I would want to see scientific research findings being implemented in Nigeria"
In our series of interviews with Nigerian scientists, today we are excited to feature Dr Mohammed Musa Lawan, a Lecturer at the Chemistry Department of Yobe State University and the Director for the School of Pre-Degree Studies at the same University. He holds a Bachelor of Technology Degree in Industrial Chemistry from Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University Bauchi, a Master’s Degree in Analytical Chemistry and Instrumental Analysis from University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, and a PhD in Environmental Analytical Chemistry from University of Aberdeen, UK.
Environmental Analytical Chemistry: mainly concern with sources, transport, interaction and fate of chemical species with emphasis on Trace elements analysis in environmental and biological samples; pesticide residue in plants and soil.
Tell us about your research in a layman’s language
My research focuses on selenium.
Selenium is an essential element in human and animal nutrition. Its deficiency is endemic in many parts of the world. Low intake of selenium can cause physiological dysfunction like Kashin Beck and Keshan diseases. It also plays an essential role in cancer prevention, against ageing, enhancement of reproduction, anti-diabetic among others. Humans get their dietary selenium through diets, such as through the consumption of fish. My research work focused on Selenium biotransformation in tissues and organ of Rainbow trout and long-finned pilot whales from feed formulation through to synthesis of selenoproteins. Many biochemical processes in humans and animals depend on selenoproteins functions.
What do you enjoy about your research and what is it that excites you?
I enjoy working in a clean and serene laboratory and get excited when result/data trend points toward finding (s). This doesn’t happen often you know.
Did you always want to be a scientist?
Tell us about your first exposure to science and whether it was why you developed an interest in it?
I developed an interest in science way back in 1986 when I was in primary three while taking the primary school science subject. Our teacher (Mr Shuaibu Suleiman) demonstrated to us how a rainbow is formed using mirror and water in a bowl and explained that it was due to reflection, refraction and light dispersion in water. After the day’s class, I went home to demonstrate it to my parents and siblings in a move to debunk the misconceptions about the appearance of the rainbow. Some people believe that rainbow is a kind of monster that takes away the water when it appears in the sky during the rainy season to make the rain go away and that when it emerges from a well, it sucks up all the water in the well. What a mystery? Learning about how a rainbow is formed made science to become my best subject.
At JSS 3, I met another Hero (Mr Lito Abracia), a Filipino who used to come to the class with test tube rack containing chemicals for demonstration. In fact, we began to see and live science at the early stage of our educational journey. We learnt about the glowing splint (test for oxidising gas), test for hydrogen gas (pop sound) test etc. We were lucky then to have a good Integrated Science Laboratory.
What do you think are the biggest challenges currently facing scientists and their work in Nigeria?
Few of the significant challenges of research in Nigeria are lack of funding and science facilities such as instruments, good laboratories etc.
What are the challenges and sacrifice you have to give for science or while doing science?
Challenges are part of science, but time, money and energy are what you have to sacrifice while doing science though, is worth it.
Any success story?
From my research, three methods were developed for total selenium concentration, species distributions in tissues and selenopeptide sequencing to determine possible incorporation of selenium into selenoproteins. We were able to provide evidence so far unreported depletion of the bioavailable Selenium pool, a plausible driving mechanism of demonstrated neurotoxic effects of Methylmercury (MeHg) in the organism affected by its high dietary intake. Some of these findings are published in Nature Scientific Reports, PlosOne, and BMC Genomics.
What about science would you want to see it done differently in Nigeria?
I would want to see science done in line with best global practice. I would want to see scientific research findings being implemented or put to usage by relevant agencies or organisation in Nigeria
Is there a Nigerian or African scientist working today who you admire and why?
Professor Isah Husseini Marte. I admire him because of his ingenious work on finding cancer treatment using medicinal plants.
If you were not a scientist, what do you think you would be doing?
What do you think is the greatest scientific discovery of all time?
Cell discovery by Robert Hooke in 1665
Aspiration what do you aspire to do next?
I am currently interested in researching the root cause (s) of kidney disease among people living on the shores of river Yobe, especially Gashu’a.
A few words of advice for aspiring scientists
You are bound to meet challenges, do not quit, endure and remain focus in whatever you are doing and make those stumbling blocks be your stepping stones to success. Let me say in the words of MUHAMMAD IBN MUHAMMAD AL-FULLANI AL-KISHWANI
“Do not give up, for that is ignorance and not according to the rules of this art”
What you wish to tell the public about science to the society?
I want the public to value science because it influences most aspect of our lives. I worked with Selenium. It is essential and toxic depending on the species and concentration used. This demonstrates the importance of research by scientists which would contribute to the well-being
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