PhD candidate and Development Lecturer in the Discipline of Biochemistry, Ms Seipati Mokhosi, participated in an information sharing and exchange meeting on second generation genetic engineering technologies hosted in Cape Town by the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) in collaboration with the Third World Network (TWN).
The ACB, a Johannesburg-based non-governmental organisation, has engaged in biosafety discourse on the African continent and internationally for nearly two decades, while the TWN is an independent non-profit international research and advocacy organisation that focuses on issues relating to development, developing countries and North-South affairs.
Second-generation genetic engineering techniques are broadening the scope and extent to which organisms can be modified, raising concerns regarding food systems and impacts on the environment, biological diversity and human health. Citing the need to update and review the current national and international biosafety regulatory environment, the meeting offered the 40 government representatives, independent researchers and international experts the opportunity to update one another on new scientific developments and international discussions and debates around the governance of new technologies, particularly in an African context.
Ms Lim Li Ching from TWN opened the proceedings with an introductory address that contextualised new genetic engineering technologies and their impact on Africa. The three-day discourse explored current trends, biosafety, risk assessment and the socio-economic challenges of these technologies.
‘It was such an honour to be able to participate in this dialogue which aimed to address some of the main challenges faced by Africa in the wake of new GM technologies including CRISP-R editing,’ said Mokhosi, whose PhD research explores the use of inorganic nanoparticles in traversing the blood-brain barrier for neuro-therapy.
Mokhosi believes that while the job of a researcher is often confined to laboratories, it is imperative that there is engagement between scientists, civil society and governments in order to pursue the common goal of responsible science for sustainable solutions.
After attending a screening of a short documentary by the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC) titled A question of consent: Exterminator mosquitoes in Burkina Faso, Mokhosi described her shock on realising that Target Malaria has passed the first phase with the release of genetically modified mosquitos.
‘While the science is fascinating and may seem sound in addressing the epidemic disease of malaria, what is clear is that the environmental and socio-economic impact, and health consequences are vast and may be catastrophic to the continent at large,’ she said.
Mokhosi added in her closing remarks that ACB Executive Director Ms Mariam Mayet highlighted that more needs to be done in terms of regulations and biosafety when it comes to new genetic engineering technologies.
‘There is deep consensus that these conversations are critical as Africans as we look at solutions for Africa’s problems,’ she said.
Words: Christine Cuénod