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Boosting Diagnostic Tools: The Current State of Protein Engineering in Africa

Author: Benedict Ofori (Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology, University of Ghana/ Research Assistant at the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens)


Biotechnology traces its roots back to the dawn of civilization and was marked by the domestication of plants and animals, as well as the exploration of fermentation processes. The use of fermentation traces back to 5,000 B.C.E. and was mainly used as a tool for the preservation of food, in the production of wine and beer. However, did people in the past understand the science behind this process? The answer is no: they did not have a scientific understanding of fermentation, but they did have empirical knowledge gained through trial and error and careful observation. If the use of biotechnology began in Africa, why are Africans not harnessing the power of biotechnology to catalyze transformative advancements, particularly in the production of diagnostic tools? Africa is burdened with communicable and non-communicable diseases, and since approximately 70% of medical decisions depend on diagnosis, improving diagnostic capacity in the region is of utmost importance. Most developed countries are increasingly leveraging the potential of protein engineering to enhance diagnostic capabilities and improve medical interventions. Protein engineering involves the design and creation of proteins with specific, desired functionalities and is often achieved through the alteration of amino acid sequences, modification of protein structures, and enhancement of enzymatic activity (1). With advancements in this field in Africa, we can improve the diagnostic capacity by developing novel and customized proteins, such as antibodies and enzymes, that are specifically tailored for diagnostic applications. This will lead to the creation of more sensitive and accurate diagnostic tools tailored to the population, thereby enhancing the region’s ability to detect and monitor various diseases and health conditions.

 Protein Engineering in Africa

Protein engineering is still in its early stages in Africa, with limited studies focusing on antibody and enzyme production as diagnostic tools (2). Efforts have been made to explore the potential of protein engineering for various applications. Some advanced techniques used in protein engineering include direct evolution, substrate engineering, medium engineering, enzyme engineering and immobilization, structure-assisted protein engineering, and advanced computational methods. The challenges encountered in protein engineering in Africa are mainly due to a lack of resources. To advance protein engineering in the continent to improve diagnostic capacity, the local government should ensure that they provide funding for research in this area, build state-of-the-art research facilities, and improve capacity building. By creating the capacity for African universities and research institutions to enhance their research in protein engineering, we can witness the development of diagnostic tools that will be more tailored, accessible, and cost-effective to address the continent’s health challenges.

Growth Opportunities in Protein Engineering

Despite these challenges, there are opportunities for the growth of protein engineering research in Africa. Some researchers have focused on mapping the landscape of immunoglobulin (IgY) antibody research in Africa (3), and this could potentially be applied to the development of diagnostic tools.  There are some notable biotech firms in Africa that are trying to improve diagnostic capacity through basic science research. Yemaachi Biotech, which is based in Ghana. Yemaachi is contributing to improving the diagnostic capacity in Africa by developing cancer diagnostics and treatments tailored to Africans, increasing testing capabilities, and advancing clinical research across the continent. The West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP) has recently focused on expressing and purifying the Bacillus stearothermophilus enzyme for the development of a more effective LAMP (Loop-Mediated Isothermal Amplification) assay for malaria diagnosis (4). If we shift our focus on building several biotech firms through public and private partnerships and also ensure collaboration with research institutions and universities, the future of protein engineering to improve the diagnostic capacity in Africa will greatly improve.


Protein engineering is at the forefront of transforming diagnostics worldwide and offering innovative solutions to address long-standing healthcare challenges. As a continent, we need to intensify our research and collaborations; in doing so, the trajectory of protein engineering in the region promises not only enhanced diagnostic capabilities but also a brighter and healthier future for communities across Africa.

I believe that with sufficient funding and capacity building, the future of protein engineering in Africa is promising despite the challenges that lie ahead. As the field continues to evolve, we expect to see more innovative applications of protein engineering technology, contributing to improved diagnostic tools and biotherapeutics for the continent and beyond.


1.        Engqvist MKM, Rabe KS. Applications of Protein Engineering and Directed Evolution in Plant Research. Plant Physiol [Internet]. 2019 Mar;179(3):907–17. Available from:

2.        BioInnovative Africa. Industrial enzymes for sustainable bioeconomy: large scale production and application in the industry, environmental agriculture [Internet]. 2018. Available from:

3.        Isah MB, Yusuf A, Usman A, Dang M, Zhang X. Mapping the landscape of IgY antibody research in Africa: A capacity and output analysis. Sci African [Internet]. 2024 Mar;23:e02019. Available from:

4.        Seevaratnam D, Ansah F, Aniweh Y, Awandare GA, Hall EAH. Analysis and validation of silica-immobilised BST polymerase in loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) for malaria diagnosis. Anal Bioanal Chem [Internet]. 2022 Sep 3;414(21):6309–26. Available from:

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