Zimbabwean scientist sets up private research institute in home country on return from Germany

02 June 2021 - 08:06
By Sharon Mazingaizo
Brighton Samatanga in his laboratory at The Biotech Institute in Harare.
Image: Sharon Mazingaizo Brighton Samatanga in his laboratory at The Biotech Institute in Harare.

A Zimbabwean scientist has set up a research institute as a way of turning to science to find solutions to the country’s healthcare challenges.

Brighton Samatanga, 36, a molecular biophysicist and founder of The Biotech Institute, reached professorship in Germany. In August 2020 he returned home to set up what is reputedly the country’s first privately-owned research institute.

“The research institute is a hub of many things. We have three departments: technical services, research and education. We have a team of researchers and graduate students in our labs. Our aim is to bring the foremost molecular technology to Zimbabwe as a way to strengthen the country’s health system,” Samatanga told TimesLIVE.

At the research institute, Samatanga is currently working on CRISPR, a new technology that facilitates making specific changes to organisms’ DNA.

“Compared to previous techniques for modifying DNA, this new approach is fast and very accurate. Our aim to use CRISPR to edit genes of crops such as maize to help them become resistant to drought. We don’t just want to apply it, we want to understand how it works and make it better. We use the same technology for biomedical applications. Some genetic diseases in people can be corrected by making one or two substitutions, or gene editing,” he said.

The Biotech Institute has come up with an effective way to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic when it comes testing.

“When I set up the research institute, it was at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic and it made me focus on technologies that can provide fast Covid-19 testing turnaround time. We have a portable battery-powered system known as the RT-LAMP. It can test for Covid-19 in 35 minutes. With a test like this, you can detect the virus quickly and avoid transmission.

“I am using all the competencies I gained during my time in Europe to try to make a difference back home,” said Samatanga,