Safeguarding African biodiversity through genomics

The African Biogenome Project aims to protect biodiversity and build bioinformatics capacity across Africa

African Biodiversity. credit: Karen Arnott / EMBL

African Biogenome Project (AfricaBP) Africa is an Africa-led effort to sequence the genomes of plants, animals, fungi and protists native to the continent.

There is an urgent need to understand Africa’s biodiversity through genomics and ensure sustainable use of native plants and animals. A better understanding of this genomic information is important for protecting biodiversity and improving the resilience of plants in response to future environmental pressures such as climate change.

AfricaBP currently hosts 109 African scientists and 22 African organizations, representing researchers and organizations from all five regions of the African Union. In his recent position paper, published in the journal NatureIn this article, AfricaBP researchers outline the project’s goals for food security, natural resource conservation, and the sharing of data and benefits in an inclusive and equitable manner that focuses on the priorities of African peoples. By supporting researchers within Africa, the project aims to move the African continent into the next big phase of research and innovation.

Starting AfricaBP

“The development of AfricaBP began in 2013 during my time as a PhD student at the University of Cambridge. When I arrived in the UK, I realized how different bioinformatics and genomics were here compared to Africa.” thank god echezona ebenezer, Founder and Co-Chair of AfricaBP and Bioinformatics at EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI). “When I was studying in Africa, we did not have access to expensive sequencing machines, and core bioinformatics courses were not readily available, especially within non-human space. There is a need to build capacity in bioinformatics.

The primary goals of AfricaBP are also strongly supported by African governments, the African Union Commission, national and regional agencies and international partners and organisations. The project will work with policy makers on recommendations of laws and regulations around national outreach and profit sharing. In addition to new policies to support AfricaBP, national governments will work in collaboration with regional and international partners to invest in infrastructure to support genomics and bioinformatics in Africa.

African Biodiversity Data

Understanding planetary biology at the molecular level is critical to helping researchers understand environmental parameters influencing biological processes and pressing social issues, including biodiversity decline. with your new planetary biology topicsEMBL is striving to support scientists to understand biodiversity as it changes.

Africa is rich in biodiversity, but it is poorly understood compared to other ecosystems around the world. For African peoples – collecting, sequencing and storing genomic information on the continent – ​​is a fundamental priority for AfricaBP. It will help build resilience through plant breeding, sustainable food systems, and biodiversity conservation across the continent, while complementing its efforts Human Hereditary and Health (H3Africa) consortium, which focuses on human health and genomics.

Ebenezer said, “If we want to sequence life across Africa, we need expertise and technologies that can penetrate hard-to-reach places because some of the species we want to sequence are easy to obtain.” Will not done.” “It’s in these secluded places that you find most of the biodiversity. That’s going to be a very challenging aspect of the project.”

AfricaBP is also a partner of three complementary large-scale global genomic efforts, including the 10,000 Plant Genome Project, the Vertebrate Genome Project and the Earth Biogenome Project; The ultimate goal is to sequence the genomes of all eukaryotic species on Earth. Data from these projects and AfricaBP will be freely available through International Nucleotide Sequence Database Consortium (INSDC)of which European Nucleotide Archive is a member.

Bioinformatics Capacity Building

“We want to not only conserve biodiversity on the continent but also build the skills base needed for biodiversity conservation,” Ebenezer said. “We can sequence genomes very easily but those who are custodians of African biodiversity must also understand the technologies and genomics needed. This is critical to the project’s long-term sustainability.”

AfricaBP also envisions developing a fellowship for early career researchers to invest in the next generation of scientists. Sustained and sustained investment in early career researchers through AfricaBP will help ensure opportunities for African scientists and encourage them to develop the bioinformatics ecosystem in the region.

“We are working within AfricaBP to find solutions to some of the economic issues facing African researchers,” Ebenezer said. “For example, we are working to find a better way to sequence and analyze samples without access to large servers and genomics infrastructure because these are too expensive and challenging to maintain in Africa. Run by early career researchers from the U.S. and we want to support them in every way possible.

next steps

The next step for AfricaBP is to seek formal support from leading African institutions such as the African Union Commission and the African Academy of Sciences so that the project is linked to one of their programmes. Thereafter, there are plans to secure a multi-year core funding by seeking support from national, regional and international funders and partners. With the right support, the Africa Biogenome Project hopes to contribute to protecting biodiversity on the continent and tackling some of the biggest challenges facing the world.

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