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Microbiology students shine at SASM conference
Author: Media & Communication, Faculty of Science
Published: 26/05/2021

Three postgraduate students in the Department of Microbiology won awards at the recent virtual meeting of the South African Society for Microbiology that was held from 4 to 6 May 2021, including best oral and best poster presentation.

Dominique Rocher won the best oral presentation award for her talk on the genetic engineering of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae for the hydrolysis of laminarin from brown macroalgae. Her research, which was conducted for her BScHons project, showed that enzyme treatment of seaweed can release valuable components, including sugars that can be used for bioethanol production. The work was published in the journal Algal Research earlier this year. Dominique, who works under the guidance of Prof Marinda Viljoen-Bloom, is currently participating in the JICA programme in Environmental Sciences at Tsukuba University, Japan, and will continue with her research on macroalgae hydrolysis upon her return.  

Caylin Bosch, a PhD student in Prof Alf Botha's laboratory, was a runner-up for the presentation award. Her talk was about her research on the transcriptomic response of the opportunistic pathogenic yeast, Cryptococcus neoformans, to low nitrogen levels. She found that low nitrogen conditions (as found in nature) modulate the expression of the virulence and antifungal tolerance-related genes of the yeast. Overall, her findings provide insight into the survival of C. neoformans in nitrogen-poor ecological niches and suggest that pre-adaptation to these conditions may influence the pathobiology of this yeast.  Her work was recently accepted for publication in FEMS Yeast Research.

Kirstie Schwerdtfeger won the best poster award for her BScHonours project on different promoter-intron combinations for enhanced amylase expression in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Strong promoters can significantly increase transcription of a recombinant gene and yield higher protein levels, but these were even further enhanced with the introduction of promoter-introns. She is currently continuing the work for her MSc-degree under the guidance of Prof Viljoen-Bloom.

The SASM online conference was attended by 159 postgraduate students and researchers from tertiary and research institutions from South Africa and Namibia. The Department of Microbiology at Stellenbosch University had a strong presence at the conference, with 14 students and researchers representing the nine research laboratories in the Department.​

On the photo above, from left to right: Dominique Rocher, Kirstie Schwerdtfeger and Caylin Bosch.