Motto: Understanding The Unseen

History- Department of Microbiology

The Department of Microbiology is one of the current nine departments that constitute the Faculty of Science. The department was however not a foundation member of the Faculty. The Faculty of Science was one of the foundation faculties of the University and it came into being in October 1962; the same date that Ahmadu Bello University was founded. There were only six departments at the inception of the faculty. These departments were departments of BOTANY, ZOOLOGY, CHEMISTRY GEOGRAPHY, MATHEMATICS and PHYSICS. Two other departments were added to the faculty in 1969. These were the department of GEOLOGY and the department of MICROBIOLOGY.

In the same year, the departments of BOTANY and ZOOLOGY were consolidated to form a single department of BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES. The department of BIOCHEMISTRY was created in 1975, and the youngest department in the Faculty, the department of TEXTILE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY was finally, “born” in 1980. The department of Microbiology thus has wonderful “siblings” in the family, that is the Faculty, and she enjoys a good rapport with siblings that are older than her and siblings that are younger than her!

The money, materials and manpower that created the department in 1969 came from the WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION in Geneva. The department was established by a grant of the WHO as a gift to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in particular and the people of Nigeria in general. The department had a very humble beginning. The offices were only two rooms donated by the department of BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES which also provided the laboratories and classrooms for student lectures and practicals. The academic staff comprised two WHO expatriate experts. Its primary objective was to teach medical microbiology to medical students and to provide microbiological laboratory services to aid patient management in Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH); then situated at Tudun Wada, Zaria. To cater for the developmental need of the new Nigerian nation that attained its independence on the 1stof October 1960, (just nine years before the department came into being), it was necessary for the academic scope of the department to be widened; since other specialties were as important as the medical specialty for development. Consequently, in 1971 a degree programme in General Microbiology was introduced in the department. For quite a number of years, the department had a dual status. It was part of the Faculty of Science and it was part of the Faculty of Medicine. It operated in both faculties and sat on the boards of both.

Not only did a fully-fledged degree course in General Microbiology become an important statutory function of the department in 1971, but some departments within and outside the faculty began to enjoy Microbiology service courses provided by the Department of Microbiology. Within a few years of the commencement of the degree programme, graduates of the General Microbiology degree course were absorbed to augment the academic staff strength of the department. Post-graduate studies in the various microbiology specialties then began in earnest. The staff and student population having rapidly outgrown the limited facilities in the department of Biological Sciences, it was considered necessary to provide the department with adequate academic space. In 1980, the department moved into its present two story multipurpose departmental building. This building remains to this day, the biggest, purpose-built, self-contained and most strategically located department of Microbiology in any Nigerian University. In the same year, by an act of the senate, the department was split into two. One half of the department became the Department of Medical Microbiology. It was situated in the ABUTH complex at Tudun Wada and was responsible exclusively for the teaching of medical Microbiology to medical students. It also provided Microbiology laboratory services for patient management at ABUTH.

The other half of the department retained the name of the mother department; Department of Microbiology. It remained in the Faculty of Science on the main campus of the university in Samaru and was exclusively responsible for the running of undergraduate and post-graduate degree programmes in Microbiology; in addition to providing service courses to needy departments.

Over the years, the department has achieved tremendous success in various fields of microbiological endeavour, such as Food, Industrial, Water, Soil and Pharmaceutical Microbiology. However, given its history as a creation of the WHO, medical Microbiology continues to have a pride of place in the enterprises of the department. One important trophy in the history of the department deserves mention to illustrate this. The first Salmonellaserovar to be named in honour of this university was isolated from a stool specimen submitted to the University Sick Bay on the main campus in Samaru and it was identified as a rare serovar in this department. In line with best practices in this field, the isolate was sent to the Central Public Health Laboratory, Colindale London, (a WHO collaborating centre for Research about Salmonella and Shigella), for confirmation of its unusual profile. The unusual profile was confirmed at Colindale and it was also discovered that it was a hitherto unknown serovàr of Salmonella: We were then given the privilege to give it a name. The name Salmonella ahmadu-bello was proposed.

This name was rejected because it had a hyphen in it. Recent changes in nomenclatural practice at that time forbade the use of a hyphen in specific epithets of bacterial names; a fact that was not known to us, as hyphens were previously acceptable as reflected in such names as Salmonella cholerae-suis, Salmonella abortus-equi, Salmonella abortus-ovis and Salmonella telel-kebir. We were given another chance and we named the rare serovarSalmonella samaru. This name Salmonella samaru was admitted in 1981 to the Kauffmann-White Scheme; which now numbers over 2,500 serovars worldwide. Salmonella samaru is listed on the internet by the World Data Centre for Micro-Organisms (WDCM) and an ampoule of the strain can be purchased for a few US dollars from the International Salmonella Centre, Pasteur Institute Paris, France. See http://wdcm.nig.ac.jp/

Our story as a department continues and our history will not be complete until generations of students trained in this department contribute their quota to the growth and development of the department. Our father is AHMADU BELLO UNIVERSITY ZARIA, and our mother is the WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION.

We have an illustrious history, the final chapter of which is yet to be written. Let this knowledge inspire you to greater zeal in your approach to your undergraduate education in this department. You are welcome.