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Prominent microbiome scientist, Thulani Makhalanyane, joins Stellenbosch University
Author: Corporate Communication & Marketing /Korporatiewe Kommunikasie & Bemarking
Published: 31/10/2023

​​Stellenbosch University welcomes internationally renowned microbiome researcher Thulani Makhalanyane, who joins the University today (1 November) to take up a joint position as Professor in the Department of Microbiology and the School of Data Science and Computational Thinking.

Makhalanyane will work closely with the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI) as it expands microbiome research. He joins SU from the University of Pretoria where he was a full professor and holder of the DSI/NRF SARChI Chair in Marine Microbiomics.

Prof Kanshu Rajaratnam, Director: School for Data Science and Computational Thinking at SU, says Makhalanyane's inter- and trans-disciplinary work speaks to the contribution microbiome research can make to solving the grand challenges facing the continent. “I am excited to see the outcomes of his research that will bring together researchers from Microbiology, CERI and the African Microbiome Institute. He joins SU at a time when African microbiome research is booming."

Born and raised in North-West, Makhalanyane received his undergraduate degrees from North-West University and a Master of Science degree (with distinction) followed by his PhD, at the University of the Western Cape. He completed postdoctoral training at the University of Pretoria before joining the Department of Genetics as a lecturer in 2014.

His research has focused almost entirely on understanding the ecology of microbial communities in extreme environments. These habitats include soil microbial communities in the Antarctic Dry Valleys, the Namib Desert and on geographically strategic regions such as the Southern Ocean. His studies have also provided key insights regarding the human gut microbiome in urban and rural South Africans.

“I'm excited to be joining SU at what feels like an exciting period for African genomics research. I am particularly excited to leverage the links with the School of Data Science and Computational Thinking and CERI will be vital as we expand our current research and increase our efforts to study African microbiomes."

Makhalanyane, who holds a P-rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF), brings a wealth of experience to SU. He has co-authored over 80 publications in leading international journals including Nature, Science and Nature Reviews Microbiology. He serves on the leading editorial boards within his field and is currently Editor in Chief for The ISME Journal and Senior Editor at mSystems.

In 2018, Makhalanyane was elected to the International Board of ISME and was appointed Director of the ISME Ambassador Programme, which promotes microbiome outreach activities in over 100 countries. Since 2019, he has served as member of the NRF Basic and Applied Microbiology Ratings Specialist Committee and was appointed Convener in 2022.

In addition to the considerable expertise, he has to offer, Makhalanyane's influence will also spark curiosity among SU students, says Prof Louise Warnich, Dean of the Faculty of  Science, “paving the way for exciting research prospects for them in this important field".