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Scientists unravel drivers of the global Zinc cycle in our oceans, with implications for a changing climate unravel drivers of the global Zinc cycle in our oceans, with implications for a changing climateWiida Fourie-Basson (Media: Faculty of Science)<p></p><p>The important role of the Southern Ocean in global biological processes and the carbon cycle has been confirmed anew by a study published in <a href="">Science </a>this week that, for the first time based on field evidence, reveals the underappreciated role of inorganic Zinc particles in these cycles.</p><p>The Southern Ocean plays the greatest role in global phytoplankton productivity, which is responsible for absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide. In these processes, Zinc, present in trace quantities in seawater, is an essential micronutrient critical to many biochemical processes in marine organisms and particularly for polar phytoplankton blooms. When phytoplankton blooms perish, the Zinc is released again.</p><p>But to date scientists were puzzled as there was an observed disjunct between Zinc and Phosphorus, another nutrient essential for life in the oceans, even though both nutrients are co-located in similar regions in phytoplankton. Instead, a strong (but inexplicable) coupling between Zinc and dissolved Silica is often seen.</p><p><a href="/english/faculty/science/earthsciences/staff-and-postgrads/academic-staff/prof-roychoudhury-(hod)">Prof. Alakendra Roychoudhury</a>, a specialist in environmental and marine biogeochemistry at Stellenbosch University (SU) and a co-author on the article, says they can now, for the first time, explain with confidence the biogeochemical processes driving the oceans' Zinc cycle.</p><p>Since 2013, Roychoudhury's research group in SU's Department of Earth Sciences have joined three expeditions of South Africa's polar research vessel, the <a href="">SA Agulhas II</a>. Crossing the vast Southern Ocean on its way to Antarctica in both summer and winter, the team collected sea water samples from the surface and deep ocean, as well as sediments.</p><p>Dr Ryan Cloete, co-first author on the paper and currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Laboratory of Environmental Marine Sciences (LEMAR) in France, participated in two of these expeditions: “Studying the Southern Ocean is so important as it acts as a central hub for global ocean circulation. Processes occurring in the Southern Ocean are imprinted on water masses which are then transported to the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans," he explains.   </p><p>Working with researchers from Princeton University, the Universities of Chicago and California Santa Cruz, as well as the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, the samples were subjected to detailed particle by particle analysis, using X-ray spectroscopic techniques at a synchrotron facility, which allowed them to study the samples at atomic and molecular level.</p><p><strong>Unravelling the drivers of the global Zinc cycle in our oceans</strong></p><p>In summer it seems that higher productivity leads to a greater abundance of Zinc in the organic fraction of the surface ocean, which can readily become available for uptake by phytoplankton. But the researchers also found high concentrations of Zinc associated with debris derived from rocks and earth, and from atmospheric dust, present in these samples.</p><p>In the open ocean, the interplay between Zinc's association or dissociation from particles is pivotal for replenishing dissolved Zinc to support marine life.</p><p>Cloete explains their findings: “Due to poor growing conditions in winter, Zinc particles are literally 'scavenged' by inorganic solids such as silica, abundantly available in the form of diatoms, as well as iron and aluminum oxides. Diatoms are microalgae – unicellular organisms with skeleton made of silica – thereby explaining the strong association between Zinc and Silica in the oceans."</p><p>In other words, when Zinc is bound to an organic ligand it is easy for uptake by marine life such as phytoplankton. Zinc in a mineral phase, however, is not easy to dissolve and will therefore not be easily available for uptake. In this form, particulate Zinc can form large aggregates and sink to the deep ocean, where it becomes unavailable for uptake by phytoplankton.</p><p><strong>Implications for changing climate</strong></p><p>This understanding of the global Zinc cycle has important implications in the context of warming oceans, warns Roychoudhury: “A warmer climate increases erosion, leading to more dust in the atmosphere and consequently more dust being deposited into the oceans. More dust means more scavenging of Zinc particles, leading to less Zinc being available to sustain phytoplankton and other marine life."</p><p>Cloete says their novel approach to studying the oceanic Zinc cycle now opens the door to investigating other important micronutrients: “Like Zinc, the distribution of Copper, Cadmiun, and Cobalt could also experience climate-induced changes in the future."</p><p>For Roychoudhury, the findings reaffirm the Southern Ocean's global influence in regulating the climate and the marine food web: “The earth system is intricately coupled through physical, chemical and biological processes with self-correcting feedback loops to modulate variability and negate climate change. Our findings are a prime example of this coupling where biochemical processes happening at the molecular level can influence global processes like the warming of our planet."</p><p>On the photo above: Crew on board the SA Agulhas II preparing to deploy seawater collection bottles between surface and depths of up to 4500 metres in the Southern Ocean. <em>Image: Ryan Cloete </em>​<br></p><p>​<br></p>
World Oceans Day: We must promote a sustainable blue economy Oceans Day: We must promote a sustainable blue economyCorporate Communication and Marketing/Korporatiewe Kommunikasie en Bemarking<p>​​World Oceans Day was observed on Saturday 8 June. In opinion pieces for the media, experts at Stellenbosch University emphasised the importance of cooperation and stewardship to harness and protect the vast economic, environmental, and social capital residing in the oceans in a sustainable way. Click on the links below to read the articles as published.<br></p><ul><li>​Dr Francis Vorhies (<a href=""><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">News24</strong></a>)</li><li>Prof Francois Vreÿ (<a href=""><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">Daily Maverick</strong></a>)</li><li>Aidan Bossert (<a href=""><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">Cape Argus</strong></a>)​</li></ul><p>​<br></p>
Uncovering ancient wonders: The world’s oldest termite mounds found in SA ancient wonders: The world’s oldest termite mounds found in SACorporate Communication and Marketing / Dept Soil Science<p>​In what is described as an astonishing breakthrough, scientists have discovered the world's oldest, inhabited termite mounds along the Buffels River in Namaqualand. These mounds, dating back a staggering 34,000 years, are rewriting our understanding of prehistoric life, climate and carbon storage.  [Watch a short <a href=""><span class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"><strong>video here</strong></span></a><span class="ms-rteForeColor-8"><strong>.</strong></span><span class="ms-rteForeColor-8">]</span><br></p><p><strong>An Ancient Marvel</strong></p><p>These termite mounds, called "heuweltjies" in Afrikaans, meaning "little hills," are inhabited by the southern harvester termite, <em>Microhodotermes viator, </em>explains lead author on the study, Dr Michele Francis, a Senior Lecturer (Extraordinary), in the Department of Soil Science in the Faculty of AgriSciences at Stellenbosch University (SU). </p><div class="ms-rtestate-read ms-rte-embedcode ms-rte-embedil ms-rtestate-notify"><iframe width="560" height="315" src="" title="YouTube video player" frameborder="0"></iframe> </div><ul><li>Cellphone users click <a href=""><span class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"><strong>here</strong></span>​</a> for video.<br><br></li></ul><p>“Recent radiocarbon dating has revealed that these mounds are far older than any previously known, with some dating as far back as 34,000 years – that's older than the iconic cave paintings in Europe and even older than the Last Glacial Maximum, when vast ice sheets covered much of the northern hemisphere."<br></p><p>The mounds are still inhabited by termites, and the radiocarbon dating of the organic carbon within these mounds has shown ages ranging from 13,000 to 19,000 years, while the carbonate dates back up to 34,000 years. This make the Buffels River mounds the oldest active termite mounds to be dated so far with both organic and inorganic carbon. The <a href="">previous oldest inhabited mounds</a> from different species from Brazil are 4000 years old.</p><p>“To put it in perspective, these termite mounds were already ancient when woolly mammoths still roamed the Earth. During the Last Glacial Maximum, around 20,000 years ago, massive ice sheets covered parts of North America, Europe, and Asia. These mounds were already thousands of years old by then, providing a living archive of environmental conditions that shaped our world," says Francis.</p><p><strong>A Peek into Prehistoric Climate</strong></p><p>These ancient mounds are more than just a historical curiosity; they serve as valuable records of prehistoric climate condition, says Francis. “The <em>heuweltjies</em> have shown that during their formation, the region experienced significantly more rainfall than today. This wetter climate allowed for minerals such as calcite and gypsum to dissolve and move down to the groundwater. This process is crucial in understanding natural carbon sequestration processes. What is interesting is that Namaqualand still has sporadic episodes of intense rainfall, like last winter, which would re-activate the process"</p><p><strong>Why It Matters</strong></p><p>Not only are these the oldest termite mounds on earth, but they also offer two mechanisms to sequester CO<sub>2</sub>, adds Francis. </p><p>Firstly, the harvesting activities of termites inject younger organic material deep into their nests, leading to continuous renewal of important soil carbon reservoirs at depth, where they are preserved for longer than when still at the surface. </p><p>Secondly, these calcareous termite mounds offer a way to remove CO<sub>2</sub> when the soil mineral calcite dissolves. This is a long-term carbon storage that companies are seeking to replicate in enhanced weathering or ocean alkalinity enhancement projects, and is important for calculating a country's <a href="">carbon budget as laid out in the Paris Agreement</a>, and accounted for <a href="">during land use change</a>.</p><p><strong>A Call for Global Recognition</strong></p><p>“The discovery of these mounds is akin to being able to read an ancient manuscript that changes everything we thought we knew about history. Their age, and the insights they provide into ancient ecosystems, make them a candidate for global recognition as a natural wonder," says Francis.</p><p>“By studying these mounds, scientists can gain a better understanding of how to combat climate change, utilising nature's own processes for carbon sequestration. They also highlight the importance of preserving our natural world, as these tiny engineers have been shaping our environment for tens of thousands of years."</p><p><strong>Conclusion</strong></p><p>“The discovery of the world's oldest termite mounds in Namaqualand is a testament to the incredible history hidden beneath our feet. These mounds not only illuminate the past but also offer vital clues for our future. As we continue to uncover the secrets of these ancient structures, they stand as a reminder of the delicate interplay between climate, environment, and life on earth," concludes Francis.</p><p><strong>About the Research Team</strong></p><p>The pioneering research was conducted by a dedicated team from SU's Departments of Soil Science and Earth Sciences, in collaboration with experts from the Institute for Nuclear Research in Hungary. Their findings <a href="">have been published</a> in the journal <em>Science of the Total Environment</em>. </p><p>The <em>heuweltjies</em> are now being studied further by a SU PhD student as part of a joint United States (National Science Foundatrion) - South Africa (National Research Foundation) collaboration grant to find out more about their carbon storage potential.</p><p><strong></strong></p><ul><li>Watch a short <a href=""><span class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0" style="text-decoration-style:solid;text-decoration-color:#0072c6;"><strong style="text-decoration-style:solid;text-decoration-color:#0072c6;">video here</strong></span></a><span class="ms-rteForeColor-8"><strong>.</strong></span><br></li></ul><div><p style="text-align:justify;"><strong>The researchers acknowledge the contributions of the following people:</strong></p><ul style="list-style-type:disc;"><li>Prof Jodie Miller, Dr Jani van Gend and Dr Andrew Watson of the Department of Earth Sciences at Stellenbosch University, South Africa </li><li>Dr Lazlo Palcsu, Dr Mihály Molnár, and Dr Titanilla Kertész of the Isotope Climatology and Environmental Research Center, Institute for Nuclear Research, Debrecen, Hungary</li><li>Dr Michele Francis, Prof Catherine Clarke, Brian Sakala (MSc), Magdaleen Hattingh (MSc), Marli Kleyn (MSc), Teneille Nel (MSc), Nicola Vermonti (MSc), Department of Soil Science, Stellenbosch University, South Africa</li><li>Dr Petrus le Roux, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa </li><li>Jannick Niewoudt (BSc Hons) and Professor Alastair Potts for the drone images.</li></ul><p>​ <br></p><br></div><p><strong></strong><br></p><p>​<br></p>
New research: Novel lipopeptide proves lethal against Staphylococcus areus research: Novel lipopeptide proves lethal against Staphylococcus areusWiida Fourie-Basson (Media: Faculty of Science)<p>​​A novel antibacterial lipopeptide produced by the bacterium <em>Serratia marcescens</em> has been shown to be highly effective in killing <em>Staphylococcus aureus</em> – one of the most important pathogens occurring in humans.</p><p><a href=""><em>Staphylococcus aureus</em></a> is one of the five most common causes of hospital-acquired infections and is often the cause of life-threatening infections following surgery. Since the introduction of antibiotics in the early 1940s, <em>S. aureus</em> has by now developed resistance against most classes of antibiotics, including penicillin. However, over the last six decades, only two new classes of antibiotics with unique modes of action have been introduced onto the market. One of these, daptomycin, also belongs to the lipopeptide class of antibiotics.</p><p>In a paper published in <em>Microbiology Spectrum</em> recently, Dr Tanya Decker (neé Clements) from Stellenbosch University (SU) provided the first insight into the mode of action of the lipopeptide serrawettin W2-FL10, derived from <em>Serratia marcescens</em>. She demonstrated that this lipopeptide targets the cell membrane of <em>S. aureu</em>s, causing lesions which result in the leakage of intracellular components and ultimately cell death.</p><p>She also demonstrated that serrawettin W2-FL10 is not toxic to mammalian cells, thereby making it a promising therapeutic agent for the treatment of bacterial infections in humans.</p><p>Furthermore, as this lipopeptide's structure is much smaller than that of daptomycin (five amino acids and a C10 fatty acid chain compared to 13 amino acids and a C10 fatty acid chain), the manufacturing costs of serrawettin W2-FL10 would be significantly less.</p><p><strong>Why are some lipopeptides antimicrobial?</strong></p><p>Dr Decker, who is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the <a href="">Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland</a> in Germany, started working on serrawettin W2-FL10 back in 2017 in the research group of <a href="/english/faculty/science/microbiology/research/w-khan">Prof. Wesaal Khan</a> in SU's <a href="/english/faculty/science/microbiology/">Department of Microbiology</a>. Her research followed the work done by another postgraduate student in this group, <a href="/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=5033">Dr Thando Ndlovu</a>, who isolated various bacterial strains from wastewater samples whose biosurfactants proved effective against antibiotic-resistant and disease-causing bacteria. In polluted environments, biosurfactants are produced naturally by bacteria to protect them against and outcompete other bacteria. </p><p>Decker's research then focused on understanding the antimicrobial activity of <em>Serratia</em>-derived lipopeptides. She focused primarily on pigmented and non-pigmented <em>S. marcescens</em> strains and demonstrated that these strains also produced a wide range of broad-spectrum antimicrobial compounds. From these findings, the lipopeptide serrawettin W2-FL10 was found to be a promising candidate for further investigation into its antimicrobial characteristics. </p><p>At the Helmholtz Institute in Germany, Decker is continuing her research into novel natural antimicrobial products.<br></p><p>On the photo above: A scanning electron microscopy image of <em>Staphylococcus aureus</em> after treatment with 25 mg/mL of serrawettin W2-FL10 for one hour. A magnification (500 nm) of damaged <em>S. aureus</em> cells is indicated in the red block. Credit: Tanya Decker at the Electron Microscope Unit, University of Cape Town<br></p><p>​<br></p>
Walter Parry’s legacy celebrated and re-entered into Stellenbosch history Parry’s legacy celebrated and re-entered into Stellenbosch history Wiida Fourie-Basson (media: Faculty of Science)<p>The legendary physicist and mathematics teacher Walter Parry (1913-1966) is the first historical figure in the history of Lückhoff High School in Stellenbosch to have his remarkable life story and legacy re-entered into the history of the school, town, and university.<br></p><p><img src="/english/PublishingImages/Lists/dualnews/My%20Items%20View/Stanley%20Amos.jpg" alt="Stanley Amos.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-2" style="margin:5px;width:300px;" />“And he won't be the last!" emphasised Mr Stanly Amos, chair of the Lückhoff Alumni and opening speaker at the inaugural Walter Parry Memorial Lecture held at Stellenbosch University (SU) on Wednesday 22 May – the day of Parry's birth 111 years ago in District Six.<br></p><p>“Tonight, is a giant step forward for social and restitutive justice by Stellenbosch University for our community and South Africa at large," he said.</p><p>The event was hosted by the Lückhoff Alumni in collaboration with SU's Social Impact Division and the Department of Physics, as part of the Lückhoff Living Museum visual redress as restitution initiative. The establishment of the Walter Parry Memorial Lecture is part of a larger effort to help correct historical omissions and distortions of the contributions and experiences of those connected to the Vlakte and especially the old Lückhoff school. During the late 1960s, this community and staff and learners from Lückhoff were forced to leave the area and move to designated areas under the Group Areas Act of 1950.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">The lecture commenced with a statement of support from SU's Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof. Wim de Villiers. He said the inaugural Walter Parry Memorial Lecture holds historical significance within SU's commitment to restitution: “Parry, a brilliant mathematics teacher and pillar of the Stellenbosch community, faced tremendous adversity during apartheid, and dreamed of becoming a scientist, but the doors to a life in academia were not open to him. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">“In our restitution statement, SU acknowledges its contribution towards the injustices of the past. For this we have deep regret. We apologise unreservedly to the communities and individuals, like Walter Parry, who were excluded from the historical privileges that SU enjoyed. His legacy inspires us to bridge the past with practical applications in science today. Through this lecture, and in responsibility towards present and future generations, we honour his contributions and recognise their enduring relevance," he said.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Mr Chris Jooste, current principal of Lückhoff High, said in his welcome that Parry was a true champion of life and a compassionate educator in service of others: “Officially, this used to be a no-go area for us. Now we are here to celebrate his life and feel very welcome."<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;"><img src="/english/PublishingImages/Lists/dualnews/My%20Items%20View/Brian%20Pool.jpg" alt="Brian Pool.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-2" style="text-align:justify;margin:5px;width:309px;height:206px;" /></p><p style="text-align:justify;">A critical part of the lecture was delivered by Mr Brian Pool, an alumnus and later principal of Lückhoff High School and a colleague of Parry for six years. It is known that Parry started teaching mathematics at his alma mater, <a href="">Trafalgar High School</a> in District Six. Before arriving at Lückhoff in 1952, Parry was also principal at <a href="">Paterson High School</a> in then Port Elizabeth. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">“I was in his class from Grade 10. He taught without text books and could literally answer any of our questions," Mr Pool remembered. He also recounted how they had to pass SU to study at UCT, waking up early for the 6am train to Cape Town, and then rushing through District Six to catch the 5:03 pm train back to Stellenbosch. <br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Prof. Shaun Wyngaardt, another Lückhoff alumnus who is today a nuclear physicist and head of SU's Department of Physics, delivered the primary inaugural lecture. He reflected on the physics at the time that must have inspired Parry, such as Rutherford's discovery of the atomic nucleus in 1911 and the debates about quantum physics, challenging the very core of classical physics. He also shared that, at UCT, Parry must have studied under Sir Basil Schonland – one of South Africa's foremost nuclear physicists who himself studied under Rutherford.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;"><img src="/english/PublishingImages/Lists/dualnews/My%20Items%20View/Shaun%20Wyngaardt.jpg" alt="Shaun Wyngaardt.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-2" style="margin:5px;width:311px;height:207px;" /></p><p style="text-align:justify;">“The passion for physics is contagious. Like water moving through the landscape and gradually changing it, in the same way we still feel the ripples of time and space in the many applications of nuclear and quantum physics today – from the treatment of cancer to exploring the cosmos," he explained.</p><p><strong>Who was Walter Parry?</strong></p><p>Walter Hazel Parry (1913-1966) was born as the only son in humble circumstances in District Six. He was awarded an MSc in Physics (<em>cum laude</em>) from the University of Cape Town in 1934 and planned to continue with a doctoral degree in physics to fulfill his dream to become a nuclear physicist. He was, however, forced to take on the position of a lowly paid technical officer and eventually became a mathematics teacher. Parry was known among colleagues and the community not only for his mathematical brilliance, but also for being an extraordinarily inspirational teacher. </p><p>Both Mr Amos and Mrs Elizabeth Vergotine, Parry's eldest daughter, also confirmed the rumours that Prof. Piet Zeeman (1918-1985), then head of SU's Department of Physics in the 1950s, secretively collaborated with Parry on projects for experiments which were planned for the Southern Universities Nuclear Institute (today known as iThemba LABS). Parry passed away unexpectedly in 1966, at the age of only 53.</p><p><strong>Establishment of the Lückhoff Living Museum</strong></p><p>Reneé Hector-Kannemeyer, deputy-director in the Social Impact Division, emphasized the importance of re- writing history today: “We are writing the story of Walter Parry back into history. The Walter Parry Memorial Lecture today is an example of epistemic justice. This knowledge helps correct historical omissions and distortions. It brings to light the contributions and experiences of people who have been unjustly erased or ignored, such as the brilliance of Parry."  <br></p><p><img src="/english/PublishingImages/Lists/dualnews/My%20Items%20View/Renee%20Hector%20Kannemeyer.jpg" alt="Renee Hector Kannemeyer.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-2" style="margin:5px;width:306px;" /></p><p>Walter Parry's story will form part of the Lückhoff Living Museum initiative to be established in the old Lückhoff school in Banhoek Road. The living museum initiative was co-conceptualized with the late Mr Otto van Noie, former Lückhoff learner, teacher, and community activist. In 1969 staff and learners were forced to physically relocate to a new school in Idas Valley, some carrying their benches as they left. In 2007 then Rector Prof. Russel Botman symbolically acknowledged the school community of 1969. In 2019, fifty years on, SU held a special ceremony during which two of the original school benches were returned to the school, as part of an act of restorative justice. Click here for a <a href="">video clip</a>. </p><p>In his closing remarks, Dr Leslie van Rooi, director of SU's Social Impact Division, said Parry will continue to inspire many in the years to come: “We must make sure that we all work much harder to make it possible for the next generation of children to come and study here," he concluded. </p><p>The lecture was attended by Parry's eldest daughter, Mrs Elizabeth Vergotini, representing her seven siblings of which four are deceased. Already deep in her eighties, she said the event was emotionally overwhelming: “A big thank you once again to get this very special project off the ground. It was a tremendous success." </p><p>Parry's youngest daughter, Gwyneth, followed the lecture online from Libya. She thanked the Lückhoff Alumni for their input and thought process behind the memorial lecture: “It was beautiful and emotional for me. I'm the youngest of the family, but I remember his kind heart. Thank you again. You have no idea what this gesture means. To think people in Stellenbosch will now think differently of my dad after all these years."</p><p>Learners and teachers from Lückhoff High also attended this historical event together with a significant representation of the surrounding communities historically excluded from Stellenbosch University. </p><p>According to Hector-Kannemeyer, it is believed that this historic event has drawn the largest community attendance in an academic space in the history of Stellenbosch.  One of the attendees, Mrs Minni van Noie (83), who has lived in Stellenbosch her entire life, said this was the first time that she has been in a lecture hall on the Stellenbosch University campus.  </p><p>At the end of the evening's celebration, the vice-chair of the Lückhoff Alumni Mr Wilfred Daniels remarked upon the significance of the event and the coming together in the physics department of communities that were previously held apart: “This is long overdue. I can honestly say that I was made to feel welcome this evening," he concluded. </p><p>According to Hector-Kannemeyer, it is hoped that this work will draw attention to the possibilities of how divided pasts can be cemented into common, joint and shared futures. <br></p><p><em>​All images by Henk Oets</em><br></p>
SU microbiome researcher honoured for his contribution to the field microbiome researcher honoured for his contribution to the fieldFaculty of Science (media & communication)<p></p><p>Prof. Thulani Makhalanyane has been awarded the prestigious Silver Medal of the South African Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (SASBMB) for his outstanding contribution to the field.</p><p><a href="/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=10274">Prof. Makhalanyane</a> is a world-renowned microbiome researcher with a joint position in the Department of Microbiology and the School for Data Science and Computational Thinking at Stellenbosch University (SU). </p><p>The <a href="">SASBMB Silver Award</a> is awarded annually to a younger member of the society who has displayed a record of national and international research excellence and is an active participant in SASBMB activities. The medal will be presented during the 28th SASBMB congress at the University of Limpopo in July this year.</p><p>Prof. Makhlanyane says he has been a member of the society since his student days: “Over the years, I have been inspired by attending the meetings and the work presented has shaped my career. It is a true honor to receive this news, and I am grateful for the acknowledgment and recognition."</p><p>Recently, he joined the ranks of a group of African researchers calling for more equitable research partnerships to explore the unique and diverse microbiomes found in African populations and environments. The statement was published in <a href="">Nature Medicine</a>.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">"We previously highlighted the need for increasing studies on <a href="">African microbiomes</a>. As Africans, we must be at the forefront of these studies because they directly impact on our own communities and ecosystems. We need equitable partnerships for achieving meaningful and sustainable research outcomes," he said. </p><p>Prof. Alf Botha, head of the Department of Microbiology, said they are extremely proud of this accomplishment by one of their academics.<br></p><p>​<br></p>
Experts convene to exchange solutions to help mitigate extreme climate and weather events convene to exchange solutions to help mitigate extreme climate and weather events School for Climate Studies (media)<p><span style="text-align:justify;">​Cli</span><span style="text-align:justify;">mate experts from around the world gathered at Stellenbosch University recently to discuss aspects of extreme climate and weather events and strategies to prepare and adapt to them more effectively.</span><br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">The international conference, themed “<a href="">Integrated Responses to the Intensification of Extreme Climate and Weather Events in Developing Economies</a>," took place from 22 to 24 May 2024. The event was co-sponsored by SU's <a href="">School for Climate Studies</a>, the Alliance for Collaboration on Climate and Earth Systems Science (<a href="">ACCESS​</a>) programme hosted at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), in collaboration with two international partners, the Scientific Committee on Problems in the Environment (SCOPE) and the Non-Aligned Movement Science and Technology Centre (NAM S&T). The conference was attended by 120 local and international delegates.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">CSIR senior researcher and ACCESS Director Dr Neville Sweijd said the meeting acknowledges the increasing trend of extreme events such as floods, droughts, wildfires, extreme wind and storm surges. These occurrences are becoming more frequent, with increased intensity, longer durations and out of typical seasonal periods.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">“Climate change manifests in various ways. It's not just a gradual shift in weather patterns, as statistics might suggest; it manifests as periodic unprecedented extremes in temperature, rainfall and other climatic aspects. People don't perceive climate change as a simple average of weather conditions over time; rather, they experience it as weather impacts, such as heatwaves that break long-held temperature records or extreme rainfall leading to flooding. These severe events serve as stark reminders of climate change's significant impacts, underlining its urgency and the necessity for coordinated action to adapt to its devastating effects," he said. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Climate experts agreed that extreme climate and weather phenomena pose a clear and immediate threat to societies in several ways. They impact human lives and livelihoods. From deadly hurricanes and cyclones to strong heatwaves and lengthy droughts, these occurrences cause devastation, resulting in loss of life, community displacement and infrastructure damage. Such occurrences not only endanger individuals but also increase pre-existing vulnerabilities, disproportionately harming marginalised populations that often lack the resources to prepare for or recover from disasters fully.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">“Extreme events pose a threat to our societies as they can alter ecosystems, destroy infrastructure and cause loss of lives and livelihoods. Therefore, it is very important for us to examine the scientific drivers of these events, as well as develop tools for early warning, and plan for the appropriate responses, both in anticipation of these extreme events and during and after they occur," said Professor Guy Midgley from Stellenbosch University.  </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Extreme events are well known in South Africa and in recent years, these events included the 2015 - 2018 Day Zero drought in the Western Cape, the Knysna Fires of 2018 and the Durban Floods of 2022. Globally, there have been occurrences such as the 2022 Pakistan floods, wildfires in California and Australia, flooding in Kenya and the drought in Zimbabwe this year, resulting from the recent El Niño and many more. He noted that a Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Extraordinary <a href="">Summit</a> was held on 20 May in Luanda, Angola to launch the SADC Humanitarian Appeal. The SADC plan is seeking $5.5 billion to assist more than 56.6 million people with urgent multi-sector humanitarian assistance, due to the effects of the 2023/24 El Niño.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">“The International Panel on Climate Change, in its latest Assessment Report 6 '' dedicated an entire chapter to focus on this issue and noted that the trends are that these events are set to intensify under various climate change scenarios," said Sweijd. “This is a particular problem in developing countries where there are large under-serviced and poorer sectors of the population that are more vulnerable to the impact of extreme events and is an area where governments need to quickly improve their capacity to save lives and livelihoods."</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Dr Johan Stander, Director at the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said the WMO recognises that extreme climate events are a key impact of a changing climate. The organisation is working with member states on several programmes and projects to equip counterparts with the knowledge and frameworks to implement actions for developing early warning systems and mitigating these events. He notes that this conference was a welcome initiative which set a standard for other regions to consider.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Dr Dawn Mahlobo from the South African Weather Service (SAWS) said that the SAWS has several mechanisms and early warning systems in place for extreme weather, which have worked well in various instances. However, specific information for specific users – for the various sectors such as shipping, aviation, agriculture and housing – needs to be developed, and for this, SAWS is implementing the National Framework for Climate Services. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">The meeting included presentations on work related to the aspects of extreme events, including climate science, risk and vulnerability, early warning systems and policy and finance. Participants from almost 50 organisations are involved in the work, including delegates from Egypt, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Myanmar, Norway, Namibia, the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe, among others. The meeting seeks to learn from the work already underway and derive an end-to-end strategy that can be applied to all states as a means of managing extreme climate events.</p><p style="text-align:justify;"><strong><em>Group photo by </em><em>Peliwe Jubase</em></strong></p><p style="text-align:justify;"><strong>Issued by CSIR Strategic Communications</strong></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Contact Details: Phetolo Phatsibi</p><p style="text-align:justify;">CSIR Media Relations Practitioner</p><p style="text-align:justify;"><a href=""></a></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Contact: +27 81 396 88 71<br></p><p>​<br></p>
African scientists call for equitable research partnerships to advance microbiome research scientists call for equitable research partnerships to advance microbiome researchFaculty of Science (media & communication)<p></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Leading African scientists have issued a compelling call for more equitable research partnerships in a new paper published in <a href=""><strong><em>Nature Medicine</em></strong></a>. The paper underscores the critical need for fair and collaborative research efforts to explore the unique and diverse microbiomes found in African populations and environments. Historically, these microbiomes have been underrepresented in global studies.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">​Over the past two decades, our understanding of the role played by the microbiome in different ecosystems has significantly expanded. For example, recent studies have provided important insights regarding the role of the microbiome in human health and disease. These studies suggest that the microbiome is highly diverse, in terms of its composition, and varies considerably across different scales. However, generalizing findings across different populations remains challenging due to these compositional differences. Moreover, the lack of comprehensive studies in low- and middle-income countries has resulted in a substantial knowledge deficit, particularly on the <a href="">African continent</a>. There is strong evidence that Africans harbour highly diverse and distinct microbial communities. Despite this, few microbiome studies have been conducted on the continent. The few studies on African microbiomes are typically conducted without the participation of African scientists, raising concerns about scientific equity and "scientific colonialism."</p><p style="text-align:justify;"><strong>Key points from the paper:</strong></p><ol style="list-style-type:decimal;"><li><strong>Need for local leadership:</strong> Empowering African scientists to lead research initiatives ensures culturally relevant and impactful studies. The paper highlights the importance of local research leadership in shaping and guiding microbiome research.</li><li><strong>Ethical and equitable partnerships:</strong> The authors advocate for partnerships based on mutual respect and shared goals. This includes clear guidelines on data ownership and fair distribution of research benefits.</li><li><strong>Government involvement:</strong> National governments play a crucial role in supporting research through policy development, funding, and creating a conducive regulatory environment.</li><li><strong>Standardized protocols:</strong> Establishing standardized procedures for microbiome research will enhance the reproducibility and consistency of findings, facilitating global collaboration and knowledge sharing.</li></ol><p style="text-align:justify;"><strong>Quotes from the authors:</strong></p><p style="text-align:justify;">"Investment in local research infrastructure and capacity building will not only advance microbiome science but also contribute to health equity and precision medicine on a global scale," added Dr. Ovokeraye H Oduaran, lead-author and microbiome expert.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">"We previously highlighted the need for increasing studies on <a href="">African microbiomes</a>. As Africans, we must be at the forefront of these studies because they directly impact on our own communities and ecosystems. We need equitable partnerships for achieving meaningful and sustainable research outcomes," said Professor Thulani Makhalanyane, co-author and microbiome scientist. </p><p style="text-align:justify;"><strong>Proposed implementation framework:</strong></p><p style="text-align:justify;">The paper presents a detailed implementation framework to guide equitable research practices. This framework emphasizes ethical considerations, community involvement, capacity building, multidisciplinary collaboration, knowledge translation, and standardized workflows. Key pillars of this framework include:</p><ul style="list-style-type:disc;"><li>Local Research Leadership: Empowering local scientists to ensure research is culturally and contextually relevant.</li><li>Contextualized Global Research: Addressing local public health priorities while aiming for globally applicable solutions.</li><li>Ethical Partnerships: Establishing fair engagement practices with shared goals and clear guidelines on data and sample ownership.</li><li>Standardized Protocols: Implementing standardized procedures for sample collection, storage, and analysis.</li><li>Government Involvement: Encouraging active participation of national governments in research initiatives.</li></ul><p style="text-align:justify;"><strong>About the authors:</strong></p><p style="text-align:justify;">This call to action is authored by a diverse group of African scientists from leading universities and research institutions across the continent. Their expertise spans computational biology, human and environmental microbiomes. The authors are committed to advancing scientific knowledge and improving health outcomes through equitable and collaborative research practices.<br></p><p>​<br></p>
SU’s Prof Kanshukan Rajaratnam to bring an ‘African voice’ to UN’s global summit on AI for Good’s Prof Kanshukan Rajaratnam to bring an ‘African voice’ to UN’s global summit on AI for Good Corporate Communication & Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie & Bemarking [Anél Lewis]<p>​Prof Kanshukan Rajaratnam, Director of Stellenbosch University's School for Data Science and Computational Thinking, has been invited to participate in an esteemed panel of international speakers taking part in the <b class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0" style="text-decoration:underline;"><a href="" target="_blank">AI for Good Summit</a></b> in Geneva, Switzerland later this month.<br></p><p>Organised by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the United Nations (UN), the Summit is an action-orientated platform intent on promoting AI to advance health, climate, gender, inclusive prosperity, sustainable infrastructure and other global development priorities. The ITU is​ the specialised UN agency for information and communication technology. <br></p><p>This year's focus is on AI's role in advancing many of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within the 10-year target. According to the Summit website, “The AI community is increasingly focused on harnessing AI to support crucial global objectives including enhancing education quality, alleviating poverty, and combating climate change. Despite these noble intentions, the actual impact of AI for Good initiatives remains modest regarding its potential."</p><p>It also notes: “Collaboration among academia, technology corporations, nonprofits, and government entities is crucial for the Public Good. However, these sectors often operate in isolation, driven by divergent goals, leading to AI for Social Good projects that, while commendable, lack integration with the communities they aim to assist, undermining sustainability."</p><p>Summit speakers include <a href="" style="text-decoration:underline;"><strong>António Guterres</strong></a>, the Secretary General of the UN; Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI; and Gita Gopinath, First Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). </p><p>Rajaratnam will bring his knowledge and experience to a workshop that will discuss opportunities and obstacles in AI design for the public good and design incentives for a collaborative approach. The workshop will accelerate the development and implementation of joint impactful, scalable and sustainable AI research for public good projects.</p><p>“It is an honour to take part in the AI for Good workshops at the Summit. The theme of the workshop – <em>Acting together where it matters: Breaking the silos for impactful solutions on AI for good</em> – is particularly pertinent to the School. The School's ethos is to break silos between different environments and the workshop, Collective AI for Impact, will provide an opportunity to share ideas and best practices. I hope to bring the African voice to the session in which I will participate," says Rajaratnam.​<br></p><p><strong>Photo: Stefan Els</strong><br><br></p><p>​<br></p>
Celebrating the fascinating world of plants the fascinating world of plantsFaculty of Science (media & communication)<p><span style="text-align:justify;">The</span><span style="text-align:justify;"> fascinating world of plants will be in the global spotlight when plant lovers from all over the world celebrate the seventh International </span><a href="" style="text-align:justify;">Fascination of Plants Day</a><span style="text-align:justify;"> on Saturday 18 May 2024.</span><br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">The Fascination of Plants Day is hosted annually under the umbrella of the European Plant Science Organisation (<a href="">EPSO</a>) and the <a href="">Global Plant Council</a>.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Dr Itumeleng Moroenyane, a botanist from Stellenbosch University (SU) and national coordinator for events in South Africa, says it is important to acknowledge the significant contributions that South African plants have made to our cultural identity and traditional knowledge systems.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">“From the healing properties of indigenous medicinal plants to the culinary delights of our edible flora, our flora is incredibly diverse and valuable. From the iconic fynbos of the Cape to the majestic baobabs of the Limpopo Province, South Africa's plants captivate the imagination and sustain life in countless ways. The plants in South Africa enrich our lives in myriad ways, reminding us of the deep connections between people and plants that have endured for centuries."</p><p style="text-align:justify;">This is the first time that South Africa is participating in this global event. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">At SU's Department of Botany and Zoology, Dr Moroenyane organised a programme for learners from local schools. It will consist of a microscope workshop, tours of the laboratories, a walking food tour and discussions.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">On Saturday 18 May, the Department of Botany and Zoology and the Stellenbosch University Botanical Garden are hosting a public event with guided food garden tours, interactive workshops, creative crafts, live music, and food trucks. Click here for more information and bookings - <a href="/english/entities/botanical-garden/events">Events (</a>  </p><p style="text-align:justify;"><strong>More about plants</strong></p><ul><li>Plants are unique organisms. They can produce sugars just from sunlight, carbon dioxide and water. This ability to directly synthesize their own food has enabled plants to successfully colonize, adapt to, and diversify within almost every niche on the planet. Biologists estimate the total number of plant species to be about 250,000. </li><li>These abilities make plants the primary producers of biomass providing animals and mankind with food, feed, paper, medicine, chemicals, energy, and an enjoyable landscape.</li><li>Worldwide, anyone who would like to contribute to the Fascination of Plants Day (FoPD) is welcome to join in. Just contact your National Coordinator (click on "countries" at <a href=""></a>) to discuss and get access to all the supporting materials.</li><li>The Fascination of Plants Day covers all plant related topics including basic plant science, agriculture, horticulture and gardening, forestry, plant breeding, plant protection, food and nutrition, environmental conservation, climate change mitigation, smart bioproducts, biodiversity, sustainability, renewable resources, plant science education and art. </li></ul><p><em>Images freely available at </em><a href=""><em></em></a></p><p>​<br></p>