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Biotechnology

BIOTECNOLOGY LABORATORY

The mandate of the Biotechnology is to contribute to the sustainable development of the country through prudent development and application of biotechnology. The activities and achievements for 2007 were:

  1. The National Biotechnology Laboratory:
  2. was officially inaugurated by His Excellency Levy Patrick Mwanawasa SC on 29th April 2007.

  3. Biotechnology:
  4. Contribute to the sustainable development of the country through prudent use and application of biotechnology;

The issue of G.M.O's and Biosafety came to the fore in August, 2002 when Zambia rejected B.t maize from the U.S. The country was experiencing a drought at the time. There was much pressure from outside the country to accept and within the country to reject the donation. There was opposition from NGO'S, farmer’s groups, religious groups and finally the general public when they became aware of the issue. Since that time, the government has put policies and measures in to place towards addressing the 'G.M.O' issue. The main challenge that remains in Zambia, is having more scientific knowledge and expertise which are required to go beyond testing for the presence of G.M.O’s and their products. Knowledge and skills are now necessary for carrying out holistic assessment risks that pertain to animals, humans, the environment, echo systems, etc. The effects of G.M.O's and their products are unpredictable and unclear, so many people in the country remain totally against or extremely wary of them.

Biosafety Act

After the Bt maize issue back in 2002, the Zambian government sent out a group of scientists on a fact finding mission on G.M.Os to South Africa, Norway, England, Denmark and U.S.A. They were asked to find out issues on environmental concerns, gene flow and genetic erosions, development of insecticide resistance and development of herbicide tolerant weeds, food safety and trade and ethical issues. Some of their conclusions were that; G.M maize could erode local varieties of maize, the safety aspects of G.M.Os were not conclusive, E.U. Trades could be affected and all the countries visited had regulatory mechanisms. After studying their report, the Zambian government chose to act with caution and put some measures into place. In August 2003, the policy on National Biotechnology and Biosafety was approved, whose mission was to:

In 2006, the bill on Biosafety was passed. It was meant to promote public awareness of G.M.O issues; consultative services; mechanism for liability and redress for any harm/damage caused to human/animal, non-G.M crops and
biological diversity. To make sure the above laws/policies were implemented, the
National Biosafety (NBA) was set up. The NBA adopted a precautionary principle; No approval for transfer, use and release G.M.O till sufficient evidence it won’t have extreme effects. Advanced informed agreement; Anyone intending to research, develop, apply or commercialize G.M. O's and their products shall apply in writing to the NBA.

GMO/Biotechnology Lab

With these bills and policies in place, what was needed now was infrastructure development, purchase of relevant equipment and human resource development. In 2005, a MoU was signed between National Scientific and Industrial Research (NISIR) and NORAD. To this end, a G.M.O referral laboratory was built in Chilanga. In April 2007, it was commissioned by President Mwanawasa. Basically, it gives Zambia the capacity to certify food stuffs with regard to their G.M.O status for import, export and research purposes. Since its inception, the laboratory has undertaken these activities:

  1. Base line study on the commonly modified foods, maize and soya beans. Maize and soya beans samples were collected from all the provinces, especially along the borders. These were analyzed and all seeds grown in Zambia were negative for GMO’s. The few that were, came from refugee camps that had received aid from GM consuming countries.
  2. A similar study has been done concerning processed foods from the supermarkets and other shops. A wide variety of food stuffs including baby food, cereals, soya products were sampled and tested. Foods made from Zambian maize and soya were GMO free, but some of the imported foods from countries that consume GM foods were positive.
  3. GMO testing analytical services are provided to the public.
  4. ?
  5. The lab is equipped to test for more than GMO’s, so other activities include genetic characterization of indigenous cattle of Zambia; the Angoni, Baila, Barotse and Tonga breeds. This project is in collaboration with the IAEA.
  6. University students come for practicals or attachments at our laboratory where they are taught various laboratory skills.

Methods

The methods used to process our samples are:
  1. The C-TAB method for extracting DNA from plant/seeds/food stuffs.
  2. Spectrophotometry using Nano drop to measure the concentration and purity of our DNA.
  3. Polymerase chain reaction or PCR for amplification
  4. Gel electrophoresis and visualization using the Gel documentation system.