Ag Research Spotlight:
“We face an ever-growing challenge of producing animal protein in the most efficient way to meet the demands of an exploding global population. I want to contribute to devising ways to produce animal protein more efficiently." –Kola Ajuwon
The Ag Research Spotlight shines each month on an individual whose work reflects our commitment to the six strategic themes that guide Agricultural Research at Purdue. Our spotlight for September 2014 underscores the theme, “Utilizing molecular approaches to expand the frontiers of agriculture and life sciences.”
Although Kola Ajuwon’s parents were not farmers, they and their neighbors in Nigeria typically had a small farm on which they grew corn and raised chickens to supplement their other occupations. As a young man, Ajuwon grew some crops himself, “just because I love to grow things,” he recalls. “It was not difficult for me to choose agriculture.” He focused on animal sciences as an undergraduate at Obafemi Awolowo University, noting that animal protein in that part of the world is beyond the means of most people. A professor at his Nigerian college held a Ph.D. from Purdue, so Ajuwon heard frequently about Boilermakers and astronauts. Determined to get the best education possible in the field, he contacted professors abroad and found one – Purdue Professor of Animal Sciences Olayiwola Adeola – willing to take him on. Ajuwon completed his master’s and doctoral degrees as well as postdoctoral training at Purdue. While adjusting to the different climate, food and pace of learning wasn’t easy, he credits Purdue with offering “a lot of support that provides the right environment for people to succeed.” He joined the Purdue faculty in 2008 after a two-year stint as assistant professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
”The focus of my research is to understand the ways by which animals use nutrients; by nutrients, I mean whatever we give them to eat,” he explains. “We can use that knowledge of the biological processes to develop practices on the farm to optimize their growth – the best nutrition, best housing and best management.” Ajuwon hopes that his focus on what regulates the development of fat in pigs will help to identify strategies to prevent obesity and associated diseases in humans as well.
BENEFITING FARMERS AND ANIMALS
Pigs have the highest quantity of fat in their bodies relative to other livestock, Ajuwon notes. “If we look at the wasted energy that goes into this fat formation, it’s a huge cost for the farmer. It’s also a huge load on the animal. Because of my knowledge of the mechanisms that regulate nutrient direction into fat, I’m keenly interest in finding a way to minimize fat deposition. ”The same process, he notes, regulates fat deposition in humans. “Whatever knowledge I gain can contribute to understanding of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease risk in humans. I am excited that my research on a livestock animal could answer some of these questions.”
IN AND OUT OF THE LAB
Ajuwon considers his graduate students his colleagues and “the engines of the research process” as his lab team studies genes and processes related to fat development. “They’re going to be the scientists of tomorrow, so it’s good that we train them well,” he says. He looks for highly motivated, hardworking students with interest in his specific research and a group spirit. When he’s not in the lab, Ajuwon enjoys biking with his three sons, ages 15, 12 and 7, and taking them to their many school and sports activities.