Ruth Nanjala: My experience attending and participating at the ICHG 2023 conference hosted in the Mother City

The Open Bioinformatics Foundation (OBF) Event Fellowship program aims to promote diverse participation at events promoting open-source bioinformatics software development and open science practices in the biological research community. Ruth Nanjala, a DPhil student in Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of Oxford, was awarded an OBF Event Fellowship to attend the International Congress of Human Genetics (ICHG) 2023 conference.

Earlier in 2022, I received the Open Bioinformatics Foundation (OBF) Event Fellowship for participating and promoting open science at the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) 2022 conference in Los Angeles. However, I could not travel to ASHG due to unavoidable circumstances. Fortunately, OBF gave me a second chance by facilitating my travel to the International Congress of Human Genetics (ICHG) 2023 conference hosted at home (Africa is considered the cradle of humankind) between the 22nd and 26th of February.

Image: First day of poster presentations at the Cape Town International Convention Centre

My research focused on evaluating different programs, reference panels, and genotyping arrays used to predict HLA alleles from the highly polymorphic human Major Histocompatibility Complex region. The workflow was written using the open-source software, Nextflow and published on GitHub For those interested in learning more, the preprint can be accessed at the link:

Aside from presenting a poster of my work, I was able to attend and engage in other conference sessions. Below, I highlight take-home messages from each day:

Day 1
The keynote on Genomics and anthropology set the tone for the day as insights were shared on human settlement patterns and migration patterns in Africa. The continent is widely considered the birthplace of modern humans. During this day, Prof. Nicola Mulder proposed the setup of a network of Genomic Centres of Excellence in Africa with the aim of reducing the access gap for genomic technologies.

Day 2
Karoline Kuchenbaecker from University College London showed that diversity in genetic investigations promotes gene prioritization, causal inference, precise mapping, and locus identification. Andrew Morris from the University of Manchester demonstrated the effectiveness of heterogeneous populations for Genome-Wide Association Studies discovery and application.

Day 3
A captivating session was chaired by Athena, which focused on overcoming obstacles to studying diversity in global genetics. The session presenters, Adebowale, Krystal, and Lerato pointed out strategies that can be adopted to improve diversity.

Day 4
An interesting session was on the “Southern African Population structure, Admixture and Adaptation,” as I got insights on the changes in skin color in southern Africa, Khoisan gene flow and its significance for genetic research, and the intricate patterns of mixing and population migrations during the Bantu expansion.

The conference was then closed by the ICHG conference team led by Prof. Michele Ramsay, who handed over the planning for the next conference in 2026 to the Mexico team.

Image: Aerial view of Cape Town. Table Mountain (left), Lion’s head (right)

Attending my first ICHG conference has been an incredible experience and an excellent opportunity to network with diverse scientists in human genetics. As a researcher interested in enhancing diversity in human genetics research and promoting open science, I found most talks enlightening. I am extremely grateful to OBF and the team members that made it possible for me to attend the ICHG conference, which is hosted every four years.