They say living in Cambridge will change your life, and it definitively changed mine. It is not just the gorgeous buildings and the historic atmosphere. The thrilling scientific community and the endless opportunities for brainstorming and collaboration make science run at a different pace. People are open, collaborative and willing to help in a way I have not seen anywhere else. In 2011, three Spanish researchers with a Cambridge connection jumped to the opportunity to volunteer-teach in a Drosophila neurogenetics workshop1. Upon setting foot on Ishaka2 it was clear that there is an enormous human potential in African universities that is mostly underutilised. We think a small dipteran can contribute to the solution.Drosophila melanogaster has been instrumental for the birth of the fields of Developmental Biology and Genetics and is an important tool in most areas of Biomedical research. Beyond that, flies are an invaluable tool for teaching research, the scientific method and critical thinking. Drosophila transformed the scientific scene in Spain decades ago, when the limited resources called for an inexpensive laboratory model. We believe these flies can empower the scientists of Africa to pursue their research interests.African Biomedical scientists face important challenges, mainly poor training, poorer infrastructure and scarce resources, national and international, dedicated to research. In this context, most of the researches done in the area are epidemiological studies or are limited by the use of rats as laboratory model. None of these methodologies addresses the cellular and molecular events underlying physiological processes or diseases, neither do they teach junior scientists the drills of hypothesis-driven science. As a result, the African research agenda is mostly set by well-intended funders who live far away from the African reality. The local researchers are most often ignored, sometimes used as a token in “collaborative” grants. Those on ground have little-to-no decision-making power and the biggest part of the resources return to “the West”, where they originated.In 2012, I moved to Uganda to work on the establishment of a research lab in KIU Western Campus3. Yes, resources are scarce and recruiting qualified staff is mission impossible. Yes, the lab is dusty because we don't even have adequate windows. But picture this. A Nigerian Pharmacologist, a Spanish developmental Biologist and a Ugandan Pharmacy student are standing around a cracked bench. They are discussing the best experimental design to test the long-term effects of repeated exposure to particular drugs, using flies. The scene happens in 2015 in a small town in Western Uganda. Only two years before, the mzungu4 of Ishaka had organized a workshop5 with the help of some friends and some willing strangers, on the use of Drosophila melanogaster for Biomedical research. The West African was the most senior academician among the participants of that workshop. The East African was mid-way in her degree and had no idea of what was flying in that lab upstairs.In 2013, the three Spanish researchers founded DrosAfrica6 and set to train a community of researchers that can use Drosophila to investigate their Biomedical questions. In the two workshops held at KIU Western Campus we have trained 27 people (17 Nigerians, 3 Kenyans, and 4 Ugandans; 20 of them KIU members, 7 coming from outside). Nowadays, our alumni are using Drosophila for their PhD projects and leading budding Drosophila-research groups in Uganda and Nigeria. We have also established contact with other institutions and 2016 should be full of activity.Raising funds for any capacity building event is a big challenge. Cooperation agencies want clean water for all, the cure for malaria or the solution to pandemics, but forget to build the capacity that will enable African scientists to compete for research funds to study African problems. The few agencies that fund workshops will give small amounts that will partially cover expenses. If we do not cover travelling costs for participants, we will be limited to the local audience. Luckily, KIU had attracted an international population for us to work with and our initial efforts can expand with the return home of our alumni.Two years after the first workshop we have an established research group producing graduates who have done high quality research with their own hands without leaving the continent, and our alumni are training others on the ground. We want to do more workshops. We want to establish fly-rooms all over Sub-Saharan Africa. The resources needed to start up a fly lab are small and the deep knowledge about fly development, together with the numerous genetic tools available allow for elegant and profound discoveries to be made.We think that Drosophila is a suitable model to be used by African researchers. May the flies lead the take off of African Biomedical research...1The Drosophila neurogenetics course. Uganda 2011 was organized by Lucía Prieto Godino and Sadiq Yusuf.
2Ishaka town is located in the Bushenyi District in the region of Western Uganda
3Kampala International University Western Campus houses the Health Sciences and a few other degrees in the area of Humanities.
4 mzungu is the Swahili term for a person who travels, and has stuck in the common language as a word, a shout, for white and pale people in general
5The workshop was funded by the Cambridge-Africa Alborada Research Fund, TWAS, EMBO, Sayansi Research for Development and the philanthropic contribution of FRS Tony Kouzarides (Gurdon Institute, Cambridge, UK).
6 Marta Vicente-Crespo, Isabel Palacios and María Dolores Martín Bermudo are the co-founders of DrosAfrica. Tim Weill and Silvia Muñoz-Descalzo are Directors of this initiative.