Four highly promising emerging plant biotechnology researchers attracted a large audience to a webinar aimed at spotlighting the next generation of researchers in the field in South Africa. The event drew 94 registrants, indicative of the quality of research on display by the emerging PhD graduates.
The webinar had diverse representation from all the ACGT partner research institutions. The presentations from the University partners (Johannesburg, Pretoria, and the Witwatersrand) centered around plant pathogens and how to curb their impact on economically important food crops, including viral, bacterial and fungal pathogens. The CSIR presented work on an engineered Agrobacterium repurposed to produce potent HIV antibodies in a tobacco production system.
The webinar was led by Professor Chrissie Rey, a highly experienced viral researcher focusing on the African subsistence crop Cassava. Professor Rey and other partner researchers instilled the discussions with decades of research experience and constructive suggestions.
The closing session focused on diversity in research and how the pandemic has affected the ability of scientists to network and gain viewpoints from different stakeholders. The speakers and audience agreed that a lot of collaborative opportunities existed in the South African biotechnology environment for further impact through combined critical mass. The ACGT will continue to find the synergies to move the research further along the development pipeline.
Meet our speakers on the day:
Dr Bulelani Sizani – (University of the Witwatersrand) – a post-doctoral research fellow at the department of Molecular and Cell Biology of the University of the Witwatersrand. In 2019, he completed his PhD at the University of Antwerp in plant systems Biology. His work focuses on the identification of disease resistance genes in cassava such as NLR encoding proteins. These genotypes can be selected by farmers and be used in breeding techniques for better improvement of cassava crops against CMD.
Title: Structural and functional characterization of NLRs proteins differentially expressed in Cassava plant inoculated with SACMV
Dr Dylan Zeiss (University of Johannesburg) – a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Johannesburg. He then enrolled for an MSc in Biochemistry that was upgraded to a Doctoral degree in 2019. He graduated in 2020. His research focuses on plant-microbe interactions and how this knowledge may have applications within the South African agricultural sector for sustainable food production. Has used a metabolomics-based approach using liquid chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry (LC-MS) in combination with statistical modelling to monitor specialized plant metabolism in response to R. solanacearum infection.
Title: Metabolomic insights into the deployment of phytochemical defences in the tomato – Ralstonia solanacearum pathosystem
Dr David L. Nsibo (University of Pretoria)- currently a Lecturer at the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences of the University of Pretoria. In 2019, he completed his PhD in Plant Science at the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, University of Pretoria and graduated in April 2020. His research is aimed at determining the extent and patterns of genetic variation in populations of foliar pathogens of cereals and to understand how these pathogens cause disease using an array of innovative molecular- and genomics-based tools.
Title: Population genetics of foliar pathogens of maize and the future of food and agriculture
Dr Advaita Singh (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) – a researcher in the Biomanufacturing Technology Demonstration Group at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the largest R&D institution in Africa. He has qualifications from the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Pretoria, having qualified as a protein biochemist. His expertise lies in the development of recombinant processes to produce biopharmaceuticals in various expression systems. Dr Singh forms part of a group which prioritizes supporting industry and other partners in the translation of technologies towards commercialization and impact.
Title: Plant-based production of highly potent anti-HIV antibodies with engineered posttranslational modifications.
The ACGT would like to thank you for all your suggestions on future webinars. Below are a few of the topics we hope to explore in the future as per your suggestions:
- Genome editing
- Drug discovery from Herbal Medicines
- Trends in analytical methods of medicinal plants
- Fermentation technology
- Systems biology in plant sciences
We look forward to hosting you on the next Plant Biotechnology Forum.