BIOCHEMISTRY AS A PANACEA TO NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
(A PUBLICATION OF THE NIGERIAN SOCIETY OF BIOCHEMISTRY STUDENTS, MICHAEL OKPARA UNIVERSITY OF AGRICULTURE, UMUDIKE)
HENRY A. ONWUBIKO, PH.D
PROFESSOR AND HEAD, DEPARTMENT OF BIOCHEMISTRY
UNIVERSITY OF NIGERIA, NSUKKA
Nigerians may be querulous over various trajectories of their National Development but not on the pioneering role of the Science of Biochemistry in eradicating hunger, poverty and disease and its importance in the quest to industrialization. With more than half of its population living in remote rural villages and dependent on subsistent family farming anchored to rotating local markets, the application of modern biochemical techniques to agriculture becomes an imperative to improving not only the qualities of crops but the yield and quantity that is sufficient to adequately feed the national population and create surplus for export to continental and international markets.
Already, Nigerian farmers are benefiting from the results from Biochemical Research in Genetic Engineering where recent advance from the knowledge of nucleic acids and comprehension of the structure of De-oxy-ribonucleic acid (DNA) had led to the mapping out of entire genomic structures of various Organisms including an increasing understanding of plants and human genomes. Not only has the knowledge of genomic structure of organism led to the manipulation, selection and introducing new genetic traits into crops to generate quantitatively superior seedlings as in local maize to fight hunger, but new genetic traits are introduced into biological cells to alter the state of numerous human diseases. Biochemical advances in Sickle Cell Anemia where normal beta globin genes are introduced into the bone marrow stem cells of Sickle Cell patients, have led to cure of the disease. The Science of Biochemistry through the techniques of genetic Engineering has also brought permanent cure to numerous other genetic diseases and restored the life of Nigerians. Of course these life-saving researches are now benefiting few people who can afford the costly treatment but with time will surely benefit the larger Nigerian population. In the field of medicine genetically engineered proteins have been used to treat disease such as haemophilia to eliminate blood transfusion and minimize the problem of infection from the blood of the donor to the recipient.
One importance of the Science of Biochemistry in Nigeria can be widely felt in the present Covid-19 pandemic, where the nation must rely on foreign biochemical technology to test and monitor its citizens for the infectious Corona Virus. While there are Nigerian Biochemist engaged in research on Viral Infections around the Globe, the nation has no organized laboratory for research on infectious diseases of its own. We are yet to develop an organized national laboratory for research and manufacture of vaccines not only for the present Covid-19 pandemic, but for future viruses and their mutants that may threaten the nation. Thanks to foreign Biochemists, a vaccine against Plasmoduim Falciparum to eliminate malaria which kids hundreds of thousands of our people every year is at last in sight. Nigeria has enough biochemists working in European and American laboratories. Why can’t we bring them to seed our own self-reliant laboratories?
The Science of Biochemistry, as applied to food processing cosmetics research and manufacture, transformation of plant products into useful drugs, is also the key to adding value to our commodities not only for internal consumption, but for export to African Continental and global markets. The Biochemical knowledge of the numerous elucidated pathways of Glycolysis, the Krebs or Tricarboxylic acid cycle that involves carbohydrate lipid and the metabolism of other organic materials are central to adding value to extracted natural products from commodities. Several metabolic pathways contain enzymes which are targeted by synthetic compounds as inhibitors with added value for our pharmaceutical industries. Presently beer brewing seems to be in vogue but even the transformation of local palm-wine as a primary commodity into numerous secondary goods with additional values can only be expedited by the knowledge of Biochemistry.
Still ignorance, charlatanry, and the lack of patriotism remains a challenge to the genuine scientific efforts by our committed scientists and patriots to develop our industries. NAFDAC and the EFCC must be energized to separate the charlatan from genuine research workers and patriots. When for instance will EFCC investigate the present embezzlements of TET funds in the Universities without productive Scientific Research evidence to account for the invested billions of Naira?
Given our naturally endowed raw materials, a teeming and exploding youth population that serve as the national reservoir for labour only the knowledge of Biochemistry, and a patriotic and Pan-African Inspired imagination rekindled from our educational institutions – the Universities – are rate limiting. Therefore, the government of the day must focus on the state of natural Science, particularly, Biochemistry in our Universities. It must confront the necessity to rebuild our teaching and research laboratories not through unmonitored TET fund distribution but to ensure adequate infrastructure, power supply and research equipment as the foundation of our biochemically driven industries, to bring Nigeria into modernity.