Oluwatosin Zacheus Aregbesola, known as ‘Zacheus’, is a lecturer at Wesley University Ondo, Nigeria
Zacheus attended the summer 2019 CONNECTED Virus Vector Vice Versa (V4) development programme for early career researchers, having successfully applied for a fully-funded place at the UK training event. Since returning to Nigeria, he has been using the skills and knowledge he acquired in his day-to-day work.
He was part of a collaborative team which secured CONNECTED pump-prime funding for a project to investigate the potential of entomopathogenic fungi (EPF) as biopesticides of cassava whitefly. It drew together researchers from four countries: Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania and the UK.
Reflecting on the V4 training, Zacheus says:
“I found the hands-on experience with the latest molecular techniques in plant virology and entomology especially useful. I also gathered good communication and networking techniques, and have been using my new skills to develop new project ideas and prepare for grant applications.”
Zacheus is proud of the work undertaken on the research project, and he explains:
“I have gathered valuable laboratory experience on the identification, culturing and use of entomopathogenic fungi (EPF). I found these experiences particularly valuable because with them I can expand or diversify my line of research. So this means my work can be more relevant to farmers and the agro-allied industry.
“In Nigeria we were able to set up the laboratory and field experiments, followed by a data collection phase in order to provide tangible research output. We also upgraded our laboratory to do EPF research and other entomological studies.”
Dialogue was established with the Nigerian plant health authorities over imports of EPF strains, and following inspection of facilities, approval was granted to hold imported EPF strains under licence.
“To our knowledge, the facility established at Wesley University is Nigeria’s first licenced EPF laboratory,” says Zacheus.
“From this project, we established a research group with a focus on entomopathogenic microbes. Our research group consists of myself as the leader, and two researchers close to finishing their PhDs. Two of my undergraduate students are also being trained on EPF research, and carrying out parts of their research projects using EPF.“
Looking back on his ongoing engagement with the network, Zacheus says:
“I have forged a number of professional collaborations thanks to my involvement in the CONNECTED Network. Some were international, for example working with Dr. David Chandler and Dr. Gillian Prince from the University of Warwick, UK. Others are more local, both within my university and across Nigeria to address plant virology and whitefly issues of common and national interest.
“The opportunities provided by CONNECTED have broadened my research horizon, and I see more research opportunities especially applying the latest molecular techniques learnt from the V4 training.
“The CONNECTED Network has brought me closer to a wider range of upcoming scientists with the same vision and who also experience similar challenges. The communication coaching provided by CONNECTED has also been helpful in developing these collaborations.”
He is pleased to report that another outcome of his involvement in the network is that he became a member of the Research Ethics Committee at his institution, Wesley University Ondo.
Zacheus thinks the network has bright prospects: “I see a greater future for The CONNECTED Network due to its tremendous impact on African agriculture and African scientists. Already, there are quantifiable impacts that should sustain the continuous funding of the network.
“My involvement with The CONNECTED Network has helped build my research profile, showcase some abilities that will help me in higher professional roles, and has improved my ability to acquire more funding opportunities.”