Genomics and Bioinformatics Research Directorate (GBRD) was founded in 2016 together with the other research directorates under the Biotechnology Center of the former Ethiopian Biotechnology Institute (EBTi), which is now renamed as Biotechnology and Emerging Technology Institute (BETI). The directorate is mandated to advance research and development activities in the areas of omics (genomics, metagenomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics, etc.) and bioinformatics in the institute in particular and coordinate R & D in the country in general. Capacity building through training is another mandate area of the directorate. We give training in current topics of omics and bioinformatics either by researchers of the institute or in collaboration with universities and other sister research institutions. We have recently developed a roadmap for research and development in omics and bioinformatics for implementation in the coming ten years: 2022 to 2031. The directorate was organized in 2016 together with the other research directorates
Currently, there are two research teams under the directorate: Genomics Research Team and Bioinformatics Research Team. The Genomics Research team is mandated to lead and coordinate research and development activities in the omics sectors in the country while the Bioinformatics Research Team is mandated to do similar activities in the bioinformatics sector. Both teams also work on capacity development activities such as developing state of the art laboratories, organizing training and support for the researchers and academicians based on their needs and capacities in their respective areas.
The mandates, roles, and responsibilities of the GBRD are listed below, but not limited to the listed ones alone.
- In collaboration with researchers from other directors and from other institutions, design and develop research projects that can be used for a variety of purposes using omics and bioinformatics technologies and methods;
- Carry out, collect, organize and analyze information about our country’s natural resources and biodiversity genome for research, conservation, health, environmental protection and industrial purposes.
- Use functional genomics methods and tools to identify and use functional elements in the genome of different organisms.
- Organize and provide services of omics and Bioinformatics infrastructures such as omics laboratories, Super Computer facilities, and Servers and related infrastructures for huge omics data storage and for Bioinformatics analyses and for training purposes
- Develop and maintain omics databases in a way that meets the strategic needs of the future and conduct research on enabling technologies and provide for those in need; analyze the stored data, and create a way for it to be used for various research institutions.
- Use omics (genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics, etc.) information or data for gene analysis, control network and metabolism, as well as system analysis (i.e., do omics analysis for different purposes at different scales)
- Develop and use algorithms and programs that enable the analyses of large amounts of biological data (Development of bioinformatics systems) and the use of statistical analysis and mathematical models in various fields of omics science.
- Enhancing and modulate biological simulation models and use for research purposes (conduct research on enrichment of structural biological computing)
- Collaborate on the opening of Omics Science and Technology in higher learning institutions, particularly in Health Colleges and Universities and on the growth of researches in the areas.
- Develop and deliver on-demand short- and medium-term training to relevant researchers and institutes in current topics of omics and bioinformatics sectors, either by our institute alone or in collaboration with other institutions.
- Support researchers and postgraduate students with bioinformatics and statistical analyses.
- Collaborate with national and international institutions on advancing research and development activities in omics and Bioinformatics sectors.
- Prepare national guidelines and documents relevant to omics and bioinformatics research and development.
1. Genomic Research
The researchers in the Genomics Research Team (GRT) are expected to develop and conduct research projects on various organisms in the following research thematic areas: genomics (structural, comparative, metagenomics), transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics, systems biology, and so on. These thematic areas are usually integrated as multi-omics research projects.
Omics for crop and livestock genetic resources exploration and improvement
Omics refers to the collective technologies used to explore the roles, relationships, and actions of the various types of molecules that make up the cells of an organism. Sustainable achievement of food security for a growing population entails a vertical increase in agricultural productivity instead of horizontal growth. Currently, the integration of omics technologies (genomic selection) with bioinformatics methods has been revolutionizing the livestock and crops breeding industries globally through improving yield and growth traits. High-throughput molecular technologies (Omics-based technologies) and advanced computation tools have also the promise to reduce the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions from farm animals through selecting animals emitting low methane, improving feed efficiency, and to breed stress resistance (abiotic and biotic) and climate resilient crops and animals, and enhance nutritional characteristics of animal and plant derived foods. With the advent of breakthrough sequencing technologies and subsequent reduction in sequencing and genotyping costs, it is now possible to generate big genomes, transcriptomes, proteomes, metabolomes data for hundreds of samples within a short period of time. In collaboration with other directorates and partners, the livestock and crop omics research theme explores the application of breakthrough omics technologies to enhance livestock and crops productivity and sustainable conservation. Multi-omics data (sequence, genotype, transcriptomics, proteomic and metabolomic) and phenotypic data will be generated and collected for priority species and breeds or varieties. Through genome-wide association studies, genes and variants associated with traits of economic importance will be identified to facilitate the implementation of marker-assisted or genomic section programs; and to better understand and dissect the genetic mechanisms underlying complex agricultural traits.
Whole genome-sequencing of microbes /Microbial omics
Metagenomics is the study of microorganisms from a certain environmental source such as soil, milk, waste, human and animal gut. In the past few decades, significant improvement has been made in microbial activity and enzyme production for bioprocessing/biorefineries, food processing and bioremediation (biodegradation) with the aid of novel omics technologies. Specifically, the industrial use of microorganisms to produce antibiotics, enzymes, and other bioactive compounds is a booming area of biotechnology. Microbial omics is also applied to better understanding the genetic composition of microorganisms causing animal, plant and human diseases and to manipulate rumen microbiota to improve rumen fermentation and fiber degradation. Despite Ethiopia’s huge and diverse microbial genetic resources, little has been done to understand and explore these resources using modern omics technologies for industrial, environmental and agricultural applications. The microbial research theme focuses on identification and exploration of microbes for bioremediation, biorefinery, food processing, development of drugs, vaccines and diagnostic tools using omics technologies and computational tools. Selected and economically important microbes (virus, bacteria, algae and fungi) will be whole genome sequenced for systematic and better understanding of the organism, development of drugs and vaccines, diagnostic tools, and to identify robust and highly productive microorganisms for industrial and bioremediation applications.
Human omics studies
Human omics studies include but not limited to genetic diversity among the different populations of Ethiopia, genetic/genomic/epigenomic adaptation to diverse environmental factors such as climate, food, drugs, beverages and other factors, identification of novel genomic variants with a role in controlling variation in drug metabolism and other health-related variations in order to pave the way for the development of novel therapeutic drugs in personalized medicine.
Roles of Genomic Research Team
- Generation and analyses of omics data (genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, and metabolomics) and application for improvement and management of livestock and crop genetic resources
- Organize and store data generated on different livestock species, crops, human populations, and microbes.
- Metagenomic identification and characterization of rumen microbes to better understand microbial diversity and ecology; and manipulation of rumen microbiota to improve feed efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions
- Whole-genome sequencing and functional analysis of important microorganisms for the better understanding of microbial pathogenesis, development of drugs, vaccines and diagnostic tools, and applications in industry and environments
- Create platforms for collaboration, linkage, and networking among industry and academic, and research institutes
- Develop least-cost genotyping panels of SNP markers that can be used in genetic for improvement of important agronomic traits
- Develop national omics database of biodiversity resources (DNA, RNA, and protein sequences, 3-D structures, SNP data), relevant publications and patents, and data-sharing platforms
- Identification of omics-based markers for drug resistance in selected pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus, the major causal pathogen of mastitis disease in cows and search for alternative treatment strategies.
- Human omics studies targeting the level of genetic diversity, adaptation and/or response to the various climates in the country, foods, drugs, beverages and other environmental factors, and health-related variants in such a way that it can contribute to personalized medicine.
2. Bioinformatics Research
Research themes under the Bioinformatics Research Team are the following.
- Development of bioinformatics software and programs
- Evaluation of available statistical and mathematical models for new biological data
- Development of biological databases for data storage, analyses and retrieval