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  • UP awarded status as MRC collaborative centre for malaria research

    21st Nov 2014

    The Medical Research Council (MRC) invited higher education institutions, science councils and registered non-profit research organisations in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique to submit applications to become part of their new initiative, MRC Collaborating Centres for Malaria Research. The University of Pretoria’s Centre for Sustainable Malaria Control (UP CSMC) recently received word that their application has been successful. The network of MRC collaborating centres for malaria research will collectively provide a multidisciplinary approach to malaria research; synergise efforts on malaria research to achieve common goals; and facilitate scientific collaboration among malaria researchers in Southern Africa.

    The collaborating centres involved in the initiative will receive an annual core grant for an initial period of three years and will become members of the MRC network for malaria research. The UP CSMC, in particular, will receive funding from the MRC to further develop the infrastructure that will enable it to continue to engage in cutting-edge research on innovative vector control methods that are safe and effective. In addition, institutions selected to form part of the initiative will be given a preferential opportunity to participate in national multicentre studies based on the priorities defined in the MRC’s national malaria research plan.

    ‘To get the status of an MRC collaborating centre is not only recognition at the highest national level, but is also giving credibility to the researchers, and opening up international opportunities’, says Prof Tiaan de Jager, Deputy Dean: Research, Faculty of Health Sciences at UP and Director of the UP CSMC.

    The UP CSMC has pioneered research on a range of methods for sustainable malaria control – from the biochemical and the biological to the chemical and the physical. Current research in the Centre focuses on how best to manage these methods at a transdisciplinary level. Community involvement and education are addressed as part of health promotion and there is a commitment to change affected communities’ behaviour towards malaria. Environmentally friendly ways of delivering chemicals for malaria prevention are among the novel ideas being explored. The focus of the UP CSMC is safer malaria control and management.

    Southern African countries, such as South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Swaziland, which are situated on the fringe of malaria transmission in Africa, have all seen a reduction in malaria cases over the last decade; in fact, most of these countries now meet the pre-elimination criteria of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and are set to eliminate malaria by 2018. That being said, a lot of work still needs to be done towards eradicating the disease completely, but through education and research into new and innovative methods of fighting the disease we can imagine a day when the whole of Southern Africa will be malaria-free.

    Story by: Ansa Heyl, UP News, University of Pretoria

  • Minister Pandor appoints new NACI Council members

    2nd Oct 2014

    The Chief Executive of Standard Bank, Mr Sim Tshabalala, the Executive Chair of Dimension Data Middle East and Africa, Dr Andile Ngcaba, and the Chief Executive Officer of the Human Sciences Research Council, Prof. Olive Shisana, are among the experts who make up the new the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) Council.

    The Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, announced the appointment of nineteen new members of the NACI Council at a welcoming ceremony held in Pretoria today, 30 September 2014.

    NACI is a statutory body established by the National Advisory Council on Innovation Act, 1997 (Act No. 55 of 1997), to advise the Minister of Science and Technology and Cabinet on all matters pertinent to innovation. NACI provides advice to the Minister on the role and contribution of science, mathematics, innovation and technology in South Africa’s social and economic development.

    The NACI Council members are drawn from various sectors and are people of distinction, influence and expertise in their fields.

    The Council will be headed by the Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria, Prof. Cheryl de la Rey. Prof. De la Rey was the Chief Executive Officer of the Council on Higher Education before serving as Deputy Vice Chancellor and Professor of Psychology at the University of Cape Town. She also served as the Executive Director of Research Promotion at the National Research Foundation.

    Announcing the new members, the Minister said “I am pleased with the calibre of the Council members and the wealth of knowledge and expertise that they bring to this institution, which is a key priority for government. All appointees bring an impressive range of skills and experience from a diverse range of backgrounds. I am sure you will make a valuable contribution to the innovation of the country.”.

    Minister Pandor further expressed her appreciation for the excellent work done by by the outgoing members, particularly Dr Steve Lennon,who chaired the Council for two terms.”I especially want to thank the outgoing Chairperson, Dr Steve Lennon, for his tireless commitment and dedication to the work of NACI.”

    Members of the new NACI council:

      • Prof. Cheryl de la Rey (Chairperson)
      • Prof. Anton Eberhard
      • Adv. Louisa Zondo
      • Dr Azar Jammine
      • Dr Shadrack Moephuli
      • Dr Andile Ngcaba
      • Prof. Olive Shisana
      • Dr Sibusiso Sibisi
      • Dr Albert van Jaarsveld
      • Mr Dhesigen Naidoo
      • Mr Kevin Nassiep
      • Mr Garth StrachanMr Sim Tshabalala
      • Ms Clare Busetti
      • Ms Zanele Monnakgotla
      • Ms Nonkululeko Nyembezi-Heita
      • Prof. Roseanne Diab
      • Prof. Glenda Gray
      • Prof. Jennifer Ann Thomson


     Source: Department of Science and Technology Press release 30 September 2014

  • Annotating & assembling genomes, commentary on the MAKER course by Jessika Samuels

    Annotating & assembling genomes, commentary on the MAKER course by Jessika Samuels
    1st Oct 2014

    Annotating and assembling genomes can be a daunting task for biologists. Navigating the command line, installing MAKER, mounting directoriess, working in Linux and Mother Nature could not keep these delegates from conquering and learning genome assembly and annotation using the MAKER software.

    Professors Mark Yandell and Barry Moore facilitated a genome annotation and assembly workshop using the MAKER software from the 15th-19th September 2014. Held at the University of Pretoria’s Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Unit, the course was hosted by the African Centre for Gene Technologies and the Genomics Research Institute. The Department of Science and Technology co-sponsored the event by providing scholarships for participants from outside Pretoria as well as lunches for all participants.

    Participants from all five ACGT partner institutions, ACGT affiliate the University of Limpopo and the University of the Western Cape participated in the 3 day course. The exuberant course presenters made learning the abstract content both easy and fun for participants.  These outstanding lectures were followed by hands-on data analysis sessions.

    As an observer, not battling the command line during this course, it was heartening to see all the participants running their analyses and not giving up. Those command line “fundi’s” present assisted their fellow delegates with camaraderie and  patience I have not witnessed in a while. With all the positive attitude in the room, not even the blistering heat stopped the presenters and delegates running their analyses. Mark, Barry and Fourie were ever willing to lend a hand or fill the time while the analyses were running with some good coding humour. There were a lot of laughs, smiles and wide eyes as we continued throughout the three-day course.

    On the 18th of September, course presenters assisted delegates in analysing their data and addressing any specific questions that were not addressed during the course. Prof Brenda Wingfield hosted Mark and Barry on the 19th of September, during which time members of her lab held group sessions with the presenters to discuss their projects.

    Overall, the course was received positively by the delegates. The presenters were in turn suitably impressed by the level and enthusiasm of the delegates.

    The workshop presented forms part of a series of bioinformatics training courses hosted by ACGT and its partners to address specific needs in bioinformatics skills training. For more information on upcoming bioinformatics training events, visit the events page on the ACGT website (www.acgt.co.za) or like us on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/ACGT.biotec).

  • Tribute to Professor Helen Laburn

    Tribute to Professor Helen Laburn
    29th Sep 2014

    Prof. Helen Laburn
    Prof. Helen Laburn

    We remember with fondness and admiration, Professor Helen Laburn former Head of the School of Physiology, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Deputy Vice Chancellor: Research of the University, who passed away peacefully on Friday 19, 2014. More than this, we remember a friend and colleague, a lady of character and dignity, a person of trust and compassion. Helen was a true daughter of Wits and dedicated her life to providing excellence in many aspects of our work. She was an integral part of the Faculty of Health Sciences for over 30 years and her death will leave a huge void.

    Professor Laburn was nationally and internationally recognised for her contributions to physiology and to research. She was a Foreign Member of the Physiological Society (London), a Member of the Thermal Physiology Commission of the International Union of Physiological Sciences and a Member of the South African National Committee for the International Union of Physiological Sciences. Helen was also a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa, an Honorary Fellow of the Physiology Society of Southern Africa and a member of the Academy of Sciences of South Africa.

    While being a highly proficient and dedicated teacher, researcher (Professor of Thermal Physiology) and administrator, one of Helen’s greatest interests was in the training of postgraduate students. Professor Laburn was responsible for instituting many postgraduate policies in the Faculty. She Chaired the Postgraduate Committee of the Faculty and executed a plan for the creation of a School of Postgraduate Studies which resulted in the Centre of Postgraduate Studies in the Faculty.

    Her consultative management style, clarity of communication, logic and fairness were a hallmark of the diplomacy that marked the period of her Deanship.
    Sincere condolences are extended to Helen’s husband Ted, daughters Julia and Erica, her mother, family and friends.

    It was a privilege to know and work with Helen.

    Story by: Prof Beverly Kramer, Wits Health Sciences Research News

  • Top postgraduate student wins Biotech Fundi Award

    Top postgraduate student wins Biotech Fundi Award
    9th Sep 2014

    Steven Hussey
    Steven Hussey

    Dr Steven Hussey, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Genetics and the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences was recently awarded a Biotech Fundi Student Award for his PhD research.

    The Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD), in partnership with The Innovation Hub, hosted the Annual Biotech Fundi Awards, recognising the biotech community of Gauteng. The awards ceremony brought together various biotechnology role players and stakeholders, with the sole objective of recognising achievements and excellence in the sector.

    Dr Hussey was awarded a Biotech Fundi globe trophy, a certificate, a R5 000 cash prize, course attendance and training at DNA biotech to the value of R10 000, as well as a trip to Saskatoon, Canada, in October 2014, to attend the Agricultural Bioscience International Conference.

    He recently completed his PhD research in the Department of Genetics and graduated in September this year. Being a Mandela Rhodes Scholar, he was the top student throughout his undergraduate and postgraduate studies in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, passing all undergraduate courses and postgraduate programmes with distinctions (many of the with an average of above 90%). He was also awarded the South African Genetics Society Hofmeyr-Van Schaik Prize for the best fourth-year student in Genetics. His PhD research resulted in three published peer-reviewed papers (one a co-authored paper in the journal oct 16, 2011 – worldwide Nature) and two additional submitted manuscripts in high-impact journals.

    His PhD research was presented at five international plant and tree biotechnology conferences. Dr Hussey’s PhD research, which was co-funded by Sappi and Mondi, focused strongly on biotech approaches to manipulating woody biomass traits for pulp, paper and chemical cellulose production in Eucalyptus trees. In part, he identified the gene targets of a transcription factor associated with cellulose biosynthesis during fibre secondary cell wall formation, and showed that its overexpression altered Eucalyptus fibre cell wall properties. This gene has potential application in woody biomass biotechnology, and is currently being assessed in transgenic poplar trees. The vast scale at which Eucalyptus is planted and its importance for the future South African Bio-economy makes this PhD finding highly relevant to the Biotech sector. Dr Hussey also pioneered the application of a cutting-edge genomics technology (ChIP-seq) in field-grown Eucalyptus trees, producing the first genomic profile of a modified histone (H3K4me3) in developing xylem tissue and uncovering a poorly understood level of transcriptional regulation of xylem development in trees. Together, these findings open new avenues for wood biotechnology towards bioenergy and biomaterials production from plant biomass.

    Among the 10 UP students who received GDARD bursaries in 2013 Drew Behrens, also from FABI won the top student award. Drew is currently busy with his BSc Honours degree in the FMG group.

    At the 2013 awards ceremony, Prof Dave Berger and Dr Eschar Misrachi, both from the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, respectively won the Capacity Builder and Top Student awards.

    Story by: Martie Meyer, UP News & Events, University of Pretoria

  • UP's wonder couple take on cancer

    UP's wonder couple take on cancer
    29th Aug 2014

    Professors Annie and Fourie Joubert
    Professors Annie and Fourie Joubert

    Chemotherapy and radiation that are used currently in the fight against cancer not only attack cancer cells but also normal cells, and this leads to side effects for patients receiving treatment. In 2005, UP wonder couple Professors Annie and Fourie Joubert decided to combine their expertise in biochemistry and bioinformatics in pursuit of developing a new anticancer drug that targets only cancer cells. Together with their postgraduate students, and with national and international collaboration, they have so far achieved results that hold great promise for anticancer drug development.

    Breast and cervical cancer are highly prevalent in South Africa. Fourie and Annie’s research mainly focuses on agents that target the proliferation of these cancer cells but leave normal cells unharmed. Components actively involved during cell division have to be studied with a view to preventing cancer cells from multiplying. A particular part of the cell known as the microtubule plays an important role during mitosis. It is therefore important to disrupt cancer cell microtubule dynamics in order to suppress or stop cell growth. However, a drug that not only disrupts microtubule dynamics but also interferes with the formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) will be an additional advantage to the field of cancer therapy. Without angiogenesis, nutrients’ access of cells is impaired, very much like if the roots of a plant are cut off, leading to cell death.

    As Director of the Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Unit, Prof Fourie Joubert used his expertise in computational methods to better determine how cells would react to various chemical compounds with a view to developing new anticancer drugs. Working under the supervision of Prof Joubert, André Stander, a PhD student, in silico designed antimitotic agents using bioinformatics software. From this study, new compounds showing potential anticancer characteristics were designed. Chemical drug synthesis was conducted by iThemba Pharmaceuticals (Pty) Ltd.

    Together with her research collaborators and postgraduate students, Prof Annie Joubert of the Department of Physiology took this study further. They are currently conducting in vitro cellular and molecular studies to assess the potential anticancer efficacy of these newly designed compounds on breast and cervical cancer cells. One of her PhD students, Joji Theron, is currently in Grenoble in France testing the anticancer efficacy of some of these compounds. The research project has successfully advanced to the assessment of the drugs’ effect on human blood cells. In order to further investigate clinical anticancer drug efficacy, in vivo studies using mouse models are expected to be done in collaboration with researchers at Onderstepoort in 2015. Different cancer markers will be measured and possible reduction in tumour size will be assessed to determine the efficacy levels of these drugs.

    Cancer is a non-discriminatory disease; however, with such commitment as Professors Annie and Fourie Joubert have shown, we can only be encouraged and hopeful for the future of anticancer drug research.

    Story by: Louise de Bruin, University of Pretoria

  • ACGT and Wits University host CLCbio Genomics Workbench Workshop (NGS workshop)

    4th Aug 2014

    The ACGT, in collaboration with The University of Witwatersrand (Wits) held a CLCbio Genomics Workbench Workshop recently. The event was held at the Nucleus Computer Laboratory at Wits from the 14th to 18th July 2014. Delegates from all five ACGT partner institutions and UNISA were in attendance. The three day “hand-on workshop” was followed by two days (17th & 18th July 2014) of user sessions. During the user sessions, attendees brought along their own data sets and were assisted by the course trainers (on a one-on-one basis) in analysing their data.

    Course presenter and field application specialist Dr Anne Arens from CLCbio headquarters in Germany conducted the three day “hands-on” course. She was joined on the trip by Dr Reinhard Eckloff, Key Account Manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa. The course covered various topics including de novo assembly, RNA-Seq and transcript analysis to name a few. Dr Hamilton Ganesan of Inqaba Biotec was also in attendance and assisted the course trainers during the tutorials.

    Participant feedback indicated that the course was both highly beneficial and relevant to attendees.

    The workshop presented forms part of a series of bioinformatics training courses hosted by ACGT and its partners to address specific needs in bioinformatics skills training. For more information on upcoming bioinformatics training events, visit the events page on the ACGT website (www.acgt.co.za) or like us on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/ACGT.biotec).

  • Representative on SAAMS

    Representative on SAAMS
    17th Jul 2014



    Prof Ian Dubery

    The (Metabolomics) community have unanimously nominated Prof Ian Dubery from the Department of Biochemistry as the South African Association for Mass Spectrometry (SAAMS) Metabolomics  representative.

    The South African Association for Mass Spectrometry (SAAMS) is the mass spectrometry subdivision of the South African Chemical Institute. As a non-profit organization its functions are to coordinate mass spectrometry in Southern Africa and to create and maintain an official body for the mass spectrometry technique interest and application group. SAAMS mediates the presentation of research and development in mass spectrometry. New developments and new instrumentation in mass spectrometry are introduced to the group and users and instrument suppliers are brought together.

    The SAAMS target group is wide, from students, novel and inexperienced mass spectrometrists to experienced academics and industry based scientists.

    Story by: UJ Science News, 2014

  • ACGT Represented at Joint EDULINK, ACP S&T and CP-RSD Stakeholder Conference

    9th Jul 2014

    ACGT Centre Manager, John Becker, recently attended the joint ACP stakeholders meeting in Brussels, Belgium. The ACGT were awarded funds for an ACP-EU action “GMASSURE” (Assuring agricultural and food safety of Genetically Modified Organisms in Southern Africa) for the 2014-2016 period.

    Below is an excerpt of the event from the ACP-EU Science and Technology website:

    On 1-2 April 2014, the ACP Secretariat hosted at the ACP House in Brussels the first joint stakeholder’s conference ‘Investing in the knowledge economy within ACP states’ for three key ACP-EU Programmes financed primarily from the 10th European Development Fund (EDF) – ‘EDULINK II’, ‘ACP Science and Technology Programme II’ and the ‘ACP Caribbean & Pacific Research Programme for Sustainable Development’.

    The agenda was structured over two days with general sessions and some sessions specifically targeted to EDULINK (47 projects) or to ACP S&T II (21 projects) and the ACP CP-RSD (10 projects). Information on all these projects were presented in a booklet.

    The total number of participants was 188, of which 171 represented the projects of the three programmes. There were 107 participants from EDULINK projects, 43 participants from ACP-S&T projects and 21 participants from ACP CP-RSD projects. Other 17 participants came from embassies, the Technical Assistance Units (TAUs), the ACP Secretariat and the EC’s directorate DEVCO.

    The conference was to foster networking and co-operation among grant beneficiaries of the three programmes so as to establish contacts, share experiences, discuss plans and future collaborations, and gain knowledge on appropriately managing their projects. Emphasis was given to general topics (financial management, project management) and to sectorial or technical issues (curriculum development, ICT, policy maker involvement, innovation).

    After the plenary opening of the conference and the introduction of the projects, parallel sessions were organized to generate discussions among participants and exchange experiences and ideas on topics relevant to EDULINK (Joint curricula development and accreditation in the ACP HEIs; ICT and distance learning: challenges and opportunities for ACP HEIs or to ACP S&T and ACP CP-RSD (From project to policy: the involvement of policy makers; Translating capacity building and research into innovation).

    On the second day, a presentation was given on the Overview of contractual documents, followed by parallel sessions on topics relevant to all three programmes:  Contract financial and reporting rules and Project management.

    Outside the conference rooms, participants could pass by posters and flyers of the projects to discuss technical aspects amongst themselves.

    The conference was closed by a presentation and discussion on Horizon 2020.

    The participants expressed as most interesting the interactive sessions on both technical and grant management issues, but more time should be spent on these sessions in future occasions.

    For more information visit:



  • GMASSURE Launch and Awareness Raising Symposium

    GMASSURE Launch and Awareness Raising Symposium
    7th Jul 2014

    The GMASSURE Launch and Awareness Raising Symposium was held on the 2nd and 3rd July 2014 in Centurion (Gauteng, South Africa). Presentations from the event can be accessed below.

    Presentations Day 1:

    1. Welcome, Overview and Introduction to GMASSURE Activities_ Dr John Becker
    2. Importance of Biosafety Regulation and Risk Analysis_ Dr Alex Owusu-Biney
    3. A regulator’s perspective of GM biosafety- why, what and who_ Mr Ben Durham
    4. Crop biosafety in South Africa- problems, solutions, level of awareness and the role of Biosafety SA_Dr Hennie Groenewald
    5. Agricultural Biotechnology in the Bioeconomy – the importance of GM crops in Southern Africa_Dr Manshree Jugmoham-Naidu
    6. Experiences in sub-Saharan Africa with GM crop risk communication_Dr Dennis Ndolo Obonyo

    Presentations Day 2: