Prof Nwodo’s Inaugural Professorial Lecture sheds light on the complex relationship between humans and microorganisms

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Professor Uchechukwu Nwodo, one of the leading scientists at the University of Fort Hare (UFH) delivered the 35th Inaugural Professorial Lecture yesterday, signifying his ascension to Full Professor.

Titled "Anthropes and Microbes: The Paradox of Hostility and Harmony," Prof Nwodo’s lecture explored the multifaceted dynamics of the paradoxical relationship and shed light on the complexities inherent in the coexistence of these two entities.

He highlighted the constant battle between anthropes and microbes, categorized by the struggle to overcome infectious diseases and microbial threats that pose significant challenges to human health and survival.

“Microbes have evolved ingenious mechanisms to infiltrate anthropic hosts, triggering immune responses and often leading to disease and mortality. In response, anthropes have developed intricate defense mechanisms, including antibiotics and vaccines, to combat microbial invaders.”

However, amidst this backdrop of hostility, Prof Nwodo emphasized the emergence of a paradoxical harmony, showcasing mutual relationships between anthropes and certain microbial communities.

“At the core of the human-microbe relationship lies a complex mutualism, wherein both parties derive significant benefits. The human microbiome, a vast community of microorganisms residing in and on the human body, exemplifies this symbiosis. These microbes perform essential functions such as aiding digestion, synthesizing vitamins, and modulating the immune system.”

Furthermore, he highlighted the broader ecological implications of the anthropes-microbes relationship, emphasizing the essential role of microbes in ecosystem functioning. “Microbes play indispensable roles in ecosystems, contributing to nutrient cycling, decomposition, and maintaining soil and water quality. Nitrogen-fixing bacteria, for example, convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form that plants can use, facilitating plant growth and maintaining soil fertility. Similarly, decomposer microbes break down organic matter, recycling nutrients and ensuring ecosystem energy flow.”

Beyond biological interactions, Prof Nwodo addressed the sociocultural dimensions of the anthropes-microbes relationship, noting historical perspectives. “Anthropes have historically viewed microbes through the lens of disease and contamination, leading to practices aimed at microbial eradication and sterilization.”

However, he highlighted emerging perspectives that emphasize the beneficial roles of microbes in areas such as agriculture, biotechnology, and environmental remediation, signaling a shift towards appreciation and symbiosis. "This shift in perception underscores the evolving relationship between anthropes and microbes, from one characterized by fear and hostility to one informed by appreciation and symbiosis."

His lecture drew from his extensive academic and research background, which spans over two decades. With a Bachelor of Science combined Honours in Microbiology and Biochemistry and a Master of Science in Medical Virology all from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), and a PhD in Microbiology from UFH, his knowledge and insights on the topic captivated the audience.

Throughout his career, which began in 2006 as a lecturer at UNN, Prof Nwodo has held various leadership positions and made significant contributions to academia, research, and international collaboration.

He has published over 120 journal articles and received numerous awards and accolades for his groundbreaking research, including the Vice-Chancellor’s Emerging Researcher Award and recognition from The World Academy of Sciences. Recently, he was upgraded from Y2 to a C2 rating by the National Research Foundation.

Currently serving as the Acting Director of Postgraduate Studies and Postdoctoral Fellows at UFH, he continues to foster a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment for students and emerging academic staff.

Concluding his lecture, Prof Nwodo highlighted the necessity for ongoing innovation to leverage beneficial microbial processes for human benefit while simultaneously developing strategies to combat microbial pathogens and protect humanity. "The paradox of hostility and harmony in relationships underscores the imperativeness of a continuum in innovation to harness beneficial microbial processes for services to humankind yet keep ahead of the pathogens from the destruction of humanity."

Congratulations Prof Nwodo.

Click here to watch the recording of the Lecture.

Story: Aretha Linden

Picture: Tim Wilson