RISE prepares PhD- and MSc-level scientists and engineers in sub-Saharan Africa through university-based research and teaching networks in selected disciplines, in order to strengthen research and teaching in African universities and build capacity in science, technology and innovation as a key to economic development in sub-Saharan Africa.

The RISE scientists, academic leaders, and administrators are at the heart of our project. These are their stories.

Building Capacity for Research and Training in Tanzania (SABINA)

by Anita Makri, SciDev.Net

Quintino Mgani is professor of chemistry at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He also coordinates the SABINA (Southern African Biochemistry and Informatics for Natural Products) network of the Regional Initiative in Science and Education (RISE), which is funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Mgani explains why PhD students need regional partnerships, how growth in Tanzania’s higher education sector undermines training capacity and what gets in the way of turning research into useful products.

This article is part of the Spotlight on Making higher education work for Africa.

Milestones of Molecular Biology (SABINA)

by Sunette Walter



Congratulations to Sunette, who has been awarded second prize in the Biotechnologist’s first annual writing competition for her essay on the “Milestones of Molecular Biology”. Her prize includes a gift and certificate of achievement.  Well done, Sunette, for pursuing a passion and pushing your writing!

May 2014

The concept of the “central dogma” was enunciated by Crick in 1958.  Since then, it can be regarded as the keystone of molecular biology (Crick, 1970).  For those not familiar with the concept – “The central dogma of molecular biology deals with the detailed residue-by-residue transfer of sequential information.  It states that such information cannot be transferred from protein to either protein or nucleic acid” (Crick, 1970, p. 561).

In 1970, it was Crick’s opinion that the discovery of a single type of cell which could perform any of the unknown transfers, as assumed by the central dogma to never occur. would shake the entire intellectual basis of molecular biology.  These unknown transfers are: Protein→Protein; Protein→DNA; Protein→RNA (Crick, 1970).

Proteins are inevitably encountered in everyday life.  In fact, those of us who took biology in school were taught that proteins are “building blocks of life”.  Uhlén et al. (2005) compiled an antibody-based protein atlas for expression and localization profiles in 48 normal human tissues and 20 types of cancers.  At the time, this information was publically accessible from a database containing approximately 400 000 images corresponding to more than 700 antibodies toward human proteins.

In a press release at the end of last year by Uhlén and Kampf (2013), it was announced that the Human Protein Atlas reached a huge milestone by releasing protein data for more than 80% of human protein coding genes and RNA expression data for more than 90% of the genes.  All information is now available from www.proteinatlas.org in four separate sub-atlases: Normal tissue atlas, Subcellular atlas, Cell line atlas and Cancer atlas.  According to Professor Uhlén (2013), RNA transcript data and a map of gene expression for 27 different organ-specific tissues allow researchers to classify all human protein-coding genes into those coding for house-keeping functions (present in all cells), as well as those genes that are tissue-specific (expressed in certain organs and tissues, for example the kidneys, liver, brain, heart and pancreas).

Still on the topic of proteins and genes – Schwartz and Chen (2013) wrote a paper to give a brief overview of the immense progress that has been made in identifying alterations in the human genome and associating them with human disorders.  In this paper, they mention various online software packages, gene prioritization tools and websites that can be really useful in molecular research.

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by Imogen Mathers

16 May 2014

Stephan Coetzee (AMSEN) began his career in South Africa, working as a metallurgist for an engineering company, before becoming a material science technician at the University of Cape Town. From there, he moved to the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, where he balanced technician work at the electron microscope unit with further studies in physical metallurgy and applied science. Coetzee then accepted a role at the University of Botswana, where he has helped to set up the electron microscope unit while pursuing a PhD in physics.
In this podcast, Coetzee tells us about his academic journey so far, outlines some of the challenges involved in running a high-tech science department in Botswana and explains why training is crucial to strengthening scientific independence in southern Africa.

by Imogen Mathers

25 April 2014

Paul Kojo Mensah (SSAWRN) studied biological sciences in Ghana before moving to South Africa to pursue a master’s and PhD degree on the effects of herbicide use on aquatic organisms. In this podcast, he explains why the country holds such appeal for students from across Africa and reflects on his journey from undergraduate to postdoctoral level — and his hopes for the future.  
The interview was recorded in South Africa last October during the annual conference of RISE (the Regional Initiative in Science and Education).