Australian technology in use in Africa – helping address problems of food security

Poverty, climate change, low levels of food security and crop diversity, and compromised ecologies – huge issues in many parts of the world, and all being tackled by a Canberra-based Australian company.

Diversity Arrays Technology Pty Ltd (DArT) is a technology company on a mission. From headquarters in Canberra, the company is working towards a plan to offer their technology and expertise to similarly motivated organisations around the world.

Leonard Kiche from SEQART Africa, a DArT-supported organisation already operating successfully in Kenya, has recently returned to Nairobi after a successful visit to DArT HQ, where he has been brought up to date on the company’s latest developments, including its significant international plans.

As well as Kenya, DArT supports an operation in Mexico, and others are planned – under the grouping OneDArT.

“Our mission,” says Leonard, “is to use innovation to boost agriculture, to address poverty, food security, and crop diversity. So many of our African research institutes are still doing things the old way. SEQART is helping to change that.

“The realisation of OneDArT will place us in a more strategic position to make a real impact. It will allow us to further the work that we have achieved in the past eight years.”

Leonard reports that while there are companies working in the genetics space in South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt, they only provide sequencing services. SEQART is therefore unique as the only African company combining high-density genome profiling with support in data analysis and the interpretation of results. SEQART works with researchers and breeders to improve genetic gains using molecular markers.

The primary technology used is DArT’s DArTseq, which has the ability to genotype or analyse species without prior genomic information. DArTseq provides high quality results, and because it is a quick process it can offer affordable genome profiling, even for the most complex polyploid genomes.

SEQART AFRICA is a private not-for-profit organisation established as a partnership between the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and DArT. It officially began its operation on August 1st, 2020, through seed funding provided through a project of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) called Integrated Genotyping Service and Support (IGSS).

The IGSS project ran for 5 years. It involved the training of a dozen young African scientists at DArT for one year, followed by the establishment of the service in the ILRI facilities in Nairobi, and the provision of services for the first three years. SEQART is an important legacy of BMGF and DArT investment in technology transfer to Africa.

While SEQART is an independent organisation it is fully supported, with DArT providing all training, lab support, IT, and technology updates. DArT founder and Managing Director, Andrzej Kilian, is the Chairman of the Board of the company.

Since Inception, SEQART has processed more than 90,000 samples from 80 different species of both crops and animals. These samples have come from African national and international research organisations, private companies, private agricultural researchers, academic institutions, and PhD students.

Their support for education is especially significant, because DArT and SEQART realise that they can’t meet their global ambitions on their own, and they are keen to see their knowledge and technology in the hands of people where they are needed. SEQART sees training as an important part of their work, and regularly provides everything from basic training for new customers to more advanced training for customers with a greater understanding and experience in the analysis and value of genetic data.

In addition to this they have a very active outreach program, particularly aimed at universities in Kenya and other African countries.

“We have been very successful, with projects making a meaningful impact across several countries,” says Leonard. “We particularly see the urgency of this work as the effects of climate change are greatly increasing the challenges faced by agriculturalists across our region.”

SEQART wants to reach more people. They want to help strengthen national agricultural programs and to make them work faster and better.

This is all part of the global mission that DArT has set for itself and has been working towards for all of its 22 year history. DArT realises that time is of the essence in rolling out the value of DArT’s knowledge and expertise. SEQART is a glowing example of how, through OneDArT, Andrzej Kilian, Leonard Kiche and their teams will tackle their mission.

Some of the team from SEQART Africa, including Leonard Kiche (third row, left)
Some of the team from SEQART Africa, including Leonard Kiche (third row, left)

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