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  • The 3rd Proteomics Symposium and Workshop goes national

    The 3rd Proteomics Symposium and Workshop goes national
    2nd Nov 2012

    The ACGT and CSIR partnered to organise the 3rd Proteomics Symposium and Workshop, which was held in both Pretoria (CSIR) and Cape Town (University of the Western Cape (UWC) and Centre for Proteomic and Genomic Research (CPGR)). The events comprised of a one day symposium, followed by a two-day workshop. The event was generously sponsored by the Department of Science and Technology.
    The CSIR hosted the 1st leg of the symposium and workshop from the 3rd – 5th of October 2012. Dr Raymond Sparrow (CSIR) welcomed the delegates before introducing the symposium’s keynote speaker, Prof Kathryn Lilley. She is the director of  the Cambridge Centre for Proteomics at Cambridge University and delivered an interesting talk titled “Using mass spectrometry to give proteins addresses”. Other noteworthy presentations came from delegates from the ACGT partner institutions (Universities of Pretoria and the Witwatersrand, as well as CSIR) and from delegates from Stellenbosch University and UNISA. There were also three short presentations delivered by young vibrant students from the University of Pretoria and UNISA.

    The two day workshop  was facilitated by Prof Kathryn Lilley and Dr Stoyan Stoychev and focused on the  design of quantitative proteomic experiments, particularly the use of gel-free approaches for complex lysate characterization. This workshop format comprised of short lectures. All attendees were supplied with workshop booklets that included prepared notes on the lectures. On the second day of the workshop, the attendees were taken on a tour of the Proteomics facility at CSIR. The attendees were later divided into groups and challenged to find solutions to scenarios, using the information they were taught during the workshop.

    The 2nd leg kicked off at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) for the symposium on the 8th of October 2012. Prof. Michael Davies-Coleman (Dean of Natural Sciences Faculty, UWC) opened the symposium and welcomed all the delegates. Prof Bongani Ndimba (ARC/UWC) chaired the symposium. Prof Lilley once again delivered the keynote address, similar to her talk at the symposium in Pretoria. Her address was followed by presentations from researchers from the University of Cape Town, Stellenbosch University and CPGR. After the oral presentations, there was a poster and networking session in which Mr Rodney Hart, Mr Shaun Granett and Deidré Kruger presented outstanding posters.

    The next day the delegates gathered at the River Club for the 2-day workshop (09 October – 10 October 2012). Again, the workshop was facilitated by Prof Lilley and Dr Stoychev and it ran the same way as in Pretoria. The workshop was concluded with a tour of the CPGR by Greg Khoury (Operations Manager, CPGR). The UWC and CPGR played a pivotal part in organising the symposium and workshop for the Cape Town leg.

    To view presentations, click links below:

    Pretoria Symposium

    Cape Town Symposium


    To view more pictures of the event visit the ACGT Facebook page

  • New study discovers unique HIV feature

    23rd Oct 2012

    Two Wits researchers led an AIDS study published today in the journal, Nature Medicine, which describes how a unique change in the outer covering of the virus found in two HIV infected South African women enabled them to make potent antibodies which are able to kill up to 88% of HIV types from around the world.

    This ground-breaking discovery provides an important new approach that could be useful in making an AIDS vaccine.

    The study, performed by members of the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) consortium, involves scientists from Wits University, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in Johannesburg, the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the University of Cape Town, who has been studying, over the last five years, how certain HIV-infected people develop very powerful antibody responses.

    These antibodies are referred to as broadly neutralising antibodies because they kill a wide range of HIV types from different parts of the world. This CAPRISA team initially discovered that two KwaZulu-Natal women, one of whom participated in the CAPRISA 004 tenofovir gel study, could make these rare antibodies.

    Through long-term follow-up laboratory studies on these two women, the team led by Wits researchers and Centre for HIV and STI at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases of the National Health Laboratory Service based scientists Dr Penny Moore and Professor Lynn Morris, discovered that a sugar (known as a glycan) on the surface protein coat of the virus at a specific position (referred to as position 332) forms a site of vulnerability in the virus and enables the body to mount a broadly neutralizing antibody response.

    “Understanding this elaborate game of ‘cat and mouse’ between HIV and the immune response of the infected person has provided valuable insights into how broadly neutralizing antibodies arise,” says Moore.

    Morris, Head of AIDS Research at the NICD explained: “We were surprised to find that the virus that caused infection in many cases did not have this antibody target on its outer covering. But over time, the virus was pressured by body’s immune reaction to cover itself with the sugar that formed a point of vulnerability, and so allowed the development of antibodies that hit that weak spot”.

    “Broadly neutralising antibodies are considered to be the key to making an AIDS vaccine. This discovery provides new clues on how vaccines could be designed to elicit broadly neutralising antibodies. The world needs an effective AIDS vaccine to overcome the global scourge of AIDS,” said Professor Salim Abdool Karim, Director of CAPRISA and President of the Medical Research Council, in his comments on the significance of the finding.

    While their existence has been known for a while, highly potent forms of broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV were only identified about 3 years ago. Until now, it was not known how the human body is able to make broadly neutralizing antibodies.

    This study discovered one mechanism by which these antibodies may be made. To make this discovery, the research team studied the target of some of these antibodies, a sugar that coats the surface protein of HIV, forming a site of vulnerability. By tracing back the evolution of the virus that elicited these antibodies, this team showed that this particular weak point was absent from the virus that first infected these women.

    However, under constant pressure from other less powerful antibodies that develop in all infected people, their HIV was forced to expose this vulnerability over time. This allowed the broadly neutralizing antibodies to develop.

    Analysis of  a large number of other viruses from throughout the world, performed in collaboration with scientists from the University of North Carolina and Harvard University, suggest that the vulnerability at position 332 may be present at the time of infection in about two thirds of subtype C viruses (the subtype most common in Africa). Hence, if a vaccine is developed to target this glycan only, it may not be able to uniformly neutralize all subtype C viruses; as a result AIDS vaccines may need to attack multiple targets on the virus.

    Read the paper 

    Background information to the study 

    Nature Medicine editorial on the study 

    Story: Wits Newsroom-October 2012

  • 6th Regional Plant Biotechnology Forum, UJ-12th October 2012

    6th Regional Plant Biotechnology Forum, UJ-12th October 2012
    22nd Oct 2012

    Plant biotechnologists from ACGT partner institutions, including affiliates the University of Limpopo, once again gathered for a day to share their research on plant biotechnology.

    Even the rainy weather could not deter participants. The event kicked off with a hearty welcome by Prof Dubery (UJ Biochemistry) on behalf of the hosts, the University of Johannesburg. Dr Alexander Valentine (SUN-guest speaker), Dr Maretha O’Kennedy (CSIR) and Ms Lerato Matsaunyane (ARC) enlightened the audience on plant stress tolerance in response to phosphorous deficient soils, drought tolerance in sorghum and the unintended effects of plant transformation.

    The afternoon session focused on plant metabolomics. Prof Dubery (UJ) provided an extensive overview of the application of mass spectrometry-based metabolomics. He also highlighted the latest MS instrument acquisitions at UJ and their respective capabilities. Mr Heino Heyman (UP) informed the audience about the applications of plant-based metabolomics and its application to drug discovery.

    The event also included two interactive poster sessions. These sessions allowed aspiring young researchers the opportunity to present their research in the form of brief oral presentations to the audience.

    The event was graciously sponsored by Shimadzu. The next plant forum will be held in March or April 2012 at the University of Pretoria.

    To view presentations, click on the respective links below:



    To view more pictures of the event visit the ACGT Facebook page.

  • SMMEs in natural product and agro-processing define what is needed for business success

    SMMEs in natural product and agro-processing define what is needed for business success
    18th Oct 2012

    POL-SABINA, the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), The Innovation Hub and eGoliBio sponsored a workshop for small, medium and micro enterprise (SMME) stakeholders in the natural product and agro-processing sectors. The workshop was hosted by the CSIR and took place on 15-17 August 2012 in Pretoria. The theme of the workshop was: Challenges facing SMMEs in the SADC region.

    CSIR Biosciences Social Economic Outcomes Manager, Tshidi Moroka, said: “We hosted this workshop to have a better understanding of the challenges facing South African SMMEs in this sector; the high failure rate and the inability to create sustainable jobs.”  Workshop attendees were specifically invited to dis-cuss and come up with solutions that will advance the development and sustainability of SMMEs in this sector. Although the first two days of the workshop focused on the possible solutions to challenges facing SMMEs, the last day was re-served for tours to the ARC, the CSIR and The Innovation Hub where SMMEs could gain access to specialized assis-tance in their areas of work.

    Participants of the workshop were drawn from all over the country and beyond the borders. Speakers from industry, science councils, financial institutions, government as well as government agencies were in attendance to give advice on how SMMEs can access information, funding and the necessary support needed to get their businesses operational, as well as maintain their sustainability.

    The workshop provided entrepreneurs with an opportunity to share their experiences. They spoke about their encoun-ters in trying to get support from financial institutions, agencies and government departments and how they have gotten their businesses from the ground.

    Mosala Mosala, an entrepreneur, said: “My experience with starting a business is quite a challenging one. I knocked on many doors but people kept shutting the door right in my face. However, all that did not deter me from attaining my goal, instead it gave me strength and courage to work harder.”

    The participants strongly endorsed the need to have a one-stop shop where they will be assisted with all their needs, instead of having to hunt around for relevant information – as is their current experience. The entrepreneurs believe that if they are given the support and the right assistance, they will be able to provide solutions to the problems of unemployment, economic growth and skills development on this continent.

    Adapted from CSIR eNews

  • New technology transfer portal on the CSIR website

    18th Oct 2012

    Technology transfer is one of the key pathways through which the CSIR achieves impact on South African society. In order to increase transparency and the ease of doing business with the CSIR —which relates to intellectual property (IP) and technology transfer (TT) activities — the CSIR has launched a new technology transfer portal on its website.

    The site has a wealth of information about IP and TT in general; and about the CSIR’s approach to IP and TT in particular. The site also lists technologies available for licensing and has a section on “How to do business with the CSIR”. It is hoped that the site will stimulate interaction and interest from entrepreneurs, the private sector and public sector stakeholders; and help to increase the CSIR’s TT

    Story: CSIR Newsroom 6 days ago

  • Omics Evolution Summit- All things Omics 29th- 31st May 2012

    12th Sep 2012

    ACGT Support Scientist- Ms Jessika Samuels attended the “Omics Evolution Summit” earlier this year. The summit took place in Boston, Massachusetts. The Summit brought together top scientists and leading pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies, to discuss research and developments in drug discovery/pharmacogenomics, new technologies and the evolving landscape of the industry in genomics, proteomics, RNAi, next-generation sequencing, epigenetics and protein kinases. The conference was attended by over 200 researchers from across the globe and featured both oral and poster presentations. With a bumper packed agenda the oral presentations ran in six parallel sessions.

    Ms Samuels had this to say when asked for a brief synopsis of the conference. “Sessions that focused on next generation sequencing were most informative. It was wonderful to see how the technology is being applied to current health research and the scale at which it promises to accelerate the pace of research and drug discovery. Two talks caught my attention. The first was the 1000 Genomes talk by Dr Rade Dramanac. The talk featured the project aims; to deep sequence the genome of a large number of individuals in order to gain a greater understanding of human genetic variation. The second talk, by Prof John Quackenbush covered the advances his team has made in the collection, management and analysis of sequencing data. This integrative approach has enabled his team to uncover cellular networks and pathways that lead to disease. Building on this they have developed predictive models to direct therapeutic development. The first talk emphasized the utility of next generation sequencing technology while the second highlighted current advances in the realm of bioinformatics that complement the interpretation of next generation sequence data.

    Other tracks that were equally interesting were those concerning RNAi and Protein Kinases. These tracks focused more on applied research than those previously mentioned. The scale and infrastructure available to researcher in first world countries is startling in comparison to South Africa and other developing countries around the world.

    By far the talk that I most enjoyed was that of Nobel Laureate, Dr Craig Mello. His talk entitled RNAi and Immortality: Recognition of Self/non-Self Nucleic Acids was both informative and quite inspirational. Not only is Dr Mello an outstanding researcher, he also possesses a great gift in communicating his research in an inspirational manner. Overall, I found the conference to be most informative. However, I wish I was able to attend all the presentations as they were all equally impressive.”

  • African cooperation 'dropped from EU research calls'

    4th Sep 2012

    From 2013, African scientists may be more likely to be left out of lucrative collaborations with European Union (EU) researchers, according to some policy experts.

    A mandate for EU research groups to include African partners in projects was dropped from the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) 2013 calls for proposals for EU competitive research grant issued  9 July.

    The calls cover 11 themes, including agriculture, water and energy, and are worth 8.1 billion Euros (US$10.2 billion).

    In the FP7 grants for the period 2010–2012, researchers engaged in investigating a number of themes, including fisheries and biotechnology, were required to collaborate with at least one international group from Africa.

    Some fear that in the absence of a specific mandate, EU researchers will be unwilling to collaborate with African peers. There are also concerns that the decision may affect calls for grants for Horizon 2020, the EU’s 2014–2020 framework programme for research and innovation to replace the FP7, worth around US$100 billion.

    François Stepman, European co-manager of the Platform for African-European Partnerships for Agricultural Research for Development (PAEPARD), told SciDev.Net that without requirements for African collaborations, many EU researchers will be reluctant to work with African scientists, believing it will not help their careers to do so.
    “There’s a decline [among EU researchers] in trying to include African researchers,” Stepman said.

    Young scientists keen on building careers are more likely to collaborate with US researchers, because this is more likely to lead to publications in international journals, he explained.

    Stepman told SciDev.Net that EU scientists also worry African researchers can lack the administrative support available in developed countries, leading to challenges in “getting the reports in on time and in getting the finance”.
    “You have to do too much work to get them on board,” he said.
    The decline in partnerships will affect the ability of scientists to research subjects of mutual interest, including food security and price hikes, climate change, biofuels and genetically modified organisms, he added.

    For African scientists, the fallout could be severe.
    “Many African experts don’t have access to research funding from their [own] countries,” Kevin Chika Urama, executive director of the Africa Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS) in Nairobi, Kenya, told SciDev.Net. “The EU research funding has been a pivotal avenue to partnership with EU researchers.”
    “A lot of African issues, such as the needs of the poor in rural areas, are under-researched,” Urama added. “Some of these issues are not of interest [to European researchers],” he said, adding that a solution may be for the EU to set up a specific grant programme aimed at African researchers.

    The move to drop the mandatory collaboration with Africa from 2013 calls for proposals reflects European political leaders’ disquiet about the use of funds outside the EU generally, said Andrew Cherry, coordinator for the Network for the Coordination and Advancement of Sub-Saharan Africa-EU Science & Technology Cooperation (CAAST-Net).
    However, Daan du Toit, minister counsellor for science and technology at the South African Mission to the EU said the move does not mean fruitful cooperation is not possible.
    “All topics of this year’s FP7 calls for proposals are open for African participation. African researchers have to identify, which ones are relevant for them, and ones where they can add value to the work of the European or international consortia — then participation will follow. In many of the topics in this year’s calls African researchers are well placed to play an important part.”

    Michael Jennings, a European Commission spokesperson for research, innovation and science, told SciDev.Net there was a need “to better articulate science and technology capacity-building initiatives” to be supported  with “collaborative research activities that can be selected and funded through FP7 and the upcoming Horizon 2020 programme”.
    Cherry told SciDev.Net that it remains to be seen how African researchers can participate in Horizon 2020.

    Paula Park, SciDev.Net, 31 August 2012

  • Royal Society and DFID launch fund for African research

    Royal Society and DFID launch fund for African research
    20th Aug 2012

    A £15.3 million (US$24 million) fund to build links between African research laboratories and strengthen their research capacity through mentoring has been launched by the Royal Society (the UK’s science academy) and the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

    The fund will provide start-up money for new collaborations among labs Shutterstock

    The aim is to provide equipment and training for African scientists, and to establish researcher exchange programmes between the United Kingdom and Sub-Saharan Africa.
    Start-up grants of up to US$39,000 will assist the formation of research consortia, and larger grants of almost US$2 million will then support specific research programmes over a five-year period.

    To qualify for the larger grants, projects must involve a consortium of one UK laboratory and three African laboratories.
    “At the moment, labs in Sub-Saharan Africa are isolated. For example, it is surprisingly difficult for a lab in South Africa to work with a lab in Ethiopia, as the funding streams aren’t there,” Martyn Poliakoff, foreign secretary and vice-president of the Royal Society, told SciDev.Net. “There are also physical barriers, such as the need to fly between different countries.”
    “We hope the initiative will foster collaboration between these labs and help them to use their limited resources better. The UK lab will adopt a mentoring role, as it will have facilities that others don’t have, and experience of working as part of a research consortium.”

    The Royal Society-DFID Africa Capacity Building Initiative will mainly fund research focusing on water and sanitation, renewable energy, and soil, and it will encourage a cross-disciplinary approach to research.
    It will build on the “extremely effective” Leverhulme-Royal Society Africa Awards, which were launched in 2008 to support research collaborations between the UK and Ghana or Tanzania, according to Poliakoff. But it will also expand the number of countries involved, and include French-speaking countries.

    “The Leverhulme awards and the Royal Society initiative will run in parallel, so the two schemes can learn from one another,” Poliakoff added.
    “We hope that this will encourage other funding agencies and countries to promote capacity building for research in Africa,” Poliakoff said.

    John Omiti, principal policy analyst at the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis, welcomed the funding initiative: “This is very important in [helping] energise African scientists to pursue research that is relevant and sensitive to specific priorities in different scientific disciplines”.

    “This [emphasises a] renewed international interest in Africa,” he said, adding that it “would also attract scientists in the African diaspora to focus, share and exchange scientific knowledge with scientists and researchers in Africa”.

    But Omiti also warned that the extent of the fund’s positive effect on science in Africa will depend on how effectively the money is allocated to research that impacts on real problems on the ground. The dissemination of research results and their use both to inform policy and to assist people in moving “from misery into liveable conditions” was also important, Omiti said.

    He added that he hoped the initiative would become sustainable and not just a “single shot at invigorating African scientific research”.

    Applications for grants will open in November 2012.

    Story by Siobhan Chan, SciDev.Net  14 August 2012

  • WITS, Aurum join hands for TB research

    13th Aug 2012

    The Wits Faculty of Health Sciences together with the Aurum Institute for Health Research has taken a further step towards enhancing tuberculosis (TB) research in South Africa through a joint agreement which was signed in Johannesburg yesterday, Tuesday, 31 July 2012. The Wits Aurum Coalition will facilitate a multi-dimensional approach into research which will tackle a major disease which is overcoming the South African community.
    South Africa is burdened by one of the worst tuberculosis epidemics in the world. TB disease rates are more than double those observed in other developing countries. In addition, due to the convergence of the HIV and TB epidemics, South Africa is currently bearing the brunt of a “double burden” of disease.

    “The signing of the joint venture between Wits and Aurum is an attempt to harness and eradicate the TB epidemic. The coalition will undertake research “from the bench to the bedside”, as it brings together significant basic science and clinical research expertise in TB in the two institutions,” says Professor Beverley Kramer, Assistant Dean for Research and Postgraduate Support in the Faculty of Health Sciences.
    The Aurum Institute is an internationally recognised, specialist research and health systems management organisation with a focus on TB and HIV prevention, treatment and care. Aurum has an international reputation for its work in these fields  and is the recipient of research and other grants from South African and international agencies and institutions for this work.

    The Faculty of Health Sciences is similarly recognised for its research into a variety of diseases including HIV and TB. Wits aims to use the opportunity created by the coalition, to further extend knowledge and treatment of TB through the pursuit of ground-breaking research.
    “The ultimate aim of this partnership is to take maximum advantage of the diverse research capacity and infrastructure retained at the various Wits research units and departments and the Aurum Institute, to initiate high impact, multi-disciplinary research and training which will have a positive effect on alleviating the burden of TB disease in our country and globally.”
    “It is envisioned that these activities will result in the coalescence of expertise and capacity to create a cohesive network of research activity specifically focused on TB,” says Dr. Bavesh Kana, Senior Research Scientist and Head of the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research at Wits.

    The agreement entails mutual exploration and support in identifying areas of research that could be advanced, as well as cooperating in using clinical sites for research, service provision and joint exploitation of some of the important epidemiological ventures and sites. It is envisaged that this will extend research opportunities to Wits’ postgraduate students for research projects.
    “In the recent past I have realised just how poignant this agreement is. New tools, implementation and operational research are very important for our future plans. We need to do more than just a community-wide intervention, but a combination approach and prevention is needed for tackling tuberculosis. It is quite clear that if we implement our planned policies, South Africa can reach its targets in the fight against tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.”

    “We have rounded up the best medical minds at Wits and Aurum to tackle these issues collectively and it will go a long way to meet a national and international need. I am convinced that together we can achieve more, than when we try to do it on our own. I am looking forward in taking this initiative forward with Wits,” says Prof. Gavin Churchyard, Chief Executive Officer of Aurum.

    Story by Vivienne Rowland, University of the Witwatersrand – Newsroom 

  • CSIR Biosciences team shortlisted for GAP Biosciences award

    30th Jul 2012

    A group of student researchers from the CSIR Biosciences’ technology platform, Emerging Health Technologies, has been shortlisted to the semi-finals of the Gauteng Accelerator Programme – Biosciences (GAP-Biosciences) 2012.

    The winners of the programme will be announced in December 2012. They will receive a R400 000 cash prize; free incubation for a year at The Innovation Hub; continued mentorship; and business support for a year.

    The GAP-Biosciences programme is the first programme to focus on building entrepreneurial skills in the biosciences innovation sector in Gauteng. It was introduced by The Innovation Hub in collaboration with Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States with the aim to provide a significant and unmatched bio-entrepreneurship learning experience for scientists and entrepreneurs interested in pursuing commercially viable opportunities in the Biosciences and related fields.

    The research project that these students are working on is Aptamer-based Point-of-care TB Diagnostics and was presented by Dr Makobetsa Khati, Fanie Marais, Lia Rotherham, Nqobile Ngubane, Matsiopane Maserumule and Laura Millroy.
    Dr Khati – Technology Manager: Emerging Health Technologies – said: “We are very excited about this nomination as the team stands to benefit a lot from the Executive Education week presented by Emory University Business School, where the team will be matched with their mentors to develop the business plan for the competition. A win for this team will help take the aptamer-based point-of-care TB diagnostic technology to the market.”
    Dr Khati added, “The students have contributed tremendous amount of work to the project, which we started in 2007. To put it simply, the students are the lifeblood of this project.”

    The programme aims to ensure that biosciences researchers and postgraduates have the vital business skills to accelerate the establishment of viable start-up companies in Gauteng. It also seeks to nurture business ideas and develop business proficiencies for individuals in selected teams from South Africa with emphasis in Gauteng. These teams are made up of graduates, academics, bio-entrepreneurs, and researchers in the Biosciences and related fields. Individuals in these teams are expected to have technical expertise to perform the required technical development, but lack the necessary business, legal, and intellectual property skills to take their technologies to the market.

    The seven semi-finalists will attend the Executive Education Week presented by Emory University’s Goizueta Business School in July 2012, where they will be matched with their mentors and commence the development of their business plans for the competition.

     Story – by Sibusiso Ralarala (CSIR Biosciences News, July 2012)