School of Life Sciences

Senior lecturer in the School of Life Sciences, Dr Shakira Shaik with graduates, Ms Preleen Reddy (left) and Ms Shenaid Naidoo (right).

Working Women in Science Showcased

Dr Shakira Shaik, senior lecturer in the School of Life Sciences, is extremely proud of her two MSc Biology graduates Ms Preleen Reddy and Ms Shenaid Naidoo as both young women completed their degrees while working full-time.

Reddy completed her undergraduate and honours degrees at UKZN before embarking on an MSc, during which she started working full-time as a senior Laboratory Assistant in the School of Education at North-West University.

Naidoo completed her undergraduate and BTech qualifications at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) before joining Shaik’s research programme at UKZN while holding a full-time job as Materials Expert Lead for Food Fats and Oils at Unilever. She recently relocated to The Netherlands where she completed the writing of her dissertation.

For her thesis (co-supervised by Dr Nisha Singh), Naidoo studied teas consumed in South Africa and the quantities of antioxidants, flavonoids and phenolics as well as the antibacterial activity of black, green, rooibos and moringa teas.  ‘I cannot start my day without tea,’ she quipped.  ‘I also worked for a company that sold tea and one day I started asking myself what is beneficial in tea, which is the best in terms of all the compounds and how do these teas compare. This motivated me to study further.’

Naidoo believes her findings will give consumers in South Africa an idea of what type of tea (and which of the myriad brands on the market) is beneficial in terms of the quantity and presence of various health-promoting compounds. ‘They will be able to make an informed choice,’ she said.

She thanked her supervisors for their valuable advice and immense support. Naidoo plans to continue working within the foods research and development industry and sustain a curious, creative and open mind.

Reddy always had a passion for botany and was exposed to plant biotechnology during her honours year. She wanted to explore this newfound interest and when the opportunity to pursue an MSc presented itself, she chose her alma mater and the expertise and competent supervision of Shaik, who was also her mentor during her Department of Science and Technology-National Research Foundation (DST-NRF) internship.

Her research (co-supervised by Professor Muhammad Nakhooda at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology), focused on the cryopreservation of the seeds of an important leafy vegetable (Amaranthus dubius) in order to preserve its germplasm. ‘Being in a biotechnology lab during my honours and internship really motivated me to pursue plant biotechnology further,’ she explained. ‘This area of research can be very difficult to master and I wanted to challenge myself and excel in it.’

Reddy said her research forms part of a larger narrative. ‘Preserving important leafy vegetables plays a role in alleviating hunger and malnutrition that is statistically likely to occur in the future,’ she explained. ‘If species of superior genotypes can be preserved for future generations, it could potentially address many food security challenges resulting from climate change.’

She added that whilst she has always been self-motivated, she was given a bigger push to succeed when she lost her grandmother last year.

‘In mentoring these two young women, I am delighted to have contributed to human capacity development beyond the borders of UKZN,’ said Shaik.

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal