School of Life Sciences

NRF grant winners (from left) Dr Nontobeko Eunice Mvubu, Dr Oliver Zishiri, Ms Seipati Mokhosi, Dr Matthew Adeleke and Dr Karen Pillay.

Thuthuka Grant Awards for Five UKZN Researchers

Five researchers in the School of Life Science’s Biotechnology cluster on the Westville campus have been awarded National Research Foundation (NRF) Thuthuka Grants to support their work.

Dr Oliver Zishiri and Dr Matthew Adeleke of the Genetics Discipline, Dr Nontobeko Eunice Mvubu of Microbiology, and PhD candidate Ms Seipati Mokhosi and Dr Karen Pillay of Biochemistry received grants for their work in the fields of antibiotic resistance, infectious diseases in poultry production, virulence in tuberculosis, neurobiochemistry, nanotechnology and magnetotactic bacteria.

Thuthuka funding supports emerging researchers working in academic professional appointments at public universities, science councils and other public research institutions.

Professor Shahidul Islam, the Academic Leader of the School of Life Science’s Biotechnology Cluster on the Westville campus, said the securing of the grants was a great achievement for the young researchers involved.

The research includes Zishiri’s work on the public health crisis of antibiotic resistance (AR) using a One Health approach that recognises the interconnection between animal, human and environmental health. He is genetically characterising antimicrobial and virulence genes from common pathogens including SalmonellaCampylobacterStaphylococcusEscherichia coliListeria and Enterococci emanating from South African livestock industries using molecular DNA technologies. This project will contribute to understanding of how livestock and agriculture contribute to AR.

Adeleke received a grant for his research into the genetic diversity and genomics of the Eimeria species – protozoan parasites that cause coccidiosis, an infectious disease affecting chickens and other livestock. Developing a vaccine for this disease is important to reduce the use of anticoccidial drugs in livestock, and to do so will involve improving knowledge of the genetic diversity of the Eimeria species. Adeleke hopes this grant will contribute to the control of coccidiosis in South African poultry.

Mvubu is conducting research into the identification of virulence factors in drug resistant strains of M. tuberculosis during early infection to help address the growing public health emergency of tuberculosis. Her research, following on from successful PhD research, will contribute to a better understanding of disease progression and involvement of innate immune response in tuberculosis. Her research also hopes to use a multi-omics approach in understanding TB pathogenesis for early detection, diagnosis and control of the disease.

Mokhosi, a developmental lecturer and PhD candidate, is conducting research on the use of inorganic nanoparticles in diseases affecting the central nervous system. Her career, inspired by the 1984 film Lorenzo’s Oil, led her to do her doctoral research into the use of magnetic nanoparticles in diseases affecting the brain, with a particular interest in Parkinson’s disease.

Pillay is focusing her research on magnetotactic bacteria. The magnetospirillum species of bacteria has the unique ability to uptake metals and package them into nanoparticles, leading Pillay to investigate a green synthetic strategy for metallic nanoparticles and use of this bacterial species as potential wastewater treatment agents. She will also test other applications of nanoparticles, for example, their potential as antimicrobial agents.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Bheki Mthembu