Early career researchers benefit from CONNECTED’s capacity development efforts
The Community Network for African Vector-Borne Plant Viruses (CONNECTED) and IITA organized a training program at the IITA Ibadan campus, from 4 to 8 November. Seventeen early career professionals from 10 African countries received training on the application of molecular diagnostics for plant virus surveillance.
CONNECTED is a vector-borne disease network with a mandate to develop the capacity of early career researchers. Its goal is to build a sustainable network of scientists that will tackle vector-borne and plant diseases in Sub-Saharan Africa. CONNECTED is funded by the UK government as part of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) that supports research on global issues affecting developing countries. The network is led by Bristol University and Newcastle University.
Representing the Directorate of IITA-Western Africa Hub, Michael Abberton, Head of Genetic Resources Center and Deputy Director, encouraged the trainees to make use of the opportunity by gaining new knowledge and practices to strengthen their own work and the capacity of their parent organizations.
Introducing the course curriculum, Neil Boonham from Newcastle University, Co-Director of the CONNECTED project, stated that farmers have to make informed decisions through the help of researchers; as a result, the course will cover such areas as diagnostics, identification, monitoring, and surveillance. “We are trying to generate data using diagnostic technologies that will help farmers make informed decisions,” he said.
Highlighting the need for diagnostics in virus control, Lava Kumar, Head of Virology and Molecular Diagnostics Unit of IITA and Deputy Chair of CONNECTED management board, emphasized the importance of strategy and selection of appropriate surveillance methods to obtain best results and ensure optimum use of resources. He presented examples of emerging viruses, the importance of diagnostics for effective surveillance, and introduced new ICT innovations that combine diagnostics with ICTs for surveillance and reporting. Kumar also emphasized lack of awareness as a major cause of virus spread.
The course trained participants in the identification of insect vectors using DNA barcoding, detection of viruses using LAMP and RPA assays, sampling and sample storage methods, primer design, and scenario simulations for application of surveillance and diagnostics. Goncalo Silva, Research Fellow from Natural Resources Institute (NRI), University of Greenwich, UK, explained isothermal methods for virus detection in plant samples.
Participants shared their experience throughout the training period, including the opportunity to visit the largest gene bank in Africa. Solomon Ayeboafo Otu from Ghana said he came with an expectation to learn how to identify insect vectors and his aspiration has been met. Kamis Ally Issa from Tanzania also expressed his excitement about working with a team. “People from different backgrounds worked together to achieve a goal. I liked the competition between groups as every group wanted to be the best,” he said.
IITA was chosen to host the training in West Africa because of its conducive environment and good facilities. According to Rachael Gwokyalya, one of the early career professionals from Uganda, “IITA has all the facilities anyone needs to live comfortably.” Philip Abidrabo from Uganda, said, “IITA has well-maintained lawns and well-equipped laboratories. The only painful thing is that I will be going back soon.”
While appreciating the IITA virology team for their excellent contributions, Boonham mentioned that the team is well resourced to host advanced training courses. He added that CONNECTED looks forward to long-term funding such that more training courses can be organized on different topics in various countries of Africa. Underlining the benefits of the network, Boonham stated that being a member of CONNECTED exposes scientists to multiple training opportunities and materials. Members can also access materials of missed trainings on the website.