While some developing countries — notably Brazil, China, Cuba and India — have joined the 'genomics revolution', South Africa has neither done so nor invested heavily in other high-level biological research.
In this article, Wilmot James, chief executive of the Africa Genome Education Institute, outlines the reasons South Africa is lagging behind. The key problem, he says, is a lack of funding.
Cash-strapped universities are unable to initiate groundbreaking research. And tentative genomics research links between the country's Medical Research Council and its universities have not progressed because there is not enough money.
As a result, South Africa has been unable to join the global 'gene mapping' project aiming to build a database of human variation in genetically inherited diseases.
James is optimistic, however, that senior South African politicians are beginning to recognise the need to increase support for research.
The institutions needed to undertake high-level research are in place, says James.
If the government fulfils its pledge of 'emergency' and long-term science funding, he says, the country will be able to do major research in the biological sciences.