Sunday, March 31, 2013

Award-Winning Plant Scientist Inspired By Grandmother

Award-Winning Plant Scientist Inspired By Grandmother

SATURDAY, 30 MARCH 2013 00:00

Dr. (Mrs.) Adediwura Fred-Jaiyesimi is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Pharmacognosy, Faculty of Pharmacy, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State. In February this year, along with four other female scientists, she was given awards in recognition of her excellence in research. The occasion was the yearly meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston, United States. Her work shows the importance of plants as source of pharmacological agents and underscores the need to protect the rich tropical flora of the rainforest region.

THE story of how Dr. (Mrs.) Adediwura Fred-Jaiyesimi became one of the five female scientists celebrated recently for their enormous contributions to the sciences is a testimony of hard work and consistency.

On February12 this year, the world gathered to witness the first Elsevier Foundation Awards for Early Career Women Scientists in the Developing World. The prize of US$5,000 was presented to each of the women in recognition of their research excellence during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston, United States.

Apart from the Dr Fred-Jaiyesimi, other winners were Nasima Akhter, from Dhaka Medical College Hospital Campus, Bangladesh; Namjil Erdenechimeg from the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, Mongolia; Dionicia Gamboa from Cayetano Heredia University, Peru; and Huda Omer Ba Saleem, a researcher at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Aden University, Yemen.

The award, introduced in 2012, is a collaboration between the Elsevier Foundation, TWAS (The World Academy of Sciences), and the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD). It aims to build research capacity and advance scientific knowledge throughout the developing world.

“I had the opportunity to project the name of Olabisi Onabanjo University on the international scene. We were also given three minutes to tell the people what our research works were about,” she enthused.

She says it all started in 2008 when she got the opportunity to present her papers at the World Congress on Medicinal Herbs and Aromatic Plants.

“Every five years, a World Congress on Medicinal Herbs and Aromatic Plants holds and it was the turn of Africa in 2008. I thought of it and my husband, Prof. Alfred Jaiyesimi, said, ‘why don’t you put in your abstracts?’ He is my mentor and he reads through all my works. After writing the first abstract, I challenged myself to write the second. I did it and he went through them. Later, he said there was no harm in writing the third one. So, I sat down to write it although I was a bit reluctant,” she recalls.

The couple was about returning to Nigeria from the United Kingdom when she applied to participate at the conference. Her husband had been there to improve himself. She later joined him, spent about four to five years there and she continued her Doctor of Philosophy (P.hD) programme at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England.

“I started my P.hD at the University of Ibadan, continued at Newcastle and I came back home to defend it in 2007,” she reveals.

On getting to Nigeria, she checked her mail one month after and saw she had been given a travel grant based on the abstracts she submitted. But unfortunately, she could not make it to the opening ceremony of the conference because of a delay in her flight. She was so embittered, not knowing that the South Africa experience only opened the door to a bigger opportunity.

“The conference actually took place at Cape Town but before I could get there from Johannesburg, it was late.
However, sometime last year, the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) called for application on-line. I learnt about it and quickly applied. They did not ask us to write any formal paper. They told applicants to send 10 of their most published materials. They are international companies and have access to all journals.”

Her first challenge was to settle for 10 journals out of over 30 publications of hers since she had no idea what they were looking for. Nevertheless, she picked 10 and included three of the articles she presented in South Africa. Four of the 10 published materials really impressed the organization.

“One of the papers that inspired them was the study of plants to manage diabetes and another was on food chemistry. Putting the food chemistry together took a while and getting it published took a longer time. The reason was because of the reviewing process but I did not mind because I knew that the journals would do thorough job and they will come back to give you a sincere opinion of your work.

“I was inspired by my grandmother who loved animals and used different plants to treat them when they took ill or were in the process of giving birth. Whenever she was with them, I watched her closely. It was from her that I started looking at herbs from a positive angle.

“She is about 100 years old now but still very conscious. She stays in Lagos with one of my sisters. My grandmother strongly believes in the training of a girl-child. Her name is Odelola Adeyemi.”

Fred-Jaiyesimi says herbs were common within the community then for concoctions used for ailments such as fever, constipation, diarrhea and skin problems. Her childhood experiences led to a deep desire to know more about living things, especially plants.

She attended Federal Government Girls’ College, Shagamu, Ogun State. She finished in 1988 and proceeded to the University of Lagos where she studied Botany.

Although she applied for Pharmacy at UNILAG, she says she had it at the back of her mind to go into research. So, when fate took her to read Botany, she embraced it without hesitation. She says “big thank you” to her supervisor, Prof. Toyin Ogundipe.

According to her, he introduced her to Pharmacognosy. When it was time for her final year project, she recalls, he said: “I am going to ask you to go and do your project in the Department of Pharmacognosy in Idi-Araba.” He went further to relate with Dr. Glory Ajayi and both of them supervised her work.

“That was how I was introduced to Pharmacognosy and right from day one, I had no regret. It was something I had always shown interest in.”

Explaining the relevance of scientific approach in the management of plants, she says there are recorded cases where people used herbs and it turned out to have adverse effect on them, but not that the herbs are bad.

“It is possible that the combination might have triggered the effect. My desire is to take the good in the plants for human use.”

She bemoaned the state of facilities in the country, saying that it makes it difficult to push ideas. As for her, her husband saw her through most of the researches. They paid through their teeth to send some of her samples abroad.

As an active female researcher, she says there are several challenges. They include cultural barriers, having a balanced family life and work place resistance. She laments that it is generally considered that females should not be seen or heard and should play second fiddle. However, she in the university system, intellectual equality is recognised.

She works hard and aspires to maintain high standards for her to overcome resistance to leadership role. She has also learnt to remain polite when being assertive and retain a sense of humour at all times.

Her current research thrust attempts is to continue with documentation of types and constituents of plants used in traditional medicine and consequent evaluation for bio-activity and sequential separation of active fractions with intent of isolation and characterization. The emphasis of her research is to identify plant-derived active agents that may be relevant as hypoglycemic (anti-diabetic), larvicidal or anti-helminthic agents.

Although a male dominated field, she says: “Women scientists should identify their areas of strength, interest, pursue them vigorously and identify those who can mentor them properly. If you don’t start somewhere, no one would know your abilities and potentials.”

She pleads to the federal government to encourage plant-based research work because it will give room to capacity building and economic growth. “As a teacher, I have seen industrious and talented students. I have helped some to identify their potentials; some of their works are publishable, while some are now heading big departments. The government should just play her part.”

While admitting that she had great people around her, she says her journey so far is the handiwork of God. “All what I did was never my own decision. My husband and family too played a key role. I am happy I got married to someone in academics. Sometimes when I get confused, he gives me options I could explore for such problems. When I was studying the use of plants for diabetes, my husband took me round to ask questions.”

Married for 13 years now, she sees marriage as the most honourable thing on earth. Without the support of her family, she admits that the road might have been narrow.

She has been able to schedule her work around her family because there is no point being a successful career woman when the home is in turmoil. “I have two children of my own and two step children. My last born will be 10 years this year,” she says.

For recreation, Jayesimi prefers to be with her children, take them out and look into what they do when she is not with them.

Born in Ijesha in Osun State, Jaiyesimi is married to an Ijebu man, Prof. Alfred Jaiyesimi.

Her father, Chief Anthony Ayodele Adeyemi retired as a Vice Principal in Taraba State. Her mother also retired as Vice Principal at Methodist High School, Ilesha. “We are four girls and I am the first born.”

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