Meet Oshiorenoya Agabi, Nigerian neuroscientist who built world’s first smelling neurotechnology

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Meet Oshiorenoya Agabi, Nigerian neuroscientist who built world’s first smelling neurotechnology

The human race has reached the shores of an era where everything is moving fast, from messages and vehicles to general scientific advancement. As James Baldwin rightly observed, those who say it cannot be done are usually interrupted by others doing it. And so, for this reason, revolutionary discoveries are not made only by the curious and diligent, but by the swift.

For several years, scientists in the field of synthetic biology have been trying to see what interconnections there are or can be between biology and engineering. Just recently, the on-going quest to build life from scratch has taken a leap with the creation of artificial cells capable of communicating to natural cells. This achievement was made by Sheref Mansy’s team at the University of Trento, Italy.

More recently, however, a more ground-breaking invention was made by a team of scientists: A neuron-based Artificial Intelligence device that can smell and, in this sense, the world’s first neurotechnology device. Instead of simulating neurons, the idea is to just take the biological cell itself and use it. It was developed by a Silicon Valley-based startup, Koniku, the first and only company on the planet building chips with biological neurons. What’s more, this company is owned by a Nigerian neuroscientist – Oshiorenoya Agabi.


As interesting as the invention is though, the story of the inventor himself is one that is mind-blowing. The 38-year-old grew up in Surulere, Nigeria, where he helped his mother sell food on the streets and graduated from the University of Lagos before he travelled to Sweden and Switzerland to further his education in physics and neuroscience. His bachelor’s degree at UNILAG was in theoretical physics.

“One of the things growing up in Lagos imparts in you is grit,” he said at the TED Conference. “Lagos is a place that demands grit. Growing up there gave me an unconventional way of always looking at problems.” That Koniku, the name of his company, which he started in 2015, translates to “immortal” in Yoruba language truly shows his sustained attachment to his home.

Agabi also revealed at the Conference that major brands had signed up to his project and the start-up’s current revenue of $8 million is projected to jump to $30 million by 2018. The ground-breaking nature of his invention lends credence to the truism that a thing is only impossible because we have yet to do it.

'Kunle Adebajo
'Kunle Adebajo
Adekunle Adebajo is a graduate of law from the University of Ibadan. He is an award-winning poet, essayist and public speaker. He considers himself a logophile and grey supremacist, and is the co-author of The Road Before the Fourth Estate. You may reach out to him at [email protected]

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