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ONU to host lecture by top ethnobotanists

Oct 5, 2011

Ohio Northern University will host a lecture by leading ethnobotanists Dr. Sebsebe Demissew and Dr. Nigist Asfaw in the Freed Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday, Oct. 26, at 7 p.m. This lecture is free and open to the public.

The duo’s presentation, “Aromatic Plants, People and Sustainable Use: The Ethiopian Experience,” is part of the Keiser Distinguished Lectureship in Life Sciences program, named in honor of Terry D. Keiser, an ONU alumnus and professor of biological sciences.

“I feel very grateful to my friends, former students and alumni for providing the financial means to accomplish this,” said Keiser. “Dr. Demissew and Dr. Asfaw are two of the world’s leading authorities in this area. Our students should benefit greatly from spending time with them.”

Demissew is director of the National Herbarium of Ethiopia and professor of plant taxonomy and biodiversity at Addis Ababa University. Asfaw is assistant professor of chemistry and is credited with bringing green chemistry to Ethiopia. As ethnobotanists, they have co-authored the book “Aromatic Plants of Ethiopia,” which includes discussions of plants used for spices and medicinal purposes.

Demissew received his Bachelor of Science in general biology and his Master of Science in botany from Addis Ababa University. He earned a Ph.D. in systematic botany from Uppsala University (Sweden). He has held faculty positions in the botany department at Addis Ababa University from 1977 to the present. He also served as dean of the Faculty of Science from 1996 to 2000. His work in biodiversity spans more than three decades, and, since 1996, he has been leader of the Ethiopian Flora Project, which was successfully completed in 2009.
Demissew’s work includes documentation of the flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea, including the use of plants by indigenous communities. He also has participated in biodiversity studies in other African countries, including Usambara in Tanzania, Mefou and Mount Kupe in Cameroon, Weichaw in Ghana, Cape Region in South Africa, and Kibale Forest in Uganda. His work engages him in understanding the causes and effects of changes in the environment, with a main focus on natural resources.

Asfaw received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in organic chemistry from Addis Ababa University and her Ph.D. in organic chemistry (natural products chemistry) from the University of Oslo (Norway). She has been on the faculty in the department of chemistry at Ad­dis Ababa University since 2002. Before this, she was head of research and quality at the Ethiopian Spice Extrac­tion Factory. She also has been a chemist for the soil laboratory and the plant protection laboratory for the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and for the Ministry of industry. Asfaw’s interests and research involve the isolation and structure elucidation of natural products from indigenous aromatic and medicinal plants, essential oils, green/sustainable chemistry, and renewable feedstocks.
The Keiser Distinguished Lectureship in Life Sciences brings nationally prominent life sciences scholars to ONU's campus each year to lecture and interact with students for a week. The Keiser Lectureship was the first program of its kind at Ohio Northern.
While on campus, Demissew and Asfaw will deliver a second lecture, “Global Biodiversity Hotspots in the Horn of Africa and Plant Resource Potentials,” in the College of Pharmacy’s room 151 on Thursday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m. This event is free and open to the public.

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