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CSIR researchers train pioneers of Botswana's bioprocessing industry

Publication Date: 
Monday, August 19, 2019

As Africa’s world-class research and development organisation, the CSIR has made a collaborative effort to provide training to Botswana’s biotechnology students, in order to advance the country’s bioprocessing industry.

The course is part of a new initiative under CSIR Future Production: Chemicals that focuses on industry specific training and development. It is designed to bridge the gap between the research and commercialisation of technology and is directed towards establishing and stimulating growth in bio-based industries in Africa.

As Africa’s world-class research and development organisation, the CSIR has made a collaborative effort to provide training to Botswana’s biotechnology students, in order to advance the country’s bioprocessing industry.

The course is part of a new initiative under CSIR Future Production: Chemicals that focuses on industry specific training and development. It is designed to bridge the gap between the research and commercialisation of technology and is directed towards establishing and stimulating growth in bio-based industries in Africa.

According to Dr Nerve Zhou, Biotechnology lecturer at Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST), Botswana’s economy is predominantly driven by mining, which is heavily reliant on a resource-based economy. The bio-based economy, on the other hand, remains unexplored and there is no skilled workforce to kick start it. 

“The objective behind introducing a Biotechnology course at BIUST was to develop a skilled workforce that will pioneer the untapped bio-based economy in Botswana. We have the level of expertise needed to run a biotechnology course; however we do not have the equipment or facilities required to provide practical training. Therefore, it only made sense to reach out and collaborate with the CSIR as Africa’s biggest science council in industry and research,” says Dr Zhou.

According to the course leader, Dr Santosh Ramchuran, market research indicates that the global Biotechnology market is expected to reach $600 billion by 2025 and biomanufacturing contributes up to 47% of this revenue, as a result of advances in synthetic biology, designer microbes and novel bioprocesses. However, in Africa, biomanufacturing is still at its infancy stage. Nevertheless, initiatives at the CSIR, in terms of infrastructure and capabilities in bioprocess technology, have enabled the development and biomanufacture of bio-based products that are currently being sold in the national and international markets.

Dr Ramchuran states that, in order to position the CSIR as a primary destination for biomanufacturing, the key driver will be developing ‘distinctive competencies’ in bioprocess technology, which is still regarded as a scare-skill in Africa. Therefore, the current training programme is specifically designed to cover theoretical and practical aspects of biomanufacturing, with the overall aim of developing skills and demonstrating the reality of bio-based business to these future bio-entrepreneurs, using the ‘clone-to-commercial’ model. 

Third-year biological sciences and biotechnology student, Galaletsang Dintwe, spoke enthusiastically about her experience attending the training programme. “I found the training programme very enlightening. On campus, they provide us with theoretical experience; however we do very little practical work. What the CSIR has done for us is expose us to the technical aspect of bioprocessing. The training programme really challenged us on ways in which we can apply the theoretical knowledge that we have learnt at university to address day-to-day challenges and create products/technology for commercialisation,” says Dintwe.

Course co-ordinator and CSIR researcher, Dr Ghaneshree Moonsamy, observed that the students’ theoretical knowledge is exceptional. However, not having access to equipment and facilities to perform experiments, in order to enhance their practical understanding remains a major challenge.

“It was a real privilege for the CSIR team to host the BIUST delegation and offer them the opportunity of being exposed to the practical concepts of Bioprocessing”, adds Dr Moonsamy.

Showing support for this training initiative is the South African Department of Science and Innovation (DSI): Africa Bilateral Cooperation.

“South Africa and Botswana enjoy active Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) cooperation since signing the bilateral cooperation agreement in 2005. Both countries are committed to the cooperation and are willing to ensure its’ successful implementation. Hence this training initiative was a welcomed concrete intervention to improve technical skills in the Bioprocessing Industry,” said DSI Deputy Director of Africa Bilateral Cooperation, Modikoe Patjane.  

It is envisaged that this CSIR Industry Specific Training and Development programme will be extended to include other African countries in 2020, in order to stimulate and build bioprocessing competencies across the continent.