For any university don committed to the long-established call of duty, nothing is more precious and fulfilling than making inroads in the adventure to the advancement of knowledge. This perhaps explains the enthusiasm and venerable devotion that university dons attach to the endeavor to publish their research undertakings.
For Daniel Sila of the Department of Food Science and Technology, such moments are not rare during his short research career at the university. To his credit, he has been fairly successful in putting his shoulder to the research wheel, generating numerous pioneering and rewarding projects, with outputs that have found their way to peer referred journals.
It is however, Dr. Sila’s latest research finding that has brought him unprecedented honor likely to remain memorable for a long time; not only because it was published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology, an influential US based peer referred journal, but because of its icing on the cake which is the interest that the article has generated among scholars in the world; making it the most sought and cited paper of the journal for the two successful years since it was published in 2009. It is this popularity that led the journal publishers to recently invite Dr. Sila, to Las Vegas; US where he was highly decorated and awarded a certificate for his widely cited scientific article.
Commenting on the article, Dr. Sila says it was a culmination of intensive studies that he had conducted as part of his post doctoral work carried out at Katholieke Universiteit, Belgium focusing on the current knowledge of pectin, a plant cell wall compound commonly found in vegetables and fruits that is vital in providing the thickening attributes of processed fruits and vegetable products in the form of gel as found for instance in jams, and cherries and other related foodstuffs.
In his analysis, Dr. Sila was able to establish a crucial relationship between texture of fruit and vegetable and their processed products such as juices, pudding, cherries, pastes and their corresponding consumer sensory preferences. ‘It is the Pectin polymer that is to a large extent responsible in determining the quality of fresh fruits and vegetables and their processed products’ the don argues.
Convinced that pectin manipulation hold the key to increased food production and diversification, Dr. Sila embarked on a series of studies aimed at breaking down the compound using enzymes and forming pectin aggregates using other chemicals. The purpose he argues is to regulate the properties of the plant cell wall substance to foster production of vegetable and fruit products that would meet stipulated market demands: such as shelf life stability, fruits ripening rates, extraction of juices and other consumer preferences. Pectin too he says would be easily designed to produce juices and related vegetable and fruits products with consumer friendly colours and nutrients.
Dr. Sila is upbeat that his finding that falls in the discipline of pectin engineering, a specialized branch of food science technology is likely to find widespread applications where it would for instance be used to slow down the softening or hardening of fruits and vegetables to control their freshness. The technology according to Dr. Sila would as well be applied to accelerate the degree of softness of similar food products to benefit export oriented manufactures, ‘who would employ the knowledge to for example accelerate mango ripening or vice versa for use as a fruit or for the production of juice to meet deadlines for export or even for local retail outlets’
Another sector likely to benefit from the pectin technology is the horticultural sector in Kenya which Dr. Sila says had continued to witness massive postharvest losses of between 30 to 50 percent with mangoes alone accounting for 43 percent of the total production which he laments translates to KShs. 12 billion annually. The technology which Dr. Sila is perfecting is expected to serve as a key intervention measure to the food security dilemma in the country.
Meanwhile, Dr. Sila’s star continue to brighten following the addition of one more feather on his research cap by Nairobi based, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which declared Dr. Sila as their most outstanding research partner during the year 2012.
In a communiqué, Dr. Appolinaire Djikeng, ILRI Interim Director described Dr. Sila as diligent, enthusiastic and enthusiastic and self motivated partner who has admirably steered a joint JKUAT/ILRI research project aimed at adding value to Amaranth, an African indigenous vegetable, through the development of new Amaranth based food products.