IITA working on Africa’s first genome edited banana

The new frontier for agricultural innovation is genome editing and IITA is already leading the way by using the technology to improve several crops. Principal Scientist and Deputy Director of IITA East Africa Hub, Dr Leena Tripathi revealed this during the Third Africa Biennial Biosciences Communication Symposium (ABBC), which took place in Pretoria South Africa, 29-30 August.

Tripathi said, “We are using genome editing to develop disease resistant banana and plantain. Plantain will be resistant to Brown Streak Virus (BSV) and will benefit Nigerian farmers who grow the crop widely.” Other crops that are being improved using genome editing are cooking and dessert bananas. Her Kenya-based lab is working on bananas resistant to bacterial wilt and fusarium wilt.

Tripathi is excited about genome editing just like a number of other research scientists, because it is a more powerful and efficient tool for crop improvement. “Since there is no foreign gene being introduced into the plant, we hope products of genome editing will not be regulated.” Asked why she and other researchers are wary of regulation, she said it was a long and expensive process to the disadvantage of Africa’s farmers. These farmers continue to lose 50–70% of their crop while legislation drags on and delays access to seeds of improved varieties.

Dr Margaret Karembu, Director, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) AfriCenter, and co-Convener of the Conference called upon all stakeholders to “rise early and start proactively communicating about genome editing so that it is received better by the public, unlike GMOs that faced a toughtime.” However, the African Union representative, Prof Gasama Yaye, reiterated the need for fair regulation for genome edited crops. “Regulation does not mean stifling progress. Africa’s farmers need seeds that are high yielding, disease resistant, and tolerant to the vagaries of climate change, and genome editing can provide this.”

Students of Afe Babalola University benefit from hands-on molecular biology training in IITA

The IITA Bioscience Center organized a training program for 41 students of Afe Babalola University, from the department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, College of Medicine and Health Science. The 5-day Basic Molecular Biology Techniques and Bioinformatics workshop took place  from 13 to 17 January at the IITA Ibadan Campus. The purpose of the workshop was to equip students with the basic knowledge of Biotechnology and Bioinformatics and allow them to have hands-on experience.


Yemi Fasanmade, Bioscience Laboratory Manager, said the IITA Bioscience Center organizes hands-on molecular biology trainings twice a year to give students and researchers the opportunity to gain practical knowledge of biotechnology. Although this is not one of the usual annual trainings, IITA seizes every opportunity to help students go beyond their theoretical knowledge, to gain practical experience through the Institute’s world class laboratory facilities. Many students have the theoretical knowledge but have not been exposed to first-hand experience due to lack of facilities.

Accompanied by the Acting Head of Department (AHOD) and a lecturer, the students received a warm welcome from Melaku Gedil, Molecular Geneticist, on behalf of the Head of the Bioscience Center, Michael Abberton. Gedil encouraged the students to take the opportunity seriously as IITA is one of the best places in Africa for this training because of the availability and functionality of its facilities. “It’s not about wanting to know the techniques of genomics or biotechnology, passion and hard work is required in understanding why we do these things,” he said.

The students visited the DNA and RNA laboratories for the practical sessions, working in teams. For the first time, they were exposed to genomic DNA extraction, amplification using the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machine, sequencing using the genetic analyzer, and interpretation of results.

Describing their experience, two students—Igwe Philip Chinonso and Solomon Okon Rejoice—recalled that they have been exposed to the theoretical aspects of Biotechnology and Genomics since their 200 Level but have never practiced it. They both agreed that their expectations were exceeded, seeing the kind of facilities the Institute has and the way the staff handled the training. Okon explained that she not only learned how to extract DNA but also how to check the quality of the genomic DNA for impurities.

Dr Olusegun Adeoluwa, AHOD of the Pharmacology and Therapeutics Department also commended IITA for the effectiveness of the training, adding that he also benefited from it. “I realized that my students needed to be exposed to hands-on training and I discovered that IITA is the best place for this training.” He also mentioned that the training will be continued for every set of final year students in the department henceforth.

Certificates were awarded after evaluating the effectiveness of the training through question and answer sessions and team assignments.

IITA Bioscience Center hosts training on molecular techniques

IITA Bioscience Center in collaboration with the Capacity Development Office, organized a five-day training workshop on molecular biology techniques, for National Agricultural Researchers (NARs) across Universities and Research Institutes in Nigeria. The training, which was targeted at familiarizing students and researchers with the science of biotechnology through hands-on training, took place on 4–8 November at the IITA Ibadan campus.

In his welcome address, Head of Genetic Resources Center Michael Abberton enjoined the participants to maximze the opportunity and learn as much as possible to take back with them to their various institutions. “I wish you the very best during your stay throughout this course,” he said.

As the second training for the year, the workshop was on molecular biology techniques, involving both the dry and wet lab sessions. The training entailed an overview of DNA extraction, sample preparation for electrophoresis, quantification of extracted DNA using Nano-Drop Spectrophotometer, Polymerase Chain Reaction, Introduction to molecular markers and their application in Biotechnology, Sanger DNA Sequencing, Diversity Arrays Technology (DArTseq), and analysis of Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reactions (qPCR).

Describing her experience, Bibitayo Faluyi from the Department of Medical Microbiology Parasitology at Babcock University, said the trainers used simple language and this helped her to gain new knowledge that will be used back in her university. “I look forward to coming back for another training next year,” she added.

Another participant, Yigasira Barile, a Microbiologist from the Afe Babalola University, said that despite the number of participants, everyone had the privilege of individually experimenting, “giving us a deeper and clearer understanding of what we have been taught in the classroom.” After the training and tour of IITA facilities and research fields, he highlighted how pleased he was to have visited the Institute. “I would recommend that people come to IITA and see the beauty of science,” he included.

The participants received certificates after the evaluation of the effectiveness of the training. Aside from serving as a evidence of hands-on training, the certificate has the added advantage for participants who plan to study abroad and for job employment. One of the participants from ABU Zaria confirmed it when he said, “this training is a prerequisite for promotion in my organization.”

IITA Bioscience Center organizes training annually to give students and researchers the opportunity to gain practical knowledge of biotechnology. A lot of people have the theoretical knowledge but have not been exposed to first-hand experience due to lack of facilities. The Bioscience Laboratory Manager, Yemi Fasanmade noted that IITA has excellent facilities for practical experience. “Since we do this on a daily basis, we decided on extending the training to national researchers to understand the practical aspect of biotechnology,” she said.