CAPREx Fellows 2015-2016 Blog

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Dr Naalamle Amissah

March – July 2016

The Cambridge Africa Partnership for Research Excellence (CAPREx) fellowship is unique in the sense that fellows have the opportunity to be guided by an experienced researcher. In addition the African scientist has access to his/her mentor’s networks while offering opportunities for joint collaborations.

While at Cambridge my research focused on optimising micro propagation protocols for Cryptolepis sanguinolenta, a medicinal plant used in the treatment of malaria. Tissue culture procedures to produce plants with increased levels of cryptolepine were explored.
I also had the opportunity to meet and interact with other researchers and industry personnel through participating in conferences and programmes such as the Cambridge Africa seminar series, Global Food Security Conference, the 3rd Annual Africa Together Conference and the Tropical Agriculture Association’s Innovations in Agri-Tech seminar.

I have benefitted immensely from the CAPREx fellowship having received training in tissue culture techniques from the National Institute of Agricultural Botany’s experienced Crop Transformation team, explored collaborative links under the mentorship of Dr. Lesley Boyd and seen first-hand the National Institute of Agricultural Botany’s in vitro chrysanthemum germplasm setup, one that can be used in the conservation of medicinal plant species.

Access to Cambridge University’s online library resources made searching for journal articles and books very easy and greatly enhanced the research process. The in vitro protocols developed and the techniques learned at NIAB will be used on superior genotypes identified from wild collections, thereby devising sustainable methods for the propagation of planting material to support farmer cultivation of C. sanguinolenta and ease harvesting pressure on wild plant populations.

Research title: Alternative methods of cultivation of Cryptolepis sanguinolenta and Croton membranaceus to maximize active compound production and prevent species extinction in the wild.

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Dr. Lydia Mosi

April - June 2016

The Cambridge Africa Partnership for Research Excellence (CAPREx) fellowship is a laudable initiative and a great opportunity to expose researchers in Africa to a vast array of resources and collaborations. I work on Buruli ulcer (BU), a neglected tropical cutaneous disease caused by Mycobacterium ulcerans and is widely unknown in many circles. It is the third most important mycobacterial infection, after tuberculosis and leprosy, and is the least understood. BU faces many challenges, one of which is the early diagnosis to avoid the debilitating effects associated with it.

The Global Buruli Ulcer Initiative of the World Health Organization has identified the development of simple diagnostic tools as one of the priority areas in control of BU. My project under the CAPREx scheme aimed at characterizing the metabolome of M. ulcerans affected individuals with controls being patients with tropical ulcers other than BU. Specifically we sought to identify key M. ulcerans metabolic markers that can be found only in BU patients, with the ultimate aim of identifying potential targets for further development as a diagnostic tool.

Through this fellowship, I challenged myself in an area of Biochemistry which I was not familiar with, and also saw the opportunity as a platform for fostering partnerships with the department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge to promote work on buruli ulcer. In the 10 weeks I was in Jules Griffins’s lab, I was trained in operation of a gas chromatography mass spectrometer from sample processing to data analysis. Our preliminary data was very promising and my collaborator and I have jointly submitted a grant to expand on the study.

I was extremely fortunate to be in a lab full of warm and friendly postdocs and PhD students especially Mr. Steven Murfitt. I was also glad to share my research area with the lab especially since none of them had heard about BU. They had very interesting ideas and suggestions for future research which I would seriously consider for investigation.

My visit to Cambridge was indeed insightful and full of new experiences and challenges. I took advantage of talks and short courses, which were freely available to fellows, to expand my repertoire of knowledge. Notable among these and most recommended for all future fellows was a short course organized by Life sciences on “how to write an academic paper and get it published”. Although I did not go punting I did attend a formal and that was exciting. Understanding Cambridge weather was a fun challenge!

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Dr. Ken Fening, Plant Sciences

October 2015 - March 2016

My coming to the University of Cambridge has been very inspiring and rewarding to me as a young Scientist from Ghana. I was warmly received by my collaborator and mentor, Dr. John Peter Carr, when I arrived at the Department of Plant Sciences on October 2, 2015 to undertake my research on the topic “Role of aphids in the transmission of a suspected viral disease and the disease’s impact on the growth and yield of cabbage in Ghana”. He introduced me to the members of his laboratory -the Virology and Molecular Plant Pathology Group who have been very friendly to me and supportive of my work. I have observed a new disease threat to cabbage in Ghana which appears to have the characteristics of an insect-transmitted viral disease. The project aims to test the hypothesis that the causative agent of this new disease is viral in nature. It will identify the causative agent (s) and the most important aphid or whitefly vector (s), and assess the impact of the disease by initiating field experiments in Ghana. The outputs of the project will provide the basis of diagnostic tests for this new disease and allow for the formulation of sustainable disease management or eradication methods. The project also seeks to contribute to my capacity building through training in molecular and virological methods and building a collaborative relationship with Dr. Carr of the University of Cambridge. The work is also beneficial to Dr. Carr’s group by allowing the translation of their basic research work on plant-virus aphid interactions in a model crucifer (Arabidopsis thaliana) to an important crucifer crop (cabbage).

Dr. Carr had earlier on this year (August 23rd -30th) visited me in Ghana, where we took samples (leaf tissues, aphids and whiteflies) from symptomatic cabbage plants from the two different agro-ecological zones (Moist Semi-deciduous Forest and Coastal Savanna), where the ‘condition’ is much common. I am here in Cambridge to work on those samples from Ghana to elucidate the disease’s aetiology and the insect vectors involved. Working in collaboration with a subject-based expert from a world class University will offer me the necessary skills, access to state-of-the- art facilities and equipment, research links and platform to develop myself as an early-career Scientist from Africa. Additionally, the fellowship will offer me the opportunity to network through different fora and interact with peers to cross-fertilise ideas. My participation in the CAPREx Fellows Research Showcase held at the Hudges Hall on November 11, 2015, offered me the chance to share my research with the Cambridge University Scientific Community and the feedback I received was welcoming. The Cambridge Africa Day was another good experience for me. I am very grateful to Cambridge Africa for this fellowship which will be a stepping stone for my career progression.

Research project: The epidemiological role of cabbage aphids in the transmission of viral diseases and its impact on the growth and yield of cabbage in Ghana.

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Dr Joseph Honger

October 2015 - February 2016

Coming to The Cambridge University through the Cambridge-African Partnership Programme (CAPREx) has so far been and continues to be one of the most important career enhanced programmes that I have ever participated in. The programme has offered me the opportunity to study and continue to study under one of the best Microbiologists in the world, George Salmond and his able lieutenants, Rita Monsoon, Alison Drew and a host of Post-Graduate and Post-Doctoral researchers. So far in Cambridge, I have been exposed to cutting edge scientific research, such as how bacteria cells communicate among themselves (quorum sensing), how these micro-organisms produce useful antibiotics and above all the mode of infection of these bacteria species by bacteriophage. Learning these techniques which I can use to solve critical plant disease problems caused by bacteria such as a suspected canker disease on citrus and bacteria blight of mango and cassava in Ghana, is a dream come-true. So far, the little time I have spent in George Salmond Laboratory in Cambridge and the constant discussions that I have been having with him and his lieutenants and other faculties, such as Dr. Martin Welsh, have provided me with so much ideas that my methods of carrying out research in Plant Pathology in Ghana would never be same. The assistance being given to me by the organisers of the programme so far has been so excellent, affording me the peace of mind to focus not only on the academic aspects of life in Cambridge, but also on the social aspects as well. My stay in Cambridge so far as a whole can be described as Excellent.

Research project: Genetic diversity of Erwinia carotovora strains from Ghana

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Dr Paddy Musana, History

October - December 2015

One of the defining values of a scholar is open-mindedness at all time. When opportunities present themselves, it is important to take the challenges that come with them. That was my disposition on the journey to Cambridge, one of the leading Universities in the world.
But open-mindedness to weather is quite a challenge, especially for those coming from Uganda, where you can cross the equator any time you want! The antidote ‘to weather sensitivity’ for me, as I was later to find was the well-stocked library at the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide (CCCW), a Centre worth its title, where on the first day of my orientation I was offered a research carrel, and on the second day a front door key for convenient access. And once in the library, I was spoilt for choice as the titles of the books were all inviting. As a famished child, I set out to ‘devour’ any that I could lay my hands on, but how far could I go! It is then that I wished my eyes were a scanner that I would have taken in as much as I could! My wonder was how I could find books on my subject and country, not available back home in a far-away land!

The CAPREx Coordinator was there for us at all times. My collaborators: Prof. David Maxwell and Dr. Emma Wildwood were faithful to their African hospitality to invite and introduce me to their families. They also gave me important feed-back in our scheduled meetings.
Since then, I have had to sit and read as many books as I can, since I know I have this blessing. Visiting the other libraries like at the Divinity Faculty and the Main Library has been minimal. Besides, the Main Library is more of a labyrinth.
I have had the opportunity to participate in the four Michaelmas Term Seminars run by the CCCW in collaboration with the Divinity Faculty, University of Cambridge, where I presented a seminar paper on ‘’African Christian or ‘Christian African’? The Dilemma of Identity among Christians in Africa.

I have also had the opportunity to visit different churches and denominations in Cambridge to get a feel of corporate Christian practice. I have benefitted much from my time in Cambridge and this will enhance authorship of my CAPREx research topic: Health and Wealth: Interrogating the Role of African Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity in Socioeconomic Development since by the time I came I had completed the field research.

Research project: Health and Wealth: Interrogating the Role of African Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity in Socioeconomic Development

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Dr Celestino Orrikiriza, Language Sciences

September - November 2015

My coming to the University of Cambridge was a very exciting experience. From the time I settled in at Cambridge, every moment was worth telling home about. I had time to work for long hours without interruption, while reading and writing. With a wide view in mind, I consolidated my research questions and the research design, working hand in hand my collaborator. I piloted my research instruments and collected data from the English native speakers. This gave me a clear picture of how consequently I would collect data on African languages that formed part of my study on disambiguation of subtle nuances of near-synonyms. As linguistics scholar, I enjoyed attending the Semantics, Pragmatics and Philosophy of Language cluster weekly seminars as I did for the Experimental Semantics and Pragmatics reading group. They were lively seminars punctuated by a lead discussion of the day’s topic, general discussions about it and the conclusion. I also got the opportunity to attended peripheral courses in other disciplines. I attended the course on Web authoring: HTML for Beginners (Level I), Film recording and editing, and Advanced sound recording. The last one was even more intriguing as it involved aspects of acoustic phonetics, a sub-field of pronunciation and speech. The course helped me to consolidate my knowledge of one of the aspects of acoustics, namely, amplitude and the factors that influence it. The memory I have of the University of Cambridge is that of a place of high quality academic research. It is also a place of rich infrastructure and facilities, for instance the main university library, the college and department libraries. While at Cambridge, one will quickly notice that it is a place that brings together people of different cultures and backgrounds. It is also a place that has preserved its history and culture. The University offers all possible disciplines including different humanities in their individual forms. Cambridge as a university opens one’s academic horizon. I owe credit to my collaborator, Dr. Napoleon Katsos of the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics. I am grateful to the CAPREx programme coordinators, and I have the pleasure to be associated with CAPREx as a Research Fellow.

Research project: Framework for Disambiguation of Meanings of Near-synonyms