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A Science Journey from Gombe to Sussex To Understand And Target Mosquitos

24 June 2018



Lazarus Joseph

Doctoral Candidate, University of Sussex, UK

Lecturer, Gombe State University, Nigeria


Science Hero (es): My Science heroes are Rosalind Franklin, James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins whose combined research efforts led to the discovery of the double helical structure of DNA. This gave me the idea that Science is not a ‘one man show’ but rather ‘a group show’ involving two or more people coming together to share research ideas on how to solve a common problem.


Research: Investigating the mechanism of specificity of an insecticidal toxin against mosquitoes.

The beginning

I grew up as a child who has so much passion for school, though at that time, I do not really know what science is all about. I took myself to school, as my parent would not allow me to go because I was too young to start school then. One day I hid and carefully studied where my elder brothers follow to go to school, then decided to go there myself. The school teachers were all surprised to see a kid who is supposed to be under his mother’s care came to school. Therefore, they all advised that I be taken back home with immediate effect as my parents were not even privy to my coming. That saddened me, which I kept crying and told them that I want to join the school. The Headteacher advised that I be allowed to remain in the class just for that day; after which they will advise my parents to allow two more years before I could enrol. 


The whole story changed when the teacher came to the class and discovered I could answer almost all the questions that other students, who were at school age then, could not answer. He quickly ran to the Headmaster and narrated to him what had happened, and made a plea as well that instead of advising my parents to allow more time before they enrol me, they should allow me to continue. A plea to which the Headmaster consented.


In School

I started my elementary education in good schools but did not have the opportunity to finish in one, as at that time, my father was pursuing his degree and we had to stay in the village for a while. During which time I wrote my first school leaving certificate and the common entrance exams in Kafin Bawa Primary School Dadiya, one of the villages in Gombe State. However, the fact that I finished my primary education in a rural and public school did not in any way affect my passion to excel in education as I continue to have a strong desire and determination to succeed. I subsequently joined Government Science Secondary School Gombe, a public secondary school, and finished with one of the best WAEC results in the state in 1998. It was during my secondary school days that I developed a more defined passion for education in general, to science in particular.


Undergraduate to graduate days

Like many young students, I went to the University of Maiduguri with the intention to study Medicine, but I was placed to study BSc Biochemistry. The journey was not without stress but was really fun. I went on to graduate as the second best student in the Biochemistry class of 2005 with a second-class upper degree.


This gave me a further drive to pursue a higher degree in Biochemistry at the University of Jos in 2008. While studying for my Masters, I enrolled into a two-year professional course at the Federal School of Medical Laboratory Sciences, Jos where I specialised in Chemical Pathology and became a certified Medical Laboratory Scientist and a member of the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria. It was a challenging time because I was combining two courses at a time.


This journey and the science I discovered along the way, made me decided to pursue an academic career where I could get the opportunity for scientific research. I joined Gombe State University where I mostly lecture and supervise undergraduate projects. My research focus as at that time was on Plant biotechnology and Toxicology, trying to explore medicinal plants that could serve as an antidote to some toxic substances, I worked with snake venoms and some toxic chemicals and mostly use animal models for my research. Then, I decided to go to a new environment for my PhD in order to obtain more research experience and to learn new techniques.


From Gombe to Sussex: A PhD to understand and target mosquitoes

In 2015, I joined a PhD programme in the School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex, UK where I work to investigate the mechanism of specificity of insecticidal toxins of Bacillus thuringiensis against mosquitoes. These toxins are secreted by a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiesis and in a crystal form and hence the name Cry toxins from ‘Crystal’. These toxins target some insects specifically but not others. My work wishes to check whether the Cry toxins can target and kill Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is the major vector for many arbovirus diseases such as Dengue fever, Zika fever, Chikungunya etc. If so, then study the mechanism behind that. However, this research can be applied on Anopheles mosquitoes and other insects in Africa to try to bring down the mortality rate due to malaria parasite and other disease vectors. One of these findings has been published and a few more on the way. I employ many molecular biology techniques, entomology, genetic manipulation and bioinformatics in this research, which has broadened my scientific knowledge and research experience and further consolidated my interest to continue pursuing science.


Aspiration: My aspiration is to become a renowned Scientist in the field of Biochemistry and Molecular biology and to mentor young students having the passion for science towards discovering their potentials and putting them to work.


Advice to students

I will advise aspiring scientists to develop a passion for science, as this will give them the motivation they so desire, to pursuing their dreams no matter how tough and rough the journey may be. Remember the saying ‘what is worth doing is worth doing well’, so give all you have to get what you want in life. Also, note that a life well spent is a life spent on serving others. Make sure you do your best to serve others as you nurture your career to the top.



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