10th-29th October 2011

School of Health Sciences
Kampala International University, Bushenyi, Uganda

Saturday, 29 October 2011

The course has finished successfully!

Today was the last day of the course. We all had a great experience, and the students have learned a lot of things that now they will be carrying with them to their host institutions. Many of them were talking about starting to work with Drosophila, and all of them agreed that the course changed their way of thinking about doing science in Africa, which I think it is one of the greatest achievements that we could do. We have run a questionnaire among the students, and we are planning in publishing a paper where to explain in detail how to set-up a course of this kind in East Africa, and where we will show the conclusions from the student's questionaires, and a follow up on the students' research before and after the course . More updates will follow here. Please if anyone would like to have more information on the course drop me an email to llp23@cam.ac.uk.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The last week

We are now at the last week of the course. During this week the students have learned about how to use Drosophila as a model for studying complex behaviours such as courtship and aggression, as well as a model for human diseases. Now they are busy working in their final projects. They have paired in groups to perform the following short projects, which will help them to apply in one project everything that they have learned during the course:
Nelson sorting male pupae for the
for the aggression experiments

Group 1 (Jimmy and Yunusa): Will solve the controversy in the literature about the role of sensory input in crawling by testing the two sensory lines used in the literature PO163-Gal4 and 504-Gal4
Group 2 (Bolaji): Will test the role of chordotonal neurons in larval crawling and compare it to the role of pickpoket neurons.
Group 3 (Maureen, and Lucille): Will perform memory experiments in control and dunce mutants. They will perform two paradigms: larval olfactory associative memory assay, and proboscis extension habituation and sensitization assay.
Steven prepearing to perform antennogram
recordings in Drosophila

Group 4 (Nelson, Joseph, Sylviane): Will perform courtship and aggression experiments and they will test control flies and flies expressing the beta amyloid human protein that causes Alzheimer diseases.
Group 5(Goji, Abba, Ezekiel, Paulin): Will perform behavioural olfactory assays in adult and larvae of lab and wild Drosophila.
Group 6(Steve): Will try to perform antennograms and single sensillum recordings from Drosophila and Musca antennae.
Group 7 (Alfred, Sam, Ngattu): Will perform electroretinogram recordings in various species of insects, including Drosophila to compare the temporal resolution of their visual system.
They have to carry out the required literature research, built the experimental set-up, perform the experiments, analyze the data, and drawn conclusions. They will give a 15 minute PowerPoint presentation on Saturday in which they will introduce the problem and present their results and conclusions.
Here you can see some of the pictures from students engaged in doing their projects.
Lucille and Maureen setting up the
larvae memory experiments

Goji, Ezekiel, Afred, Abba and Paulin
prepearing the olfactory experiments
in adult Drosophila

The electroretinogram set up, now they have recorded from
grasshopers, Musca, and Drosophila! The set up consists of
an improvised pulse generator (with a computer and a custom
made inexpensive electrophysiology amplifier) connected to an
LED, and an electrophysiology set-up consisting of a custom made
amplifier connected to an ADinstruments acquisition board.

Sylviane checking out some flies
Paulin setting up the
larval olfactory essays

Monday, 24 October 2011

Some of the things we have done during these two weeks

We have now finished the first two weeks of the course. Over these two weeks the students have learned about Drosophila as a model organism and how to set-up a Drosophila lab. They have learn about the genetics of Drosophila, which took quite some time, but now I am sure it is almost like their mother tongue. They have also learned basics concepts in neuroscience, such as the nature of neural impulse, and basic concepts on how neurons work to produce adaptive behaviors. During the practicals among other things they have learned  how to do muscle recordings of neuronal activity with inexpensive amplifiers. They have recorded from the legs and wing muscles of grasshoppers (see picture 1)! and observed under the microscope a multitude of different insects, which all together helped them to appreciate in the practice the nature of the neural impulse and the diversity of sensory and motor systems used by insects.
Picture 1. Improvised set-up for recording activity of flight
muscles in locust

The students also now know how to collect virgins for their fly crosses, and how to dissect brains out of Drosophila larvae, and look at them under the fluorescent microscope.  We have managed to install a webcam on the fluorescent microscope, so that the students can take pictures of the fluorescent preparations that they look under the microscope. The images resulting from this system are actually much better than we expected (see picture 2).
Picture 2. We have attached a regular webcam to the
camera port of our Leica fluorescent microscope. The 
resulting images are surprinsingly good. At the bottom
right of this panel you can see a picture of a Drosophila
larvae which expresses dsRed in all cholinergic neurons.
At the very front (top in the picutre) olfactory and taste 
sensory neurons are visible, it is also possible to see
mechanosensory neurons along the surface of the larvae, which 
project their axons to the brain, which appears 
very bright at the centre of the picture.

The students have learned about mechanosensory, chemosensory, visual and motor systems during the theoretical lectures, and they have looked at the wild type behaviours of flies and other big insects during the practical sessions (see picture 3).
Picture 3. One student explains the rest the experiment on olfactory
choice in Drosophila that his group performed the day before

They have also performed inexpensive cutting-edge neurogenetic experiments on genetically modified larvae. It is being intense but the effort is worthwhile, now they are ready for the lab work of the last week, during which they will need to apply everything they have learned!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The students and their projects

The second week is over and we have had a chance to hear the students presentations of their current projects. At the end we asked each of them to do a little drawing representing their project on the board of the lab. The final result can be seen in the picture.


Abba has studied the correlation between the relative length of the index and ring finger, which is determined by age 2 and correlates with the prenatal exposure to androgens, and other traits that are determined later on as the diameter of the wrist and hip circumferences. His passion is the study of memory retrieval.

Paulin is studying in Cameroon the potential of a plant (I’ll keep the name so no-one can steal his idea) in the war against those ticks that martyrize the cattle (and anyone who shares the path with them, I am the proof of that).

Lucille works evaluating the action of insecticides in Tanzania, doing lab and field studies to analyze their efficacy and safety.

Ngattu studies malaria, tuberculosis and meningitis from an epidemiologic point of view and searches for a better and quicker diagnose to reduce the risk of contagion.

Nelson works in Malawi analyzing the efficacy of malaria drugs in pregnant women and uses genetic markers to study the resistance to drugs in Plasmodium (the little creature that generates the disease). He is already thinking about using Drosophila as a model to study malaria and the resistance to drugs.

Sam has studied the torsion angle of the humerus (the representation of the anatomy department of the Kampala International University –KIU- , co-organizer of the course, is noticeable). Using this course as a start-up, a Masters in Anatomy and Neurobiology is going to begin at KIU, and Sam wants to continue his research comparing the number of synapsis in lab animals vs animals from the wild. Will wild animals have more synapsis? and, if they do, will they be smarter?

Steven is characterizing the proteins involved in odor perception in tse-tse fly and is very interested in the possibility of using Drosophila as a model system.

Jimmy, another anatomist, has studied the epidemiology of atherosclerosis (the deposit of fat plaques in the arteries).

Yunusa, the youngster of the course, is still thinking what to do for his Master’s project. He has a great passion for public health and wants to do a PhD in a good institution studying mental dementia in HIV patients.

Iliya Ezekiel is interested in the study of epilepsy and sleep. Before the course, he was thinking in an experimental setting to study spatial learning in rats. Now he is considering a change of system.

Sylviane, also from Cameroon, is analyzing the effect of traditional remedies to treat epilepsy.

Maureen, who has come all the way from Kenya with her little baby, studies the epidemiology of diverse diseases and the distribution of the different mosquito species that transmit them.

Okpanachi Alfred is studying diabetes type II.

Goji has studied the effect of an African plant extract in the level of glucose in the blood using rats to which they have induced hyperglycemia.

Bolaji Samuel wants to study the effects of the combined use of alcohol and cannabis and he is also studying the possibility of using Drosophila as a model.

Joseph’s research focuses on the analysis of the effect of some traditional plant extracts used to treat erectile dysfunction.

(Students, please, forgive me if I misplaced something or if trying to summarize I simplified your work so much that the description is almost wrong)

We are going to the Falling Walls conference!

Tom's abstract for the Falling Walls conference has been accepted, and he will be giving a short talk about the course in Berlin this November! The Falling Walls conference defines itself as "The international conference on future breakthroughs in science and society". We expect many people to be interested in our project and to be able to repeat it next year!

Setting up an insect neuroscience and Drosophila neurogenetics lab in Uganda

Picture 1. Students learning about fly genetics by looking through
the four donated dissecting microscopes.

We have now successfully completed the first week of the course, and I have been here now for two weeks. On the first week I was setting up the lab. I brought with me 6 big suitcases (on average 25Kg each, some more and some less) with most of the equipment. Isa, and Lola also brought some equipment, and Marta and Tom some consumables. In the end we now have a pretty well equipped lab. We have four dissecting scopes that we use for fly work and dissections(see picture 1, donations from the Department of Zoology at Cambridge, and Richard Morris).
We also have one inverted compound microscope (Donated by Jim Haseloff) where to look at fluorescent Drosophila brains. We have fitted it in one corner and make a "dark room" with an improvised curtain, which actually works pretty well (see picture 2).
Figure 2 (b). Fluorescent microscope
inside the "dark room".

Picture 2 (a). "Dark room" created to
house the fluorescent microscope

We also have two larval behavioural set-ups (see picture 3) each of them consisting of a webcam attached to a computer, and a behavioural arena consisting of a peltier device (cooling module from old computers that we use to control temperature precisely by connecting it to two A batteries) to manipulate neuronal activity in neurons of genetically modified larvae (expressing UAS-shibts, and UAS-DTripA).
Figure 3. Larval behavioural set-up. Total cost: aprox. £60
(Computer: £30, webcam: £17, peltier device: £10, fan: £0)

The lab is also now equipped with 6 small neurophysiology amplifiers, which are a loan from the Department of Zoology at Cambridge, where they were built. Glen Harrison, who made the amplifiers at Cambridge, has kindly send us the planes so that they can be built here locally (see picture 4). We also have a soldering station to make electrodes locally as we need them (see picture 5).
Picture 4. Electrophysiology rig consisting of custom made amplifiers
conected directly to the audio port of the  laptops, and acquired using 
SpikeHound. In the picture is also visible a manupilator, the plates were
we place the insects for the recordings, and a wax melter, loan from 
the Bate lab. On the top picture you can see a grasshopper from which we 
were recording action potentials by inserting an electrode in the leg muscles.

Picture 5. Soldering station to make our
own electrodes

Additionally we have brought two patch amplifiers (donation from Leon Lagnado at LMB in Cambridge, and Bernardo Sabatini at Harvard University), which Tom will teach the students and faculty of the university how to use, and that will be used in the future for research. We also have an AM-Systems amplifier (loan from the Kravitz lab), and two acquisition boards (loan from AD instruments), to exemplify the more expensive options in electrophysiology, and compare it to the more economical custom made amplifiers. For acquiring the electrophysiology data we are using the open source software SpikeHound, and for its analysis the also open source program Spikepy. We also have 6 videocameras (donations from the Kravitz lab.) to perform courtship, and aggression behavioural experiments, and 7 laptops, whose story we shared in a previous post. And of course more than a hundred fly stocks that happily traveled from Cambridge. Additionally, we keep catching big insects on a daily basis with improvised traps to perform neurophysiology on them (see picture 6).
Picture 6. Collection of big insects in
our improvised cages.

Initially, as the room temperature during the day is around 23C which approximates the 25C at which we regularly keep our incubators, we were just leaving the flies outside.  However during the night the temperature falls to around 17C, and it becomes quite difficult to plan the crosses to be ready for the experiments on a particular day. If you know how much an incubator cost, you probably already understand why we don't have an incubator here. However, what we do have is an old oven, which by playing with the temperature knob we have managed to convert in an improvised incubator (see picture 7).
Picture 7.Oven used as
incubator by regulating the
temperature to aprox. 25C

I think we have done a pretty good job in transforming the initial Pharmacology lab, into a insect neuroscience and Drosophila neurogenetics lab. (see picture 8).
Figure 8. Picture of the lab on the day I arrived, and today, with all the equipment that we brought over.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Faculty of the course and local organizers

Lucia, Sadiq, Marta, Tom, Lola, Pounch, Isa

Students of the course

Here a photo of the students of the course, and the faculty teaching (minus Marta)
From left to right, top row: Steven Nyanjom (JKUAT, Kenya), Tom Baden (Tubingen, Germany), Maureen Sagom (Kenya Methodist University, Kenya), Samuel Dare (KIU, Uganda), Lucille Lyaruu, KCM College, Tanzania), Iliya Ezekiel (KIU, Uganda), Jimmy Olusakin (KIU, Uganda), Johnnie Mary Ngattu (Mbarara University, Uganda), Paulin Nana (University of Yaounde, Cameroon), Nelson Chimbiya (Blantyre Malaria Project, Malawi), middle row: Sylviane Dongmo (University of Yaonde, Cameroon), Sunday Abba (KIU, Uganda), Josep Oloro (Mabarara University, Uganda), Yunusa Garba (KIU, Uganda), Goji Teru (KIU, Uganda), bottom row: Mesole Bolaji (KIU, Uganda), Lola Martin Bermudo (Universidad de Sevilla, Spain), Isabel Palacios (University of Cambridge, UK), Lucia Prieto (University of Cambridge, UK), Okpanachi Alfred (KIU, Uganda).

Monday, 17 October 2011

Course schedule

I am sorry for the delay in the post, we are keeping quite busy making the course running. Here is the schedule of the course. I will post tomorrow some pictures of the faculty teaching, the students, and a bit on what we have been doing during this first week with some pictures of the lab.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Dr. Marta Vicente is joining us

Marta Vicente Crespo is also joining the team!! She will be part of the faculty teaching the course, and will be teaching assistant, lab-maid and co-blogger when needed. Marta did her undergrad and PhD at the University of Valencia. She was a visiting PhD student and a postdoc in the lab of Dr. Palacios and through those two degrees of separation got involved in our project. She is really excited about the possibility of contributing to and learning from this experience. She spent the last two years working as a postdoc at the University of California San Diego, where she has been very involved in initiatives to bridge the sciences and the social sciences at the undergraduate level and is now in love with the idea of using “dialogue” as a tool to educate better scientists that are also more socially involved

The local organizing committee.

I arrived to Ishaka, home of KIU, on Tuesday night. These last three days together with the wonderful people that integrate the local organizing committee(see photo of us just outside the lab), we have been setting-up the lab, and making sure that everything will be up and running for the course. To organize a course such as this one, a local organizing committee is essential to arrange everything here, from lab space, to finding reagents that can not be shipped, to taking care to the (many) possible unplanned circumstances that one might find. Of course the faculty that will be teaching is also essential and a photo of them will follow once they arrive on Sunday.

The people in the photo are:
Top row (from left to right): Mrs. Priscilia Kobusingye, Mrs. Winfred Bukenya, Dr. Kintu Mungaga, Mr. Fred Mwesigwa, Mr. Richard Kirungi, Dr. Ahmed Adedeji, Mr. Francis Ndagire, Dr. Ponchang Apollos Wuyep, Dr. Peter Ekanem, Mr. Mubiru Livingstone.
Bottom row (from left to right): Dr. Lucia Prieto (me), Dr. Sadiq Yusuf.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Good news for scientist in developing countries!

The Journal of Visualized Experiments (JOVE) will be offering free subcriptions through the HINARI initiative to developing countries in South America, Asia and Africa.
In 2000 a WHO survey found that 56 percent of institutions in the poorest countries had no current subscriptions to academic journals. In response, WHO founded HINARI, which now grants developing countries access to one of the largest collections of biomedical and health literature. Now JOVE is joining this amazing initiative.
JOVE publishes video articles demonstrating advanced experiments performed in laboratories of top research universities. Visualizing the experiments rather than trying to reproduce them from the often brief materials & methods section of papers is the best way to be able to reproduce previous experiments and set-up new techniques in a lab. This becomes particularly important in developing countries, where  learning cutting-edge experimental techniques, whether via courses or by visiting laboratories with the desired expertise, is often very difficult.
We will celebrate this great news by using several JOVE articles as part of the teaching materials in the course.

Friday, 9 September 2011

On how to get cheap laptops for a course in Uganda

If you ever want to organize a neuroscience course in Uganda, then you will realize of all the things you need to get, how much they cost, and how it is possible to get them cheaper. A starter are the computers. Best is obviously to get laptops, as big PCs are difficult to transport. Now I have come across two different ways to get cheap laptops. A somehow more straight forward, and a bit more expensive way (which I didn't use, but I want people to know about it), is to apply to some computers in this link Computer Aid, where you can get a dual core laptop for £85. As the course I am organizing is under a bit of a limited budget, and as I am a very lucky person surrounded by a generous world. I got 15 old not working IBM laptops from the FMI research institute in Basel, somehow I brought them over to the UK in an low-cost airline flight, and to the lab. (with the help of Marco Tripodi on the Swiss side, and Pedro Saavedra at the UK side). Then, with the invaluable help of Gerit Linneweber (see picture), we (rather, he), tested them, found what was wrong (most of the times either the main board, or the screen were the problem), exchanged pieces (mostly screens) of some of them with others, and managed to get 6 fully working laptops. So far the cost was nearly £0, well it cost me a bit to transport them, so lets say £20 per computer. We then needed to put some hard disk on them as they come without it due to security reasons. We bought some on ebay for £10 each. And voila! we got 6 working laptops for £30 each :) So this second option is cheaper, but I do not recommend it if you don't have a Gerit around.

Dr. Dolores Martin-Bermudo is teaching in the course!

I am extremly happy to announce that Dr.Dolores Martin-Bermudo, will be joining Dr. Isabel Palacios as faculty  to teach the first module of the course. Dr.Dolores Martin-Bermudo was also a Principal Investigator at the University of Cambridge. Currently, she  works as a lecturer and Principal Investigator at the CABD (Centro Andaluz de Biologia del Desarrollo, a research Council Institute in Seville, Spain). Her research focuses mainly on the molecular and genetic study of the mechanisms that regulate cell migration using /Drosophila/ /melanogaster/ as a model system (http://www.cabd.es/).

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Dr. Isabel Palacios is teaching in the course!

I am extremely happy to announce that Dr. Isabel Palacios will be coming to teach the first Module of the course. Dr. Isabel Palacios is a Royal Society Research Fellow at the Department of Zoology in the University of Cambridge, where she teaches various graduate courses. Her main research focus is on the function of motor proteins in establishing cell polarities.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The Company of Biologist is supporting us

I am glad to announce that we will be able to offer 5 full scholarships for students coming to the course from outside Uganda, thanks to a generous sponsorship from The Company of Biologist.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Dr. Tom Baden is joining us

I am extremely happy to announce that Dr. Tom Baden, an excellent scientist and talented electrophysiologist will be teaching in the course. He will teach the part of the modules that involve electrophysiology with non Drosophila insects. Furthermore, he will teach how to built a custom made inexpensive electrophysiology set-up.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Special issue in Nature about science in Africa

I highly recommend reading the special issue that just came up in Nature with several articles on Science in Africa. It is free open acess for everyone for the next month:Nature special issue on Africa

If you are short on time, I recommend reading this short article on how scientist in Europe and US can help the development of science in sub-Saharan Africa. What I am trying to do here is just what it is suggested in the article: to do my individual contribution, that hopefully will make at least a bit a difference. Please read here: A helping hand

Advertised on the THRiVE website

The course is now being advertise on the THRiVE website. You can find it here

I also recommend to check their website, they are an organization that aims to strengthen research capacity in East Africa.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Call for help

We are trying to get funding to bring there some microscopes, and other materials that have been donated by the University of Cambridge. We also need funding to buy some basic stuff that we need to do research. We have managed to secure some funding from different Trusts and institutions, but we are still looking for money to buy and ship extra bits and pieces. Therefore if anyone feels that can help with a donation please contact me, it will be greatly appreciated. Things to buy are not expensive, and with a little help from everyone we will be able to make a much better course. Please contact me on llp23@cam.ac.uk

Add poster

What is all this about?

The aim of the project is to organize a 3 week long course in Uganda together with Dr. Sadiq Yusuf Head of the Medical School, and Director of Academic affairs at the International University of Kampala, and with the support of his coworkers, to introduce invertebrates, and specifically Drosophila, as model organism for neuroscience research and teaching. Currently in East Africa, and most parts of Africa, research in neuroscience is carried out mostly with rats, which are expensive. However, almost no one is using Drosophila, an inexpensive model organism that in Europe and the U.S is leading in neuroscience and basic medical research. The course will include theoretical and practical (laboratory) sessions. It is intended for graduate students and Junior Faculty who are interested or involved in teaching or doing research in neuroscience at universities in East Africa, although we have received, and we are open to applications from other African countries. I plan to buy and ship some essential lab equipment that will remain at the host institution. The students will most likely be from various universities in Uganda, although we have requested funds to to be able to offer travel grants to students coming from outside Uganda. The course is being advertised at several Universities around Africa. There will be no fee to attend the course, and participants will be chosen on a competitive basis from the applications received. Participants will be taught how to make best use of the equipment during the practical sessions, which will enable them to continue teaching these skills to future neuroscientists in Uganda and other countries in the African community. This work will open a new way of teaching of neuroscience in Africa, using the latest advances in Drosophila neurogenetics.