A maximum of 100 African crop scientists have the opportunity to work with CRISPR-based gene editing technology to improve food crops and food security across the continent. This opportunity was announced by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), in conjunction with the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), the African Orphan Crop Consortium (AOCC), and the Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI) at UC Berkeley.
All these stakeholders are working together to introduce a new course as part of the African Plant Breeding Academy (AfPBA), and the CRISPR technology holds the power to make precise genetic changes to plants. This works as a tool that allows plant breeders to rise to the challenge of climate change and satisfy an increasing demand for crops in the face of food insecurity.
CRISPR stands for “Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats”. It’s a gene-editing technique that allows for precise, targeted modifications to DNA.
The AfPBA CRISPR course is designed to educate African crop scientists, particularly those who work in national research organisations and want to implement or start gene-editing activities. The course is a six-week intense program, hosted by B4A/ILRI hub and World Agroforestry, given in three two-week sessions at IITA in Nairobi, Kenya, over a year. It focuses on the steps involved in gene editing, from conception to validation. Participants create objectives and targets, develop plasmids, transmit traits to cells, regenerate plants, and validate outcomes using a banana as a model plant.
“We invite applications from molecular biologists/biotechnologists currently engaged in national programs in African institutions. Priority will be given to those from countries where regulatory guidelines for gene editing are either in place or under development. As well as AfPBA plant breeder alumni, as we promote the formation of multi-disciplinary teams in crop improvement. Attendees can be working on any crop,” IITA said via a statement.
Nobel Prize inspiration
This will be Africa’s first CRISPR hands-on training course, lasting five years and empowering 80-100 scientists. CRISPR provided the foundation for scientist Jennifer Doudna of UC Berkeley to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020 for her development of this precision technology for genome editing alongside French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier. Professor Doudna established the International Genomic Institute (IGI), a collaboration between UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco, to advance genome research for a better society. The UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center designed and directed the AfPBA as an AOCC effort.
For more information, see the AfPBA website or contact Dr Rita Mumm (email@example.com), AOCC Director of Capacity Development and Mobilization, or Dr Leena Tripathi (L.Tripathi@cgiar.org), Director, Eastern Africa Hub, IITA.