Youth Month 2023: Folasade Banji-Onisile

Youth Month 2023: Folasade Banji-Onisile

June is Youth Month, and this year the NRF is celebrating the Youth of the NRF who are advancing knowledge, transforming lives, and inspiring a nation. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us.

Ms Folasade Banji-Onisile is a PhD candidate in Microbiology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). She received NRF-TWAS (World Academy of Sciences) funding for her PhD studies.

How did your journey start?

I grew up in Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria. I was raised by my parents who are both educationists. My dad, before his demise, was an education officer and my mum is a retired teacher. I have three siblings and we grew up spending time and navigating challenges together. The love and support I receive from my family have shaped my aspirations and influenced my personal growth.

From an early age, I harboured a deep fascination with the world of medicine. As a child, I dreamt of donning a white coat and making a difference in the healthcare field. However, life has a way of leading us down unexpected paths. I could not meet up with the points required for medical school, so I had a second choice which was microbiology. I wrote an entrance exam and was admitted to study microbiology at Nasarawa State University.

Having completed my four-year Bachelor’s degree in 2010, I registered for a Master’s in Microbiology at the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Nigeria which I obtained in 2014. My research focused on the antimicrobial activity of antibiotic-producing Streptomyces I isolated from soil. The ability of the microorganism to produce metabolites having high potency of preventing the growth of disease-causing organisms, especially drug-resistant microorganisms, intensified my fascination with microbiology. Then I sought opportunities to explore the field further. This motivated me to apply for PhD in Microbiology in 2020 with a focus on novel drug discovery from natural sources.

How has your affiliation with the NRF impacted your studies/career?

My affiliation with the NRF has contributed a lot to achieving my goal. The funding opportunity made my research much easier and stress-free. I also had the opportunity of attending an international conference where I met with experts in my field. The exceptional opportunity for the exchange of experience and familiarisation with good practices was a channel for my personal development.

Did you have to overcome any obstacles to be where you are today, and what did you learn from it?

I have learnt that whatever you put your mind to do, you will achieve if you do not give up. I received my funding during the COVID-19 pandemic. I almost lost the award because the registration process in my host institution during that time was challenging, and I had a deadline to meet with NRF. I almost gave up, but I was encouraged and kept sending several emails. I eventually registered successfully on the day of the deadline. A special thanks to my supervisor for the role he played in communicating with those involved and ensuring I was able to register.

What is your research focus on/what is your area of expertise?

Currently, my research centres around exploring the microbiological and medicinal potential of a South African medicinal plant against specific pathogens. This encompasses several key processes, including the extraction of secondary metabolites from various plant components, the isolation, and purification of secondary metabolites produced by endophytic microorganisms derived from the plant, as well as nanoparticle synthesis using both the plant and the endophytic microorganisms. To evaluate the efficacy, the research involves conducting comprehensive microbiological tests encompassing antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant, and anti-cancer (specifically breast cancer and liver cancer) assessments. The interdisciplinary nature of the research has made me explore the intersections of chemistry and biochemistry.

How can your work/studies advance knowledge, transform lives, and inspire a nation?

The world is currently facing a daunting challenge posed by the emergence of multi-drug-resistant pathogenic microorganisms. With each passing year, the mortality rate steadily rises because of the escalating number of multidrug-resistant pathogens. Given the urgency of this situation, a pivotal step towards mitigating this pervasive issue lies in the exploration and development of innovative drugs that can effectively combat multidrug resistance. This research will not only ignite inspiration and drive transformative advancements in the field but will also make a significant breakthrough in effectively addressing the potential health implications of future global pandemics.

What are some of your proudest achievements?

The opportunity to present my research at the ASM conference held in Washington DC, USA in 2022 was one of the happiest achievements in my career

What are your career aspirations for the future?

I see myself contributing to scientific discoveries and making strides in the development of novel antimicrobial therapies. I see myself collaborating with experts across disciplines to improve human health and the world we live in. I also aspire to be an NRF-rated researcher.

This work is licenced under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 South Africa (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 ZA) license. Please view the terms for republishing here.

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