Archbishop Desmond Tutu has become the latest prominent figure to have his genome – the full DNA sequence of an organism – deciphered. The South African clergyman and human rights campaigner agreed to the procedure as part of a study into the breadth of human genetic diversity and the role an individual's genetic makeup plays in his health.
A look into the genetic variance in the oldest known modern human lineage is intended to give pharmaceutical companies the information needed to identify genes that increase the risk of disease and to develop more effective drugs, such as antiviral treatments for HIV in Africa.
The Anglican archbishop's genetic sequence and those of four Southern African Bushmen have been added to a freely available public database where medical researchers can study them.
The African continent is widely regarded as the cradle of humanity, where human genetic diversity is at its greatest, but scientists have overwhelmingly focused their genetic research on western and Asian cultures. As a result, research into drugs and diseases almost completely ignores the genetic variation of the African population, meaning drugs are often less effective there than elsewhere in the world and gene variants that make people more susceptible to certain diseases are missed.
An international team of researchers, led by Stephan Schuster at Penn State University, sequenced the genomes of four tribal leaders who are all in their 80s and come from communities in Namibia that still practise a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The genome of the archbishop, who is 79, was particularly important for the study because he is a Bantu descended from the Tswana and Nguni people, who account for around 80% of Southern Africans.
Each of the men provided a near lifelong medical history, which will help link particular genes to their health. The archbishop, for example, has survived polio, prostate cancer and tuberculosis, all of which are influenced by genes.
"We wanted to understand the genetic diversity of all mankind," Dr Schuster said. "Since Africa is the cradle of humanity, this is where diversity is at its greatest."
The study, published in the journal Nature (Vol 463, p 943), reveals stark differences bet-ween the genetic make-up of Southern Africans and the genomes of Europeans, Asians and West Africans.
"On average there are more genetic differences between any two Bushmen in our study than between a European and an Asian," said Webb Miller, a professor of biology at Penn State University and co-author of the study. "To know how genes affect health, we need to see the full range of human genetic variation, and Southern Africa is the place to look," he added.
Mountain zebra research project Ernst and Johanna Sauber of BüllsPort Guestfarm are collaborating with Professor Morris Gosling on a study of the mountain (Hartmann’s) zebra population found on the farm.
This information is essential for practical management of the water resources needed by zebras and for overall intelligence about the size and movements of the mountain zebra population.
Morris, an international specialist on African ungulates who leads the Mountain Zebra Project at the Namibia Nature Foundation, has developed techniques for mark-recapture estimates of mountain zebra populations. Techniques are based on individual recognition and sampling the population, using observation and photography, including camera traps. Like all zebras, Hartmann’s are water dependent, thus camera traps placed near waterholes can be used to sample the entire population. Since mountain-zebra stripe patterns are individually distinct, it is possible to ‘mark’ and ‘recapture’ all individuals photographed.
Morris intends to build on this information for a detailed study of the zebra population using information about age and sex structure to assess its long-term viability and, through studies of the food supply, to assess the number of mountain zebra that Büllsport can support.
German Government supports development “Germany, through the KfW (German Development Bank), has committed a further N$31 million to Namibia’s north-eastern parks, specifically the Bwabwata, Mudumu and Mamili national parks. Furthermore, the German Government has pledged another N$71 million in support of these and the Khaudum National Park, making a total financial commitment of N$138 million.” At a groundbreaking event held during February, Minister of Environment and Tourism, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, thanked the German Government for its financial support towards development and conservation initiatives in north-eastern Namibia.
In future, the four parks will form the geographic core of the planned Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA). This is set to become the world’s largest park, extending over 287 132 km2
and incorporating 36 national parks, game reserves, community conservancies and game management areas. It will also contain the world’s largest African elephant population, and a series of extraordinary attractions with untapped tourism potential. Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe have decided to develop this area jointly for the benefit of the entire region. Namibia, with its long-standing experience in sustainable natural resource management, will play a major role in this development and is currently the KAZA TFCA co-ordinating country.
New offices, staff housing, park maintenance facilities and a tourist reception area are being constructed in the Bwabwata National Park as part of funding from the Federal Republic of Germany. Minister Nandi-Ndaitwah said that investing in park infrastructure, staff, and planning for the future management of parks would safeguard the variety of biodiversity on earth.
The German Ambassador, Egon Kochanke, underlined that the Namibian and German governments have long realised the substantial contribution that national parks make to economic development. The promotion of sustainable tourism is an effective strategy to enhance growth and employment, thereby reducing poverty.
MCA signs agreement The Namibian office of the American-based Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) has signed a five-year land consultancy agreement of N$67.5 million with a joint venture group for rangeland management in northern Namibia.
The group will provide support for community-based rangeland and livestock management of the MCA agricultural project, where farmers in the Northern Communal Areas will be trained to enhance community-based land-use planning for rangelands.
The group consists of Germany’s Gesellschaft für Organisation, Planung und Ausbildung; GRM International, a development management company; and the Namibia National Farmers Union (NNFU), as consultants. Work commenced in March with communities in the northern Kunene Region, Oshana, Ohangwena, Kavango, Omusati and northen Oshikoto regions.
The MCA is aimed at strengthening the access to and quality of Namibia’s education and training sector, increasing productivity of farm enterprises in communal areas and promoting growth in Namibia’s tourism industry.
Coastal management training Three hundred seven certificates were recently handed over to officials trained in coastal management. The Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) programme proposed in international agreements has been adopted worldwide as a management approach to restore and maintain coastal resources through good governance.
The Namibian Coast Conservation and Management (NACOMA) project and the University of Namibia handed over certificates to representatives of line ministries, the Coastal Regional Councils and Local Authorities for the successful completion of short courses in Integrated Coastal Management.
The training will be expanded by means of further short courses, high-level seminars, research, study tours, online courses, Integrated Coastal Management conferences and post-graduate studies.