The importance of Biotechnology and Nanotechnology for Africa

Innovations in the fields of Biotechnology and Nanotechnology have far reaching implications for African countries than one would normally think. During the past decade and for several more to come, breakthroughs in these fields have had a huge impact on Africa.For these reasons we report on developments within these fields.

Biotechnology can help with solutions to hunger through enabling higher yield crops, resistance to disease in crops and new crop types.

Tissue culture -which allows the growth of whole plants from a single cell in an artificial medium – was the innovation that allowed Florence Wambugu to develop healthy new banana plant resistant to The Black Sigotoka fungus. This development has had a significant impact and continues to do on yields in East Africa. Dr. Wambugu is the Founder, Director and the Chief Executive Officer of Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International (AHBFI) since 1994.

Recombinant DNA, commonly known as GM, has benefitted farmers across the developing world. Bt cotton, which has just been adopted in Burkina Faso is a case in point.

Biotechnology in Health

Again, through tissue culture, scientists have developed highly effective anti-retroviral drugs in treating the symptoms of HIV/AIDS. Equally important is the development of vaccines for malaria and TB.

Innovation Africa reports on important breakthroughs in these fields here and on our sister website,


Nanotechnology  is the study of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale. Developments in nanotechnology has led to new and exciting products for water purification. In 2010, we reported on a South African company that has developed tea bags that can purify water. The bag, which fits into the neck of an ordinary water bottle, was developed by scientists at Stellenbosch University in South Africa to help communities with no water purification facilities to clean their water. The bags are made of inexpensive tea bag material but instead of containing tea they contain nano-scale antimicrobial fibers that filter out contaminants and microbes, and granules of activated carbon that kill the bacteria.

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Disease diagnostics has improved considerably with the nanotechnology. Even more significant is the promise to improve the usability and effectiveness of drugs. TB is one sickness that requires a rather strict adherence regime. In addition, it also known that 20% of the medication actually attacks the virus. The rest is excreted.

Against this fact, Dr. Tumi Semete of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), in Cape Town, South Africa, has developed an idea which could greatly improve this situation. She contemplates using  nano-size sticky ‘balls’ of conventional TB drugs, which have already been developed by scientists at CSIR, to improve the efficiency of treatment. With these nanoparticles, Dr Semete believes she can get the medicine to stick directly to infected cells, increasing efficiency to close to 100%. The drug can also be released slowly, so that patients may not have to remember to take their pills daily.

For the above reasons and more, Innovation Africa will continue to report on Nanotechnology and Biotechnology. Much of the advances are taking place in Western countries. Nevertheless, these technologies can and will have profound development impact on African countries.

Francis Stevens George

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