Genomics by Africans for Africans

African BioGenome Project Sets Out Goals and Roadmap

Despite Africa's size and biodiversity, few of its crops, wild plants and animals have had their genomes sequenced. The African BioGenome Project, affiliated with the Earth BioGenome Project, aims to change that. (Image of zebras by Tim Caro/UC Davis)

The African BioGenome Project (AfricaBP) has published a position paper in Nature highlighting the goals, priorities, and roadmap of the Africa-led effort to sequence the genomes of 105,000 species of plants, animals, fungi and protists that are endemic to the continent.

Following its pilot launch in June 2021, AfricaBP now hosts 109 African scientists and 22 African organizations, representing researchers and organizations from all five regions in the African Union. AfricaBP is a partner to three complementary large-scale global genomic efforts, the 10,000 Plants Genomes Project (10KP), the Vertebrate Genomes Project (VGP), and the Earth BioGenome Project (EBP).

“The launch of the African BioGenome project represents a significant advance for the Earth BioGenome Project, which aims to sequence all 1.8 million named eukaryotic species,” said Harris Lewin, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis and Chair of the Earth BioGenome Project Working Group. “Africa’s importance to efforts in conservation of endangered species, pandemic prevention, and sustainable agriculture will be greatly enhanced by the coordinated efforts in genome sequencing across the African continent.”   

Relatively few of Africa’s crops and wild species have been sequenced – and where they have, the efforts have usually been led from outside the continent. Collecting, sequencing and storing genomic information on the continent, by and for the African people, is a fundamental priority for AfricaBP. Understanding Africa’s biodiversity through genomics can ensure the sustainable use of native plants and animals. For example, culturally relevant food sources, such as orphan crops, and other staples that are crucial to regional food security are mostly unsequenced. This genetic information is important to safeguarding biodiversity, and to improving plant resilience in response to future environmental pressures such as climate change.   

“AfricaBP is not just a scientific project but a socio-scientific project through which we hope to bring genomics and bioinformatics capacities closer to the African people,” said ThankGod Echezona Ebenezer, founder and co-chair of AfricaBP as well as a bioinformatician at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), UK.

Launched in November 2018, the goal of the Earth BioGenome Project is to provide a complete DNA sequence catalog of all 1.8 million named species of plants, animals and fungi as well as single-celled eukaryotes. With its administrative office at the UC Davis Genome Center, the project functions as an international network of networks, coordinating numerous group-specific, regional and national-scale efforts, such as the California Conservation Genome Project (U.S.), Darwin Tree of Life Project (Great Britain and Ireland), the Vertebrate Genome Project and now the African BioGenome Project.

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