For the country to overcome its present economic challenges, it must embrace research as a veritable tool for development. This was the submission of a University Don, Professor Babatunde Idowu, as he shared some of his research contributions. According to the Professor of Zoology in the Department of Pure and Applied Zoology, College of Biosciences (COLBIOS) of the University, one of his recent research breakthroughs bordered on the study of diabetes.
Professor Idowu disclosed that in 2011, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), had put the global prevalence of Diabetes Mellitus (DM) at 8.3 per cent while it was projected that 552 million people (9.9 per cent) would be diabetic by the year 2030 with Nigeria having the highest number of people living with DM in Africa, and accounting for a national prevalence of 4.04 per cent. Although, he said the complete cure of disease had eluded medical experts for centuries. In 2005, the Diabetes Research Group, Department of Biological Sciences of FUNAAB, started a series of studies to investigate the hypoglycemic and ameliorative potentials of indigenous medicinal plants for the treatment of DM with the major thrust of the research being to assess the efficacy of indigenous plants in ameliorating pathophysiological complications of DM.
The University Don added that rats were induced by feeding them with food of high glycemic index for eight weeks and surviving rats were considered as food-induced Type II model diabetic rats and thereafter, treated with Ficus exasperata. He said that it was discovered that the extract was not only a more potent hypoglycaemic agent when compared with the standard antidiabetic drug, glibenclamide, but it also ameliorated the pathophysiological complication of Diabetes Mellitus such as iono-regulatory disruptions, oxidative stress and dyslipidemia as well as other various histopathological degenerations observed in the pancreas and kidney. This result, he said, had shown great promise for prevention of Type II DM. He said in 2015, the group presented a review of the effects of medicinal plants on the complications of Diabetes Mellitus, stating the components of the plants responsible for the effects and the possible mechanisms.
Speaking on another area of his research, Professor Idowu said it centered on Entomophagy, insect-eating, which had become a serious business in America and Europe, as their governments were putting so much through the funding of researches, feeding trials and campaigns for the acceptance of the concept of entomophagy. He then called on Nigerian government to explore this venture as it was one area that the country had the natural endowment. According to him, the Food and Agricultural Organisation in 2014, had disclosed that insects were highly nutritious and a source of healthy food that is rich in high fat, protein, vitamins, fibre and mineral content, and are likely to play a significant role in the survival of mankind by 2050 when the world’s population was expected to hit 9 billion. He opined that although majority of edible insects were gathered from forest habitats while innovation in mass-rearing systems had begun in many countries, saying insects offer a significant opportunity to merge traditional knowledge with modern science in both developed and developing countries.
Sharing his experience on having insects as food, Professor Idowu said he had discovered that the African grasshopper; Zonocerus variegatus, was a regular food item in Ikare, Owa and Oka – all in Ondo State, Nigeria. According to him, the insect is eaten either after boiling, frying or roasting, adding that studies had shown that both raw and processed grasshopper respectively, were higher and compare favourably with some conventional and unconventional protein source.
Speaking on his initial interest in the insect, the University Don said it was borne out of the discovery that Zonocerus variegatus was a notorious pest capable of damaging plantations of crops.
He noted that previous work done on the African grasshopper was based on the biology of the insect pest and to fill in the missing gap, he embarked on a research of the physiology of the insect to determine its survival strategies, the chemistry of its repellent gland, its secretion as well as the relationship between the insects repellent gland and its food plants, adding that he was able to come to the conclusion that the production of secretion by the repellent gland of Zonocerus was an important factor in the survival of the grasshoppers.
Professor Idowu disclosed that the rate of recovery after a discharge was a key factor in the efficacy of the secretion as a defensive weapon. Hence, it was of great adaptive significance for the grasshopper to feed on plants such as cassava; Manihot esculenta that would aid the refilling of its reservoir not long after a discharge, which is evident on why Zonocerus would always be a major pest on West African cassava. The University Don, however, noted that the Praying Mantis; Sphranintus lineola, was observed to feed very well on all the stages of the grasshopper without any after effects as a way in the management of the variegated grasshopper as a pest.
Highlighting some key challenges research in the country was faced with; Professor Idowu said they include inadequate facilities and equipment, killing of initiative, dethroning the power of imagination as well as inadequate research fund and support. He also expressed dissatisfaction at the county’s attitude to research, saying “one of the major problems that we have is that we don’t see research in Nigeria as a tool for development. I know in other places, the government is interested in what you are doing in your laboratory but unfortunately, that is not the case here”.