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Genetic mapping of key species protects value

Dagmar Honsbein, General Manager: Agra Professional Services Division (middle) with Dr Gladys Kahaka and Dr Erold Naomab, holding the GeneChip.

Dagmar Honsbein, General Manager: Agra Professional Services Division (middle) with Dr Gladys Kahaka and Dr Erold Naomab, holding the GeneChip.

Two experts in genetics say genetic mapping of domesticated species as well as certain species of game, is essential to protect their value in future markets. Dr Erold Naomab and Dr Gladys Kahaka told a meeting of people involved in agriculture, species need market protection similar to patent rights.
Agra Professional Services Division last week hosted an interactive breakfast to discuss and investigate the potential of genetic mapping of local animal species. Under the theme; “The Value of genetic mapping of Namibian species,” Dr Naomab explained the principles of genetics, gene mapping, the value of mapping the genome of a species and the possibilities that arise from that, i.e. the theoretical possibilities of manipulating the genome of an animal to improve production and economic benefits.
The value of gene mapping in the protection of Intellectual Property in biology was underlined during Dr Naomab’s presentation and the ensuing discussion. Furthermore, through mapping the genome of a species, genes that control specific traits, are identified, opening up the possibility of improving the species’ value by manipulating these genes.
Dr Naomab also presented the genetic mapping of Namibian livestock species (e.g. using sheep or cattle) which has been made possible through Affymetrix GeneChip technology locally. In explaining these chips to the audience, he said; “every chip holds the entire genomic code of a species. The genomic code of Namibian sheep is so vast that it could, if written out, cover about 100,000 A4 pages with pure code. The chip is 1.7cm2 and can store more than 5 GB, or 3 million pieces of biochemical test information about a species.”
Agra’s Professional Services Division, as part of their research efforts in the Swakara industry, has looked into the opportunities that GeneChip technology offers. The GM of Agra Professional Services Division, Mrs Dagmar Honsbein, said: “the genetic mapping of Swakara, would be the first step in a process to register the breed as uniquely Namibian. We need to prove however, that Swakara has genetically evolved extensively over more than 100 years; away from the original species of Karakul making it a de facto different sheep altogether.” She said, “this will allow us to protect them from being claimed by other countries as their own, as has happened with the Boran cattle breed and Acacia plant species that have been officially declared indigenous to Australia. Also, by claiming commercially or economically valuable species as uniquely Namibian one creates a possible niche product (‘Proudly Namibian’) with a higher trading value and thus income for the producers.”
The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Namibia has the capacity to genetically map species, with the aim to understand the genetic sequences of the species that have adapted to the Namibian environment and to explore which gene is responsible for the expression of which trait. The next step in the research being conducted at UNAM is to identify those genes that express traits that are of economic advantage and to possibly find a way to enhance or select for these traits. In theory it should be possible, through genetic engineering, to strip a gene that diminishes the production potential of a species or to insert a gene that is of productive advantage. To date, genetic modification is not allowed under local jurisdiction; therefore no further discussions to this end took place.

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