During the apartheid regime, South Africa found itself in isolation from the rest of the global community. However, she has made huge strides in the development of health and agricultural biotechnology. Today, she is one of the leading sub-Saharan countries that have domesticated biotechnology both in Agriculture and health sectors and is an exporter of biotechnology products.
In the health sector, South Africa has moved with speed to address HIV-AIDS menace by leading the way in finding solutions to this public health. Currently, at the University of Cape Town, there are six potential novel candidate vaccines that are under evaluation. In the late 2003, she did two phase 1 trials for the vaccines, emerging the first African country to carry out multiple HIV-AIDS vaccine trials. Additionally, she was the first country to do trials on preventive vaccine against HIV-1 C subtype3 in partnership with international public-private partnership (PPP), the national institute for communicable diseases and the medical research council (MRC). To enhance this, the government of the republic of South Africa has cultivated public-private partnership between domestic and international players that has heavily supported work on Tuberculosis, malaria, HIV-AIDS. Additionally, she has created three biotechnology innovation centers that act as the nuclei platform for all biotechnology related concerns. These centers are; the East Coast Biotechnology Consortium (EcoBio), Cape Biotechnology Initiative and Biopad in Johannesburg. In South Africa, biotechnology tools used in agriculture include; molecular diagnostics, tissue culture, marker assisted selection, molecular characterization and genetic modifications. Most of the sub Saharan African countries have developed and domesticated the use of tissue culture in the development of crops that are of high quality, disease and pest resistant, drought resistant and early maturity. However, the application of genetically modified crops using genetic modification technology is limited to some countries including South Africa. The genetically modified crops commercially produced in South Africa are cotton, maize and soybean.
In animal agriculture, major biotechnology-based research programs have been put in place to promote production and good health. For example, there has been identification, cloning and expression of genes together with preparation of prototype viral-vectored and genetic vaccines for bovine ephemeral fever, African horse sickness, rift valley fever, Newcastle disease and lumpy skin fever. This has seen veterinary sector flourish in this African country. This research is mainly carried out by Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute (ARC-OVI), a flagship institution of the Agricultural Research Council.
Crops such as melon, tomato and potato have undergone in-house genetic transformations. There have been genetic transformations of three potato cultivars that confer resistance to potato virus Y and potato leaf-roll virus. Additionally, there has been a gene transfer system for flowering bulbs of indigenous origin. This has been achieved by ARC-Roodeplaat Biotechnology Division.
Biotechnology measures have been incorporated in the production of guava, papaya, pineapple, ginger, avocado and coffee through tissue culture techniques in breeding programs. This is developed by ARC - Institute for Tropical and Sub-
South African institutions have come up with embryo rescue techniques in order to create inter-specific crosses in dry beans and also facilitate sunflower breeding. They have developed techniques in plant regeneration from cells and tissues in order to create transgenic plants through ballistic bombardment in groundnuts. The use of marker assisted selection for nematode resistance in soybean has also been domesticated. Additionally, in the quest to produce disease free dry been seeds, meristem culture techniques have been introduced and are on advanced research levels. South Africa has seen the incorporation of foreign genes in the enhancement of herbicide resistance in lupins and drought resistance in the highly planted groundnuts, DNA level cultivar identification in soybean, sunflowers and groundnuts. Nevertheless, there has been breeding of maize cultivars that are disease resistant to ear rot and maize streak diseases. All this has been done by ARC- Grain Crops Research Institute.
There is a major development in successfully transforming and regenerating of a maize (strain HI-II), a laboratory strain of maize through genetic engineering of cereals, enhancement of protein quality of sorghum through genetic modifications and genetic enhancement of maize in order to promote food safety. Maize safety has been enhanced through the introduction of four plant anti-fungal genes that combat contamination by Fusarium moniliform, a post harvest pathogen, which produces mycotoxin, toxic to animals and human beings. This research was done by CSIR (Foodtek /Bio-chemtek).
The university of Stellenbosch (institute of wine biotechnology and institute of plant biotechnology) established an efficient regeneration and transformation systems for grapevine, and the construction of genomic and cDNA libraries for grapevine cultivars. Also, they have identified grave cultivars using genetic marker technology, cloned and characterized PGIP encoding gene in grapevine. This research institute has also come up with characterization and genetic manipulation of carbon flow in grapes and sugarcane crops. This has helped the alcohol and wine production industries produce new and desired type of brands for consumption. However, health concerns are the emerging developments in this field.
Micro-propagation techniques of indigenous trees, for example, marula and development of vaccines for diseases in the poultry industry has been achieved through research done by the University of the North and the University of the Free State respectively. The University of Cape Town in collaboration with PANNAR has developed reliable techniques for regeneration and transformation of local maize varieties, engineered transgenic resistant maize crops against maize streak virus and also has probed the tolerance of plants to desiccation.
Having said these advances in biotechnology, this African state has faced challenges in the implementation of policies to support full domestication of the discoveries. There is also lack of human resources in terms of researchers and R&D personnel due to brain drain and disparities in educational institutions based on race. There is also a relatively limited level of venture capital investment in Research and Development in health biotechnology.