|The University of Lagos is popularly known as Unilag.
However, hope is visible on the horizon, as the Nigerian government recently set out a policy goal to make Nigeria an industrially developed nation by 2020. And understanding that research is at the base of all development and progress, the government is making conscientious efforts to increase funding to the universities and research institutes across the country as part of its ambitious national goal.
“This is great news for the scientists here who are striving to make an impact in their research and help solve the problems of poverty, hunger and disease in our country,” claims Okochi.
Okochi also has shifted her focus, in part to join the biotechnology movement, but also to appease interests she developed through her travels. Over the years, she has accompanied her husband as he served at foreign missions in Japan and France, and she has had the privilege of working in places like Juntendo University in Tokyo and the Jacques Monod Institute in Paris. Studies with respiratory chain enzymes and protease inhibitors awakened a strong curiosity in enzymology.
Currently, Okochi is isolating pure cultures of fungi like Aspergillus niger and Penicillium chrysogenum from industrial plant wastes such as sawdust, corn cobs and sugar cane pulp and using them to produce enzymes like cellulases, pectinases and xylanases. In turn, these enzymes can hydrolyze the wood wastes into simple sugars for a variety of applications, such as animal feed or biofuels; she also has developed a technique to produce natural penicillin.
“I envisage this research as an environmentally friendly way to extract value from the volumes of cellulosic wastes that constitute a major source of pollution in our urban cities,” says Okochi, who now is looking at improving yields. “It’s important that as we develop as a nation, we do so in a responsible way.”
Nick Zagorski (email@example.com) is a freelance science writer.