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Scientists Speak - International Day of Women and Girls in Science - Muchadeyi
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ARS Celebrates International Women and Girls in Science Day: Diversity in Science -  Adaptability and Sustainability Depend on Genetic Diversity

Farai Muchadeyi, Senior Manager Research, Agriculture Research Council Biotechnology Platform (ARS collaborator in South Africa)

Dr Muchadeyi's research interests are in the characterization, sustainable utilization and conservation of livestock genetic resources. Her research involves the application of genomics and population genetic tools in inferring genetic diversity, identifying adaptive features associated with livestock species from marginalized farming environments and investigating how the genetic adaptation can be harnessed in mainstream commercial agriculture. Her other projects involve the unraveling the causal mutations of genetic disorders and the inclusion of molecular genetic marker information in selection programs. She heads the Animal Genetics and Genomics research group at the Biotechnology Platform (ARC) managing various projects on livestock and wildlife genomics.

What is the objective of your project?

“The USDA - USAID Feed the Future Livestock Improvement Project objective is to characterize adaptive genetic diversity and population structure of African local goat populations and develop genomic tools to aid in breed improvement programs.”

Can you tell us about your research project and the international collaboration involved?

"The project ...is... aimed at developing genomics tools for the improvement of goat production in Africa. The first phase of the project is aimed at investigating adaptive genetic diversity of African goat populations using landscape genomics approaches to search for signatures of selection. Whilst South Africa has genotyped and screened for diversity and adaptation in its local population, a more comprehensive sampling of goats from diverse countries of Africa which include Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, etc., will be integrated to a larger data set. This will allow phylogenetic evaluation of the relatedness and diversity of indigenous goat breeds of Africa and their crosses, and fine mapping of adaptive genetic diversity to different production landscapes of Africa. The project includes building capacity in South African researchers and students and through the African goat Improvement Network, postgraduate students have been trained in genomics, statistical genomics and bioinformatics skills which are critical and scarce skills in driving livestock genomics and improvement programs in South Africa."

How has your work with international partners benefitted your project? What skills/expertise/other contributions have they brought to this research?

“The African Goat Improvement Network (an outcome of the project) as coordinated by the USDA-ARS has facilitated networking and sharing of information and expertise between African countries and USA teams. We have had insight into projects that are implementing community based breeding programs and such case studies will be used to help design an improvement programs for South African goat populations. The USDA-ARS has brought statistical genomics and bioinformatics skills that are relevant to goat and other livestock improvement programs. (Two women) postgraduate students from my research team have access to mentorship in these critical skills."

What are some of the critical research areas that still need to be addressed?

“Genomics has found a lot of application and has revolutionized the livestock industry globally. However there is still a gap in the application of genomics in smallholder communal livestock production systems which predominate Africa and other developing countries, and this is attributed to a number of factors including (i) lack of appropriate infrastructure and capacity to drive genomics programs and (ii) the complex nature of smallholder communal livestock production systems for which tailor-made genomic tools and workflows need to be developed and optimized. There is therefore need for research that addresses the challenges of implementing genomics in smallholder livestock communities."

Since we’re commemorating the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, our audience will be thinking about the role and impact of women in science, and what the particular challenges are that they may face. What is one thing that you would like to share, or advice you may have, about women in science, or for women and girls who are considering a career in science?  

“The number of women in science has been growing over the last decades. However the majority of women in developing countries are still marginalized and therefore not exposed to science for them to consider it as a career. So we need to expose more women to science and create an environment that makes it a career of choice. For example, schools in most marginalized communities do not even have Science Labs to expose and train young scientists, which creates a barrier for such populations to consider science as a career.”