Agricultural genomics and sustainable development: perspectives and prospects for Africa
The genomes of various organisms have now been fully sequenced, including human and representative microbial, insect, animal and plant genomes. The research challenge in the post-genome era is to establish how genes and proteins function to bring about changes in phenotype. Some of these phenotypes, and products obtainable through modern biotechnology, are of crucial importance within the context of sustainable development of African economies. The greatest ultimate impact will be in agricultural genomics, especially for marker assisted selection and breeding programs in crop and animal agriculture, development of animal disease diagnostics and vaccines, crop genetic engineering to overcome abiotic and biotic stresses and for improvement of the nutritional quality of major food staples. It is imperative that African countries become key players in the “gene revolution” since the cost of leaving them behind may be higher than the cost of empowering them to become players in mastering and benefiting from biotechnology. This paper highlights the potential impact of the latest advances in modern biotechnology, including genomics and bioinformatics, on sustainable development, in line with the goals of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). These include acceleration of economic growth, eradication of widespread and severe poverty and efforts to halt the marginalization of Africa in the globalization process.