19 July 2018 Photo Supplied
AEVGI advances Next-Generation Sequencing in Africa
Prof George Armah, Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, Ghana; Prof Carl Kirkwood, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, USA; Cornelius Hagenmeier, Director: Internationalisation, UFS; Prof Gert van Zyl, Dean: Health Sciences; Dr Martin Nyaga, Senior Lecturer in the NGS Unit; Prof Joyce Tsoka-Gwegweni, Vice-Dean: Health Sciences; Dr Glen Taylor, Senior Director: Research and Development; Prof Jeffrey Mphahlele, Vice-President, South African Medical Research Council.

The inaugural edition of the University of the Free State (UFS) Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) Data and Bioinformatics Workshop, hosted by the UFS-NGS Unit in the UFS Faculty of Health Sciences, marked a new beginning for the advancement of NGS in Africa under the auspices of the African Enteric Viruses Genome Initiative (AEVGI), which was recently funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The AEVGI will generate rotavirus genomes at the UFS-NGS Unit to investigate the long-term effects of the introduction of the monovalent RV1 vaccine in three African countries – Ghana, Malawi, and South Africa.

The workshop attracted over 90 participants from 15 national and international institutions, with organisations from seven different countries as well as company representatives attending the event. The workshop kicked off with a courtesy call to the Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Francis Petersen, followed by a stakeholder meeting with the executive management of the UFS.

The funding was secured through an award to the principal investigator, Dr Martin Nyaga, and sub-awards to co-investigators, Dr Khuzwayo Jere, Dr Francis Dennis, and Dr Valentine Ndze. According to attendee evaluations of the workshop, the remarkable performance of the workshop instructors was outstanding. Through practical sessions, participants were equipped with knowledge on how to apply several tools of genetic data analysis, using the rotavirus genome as a model to construct and interpret different genomic datasets.

A total of 65 students attended the hands-on workshop, the majority of which were from South African higher-education institutions. The organisers are grateful to the sponsors, particularly to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the University of the Free State, for making the workshop a success. Whitehead Scientific and the South African Medical Research Council also played a major role in the success of the workshop. The local organising committee consisted of Dr Martin Nyaga (host, convener and chair), Dr Saheed Sabiu (secretary), and Mr Stephanus Riekert (principal ICT support).