Capacity building and knowledge transfer in genomics and bioinformatics

The African BioGenome Project, a large-scale international research project involving Konstanz bioinformatician Abdoallah Sharaf, successfully launched its “Open Institute”. The institute’s mission: accelerating knowledge exchange in biodiversity genomics and bioinformatics.

The “blueprints” of all living organisms are encoded in the sequences of their DNAs’ base pairs. Knowledge about these genome sequences and the identification of functional subunits, such as genes, are of great importance for biodiversity conservation efforts and for the life sciences in general. For this reason, the African BioGenome Project (AfricaBP), founded in 2021, has set itself an ambitious goal: sequencing the genomes of 100,000 animal and plant species that occur only in Africa – and to do so within 10 years. What is more, the sequencing is to be conducted exclusively in Africa.

A second goal of the AfricaBP, therefore, is to empower African scientists and institutions to obtain the required skill sets, capacity, and infrastructure to generate, analyze, and utilize genome sequences in labs across the continent. With the successful launch of AfricaBP’s Open Institute, the project has made an essential step towards reaching this goal, as Abdoallah Sharaf and his colleagues now describe in an article in Nature Biotechnology. Sharaf is a bioinformatician in the Department of Biology at the University of Konstanz (Germany), associate professor at Ain Shams University (Egypt), and Co-Chair of the AfricaBP pilot committee.

Central goals of the Open Institute
“The Open Institute aims to lower some of the barriers that often prevent the advancement of biodiversity genomics and bioinformatics knowledge exchange in Africa,” says Sharaf. To do so, the AfricaBP Open Institute focuses on five key priority areas:

  • Curriculum development
  • Technology development and infrastructure
  • Promoting grassroot knowledge exchange and equitable partnerships
  • Maximizing data ownership and sovereignty
  • Scientific enterprise and industry

In 2022, the Open Institute started hosting widely-attended workshops in cooperation with African institutions and organizations as well as global partners. So far, over 700 participants from 29 countries have been trained in cutting-edge technologies in the fields of biodiversity and genomics. As many of the participants came from African countries with active genomics research, in the future, the Open Institute will broaden its outreach to increase the participation of scientists from regions that currently have minimal genomic activity. In line with this, five more workshops on various aspects of genomics and bioinformatics are planned by the end of 2023 – two of them online, three in a hybrid format.

Tom Kariuki, Chief Executive Officer of the Science for Africa Foundation (SFA), applauds the project: “As the SFA Foundation, we are laser-focused on improving the quantity, quality, and productivity of science in Africa, which requires a skilled scientific workforce through the development of globally competitive science leaders in Africa. The Open Institute serves our objective of training future generations of scientists who will generate data to inform policy and Africa’s development agenda.”

This text is an adapted version of the original press release of the African BioGenome Project.