NWU showcases safe use of new biotechnology
Internationally recognised speakers within synthetic biology were recently gathered together with key scientists, regulators and NGOs at the North-West University (NWU). The event was a course that focused on biosafety and the contribution of synthetic biology in tackling societal challenges.
The course was opened by Ambassador Trine Skymoen, ambassador of Norway to South Africa and Dean Prof Kobus Pienaar of the Faculty of Natural Sciences at NWU. Funding for this important event comes from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
According to prof Johnny van den Berg at the NWU, Synthetic biology is a new and emerging field within modern biotechnology that through engineering and de novo synthesis of genetic material aims to improve biological systems for human, agricultural and environmental purposes. “The technological advance of SynBio enables easier, faster and potentially more targeted GMO design with the prospect of new pharmaceutical products such as anti-malaria drugs, bioproducts such as sweeteners and flavours, crop improvements and more efficient biofuel production,” he says.
He adds that the main objective of this course was to provide high-level policy makers, regulators, scientists, industry representatives and NGOs/civil society from SADC countries with knowledge and training in crucial gene technology, biosafety issues, innovation possibilities and sustainable use of genetic resources with particular attention given to synthetic biology. “In order to support governments and authorities and enable them to build up their own system of regulations and management, the course also includes presentations and discussions on how SynBio processes and products are covered by the international protocols under The Convention on Biological Diversity (i.e. Cartagena Protocol, Nagoya Protocol).”
The course was organised by NWU, GenØk-Centre for Biosafety and NIBIO (Norway) and attended by 40 participants from 13 countries in the SADC region. In addition, speakers from South Africa, Malaysia, Brazil and Norway also attended and assisted in training.
This successful event follows collaboration between NWU and its Norwegian collaborators since 2008. Through this collaboration, bursary support to more than 30 honours and MSc students as well as 3 PhD students resulted in significant local capacity development in the field of biosafety research and risk assessment.