Nigerian-born scientists, Oluwaseyi Shorinola, Emmanuel Balogun, Rufus Akinyemi and 27 other early career African scientists were last week in Naivasha, Kenya honoured with $391,500 each for a two- year research project aimed at developing the continent.
Oluwaseyi who is based in the United States was also selected among the first prestigious International Fellowship awardees for the 2019 Future Leaders – African Independent Research, (FLAIR) fellowship for his research on improving the yield and quality of wheat production.
The African Academy of Sciences, AAS, and the Royal Society’s FLAIR supported by the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund is designed to help talented early-career researchers, whose science is focused on the needs of the continent, establish independent careers in African institutions and ultimately, their own research groups.
The scientists were selected from a competitive pool of more than 700 applicants. Their research is diverse, ranging from providing renewable energy solutions and addressing climate change, to tackling food security and targeting health and environmental problems for people living in African countries.
In a chat with Health & Living, Shorinola who will be relocating to the International Livestock Research Institute in Kenya to carry out his research, said his work would focus on rapid mining and mobilisation of beneficial gene alleles to improve wheat production in East Africa. According to him, the food security challenge anticipated in Africa in the near future is clear as in less than four decades from now, Africa must feed an additional 1.3 billion people more than half of whom will be living in urban areas. “Wheat will play a critical role in ensuring food security in Africa as increases in urbanisation has triggered changes in food consumption patterns with a shift from traditional food to easy-to-cook foods that are mostly derived from wheat.”
“Wheat production in Africa is currently characterised by low yields, high susceptibility to diseases, and poor end-user quality due to the use of poor quality seed with low genetic potential.
“I propose a low-risk, high-reward and excellent scientific approach to mobilise, evaluate and discover beneficial genetic variation to improve wheat production in East Africa.”
Also, Dr, Rufus Akinyemi who is from the University of Ibadan is looking into the genetic basis for memory loss after a stroke. According to Akinyemi, people of African descent are particularly prone to worse stroke outcome.
Dr Emmanuel Balogun from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria is identifying a compound to neutralize the sleeping sickness parasite, (trypanosomiasis).
Balogun said he was motivated by the fact that Africa loses about $5 billion annually to trypanosomiasis.
According to him, sleeping sickness and nagana affects humans and livestock respectively and have been identified as two major diseases that have partly contributed to the poverty and underdevelopment in Africa. His dream is to develop affordable drugs for such neglected tropical diseases.
Reacting to the programme, Professor Felix Dapare Dakora, President, AAS, welcomed the FLAIR grantees to its postdoctoral family.
“We recognise that well-planned postdoctoral programmes are critical in promoting scientific and research excellence and leadership in Africa and so I want you to be catalytic in inspiring African institutions to critically think about the role of and defining postdoctoral programmes that suit their needs and purpose and can be instrumental in driving socio-economic development on the continent.”
On her part, Dr Judy Omumbo, Programme Manager, Affiliates and Postdoctoral Programmes, explained that FLAIR grantees would have access to AAS’ wider programme of support to develop them as independent research leaders including leadership, entrepreneurship and media, science communication among others.
In the views of Professor Richard Catlow, Foreign Secretary, the Royal Society, “These scientists represent the next generation of leading African scientists, and we are incredibly proud to be part of a programme that is investing in them at such a crucial point in their careers.
“Fostering science and innovation for social benefit and prosperity is key to the wellbeing of any society, and investing in Africa’s scientific talent holds the greatest potential to tackle global challenges and improve quality of life.”