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Capacity building impact

Charles Masembe: Understanding the molecular variation and evolution of African swine fever virus in Uganda

85da3.jpgCharles Masembe, a senior lecturer, Department of Biological Sciences, Makerere University, Uganda is a recipient of the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellowship.

Charles was awarded a fellowship for a period of two and a half months from 8 November – 6 December 2010 and 5 June – 29 July  2011 to carry out deep sequencing of the African swine fever virus (ASFV) and full genome generation using BecA-ILRI Hub’s Roche 454 Genome Sequencer FLX System.

Uganda has the largest and most rapidly growing pig production in Eastern Africa, with the pig population standing at 3.2 million. This area of farming has become very attractive throughout the country as a means of food production, income generation and employment. Pigs are considered “walking banks” in the local communities. Seventy five percent of pig keeping is found in the rural areas, and is mostly practiced by women.

However, the growing pig industry is threatened by several problems including infectious diseases such as African swine fever (ASF), a devastating viral disease that is endemic in Uganda. The disease periodically kills 90 – 100 percent of affected animals and has neither treatment nor vaccine. There is lack of data regarding the molecular variation and evolution of this devastating virus, a problem which Charles helped to address by enabling deep sequencing of selected ASFV fragments and full genome sequencing of the virus.

About his achievements Charles says:

"While at the BecA-ILRI Hub, I not only acquired molecular biology skills, but also generated interesting results including the first time discovery of the Ndumu virus in domestic pigs. The findings of this research which was done in collaboration with other scientists were published in a peer reviewed scientific article Masembe, C., Michuki, G., Onyango, M., Rumberia, C., Bishop, R.P., Djikeng, A., Kemp, S.J., Orth, A., Skilton, R., Stahl, K., and Fischer, A., 2012, Viral metagenomics demonstrates that domestic pigs are a potential reservoir for Ndumu virus. Virology Journal 9:218: doi:10.1186/1743-422X-9-218.

I continue to conduct research and teach at Makerere University, Uganda in the areas of animal health and food security  using the molecular skills I acquired at the BecA-ILRI Hub.

The skills learnt, interactions with scientists and the exposure to technology at the BecA-ILRI Hub have contributed to my success as a researcher. I will always reserve a special place in my memoirs for the BecA-ILRI HubTeam!"


Hellen Beatrice Apio: Genetic transformation of Uganda farmer preferred cassava cultivars for virus resistance

ddd51.jpgHellen Beatrice Apio is a research assistant at the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) Namulonge, Uganda and a recipient of the BecA-ILRI Hub's Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellowship.

Hellen was awarded a fellowship for a period of three months from 5 June – 4 September 2013 to carry out a study on genetic transformation of Ugandan farmer-preferred cassava cultivars for virus resistance. The aim of her study was to ascertain the ability of the preferred Ugandan genotypes of cassava to be transformed using molecular techniques like polymerase chain reaction.

Cassava, a major staple food crop and source of income for over 800 million people in eastern, central and southern Africa is significantly affected by Cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and Cassava brown streak disease (CBSD). Concurrent epidemics of the two diseases are currently ravaging cassava in East and Central Africa.
Conventional breeding to develop virus resistant cassava varieties is hampered by the high degree of genetic variation, long breeding cycle, genetic overload, low pollen fertility, self-incompatibility and low fruit set rate. Therefore, genetic transformation of cassava has been recommended as a complementary approach.

Genetic engineering has shown great potential in cassava genetic improvement and has been used to counteract some of the limitations of conventional breeding. To date, three different genetic transformation systems have been developed.
Given that different genotypes respond differently to the genetic transformation systems in place, there is need to develop protocols with respect to the different genotypes. Specifically, genetic transformation protocols need to be developed for farmer preferred cultivars which are already locally adapted and accepted.

About her achievements Hellen says:

"The research I conducted at the BecA-ILRI Hub was very successful and as a result I have been able to demonstrate the same technique at my home institute’s tissue culture and transformation platform. The techniques I learnt have been fed into the institution’s existing projects within the root crops program for instance the Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa Project (VIRCA), whose focus is to engineer cassava plants for resistance to disease; and the Cassava Seed Systems Project which is meant to produce clean planting materials which will be availed and made accessible to farmers in the East African region, thus improving livelihoods of farmers."


Ruth Wanyera: Addressing economically important wheat diseases

354d9.jpgRuth Wanyera is the Principal Research Scientist/ National Wheat Coordinator, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, Njoro and a recipient of the BecA-ILRI Hub's Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellowship.

Ruth was awarded an ABCF fellowship for a period of nine months from 22 November 2011 – 10 August 2012, to determine different populations of wheat stem rust in the four wheat growing regions of Kenya and determine if there is any exchange of geneflow between the populations. The fellowship was co-funded by African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD).

Wheat production is faced by many challenges, among them wheat stem rust, a disease causing severe losses to wheat production in many parts of the world. Heavy rust infections of this disease may cause yield losses of 100% on susceptible varieties with the most highly affected farmers being the smallholders who are not able to use fungicides due to the high costs.

For over three decades, the problem of this fungal disease had been solved through the use of genetic resistance. However, the pathogens causing the rust change rapidly, often by mutation and the detection of a new, virulent race of stem rust called Ug99 in Uganda has raised major concerns. The Ug99 has spread to the wheat growing areas of Kenya, Ethiopia, Yemen, Iran, Sudan, Eritrea, Tanzania, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa. It is predicted to spread towards North Africa, Middle East, Asia and beyond, raising serious concerns of major epidemics that could destroy the wheat crop in various parts of the world. More variants of race Ug99 (TTKSK): TTKST, TTTSK, PTKSK PTKST, show that Ug99 is evolving.

Regular monitoring, sampling, identification and genetic characterization of the races provide knowledge on the pathogen population dynamics and evolution. The information generated through Ruth’s study is useful to the wheat breeding team both nationally and internationally.

About her achievements Ruth says:

"Securing the ABCF fellowship was a great achievement for me. The moment I got the fellowship, I enrolled for PhD studies at Egerton University and am using part of the results generated during the placement to write my thesis.  I don’t think I would have been able to enrol for my PhD without this fellowship.

Through the fellowship, I acquired the skills to address yet another wheat rust disease - yellow rust, an equally economically important fungal disease globally. I have been able to transfer the skills I learned to one of the young women scientists I mentor and who is enrolled for a PhD through a joint research proposal I wrote with scientists in the UK and India.

The knowledge and skills I acquired at the BecA-ILRI Hub, the backing from AWARD and from all the donors who support the two institutions are such a blessing to my career. Thank you BecA for being there for African scientists!"


Dawit Beyene Kidanemariam: Investigating the occurence and distribution of viral diseases of taro in Ethiopia

45aec.jpgDawit Beyene Kidanemariam is a researcher at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) and  PhD student at Queensland University of Science and Technology, Australia. He is a recipient of the BecA-ILRI Hub's Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellowship.

Dawit Beyene was awarded a fellowship for a period of six months from 16 July 2012 – 14 January 2013 to study the occurrence and distribution of viral diseases of taro in Ethiopia.

A large population in south and southwest Ethiopia solely depends on the root crops enset, potato, sweet potato and taro for their daily food. Taro is a tropical plant grown primarily for its edible starchy corms. Being vegetatively propagated, taro is prone to viral infection and as a result, its production has declined significantly

The main objective of this project was to determine the identity and incidence of viruses associated with taro in Ethiopia. The results of the study show that there is a high infestation of taro plantations by Dasheen mosaic virus (DsMV) and possibly two new viruses. Further investigation of these viruses is still in progress.

About his achievements Dawit says:

"The preliminary results from my research at the BecA-ILRI Hub gave more insight to the extent of the problem of viral diseases not only in taro but also in other vegetatively propagated crops in Ethiopia.  I have given three practical trainings and three seminars to researchers from different laboratories on plant virus diagnostics in planting materials before dissemination to farmers.

A bigger project to address the problem of taro viruses in the region has been designed and I will undertake part of the research for this project as my PhD studies funded by an Australian Awards for Africa scholarship. My PhD which will be co-supervised by a BecA-ILRI Hub scientist will be carried out partly at Queensland University of Science and Technology, Australia and at the BecA-ILRI Hub. The manuscript developed from my work during the ABCF fellowship is currently under preparation before submission for publication.

My growth as a researcher and the skills I am now using for my PhD research are thanks to the time spent at the BecA-ILRI Hub. In addition, the contacts I developed and the scientific circle I now belong to are an important component of my career development. I could never forget the BecA -ILRI Hub Team!"


Christian Keambou Tiambo: Understanding the diversity of indigenous chicken populations of Cameroon

ed3e5.jpgChristian Keambou Tiambo is a lecturer at the University of Buea, Cameroon. He is also the African Principal Investigator – “Development and sustainable breeding of local chicken for improved productivity” joint African and Brazil project and a recipient of the BecA-ILRI Hub's Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellowship

Christian Keambou was awarded a fellowship for a period of four months from 15 January – 26 May 2012 to study the diversity of indigenous chicken populations of Cameroon, and to link molecular data to the phenotypic data previously collected in the country.

Local chicken are the most widespread livestock in rural Africa, present in 85% of rural households. They present a unique opportunity for savings, investment and guard against risk for smallholder farmers in developing countries as they are technically and financially easy to breed and are mostly kept by women and children. Indigenous chicken are a high quality protein source for the family and a living asset which can quickly be liquidized in case of financial emergency. However, the productivity of local breeds of chicken is low as compared to that of commercial breeds. Increased production of local chicken in Cameroon as in other developing countries can act as a pathway to alleviate food insecurity and poverty amongst smallholder farmers.

This study was focused on understanding the different physical and genetic traits of indigenous chicken which can make them better performers in terms of disease resistance and meat and egg production. Findings from the study will constitute the basis for efficient decision making for conservation and genetic improvement.

About his achievements Christian says:

"While at the BecA-ILRI Hub, I developed a concept note for the Africa-Brazil Agricultural Innovation Market Place. My concept note interested researchers from Brazilian Enterprise for Agricultural Research (Embrapa) Pantanal, Brazil and together we wrote a proposal on “Development and sustainable breeding of local chicken for improved productivity under local alternative feed management system and health control” that was selected for funding.The project is being implemented successfully in the South West and Western regions of Cameroon as well as in rural Brazil.

Thanks to the ABCF fellowship, I finalized and successfully defended my PhD and won the Africa Brazil grant. Both theses achievements contributed to my promotion from Assistant lecturer to Senior lecturer. Now many lecturers and students at my home institution and other national universities can benefit from my experience."


Fatuma Ali Mzingirwa: Understanding the genetic population structure of Crimson jobfish in South West Indian Ocean

c3111.jpgFatuma Ali Mzingirwa is a scientist with the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute and a MSc Student at the Moi University in Kenya. She is a recipient of the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellowship.

Fatuma’s was awarded a two and a half month fellowship from 1 March - 21 May 2013 at the BecA-ILRI Hub to enable her  carry out a study on the genetic population structure of Crimson jobfish (Pristipomoides filamentosus) in South West Indian Ocean using samples collected from Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles, Mauritius and South Africa.

The Crimson jobfish is a commercially important tropical snapper that is caught with hand-lines, electric fishing reels, and deep-water gill nets. The Crimson jobfish is commonly targeted by fishermen and its aggressive nature and relatively large size makes it more vulnerable to fishing gear. The low growth rates, natural mortality and prolongation in the attainment of sexual maturity of this fish species make it particularly vulnerable to overfishing.

The outcome of this research will contribute to the development of long term conservation and management initiatives for Crimson jobfish in South West Indian Ocean region.

About her achievements, Fatuma says:

"My fellowship at the BecA-ILRI Hub enabled me acquire skills in molecular biology which are now additional expertise for the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute in the area of genetics research. These skills will contribute to the development of a molecular laboratory at the institute.

I developed a proposal on connectivity of Mangrove jack commonly known as red snapper in the marine protected areas and the open fishing zones, which is currently under review. I am also working in collaboration with colleagues from my home institute to develop a proposal on the assessment of marine biodiversity of the East African coast which will entail identification of new species, barcoding of marine species and determining population structure of commonly occurring species using molecular techniques.

I owe the BecA-ILRI Hub for the successful completion of my MSc research; the paper I have written and which is still under review; and for the acquisition of knowledge and skills that I will continue to use as I grow in my career."


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