Tuesday, May 28, 2013

GENETIC MAPPING OF NAMIBIAN ANIMAL SPECIES HOLDS PROMISE

Dagmar Honsbein, General Manager: Agra Professional
Services Division (middle) with Dr Gladys Kahaka and Dr Erold Naomab,
showing the GeneChip®

On Friday, on 24 May 2013, Agra Professional Services Division hosted an interactive breakfast session to discuss and investigate the potential of genetic mapping of Namibian animal species. The session was well attended by representatives from various sectors, ranging from the Agronomic Board of Namibia to Standard Bank. The event was held at the Agra Ring at the Windhoek Show grounds.

Under the theme; “The Value of genetic mapping of Namibian species,” the guest speaker, Dr Erold Naomab gave an thorough insight into the principles of genetics, gene mapping (using the Affymetrix GeneChip®), the value of mapping the genome of a species and the possibilities that arise from that, i.e. the theoretical possibilities of manipulating the genome of an animal to achieve higher production yields and, with that, economic advantages.

The value of gene mapping in the protection of our national (Namibian) heritage and Intellectual Property has been heavily underlined during Dr Naomab’s presentation and the ensuing discussion. Furthermore, through mapping – the genome of a species will know which gene would be responsible for which trait in a species; one could enhance the breeding selection process and make it more efficient. Dr Naomab also presented the genetic mapping of Namibian livestock species (e.g. using sheep or cattle species) which has been made possible through Affymetrix GeneChip® technology locally. In explaining these chips to the audience, he said; “every chip holds the entire genomic code of a species. The genomic code of Namibian sheep is so vast that it could, if written out, cover about 100 000 A4 pages with pure code. The chip is 1.7cm2 and can store more than 5 GB, or 3 million pieces of biochemical test information about a species.”

Agra’s Professional Services Division, as part of their research efforts in the Swakara industry, has looked into the opportunities that GeneChip® technology offers. The GM of Agra Professional Services Division, Mrs Dagmar Honsbein, had to say this: “the genetic mapping of Swakara, indigenous (optimally to be endemic) to Namibia would be the first step in a process to register the species as uniquely Namibian. We need to prove however, that Swakara has genetically evolved extensively over more than 100 years; away from the original species Karakul making it a de facto different sheep species altogether.” She continued by saying, “this will allow us to protect them from being claimed by other countries as their own, as has happened with the Boran cattle breed and Acacia plant species that have been officially declared indigenous to Australia. Also, by claiming commercially/economically valuable species as uniquely Namibian one creates a possible niche product (‘Proudly Namibian’) with a higher trading value and thus income for the producers.”

The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Namibia has the capacity to genetically map species, with the aim to understand the genetic sequences of the species that have adapted to the Namibian environment and to explore which gene is responsible for the expression of which trait. The next step in the research being conducted at UNAM is to identify those genes that express traits that are of economic advantage and to possibly find a way to enhance or select for these traits. In theory it should be possible, through genetic engineering, to splice out a gene that diminishes the production potential of a species or to enhance the expression of or even insert a gene that is of productive advantage. To date, genetic modification is not allowed under Namibia jurisdiction; therefore no further discussions to this end took place.

Dr. Naomab was accompanied by his colleague, Dr Gladys Kahaka, who will be taking over as Head of Department (HOD) of Biochemistry and Chemistry from Dr Naomab at the University of Namibia, Windhoek. Dr Naomab is now in charge of setting up the UNAM Southern Campus.

This Interactive Breakfast session served the purpose of informing representatives and stakeholders about the principles of genetics and gene mapping and the value it holds with regard to mapping the genome of commercially/economically valuable species, with the aim of registering these valuable species (nationally and internationally) as uniquely Namibian.

The Agra Professional Services Division offers Interactive Breakfast Sessions every 2-3 months to facilitate networking and brainstorming on current affairs and among individuals from various sectors in the government and private industry on topics regarding the agricultural industry in the broadest sense. These Interactive Breakfast Sessions are open for invited guests only, but members of the public are welcome to declare their interest to participate at such events.

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AGRA established its Professional Services Division (PSD) in 2009 with the main objective of providing a structured framework for rendering various specialised services to the Namibian agricultural sector. To learn more about Agra Professional Services Division contact Marieta Grobler @ 061 290 9208 or email to advice@agra.com.na .

Issued By:                                Albé Snyman
                                                            Officer: Communications
                                                            Agra (Co-operative) Limited
                                                            Tel:      (061) 290 9273
                                                            Fax:     (061) 290 9250
                                                            Email: albes@agra.com.na

                                                www.agra.com.na

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