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Top scientists debate biotechnology

By Christopher Bendana

Added 9th September 2016 02:27 PM

The technology has helped in breeding crop varieties that are resistant to pests and diseases,

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From left, Amolatar district Woman MP Amule Doreen Ruth addresses the meeting as minister of science, technology and innovation Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye and technology expert George-William Byarugaba Bazirake look on. (Credit: Mary Kansiime)

KAMPALA - Scientists from different fields discussed the application of biotechnology in Uganda.

Meeting in Kampala under the umbrella of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAP), they discussed its application in agriculture, medicine and the environment.

Dr. Stephen Buah, a molecular biologist at the National Agricultural Research Laboratories, Kawanda, said  genetically modified organism (GMO) vaccines are easy to purify, modify and do not need a cold chain at some times.

Vaccines are usually stored under cold conditions.

He also said that GMOs would play an important role in preserving the environment by helping in breaking down waste. Kampala city is known to have a lot of waste.

Dr. Arthur Tuguma, a lecturer of genetics and plant pathology in the department of Plant Sciences, Microbiology and Biotechnology at Makerere University, said there is need to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of the technology.

On his part, Dr Elioda Tumwesigye, the Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation, who closed the dialogue, said he was looking at using the technology to fight hunger, diseases and poverty.

And indeed the technology has helped in breeding crop varieties that are resistant to pests and diseases, crops that are tolerant to drought and floods, and has enhanced the nutritional value of Uganda’s staple food (cassava and bananas).

There is transfer of genes of interest among species and even from different species.

For instance, breeders at the National Crop Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) have successfully bred a cassava variety resistant to the virulent Cassava Brown Streak Disease using this technology.

Also at the National Agricultural Research Laboratories, Kawanda breeders have bred a banana variety resistant to Banana Bacteria Wilt. The banana wilt has affected much of the country, especially the livelihood of millions who depend on the banana crop.

 Tumwesigye amused the participants when he said he had also had reservations about the technology until he visited the National Crops Resources Research Institute, Namulonge and the National Agricultural. Research Laboratories, Kawanda early this month and saw the advances in technology the institutes had.

“Uganda has topnotch scientists,” he said, before reminding the participants how American business magnate Bill Gates recently praised Ugandan scientists in South Africa for their agricultural innovation.

At the meeting, the scientists agreed on the need for further sensitization of biotechnology especially among MPs so the bill meant to regulate the technology is signed into law.

The National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012 is one of the few pieces of legislation that were not concluded by the Ninth Parliament.

 

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