TReND in Africa: Sustainable development through higher education and scientific innovation.

scti1ZSTMendeley has a vision: to make science more open and to broaden access to scientific content where it can make a real difference to people’s lives. This is particularly relevant to developing countries and is thus the motivation to our support of Research4Life.

TReND in Africa is an organisation that is also working hard to improve scientific literacy and capacity in the developing countries of Africa. Since 2011, they have been organising a range of workshops and summer schools across the continent in the aim of bringing efficient, effective and low-cost research resources to labs, building research infrastructure, and supporting the scientific development of Africa.

Overcoming global inequality through education and local empowerment are well established worldwide development goals, however, existing projects often focus on primary and secondary education. Investment in tertiary, university level education is a key foundation towards sustainable development in which future primary and secondary teachers are educated locally to the highest standards.

In addition, scientific education is pivotal to the ability of societies to sustainably develop, innovate, and integrate within the global society. Developing nations too often need to import their solutions, innovations and patents from abroad, while losing their most capable minds to universities abroad. Therefore we, TReND in Africa, believe that providing top-level education to local elites in their home country is key to enabling developing societies to take their futures into their own hands.

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A 3-D printable micro-positioning device (“manipulator”) with an accuracy is in the order of 10s of microns.

In line with this, we run a wide range of educational activities, and support the establishment of top-level scientific facilities at several countries across the continent. We do this by leveraging large scale, low cost approaches to innovation and research – we make use of latest technologies and developments, ranging from free and open source software and hardware (FOSS / FOSH) approaches such as 3D printing, online teaching tools, and the use of the cost-effective yet powerful model organism, the fruit fly Drosophila.

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The pipette works by creating an air-tight chamber below a membrane (e.g. a lab glove) pushed upon by a piston at the end of a biro-filling (hence “Biro”pette). The accuracy can be in the order of ~5 microliters for a “P200”.

One such course is our upcoming Bioinformatics Approaches for Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) Analysis at ICIPE, Nairobi (Kenya). The aim of this course is to introduce a range of bioinformatics analysis techniques for dealing with NGS data, including an introduction to programming and analysis best practices. The workshop will start with an introduction to programming, mainly focusing on the R statistical programming language, and will then build on this foundation to introduce tools for data visualisation and analysis. We will introduce software development concepts such as databases and version control, and move on to cover NGS analysis topics including de novo genome and transcriptome assembly, ChIP-seq and RNA-seq, rare variant calling and population genetics. As with all our courses. there will be a focus on using freely available data and open source technologies, and encouraging open reproducible research.

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The “FlyPi” is an optical microscope designed for behavioural work with fruit flies, zebrafish or C. elegans

In addition to this, and to further support our students in their research careers, well will additionally cover subjects of science writing and science communication, covering the key topics from our previous Science Writing and Communication School in Zomba (Malawi) earlier this year that was run in partnership with the Training Centre in Communication. We are thankful to Mendeley for their sponsorship towards my (Dr Sarah Hoey‘s) travel to the course where I will teach on traditional science communication and introduce students to Mendeley as a free reference management and resource for colleague and international collaboration, as well as non-traditional science communication and how to talk to and engage with non-scientists about their research.