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ASM Fellow Tunde Odetoyin
ASM Fellow Tunde Odetoyin

Iruka Okeke Plays Host to Nigerian Microbiology Fellow

This summer the campus played host to a number of student researchers, student workers and sports camp athletes. But one visitor came from farther away than most. Tunde Odetoyin, a Ph.D. student at Obafemi Awolowo University, came all the way from Ile-Ife, Nigeria, to study in Iruka Okeke’s lab on an American Society for Microbiology (ASM) International Fellowship.

Odetoyin, who studies the molecular mechanisms of antimicrobial resistance, has a long history of collaboration with Haverford researchers. His advisor in Nigeria, Oladipo Aboderin, is a collaborator of Okeke’s. In past summers Odetoyin has worked alongside Haverford students in Nigeria, collaborating with Amy Labar ’10 and Laura VanArendonk ’10 one year and helping with a Center for Peace and Global Citizenship-co-sponsored workshop another. He, Aboderin and Okeke, along with Naa Kwarley Quartey ’11, also presented two posters together on the subject of resistance in disease-causing bacteria in Nigeria at May’s ASM annual meeting in New Orleans. But May 26 of this year marked the first time he has come to campus to work.

“I like this place,” says Odetoyin on one of the last days of his almost-three-month stay. “There’s a constant supply of electricity, which is amazing.” (Scientists in Nigeria, where blackouts are frequent, don’t take things like electricity for granted.)

“An important objective of our collaboration is to boost the molecular biology capacity at Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria,” says Okeke, acknowledging the discrepancy in facilities between Haverford and Odetoyin’s home institution. “We have succeeded in that researchers there, like Tunde, can extract, amplify and electrophorese DNA and are now applying these techniques routinely in their research. Due to the difficulty in getting supplies to and from Nigeria, it is not yet possible for them to clone or sequence DNA fragments of interest. In the long run, we hope that this will be possible there, but for now these were things that Tunde could do very easily here.”

Odetoyin’s ASM Fellowship is a prestigious and highly competitive grant. Only four people were chosen for the fellowship in his cycle, and Odetoyin, himself, was even turned town the first two times he applied. The program funds microbiology research and training collaborations between promising young investigators from resource-limited countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean and host scientists abroad.

Odetoyin’s project, “Molecular epidemiology of faecal Escherichia coli from mother-child pairs in Ile-Ife, southwest Nigeria,” concerns how drug resistance is spread amongst individuals (like mothers and their children) who live in close contact with one another.

“He has identified a few ‘successful’ resistance genes that are over-represented in his samples,” says Okeke of his work. “The data he has collected so far strongly suggests that resistance is being transmitted via mobile genetic elements.”

Odetoyin returned to Nigeria on August 15 to complete his Ph.D. studies, which should be finalized by the end of the academic year. After he finishes, he hopes to teach and continue his laboratory research. Okeke was pleased with the work he did on campus, calling him “very dedicated” and “full of promise.” She hopes that programs like the ASM Fellowship will continue to strengthen collaborative ties between researches in the U.S. and those in the developing world.

“There are not enough Tundes at his institution,” she says, “and developing talent like his is something that we need to do to enhance the practice of, and outcomes from, science in Nigeria.”

-Rebecca Raber

Founders Green on a warm spring day.

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