Can the humble fruit fly help create a flourishing African scientific community?

This week in The Guardian, Marta Vincente-Crespo writes that African biomedical scientists face important challenges – poor training, poorer infrastructure and scarce resources. International scientists believe that the Drosophila melanogaster (fruit flies) can empower the scientists of Africa to pursue their research interests. Drosophila transformed the scientific scene in Spain decades ago, when limited resources called for an inexpensive laboratory model.

"This species of fly has been instrumental for developmental biology, genetics and biomedical research. The flies have played a role in identifying genes that relate to the immune system, cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and are an invaluable tool in teaching research, the scientific method and critical thinking".

DrosAfrica has run workshops in Uganda and Nigeria, trains PhDs with budding research groups and collaborates with several African institutions and universities.

Fabian Feiguin, Group Leader, Neurobiology Lab, ICGEB Trieste, was on the faculty of the DrosAfrica meeting held in Ibadan in July 2017. Impacting a wide range of communities in Africa, DrosAfrica has trained over 50 people from 8 institutions in 5 different African countries. These individuals constitute an important part of the future of research in Africa and members of African institutions, especially women, are strongly urged to apply. This meeting was co-organised and sponsored by the ICGEB.

Amos O. Abolaji, University of Ibadan, FBMS College of Medicine, keeps Fabian updated on developments of the Drosphila lab in Ibadan; it makes for nice reading:

"I owe you a duty to update you from time to time on the happenings in the Drosophila Lab at Ibadan:

1. The CO2 system is functioning well, and this has made our work easier and faster. Thanks.
2. The cold centrifuge has saved us time and funds. We formerly used the one at the central lab at a fee. Having our own has made our antioxidant enzyme assays more convenient.
3. The Dean has provided for us a new refrigerator. 
4. The dissecting microscopes are functioning well, and students have been using them to dissect the flies. Thanks.
5.We have 6 M.Sc. students and two PhD students from Physiology, Biochemistry and Pharm. Chem. departments working on different projects. Since most of them were participants in the workshop, they have started incorporating some aspects learnt during the workshop in their projects.
6. We also assist the different institutions that have come to take flies from here. Indeed, Federal University of Technology at Akure has made available a building for Drosophila research and the team there is currently renovating the place. They desire and hope to host workshop in the future.
7. A new private university is planning to commence Drosophila research. 
8. The VC has sent the engineering team to instal an inverter in the Drosophila lab. They will commence work tommorrow. This would ensure that we have uninterrupted power supply in the lab.
9. The fluorimeter donated by Dr. Silvia is functioning well.
Once again, we thank you for coming to Nigeria to help us. Thank you for all the efforts."
Further reading:

8 November 2017
The Guardian: Can the humble fruit fly help create a flourishing African scientific community

ICGEB is holding the Course "Drosophila melanogaster models for neurodegenerative diseases" from 17-20 April 2018 in Trieste, Italy 
Scientific Organiser, Fabian Feiguin (ICGEB Trieste, Italy)


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