Basic Molecular Evolution Workshop—A trans-African virtual training course. “Virtual Workshops”: Is Africa ready to embrace the concept?
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Ommeh, S., Budd, A., Ngara, M.V., Njaci, I. and Villiers, E.P. de. 2011. Basic Molecular Evolution Workshop—A trans-African virtual training course. “Virtual Workshops”: Is Africa ready to embrace the concept? BioEssays 33(4): 243-247.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/3235
Why did we want to write this paper? Why do we bother to organise scientific meetings? The amount of time, energy and resources they take up always surprises us. They do not help our career and promotion prospects – most hiring committees ignore our involvement in organising and participating in such meetings. So why do we do keep organising them? For us, the reasons why we do continue to organise new meetings are similar to those motivating the funders who support the events: promoting research in areas (topical and geographical) where we feel it is particularly needed; helping promote interactions between researchers; providing high-quality scientific impact, ideally at low cost. Not that we are altruists – we enjoy it too, in particular the opportunity it provides to contribute to the development of the scientific fields we work in. We were recently impressed by the effectiveness with which three events we were involved in achieved these and similar goals (Fig. 1) – we hope that, by sharing our enthusiasm for what was achieved through these meetings, we can encourage others to organise and fund similar projects in the future. Why focus on molecular evolution? Part of the link between these events was thematic – the topic of molecular evolution playing an important role in all of them. At first glance, this might seem strange for scientists keen to promote development within the African continent – surely there are many more important topics to focus on in that context? However, despite first impressions, molecular evolutionary analyses can contribute to many applications associated with economic and public health issues in Africa. One important set of applications is in the epidemiology of diseases important in Africa. These studies may focus on the evolution of the pathogens themselves, including viruses (such as HIV 1), bacteria (such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis2) and eukaryotes (such as Plasmodium falciparum3, one of the causative agents of malaria) – but also the evolution of the vectors responsible for transmitting many important diseases (such as Glossina fuscipes fuscipes4, tsetse flies that are vectors of sleeping sickness, or Anopheles mosquitoes, important vectors of malaria 5). Other medical applications involve analysis of the molecular basis of disease virulence in pathogens (such as in swine fever virus 6), or disease immunity or resistance in hosts (such as the human Duffy blood group locus, which confers complete resistance to vivax malaria 7). In a very different context, molecular evolutionary analyses have been applied in the fields of conservation and ecological genetics, including analyses of the history and evolution of indigenous species (such as cichlid fishes in the African Great Lakes 8) and prioritisation of endangered species for conservation programs (such as Madagascan lemurs 9). Other applications include attempts to understand the response of organisms to changing climatic conditions 10, crop plant research 11, 12 and analyses of human history and anthropology 13.