Q&A- Use of KENET Virtual Lab Fosters Kenya-Australia Research Collaboration

The KENET Virtual Lab is a research cloud computing platform where researchers can spin up pre-configured virtual appliances on demand, as well as  store and share data. Prof. Elijah Ateka, an Associate Professor of Plant Virology in the Department of Horticulture at Jomo Kenyatta University of  Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) collaborates with Dr. Laura Boykin from the University of Western Australia (UWA) in a gene sequencing project.

The use of the KENET VLab in their research resolved the challenges of online file sharing and unsuccessful file transfer. On the KENET VLab, they  were allocated 5 TB of storage space, which enabled to successfully share large volumes of data in real-time. Prof. Ateka shares how their data transfer  process was made efficient and less tedious using the KENET Virtual Lab.

Q: Tell us more about your project and collaboration with the University of Western Australia?

My project aims at developing diagnostics for and characterization of the viruses that infect cassava as well as the vectors of these viruses. Specifically, the project aimed to (a) understand the threat from evolving viruses and vectors affecting cassava, (b) train farmers directly and through partners, in order for them to understand the causes, manifestation and management of virus diseases and therefore build sustainable national capacity.

Q: What kind of data were you were working with? How large were they?

We generated different types of data; but the main one was sequence data generated through the next generation sequencing. The data was in the range of 1-5 GB. This made data sharing very tedious.

Q: What were the major data-related challenges you were faced with?

One main challenge was data sharing with our collaborators at UWA. Sometimes collaborators (Dr. Boykin) had to wait till the next trip to the Region in order to access the data.

Q: How has the project progressed so far?

The project has characterized the viruses and their vectors in Kenya. A number of publications have been done already. We are now involved in testing a portable real time sequencing of the viruses in the field. The kit is developed by a UK-based company known as Nano pore.

Q: Where do you intended to publish the findings?

We publish in a wide range of journals, but the journal must always be open access.

Q: As a researcher, how has collaborating with local and international partners aided your research?

International and local collaboration has aided our research in many ways. One, we have been able to gain expertise within the team that we did not have. Secondly, collaborating with KENET has helped us interact and share data easily and therefore achieve our goals faster and thirdly, such collaboration has enabled us gain access to state-of-the-art laboratory facilities are not available.

Q: What more do you think education and research institutions can do to foster research in Kenya?

Institutions should collaborate more and share the available resources thereby ensuring even more greater research outputs.

Q: How do you think ICT can foster research productivity?

ICT ensures easy data sharing among the community of researchers. It also plays a role in data processing, storage and archiving. ICT is very critical in that collaborators in different labs at different location can teleconference to discuss plans, progress and challenges. The use of ICT also enables researchers access and use various online software.

Q: What research infrastructures do you think Kenyan researchers are in dire need of that KENET or education/research institutions could provide?

KENET could most certainly provide the ICT infrastructure to education institutions, and research units that require higher bandwidth and faster speeds to be serviced differently.