Problems facing phage technology development in Africa

Issue 138 | August 6, 2021
12 min read
Capsid and Tail

Photo credit: Harshil Gudka, Unsplash.

This week, we’re featuring a guest post by Raphael Hans Lwesya, MSc student at Makerere University in Uganda and founder of, a new phage-related info hub. Raphael shares his thoughts on phage technology development in Africa, highlighting challenges, progress and initiatives led by African phage scientists.

What’s New

Jonathan Lynch (University of Hawaii, USA) and colleagues published a preprint on host- and bacterium-based determinants that protect squid-associated Vibrio fischeri from phage predation. They show that mutations in V. fischeri’s exopolysaccharide locus render it resistant to infection by phage ϕHNL01, and that during squid colonization, V. fischeri is protected from phage present in ambient seawater.

Phage predationPreprint

Matthew Bond (Dartmouth College, USA) published a paper in eLife on how matrix-trapped viruses can prevent invasion of bacterial biofilms by colonizing cells. They showed that T7 phage remains viable when trapped in an E. coli biofilm, and that if cells colonize a biofilm before phages, they can be killed by phage exposure if it occurs soon after. However, if cells are present long enough before phages, they gain protection via envelopment within curli-producing clusters of resident biofilm cells.

Biofilm invasionBiofilmsResearch paper

Audrey Labarde (Université Paris-Saclay, France) and colleagues published a paper in PNAS on temporal compartmentalization of viral infection in bacterial cells. They showed that infection of Bacillus subtilis by phage SPP1 hijacks host replication proteins to assemble hybrid viral–bacterial ‘replisomes’. They show that the phage restructures the crowded host cytoplasm to confine, at different cellular locations, the sequential processes essential for its multiplication.

Phage-host interactionsReplisomeResearch paper

Kema Malki (University of South Florida) and colleagues published a paper in AEM on spatial and temporal dynamics of prokaryotic and viral community assemblages in a lotic system. They looked at prokaryotic and viral abundance and diversity at three sites in the Manatee Springs system in Florida, and found greater fluctuations in community composition with increasing distance from the spring outflow. Their results reflect the stability of the groundwater environment.

Research paperViral communityViral metagenomics

Rosanna Wright (University of Manchester, UK) and colleagues published a preprint on how functional diversity increases efficacy of phage combinations. Their findings suggest that functional diversity is the key to effective phage combinations, enabling the design of simple but effective phage therapies that overcome the practical and regulatory hurdles that limit development of diverse phage therapy cocktails.

Phage TherapyPhage diversityPreprint

Latest Jobs

Clinical researchLaboratory Technician
The Van Tyne Lab in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, USA) is looking for a laboratory technician to assist with ongoing basic and clinical research efforts focused on using bacteriophages to treat antibiotic-resistant infections. Learn more about the Van Tyne Lab here
Project coordinator
Sciensano (Belgium) is looking for a coordinating scientist for the SAPHETY project (2021-2024) to dive deep into quality aspects of phage preparations for human use (with Rob Lavigne), and to work with Jean-Paul Pirnay and Shawna McCallin on the development and implementation of an international database on phage therapy.
Bacteriophage isolationBioinformaticsDatabasePost Doc
Leibniz-Institut DSMZ (Germany) is looking for a postdoctoral research associate. Specific tasks include the provision and deposit of novel phages and host organisms, isolation and characterization of phages, sequencing and subsequent bioinformatic analysis of phages and host organisms, establishment of a new phage-dedicated database.
Phage Co-evolutionPhage proteomePost Doc
The Mostowy lab (Jagiellonian University, Poland) is seeking two postdoctoral researchers to study the evolution of the phage proteome and reconciling co-evolutionary dynamics of bacterial surface sugars and temperate phages in the genus Klebsiella.

Community Board

Anyone can post a message to the phage community — and it could be anything from collaboration requests, post-doc searches, sequencing help — just ask!

PhReD Database is relaunching!

The Phage Receptor Database (PhReD) compiles receptors involved in phage-host recognition.

We are proud to have partnered with the Bio-conversion Databank Foundation (BioDF) to relaunch and continuously improve PhReD. Many new and improved features have been added, including:

  • a visual filter search feature
  • over 560 receptors included (and counting)
  • over 560 phages included (and counting)
  • over 80 different hosts included (and counting)
  • exportable data tables
  • you can contribute your own receptors to the database

You can access PhReD through the BioDF portal at:

— Dominic Sauvageau, University of Alberta

DatabaseLaunchPhage receptors

Hello everybody! I was wondering if someone has on their collection or knows someone that has the phiCTX phage from Pseudomonas aeruginosa. I am looking for a cos-type phage in PA and it seems that’s one of the few well characterised.

— Rodrigo Ibarra Chavez (via Phage Directory Slack)

Seeking phage for research

From the Center for Phage Technology, via Twitter: “Are you interested in attending a potential 1-day workshop and training session on the use of the CPT’s Galaxy-Apollo platform for phage genome annotation? The workshop would likely run in 2022. DM us or email [email protected].”

Genome annotationPhage genomicsPhage workshops

Volta Labs is automating Next Generation Sequencing sample prep (for Illumina, Oxford Nanopore and Pac Bio). They recognize that increasing the throughput (and lowering the cost) of sequencing will become critical to the phage field moving forward, so they’re eager to talk to researchers who can give feedback on their proposed system. Watch a video on their disruptive fluidic system technology here. If you’re open to providing some feedback to the Volta team, reach out to Nick at [email protected].

AutomationGenome sequencingSeeking feedback

Thanks so much to everyone who joined us for the 24th Biennial Evergreen International Phage Meeting (and first time as a hybrid physical/virtual meeting!), which is wrapping up today! We had an incredible time with all of you!

For all of you who registered (all 502 of you!), check out the video, abstract and poster libraries we’ve compiled on the website!

For a limited time, even if you weren’t able to attend, you may still register to access the content and interact virtually with participants.

Stay tuned; we’ll provide highlights and stats from the meeting in the weeks to come, as well as details on how long the videos and posters will be accessible.

Evergreen Phage MeetingConference

Problems facing phage technology development in Africa

Profile Image
MSc Student
Nakavuma Lab, Makerere University, The Phage
Twitter @rapher97

Phage isolation, Molecular Biology, Teaching, Biotechnology

Young scientist, phage enthusiast, and passionate on driving the development of bacteriophage therapy and application. Currently working in research lab as an assistant researcher, dealing with a lot of phage work for a number of pathogens and author at

Africa as a continent has been lagging in almost every field as far as biotechnology is concerned, although this time there is a different story regarding the development of phage technology. Phage technology in Africa is still young, but the number of phage enthusiasts and scientists is booming more than expected by the pioneers. Outstanding achievements have been attained, and scientists in Africa have generated a network of collaboration where they share their data, skills, and experience both intra and inter-continentally.

Problems facing bacteriophage development in Africa

Bacteriophage technology development in Africa is facing a lot of challenges and most of them are not challenges faced in other well established or developed countries.

Facilities and equipment

One of the major challenges facing phage scientists is their laboratories. As most laboratories were built to handle pure bacteriological activities, it is rare to find some equipment (e.g incubator shaker and high-speed centrifuge etc.) for phage work. African laboratories are not yet well-facilitated/equipped enough that they can produce a complete phage product without outsourcing their pre-made product to another facility for some more work done. Most times laboratories from Africa outsource samples (phages) for transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and sequencing among others.

Price of consumables

Many scientists have noted that the prices of phage-related consumables are very high in Africa compared to other continents. This might have been brought on by two things:

  1. Cost of transportation

African scientists depend on foreign products; most of them are situated very far away from Africa.

  1. Scarcity driven prices

Bacteriophage-related consumables are rare in Africa, to a point sometimes scientists have to order and wait for days, weeks, even months for a supplier to deliver.

Lagging policies

The development of policies in some places proceeds at a snail’s pace, especially if matters concern political issues. Scientific matters like phage therapy do not make headlines in many parts of Africa, which makes it difficult for scientists who are passionate about spearheading their development.

Viral perception

African societies, like many other societies around the world, possess a “built-in” negative perspective of viruses. Many believe there are no health benefits as far as the term virus is concerned, others go as far as concluding that all viruses cause disease. Some of the people who have negative sentiments toward phages are very important in policy development.

Educational curriculum

Most of the higher learning institutions in Africa include a very small introduction to bacteriophages in their curriculum, leaving students with a blank or almost blank idea about the wonderful and extraordinary impacts phages can have if applied to our daily lives. This causes the decline of a young generation that might otherwise be committed to the development of bacteriophage technology.


Regardless of how many hardworking phage scientists there are in Africa, securing funding for phage-related research remains a “sweat and tears” process. Many local funders do not entertain the potential of using viruses to treat humans or animals, or for any other application you may think of. It will require extra effort from scientists to secure funds for phage-related research in Africa.

Achievements made by phage scientists in Africa to overcome problems

A number of milestones have been met by the growing number of phage scientists in Africa.

Inter- and intra-continental collaborations

Many African phage scientists have joined the world of collaboration with other scientists from all over the world. By now, many world-renowned phage scientists have collaborated with at least one phage scientist from Africa in one way or another. Some of the collaborations are within the continent, while others, like AU-funded Safe Fish Project, led by senior microbiologist Dr. Jesca Nakavuma, include collaborators from both inside Africa (Ghana and Uganda) and outside Africa (United Kingdom: Prof. Martha Clokie).

Establishment of discussion platforms

Scientists have made an extraordinary effort in establishing both large and small platforms where they can share their ideas to achieve their common goal of having phage technology accepted by society and policymakers. Groups like the African Phage Forum (APF) who run webinars in collaboration with Phage Directory, as well as a WhatsApp group, where they always share their ideas and opportunities. Also, small groups like Kenya Phage Group, Phage Nigeria Research Group, Phage Team Uganda, and many others have been established with the same common goal of spreading phage technology across the continent.

Establishment of campaigns for community sensitization

Most phage researchers budget some amount of their grants on educating stakeholders about bacteriophages. This helps to facilitate future research work and encourage the acceptance of any developed phage-related products. Some scientists have taken it as far as to reach the point of starting online geo-targeted campaigns (like Bring Phage Therapy to South Africa Campaign from South Africa) to sensitize their communities to the concept of phages.

Free or affordable phage training

This has been achieved by both the scientists from outside Africa and within Africa. Some of the events like the ones conducted by Phages for Global Health (founded by Tobi Nagel) have been completed once a year, while others are occurring at a higher frequency with the common aim of preaching the gospel of phage technology.


Despite the aforementioned challenges facing the growth of phage technology in Africa, achievements that have been made by hardworking scientists are astonishing. Some of the achievements have resulted in producing phage preparations that are ready for use in the different fields, especially veterinary and aquaculture. In some countries, the fight to legalize phage therapy has started.

Many thanks to Atif Khan for finding and summarizing this week’s phage news, jobs and community posts!

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