Stellenbosch University (SU) bagged three prizes at the annual National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)/ South32Awards held recently. Two individual researchers, Prof Guy Midgley and Dr Wynand Goosen, were honoured with the Green Economy Award and the TW Kambule-NSTF Award for Emerging Researchers respectively, while SU was part of the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA) that won the Data for Research Award. The principal investigator and lead of the NGS-SA, Prof Tulio de Oliveira from the School for Data Science and Computational Thinking and the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation, represented SU at the event.
The prestigious NSTF/South32 Awards are known as South Africa's “Science Oscars" and recognise, celebrate and reward the outstanding contributions of individuals, teams and organisations to science, engineering and technology in South Africa.
Prof Guy Midgley, interim director of the School for Climate Studies and a professor in global change biology in the Department of Botany and Zoology, received the Green Economy Award for his contributions over two decades to the understanding of risks of climate change to endemic biodiversity and ecosystems nationally and globally, to development of response options, and public communication of these issues. His work has been important in adding urgency to the adoption of appropriate mitigation targets over a period of two decades, marshalling evidence and presenting it in two major policy fora, the United Nations (UN) Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Midgley's inclusion on the Reuters Hot List of the top 1 000 most influential climate change scientists in the world bears witness to the significance and impact of his ground-breaking research.
Midgley said he was delighted to receive this award. “I am convinced that unlocking the green economy is one of the most vital steps that modern societies can take to ensure a safe and equitable future for all. We have much to learn about how to transition to this new kind of economy, and not much time to do so. I hope to continue to contribute positively to this effort."
Dr Wynand Goosen, a Wellcome Trust lecturer within the Animal Tuberculosis (TB) Research Group in the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics, won the TW Kambule-NSTF Award in the Emerging Researcher Category for the work he's been doing to identify TB from various animals to eradicate zoonotic TB, which remains a leading global health problem. He leads numerous projects to develop tests that can measures unique blood immunological markers, detect the presence of TB DNA in dirty respiratory samples and improve TB sequencing directly from such samples. Goosen also identified a novel blood marker associated with early infection, detected TB DNA in respiratory samples with high sensitivity, and successfully sequenced TB amidst various inhibitors. He contributed significantly to eradicating zoonotic TB in rural communities in South Africa, as well as towards drafting a TB management policy for endangered wildlife species in the country.
Goosen said it was “truly is a massive honour to accept this award on behalf of the Animal Tuberculosis Research Group. It is the product of many years of hard work performed by the group".
He added that “to address the global public health burden of zoonotic TB, we need to improve scientific evidence, reduce transmission at the animal-human transmission interface and strengthen intersectoral and collaborative approaches. During the recent pandemic, we have lived through a real-life example as to why it is important to address pathogens that can infect both humans and animals".
Goosen said the award shows the broader scientific community that the NSTF and South32 clearly understand the importance of supporting this type of research, and that this is very good news from a human public health perspective for South Africa.
- Photo: Prof Guy Midgley, Dr Wynand Goosen and Prof Tulio de Oliviera.