Plant Molecular Biology

Plant Molecular Biology

Areas of interest

There are two main areas of focus within our laboratory: i) stress physiology; and ii) genetic modification of useful crop resources:

Unlike most animals, plants cannot get up and move to a better place when conditions do not favour their growth or survival. They have thus evolved a variety of fascinating mechanisms to help them survive. In South Africa, we experience a wide range of environmental conditions, large areas are simply unsuitable, at present, for cultivation of crops. By understanding how plants adapt to harsh conditions, such as extremes of temperature, high concentrations of salts in the soil and drought, it may one day be possible to modify crop species to grow in areas which are presently considered marginal for agriculture.

Molecular techniques are also being used to introduce useful traits into some of the more widely-used species in the forestry industry. World demand for forestry products are on the increase, whilst natural resources are declining. Biotechnology offers solutions to problems encountered in mass propagation, tree improvement, selection of superior genotypes and germplasm conservation. In addition, our laboratory is involved in trying to increase the production of pharmacologically-active chemicals in plants, where these may only be extracted from plants and cannot at present be chemically synthesized in vitro. This means that medicines containing these compounds are often exceedingly expensive. Should it be possible to modify these plants to overproduce these pharmacologically active compounds, the cost of such medicines could potentially be reduced, making them available to a larger proportion of society.