Sileshi Gizachew Wubshet is a rising young star in the Norwegian science community. Photo: Jon-Are Berg-Jacobsen/Nofima

Outstanding research talent with the world at his feet

Sileshi Gizachew Wubshet is a rising young star in the Norwegian science community. The Nofima scientist has been awarded almost NOK 7 million from the Research Council of Norway for a project he is deeply passionate about.

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Portrettbilde av Sileshi Gizachew Wubshet

Run by the Research Council of Norway, FRIPRO is a national competitive arena for research funding for projects in all fields and disciplines. The scheme is designed to promote scientific quality at the forefront of international research, boldness in scientific thinking and innovation, careers for young research talents and mobility among researchers in the early stages of their careers

The FRIPRO scheme seeks to increase international mobility among researchers in the early stages of their careers and to help Norwegian applicants compete successfully under international funding schemes.

FRIPRO assigns applications into three categories, overseen by the following expert committees:

  • The Committee for Humanities and Social Sciences (FRIHUMSAM)
  • The Committee for Medicine, Health Sciences and Biology (FRIMEDBIO)
  • The Committee for Mathematics, Physical Science and Technology (FRINATEK)

The project involves combining food by-products, a number of advanced analytical methods and pharmacology in a bid to fight lifestyle diseases such as obesity and diabetes. With extensive experience in several areas of research, considerable enthusiasm and promising ideas, the 30-year-old is now set for the next three years of his scientific career.

“Combining FTIR-based Screening with Ligand Fishing Technologies for Facilitated Discovery of Antidiabetic Peptides in Protein Hydrolysates” is the formal title of the project which beat off fierce competition to go all the way when the Research Council announced new funding for young research talents.

The long-winded project title describes how Sileshi Wubshet combines spectroscopy, chromatography and molecular biology to identify diabetes inhibitors in by-products from chicken proteins and whey.  The project brings together several of Nofima’s areas of expertise.

A huge opportunity

Of the 135 applications for the “Young Research Talents” grant from the Research Council of Norway, only 14 were accepted. The young Nofima scientist is more than excited that his project made the cut when the Research Council’s funding for independent research projects was awarded in 2016. Sileshi Wubshet is passionate about spectroscopy, advanced chemistry and pharmacology. Being able to combine all three in a very specific project is a dream come true.

– This is a huge opportunity for me and a big step in my research career. I’m grateful and very happy, says the young Nofima scientist.

The funding provided through “Young Research Talents” is aimed at young researchers in the early stages of their careers who have demonstrated the ability to conduct research of a high scientific quality. That describes Sileshi Wubshet perfectly.

He describes the research community at Nofima as very motivational environment.

– As a scientist, I don’t just want to publish scientific articles from an academic perspective. I also want to help develop something concrete for the greater good. When you walk into the lab and know that what you’re doing could actually reach the global market and have an impact on public health, it gives you a completely new perspective and motivation. I’ve been given a fantastic opportunity to make things happen thanks to the funding from the Research Council and my platform at Nofima. I’m really looking forward to taking on new challenges, says the enthusiastic young researcher.

Crossing continents

Only 30 years of age, Sileshi Gizachew Wubshet has studied and gained experience in five different countries on three different continents. He has also published a number of scientific articles during his career.

He was born and raised in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. In 2007 he completed his bachelor degree in chemistry at the university in his home city. That degree was the beginning of what looks to be a promising career in science. His bachelor was so good that the young chemist was awarded a grant to continue his studies in Europe. That took him to the city and university of Lille in France, where he completed the first year of his master degree. The second year of his master’s he spent at the University of Bergen. He successfully defended his thesis on spectroscopy and chemical analysis in 2010.

– I actually began using spectroscopy to study plants – how to separate out extracts and pigments.

After completion of his master degree in Bergen he went on to Copenhagen as a doctoral student in 2010. Three years later he had gained his doctorate in analytical chemistry. Immediately after completing his PhD, the talented scientist was appointed to a postdoc role at the University of Copenhagen. However, his desire to progress meant he would rather work on a project that he himself had initiated. Funded by a Danish research institute, he took up a position at the National Institute of Health in Baltimore, Maryland. And there the research project that has now been awarded funding was born.

However, Sileshi Wubshet wanted to return to Norway – for a very specific reason. During his stay in Bergen he met his Norwegian girlfriend; she too originally from Ethiopia. When a vacancy arose in Nofima’s raw materials and process optimisation department in 2015, the job was as perfect for him as he was for Nofima.

Things fell into place beautifully: in December last year he was given the Young Research Talents grant, and in February Sileshi and his girlfriend Betty became parents to a little girl.

The health aspects of food

The project he is about to embark on will run for three years. The funding is worth almost NOK 7 million. In July he will begin work on the project in earnest. The talented young scientist is now in a position to recruit a postdoc to the project. Also part of his team are experienced Nofima researchers Nils Kristian Afseth og Sven H. Knudsen. Contacts and resources from his study days are also on board. Partners on the project include the University of Copenhagen and the National Institute of Health in Baltimore. Industry players TINE and Norilia are also involved in what is described as market-driven project with a significant research height.

– To be able to work with the health aspects surrounding food gives me a good perspective on what I’m doing at Nofima. I can see the potential of by-products in terms of health. The big challenge is how to identify the bioactives – the beneficial components – in by-products from chicken abattoirs and dairies. The material is rather complex, says the scientist.

He is now working to combine his knowledge of spectroscopy, chromatography and analytical chemistry to design analytical technology to allow him to identify these valuable peptides in by-products. The ultimate aim? To create a research platform for analysis within the relevant specialisms.

A broad platform

Exactly why he and his project were successful in the tough competition, Sileshi Gizachew Wubshet cannot say for certain.

– But personally I’m pleased that I’ve been given the opportunity to spend time in different laboratories, each with its different culture and different way of thinking. Different people and environments have given me a broad platform from which to approach my research, and they have enabled me to learn about both spectroscopic and chemical analysis. I’ve been working with both plants and animal by-products. And I’ve also taken a pharmaceutical approach, smiles the affable young scientist.

– Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?

I see myself as an established scientist – hopefully with an international reputation. For me, Nofima is a good place to work and the right place for me because I’m able to build both expertise and networks. I get to work in academia but also in partnership with industry, says Sileshi Gizachew Wubshet enthusiastically.

A lucky man

Jens Petter Wold, Sven H. Knutsen and Nils Kristian Afseth are established researchers at Nofima and Sileshi Wubshet’s partners on the analytical project due to get underway. And he is grateful for their involvement.

– It is they who have encouraged me to do this. Without such good and motivational colleagues I wouldn’t have known that I could apply for this grant. I’m a lucky man, he insists.

Raw materials and process optimisation  

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