Kenya on Thursday launched the first synthetic biology innovation project to address food insecurity and healthcare challenges in the country.
Benson Mburu, principal science analyst at the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI), said the project aims at harnessing the power of synthetic biology to boost disease surveillance.
“The technology offers practical solutions to challenges cutting across human and livestock health, agriculture, industry, environmental management and restoration, “said Mburu.
He said synthetic biology is a rapidly emerging interdisciplinary field with major potential for socio-economic growth and development.
“In recent years, synthetic biology has provided a toolbox of well-defined genetic parts and exciting permutations for building new biochemical functions,” said Mburu.
He said that Kenya is keen to use existing and engineered biological building blocks to create useful, functional systems and products.
Mburu said that Kenya will access low-cost, rapid diagnostic kits and biosensors to support health and agricultural systems, as well as supporting environmental conservation and restoration programs.
He said that the project titled “Developing low-cost diagnostic tools and biosensors for rapid detection of crop and human pathogens in Kenya” will develop sensing devices for use in detection of crop and human pathogens.
“We have plans to develop reagents to be used in national medical laboratories to help detect viruses such as COVID-19 and save the country money that is often spent in importing the commodities,” said Mburu.
He said that the outcome of the three years project will help in exploring policy and legal frameworks required in adopting synthetic biology innovations in the country.
“The outcome of the project will help build a shared public understanding of the opportunities and benefits of the technology,” said Mburu.
Margaret Karembu, the principal investigator of the project said that all the devices upon completion will be validated and approved as fit-for-use by regulatory agencies before deployment.
“The project will inspire more government and private sector investments in synthetic biology, providing innovative and adaptable solutions to crucial societal challenges,” said Karembu.
Kenya’s synthetic biology project is funded by the National Research Fund to the tune of 12 million shillings (about 110, 000 U.S. dollars).