In case you haven't noticed, word of the day is Bio. (-:
It has been a while since we blogged. Apologies for lack of communication. You can see what we have been upto on our Genomics Research page. As we begin 2018 we invite you to sit comfortably in our virtual space. As you sit, think about the materials all around you. Should the couch be made of animal skin leather or mushroom leather? Should the fabric be grown traditionally (crops and fertilizers) or should textiles be grown from microbial enzymatic fermentation?
Where should the boundary between what is naturally present versus what is human made begin or end?
We are not asking because we have the answers. We are asking because biotechnology is enabling a new industrial revolution. We want to make sure the direction of the revolution is towards positive social change and environmental improvement.
You can read the more technical definition of synthetic biology (synbio) here. Our prefered interpretation is materials that are friendly to biology (biomaterials), communities with very well managed natural resources and biodiversity (biophilic), a focus on healthy regeneration (biomimcry), an ability to effectively solve eco-social problems (biotechnology).
We are not a laboratory enclave but rather a Human Centred Design laboratory focused on community.
Our goal is to build a community of African synbio practitioners that gain global recognition and promulgate the vernacular science philosophy.
A. Local capacity building
B. Showcase African genomics talent
C. Regional collaboration
The CSTI scientific focus is environmental research, Climate Change and industrial materials (including biochemicals). The focus of voluntering in the CSTI hub spaces is skills development of industrial applications for pure and applied sciences. In addition to genomics research, we support a community level Go Green Hub and its efforts to integrate SDG (sustainable development goals), eco-friendly development practices and scientific knowledge at both a local and global level.
Technology transfer of scientific knowledge from researchers to the community does not occur easily or in singular distinct episodes. Technology transfer is a daily dialogue and exchange of information in response to situational needs.
We engage in technology transfer using a standard to-do list which is adapted as needed:
Distance communication and collaboration
Developing peer review fellowship between local experts and the community
Generating pilot projects for community engagement and scientific review
Understanding industrial production yield criteria for local eco-product development
Ensuring each team member can deliver value when separate from the team
Establishing parameters for proof of concept
Data gathering and local situational assessments are also necessary. Before we begin rigorous data gathering we enjoy casual tours that enable us to familiarize ourselves with community capabilities.
In 2017 we visited water hyacinth choke points on Lake Victoria in order to observe how the floating matts behave.
In 2018 we are focused on observing community skills at manufacturing using raw materials such as water hyacinth and papyrus. We are also interested in understanding the challenges communities face when attempting to steward natural resources. This led to a stop at Dunga Pedagogical Centre.
Climate change adaptation is as much a sociological change as it is a technical one. Technological adaptation is useless if the available technology is not appropriate for the needs and resource capabilities of the community.
Understanding social change also requires an understanding of historical relevance.
Our January 2018 visit to the Thimlich Ohinga (wall in a scary forest) - Thim(Forest)lich(scary) Ohinga(wall).created an acute awareness of the need to integrate preservation of cultural heritage sites into Kenyan school curricula.
Few if any Kenyan citizens recognize the historical significance of the dry stone architecture at Thimlich Ohinga as being on par with globally recognized sites like Machu Pichu. Although 17 clusters across 50 acres sounds significant, there were many more clusters that got damaged by human settlement activity (people did not realize what they were dismantling was historically significant). Regular weather patterns have also had an impact.
Evidence of manufacturing activity, military fortressing and writing on stone (yet to be deciphered) are all present at Thimlich. The most important historical evidence at Thimlich is the fact that it was settled first by Bantus then by Nilots which means there has been coexistence within the same boundary we now know as Kenya for over 600 years. As we explore the material and biological planetary boundaries of Kenya, we look forward to learning from other historical sites.
If you are struggling to put Thimlich Ohinga in context, here is the Western view of the world in the 1400s (15th century). If you are wondering why the African Continent has followed a different development trajectory and want a discussion that goes beyond the typical recount of slavery and colonialism, you might find Jared Diamond's (Guns, Germs and Steel author) explanation of how geography and biodiversity shape societal evolution to be quite fascinating. Enjoy the 1hr video....
Ok, you can get up from the couch now We hope you've enjoyed our chat and will continue to stop and sit in our virtual space throughout 2018. Feel free to ask questions (firstname.lastname@example.org)!