Prof. Babatunde Salako, the Director General, Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), has called on Nigerians to embrace science and technology of Bioinformatics as core component to achieve Sustainable Development Goals 2030 and to overcome the prevailing disease burdens in the country.
Addressing participants at the first Nigerian Bioinformatics Conference, participants who gathered at the Conference Hall of the Nigerian Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) penultimate weekend to discuss innovative ways of introducing Bioinformatics into the various segments of the healthcare industry, Salako said Africa, especially Nigeria, cannot be left out in the technological revolution that is ongoing around the world.
Prof Salako who spoke through Dr. Oliver Ezechi, Principal Investigator, NIMR, said the conference was critical in bringing international researchers together for the purpose of exploring the potentials of Bioinformatics and Genomics technologies through research collaboration and scientific innovations in Africa.
Bioinformatics is the science of storing, retrieving and analysing large amounts of biological information. It is a highly interdisciplinary field involving many different types of specialists, including biologists, molecular life scientists, computer scientists and mathematicians.
Prof. Salako, who was the host for the two-day international conference, explained further that Bioinformatics represents a new era of applied science involving multiple disciplines such as biochemistry, cell biology, molecular biology, physics, chemistry, mathematics and computer science.
According to him, Bioinformatics enables organisation, storage, retrieval and analyses of biological data to obtain actionable information for health policy and development of diagnostics, drugs and vaccines.
He, however, listed some factors which could hinder the implementation of Bioinformatics in the Nigeria, such as: “Lack of dedicated Bioinformatics laboratories; low quality computer system; poor internet connectivity in many tertiary institutions in Nigeria; erratic power supply, and limited number of trained Bioinformatics/computational biologists”.
The Convener of the conference and President, Nigerian Bioinformatics &Genomics Network (NBGN), Dr. Segun Fatumo, disclosed the motive behind the conference, noting that they want to close the existing gap in the delivery of healthcare in Nigeria.
Dr. Fatumo, who is also a scientist, at the School of Technical Medicine, University of London, UK, admitted the knowledge of Bioinformatics in Nigeria presently is very low, because people have little awareness of what is going on, they are not well grounded on this area. “This explains reasons for the conference, which will expose them to happenings in other places and how they will be able to apply that method to their own area research”.
For Professor Adenike Oshofisan, University of Ibadan, one of the keynote speakers, the need to develop the Agricultural system for effective production of healthy food items through the use of sequencing and genomics, is paramount.
She explained that sequencing is about technology, which is useful in controlling flood, pests, inadequate water, and other natural hazards in agriculture.
In enhancing agricultural produce, we use sequencing and genomics to develop them, and it has been discovered that genetically modified products are usually pest resistance, even if when we have the issue of pest, we are not going to lose all our crops.
So we need to do a lot of research in this area, to create crops that will not need too much water, so that if there is water scarcity, the crops will still grow.”
Other keynote speakers at the international conference are: Prof. Nicki Tiffin, University of Cape Town; Prof. Ezekiel F. Adebiyi, projects principal investigator and head, Covenant University Bioinformatics Research Group; Prof. Christian Happi, Redeemer’s University; Prof. Oyekanmi Nash, director, Genetics, Genomics and Bioinformatics Department at the Nationall Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA);
Prof. Mayowa Owolabi, dean, Faculty of Clinical Sciences, University of Ibadan, and pioneer director, Centre for Genomics and Precision Medicine, University of Ibadan; and Raphael D Isokpehi, Bethune-Cookman University, Florida, USA.