Bioinformatics Outreach Program, Myanmar

By: Khang Tsung Fei, University Malaya, Malaysia

Straddling the crossroad between India, Indochina and China, Myanmar is a nation of tremendous potential – its natural resources are abundant, its trade has greatly opened up in recent times, and its rich biodiversity is one of the least explored in the world. Moreover, its diverse human populations holds valuable links to the puzzle of human migration history into Asia. In the decades of isolationism following military stewardship in the sixties, two generations of Myanmar’s biologists grew up without the benefit of access to knowledge in important advances in molecular biology, which their more fortunate regional counterparts have. As a result, steps to lift local biology research and instructional standards to gradually be on par with regional standards would be a welcome development that benefits the worldwide scientific community, as this would open up opportunities for international research collaboration and demands for scientific services.

As an effort to plant the seeds of growth of bioinformatics in Myanmar, APBionet reached out to the community of biology researchers in Myanmar by funding a five day workshop from 24 to 28 December, 2018, at the Yangon Research Center. A total of thirty faculty members from the Department of Zoology and another ten postgraduate students attended the five-day workshop, which was conducted by Dr Khang Tsung Fei (University of Malaya, Malaysia) and Dr Maurice Ling Han Tong (Management Development Institute of Singapore / Perdana University, Malaysia). The local organising committee was led by Prof. Dr Kay Lwin Tun who is the head of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Laboratory. On the first two days, the attendees learned about the fundamentals of molecular biology of the gene. This was followed by information search in GenBank, and using BLAST to retrieve DNA or protein sequences that are related to a query sequence of interest.  Day three and four were spent on learning about sequence alignment, its principles and application in phylogenetic inference. On the fifth day, the students worked in small groups on three capstone project topics where they attempted to apply skills and concepts learned during the workshop to develop insights into real research problems. At the end, students gave short presentation of their findings with feedback from the instructors.

This workshop is a timely development in the modernisation of biological education research and teaching at Yangon University, as their faculty embrace upskilling to bring about gradual incorporation of modern elements into its curriculum, where reforms are needed both in contents, delivery and mode of learning. Importantly, through this activity Myanmar biologists have also gained access to the wider network of bioformaticitians in the world through their contact with the two instructors. APBionet congratulates the hosts for this exciting development and will continue to be a force for bringing positive changes to the bioinformatics landscape of developing countries in the Asia Pacific region.