‘Endless possibilities with DNA testing’ Mnangagwa commissions NUST’s innovation hub

Did you know that it is possible to determine that cooked meat came from stolen cattle?

Through DNA testing, such is possible and the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), which does the tests says there are endless possibilities under genetic testing.

According to NUST, the most popular DNA service is paternity testing, where the university has tested over 2 000 families to date from all corners of Zimbabwe.

Speaking at the official commissioning of the NUST’s innovation hub, Friday, Head of Applied Genetics Testing Centre, Zephaniah Dlamini, said the Applied Genetic Testing Centre (AGTC) was part of their mission to lead in human capital development for industrial and socio-economic transformation.

He noted that the advanced-state-of-the- art DNA testing facility had become a feature in the Zimbabwean public sector.

The centre was created in the Department of Applied Biology and Biochemistry under the Faculty of Applied Sciences but now its new home is the brand new innovation building.

The innovation building was officially commissioned by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

“The mandate of the AGTC is to generate income for the university through the provision of affordable high-quality DNA testing services for human, animal, crop and pathogen identification. Before the establishment of the AGTC, Zimbabweans were dependent on laboratories in South Africa and the United Kingdom for DNA testing,” said Dlamini.

“This scenario made the technology of genetic analysis expensive and unreachable to the Zimbabwean population which then remained behind in the utilisation of this groundbreaking technology in its justice medical and agricultural systems.”

The DNA testing centre is focused on human identification including individual DNA profiling and databasing, the establishment of parentage and other biological relationships as well as forensic application including sexual assault rape cases.

“DNA based paternity testing has been the most popular service to date we have tested over 2 000 families from all corners of Zimbabwe,” said Dlamini.

“We have also helped the police and government pathology services to identify victims of mass disasters where people are burnt beyond recognition on their bodies are dismembered we can match various body parts to facilitate individual burials and thus avoiding mass burials.”

Dlamini said NUST was yet to identify about 150 Zimbabweans who died in the Cyclone Idai disaster and were buried unidentified in Mozambique.

“We have collected reference samples from relatives of missing persons and are waiting for a go-ahead and funding from the government to identify the victims and bring the most needed closure to their surviving relatives.

“We envisage that our uniformed forces will take advantage of this technological advancement now within their reach and create a database of their members’ DNA fingerprints for ease of identification. In case they die in action as the norm the world over. Gone are the days of having tombs of the unknown soldiers, we are now equipped to identify any remains of our service personnel,” said the centre’s head.

Dlamini noted the public service commission could also take advantage of NUST’s services and establish a DNA database for all its employees and do away with ghost workers and nepotism where people employ their relatives without disclosing existing relationships.

“Beware, DNA does not lie. Our farmers – the stud beef breeders are now using our DNA testing services to ascertain parentage of their registered animals. Furthermore, we have also helped the police bring to book cattle rustlers who illegally slaughter other people’s animals to sale meat on the black market. We can even identify the animal from the meat that has already been cooked.

“We are also negotiating with the National Parks to train their personnel in DNA Testing technologies for endangered species such as Rhinos, Pangolins and Elephants. We will help develop databases which will be used to establish the identity and origin of poached animals,” said the head.

He noted that possibilities for DNA testing are limitless and NUST would strive to be ahead in this fast evolving technology.

President Mnangagwa praised NUST’s innovation hub, said it was witness to a new approach to education after many years of limited educational focus.

“We believe every country has its own peculiar situation, which requires own people to examine themselves and apply what they have learnt. Indeed yes we can acquire products, skills and technologies we don’t have but it is also possible through such innovation hubs to develop products and services to serve the country,” he noted.

Mnangagwa said his administration had faith in young people and introduced STEM in order to leave a country with a legacy of inventions.

“I have no doubt our young people can compete with other institutions world over, we have bright girls and boys so the duty of my government is assist them to develop their talents to the fullest. In previous trade fairs, I have seen many interesting inventions from NUST, Chinhoyi University of Technology and other institutions but it ends there – no progression to commercialise those inventions. These ideas can be translated into reality through innovation hubs, where one can go from here to practice in an industrial park then make money,” he suggested.

President Mnangagwa also commissioned NUST’s main gate, which had been under rehabilitation, after which, he officiated at the university’s 25th graduation ceremony.

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