01 February 2019 | Story Zama Feni | Photo Charl Devenish
Disease Control and Prevention InStory
From left, seated: Dr Mathew Esona, CDC delegate; Dr Michael Bowen, CDC delegate; Dr Martin Nyaga, lead Researcher at the UFS-NGS Unit; standing: Mojalefa Buti, Office of the Vice-Dean, UFS Faculty of Health Sciences; Dr Glen Tylor, Senior Director, Directorate Research Development; Cornelius Hagenmeier, Director, Office for International Affairs; and Dr Saheed Sabiu, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences.

In pursuit of efforts to advance research on viruses and disease control, the United States-based Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has made a commitment to enhance the University of the Free State (UFS) Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) Unit’s data collection systems and further empower its staff and students.

UFS and US guests explore areas of mutual; cooperation

During a visit to the university in early December last year CDC delegation, Dr Michael Bowen and Dr Mathew Esona, a meeting was held with the lead Researcher at the UFS-NGS Unit, Dr Martin Nyaga; Senior Director of the UFS Directorate Research Development, Dr Glen Tylor; Director of UFS Office for International Affairs, Cornelius Hagenmeier; and Dr Saheed Sabiu Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Faculty of Natural and Agriculture Sciences. It was in this meeting that areas of mutual collaboration and engagement between the two institutions which include technology transfer, funding and wet and dry laboratory quality control and capacity development were identified.

The UFS-NGS Unit, established in 2016, enjoys longstanding networking and collaborative ventures with renowned researchers in Africa, the USA, and Europe – which in return, have contributed immensely to the research activities of the university as a whole.

Dr Nyaga said in an effort to advance genomics research in the NGS Unit, the visitors have committed themselves to initiate and further enhance capacity development for the unit’s staff and students.

US guests impressed with advanced equipment at UFS

The CDC delegation were intrigued that the UFS also operates a Miseq Illumina platform like the one used at their enteric-viruses laboratory. It could thus be in line to assist in developing exclusive pipelines for the analysis of NGS data generated by the UFS-NGS Unit.

This is a personal sequencing system, which is a powerful state-of-the-art next-generation sequencer. It uses sequencing-by-synthesis technology capable of sequencing up to 15GB of high-quality filtered bases per run, with up to 600 base-pair read lengths. This allows the assembly of small genomes or the detection of target variants with unmatched accuracy, especially within homo-polymer regions.

UFS and CDC engagements still on

Further engagements about the identified areas of collaboration are ongoing between Hagenmeier, Dr Bowen, and Dr Nyaga, who are currently working on appropriate mechanisms to enact the envisaged collaboration between the two institutions.

The NGS Unit received research awards from the World Health Organisation, South African Medical Research Council, Poliomyelitis Research Foundation, and the National Research Foundation for different aspects of genomics research, and more recently from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the Enteric Viruses Genome Initiative, involving four African countries (South Africa, Ghana, Malawi, and Cameroon).