IN CONVERSATION with… Anthony Jide Afolayan -C2 NRF-rated Scientist Researcher

Read time: 7 mins

Professor Anthony Jide Afolayan is a world-renowned scientist whose expertise is rooted in many areas of phytomedicine, pharmacology and toxicology including bioprospecting for novel drugs from medicinal plants.

He holds BSc Honours and MSc degrees in Botany and Plant Ecology respectively from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He completed his PhD degree in Plant Physiology, with emphasis on phytomedicine, at the University of Pretoria.

In 2011, he was declared the most cited scientist in the WORLD by the NRF.

This Week @FortHare spoke to Prof Afolayan recently to get to know the scientist behind several groundbreaking studies.

Who is Prof Afolayan?

I am a Research Professor at the Department of Botany under the Faculty of Science and Agriculture at the University of Fort Hare. 

I am also the Leader of the Medicinal Plants and Economic Development (MPED) Research Centre and the Director of the Electron Microscopy Unit - an NRF funded research unit that I brought to the university of Fort Hare.

I joined the university in 1997 as a lecturer. I moved up the ranks to senior lecturer and now am a full professor.

A HISTORY OF FIRSTS:

  • I am one of the first people to start research activities in the Faculty of Science. On two occasions, I was the only person to produce PhD graduates during graduation ceremonies. To date, I have graduated more than 50 PhD graduates.
  • I am UFH’s first academic to be rated by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and  the first recipient of the Vice Chancellor’s Senior Research Medal in recognition of my outstanding research output for the years 1997, 1998, 1999.
  • I have published over 500 scientific peer-reviewed papers in internationally journals that are recognised and accredited by the Department of Higher Education.
  • In 2015, I was declared the 12th Most Productive Lecturer in South Africa.
  • I am the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Medicinal Plants for Economic Development (JOMPED).  I have served on several editorial boards of scientific journals
  • I am a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa, the highest scientific body of the country.
  • I am also the Founder and first President of the Society of Medicinal Plants for Economic Development (SOMPED).
  • I have served as a member of various research evaluation committees and scientific societies and acted on a number of institutional committees including the University of Fort Hare Ethical Committee.

 

Please share with us your research interest as well as your past and current work/projects.

In 1998 I started the phytomedicine research centre at UFH - which focuses on the use of plants for medicinal purpose. The centre was born out of the fact that many African or South African plants are duplicated in human healing for medicinal purposes. But most of the plants have not been investigated to find out what is in the plant that makes it active against viruses such as Cancer and Tuberculosis.

The university recognised my productivity and established the MPED Research Centre.

To date, we still investigate plants for their medicinal use. In addition, we include conservation to look into how they can be preserve because some of these plants are very rare.

 Another aspect of my research activity is the domestication of white vegetables. We have discovered that most white vegetables are more nutritive and are medicinally active.

Currently, I am focussing on Phytomedicine and drug development including essential oil projects.  This entails the fortification of food with medicinal plants. People who are diabetic or have hypertension often take medicine they do not like. So, we are trying to incorporate anti-diabetic plants into some normal foods.  For example, you will be having a biscuit and still get the medicinal value from it.

COMPLETED AND ONGOING PROJECTS:

  • Moringa oleifera: bridging the gap between laboratory knowledge and human consumption, January 2019 to date
  • Project Leader: Medicinal Plants and Economic Development Research Niche Area (several projects). 2013 to date
  • Project Leader: Validation of the medicinal values of crude extracts and pure compounds extracted from plants used in herbal medicine. 2006 to date.
  • Research Niche Area Leader: Unlocking the potential of indigenous plants for sustainable livelihood in the Eastern Cape. 2006 to date.
  • Project Leader: Propagation and cultivation of ethnoveterinary plants as means for their conservation and preservation in the Eastern Cape. 2005 - 2011
  • Leader: Phytomedicine Research Centre, University of Fort Hare. 2005 - 2013
  • Project Leader, Chemical analysis of high valued plants in the Eastern Cape. University Research Development Project of NRF. 2002 – 2006.
  • Project Leader: Screening of medicinal plants in the Eastern Cape for antimicrobial investigations, Indigenous Knowledge System of the NRF. 1999 – 2005.
  • Research Niche Area Co-Leader: Sustainable Agriculture and Land Use Strategies of the NRF, South Africa 2002 – 2005.
  • Project Leader: Screening of medicinal plants for antibiotics, Medical Research Council of South Africa. 1999 – 2001.
  • Project Leader: Bioprospecting for drugs from higher plants, NRF of South Africa. 1998 -2001

BOOKS and CHAPTERS IN BOOKS

  • Bvenura C and Afolayan AJ (2017). Tackling food and nutrition insecurity using leafy wild vegetables: The nutritional compositions of some selected species. Book Chapter In: Science within food: Up-to-date advances on Research and educational ideas. Méndez-Vilas A. (Ed). Formatex Research Center, Spain, pp 243-250; ISBN: 97884-947512-1-9.
  • Adedapo AA, Koduru S, Jimoh FO, Masika PJ and AJ Afolayan (2008). An Ethnoveterinary Survey and the Antibacterial Activity of Some Plants in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. 22:1-7. Recent Progress in Medicinal Plants, (editors) SK Sharma, JN Govil and VK Singh, Studium Press LLC, USA. ISBN: 1-9336991-2-4. 
  • Oke OA, Oyedeji OA and Afolayan AJ (2005). Validation of the Antimicrobial Property of Some Plants Commonly Used for the Treatment of Mouth Infections in South-West Nigeria. 10:163-168. Recent Progress in Medicinal Plants, (editors) SK Sharma, JN Govil and VK Singh, Studium Press LLC, USA. ISBN: 0-9761849-1-5.
  •  Afolayan, A.J. & Adebola, P.O. (2006). Aloe vera (L.) Burm.f. [Internet] Record from Protabase. Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. < http://database.prota.org/search.htm>

What would you say are your most significant research accomplishments?

It is very difficult to say as I regard all my research work as my most significant accomplishment. I have discovered a lot of plants that are used for medicinal purposes (cancer, TB and diabetes).

SOCIETY FOR MEDICINAL PLANTS AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Overall, my aim is to leave a legacy. When I leave UFH and active research, I want people to remember me for establishing an international scientific organisation, called the Society for Medicinal Plants and Economic Development. The society has members in several countries in the world. It has also founded the Journal of Medicinal Plants for Economic Development which I am the Chief-Editor.

The society and the journal are my two babies now and I count them amongst my greatest achievements.

How do you ensure your research is well communicated, digested and acted on?

This is a wonderful question. If you do a google search on my profile you will see I am cited by over 60 000 people. This means my work is widely read and widely cited, all over the world.

Fellow researchers contact me on a regular basis for collaborations, but now that I am getting old, I tell them that I am winding up.

What do you consider to be the greatest impact of your work?

  • For my work to be considered by people as a point of reference and me being recognised as a person to seek advice from.
  •  Industries contacting me for collaborations and seeking to bring my products to the market.
  • The graduates I have produced

 I consider all these to be the greatest impact of my work.

What advice would you give to Young Researchers out there?

Firstly, I would tell them that in Academics and Research there is no money. Academics is like a calling, if you want to drive a BMW, do not follow in my footsteps.

But there is great respect, there is dignity and that is the greatest reward. People respect your intelligence. You move with confidence in society and when you die, your legacy lives on through your work.