By Tikum Mbah Azonga
The idea of writing text books for use in our schools is no longer new as it has been done for decades. Thanks to that turn of events, gone are the days when most, if not all, secondary school text books were imported, at great cost to both school and parents. Now that the trend has been reversed, students are having on offer, more and more “Made in Cameroon” textbooks. It is precisely in the category of what I call the “home-made textbooks” that Nathaniel Okenyi`s Biotechnology: An Introductory Approach, falls squarely.
Even so, Okenyi`s book is not just one of those “made in Cameroon”. The book is totally and entirely in a class of its own because it embraces a discipline which is new in the country`s school curriculum and one on which little if not nothing has been written specifically. Two leading authorities who have written the forward to the book – Helen Agborbesong who is National Pedagogic Inspector for Biology and Akonumbo Derrick who is Assistant Chief Examiner for Advanced Level Biology – support this view: “The introduction of the study of Biotechnology in our educational system has been very timid. The reasons for this may not be very evident but as a teacher, one would be tempted to think that we need an appropriate text book. Secondly, if we do have a text the next problem would be how to exploit it. This is to say our teachers are not adequately versed on the subject matter. The Cameroon General Certificate of Education Board has introduced this area of study as an integral part of the Ordinary Level as well as the Advanced Level. This makes its study imperative in our schools. The coming up of Biotechnology: An Introductory Approach will certainly be of relief to many a teacher of biology”.
When one examines Okenyi`s profile, one has no doubt that he is quite qualified to write such a book. He has studied biochemistry, molecular biology, biotechnology and biology education. He holds a BSc and a Maitrise in biochemistry as well as the DIPES II from the Higher Cycle of ENS Yaounde. In terms of practical field experience, Okenyi is Head of the Department of Biology and Science Coordinator at Government Bilingual High School, Tiko. He is also a GCE examiner in Advanced Level Biology. Perhaps to crown it all, he serves as a member of the Cameroon Science Teachers` Association (CAMSTA) as well as the Natural Science Teachers` Association (NASTA).
That being the case, it is therefore not surprising that Okenyi begins his study by giving a definition of biotechnology. According to him, “Biotechnology is any technological application which uses biological systems, living things or derivatives thereof to make and modify products or processes for specific uses (…) Biotechnology can be compared to biology because both studies are carried out on living things. But their differences are enormous. While biology, basically involves the understanding of living things and systems, biotechnology delves into the use of these systems and their understanding. When compared in terms of production we note that biotechnology can be considered as the economic aspect of biology. It involves the stepping up of biological processes. Biological production is measured in terms of grams while biotechnology harnesses knowledge and skills to modify life. It is geared towards production and developmental perspectives”.
Okenyi`s definition ties in with the following one from the website, Wise Geek: “In its most general sense, biotech can be used to refer to any sort of technology that uses biology to accomplish its end. This includes such ‘low-tech’ methods as grafting different plants together, adding yeasts to a drink to ferment it into beer, or supplementing soil with organisms to help manage pest problems. In a more specific sense, biotech is usually used to refer to a higher level of technological intercession, especially in the field of agriculture. There are four main subfields of biotech, which most implementations fit under: green, blue, white, and red. Green biotech has to do with plants and growing, blue biotech has to do with aquatic uses of biological technology, white biotech is used in industry, and red biotech is used for medical purposes. While all four subfields have contributed a number of valuable processes, green biotech is probably the most widely used, while blue biotech is still relatively rare”.
To buttress his definition of biotechnology, the Okenyi adapts an illustrative Biotechnology Knowledge Tree from Wikipedia.org which links 15 other disciplines directly to biotechnology. These are agriculture, genetics, energy and environmental management, biochemistry, chemical engineering, food processing, immunology, parasitology, genetic engineering, bioprocess technology, fermentation technology, medicine, microbiology and cell and molecular biology.
The book is broken up into six broad chapters, each of which is further divided into sub sections. The six are biotechnology and scope, traditional biotechnology, modern biotechnology, techniques of modern biotechnology, sustainability and some applications of biotechnology, and finally bioethics. Some sub chapters taken at random are production of dairies, production of wines, grafting, organisms used in biotechnology, culture media, fermentation technology, tissue-cell culture, protoplast fusion, genetic engineering including polymerase chain reaction and recombinant DNA technology, production of human insulin, biogas production, micro-propagation in plants, the use of pectinase to extract fruit juice, ethanoic and acid production, as well as making soap, ice cream, ginger bread and bread.
Okenyi somehow manages to balance a certain equation that could easily have wrong-footed him. It is the unenviable task of giving satisfaction to both teacher and student in terms of the usefulness of the book. That is why he says in the preface: “A common misconception among teachers is the thought that biotechnology only includes recDNA technology and genetic engineering. To keep students abreast of this current knowledge, some teachers at times have emphasized the techniques of DNA science as the “end-and-all” of biotechnology. This trend has led to a misunderstanding in the general populace Biotechnology is broader than these two techniques. In this book therefore I have not only presented the scope of biotechnology but have also emphasized other techniques and their basic principles. The book will serve as a handbook for both students of the formal and informal education sectors. To teachers, it should serve as the framework for thoughtful teaching not only to make better the creation of God but to render it purposeful and useful”.
The outer back cover of the book says even more about its usefulness: “Biotechnology: An Introductory Approach provides the clearest access to the vast pluri-disciplinary field of biotechnology. It emphasizes the experimental and economic aspects of biotechnology which can be exploited by scholars in the developing world. This book is relevant primarily to teachers given that it provides first hand information and the basics of biotechnology. It is equally relevant to A-Level biology and undergraduates of biochemistry, microbiology and biotechnology. Biotechnology: An Introductory Approach offers clear and simple explanations of biological concepts in biotechnology, progression of concepts from simple to complex with thoughtful insights, real and comprehensive texts for students to explore, experiments and laboratory activities that can be converted into business ventures, as well as revision exercises and past questions of the London and Cameroon GCE examination on biotechnology, with answers traceable inside the text.
The author goes the extra mile for the sake of the student, by setting at the end of chapters, examination-like revision questions. At the end of the entire work he sets what he calls “General Question” which are in fact a bird`s eye view revision of the entire book. The book is written in simple English, with sufficient care being taken to ensure that even when scientific formulas and equations are used, the non-scientific mind is not scared off. It contains an appendix which gives a table for ammonium medium for nitrosomonas, one for Emmons` Culture Medium for Fungi and one on the Phage Growth Medium. The book also contains a glossary which defines useful related terms such as absorption, antibiotic, cloning vector, hemocytometer, molasses, pasteurization, restriction endonuclease and sparging. Further on he includes a selected bibliography of proven authors such as Lealy & al, Mullis, Lodish, Benson, Cooper, Nagamani and Ramasamyi, Jens and Villadsen as well as an alphabetical index.
Biotechnology: An Introductory Approach was published in 2008 by Bookhouse, P.O. Box 14030, Yaounde.
Author`s contact details:
Mr. Nathaniel Okenyi
South West Region
Republic of Cameroon
TEL: (237) 9981 9775 or (237) 7658 8733