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Mak spearheads Formation of Biology Society of Uganda (BioSU)

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The Society aims to promote professional relevance and teamwork in fostering biology education and scholarship in Uganda

Prof. Arthur K.Tugume, Dean School of Biosciences, Makerere University addressing participants at the BioSU inception meeting, Yusuf Lule Auditorium, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda.
Prof. Arthur K.Tugume, Dean School of Biosciences, Makerere University addressing participants at the BioSU inception meeting.

Makerere University has mobilized resources to conduct research into the poor performance in Biology at UCE and UACE. This was revealed by the Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Academic Affairs, Prof. Umar Kakumba during the inception meeting of the Biology Society of Uganda (BioSU) held on 5th May 2023 at the Yusuf Lule Central Teaching Facility (CTF2) at Makerere. BioSU will, among other things, contribute to the promotion of Biology as a subject among learners, right from primary school, with an aim of achieving increased enrolment and improvement in academic grades at O’ and A’ levels, and ultimately at the tertiary levels of education in Uganda. 

Some of the participants at the BioSU inception meeting, Yusuf Lule Auditorium, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda.
Some of the participants at the BioSU inception meeting.

Addressing participants, Prof. Kakumba appreciated the College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS) for leading efforts to improve performance in Biology, a core discipline in the life sciences. “Five Colleges at Makerere namely CoNAS, the College of Health Sciences (CHS), College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity (CoVAB), College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES), and the College of Education and External Studies (CEES) largely rely of biology as an essential subject. The entire science, technology and innovation (STI) ecosystem in Uganda is more than 60% biological in “fabric”. The formation of the BioSU is timely and will largely address the challenge of poor performance in the subject.” Prof. Kakumba appreciated the Uganda Biotechnology and Biosafety Consortium (UBBC) for supporting the formation of BioSU, and rallied other stakeholders to take interest in the Society.  “This is a national formation that will build foundations for the future of biologists in this country,” he noted.

Ms. Hajara Ddembe, the Commissioner, Physical Education and Sports at the Ministry of Education and Sports moderated the meeting, Yusuf Lule Auditorium, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda.
Ms. Hajara Ddembe, the Commissioner, Physical Education and Sports at the Ministry of Education and Sports moderated the meeting.

In his remarks, the Principal, CoNAS appreciated the School of Biosciences for taking lead in addressing the challenge of poor performance in Biology. He equally appreciated the University leadership for supporting the initiative. “When Biology is negatively affected at UCE, then enrolment at UACE gets affected, and this poses major challenges for the colleges at Makerere and the institutions related to medical, agricultural, veterinary and other forms of training where biological knowledge is essential. The move to address the challenge is timely, and working with BioSU, I’m hopeful that performance will greatly improve.”

The panelists - Prof. Tugume; Dr. Barbara Mugwanya Zawedde, Director of Research at NARO; Mr. Peter Watiti, a primary school teacher; Dr. Andrew Kiggundu, a geneticist and biotechnologist; Mr. Nixon Opoya, a secondary school teacher and examiner at UCE and UACE; and Dr Godwin Anywar from the Department of Plant Sciences, Microbiology and Biotechnology, CoNAS, Yusuf Lule Auditorium, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda.
The panelists – Prof. Tugume; Dr. Barbara Mugwanya Zawedde, Director of Research at NARO; Mr. Peter Watiti, a primary school teacher; Dr. Andrew Kiggundu, a geneticist and biotechnologist; Mr. Nixon Opoya, a secondary school teacher and examiner at UCE and UACE; and Dr Godwin Anywar from the Department of Plant Sciences, Microbiology and Biotechnology, CoNAS.

Trend of poor performance in Biology

An analysis conducted by the School of Biosciences, College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS), Makerere University indicates that since the late 1970s, academic performance in Biology at UACE has never been at its best and recently deteriorated to worrying levels. “In the UACE sitting of 2018 whose results were released in February 2019, UNEB statistics show that a total of 13,061 candidates sat for Biology countrywide, and of these only 1 candidate scored an “A”. That year, only up to 38% of the candidates scored at least an “E” leaving almost 80% failed (score O or F). In the next year’s sitting of 2019, only 44 candidates countrywide scored “A” in Biology. This trend was found quite repeated several times before 2018 and has not improved to-date. According to Prof. Arthur K. Tugume, Dean, School of Biosciences at Makerere University, Biology is an essential subject because it accounts for 70-100% of the academic and research work at CoNAS, CHS, CoVAB and CAES at Makerere. “The poor performance at UACE affects the totality of life-sciences academic and research ecosystem at Makerere University, and several essential sectors, and MDAs of Uganda whose mandates are hinged on Biology,” he noted.

Prof. Umar Kakumba, DVCAA, Makerere University graced the BioSU inception meeting, Yusuf Lule Auditorium, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda.
Prof. Umar Kakumba, DVCAA, Makerere University graced the BioSU inception meeting.

Addressing the challenge

To address the challenge of poor performance in Biology, Makerere University through the School of Biosciences, supported by the BioSU will conduct a detailed and carefully planned analysis of; i) qualifications, competence, and availability of Biology teachers and technicians at A’ Level; (ii) the scope: breadth and depth of Biology curriculum at A’ Level; (iii) how topics are segregated or not segregated in different UNEB past papers of Biology at A’ Level in comparison to other A’ Level subjects; (iv) the state of laboratory and field infrastructure for teaching Biology at A’ Level; and (v) attitudes of learners/students towards Biology at A’ Level. The results will inform steps to be taken.  

The Principal of CoNAS, Prof. Winston Tumps Ireeta addressing participants, Yusuf Lule Auditorium, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda.
The Principal of CoNAS, Prof. Winston Tumps Ireeta addressing participants.

Formation of the Biology Society of Uganda

The Biology Society of Uganda (BioSU) is founded on Uganda’s aspirations for a strong bio-economy to spur national development under National Development Program III (NDPIII). Cognizant of the importance of Biology applications that account for over 60% of Uganda’s science, technology and innovations (STI) ecosystem, it is envisaged that bringing together biology professionals will augment and consolidate their contribution to national development.  

Specifically, the objectives of the Biology Society of Uganda (BioSU) are to:

  1. Establish a functional and dynamic platform that will promote communication among biologists engaged in knowledge generation, testing, teaching and the end users at all levels.
  2. Promote biological research and its application in the teaching and/or solving challenges of national development at all levels.
  3. Host and publish a biannual Biology Newsletter (or any other publication deemed essential) on biology aspects of interest in Uganda.
  4. Promote the writing of biological science articles, books, papers, and magazines.
  5. Provide guidance on matters of national importance that demand expert knowledge in Biology or its applications.
  6. Create a community of people interested in biology, gather and exchange ideas, learn more about biology and sustain interest in the subject.
  7. To advance the quality of biology in academia, industry, education and research.
  8. Increase awareness of the importance of biology in national development.
  9. Foster a lively and early interest in biology in order to improve learning outcomes from primary to university level and beyond.
Prof. Kakumba with Prof. Eriabu Lugujjo, former Vice Chancellor of Ndejje University and currently Executive Director of the Uganda Vice Chancellors Forum (UVCF), Yusuf Lule Auditorium, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda.
Prof. Kakumba with Prof. Eriabu Lugujjo, former Vice Chancellor of Ndejje University and currently Executive Director of the Uganda Vice Chancellors Forum (UVCF).

The BioSU inception meeting

The inception meeting brought together Biology professionals who deliberated on a number of issues in line with the formation of the BioSU, and the continued failure of the subject of Biology. The meeting featured a panel discussion in which a number of factors undermining performance in Biology were highlighted and possible solutions proposed. Panelists including Prof. Arthur Tugume, Dean School of Biosciences, CoNAS; Dr. Barbara Mugwanya Zawedde, Director of Research at NARO; Mr. Peter Watiti, a primary school teacher; Dr. Andrew Kiggundu, a geneticist and biotechnologist; Mr. Nixon Opoya, a secondary school teacher and examiner at UCE and UACE; and Dr Godwin Anywar from the Department of Plant Sciences, Microbiology and Biotechnology at CoNAS emphasized the need to improve competence of teachers by conducting refresher trainings. Other issues arising from the discussion included the need to improve practical training, interest learners in the subject at an early staff and conduct career guidance.

An Interim Committee coordinated under the School of Biosciences, CoNAS, Makerere University has been put in place to foresee the formation of the BioSU. Members include; Prof. Arthur Tugume – Interim Chair, Dr Godwin Anywar – Interim Secretary, Dr. Mary Buttibwa, Dr. Agnes Nandutu Masawi, Dr. Shahasi Athman, Dr. Jamilu Ssenku, Dr. Joel Isanga, Dr. Samuel Ojelel, Mr. Nixon Opoya, Dr. Eric Sande, Dr. John Joseph Kisakye, Prof. Fredrick Muyodi, and Dr. Godfrey Kubiriza.

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Natural Sciences

Call For Applications For Masters Scholarship Under The Biosorption For Sustainable Small-Scale Gold Mining In Uganda (BioGold) Project

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The JICA Building, College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS) as approached from the Mary Stuart Road Roundabout, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda

BioGold Project is a three-year collaborative project among five academic institutions including, Kyambogo University, Makerere University, Gulu University, University of Pretoria and University of Continuing Education, Krems, Austria funded by the Austrian Development Cooperation under the APPEAR Partnership. The project will combine principles of biosorption and chemical remediation to treat contaminated wastewater, tailings, rehabilitate contaminated soils so as to protect vulnerable ecosystems surrounding artisanal gold mining (ASGM) areas in Uganda. This study will design biochar composites from locally available biomass to enhance mercury removal from wastewater and tailings as well as rehabilitate mercury-contaminated soils making them fit for agriculture. The project envisages to train and build capacity of young researchers in Uganda. As such the project has been allocated an MSc. position under Component II, to support to full-time student to undertake studies in Austria. The successful MSc candidate is expected to undertake research on characterizing, optimizing biochar and modify the biochar to improve the sorption capacities.

The project consortium is now inviting qualified and interested persons to apply for nomination for the award of the scholarship. The project has strong preference for female candidates, therefore strongly encouraged to apply.

Eligibility criteria

In addition to APPEAR requirements https://appear.at/en/implementation/embedded-scholarship-application, the applicants should:

  1. Not be older than 30 years (women not older than 35)
  2. Demonstrate interest and capability to work in the priority themes
  3. Present a concept note to provide understanding of the subject
  4. Have a minimum of second- upper class bachelor’s degree in any of the following programmes: BSc in Chemistry, BSc in Environmental Science, & BSc in Environmental Engineering

Benefits

The successful applicants will receive a full scholarship (up to 24 months) which includes;

  1. Return air ticket and visa costs to Austria
  2. Monthly stipend of €1000 while in Austria to cater for personal welfare, accommodation and local movement
  3. Research related expenses.

Application process

  1. A complete application form
  2. A one-page motivation letter
  3. Curriculum vitae (maximum 2 pages)
  4. A completed Master Scholarship Application Form for Embedded APPEAR Projects
  5. Copies of Academic documents
  6. Photocopy of the passport and/or ID
  7. Recommendation letters from two academic referees.
  8. All applications must be sent electronically to Dr. Mary Kaggwa (marykaggwa@kyu.ac.ug) and copied to Dr. Peter Akoll (peter.akoll@mak.ac.ug) and Dr. Denis Nono (d.nono@gu.ac.ug) not later than 5.00pm East African Time on 20th June 2024.

Members of staff with former students interested in biochar technology and its use in heavy metal removal are requested to share the advert with them.

Full Advert and Application form may be accessed below.

Note: Only successful applicants will be contacted.

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Mak Researchers Set Out to Address the Challenge of African swine fever in Uganda

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Professor Charles Masembe, CoNAS, Makerere University. Image:ASF

The Project is supported by the Government of Uganda through the Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF).

Overview

African swine fever (ASF) is a highly contagious viral haemorrhagic disease of domestic pigs; and has recently spread to new areas including Eastern Europe and in Asia as far as Papua New Guinea. This disease has neither vaccine nor treatment and is currently a big challenge to many smallholder pig farmers in Uganda. In Uganda, ASFV genotype IX has been reported to cause outbreaks on a regular basis and is an impediment to development of the swine industry. The disease was previously reported with a mortality of 100%. However different forms of the disease have recently been observed in domestic pigs. Indeed, some studies have shown that pigs that survive ASF become resistant to the same viral isolates although they do not produce classical neutralizing antibody. These observations could have the key for vaccine development strategies.

The Principal Investigator of ASF-RESIST, Dr. Charles Masembe; an Associate Professor in the Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Sciences (ZEFS), CoNAS, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda
The Project Principal Investigator (PI), Prof. Charles Masembe.

The research project

Through a project titled “African swine fever virus (ASFV) severity and viral genomic structural features: opportunities for development of a vaccine in Uganda”, a team of researchers led by Prof. Charles Masembe from the Department of Zoology, Entomology, and Fisheries Sciences at Makerere University registered the need to correlate clinical studies of ASF virus with full genome sequences and virus structural data to identify potential candidate genes for vaccine development. The team set out to isolate and characterise highly virulent and low virulent ASF viruses circulating in the swine population in Uganda using next-generation and Electron Microscopy to inform the development of ASFV vaccines and other therapeutic strategies. The team also set out to sequence the whole genome of low and high-virulence African swine fever viruses circulating in the domestic pig population in Uganda; compare the whole genome sequences of low and high-virulence ASF viruses in Uganda, and to find genomic variations and their effects on the virulence and viral evolution. Whole blood and organ tissue samples together with clinical-epidemiological information, were collected from acute and chronic cases of pigs in reported ASF outbreaks in the districts of greater Masaka, Greater Gulu, Mukono, Wakiso, Kakumiro, and additionally in other districts were outbreaks were reported during the study period. The project was supported by the Government of Uganda through the Makerere Research and Innovations Fund (MakRIF). Other members on the project are; Assoc. Prof. Vincent Muwanika (Co-PI), Dr. Rose Ademun (Scientist), Dr. Mathias Afayoa (Scientist), Dr. Tony Aliro (Field Scientist), Mr. Peter Ogweng (Field Scientist),  Mr. Mayega Johnson Francis (Lab Technologist), Okwasiimire Rodney (Lab Technologist), and Mr. Bright Twesigye (Administrator).

The Project team at the research dissemination workshop in Gulu District. Prof. Charles Masembe, Department of Zoology, Entomology, and Fisheries Sciences, College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS), Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF)-funded "African swine fever virus (ASFV) severity and viral genomic structural features: opportunities for development of a vaccine in Uganda” project research dissemination, 15th May 2024, Doves Nest Hotel, Gulu District, Northern Uganda, East Africa.
The Project team at the research dissemination workshop in Gulu District.

Dissemination of the research findings

On 15th May 2024, the project team held a workshop at Doves Nest Hotel in Gulu District to disseminate the research findings, and to fact check by mapping pig farms, abattoirs, slaughter slabs, and pork restaurants in both Gulu District and Gulu City for on-going and future research.

The workshop was officially opened by the Assistant Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of Gulu District, Mr. Okidi Cosmas James on behalf of the CAO. In his remarks, Mr. Okidi appreciated the project team, noting that the workshop was timely since piggery as a poverty alleviation programme had been embraced by most farmers as a replacement for cattle. Sharing his experience, he expressed concern over the increasing threat of ASF, a factor he said was undermining the growth of the swine industry in Uganda.

Prof. Masembe interacts with the participants during the workshop. Prof. Charles Masembe, Department of Zoology, Entomology, and Fisheries Sciences, College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS), Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF)-funded "African swine fever virus (ASFV) severity and viral genomic structural features: opportunities for development of a vaccine in Uganda” project research dissemination, 15th May 2024, Doves Nest Hotel, Gulu District, Northern Uganda, East Africa.
Prof. Masembe interacts with the participants during the workshop.

During the meeting, the Project PI, Prof. Charles Masembe presented the status of ASF research in Uganda and globally, highlighting the complexity of ASF, dangers of ASF, ASF diagnostic advances, importance of keeping pigs and scientific efforts to control ASF, including the advances in the development of the ASFV vaccine. 

Other presentations focused on ASF control and prevention mechanisms, potential role of production systems in ASF transmission, community involvement in disease control, spatio-temporal spread of ASF at the wildlife-livestock interface, the role of carrier pigs in ASFV transmission and maintenance, biosecurity implementation and challenges. All these presentations evoked discussion points from the participants. Participants expressed the need to understand how ASF is transmitted, and the extent to which farmers can trust veterinarians since they are considered to spread the disease. They highlighted the need to institute quarantine during ASF outbreaks and called for sensitization on the acceptable methods for disposing off infected pork. Another concern arising from the meeting was the need to understand if ASF is zoonotic and if not, why ASFV infected pork should not be eaten. Participants also sought guidance on why farmers should continue to keep survivor pigs if they spread ASFV, and why the government has not constructed slaughter slabs in all villages to control the spread of ASFV.

Participants in an exercise to map out pig farms/farmers, abattoir/slaughter slabs and pork restaurants in their respective sub counties to support the research process. Prof. Charles Masembe, Department of Zoology, Entomology, and Fisheries Sciences, College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS), Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF)-funded "African swine fever virus (ASFV) severity and viral genomic structural features: opportunities for development of a vaccine in Uganda” project research dissemination, 15th May 2024, Doves Nest Hotel, Gulu District, Northern Uganda, East Africa.
Participants in an exercise to map out pig farms/farmers, abattoir/slaughter slabs and pork restaurants in their respective sub counties to support the research process.

Recommendations by participants;

  1. Strengthening community awareness through different production departments in the district and city by organizing workshops as closer to the farmers as possible for example at every parish or ward.
  2. Makerere University ASF research team should collaborate with Gulu University, Faculty of Agriculture and Environmental Studies so that ASFV diagnosis and research is jointly done at the University which is nearer to the farmers for quick response to ASF outbreaks.
  3. City, District, and sub-county leaders should formulate a by-law to enforce the implementation of ASF control and prevention methods.
Mapping pig farms/farmers, abattoir/slaughter slabs and pork restaurants. Prof. Charles Masembe, Department of Zoology, Entomology, and Fisheries Sciences, College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS), Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF)-funded "African swine fever virus (ASFV) severity and viral genomic structural features: opportunities for development of a vaccine in Uganda” project research dissemination, 15th May 2024, Doves Nest Hotel, Gulu District, Northern Uganda, East Africa.
Mapping pig farms/farmers, abattoir/slaughter slabs and pork restaurants.

During plenary, participants were tasked with mapping pig farms/farmers, abattoir/slaughter slabs and pork restaurants in their respective sub-counties in Gulu District and Gulu City, in addition to generating a comprehensive farm/farmer list in the two areas. Mapping was successfully done and presented for purposes of clarity by each team representing a particular sub-county. The participants were then given a template to populate on the farm/farmer list since they could not recall all farms/farmers name and their mobile phone contacts.

Participants pose for a group photo. Prof. Charles Masembe, Department of Zoology, Entomology, and Fisheries Sciences, College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS), Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF)-funded "African swine fever virus (ASFV) severity and viral genomic structural features: opportunities for development of a vaccine in Uganda” project research dissemination, 15th May 2024, Doves Nest Hotel, Gulu District, Northern Uganda, East Africa.
Participants pose for a group photo.

Remarks by Gulu District RDC

In his closing remarks, the RDC of Gulu District, Mr. Oryem Auric thanked the research team for choosing the district for the workshop, noting that the feedback from the participants indicated that the workshop was very beneficial to them. He pledged to dedicate some of the free airtime offered to his office on Radio Mega, a popular FM Radio Station in Gulu City affiliated to Radio Uganda, towards the popularization of the project activities. He reiterated that the objectives of the project were in line with the current Government of Uganda programme on wealth creation through the Parish Development Model and the 4 acre model of which piggery is one of the means recommended for poverty alleviation by the President of Uganda. He called on the farmers to embrace and utilize the knowledge acquired to improve their farms and increase their household incomes.

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Natural Sciences

CoNAS Annual Report 2023

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Cover page of the CoNAS Annual Report 2023. College of Natural Sciences, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda, East Africa.

The College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS) is one of the 10 constituent Colleges of Makerere University with over 2,000 students and 153 members of staff spread across 2 schools and seven departments namely: School of Physical Sciences (Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Geology and Petroleum Studies) and School Biosciences (Departments of Plant Sciences, Microbiology and Biotechnology; Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Sciences; and Department of Biochemistry and Sports Sciences). The College is the cradle of basic sciences at Makerere providing a foundation for all applied sciences offered at the University. This report is a presentation of the performance of the College in 2023.

Key highlights include performance of the College at the 74th graduation of Makerere University, the award of an Honorary Doctor of Science to Prof. Leif Abrahamsson for his contribution to the development of Mathematics in the East African region, the development of an E-Supervision Web Portal (https:/mastersresearch.ug/) to support the tracking of Masters Research supervision processes, the formation and operationalization of the Biology Society of Uganda (BioSU), support rendered towards the development of aquaculture in the country, the development of five high-value nutritious products (baby food, sauce, maize meal, snacks, and seasoning) using Mukene through the NutriFish Project, the development of an application for tracking fish catches as a measure to prevent overfishing, development of solar tent driers – greenhouse-like structures that reduce the risk of contamination – provide clean and efficient storage and drying, especially during the wet season subsequently reducing post-harvest losses, equipping students and members of the general public with skills needed in the installation and maintenance of solar energy Photovoltaic systems and biogas plants, the Joint African- Nordic Conference in Mathematics, as well as the 2023 Eastern Africa Algebra Research Group and Women in Sage workshops. The report also highlights the research grants received in the course of the year, conferences held, community engagements, activities by students, awards received by the different members of staff, staff publications, and matters of Human Resources at the College.

Management conveys appreciation to all development partners and the Government of Uganda for the support extended towards the different projects at the College. We also thank the University Council and Management for creating a conducive environment for both staff and students to explore their full potential.

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