20th December 2022
Neoleukin-2/15 can be split into two fragments that reconstitute its activity when combined. medicalxpress.com
A new study shows that when an experimental cancer medication is split in half, the molecule becomes safer and more effective.
Scientists at the University of Washington School of Medicine were looking for ways to improve a promising cancer drug called Neo-2/15. This protein was created to mimic the function of Interleukin-2, or IL-2, which is a natural molecule that can amp up immune cells to fight off infections and cancer.
While IL-2 can be used to treat some cancers, this systemic cytokine therapy also causes toxic side effects in patients. The scientists designed Neo-2/15 to be a “better version” of IL-2, one where those side effects are mediated.
“By controlling when and where drugs become active in the body, we may be able to create safer and more effective cancer treatments,” said Quijano-Rubio.
by Ian Haydon, University of Washington School of Medicine
Article can be accessed on: MedicalXpress
15th December 2022
The ongoing struggles against different diseases has led to continuous acknowledgement of current and potential benefits of medicinal plants. As such, humankind continues to pursue drug discovery from various parts of plants. Specifically, scientists have acknowledged the value of pharmaceutically-active compounds extracted from plants. Consequently, the African Centre for Gene Technologies (ACGT), in collaboration with the University of Johannesburg hosted a Regional Plant Biotechnology Forum themed: “Plant-derived compounds for diseases of prevalence in South Africa”. In rotational fashion, as with the previous ACGT plant forums, a very interactive and beneficial biotechnology forum was held on the 22nd of November 2022 at the TheKerzner@UJ at the University of Johannesburg.
Several plant scientists and chemists were given a platform to share their research findings and knowledge on how plant-derived compounds can be further utilized for treatment of diseases. The keynote speakers shared different interesting topics as follows:
Prof Vinesh Maharaj from the University of Pretoria highlighted the importance of developing a natural product library to create a diverse library of natural extracts, fractions and chemical compounds endowed with biological activity which can be used for research programs in a sustainable manner ready for high-throughput biological screening.
Presentation title: Advancing Natural Products Research in South Africa – Development of a natural product library ready for high throughput biological screening.
Dr Kennedy Ngwira from the University of the Witwatersrand shared knowledge on the advantages of bio-renewable resources. The presentation demonstrated the use of bio-aromatics as precursors for the synthesis of potential UV absorbers. Some of the synthesized compounds showed better UV absorption than those currently on the market.
Presentation title: Plant-Derived Aromatics as Chemical Building Blocks for the Synthesis of Functional Organic Compounds.
Prof Lyndy McGaw from the University of Pretoria emphasized the application of medicinal plants as antimicrobials (against diarrhea and mastitis), antiparasitics (anthelmintic and anti-tick), as well as inflammation and immune modulation agents in animals. The presentation further demonstrated the research done in poultry – inclusive of surveys, in vitro activity and in vivo tests.
Presentation title: Phytomedicines for Animal Health.
Mr Brenden Moyo from the University of Johannesburg presented research findings on the potential impact of medicinal plant extracts in treatment of human malignant melanoma and cervical cancer. The presentation demonstrated on the determination of the inhibitory concentration, determination of the bioactive compounds and further confirmed the mode of cell death.
Presentation title: Investigating the in vitro anti-cancerous activity of Ocimum sanctum and O. kilimandscharicum.
Ms Kgaugelo Masia from the University of Johannesburg shared a presentation describing the benefits of medicinal plant extracts in the treatment of malaria in South Africa. The presentation emphasized aspects of plant collection, plant preparation, extraction and in vitro treatment.
Presentation title: Medicinal plants useful for Malaria therapy in South Africa.
Ms Portia Raphela-Choma from the University of Johannesburg elaborated on the cytotoxicity effects of medicinal plant-derived compounds on human cancerous cell lines. The discussion covered the evaluation of cell viability, apoptosis, mitochondrial membrane potential, ATP and caspase activity and compound molecular mechanism.
Presentation title: Cytotoxic effect of Iso-mukaadial acetate on colon and pancreatic cancer cells.
The regional plant biotechnology forum attracted participants from the Universities of Pretoria, the Witwatersrand and Johannesburg.
The forum resulted in healthy dialogue and here are some key takeaways:
- There is a clear need for follow-up discussions on specific points that were brought up during the meeting such as the potential “artefacts” and other pitfalls in the compound screening and evaluation processes.
- The event shared a spotlight on young plant science talent (biochemists and chemists) that will benefit from nurturing and mentoring moving forward.
- There are numerous opportunities for building collaborative consortiums in areas such as toxicity screening.
- Stakeholders from the University of Pretoria offered access to their Biodiscovery Center and to share existing facilities and expertise where necessary.
- It was great to meet all the scientists in person after the long lockdown hiatus and there will be additional forums in the coming year.
16th November 2022The ACGT in partnership with the University of Johannesburg will be hosting this year’s ACGT Regional Plant Biotechnology Forum . The theme for this forum will be “Plant-derived compounds for diseases of prevalence in South Africa”.Date:Tuesday, 22 November 2022.Time: 09:00 am – 14:00 pmVenue: University of Johannesburg, Auckland Park Campus.Here is a list of speakers on the day:
- Prof Vinesh Maharaj (University of Pretoria)
- Dr Kennedy Ngwira (University of the Witwatersrand)
- Ms Kgaugelo Masia (University of Johannesburg)
- Prof Lyndy McGaw (University of Pretoria)
- Ms Zodwa Edith Jantjies (University of Johannesburg)
- Ms Portia Raphela-Choma (University of Johannesburg).
- There will be a Poster Session and you are welcome to bring along any posters from your group that are aligned with the theme. These could be from previous events and not necessarily new. Feel free to contact us should you wish to give a poster presentation.
- Transport will be made available to those travelling from Pretoria to the venue.
- Coffee, tea and light refreshments will be available.
30th August 2022
Anyone who has interacted with the research staff at the African Centre for Gene Technologies (ACGT) will agree that the office would not function as effectively as it does without the input of Itseng Malao. As the Centre’s Project Coordinator and Office Administrator since 2016, her friendly face and welcoming disposition are the first things visitors encounter when they enter ACGT House on the University of Pretoria’s Innovation Africa Campus.
With 20 years’ experience in the sales marketing industry, she has supplemented her National Diploma in Marketing, obtained from the Technikon Northern Gauteng in 1996, and her Secretarial Diploma, obtained in 1997, with the Programme in Project Management, which she completed at Enterprises University of Pretoria in 2021.
As her responsibilities included managing projects for the ACGT, planning events, negotiating with suppliers and communicating with stakeholders, she felt the need to upskill herself with a formal project management qualification. As a result, she has been able to transfer the knowledge she obtained to the entire team to ensure that deadlines are met and other deliverables completed according to the requirements.
She loves working in a team. When she joined the ACGT, she had not worked in a scientific environment, but with her mantra of “Everything you put your mind to, you can conquer,” she soon adapted to her new surroundings. She found the staff to always be willing to help her understand her role and the contribution she could make.
According to the ACGT’s Director, Dr John Becker, Itseng brings an entirely different perspective to an otherwise very science-oriented office. “Her human-centric approach provides a good counterbalance to the data-driven decision making that otherwise characterises the office,” he says. “She can sense and anticipate the consequences of decisions on various stakeholders, which are the very people the ACGT is mandated to benefit.”
Itseng’s perspective is always appreciated in meetings and stakeholder engagements. She has the talent to seamlessly take over a variety of tasks and projects when the need arises. Some of the ACGT’s flagship projects, such as the Southern African Biochemistry and Informatics for Natural Products (SABINA), Assuring Agricultural and Food Safety in Genetically Modified Organisms in Southern Africa (GMASSURE) and the Beef Genomics Programme have benefitted from Itseng’s administrative contribution.
She believes in giving back to the community. On Nelson Mandela Day, she involved the staff members in uplifting a day care centre by providing donations of food, books and used furniture, as well as pitching in to give the centre a fresh coat of paint.
She acknowledges the fact that the staff members need to interact outside the work environment on a more personal level, and is always ready to organise social events for the office.
The team at ACGT House appreciates the breath of fresh air that she brings to the office, and recognises her contribution to making the office run like a well-oiled machine.
20th July 2022
The local and international field of plant-based therapeutics and diagnostics is rapidly gaining significant momentum. Due to strong strategic collaborations, South African life science researchers and innovators are claiming their rightful seat in this space.
This is evidenced by strong local and international progress:
- Approval of local manufacture of COVID-19 test kits produced by CapeBio and the CSIR in 2021.
- Local investments from private industry, Tautomer and 3Sixty Biopharmaceuticals, and public funding of CSIR research on plant-based therapeutics.
- AzarGen Biotechnologies being granted a formal meeting with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and has received important guidance for manufacturing, pre-clinical and clinical development of their plant-made therapeutic.
- Continued development of a variety of plant-based therapeutics and diagnostics by a number of local research and development entities, including a COVID-19 virus-like particle (VLP) vaccine under development.
- Medicago Canada and GSK plc (formerly GlaxoSmithKline) announcing approval by Health Canada of COVIFENZ, for their plant-based COVID-19 vaccine in February 2022.
Based on these developments, the African Centre for Gene Technologies (ACGT), The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), AzarGen Biotechnologies and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) co-hosted an alignment workshop titled Plant-based Clinical Drug Development in South Africa: Regulatory stakeholder workshop and site visit on plant-produced health products at CSIR’s main campus in Brummeria, Pretoria. The event included presentations of the research undertaken by CSIR, AzarGen and their collaborators over the past decade; followed by highly constructive discussions between researchers and regulators on how SAHPRA approaches applications received from the research, development and innovation community, with special emphasis on biological therapeutics using a plant-based bio-manufacturing platform. The day was concluded with CSIR colleagues showcasing their research facilities, inclusive of multiple expression systems; as well as equipment for manufacturing biological products at various scales.
Important recurring topics emerged:
- The local biopharmaceutical manufacturing opportunity is attractive, necessary and viable, especially with regards to elevated investment aspirations into Africa, well-established medical infrastructure and regulatory oversight.
- Production of biopharmaceuticals for low and middle income countries (LMIC) at affordable cost is paramount.
- Although SAHPRA has a wide range of specific guidelines for a wide range products, there are general similarities in the assessment of safety, efficacy and quality of each product regardless of how the product was made.
- Correct use of terminology of therapeutics based on originators (e.g. ‘follow-on’ or ‘stand-alone’).
- The advantages of each local facility to have dedicated personnel to deal with regulatory matters.
- The necessity for local facilities adhering to, or being upgraded to, current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) regulations.
- The need to develop deeper local expertise in cGMP manufacturing processes and quality.
- The need to gain multiple perspectives from various players in the drug development value chain as well as to work in collaboration with the required health professionals (e.g. clinical pharmacists).
- SAHPRA are aligned to US FDA and European Medicines Agency (EMA) regulations.
- The need to engage regulators early in the process and inform them of new approaches and technologies used in the biopharmaceutical R&D process.
The ACGT wishes to thank all stakeholders for information sharing and highly constructive discussions to start aligning research initiatives and aspirations to regulatory considerations, enabling a world-class biomanufacturing and drug development capability.
22nd June 2022
There has been a recent wave of successful training workshops, webinars and weekly journal club meetings organized and facilitated by active researchers and students in the field of Metabolomics in South Africa. These events have been a true testament to how collaborative partnerships in science can be beneficial for all. Metabolomics South Africa (MSA) aims to promote Metabolomics in South Africa and Africa and has frequently partnered with the African Centre for Gene Technologies (ACGT) in pursuit of this aim. The partnership also includes many individuals from the University of Johannesburg, University of South Africa (UNISA), University of Pretoria, North-West University (NWU) and Tshwane University of Technology who are on the committee of directors and/or the different subcommittees and working groups.
The shared duties approach means that responsibilities in coordination and execution of agenda are spread out and are as inclusive as possible. The different individual and institutions also offer their respective expertise and guidance in navigating the metabolomics field and this has resulted in significant increase in following and participation in events. So far, 2022 has been to a great start with the number of planned meetings and training events that have already taken place and those that are still pending. Below are some of the events that have taken place in 2022:
Weekly journal clubs have been held since the beginning of April 2022 to empower young researchers from within the MSA partnerships and to promote constructive dialogue. These weekly virtual journal clubs are led by Dr Shayne Mason from NWU and here are a few that have taken place:
- Dr Shayne Mason (NWU) and Prof Gerhard Prinsloo (UNISA) – An introduction to NMR held on 7th April 2022.
- Dr Fidele Tugizimana (UJ) – An introduction to LC-MS and GC-MS held on 21st April 2022.
- Chandré Liebenberg (NWU) on characterising the serum immunometabolic profile of HIV/TB co-infection using untargeted GCxGC-TOF-MS analyses and flow cytometric cytokine measurements held on 28th April 2022.
- Ms Kgalaletso Othibeng (UJ) – investigating the effects of biostimulants on maize plants under normal and stress conditions held on 28th April 2022.
- Dr Ilse du Preez (NWU) – non-alcoholic liver disease held on 19th May 2022.
- Ms Lerato Nephali (UJ) – Metabolomics studies to elucidate the biochemistry underlying the effects of biostimulants on maize held on 22nd June 2022.
- Mr Wilson Bamise Adeosun (UNISA) – metabolomics approach to investigate the effect of environmental factors on the chemical profile and antimicrobial activities of Helichrysum aureonitens held on 9th June 2022.
- Journal Club: Miss Anza Ramabulana (UJ) – Metabolomics and computational tools to characterise the metabolomes of Momordica species (23rd June 2022).
The Introductory Metabolomics Workshop was held virtually on the 12th of May 2022. About 85 participants from different parts of South Africa attended the workshop was well attended by roughly from different institutions in SA. facilitated by:
- Dr Mari van Wyk (NWU) – The considerations for designing a metabolomics experiment
- Dr Wilma Augustyn (TUT) – GC and UPLC considerations in a metabolomics study
- Dr Maxleene Sandasi (TUT) – Data handling and mining topics.
The recordings for all these events are available on the MSA YouTube channel. Unfortunately, the MSA website is still down (under construction) and the directors ask for patience during this time. There will be many other upcoming events and meetings. Here are a few in the chamber:
- Multiple webinars on various topics – Dates will be announced.
- Advanced Metabolomics Workshop – Dates to be confirmed.
The ACGT is looking forward to your participation in future webinars and events. The ACGT continues to pursue synergies and consortiums such as the MSA for collaborative initiatives. This approach continues to bear fruits and is one of the tools that demand continued use. For more Information and suggestions about future events and potential collaborations, please contact Mr Molati Nonyane at or .
17th November 2021
Single-cell RNA sequencing can reveal complex and rare cell populations, uncover regulatory relationships between genes, and track the trajectories of distinct cell lineages in development. The African Centre for Gene Technologies (ACGT) and researchers from the ETH University of Zürich co-hosted a webinar titled “Differential analyses and beyond for single cell RNA-sequencing data” on 3 November 2021.
In this webinar, Professor Mark Robinson shared his expertise in the field and demonstrated various strategies for differential analyses from multi-sample, multi-group single cell RNA-sequencing data. Prof Robinson’s research interests are in the application of statistical methods and data science to experimental data with biological applications within the context of genomics data types. Prof Robinson’s talk was followed by a presentation from Dr Simone Tiberi who focused on key considerations of single cell RNA sequencing data, specifically focusing on quality control and RNA velocities. Dr Tiberi has interests in the development of cutting-edge statistical methods in bioinformatics, mostly for bulk and single-cell RNA Seq data.
A total of 40 delegates registered for the event, representing various South African Universities and science councils. The delegates hailed from diverse backgrounds, including agricultural, medical and veterinary sciences. The two presentations were followed by a stimulating discussion session from various viewpoints.
Single-cell RNA Seq methodology has previously been deployed in the country, hence a hands-on data analyses workshop was also co-hosted by the ACGT and ETH Zürich in 2019 in Pretoria. Unfortunately, an event could not be hosted in 2020 due to the pandemic. Transcriptomics analyses remains a rich area of growth for South Africa and the continent and the community can look forward to further follow-up events, as well as how transcriptomics interlinks and complements other “omics” approaches.
The ACGT would like to credit the success of this event to the generosity of researchers from the Institute of Molecular Life Sciences at the University of Zürich in Switzerland: Professor Robinson and Dr Tiberi. The ACGT hopes that everyone who attended the webinar benefited in one way or another. The ACGT will continue to explore other topics in RNA Seq technologies that could be beneficial to members in the ACGT partnership and those who are active in these areas.
For more information, please contact Mr Molati Nonyane at or Tel: 012 420 6139.
16th November 2021
The second Metabolomics South Africa (MSA) Symposium was held on the 20-21st of October 2021. This was yet another installation of networking and training efforts by members of the MSA committee of directors, the MSA subcommittees, the African Centre for Gene Technologies (ACGT) and the many other partners. What started off as an idea three years ago, has grown into a highly useful coming together of researchers and students with common interests. The symposium was intended to demonstrate the Metabolomics work that has been taking place in South Africa by of the members of the association.
The symposium was held over two days and attracted a crowd of over 100 participants. There were 24 speakers from diverse backgrounds and research experiences. The event was especially designed to offer the younger speakers an opportunity to present their work and gain exposure. The sessions were chaired by Dr Aurelia Williams (North-West University), Dr Fidele Tugizimana (University of Johannesburg) and Prof Duncan Cromarty (University of Pretoria).
Here are some highlights from the symposium:
Keynote speakers included:
- Prof Alvaro Viljoen from Tshwane University of Technology; whose talk was titled Metabolomics – an indispensable tool in medicinal plant research.
- Dr Tiffany Thomas from Columbia University Medical Center in the United States; who presented on the Structural and metabolic changes of red cells in hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
- Dr Volker Kruft from SCIEX who gave a talk on Clinical Metabolomics: The path to finding new markers.
- Molecular Networking by Dr Fidele Tugizimana and his young team from the University of Johannesburg.
- Validation of Metabolomics Data by Dr Mari van Wyk from North-West University (Potchefstroom).
The annual general meeting was held at the end of Day 1 and was used as an opportunity for MSA leadership to provide feedback of progress from the previous periods as well as insights into future MSA plans.
Best Speaker Awards:
- Anza T. Ramabulana from the University of Johannesburg was awarded the best speaker award for her talk titled Metabolomics and computational tools to characterize the chemical space of Momordica plant species.
- Chanel Pretorius from the University of Johannesburg was awarded the additional best speaker for her talk titled Metabolomic analysis of oat (Avena sativa L.) plants: A strategy for cultivar identification and differentiation.
The first MSA symposium was held during the launch of MSA in 2019. This ACGT has been very invested in doing everything possible to facilitate the growth of MSA. It is very encouraging that momentum from all previous efforts has not been lost and that the MSA and its many initiatives are still ongoing. We would like to thank the speakers for donating their time and the attendees for accommodating this event. We would like to thank the sponsors of the event and look forward to working with you again in future events.
For additional queries, kindly contact Mr Molati Nonyane, or visit the MSA website at www.metabolomics-sa.co.za
5th October 2021
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.
16th September 2021
An internationally funded consortium working towards increasing yield and nutritional value of staple crops in Africa recently concluded an InnovateUK-funded programme. Despite the restrictions on travel due to COVID-19, the programme delivered promising results after being initiated in November 2019. The consortium was led by the University of Edinburgh, in collaboration with Omnia Nutriology®, the University of Pretoria (through the African Centre for Gene Technologies) and the University of Johannesburg.
An innovative approach was followed by combining high-throughput, high coverage metabolomics analyses of individual plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR or biostimulant strains), as well as novel combinations of the strains. Analyses were also undertaken of maize plants grown under controlled conditions, as well as at different field sites in the main maize growing areas of South Africa, treated with the biostimulants. The field trials provided ample plant material for detailed analyses of metabolite changes between the treatments, and hence gave insights into the mechanisms by which these biostimulants increased yield and altered metabolites with direct association to yield and nutritional benefits of the staple.
A number of programme outputs have been achieved, that will target different audiences in the academic and agricultural industries. Included are two review manuscripts (one published), three peer-reviewed manuscripts (in preparation), an interview article in the UK Crop Production Magazine, three conference presentations and a video for public dissemination (currently being finalized).
In addition, a demonstration site for African smallholder farmers is also being planned and will be implemented as soon as South African COVID restrictions allow. The demonstration site will extend knowledge on general soil health and optimal maize growth to smallholder farmers (as an introduction); through hands-on experience as well as extension manuals.
The programme established and strengthened ties between multiple research organizations, from both the academic and industry side, and has opened new avenues to further explore refinement of the biostimulants under study.
The consortium would like to sincerely thank InnovateUK, the United Kingdom’s innovation agency; as well as Omnia Nutriology®, for providing financial support to make the research programme possible.