An expert opinion

Outreach in Ghana

Facts about Ghana

Geographic location: Coastal country of West Africa
Population: 25,366,000 Source: World Health Organization, 2014: WHO African region: Ghana. (Link)
Population under 15 years: 38.59 % Source: World Health Organization, 2014: Country Cooperation Strategy at a glance: Ghana. (Link)
Nutritional status of children: 28% are stunted, 9% wasted and 14% underweight. Source: World Health Organization, 2014: Country Cooperation Strategy at a glance: Ghana. (Link)
Diet: Starchy roots, fruit and edible grains. Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2010: Nutrition Country Profile: Ghana. (Link)
Coverage needs (micronutrients and vitamins): Primarily iodine and vitamin A. Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2010: Nutrition Country Profile: Ghana. (Link)
Causes of mortality: Bad access to health services, safe water and sanitation. High incidence of Malaria. Malnutrition. Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2010: Nutrition Country Profile: Ghana. (Link)
When generating nutrition made of bacteria our team pointed it's contribution to the considerable task of providing accurate nutrient to developing countries. The contradiction between a common opinion of how food is produced and finding a solution to obtaining food in the future has been a key issue to our project. Furthermore, the ethical and social aspects to our project are decisive to include.

This means that we have considered what good research is. Good research includes the common opinion in society, and for this reason outreach in Ghana provided us with different standpoints to our project.

Interview with Dr. Yaa Difie-Osei:

Dr. Yaa Difie-Osie from the National Biosafety Committee, Ghana. Senior Lecturer in Biochemistry, Dr. Yaa Difie-Osei (Dr. Yaa), agreed to meet with our team member Anne, during her stay in the capital of Ghana, Accra, in August. The purpose was to talk about GMOs in relation to our Edible coli. The interview was held at the Department of Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Ghana in Legon. Dr. Yaa has previously worked at the university herself but is now retired from her position as lecturer. Dr. Yaa is still involved in the development of synthetic biology in Ghana as a member of the National Biosafety Committee of Ghana. The fact that Dr. Yaa has much experience regarding synthetic biology and at the same time is a member of the National Biosafety Committee makes her expertise significant to our project.

When Dr. Yaa heard about our iGEM project she expressed great interest and there was a clear understanding and acknowledgement of the concepts of iGEM. Dr. Yaa spoke very passionately of GMOs and made it clear that GMOs would be a considerable solution to malnutrition, which is a recurring motif in Ghana. As a member of the Safety Committee, Dr. Yaa had recently contributed to the approval of four GMO projects in Ghana. The four GMO projects include protein rich sweet potato and cotton with pesticides integrated into the genom (BT-cotton). The projects have got permits to do research but the research will be subject to strict rules concerning biosafety, management of risks in biochemistry and national biosafety. Source: A.A. Adenle et al.: Status of development, regulation and adoption of GM agriculture in Africa: Views and positions of stakeholder groups. Food Policy. 2013:43,159-166. (Link)

Dr. Yaa spoke of GMO as an important step forward. The positive effects of GMOs related to farmers and the general population of Ghana were among others the following:


  • Reduction of chemicals in farming
  • Improvement of health
  • Saving time for the farmers
  • Saving tractor fuel, in relation to Green House Gasses.

General population:
  • Nutritional balance
  • Prevention of children suffering from malnutrition
  • Improvement of health
  • Reduction of intolerance. As an example lactose intolerance was given, where GMO could be accommodated by producing milk containing lactase, which is an enzyme one lacks when lactose intolerant Source: Swallow, D.M.: Genetics of Lactase Persistence and Lactoseintolerance. Annu.Rev.Genet,2003.37:197-219. (Link)

There is much focus on the fact that child mortality has decreased due to improvement in child health. Source: Child Mortality Estimates, 2014: Under-five mortality rate (Link) Meanwhile the nutritional status of children in Ghana still remains a challenge. Source: World Health Organization, 2014: Country Cooperation Strategy at a glance. (Link) By introducing GMOs this issue could potentially be reduced. However, the ethical aspects of introducing GMOs as relief-aid for hunger or malnutrition must be subject to consideration, according to Dr. Yaa. Personally, Dr. Yaa did not think of GMO as unethical if the purpose was relief of hunger or malnutrition. However, it would be necessary to educate the population so that they would have a foundation for decisions regarding the use of GMOs as a nutrition source. Dr. Yaa mentioned the importance of considering indications producing genetically modified organism. The hypothetical GMO should have relevance in a way that promises improvement of lifestyle or brings good quality to something. Furthermore, it would be necessary to demonstrate the safety of the GMO. This would include risk assessments such as inspection of the organism when separated from its natural surroundings. It would additionally be crucial that the commercial releases were informative so that the consumers would receive the essential information.

According to Dr Yaa the objections to GMOs seen from a religious point of view could be a problem in the beginning but it would not persist. Consequently, development of GMOs would entail that the genes, which were used to modify the organisms, should be picked with concern. For instance, genes from a pig would cause a revolt coming from the religious community.

Interview with Prof. George Armah

Professor George Armah (on the left) from the Noguchi memorial institute for medical research and Anne Katrine Kurtzhals (on the right) from our iGEM team. Professor George Armah (Prof. Armah) was head of the Electron Microscopy & Histopathology department at the Nuguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, University of Ghana, Legon. Currently Prof. Armah is the Master of Commonwealth Hall, University of Ghana, Legon. Prof. Armah has a lot of expert knowledge about the health profile of the Ghanaians as well as the condition of life in Ghana. For this reason, Prof. Armah was an interesting scientist to interview in connection with applications of Edible coli in malnourished countries.

Prof. Armah said that he believe that the Edible coli could have potential in Ghana. The main issue would be to introduce the product as a new source of nutrition. According to Prof. Armah it would be crucial to include the Edible coli in the Ghanaian gastronomy. He sees it as unlikely that people will change their way of life. Therefore, GMOs should be incorporated into food such as sweet potato, rice etc.

Prof. Armah spoke of two important aspects of malnutrition in Ghana:

  • The spoilage of food was mentioned as an issue. In Ghana the access to food is not a problem. However, malnourishment is a persistent dilemma throughout the county. Depending on the geographical location, the people eat differently. In the southern part of Ghana, the population primarily eat fish and fufu. Fufu is a staple food made from the cassava plant and this is rich on carbohydrates. The population in the northern part of Ghana has lots of vegetables and chicken, and therefore they do not get the recommended ratio of ω fatty acids.
  • The second issue Prof. Armah spoke of was the traditional and cultural practices of Ghana. As mentioned, there are regional differences of food supply. Furthermore, human beings do not necessarily prioritize out of common sense but rather act in accordance with tradition and delight.

Prof. Armah illustrated his points with the two aspects by giving examples from the northern part of Ghana. Traditionally children are forbidden to eat eggs, which is a contradiction to the fact that children particularly need good nutrition to encourage their growth. Source: The MAL-ED Network Investigators: The MAL-ED Study: A Multinational and Multidisciplinary Approach to Understand the Relationship Between Enteric Pathogens, Malnutrition, Gut Physiology, Physical Growth, Cognitive Development, and Immune Responses in Infants and Children Up to 2 Years of Age in Resource- Poor Environments. Clin Infect Dis,2014:59(4),193-206. (Link) This tradition was based on a general attitude about children becoming impertinent when they were given nutrient-rich food. Another example from the northern part of Ghana was that most men would rather sell a chicken instead of eating it with the intention of buying alcohol.

Prof. Armah refered to the problems considering malnourishment as localized. Cultural and educational practices where mentioned as issues in relation to the application of GMOs. According to Prof. Armah the rural areas of Ghana did not take interest in synthetic biology due to the lack of education. Objections to the use of synthetic biology were not linked to religion or culture according to Prof. Armah. Thereby GMOs might not be rejected based on religious and social reasons, but on the fact that the population might not embrace a foreign initiative.

Pictures from Ghana.