Dr. Ommeh, JKUAT, Winner of the 2020 KENET Top Female Researcher Award

One of the mandates of KENET is to promote research collaboration. KENET subscribed to Elsevier Scival research analytic tool in January 2016 to measure the degree of collaboration among KENET members. The collaboration is measured in terms of joint publications indexed in Scopus database and is often used for global universities and research rankings. 

Elsevier Scival is a web-based analytics solution that allows you to visualize your research performance, benchmark relative to peers, develop strategic partnerships, identify and analyze new, emerging research trends, and -create uniquely tailored reports. The data gathered from Elsevier Scival is used to measure research productivity and to discover research champions in areas such Engineering, Computer Science, Material Science, Earth and Planetary Sciences and Agricultural and Biological Sciences. KENET uses the data to advise members on emerging research trends and the ranking of research publications depending on how highly ranked the publications are. KENET then awards the top three (3) highly ranked researchers in each category.  

                                                                                          

                                                                                              Dr Ommeh assisting her students in analyzing data

Dr. Sheila Ommeh Cecily, a molecular geneticist and an authority in Livestock, Poultry and Health from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) recently won the coveted Top Female Researcher Awrd by KENET.  The award was based on her high number of publications, thirty-two (32) on Elsevier's Scopus and SciVal publication platforms and three hundred and eighty-seven (387) citations. Her most highly cited publication is, “The Middle East Respiratory Corona Virus which determined the genetic diversity of the virus among camels in Kenya and East Africa”. 

Dr. Ommeh attributed winning the award to the production of high quality of publications and papers that ended up being indexed in the Institute of Scientific Information (ISI) Web of Science metrics. She also gave credit to her collaborators, thanking them for helping in the facilitation of health encompassing research which ended up in very quality journals leading to international recognition of the work being done. The collaborators include The National Museums of Kenya, The Kenya Wildlife Services, The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Irrigation & The University of Nairobi from Kenya and Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China. 

Currently her research is based on three (3) main areas. The first area focuses on understanding the genomics of indigenous chicken in terms of their diversity for further molecular improvement. She focuses on three (3) main species which include chicken, guinea fowls and quails. The research focuses on the genomic diversity of these species and how they can be improved further for production and productivity and for adaptive traits such as heat stress and disease resistant.  

The second area is the camel project which focuses on disease dynamics between camels and livestock herders. The neglection of counties which have camels has resulted in a lot of emerging neglected diseases which are understudied. The research, which is the first country wide study of the Middle East Respiratory Corona Virus, determined the genetic diversity of the virus among camels in Kenya and East Africa. Since camels have a lot of transboundary movements between different countries like Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, controlling the disease will need a transboundary approach which calls for enhanced surveillance and rapid and precise diagnostics. This will be important for future studies which will aim to come up with proper surveillance methods. 

The third area is livestock, wildlife genetics and emerging zoonosis in bats and rodents. This research is in collaboration with the National Museums of Kenya and Kenya Wildlife Services. The focus is on understanding the kind of pathogens, specifically viruses that wildlife species such as mammals and rodents might harbor. This research stems from the displacement of small mammals like rodents and bats due to the current rapid urbanization as more settlements are occurring in natural habitats leading to them turning up in human settlements. 

Dr Ommeh won the Fellowship award from African Women in Agriculture, Research and Development in 2010 while doing her PHD. The fellowship granted her the opportunity to go to Italy to one of the top research labs in genomics enabling her to gain skills in molecular genetics. From the fellowship, Dr. Sheila got the opportunity to inculcate leadership skills especially as woman in science, negotiation skills with the greater scientific world and soft skills for scientific advancement. 

As a lecturer, Dr Ommeh has graduated a more than 10 Masters and PHD students who undertook studies in poultry and poultry related birds like chicken, geese, quails, guinea fowls, ducks and pigeons. Under her mentorship, most of these graduates have been able to publish in peer refereed journals that have been cited globally. Some students from the current cohort of students include Steven Njuguna Kuria studying a Masters degree in Biotechnology sciences with a focus on types of pathogens in the Kenyan camels and Grace Moraa, PHD student specializing in Poultry Omics with a focus on Indigenous Chicken in Genomics, Transcriptomics, Epigenomics and Poultry. 

When asked what the future of Animal Biotechnology looks like, Dr Ommeh said, "The field of animal biotechnology has been controversial since immemorial with methods like cloning and genetic engineering in early science not auguring well with the general society especially in terms of religion and creation. The field of Omics (big data in Biology) has a lot of potential and Kenya can use phenotypic means to try and improve livestock. The combination of Animal biotechnology and Omics will help in the incorporation of molecular data for livestock improvement and conservation."