Teaming up to investigate an unusually high number of twins in Nigeria

Akhere Omonkhua and twin sister

Pictured above: Dr. Akhere Omonkhua, a professor of medical biochemistry at the University of Benin, with her twin sister Dr. Odion Omonkhua in Igbo-Ora, Nigeria, also known as “Twin Town” because of its high rate of twin births.

It might be the okra leaves. Or the yams … or maybe the cassava? It could also be genetic.

No one knows why Igbo-Ora, Nigeria—also known as “Twin Town”—has one of the world’s highest rates of twin births.

Years ago, two Nigerian scientists dreamed of joining their scientific expertise to search for answers, but their hands were tied without the right equipment… until they each received an Instrumental Access award.

Now, they are collaborating and pursuing this work—which could have the potential to unlock new avenues of research and treatments for infertility!

Doubling down on new research

Akhere Omonkhua
Akhere Omonkhua

Two Instrumental Access awards are enabling the joint investigation of environmental and genetic factors that could explain the extremely high rate of non-identical twins (commonly called dizygotic, or DZ, twins) born to Yoruba families in Igbo-Ora.

Prof. Akhere Omonkhua (right), a professor of medical biochemistry at the University of Benin (UniBen) in Nigeria, is a DZ twin herself. To gain clues to dietary factors that might explain the high DZ twinning rate, she first surveyed the food traditions and beliefs of the Igbo-Ora community members.

She theorizes that it could be the high consumption of cassava and yams or some other staple vegetable.

Yams and cassava naturally contain compounds called phytoestrogens. Many phytoestrogens are known endocrine disruptors, which could impact a woman’s ovulation—and therefore be implicated in twinning.

To date, the most-cited resources for this twinning phenomenon are from Patrick Nylander, a British gynecologist who studied twinning rates in Igbo-Ora during the 1970s and 1980s.

But previous approaches didn’t harness the power of molecular biology, explains Prof. Roseangela Nwuba of the University of Medical Sciences, Ondo (UniMed).

Rather, they focused on recording and analyzing vital statistics, work that Profs. Nwuba and Omonkhua are now building upon.

Professor Animed Nwuba
Professor Animed Nwuba

Prof. Nwuba (left) specializes in molecular and cellular parasitology and is investigating the twinning phenomena with a lens toward genetic influences.

She theorizes that a combination of underlying genetics and epigenetic changes caused by diet could be responsible.

This new study has its roots in an investigation conceived by Prof. Friday Okonofua. Now, with your support, these two Nigerian women are charging ahead with the rigorous scientific work that previous investigators did not.

Profs. Nwuba’s and Omonkhua’s labs are both well-equipped to meet this challenge, thanks to equipment from Instrumental Access.

The Centre of Excellence in Reproductive Health Innovation at UniBen, where Prof. Omonkhua is based, received an Instrumental Access shipment in August 2021. And UniMed, where Prof. Nwuba is Deputy Vice-Chancellor, received an Instrumental Access shipment for the Department of Biological Sciences in November 2019.

Powered by a $120,000, 2-year grant from the Nigerian TETFund, they are hoping to answer questions that have the potential to lead to new, personalized medicines for reproductive health.

“If a dietary factor is responsible [for DZ twinning] and we could isolate and characterize it, this could become very important in regulating fertility or treating infertility,” says Prof. Omonkhua.

When the tools match the talent

These two scientists have the right tools to see their research flourish.

In fact, the Instrumental Access awards allowed them to secure exactly the equipment they needed for this collaborative study. And their work has the potential to provide insight into new, cost-effective treatments for infertility.

Prof. Omonkhua hopes this research collaboration will eventually yield “cheap and easily accessible options for millions of Nigerians who cannot afford the prohibitive cost of assisted reproductive technologies.”

Without Instrumental Access, these talented researchers could not build on the earlier statistical work. Now, they can move into the lab to understand the biology behind Igbo-Ora’s unusually high rates of twinning.

Investing in these departments does more than supply equipment to solve this particular mystery…

Strengthening the scientific infrastructure in Nigeria is enabling these researchers and their students—the next generation of scientists—to follow their curiosity and address urgent issues with local and global relevance.

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Paul Hohenberger

Paul Hohenberger

Director of Individual Giving

Paul is responsible for individual outreach to increase philanthropic support for Seeding Labs. He is an experienced fundraising professional with broad knowledge and understanding of resource development and advancement in major research universities and public trusts. 

In previous roles at The University of Massachusetts, MIT, Harvard University, and the Pew Charitable Trusts, Paul cultivated relationships within the philanthropic community, garnering support for programs and priorities spanning nuclear engineering, global health, climate science/energy, and demographic and survey research.

Paul’s educational background includes a bachelor’s degree in political science and history from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He is active in his alma mater, serving on the Department of Political Science Advisory Board, and was a former board member of the UMass Alumni Association. 

Additionally, he has completed professional certificate programs at the T.H. Chan Harvard School of Public Health and MIT, enhancing his expertise in policy, politics, and innovation.

Alyssa Tran headshot

Alyssa Tran
Logistics Intern

Alyssa Tran started working for Seeding Labs in Summer 2024 in the Instrumental Access Program. She is pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Biology at Clark University (Class of 2026).

Being a Biology major has allowed her to develop skills within research labs and understand various types of laboratory equipment, which gives support to the program.

Jennifer Raymond

Jennifer Raymond
Director of Corporate Relations

Jennifer builds and stewards Seeding Labs’ partnerships with corporations and other life science institutions. Our partners’ financial and lab equipment contributions help support universities and research institutions in under-resourced settings.

When these talented scientists, researchers, and educators have the resources they need to create and maintain strong scientific institutions, new solutions are created for both local development needs and global challenges.

Before joining Seeding Labs, Jennifer raised funds and engaged constituents for

the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Brandeis University. She graduated from Wellesley College with a BA in French studies.

Manisha Patel

Manisha Patel
Scientific Director

Manisha uses her scientific expertise to implement the equipment-related aspects of Seeding Labs’ programs and plays a key role in Instrumental Access.

She provides support to Instrumental Access awardees, helping them choose the instruments that best meet their research and teaching goals. She also advises the Corporate Relations team on equipment that would be useful in our awardees’ labs.

Manisha has extensive experience in managing academic research labs with knowledge spanning lab setup, compliance, and equipment training. Most recently, she oversaw labs at Harvard University.

For the past decade, Manisha directed an undergraduate internship program focused on one of her passions:  diversity and inclusion in STEM. She holds a BS in ecology from Rutgers University and an MS in ecology from the University of Vermont.

Micaela Leaska

Micalea Leaska
Programs Specialist,
Metrics & Evaluation

Micalea works with the Programs team to develop and implement metrics and evaluation tools, and to monitor the worldwide impact of Instrumental Access. She compiles and analyzes quantitative data and qualitative stories that exemplify our mantra, “talent is everywhere.”

Her prior work experience includes consulting for the World Bank, working on Water Security Assessments for Peru and Central America, and improving access to safe water in rural Ecuadorian communities with the nonprofit WaterStep.

Micalea holds a BA from Saint Michael’s College and completed her Master’s degree in Climate Change and Global Sustainability from SIT Graduate Institute, where she studied global science issues alongside scientists, stakeholders, and community members in Iceland, Tanzania, and Ecuador.

Chiudo Ehirim

Chiudo Ehirim
Instrumental Access

After completing an Atlas Corps Fellowship with Seeding Labs, Chiudo now provides support to our Instrumental Access partners from his Rumines Ltd. office in Lagos, Nigeria. Chiudo is CEO of Rumines, an environmental technology and management consulting company.

Prior to his fellowship, Chiudo was a country manager for Nigeria with Climate Scorecard, a US-based organization that monitors how the top 25 greenhouse gas-emitting countries implement the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Chiudo earned a BS in pure and industrial chemistry from the University of Nigeria and a Master’s of Science in environmental technology and management from the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria.

David Borman

David Borman, PhD

David works to highlight the innovation and scientific successes of Instrumental Access awardees. In telling these scientists’ stories, he helps to show the global impact of the Seeding Labs mission.

Prior to joining Seeding Labs, David worked as the alumni affairs director for Brevard College in North Carolina and managed communications for Kids Center for Pediatric Therapies, a nonprofit in Louisville, Kentucky, that provides services to children with special needs.

David earned his PhD in English from the University of Miami. He holds an MA in English from the University of Louisville and a BA in English from Bellarmine University.

Christine Srivastava

Christina Viola Srivastava

Vice President of Programs

Christina is responsible for program development, planning, and implementation at Seeding Labs. 

Christina has experience as a research program evaluator and science policy analyst. She’s held roles with the consulting firm Abt Associates, Inc. and the Science and Technology Policy Institute.

Prior to entering the consulting world, Christina worked for the Boston-area nonprofits Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics and Urban Ecology Institute. She holds an undergraduate degree in biology from Swarthmore College

Rick Sherman

Rick Sherman

Vice President of Philanthropy

Rick is responsible for the fundraising activities at Seeding Labs, engaging with corporations, foundations, and individuals to increase their financial and equipment donations to the organization.

Prior to joining Seeding Labs, Rick spent 17 years working in a similar capacity at a number of science-focused organizations, including Keystone Symposia, the Carnegie Institution for Science, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation (now the Science History Institute).

Rick earned an MS in Finance from Drexel University, and a BS in Paper Science and Engineering from State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

David Qualter

Vice President of Operations

David is responsible for global logistics at Seeding Labs, overseeing the efficient movement of lab equipment worldwide.

He joined Seeding Labs from Image Arts, a subsidiary of Hallmark Cards, where he provided logistics direction for the company with $110 million in annual sales.

He brings 20 years of supply chain management experience with in-depth knowledge of international logistics, warehouse execution, and distribution center operations.

Originally an art student at Southeastern Massachusetts University, David now uses his creative talents to develop logistics strategies that produce operational efficiencies and quality customer service.

Melissa P. Wu, PhD

Melissa P. Wu, PhD

Chief Executive Officer

Please direct speaking requests to

Melissa is the CEO and a co-founder of Seeding Labs. She began as a volunteer leader of the Harvard Medical School student group; later, as a founding board member, she supported its transition to a nonprofit organization. In 2014, she joined the staff of Seeding Labs, leading the USAID-sponsored $3M scale-up of the Instrumental Access program. In 2019, Melissa became CEO, committed to increasing capacity for developing countries to use science. 

Operating with a deep belief in the power of science to transform lives, Melissa has dedicated her career to creating scientific research opportunities for historically underrepresented and excluded communities. In addition to roles at Harvard and the BioBuilder Educational Foundation, Melissa has mentored many students in the sciences through programs at the Journal of Emerging Investigators, Harvard University, Boston Children’s Hospital, and MIT.

Melissa earned a PhD in Cellular and Developmental Biology from Harvard University and holds an SB in Biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.