A Report on the JR Biotek Foundation Alumni Symposium
CSIR-Crops Research Institute in Kumasi, Ghana.
4th October 2022
The report below is by Mabele Anthony (PhD), Research Fellow at the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST), Kakamega – Kenya.
The COmmunity Network for vECTor borne plant viruses (CONNECTED) awarded me a Travel Grant to attend the JR Biotek Alumni Symposium on 4th October, 2022. The symposium was organized by the JR Biotek Foundation in collaboration with the CSIR-Crops Research Institute of Ghana. The JR Biotek Foundation works to ensure upskilling of Africa’s next generation of agricultural scientists, innovators and bio-industry leaders to pioneer breakthrough discoveries that will end hunger and malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa. The foundation envisions unlocking Africa’s potential to sustainably feed its rapidly growing human population (and the rest of the world) through the application of cutting-edge plant biotechnologies.
The theme of the symposium was “Advancing research on African indigenous crops to meet pressing local food and nutrition challenges.” This event brought together agricultural scientists, crop protection regulators, farmers and young early career researchers in plant health who shared skills, technologies and current research in enhancing food security. This theme goes well with the CONNECTED Virus Network objectives of strengthening collaboration and building research network to enhance protection of vector-borne plant virus diseases and vectors of crop diseases in our agriculture to attain food security.
The main objective of the meeting was to identify and prioritize African indigenous crops to focus research on in order to enhance their productivity. Boosting research and development on improving the genetic resilience of the identified food and nutrition security crops, will accelerate the development of effective solutions against current and emerging vector-borne plant virus disease threats in the complex pathosystems.
The meeting began with an address from the Director of CSIR-Crops Research Institute in Fumesua, Kumasi, Ghana, Prof. Moses Mochiah. He appreciated the participants for their commitment in enhancing research to ensure Africa is food secure.
Presentations from CSIR-Crops Research Institute scientists (Prof Mariam Quain and Dr. Ruth Prempeh) on the application of molecular tools in crop improvement included; Marker Assisted Selection (MAS) for crop breeding for resistance to Bacterial wilt, Tomato yellow leaf curl virus (TYLCV) and the parasitic Root-Knot nematode (Meloidogyne spp); Tissue culture for cassava and yam virus cleaning; Loop mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) assay which is under development; Gene sequencing where the institute has capacity to do sequencing for plant pathogens characterization.
There were presentations from the invited guests which focused majorly on current research (breeding, pathology and socio-economics) of indigenous crops. I gave a presentation on the “First report of Phasey bean mild yellows virus infecting groundnut and bambara groundnut with drivers of change.”
My presentation focused on the JR Biotek Foundation and CONNECTED Virus network mandate on the molecular laboratory skills capacity to diagnose correctly the emerging virus diseases such as Phasey bean mild yellows virus (PBMYV), Cucurbit aphid-borne yellows virus (CABYV), Potato virus Y (PVY), Banana Bunchy Top virus (BBTV) and Tomato Brown Fruit Rugose virus (ToBRFV), and the measures being undertaken by both CONNECTED Virus Network and the JR Biotek Foundation to prevent their introduction and spread, a phytosanitary concern that the collaborations can manage in research.
Finally, there was a round table discussion leading to the selection and prioritization of indigenous crops for research and development led by the JR Biotek Foundation in collaboration with institutional partners in Africa and elsewhere. Areas of research on the selected crops will aim to improve their genetic resilience against biotic and abiotic stresses including Dasheen mosaic virus (DsMV), Yam mosaic virus (YMV), Yam mild mosaic virus (YMMV) and other pathogens.
- The JR Biotek Africa Crop Innovation Hub will help African nations to achieve food and nutrition security through equitable collaborations that support laboratory infrastructure development, capacity building and access to modern technologies in African research institutions.
- Plant breeders’ innovation rights is still weak in most African countries, but an area that seeks improvement.
- Research focus is shifting towards management of crop stressors and not just their identification and characterization.
- There is huge potential to invest in indigenous crops in the phase of climate change and drivers of change, but these efforts must be led by African Scientists who understand these crops and their local ecosystems with support from global funders and partners.
- Africa has enormous potential to lead research on the advancement and improvement of crops in order to achieve sustainable food security.
- There are opportunities to join and contribute to the JR Biotek’s Africa Crop Innovation Hub through resource provision, training and capacity building. CONNECTED Virus Network may seek collaboration with the JR Biotek Foundation to promote research on the development and management of indigenous crops in Africa.
- Seek consultancy to help build capacity of African organizations and institutions in Plant breeders’ rights.
- In the phase of establishing collaborations with partners in crops research regionally and globally, the JR Biotek Foundation’s continuous engagement in related meetings and conferences, enables direct involvement and identification of real time farmer’s needs in helping to improve their livelihood.
I sincerely thank CONNECTED Virus Network for providing the travel grant; the JR Biotek Foundation for organizing the symposium and providing wonderful accomodation and facilitating local travel while in Ghana; Dr. Diane Hird and Dr. Nina Ockendon-Powell of CONNECTED Virus Network for their wonderful undertaking and support to make the travel successful.
Appendix I: JR Biotek Symposium Visit in Pictorials
From Left to right: Dr. Mukoye Benard, Prof. Maria Quain, Prof. Moses Mochiah (CSIR-CRI Director), Dr. Carol Ibe (JR Biotek Foundation Founder and President), Dr. Ruth Prempeh and Dr. Anthony Mabele.
Group photo at the CSIR-Crops Research Institute in Kumasi, Ghana by the JR Biotek Alumni symposium team with some CONNECTED Virus network members in attendance.
Presentation by Dr. Carol Ibe, The JR Biotek Foundation President. She focused on the need to advance research on African indigenous crops to accelerate local food production in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.
Presentation by Dr. Anthony Mabele who focused on Phasey bean mild yellows virus (PBMYV), emerging plant viruses and drivers of climate change on indigenous crops.