ACGT Metabolomics Workshops build national biotechnology capacity

One of the objectives of the African Centre for Gene Technologies (ACGT) is to improve the advanced biotechnology skills level of scientists in South Africa. The quality of the work done locally should match, or even exceed, related work from any part of the world and the best way to do that is through continuous capacity building efforts.

To this end, the ACGT recently facilitated two metabolomics workshops to provide a platform to address key issues and challenges in the field of metabolomics, including subsequent data analyses. The two workshops were meant for different audiences and were held at the University of Pretoria. The first was an Introductory Workshop that ran from the 12th to the 14th of March 2018. This event was aimed at those who have limited knowledge of metabolomics techniques and applications. The second, an Advanced Workshop, subsequently ran on the 15th and 16th of March 2018 and covered more advanced topics in the field. The latter workshop was intended for those with existing metabolomics knowledge and already working with some metabolomics techniques, or are actively engaged in data analyses emanating from metabolomics experiments.

Both workshops were designed to include a mixture of lectures, interactive round-table discussions and computer-based practical sessions. The Introductory Workshop covered topics that ranged from experimental design, introduction to techniques, applications of metabolomics, analysis of metabolomics data, metabolite identification, statistics and metabolomics data interpretation. The Advanced Metabolomics Workshop focused on advanced data analysis, quantitative metabolomics, metabolomics networks and data sharing.

The participants hailed from the ACGT partner institutions, as well as institutions outside the partnership, including previously disadvantaged research institutions (University of Pretoria, University of Johannesburg, University of the Witwatersrand, Agricultural Research Council, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, North-West University, University of South Africa, Tshwane University of Technology and the Central University of Technology (Free State). Delegates exhibited different scientific backgrounds and had the chance to get to know each other through two-minute elevator-type flash presentations on the first day of each workshop.

The workshops were facilitated by a team of renowned metabolomics experts, both local and international. The local facilitators included Dr Fidele Tugizimana and Professors Ian Dubery and Paul Steenkamp from the University of Johannesburg. The international facilitators included Dr Reza Salek from the University of Cambridge, Dr Jos Hageman from Wageningen University, Dr Fabien Jourdan from the French National Research Institute for Agricultural Research, and Drs Naomi Rankin and Karl Burgess (both from the University of Glasgow).

Following the brief ice breaker presentations by the individual participants on their backgrounds and areas of interest, the workshops then proceeded onto a variety of subjects that influence and shape metabolomics research. Web tools and practical applications of metabolomics were demonstrated, as well as hands-on exercises that focused on data analysis and interpretation. The sessions were kept as interactive as possible to create a relaxed environment where the participants could ask questions pertaining to their own work.

The ACGT and all of its partners would like to extend enormous gratitude to all those who contributed to making these workshops a success, including the facilitators who again took a lot of time out of their busy schedules to contribute to capacity building in South Africa. The ACGT would also like to wish all the participants of the workshops all the luck with their work and future in metabolomics.

There has since been positive feedback from the participants of both workshops. There was a general sense from the workshop evaluations that the workshops were informative, practical and interesting. The participants enjoyed interacting with the expert facilitators from different parts of the globe. They felt that the facilitators were knowledgeable and showed willingness to help. Moving forward, there are plans to adjust the duration of the course to increase subject coverage, as well as to include additional practical sessions. Due to limited space, the Centre could not host everyone that applied, but the ACGT encourages those that were not placed this year to keep an eye out for future workshops.

The workshops represent one of the means towards building a sense of community- further building on a stakeholder session that was facilitated earlier in 2018 towards the establishment of a more formal grouping of metabolomics stakeholders. More news on the establishment of an association to follow soon.

For any metabolomics-related capacity building and networking queries, kindly contact Mr Molati Nonyane, ACGT Liaison Scientist ( ,
012 420 6139 )