Top Biophysicist Sets Up Research Hub In Harare After Returning To Zim

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By Stephen Tsamba

BRIGHTON Samatanga, a molecular biophysicist and founder of the Biotech Institute, has highlighted he wants to turn the research hub to accurately find methods to cure patients suffering from various ailments.

A first of its kind, the research institute will also be an avenue of using scientific knowledge boost food security in Zimbabwe.

In an interview with Wednesday at his institute in Marlborough, Harare, Samatanga said he was working on a new gene-editing tool Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats/CRISPR (CRISPR/CAS) to make accurate changes to organisms.

“With CRISPR/CAS you want to cut a particular place or remove something and fix it. However, sometimes the system can cut an unintended place. My research, is can we understand how this tool works so that we can make it more precise so that we come to the point that you want to use it in humans, crops or animals. What you desire is what you get,” he said.

Samatanga (36) returned to Zimbabwe in August 2020 from Germany where he attained a professorship.

He added the CRISPR can be used in strengthening genes in crops such as maize and thereby increase food security.

“In one research strand, we aim to use CRISPR to edit genes of crops such as maize (corn) to help them become resistant to drought and to pests such as the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda). In this way, we hope to boost food security in Zimbabwe.”

Samatanga said the revenue made by the institute was poured back to fund research projects.

Most of the institute’s commercial work comes from diagnostic tests for members of the public, including for Covid-19, HIV and TB.

The money we make from our commercial work including diagnostic tests for the public, such as those for SARS-CoV-2, HIV, and TB, is what funds our research. We don’t have grants but at some point, you have to have a financial model so that such an institute can exist”

Samatanga said that he wants to run a sustainable institute that can do its own independent researches and shipped the equipment from Germany.

He said also hopes to get government approval to offer specialist degree programmes, including graduate courses in molecular biology, biotechnology and more.

“We will invest revenue from these programmes into our research. We wanted to apply to be a school of engineering and sciences, but apparently that framework is not yet there so we have to apply as a full university.”

However, he said some of the operational challenges Biotech Institute faced included lack of tax exemption on research, personnel and imported equipment.

The institute was also seeing an increase in the theft of equipment by armed robbers and electrical power cuts.

However, measures have been put in place to increase security and install solar power.

“The research institute is a hub of many things. We have three departments: technical services, research, and education. We have a team of researchers and graduate students in our labs. Our aim is to bring the foremost molecular technology to Zimbabwe as a way to strengthen the country’s health system.

“I am using all the competencies I gained during my time in Europe to try to make a difference back home,” said Samatanga.