9 March 1998

Ethiopia: SPEAKING OF PEOPLE: Dr. Dawit Abate - Ethiopian Biologist

Addis Ababa — Dr. Dawit Abate is an Associate Professor at the Biology Department of Addis Ababa University. He is also responsible for research in a wide range of areas of biology.

He has diversified his research results into four main application areas. One is using microbial organisms to create pharmaceuticals like antibiotics. This research has identified several novel and potentially useful secondary products from cultures of Ethiopian fungi. A publication entitled, " Search for Potential Drugs from Higher Fungi" is a case in point.

Born in 1955 in Gojam, Ethiopia, Dr. Dawit grew up close to nature. In Bahir Dar, where he was raised, flora and fauna were a part of everyday existence. The young Dawit joined the AAU and chose Biology as his main field of study. He got a B.Sc. in Biology. In 1982, he received an M.Sc. in Myco logy from the Addis Ababa University. Later his thirst for further studies led him to a Ph.D. in Microbial Biotechnology in 1989, at the University of Kaiserslautern, Germany.

After his first degree, he remained in the university. From 1979 - 81, he was a graduate assistant; from 1982-85, an assistant lecturer; and from 1989 - 1996, an assistant professor. Presently, he is an Associate Professor of Mycology and Microbiology in the department of Biology.

He has also attended training courses, workshops, and symposiums in microbial technology in the former Czechoslovakia; industrial biotechnology in Germany; bioassay techniques for detection and fractionisation of bio-active natural products in Kenya; search for potential drugs from higher fungi

in Addis Ababa; bionet international global workshops in the UK ; Chemistry, biological and pharmacological properties of African medical plants in Zimbabwe.

Dr. Dawit says there are areas in science that could be researched to bring a better reality. To make the public aware of the toxic nature of mouldy food grains is one instance.

A second area of research for Dr. Dawit involves mycotoxins. His research has created awareness of the health hazards of mycotoxins in grains in Ethiopia. He has developed a theoretical assumption based on surveys made in four regions of Ethiopia. Dr. Dawit and his team took samples of grain fr om store rooms in Addis Ababa, Jimma, Dire Dawa, and Shashemene. They found that grain stored in Jimma contains a higher amount of alphatoxin than in any other area. This may be because humidity causes rapid mould growth. Scholars now believe toxins could cause liver cancer.

Incidentally, research, one of Dr Dawit's two responsibilities, only takes up 25% of his working hours, as he is busy teaching the rest of the time. This is too short, as far as he is concerned. Time is vital for research, he says. Furthermore, to aggravate the situation, the researcher wastes his time in search of funds, etc...

His third area of interest is biological control. He has collected basic data for the application of microbial insecticides. This will control mosquitoes and desert locusts. The research is significant because it uses natural means to destroy unwanted elements in nature. Particularly, the deser t locust, which is a threat to the northern and eastern parts of Ethiopia. During drought seasons, locusts wreak havoc on the limited food supply. The initiative by Dr. Dawit is hence to be commended.

Finally, an addition interest is mushroom cultivation. Dr. Dawit has provided basic information on mushroom cultivation and has helped to develop mushrooms on a small scale.

Some of his research publications in the area are "Mushrooms and Mushroom Cultivation in Ethiopia,"

"Enguday Yemasadeg Zedewoch," ( a manual for mushroom cultivation), " Cultivation of Oyster Mushrooms in Ethiopia," and "Cultivation of the Oyster Mushrooms in Brick Pots." Recently some 13 unemployed young Ethiopian women were shown how to grow mushroom. These women are now able to earn an inc ome.

Some of Dr Dawit's collaborative efforts are : "Fermentation and Microbial Secondary Metabolism,"

"Bioactive Microbial Products, Mycotoxins,"

"Biological Control of Insects and Nematodes."

Concerning funding, Dr. Dawit says that the lack of it still remains a sensitive and burning issue for all Ethiopian scientists. Fortunately, he says he obtained some 17,000 birr from the Ethiopian Science and Technology Commission. The Biology department laboratory is equipped with scientific materials from funds obtained from German Technical Co-operation (GTZ). The International Foundation for Science in Sweden, and the NUFU of Norway also assist with scholar funds. As the AAU lacks funds itself, it is difficult to get money for scientists, said Dr. Dawit. Furthermore, the lack of we ll-developed industries that are in a position to translate research results into every day use also discourages scientists, he added.

Outside of his research and teaching, Dr. Dawit is a member of the Biological Society of Ethiopia, Natural Products Network for Eastern and Central Africa (NAPRECA), British Mycological Society, and the African Myclogical Association.

Dr. Dawit is married and has two children. He hopes to publish a handbook of mushrooms with illustrations. This will help the public distinguish between edible and non-edible mushrooms.

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