Animal TB Research Group
POSTDOCTORAL RESEARCH FELLOWS
Tanya Kerr studied a BSc in Conservation Ecology and worked at Shamwari Game Reserve before combining her background in conservation and her interest in wildlife infectious diseases to obtain her PhD from Stellenbosch University in 2016. Her PhD research focused on the molecular epidemiology and the evolution of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) in African lions and leopards in the Kruger National Park. In 2017 she joined the Animal TB Research Group at Stellenbosch University as a Postdoctoral Researcher. Her current research focuses on developing tools with diagnostic potential for tuberculosis (TB) detection in wildlife species including large felids (African lion, leopard and cheetah), African elephants, hippopotamus and various antelope and primate species. Using these tools, we hope to be able to evaluate the epidemiology of TB in these various wildlife species. She also continues to investigate FIV in large African felids as well as exploring and characterizing Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV) in free-ranging African elephants. In her spare time, Tanya is a competitive show jumper and a member of the Volunteer Wildfire Services (VWS).
Abisola Okunola completed his BSc in Medical Laboratory Science and MSc in Biomedical Science from Nigeria and UK in 2010 and 2014 respectively. He obtained his PhD from Stellenbosch University in 2020. He joined TB diagnostic group for his postdoctoral research in 2021, and later moved to Animal TB research group. His research within the group focuses on investigating the intra and inter species transmission of M. bovis in wildlife. Abisola enjoys listening to music and spending time out with friends and family.
Charlene Clarke completed her BScAgric degree in animal science at Stellenbosh University. She then worked as an animal technician and then as a laboratory technologist at an animal in vitro fertilisation facility. Hereafter she did her BSc (Hons) and MSc in the Animal TB research group. Her MSc investigated the temporal changes in immune responses to Mycobacterium bovis in cattle and African buffaloes. Her PhD focuses on investigating host and pathogen biomarkers of Mycobacterium bovis and non-tuberculous mycobacterial infection in African buffaloes (Syncerus caffer). In her free time, she enjoys doing agility with her dogs, hiking and baking.
Debbie Cooke has been working as an Animal Health technician for the Department of Agriculture's Veterinary Services since 1997 and has been stationed at the Veterinary Epidemiology unit for the last 15 years. She completed her MSc in Mycobacterium avium in free-ranging poultry in 2017 and has joined the Animal TB group in 2020. Her PhD project focuses on TB in goats in South Africa. She is evaluating the tuberculin skin test as well as blood-based assays to improve the diagnosis of TB in goats. Since there is limited information regarding TB in this species in South Africa, this data will improve understanding of this disease and provide information to goat owners and animal health regulatory agencies for surveillance and control of bovine TB in this species. In her free time, which is limited (not easy being a PhD student AND employed full time!), she enjoys woodwork, gardening, and painting.
Pamela Ncube completed her BSc in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, BSc Honours in Microbiology, and MSc in Molecular Biology through Stellenbosch University in 2015, 2016, and 2021 respectively. In her honours, she investigated the diversity of Cladosporium (a fungus believed to exacerbate asthma and upper respiratory infections) in indoor environments in Gauteng and Western Cape provinces. In 2019, she was a shared MSc student with the Host-Pathogen and Animal TB research groups, and her research focused on the characterization of Mycobacterium bovis persister formation in the South African wildlife population from 6 different locations including Kruger National Park and Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park. In 2021, she will be continuing her studies as a PhD student to further build more knowledge of her MSc work. Her PhD project will validate the in vitro acid stress model applied to M. bovis during her MSc, explore the macrophage infection models, and examine molecular mechanisms involved during these stress conditions. Understanding M. bovis persister formation will build a foundation in understanding whether latency (an asymptomatic state of tuberculosis) exists with animals. In her spare time, she enjoys sightseeing, hiking, jogging, gardening, and painting.
Rachiel Gumbo graduated with a BSc Honours in Biological Sciences from Midlands State University in Zimbabwe where she majored in Genetics and Industrial Microbiology. She went on to work, first as a lab assistant at Hwange Colliery Hospital Laboratory (Zimbabwe) and then as a teacher, before joining the Animal TB Research Group in 2019 as an honours student, where she looked at developing a Gene Expression Assay for the detection of Mycobacterium bovis in cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) and leopards (Panthera pardus). Her MSc focused on the discovery of Immunological Biomarkers for Activation and Mycobacterium bovis Sensitization in Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) and Leopards (Panthera pardus) . She upgraded her MSc to a PhD in 2021 and will continue to investigate the detection of host and pathogen biomarkers for Mycobacterium bovis infection in African big cats (lions (Panthera leo), leopards (Panthera pardus), and cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus)). During her spare time, I play with my kids and sometimes volunteer in her community.
Rebecca Dwyer completed her undergraduate BSc in Microbiology and Biochemistry, and her BscHons degree in Microbiology at Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth. Her project involved the screening of crude macrofungal extracts for anti-TB activity. In 2019 she worked as a laboratory analyst at Microchem in Cape Town. She joined the Animal TB group in 2020; her MSc project focused on the identification of immunological biomarkers to be applied for diagnostic testing for M. bovis in African rhinoceros, as well as an in-depth examination of the epidemiology of the disease in these animals. She upgraded her MSc to a PhD and will continue to focus on the development of direct detection (including mycobacterial culture and molecular methods) techniques for MTBC in African rhinoceros, identification of immunological biomarkers to be applied for diagnostic testing for M. bovis in African rhinoceros, an in-depth examination of the epidemiology of the pathogen in these animals. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, movies, board games, hiking, gardening and playing the piano. She has also started learning to sail.
Maureen Kamau is a wildlife veterinarian and researcher in Kenya, currently pursuing an MSc in molecular biology with the Animal TB group and a veterinary research fellow with the Smithsonian Institute’s Global Health Program based Mpala Research Centre in Laikipia County in Central Kenya. Her career objective is to help people and governments make evidence-based decisions about wildlife health and management by conducting applied research that contributes to knowledge of disease dynamics in wildlife and at the human-wildlife-livestock interface. For her MSc thesis, Maureen is working on detecting DNA detection of Coxiella burnetii from ticks at watering holes in Laikipia County in Central Kenya using in situ DNA extraction and a hand-held portable thermocycler. She is also the field leader of the Remote Emerging Disease Intelligence Network (REDINET) project in Kenya. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with friends, listening to podcasts and reading books.