Project Proposal: Setting up an open synthetic biology lab in Abuja, Nigeria

The Idea

African researchers are in need of fast, low cost tools to build scientific capacity and future technology development. The speed and versatility of synthetic biology makes it a prime candidate for this. Furthermore, plant research of significant importance already happens at African universities, primarily focusing on crop protection, controlling disease vectors, and identifying novel bioactive molecules for use as potential disease treatments. Synthetic biology tools could have a significant impact in improving and accelerating these fields of research.

As part of this project, we will develop an open synthetic biology lab at the University of Bingham in Abuja, Nigeria. The equipment in the lab can be used freely by any African researcher.

As well as establishing a lab, we will deliver a molecular biology skills training course at the University of Bingham in August 2015, in order to ensure that the local staff can fully benefit from the possibilities of this new resource. The course will include a synthetic biology component.


Who We Are

Richard Smith-Unna ( – Richard is a PhD student in Plant Sciences at Cambridge University, applying bioinformatics methods to studying C4 photosynthesis. Richard will develop the plant synthetic biology course materials.

Chinyere Okoro ( – Chinyere is a postdoc at the Sanger Institute working on the genomics of infectious diseases. She will be in charge of delivering the molecular biology training.

Ibukun Akinrinade ( – Ibukun is a PhD student in molecular biology in Portugal. University of Bingham in Nigeria is her home institution. She is in charge of setting up the lab, and is the liaison with the local organising committee.

Vicky Schneider ( – Vicky leads the 361° Division and is part of the Senior Management Team at TGAC in Norwich. She has extensive experience in developing and delivering world class training programmes. She will help develop the course materials and training programme.

Jelena Aleksic ( – Jelena is the Director of Bioinformatics at TReND in Africa (, the charity organising the Kenya bioinformatics course. She is the main course organiser.



A range of molecular biology equipment has already been collected from second-hand donations in Cambridge and Switzerland. The equipment needs to be shipped to Nigeria, so a part of the grant would be covering shipment costs.

Course materials focusing on plant synthetic biology will be developed in collaboration by the team members. They will then be included as part of the molecular biology workshop to be delivered at the University of Bingham in late August 2015.

The aim of the course would be to help establish a synthetic biology lab, by shipping over equipment and training staff through the workshop. The equipment will then be freely available for use by any African researcher interested in collaborating.


Benefits and outcomes

There is an interdisciplinary team from Cambridge and Norwich working on developing course content focused on plant synthetic biology. Any course materials developed through this project would be shared on GitHub and also actively disseminated through social media.

The course is part of a systematic approach to develop synthetic biology capacity in the region. Staff from the University of Bingham will also be attending a second TReND in Africa workshop focused on computational approaches, giving them both the molecular biology skills from this workshop, and the computational biology skills required to fully benefit from synthetic biology approaches.

The course attendees are themselves lecturers, meaning that the knowledge gained through this will be widely disseminated to a number of different generations of students. We believe that this project can therefore have a long-term impact on scientific capacity in the region.



Money received for the course costs so far from other funders:

Two of the course instructors, Chinyere Okoro (Sanger Institute) and Sammy Assefa (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) are covering their own travel and accommodation through their fellowship funding.

Course budget:

£1000 – 1x instructor airplane ticket to Abuja (for Ibukun Akinrinade)

£1300 – equipment shipping costs from the UK

£500 – 4x DNA extraction kits with a 50% discount from Promega

£500 – PCR reaction mix

£700 – additional consumables (ethanol, isopropanol, agarose, DNA polymerase, Sybr Safe, DNA ladder)

The University of Bingham is also providing a free venue for the course, as well as a room for hosting the equipment long-term.