Beyond the Odds of the DNA Revolution in Africa: Insights for DNA Day 2023

Authors: Yahaya S. Sulley 1*, Osman A. Seidu 2,4, Mohammed Lawal 2,3

1 Department of Forensic Sciences, Faculty of Biosciences, University for Development Studies, Ghana
2 Department of Biotechnology, Faculty of Biosciences, University for Development Studies, Ghana
3 Africa Centre of Excellence for Mycotoxin and Food Safety, Federal University of Technology, Minna, Niger State, Nigeria 4 Pan African University Institute of Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation, Jomo kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Juja, Kenya


International DNA Day is a designated day to honour the discovery of the DNA double helix structure as well as the Human Genome Project and publications by James Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind Franklin and their colleagues. This landmark achievement revolutionized the field of genetics and laid the foundation for numerous breakthroughs in medicine, agriculture, biotechnology and forensics science.

However, despite the global advancements in DNA technology, Africa faces significant challenges in harnessing its full potential. In this article, we explore the significance of International DNA Day in Africa and highlight some of the opportunities and challenges facing the continent in utilizing DNA technology.

The DNA revolution refers to the rapid advancement and application of DNA technology in various fields, including genetics, biotechnology, medicine, and forensics. It has led to significant breakthroughs in understanding the human genome, developing personalized medicine, and improving forensic DNA analysis.

International DNA Day provides a platform to raise awareness about the potential of DNA technology and the importance of genetics in various fields. In Africa, this day should serve as a reminder of the need to leverage this technology to improve healthcare, agriculture, justice delivery, conservation efforts and many other important aspects of the economies of countries within it.

Africa’s Inspiring Journey in the DNA Revolution

In the short history of DNA technology in Africa, the continent has seen some significant progress. More countries are seeing the need to have DNA labs and DNA databases for criminal investigations and forensic science. Other countries have seen the need to use DNA technology to study diseases and genetic diversity on the continent. Today, the issue of food security and agriculture has seen significant improvement through DNA technologies in some African countries.

Particularly in South Africa, the National Forensic DNA Database was established in 1998 and has since been used to solve a lot of crimes. In Kenya, rapid DNA sexual assault kits have been developed to provide accuracy in details that will lead to the prosecution of a sexual assault case. Rwanda has proposed the world’s first country-wide DNA database, a project that will involve collecting samples from all of the country’s 12 million citizens in an effort to crack down on crime.

In Nigeria, researchers are studying the genetic diversity of the country’s population to better understand the genetics of diseases like sickle cell anemia and malaria. In Ghana, the Ghana Genome Project has been established to understand the genetic diversity of people living in the country and provide genetic awareness education, informed healthcare advice and treatment.

Other benefits include the launch of the Health Research flagship program, which aims to use genomics and precision medicine to address health challenges on the continent. Also, in recent times action calls have been made by science communicators for the DNA revolution to occur in Ghana through advocacy, outreaches and publications. This shows how important improved DNA systems in Africa will be.

The adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops in African countries represents a significant milestone in the DNA revolution. The introduction of GM technology has allowed scientists to modify crops, adding desirable traits such as disease, insect, and virus resistance, as well as drought resistance and biofortification. This technology has enabled African countries to enhance their agricultural productivity and provide food security for their populations.

Four African countries, including South Africa, Burkina Faso, Egypt, and Sudan, have commercially grown genetically modified (GM) crops since 1998. Other countries are conducting research and trials on GM crops such as cotton, maize, cassava, and more, focusing on drought resistance and biofortification.

Furthermore, the drafting of a policy on GM technology by COMESA, along with the passing of laws in Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria allowing the production and importation of GM crops, demonstrates the acceptance of this technology as a means to address food security challenges. As the DNA revolution continues to advance, GM crops will play an increasingly vital role in providing sustainable food production in Africa.

Despite these growing successes, the continent faces several challenges in utilizing DNA technology in some key areas.

Africa is home to over 1.2 billion people, representing 17% of the world’s population. However, the continent is also burdened with some of the world’s most pressing health challenges, including infectious diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, diabetes and HIV/AIDS. The continent has also seen a rise in the incidence of non-communicable diseases like cancer.

It is reported that rare genetic diseases are not well investigated in sub-Saharan Africa. Rare genetic diseases reported in the continent include sickle cell anemia, albinism, Xeroderma pigmentosum, Familial Mediterranean fever, Niemann-Pick disease, cystic fibrosis and mucopolysaccharidosis. In addition, Africa faces social and economic challenges, such as poverty, conflict, and inequality, which further compound these health challenges.

The potential of DNA technology in healthcare is enormous. It has already led to significant breakthroughs in the diagnosis and treatment of genetic diseases, such as sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis. However, in Africa, these diseases are still prevalent, and many people lack access to proper diagnosis and treatment. Furthermore, the continent faces other health challenges, such as infectious diseases and maternal mortality, which could be minimized if DNA technologies are integrated into the healthcare delivery systems in African countries.

The implementation of DNA technology in African healthcare systems has been slow, primarily due to limited resources and infrastructure. Moreover, there are concerns about the ethical implications of genetic research and data sharing, which require regulation and oversight.

The 2019 Corona Virus Pandemic (COVID-19 pandemic) has highlighted the need for greater investment in health infrastructure and research capacity in Africa. While some African countries are making strides in developing their own COVID-19 testing capabilities, many others will still have to keep their fingers for external support due to inadequate resource capabilities. This gives an idea of the extent of the gap in terms of resources and capacity building in DNA technology in some African countries and where we are as a continent.

As a matter of fact, achieving SDG 2 which has to do with agriculture and food security has been very challenging for some countries in the African continent as governments keep importing staple foods year in and year out. Agriculture is a crucial sector in Africa, employing millions of people and contributing significantly to the continent’s economy. DNA technology has the potential to revolutionize agriculture by improving crop yields, enhancing food security, and promoting sustainable agriculture practices.

However, the adoption of DNA technology in African agriculture has been slow due to limited funding and inadequate infrastructure. Additionally, there are concerns about the potential impact of genetically modified crops on the environment and human health, which require careful evaluation and regulation, as well as scientist-public interaction and awareness creation.

Africa is home to some of the world’s most iconic wildlife species, including elephants, rhinos, and lions. there is however a challenge with respect to proper infrastructure and funding in DNA technology in conservation efforts by helping to identify and track wildlife, monitor their populations, and combat poaching. Furthermore, there is a gradual exploitation of genetic resources in Africa and the sharing of genetic data which raises ethical concerns that require careful regulation and oversight.

Africa’s forensic science faces significant challenges, particularly in DNA analysis. The continent struggles with the limited resources, infrastructure, and expertise necessary to conduct effective forensic investigations. This situation is further compounded by the lack of awareness of forensic DNA science’s role in solving crimes and promoting justice among the general public. The lack of DNA laws and policies, comprehensive DNA databases and inadequate training and quality control systems hinder forensic investigators’ ability to identify perpetrators of violent crimes, sexual assault, nameless and anonymous bodies and many others.

It is not surprising that the continent faces significant challenges concerning the provision of safety and security and justice dispensation. Today some African countries are limited in terms of forensic DNA capacity to enable accurate identification of perpetrators of crimes, unknown and nameless bodies, disaster victims, and issues with regard to ethnohistory and disrupted cultures. These significant challenges are a hindrance to the achievement of SDG 16 in many African countries because they are less endowed with the necessary resources to help achieve this goal.

Africa’s Potential Beyond the Odds

Despite the challenges that Africa faces in utilizing DNA technology, such as socio-economic and political factors, the continent has the potential to overcome these challenges and make significant strides in DNA technology development. There is room for optimism and hope for the future of DNA technology in Africa.

Africa presents numerous opportunities for the advancement of DNA technology. The continent is home to diverse genetic resources, including unique and rare genetic variations that can provide valuable insights into the genetic basis of diseases and traits in the future.

On World DNA Day, we see an opportunity to raise awareness about the potential of DNA technology and the importance of genetics in various fields. We also reflect on the progress made in DNA technology on the African continent, as well as the challenges that remain.

Call to Action

Africa has a young and growing population that can benefit from the latest advancements in genetic research. On this day, we call on African governments and the private sector to prioritize the development of policies and regulations that support the integration of DNA technology in healthcare, agriculture, criminal justice, and other relevant sectors of the continent’s economy.

To harness the full potential of DNA technology, African countries need to invest in infrastructure, knowledge transfer and training, and research to create an enabling environment for the technology to thrive. Additionally, there is a need for regulatory frameworks to guide genetic research and data sharing to ensure that the benefits of DNA technology are shared equitably.

Africa may be facing significant odds in utilizing DNA technology, but with the right investments and policies, the continent can overcome these challenges and reap the benefits of this revolutionary technology. Lastly, the establishment of African DNA centers of excellence in countries that have made some progress in the field of DNA will be very important for the development of the continent in the future.

Finally, international partnerships and collaborations can help to bridge the gaps in infrastructure and expertise, thereby promoting the growth of DNA technology in Africa. There is hope that, with the right investment, policies, and people, many African countries can join the DNA revolution and become leaders in DNA technology in the world.


1.        DNA Day – Wikipedia [Internet]. [cited 2023 Apr 15]. Available from:

2.        SENEGENE | Beating rare genetic diseases in Senegal (& West Africa) [Internet]. [cited 2023 Apr 15]. Available from:

3.        Cancer in Africa: The Untold Story – PubMed [Internet]. [cited 2023 Apr 15]. Available from:

4.        Hamdi Y, Abdeljaoued-Tej I, Zatchi AA, Abdelhak S, Boubaker S, Brown JS, et al. Cancer in Africa: The Untold Story. Front Oncol [Internet]. 2021 Apr 15 [cited 2023 Apr 15];11. Available from:

5.        A call for global action for rare diseases in Africa | Nature Genetics [Internet]. [cited 2023 Apr 15]. Available from:

6.        Baynam GS, Groft S, van der Westhuizen FH, Gassman SD, du Plessis K, Coles EP, et al. A call for global action for rare diseases in Africa. Nature Genetics 2019 52:1 [Internet]. 2019 Dec 23 [cited 2023 Apr 15];52(1):21–6. Available from:

7.        Ogunrin O, Taiwo F, Frith L. Genomic Literacy and Awareness of Ethical Guidance for Genomic Research in Sub-Saharan Africa: How Prepared Are Biomedical Researchers? J Empir Res Hum Res Ethics. 2019 Feb 1;14(1):78–87.

8.        Kaywanga F, Alimohamed MZ, David AB, Maeda D, Mbarak S, Mavura T, et al. Rare diseases in Tanzania: a National Call for Action to address policy and urgent needs of individuals with rare diseases. Orphanet J Rare Dis. 2022 Dec 1;17(1).

9.        President Kagame Orders World’s First Nationwide DNA database – Rwanda Press Centre [Internet]. [cited 2023 Apr 16]. Available from:

10.      A new DNA rape kit for victims of sexual assault – DW – 08/23/2019 [Internet]. [cited 2023 Apr 16]. Available from:

11.      Identifying Key Challenges Facing Healthcare Systems In Africa And Pot | IJGM [Internet]. [cited 2023 Apr 16]. Available from:

12.      Home – GhGenome [Internet]. [cited 2023 Apr 16]. Available from:

13.      Opinion: Ghana Should be Ready to Overcome Hurdles on the Road to a DNA Revolution – Scientect. (n.d.). Retrieved April 16, 2023, from

14.      Sulley, Y. S., Seidu, O. A., Lawal, M., Oboakoh, I., Murtala, S., Dauda, M., & Quansah, L. (2022). The National Significance of a DNA Revolution: A Call for Policy Action towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Journal of Human, Earth, and Future, 3(2), 247–262.

15.      Promoting the genomic revolution in Africa through the Nigerian 100K Genome Project | Nature Genetics [Internet]. [cited 2023 Apr 16]. Available from:

16.      African health research needs support: here’s one programme that’s working [Internet]. [cited 2023 Apr 16]. Available from:

17.      Igumbor JO, Bosire EN, Basera TJ, Uwizeye D, Fayehun O, Wao H, et al. CARTA fellows’ scientific contribution to the African public and population Health Research agenda (2011 to 2018). BMC Public Health [Internet]. 2020 Jun 29 [cited 2023 Apr 16];20(1). Available from:

18.      South Africa, the National Forensic DNA Database was established in 1998 – Search [Internet]. [cited 2023 Apr 16]. Available from:

Acknowledgment: Feature picture credit goes to

Categories: News