The new South Africa-India science and technology research collaboration, launched by the National Research Foundation and Department of Science and Technology, recently awarded a research grant to Dr Christell van der Vyver of the Institute for Plant Biotechnology (IPB) at Stellenbosch University and Prof Sanjib Panda of the Department of Life Science and Bioinformatics at Assam University in Silchar, India, as the principal investigators. The funding was awarded for the project Enhancing drought tolerance in crops species using biotechnological approaches.
As part of this new collaboration, MSc student from the IPB, Coenrad van Beek, travelled to India at the end of January to attend and present his research at the International Symposium on Plant Biotechnology for Crop Improvement. This symposium was organised jointly by the Institute of Technology, Guwahati, and Assam University and was attended by researchers working in the field of plant biology. Aspects such as plant molecular biology, the importance of agriculture, different metabolic and molecular processes in plant cells, the ability of plants to cope with environmental stress, stress tolerance and plant immunity to pathogens were discussed. Coenrad presented his work in the form of a poster entitled The SiNACII transcription factor and its use in improving drought tolerance. He was further awarded the opportunity to attend the consecutive International Conference on Functional Plant Biology held at Assam University. After this conference, he worked in Prof Panda's laboratory for three weeks, training in various new analytical techniques that determine the physiological responses of plants to abiotic stress.
As part of the collaboration, Prof Panda also visited South Africa at the end of February. As visiting professor, he gave a presentation entitled Biotechnology for developing abiotic stress tolerant crops as part of the forum organised by the Department of Genetics at Stellenbosch University. Prof Panda has extensive knowledge in the field of abiotic stress tolerance in plant species and has published over 100 papers in international journals covering this topic; these papers have been cited more than 3 500 times. His lab has expertise in plant molecular biology and transgenic technology, stress physiology and biochemistry, and comparative and functional genomics using next-generation sequencing. It has run a number of projects in these areas both nationally and internationally.
In the future, student exchange between the labs of Dr Van der Vyver and Prof Panda will be encouraged and promoted. Students will be trained in various applicable molecular techniques and given the opportunity to learn from fellow scientists at these two labs. Both principal investigators of the project also hope to visit each other's labs regularly to exchange ideas in the field of abiotic stress and to build knowledge to improve crop tolerance to these stresses.