researchers who are making a difference.

Blessing Adanta (left) and Lyna Mukwa at the BecA-ILRI Hub (photo: BecA-ILRI Hub/Eleni Vikeli)

Blessing Adanta (left) and Lyna Mukwa at the BecA-ILRI Hub (photo: BecA-ILRI Hub/Eleni Vikeli)

This year, we celebrate Blessing Adanta, Jane Githinji and Lyna Mukwa who were awarded the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellowship to conduct their research at the BecA-ILRI Hub. The ABCF fellowship is a competitive fellowship program that develops capacity for agricultural biosciences research in Africa, to support research for development projects that ultimately contribute towards increasing food and nutritional security and/or food safety in Africa.

Eleni Vikeli, PhD researcher at the John Innes Centre (UK) and Communications Assistant in BecA-ILRI Hub, interviewed the three women about the joys and challenges of being a scientist.

Blessing Adanta is a lecturer at the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria and a PhD student of Plant Breeding and Biotechnology at Makerere University, Uganda  funded by the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) and the Carnegie cooperation, USA. In 2014, she won the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) and the 2014 fall Norman Borlaug Leadership Enhancement in Agriculture Programme (LEAP) fellowships.

Jane Githinji is the Assistant Director of Veterinary Services in Kenya. In 2016, her research on chicken vaccines conducted through the ABCF program, lent weight to the development of policies to guide the production of vaccines for Infectious bursal disease in Kenya.

Lyna Mukwa is an Associate Professor at the University of Kwango in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). She is also the director of the Plant Clinic of Kinshasa, a project jointly initiated by the Faculty of Agronomy of the University of Kinshasa and the Université Catholique de Louvain (Belgium), with the local support of the Agronomic and Veterinary Centre in Tropical Agriculture (CAVTK).

What has been the biggest challenge of your career so far?

Jane Githinji, Assistant Director of Veterinary Services in Kenya and ABCF alumnus

Jane Githinji, Assistant Director of Veterinary Services in Kenya and ABCF alumnus

Blessing:The biggest challenge I have encountered so far, was when I left my hometown to pursue a PhD career, while I had my daughter with me. Try having long hours in the lab and teaching students with an active toddler waiting–I am very grateful for the support of my husband through all this!

Jane: My biggest challenge has been balancing between multiple roles–as a mother, a wife, a sibling, a manager, a friend, a scientist–in such a way that I remain effective in each one of them, and without losing my peace of mind!

Lyna: The hardest thing I had to do and am still trying to tackle is maintaining a balance between my professional and personal life. While trying to cope, I learned multiple ways to organise myself and organise everything!

What is your biggest reward from being a scientist?

Blessing:  I was privileged to have been given the opportunity as an AWARD fellow, to have mentors from different countries, senior scientists with great experience and qualifications. That enhanced my skills and filled me with confidence that I use in my own teaching sessions. On top of that, I feel lucky that my profession gave me the opportunity to travel and see the world beyond my country.

Jane: Just knowing that I am contributing to making the world a better and a happier place for someone is very fulfilling. I believe I am in this world for a good purpose–to make it a better and a happier world for someone.

Lyna: In my case, the biggest reward has been the interaction with students where I can share my knowledge and expertise. I am also proud of my published work which makes me a part of the scientific community and has allowed me to work in various institutions in three different countries.

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment?

Blessing: That would be the award I received in 2015 from my home institution, University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria in recognition of my contribution to science. I felt honoured and that all my hard work and sacrifice had paid off!

Jane: I consider successfully completing my ABCF fellowship at the BecA-ILRI Hub despite the initial challenges and being able to apply my research to policy, my biggest accomplishment. It was a test of my faith, patience, and will power.

Lyna: My biggest accomplishment is getting my PhD last November and shortly after that, I was appointed Associate Professor. This was definitely a dream of mine for quite a while and I felt wonderful when I accomplished it!

The three women cherish their roles as science leaders in Africa deeply despite the challenges it brings to their daily lives. To all the girls that dream of becoming the next Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin or Ada Lovelace, they have proved that a woman can have a family as well as a career in science. They have overcome challenges, followed their passion and are making a difference in society.

Happy International Women’s Day 2017!

Eleni VikeliArticle 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.

Read more about the BecA-JIC alliance: John Innes Centre forms research and capacity building alliance with the BecA-ILRI Hub

 

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By Wokorach Godfrey, PhD student, Gulu University and research fellow at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub

Wokorach-AgshareAgricultural production is a key driver of economic growth for most of sub-Saharan Africa. It has the potential to boost economic development by improving food and nutritional security, providing employment to youth, promoting trade and generally improving livelihoods.

Agriculture under siege

However, this ‘goose that lays the golden eggs’ is plagued with challenges ranging from diseases, parasites, pests, drought, post-harvest losses and lack of access to markets. As such, many countries have experienced a decline, rather than increase in agricultural production and revenues associated with sale of agricultural products over the years.

Some of the problems can simply be addressed by educating farmers on good farming practices. Other challenges are solved through research and implementing of research findings. This requires transfer of knowledge, skills and technologies generated through research, to the farmers, often hampered by a disconnect between the farmer and the scientist.

Through the use of ICT, the distance between scientists globally is being bridged. The ability to share information and work collaboratively on virtual platforms has been made possible by online platforms specially designed to drive these conversations. Among such platforms that I have used are Agshare.Today and Yammer, which have been adapted to co-ordinate root and tuber crops, viruses and vectors research. The platforms connect scientists from different countries working on similar projects and enables them to share information they generate, get access to information they need, safely store research data and communicate their findings.

However, there is an urgent need to speed up the flow of information from researchers or extension workers to farmers and vice versa. A common platform that brings together farmers, scientists, extension officers, traders and other players in agriculture would narrow the existing gaps and potentially increase uptake of new technologies.

ICT to the rescue?

The relative affordability of mobile phones and the improving telecommunications networks in rural Africa have already resulted in evident economic benefits and mass social mobilization. The same technology availing access to vast databases by individuals seeking or sharing information on diverse topics like health, politics, news, markets and agriculture can be applied more effectively to get conversations going between farmers and scientists.

An agriculture-telecentre could facilitate information and knowledge sharing among farmers and the various groups of scientists and development specialists working to improve agricultural production. The platform could be used not only to transmit research findings, but also to receive information from farmers.

The existing technologies could be better applied to areas like disease and pest management, where detailed information such as number of affected plants, radius within which the problem occurs and severity of symptoms along with pictures from farmers, can support experts in assessing the severity of an outbreak and providing possible solutions. Additionally, extension services can relay information on where farmers can easily access the relevant agro-inputs like pesticides, fungicides and how to mix and apply these products.

I envision agriculture-telecentres being used as tools for surveillance of crop and livestock diseases, market information, weather patterns, and production trends of individual farmers. In this way, ICT can be used to overcome challenges associated with limited agricultural extension services, a scenario that is common in many rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa.

Read related article: Being social could help your science

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Democratic Republic of Congo’s Birindwa Ahadi is at the BecA-ILRI Hub on a quest for knowledge that could transform his country’s livestock industry.

Birindwa Ahadi from Univesité Evangelique en Afrique, DRC working at the BecA-ILRI Hub Laboratory (photo: BecA-ILRI Hub/Sylvia Muthoni)

Birindwa Ahadi from Univesité Evangelique en Afrique, DRC working at the BecA-ILRI Hub Laboratory (photo: BecA-ILRI Hub/Sylvia Muthoni)

Small ruminant farming in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) accounts for more than 72 percent of household incomes. However, according FAO reports, this important source of meat, milk, skin and organic manure in DRC is under threat.

An estimated 1,000,000 goats and 600,000 sheep are at risk of contracting peste des petits ruminants (PPR) disease–also referred to as ‘goat plague’ resulting in annual losses of approximately USD 5.3 million.

From December 2015, Birindwa Ahadi, a lecturer at the Univesité Evangelique en Afrique, DRC has been at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub seeking a solution to the challenge facing thousands of smallholder farmers in his country.

Through an Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellowship at the BecA-ILRI Hub, Ahadi has been carrying out an in-depth analysis of incidences of the PPR virus in goats and sheep. Ahadi hopes to identify PPR hotspots in DRC and identify PPR risk factors. These findings will contribute to appropriate control strategies and policies to be included in a national program for control and eradication of PPR and other related trans boundary diseases.

‘Being the first published report on the prevalence of PPR in eastern DRC, my research at the BecA-ILRI Hub will make a significant contribution to the Ministry of Agriculture in my country,’ says Ahadi.

Since its inception in 2010, the ABCF program has contributed to strengthening capacities of individual scientists and institutions in sub Saharan Africa and is looking forward to supporting DRC in managing the PPR disease that has a high negative impact on food and economic security for smallholder farmers.

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A partnership to defeat a devastating disease of cassava, in which the BecA-ILRI Hub is involved, recently received a $2.15 million boost from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Cassava virus evolution research partnership which brings together scientists from East Africa and US is examining how plant DNA viruses change over time with a view of tackling the Cassava mosaic disease (CMD).

Cassava is staple food for over 250 million people in sub-Saharan Africa. Caused by Cassava mosaic virus (CMV), CMD is responsible for between 12 and 23 million tonnes crop yield losses in Africa. The project will be studying the evolution of the Cassava mosaic virus. The virus’ changes over time have enabled it to adapt to different environmental conditions and break plant resistance, confounding efforts to combat CMD.

Promoting north-south research collaboration

A key component of the partnership which was established with funding from the National Science Foundation Partnerships for International Research and Education (NSF-PIRE), is the north-south research collaboration which is strengthening the capacities of African researchers and enabling early career US scientists to work alongside outstanding researchers at the BecA-ILRI Hub and Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute (Tanzania). From August 2016, post-doctoral scientists Gabriela Chavez from Auburn University and William Sharpee from North Carolina State University have been based at the BecA-ILRI Hub in Nairobi.

‘Working in Africa has been a life-changing multicultural experience’ said Chavez, ‘I have learnt that there is on-going cutting-edge research and high-end technologies here’.

‘Our trip to the shores of Lake Victoria in the western part of Kenya to collect whiteflies for the establishment of a colony at the BecA-ILRI Hub was a good opportunity to see first hand, the devastating effects of this disease on cassava production’ said Sharpee.

The project is the most detailed study of any virus ever conducted and is expected to make groundbreaking discoveries on other viruses with significant economic and health impacts like the dengue virus.