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Institute for Plant Biotechnology – Looking back on 2020
Author: C van der Vyver
Published: 04/12/2020

We will look back at 2020, wondering about the dystopic realities of a science fiction movie! A strange year with tremendous challenges which we had to meet and overcome, and which will likely continue into 2021. Nonetheless, the Institute for Plant Biotechnology (IPB) can look back proudly on accomplishments by staff and students during the past 12 months.

Qualifications and publications

Research work completed during 2020 resulted in the awarding of two doctorates (Drs Hanno Loubser and Anke Wiese) and six master's degrees (Felix van der Walt, Rafael Keret and Ethan Hunter all cum laude, and Michael Rosmarin, Nelisa Mbambalala and Nick Enslin). Seven BSc Honours students also graduated successfully, Cosima Babl and Rebecca Hurst doing so cum laude. Our graduating students delivered truly high-quality research work that resulted in international peer-reviewed publications: (1) Dr Loubser published his work on biostimulant enhancement of plant growth in the journal Plant, (2) Mr Hunter made a novel discovery, published in BMC Research Notes, by identifying a cannabinoid-like compound (adrenoyl-EA) in the flowers of the South African medicinal plant Leonotis leonurus, and (3) Ms Mbambalala successfully developed drought-tolerant GM sugarcane and published her work in Plant Molecular Biology Reporter.

Ongoing research projects

The research required for the recently secured funding by Dr Paul Hills from the biostimulant company Kelpak commenced this year, with Dr Nic le Maitre appointed in a postdoctoral position dedicated to this project. Dr Le Maitre joined the IPB during the national lockdown and, due to our rotation policy for maintaining adequate social distancing, he has yet to meet some colleagues in our laboratory. The rest of the lab staff are looking forward to working more closely with him in 2021. Dr Christell van der Vyver secured a new funding collaboration with Kudu Biotech to develop a tissue culture and transformation-capability pipeline for subtropical fruit trees. Dr Shaun Peters started collaborating actively with colleagues Drs Maricel Krüger and Jeannine Marais from the Department of Food Science on product development from pigeon pea. The first student project on this theme focusses on comparing falafel made from chickpea with those made from pigeon pea. We are look forward to tasting these research subjects at some point! Profs James Lloyd and Jens Kossmann have undertaken a research project working with Swiss‑based Pure Holding AG, one of the largest fully vertically integrated Cannabis producers in the European market. We are excited to see the outcomes of these new collaborations and projects in the near future.

Another new and exciting development is the establishment of the spin-off company Immobazyme, which will be incubated at the IPB. A related provisional patent has been filed originating from ideas and work done by postgraduates Nick Enslin, Ethan Hunter and Dominic Nicholas with the support of Dr Shaun Peters, Dr Bianke Loedolff and Prof Leon Dicks (Department of Microbiology). Immobazyme was established in collaboration with Innovus, Stellenbosch University's division for technology transfer. Read more: