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New book is treasure trove of information on invasive species https://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7408New book is treasure trove of information on invasive species Corporate Communication / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie [Alec Basson]<p>​​If you're concerned about invasive species or always wanted to know more about them, then a new book on all aspects of biological invasions in South Africa is definitely for you.<br></p><p>Published recently as an open access encyclopaedic book, <a href="https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-030-32394-3"><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">Biological Invasions in South Africa</strong></a> provides the reader with information on 1 422 alien species including, among others, plants, birds, mammals, fish, terrestrial invertebrates, invasive marine organisms and disease-causing microorganisms that have naturalised or become invasive in the country. </p><p>Comprising 31 chapters, it covers themes such as the history of research in South Africa, detailed accounts of major groups of plants and animals, policy development, the development of a robust ecological theory about biological invasions, the effectiveness of management interventions and scenarios for the future regarding biological invasions in the country.</p><p>“There are very few, if any, books that give such a comprehensive coverage of this field at a national level, for any country in the world. While there are many books on biological invasions, most cover a particular aspect of the problem, or a particular group of species," says Prof Brian van Wilgen from the <a href="http://academic.sun.ac.za/cib/"><span class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"><strong>Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology</strong></span></a> (CIB) and the Department of Botany and Zoology at Stellenbosch University. He co-edited the book with colleagues Profs John Measey and Dave Richardson as well as Prof John Wilson and Dr Tsungai Zengeya from the South African National Biodiversity Institute. Over 100 researchers, practitioners and post-graduate students working on different aspects of invasive species contributed to the book.</p><p>​Van Wilgen says they wanted to produce a comprehensive reference work that can be used as a teaching and research tool and a source of information for managers in the field. <br></p><p>“This book provides information on the known impacts of invasive species in the country.<br></p><p>For example, alien trees consume about 5% of our scarce water resources, reduce the carrying capacity of our natural rangelands and are a direct threat to the survival of almost half of 1 600 native species listed in South Africa's Red Data List.</p><p>“Particularly damaging species include American and European pine trees and Australian acacias that invade the fynbos and grasslands, reduce water runoff, threaten native species (some of which are only found in South Africa) and increase the severity of wildfires; American mesquite (<em>Prosopis</em>) trees that invade the arid Karoo and dry savannas, making livestock production almost impossible on some farms; and a new arrival, the invasive polyphagous shothole borer, a beetle set to wipe out plane trees, oaks, avocados and many other trees species across South Africa."</p><p>As to the reason behind the book, Van Wilgen says the last (and only) synthesis of this topic at a national level was published 34 years ago in 1986, and a new synthesis of this large and growing problem was needed. “Our government has invested a substantial amount into the establishment and running of the CIB over the past 15 years, so it was also necessary to review what we have learnt, and to provide a comprehensive synthesis for use by the next generation of researchers and managers."<br></p><p>He adds that their comprehensive coverage was possible for a number of reasons, including South Africa's long history as a leader in dealing with invasive species (both in research and in management) and generous funding made available for research, training and management over the past 20 years.<br></p><p>“South Africa has also emerged as a world-leading nation in this field, punching well above its weight in research, training and management. Since its inception in 2004, the CIB has published 1 750 research papers, and conferred master's and doctoral degrees on 129 and 67 candidates respectively. This is a significant contribution to capacity-building and transformation in this field."<br></p><p>The hope is that the book will remain a major reference work and teaching tool for many years to come – not only in South Africa, but also globally, says Van Wilgen.<br></p><p>“It will also doubtless be widely used beyond our borders, and we particularly hope that it will be useful for other countries in Africa."<br></p><ul><li><em>Biological Invasions in South Africa</em> can be downloaded for free at<strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"> </strong><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"><a href="https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-030-32394-3">https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-3-030-32394-3</a>.</strong></li></ul><p><strong>FOR MEDIA ENQUIRIES ONLY</strong></p><p>Prof Brian van Wilgen</p><p>Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology</p><p>Department of Botany and Zoology<br></p><p>Stellenbosch University</p><p>​Email: <a href="mailto:bvanwilgen@sun.ac.za"><span class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"><span><strong>b</strong></span><span><strong>vanwilgen@sun.ac.za</strong></span></span></a> </p><p><strong>ISSUED BY</strong></p><p>Martin Viljoen</p><p>Manager: Media</p><p>Corporate Communication<br></p><p>Stellenbosch University</p><p>Email: <a href="mailto:viljoenm@sun.ac.za"><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">viljoenm@sun.ac.za</strong></a> </p><p> </p><p> </p><p><br> </p>
Ten SU finalists compete for SA’s ‘Science Oscars’ https://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7411Ten SU finalists compete for SA’s ‘Science Oscars’ Corporate Communication / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie [Alec Basson]<p>​​Over the past few years, Stellenbosch University (SU) has featured prominently at the annual <a href="http://www.nstf.org.za/awards/about/"><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)/ South32Awards</strong></a>. This year is no different with 10 SU finalists competing for the 2019/2020 NSTF/South32 Awards at South Africa's “Science Oscars". As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the announcement of the winners will take place through a live-streamed Gala Event on Thursday, 30 July 2020.</p><p>Regarded as the most sought-after national accolades of their kind in the country, the NSTF/South32 Awards recognise, celebrate and reward the outstanding contributions of individuals, teams and organisations to science, engineering and technology (SET) in the country. Among the competitors are experienced scientists, engineers, innovators, science communicators, engineering capacity builders, organisational managers and leaders, as well as data and research managers.<br></p><p>According to the organisers, it is an extraordinary honour to be a finalist given the quality of the nominations received every year, the fierce competition that nominees face and growing interest from the SET community over the years.<br></p><p>The SU finalists (with department or environment) and the categories in which they will compete are as follows:<br></p><p><em>Lifetime Award:</em></p><ul><li><strong>Prof Leslie Swartz </strong>(Department of Psychology)</li></ul><p><em>TW Kambule-NSTF Award: Researcher:</em></p><ul><li><strong>Prof Christine Lochner</strong> (South African Medical Research Council (MRC) Unit on Risk and Resilience in Mental Disorders and Department of Psychiatry)</li></ul><p><em>TW Kambule-NSTF Award: Emerging Researcher:</em></p><ul><li><strong>Dr Wynand Goosen</strong> (Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research, Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics, Department of Biomedical Sciences)</li><li><strong>Prof Richard Walls</strong> (Fire Engineering Research Unit)</li><li><strong>Dr Jacqueline Wormersley</strong> (Department of Psychiatry)</li></ul><p><em>​NSTF-Lewis Foundation Green Economy Award:</em></p><ul><li><strong>Prof Thinus Booysen</strong><em> </em>(Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering). He is also a finalist in the <em>NSTF-Water Research Commission Award</em> category.</li></ul><ul><li><strong>Prof Wikus van Niekerk</strong> (Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies)</li><li><strong>Sharksafe (Pty) Ltd</strong> with CEO and Co-Inventor Prof Conrad Matthee (Department of Botany and Zoology)</li></ul><p><em>Data for Research Award:</em></p><ul><li><strong>Stellenbosch University Computed Tomography Scanner Facility Team with Leader Prof Anton du Plessis </strong>(Department of Physics)</li></ul><p><em>Communication Award:</em></p><ul><li><strong>Dr Rehana Malgas-Enus</strong> (Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science)​<br></li></ul><p><br></p>
First serial block-face microscope in SA at Tygerberg Campushttps://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7371First serial block-face microscope in SA at Tygerberg CampusEls & Kriel<p>The Electron Microscopy (EM) unit has added a new member to their family - the ThermoFischer Apreo VolumeScope scanning electron microscope (or just the Apreo SEM for short). The Apreo SEM is an extremely versatile electron microscope, capable of acquiring conventional SEM images as well as 3D volumetric SEM data sets through a specialised process called serial block-face microscopy. Located at Tygerberg Campus, the Apreo is the first serial block-face microscope in South Africa and will allow researchers to conduct volumetric SEM analysis on various biological materials, from tissues to single cells. This is especially useful for medical researchers and biologists, as cellular ultrastructure can be assessed in its 'natural' 3D confirmation, as opposed to conventional 2D SEM.   <br></p><p>The new SEM is also accompanied by a new CAF staff member, Mr Jurgen Kriel, who will primarily provide SEM analytical services to medical researchers on Tygerberg campus. Jurgen is currently in the end stages of his PhD in Physiological Sciences and has previously worked as a student assistant at the Fluorescence Microscopy unit. Although many research projects are placed on hold during lockdown, the EM unit is still providing services to registered essential service companies. Jurgen is currently conducting SEM for the Stellenbosch Nanofiber Company (SNC), who are in the process of producing filter layers to be used in critically needed medical grade face masks.   <br></p><p><br></p>
SU chemist receives R6,9 million FLAIR grant for research on antimalarial drug developmenthttps://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7335SU chemist receives R6,9 million FLAIR grant for research on antimalarial drug developmentMedia & Communication, Faculty of Science<p>Stellenbosch University's (SU) <a href="https://www0.sun.ac.za/chemistry/pchellan.php">Dr Prinessa Chellan</a> is one of 30 young African scientists who will receive up to £300 000 (about R 6,9 million) over the next two years as part of the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) and the Royal Society of London's (RSL) annual FLAIR fellowships, announced on Monday 11 May 2020.</p><p>The aim of the <a href="https://www.aasciences.africa/calls/future-leaders-african-independent-research-flair-fellowships-2021">Future Leaders – African Independent Research (FLAIR) programme</a> is to assist young African researchers to develop independent research careers at African institutions and ultimately to lead their own research groups. The initiative is supported by the United Kingdom's Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).</p><p>Dr Chellan, a lecturer in SU's Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science, conducts research on the use of metal complexes in developing new drugs to combat drug-resistant malaria. Human malaria is a major threat in developing countries. In 2015, 429 000 people succumbed to malaria, of which 71% were children under the age of five years. Currently the iron-containing drug, Ferroquine, is in clinical trials as a potential treatment for malaria infections. </p><p>Dr Chellan's research is focused on finding other metal complexes with similar potential. She plans to design cross-disciplinary projects where students will acquire skills that can be transferrable to different disciplines in academia and industry.</p><p>She says the FLAIR fellowship will have far reaching benefits for both her research group and the University per se: “I can now purchase new equipment for my lab to be used by my research group for more bioanalytical studies. I will also have access to a senior mentor and many training workshops on effective leadership and communications. My students and I will have the opportunity to work and train with new collaborators in the United Kingdom and thus increase our research capacity. I hope to make a major contribution to both South Africa and Africa in the form of innovative scientific research," she concludes.</p><p>According to Professor Nelson Torto, executive director of AAS, postdoctoral programmes are vital in training and developing early career researchers into research leaders whose scientific leadership will influence policies that will promote the socio-economic development of the continent.</p><p>The next round of FLAIR applications is currently open and will close on 27 May 2020. More details about eligibility and how to apply <a href="https://royalsociety.org/grants-schemes-awards/grants/flair/">here</a>.<br></p><p><br></p>
SU textile scientist develops test to evaluate barrier efficiency of face mask fabricshttps://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7331SU textile scientist develops test to evaluate barrier efficiency of face mask fabricsMedia & Communication, Faculty of Science<p>Adine Gericke, a textile specialist from Stellenbosch University's Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science, has developed a standardised test for use by the clothing and textile manufacturing industry to evaluate the effectiveness of textile fabrics and filter materials used in fabric face masks.<br></p><p>The test method is based on the <a href="https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks">World Health Organisation's (WHO) guidelines</a> published on 29 March 2020 and relies on the latest evidence that the virus appears to largely exit through the mouth of an infected individual in micro-droplet form during talking, coughing or sneezing. It is therefore believed that fabric masks can play in important role in reducing the community transmission of the virus. </p><p>Adine, one of only a handful of textile specialists in South Africa, was directly involved in updating the <a href="https://businesstech.co.za/news/lifestyle/393638/new-guidelines-for-face-masks-in-south-africa-what-you-need-to-know/">Department of Trade, Industry and Competition's guidelines for fabric masks</a>, published online on 29 April 2020. In South Africa, it is now compulsory to wear a face mask in public.</p><p>She says the effectiveness of fabric face masks can be greatly improved by the selection of an optimum combination of fabric layers: “Masks typically consist of two to three layers or fabrics, which could include a filter layer in the middle. Each layer contributes to the performance properties of the end product. Fabrics can be tested in single layers or in combinations according to the design of a specific mask."  </p><p>But while a mask should act as a barrier, it must not block airflow: if a person cannot breathe normally while wearing the mask, this will lead to the mask being removed or frequently touched by the wearer, she warns.  </p><p>Since the lockdown, she has been working around the clock to test a range of textiles and nonwoven materials for the industry: “Textiles are deceptive. One cannot just assume that one material will perform better than another only because it is, for example, thicker than another."</p><p>For home sewers, her advice is as follows:</p><ul><li>In order to stop micro-droplets, use two but preferably three layers of fabric;</li><li>Try to include a “filter layer" in the middle (such as interfacing or any lightweight stiff fabric), as it will have a huge impact to increase barrier efficiency;</li><li>The mask must be comfortable, especially if it is going to be used in the workplace. Some fabrics have good barrier efficiency, but might have very low air permeability.  Test your design by wearing the mask for at least 30 minutes (a five minute test is not enough) to make sure your combination of fabrics does not  restrict breathability, build up heat or cause irritation to the extent that you need to remove the mask;</li><li>Lastly, experiment with different fabrics until you find the right combination.</li></ul><p>She says it was hugely gratifying to do research with an immediate and practical benefit to society: “Most of the manufacturers I've worked with are committed to manufacturing face masks that are functional and made from locally-produced fabrics, and taking care to select the best fabrics for the masks."<br></p><p><br></p>
SU pays tribute to beloved microbiologist, Doug Rawlingshttps://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7305SU pays tribute to beloved microbiologist, Doug RawlingsCorporate Communication / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie<p>​​Stellenbosch University's (SU) Professor Douglas (Doug) E Rawlings (68), one of South Africa's foremost microbiologists, passed away over the weekend (2 May 2020) after suffering a heart attack.</p><p>Rawlings, one of the first molecular microbiologists in South Africa, is a former President of the Royal Society of South Africa and a founding member of the Academy of Science of South Africa.<br></p><p>Since the late 1980s, Rawlings and his research group made internationally-recognised contributions to the field of Molecular Biology with his research on the use of microorganisms in bio-mining. He also made a significant contribution to our understanding of the biology of broad host range IncQ-family plasmids, and for twenty years (1992–2011) he held an A-rating from the National Research Foundation.</p><p>Rawlings was also a leader in higher education management. In 1998 he was appointed as chair of SU's Department of Microbiology, and apart from terms as vice-dean of the Faculty of Science, he also acted as interim dean and vice-rector of research.</p><p>Professor Emile van Zyl, Distinguished Professor in Microbiology and long-term colleague, says Rawlings was a leading internationally-recognised researcher and a “mensch" in every sense of the word. “He held high personal values and standards and was able to lead the Department of Microbiology through a difficult time in its history. His approach later became the ethos of the department and took us to great heights. One of his most loved sayings was that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That is why he believed that every lecturer had to be supported and find their place in the Department, because only then could the Department as a whole achieve success."</p><p>Van Zyl says Rawlings was an old school gentleman and very conscientious. “I will never forget the time when he insisted on coming to work despite a serious eye infection. He is one of the few people who can probably count the number of sick days on one hand."</p><p>According to Van Zyl it is less well-known that, in his personal life, Rawlings was “shepherd" to a small church parish. Together with his wife, Janet, they often took in parish members. “Doug's entire life was characterised by the motto: 'in service of my fellow-man'. He applied this on all levels of his life – academic, religious and later years top management. In his quiet way he contributed immensely to the integrity of top management."</p><p>Mentor for early career researchers</p><p>Dr Therina Theron, Senior Director: Research and Innovation at SU, says Rawlings had played a key role in SU's early career academic development programme over the past four years. “He was a well-respected and much-loved colleague in the Division for Research Development (DRD) and an integral part of our research support team. He made an exceptional contribution to the development of early-career academic staff members during this post-retirement part of his career.</p><p>“In the same period, he also served as alternate Research Integrity Officer and as a valued member of one of our Research Ethics Committees. As a man of absolute integrity and exceptional and deep perception and insight, he could be fully trusted with and excelled in these difficult roles – always regarding the people involved in research integrity issues as his top priority.</p><p>“Doug was a brilliant, humble academic role model and a mentor to so many people, including myself. I will never forget his exceptional and selfless service to SU and to my division. I will cherish the lessons that I've learnt from him. He was an epitome of wisdom, kindness, empathy and humility. Even as a global leader in his scientific field, he didn't care about public awards or acknowledgements. He did care deeply about making a positive impact on people's lives, sharing his experiences and wisdom, and bringing kindness into this world.</p><p>“He will be sorely missed by everyone in the DRD and in the SU academic community. Our heartfelt condolences to his family in this very difficult time of loss and grief. He always spoke with so much love about his wife Janet and their children and grandchildren."</p><p>During his career, Rawlings received numerous accolades, including the PanLabs Award from the Society for Industrial Microbiology in the USA, the Havenga-prize from the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns en the SU Rector's award for excellence in research. In 2006 he was a finalist for the Lifetime Award of the National Science and Technology Forum. He served several terms on the Council of the South African Society for Microbiology and was a recipient of the Association's silver and gold medals in 1992 and 2011) respectively.</p><p>Rawlings leaves behind his wife, three children and five grandchildren.<br></p><p><br></p>
MSc student in zoology off to London to study science communicationhttps://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7286MSc student in zoology off to London to study science communicationMedia & Communication, Faculty of Science<p>​An MSc student in zoology at Stellenbosch University, Celeste de Kock, has been accepted for an MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College, currently rated as one of the top ten universities in the world.<br></p><p>The MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College was introduced in 1991, and accepts only 45-50 students per year. </p><p>De Kock says she originally planned to study visual arts, but changed her mind in Grade 11 after an introduction to botany and zoology during a Maties Science Winter Week: “I have always had a love for nature and especially the classification of plants and animals, and the beauty of form and function. So when they took us into the Natural Sciences Building during the Science Winterweek, I became so excited I just knew this was what I wanted to do."</p><p>However, during her studies she realised that there was little opportunity for creative expression: “I have always been interested in a wide range of topics, and am always looking for ways to combine science and the visual arts. But there is often little scope for creativity in science, and because of the academic culture of publishing in scholarly journals, most of the science is lost to the public. The purpose of science is to ultimately deepen our understanding of the world around us and, where relevant, to use it as a tool to improve our lives. I believe that this knowledge should be accessible and understandable to all.</p><p>“Art can be used to bridge the gap between the public and raw science. Showcasing and explaining amazing science with eye-catching visuals, through videos, infographics and exhibitions, often makes more of an impact when compared to the written or spoken word," she adds.</p><p>The one-year full-time course offers a balance between theoretical and practical modules, combined with an internship. De Kock says she is especially excited about the internship opportunities provided by the course, which includes partners such as <em>New Scientist</em>, <em>Nature </em>and the<em> </em>Science Museum, London.</p><p>For now she is applying for funding to support her studies at Imperial College, and hopefully she will be able to join the class in person, starting 1 October 2020.</p><p>De Kock says more BSc-students should consider science communication as a career: “Do not assume that a career in the natural sciences is limited to research only. Science communication offers a creative, interdisciplinary career outside academia and offers so many options in television, radio, journalism, museums, digital media and policymaking," she concludes.<br></p><p><br> </p>
SU’s Faculty of Science awards record number of PhD-degreeshttps://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7250SU’s Faculty of Science awards record number of PhD-degreesMedia & Communication, Faculty of Science<p>Stellenbosch University's Science Faculty will award a record number of 68 PhD-degrees for the 2019 academic year, of which 39 during the virtual graduation ceremony on Friday, 3 April. This is the highest number of PhDs since 2014 (42) and 18 more than in 2018 (50).<br></p><p>For the 2019 academic year, the Faculty delivered a total of 527 BSc-graduates, 149 Honours- and 102 MSc-graduates.</p><p>Prof Louise Warnich, Dean of the Faculty of Science, said they are very proud of their students: “We wish to congratulate each and every one of you on this major milestone in your lives."<br></p><p>Dr David Phair, who earned a PhD in myrmecology (the scientific study of ants), said he will be watching the virtual ceremony from home, internet allowing, while Dr Claire Ineza said she will certainly not miss the opportunity to cross the stage later this year. This supermom from Rwanda earned her PhD in Chemistry while raising her son, now 4-years old, and being pregnant with the most recent addition to the family, a three-month old baby boy.</p><p>SU graduandi will be able to follow the virtual conferral of their qualifications at 14:00 on Friday 3 April 2020. A link to the virtual proceedings will be published on the SU homepage (<a href="/">www.sun.ac.za</a>) on Friday morning.<br></p>
Lessons from the insect world: How do ant colonies fight disease?https://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7253Lessons from the insect world: How do ant colonies fight disease?Dr David Phair<p>​As the Covid-19 pandemic makes its impact known throughout the world, we are being forced to come to terms with how our modern way of living contributes to the spread of pathogens. We live in densely packed cities full of interacting individuals, each going about their own business as part of the greater economy.<br></p><p>When you consider humankind in this light, it is hard not to draw parallels with the highly social insects such as bees and ants in particular. They, like us, live in densely populated cities and towns, nests packed with hundreds to millions of individuals all working to support the colony. They too must communicate and provide services. Some are food producers, some manage resources and others sweep the proverbial streets.</p><p>Like humankind, they too are at high levels of risk when it comes to dealing with the threat of disease and epidemics. Ants, however, have been dealing with this problem for the last 100 million years. This has given them ample time to develop mechanisms for fighting diseases, such as acidic secretions that are antimicrobial, much like the hand sanitisers we are now using every day.</p><p>Researchers have found that ants and other social insects use a collection of social behaviours to fight disease in the colony. Called “social immunity", it is a rapidly growing area of research worldwide. Some of these behaviours can be costly, like a doctor working on the frontlines of a Covid-19 outbreak, putting the individual at risk while providing the colony with protection against disease. </p><p>My research into social immunity looked at how three South African ant species respond to the threat of disease: the well-known large pugnacious ants (<em>Anoplolepis custodiens</em>), yellow-haired sugar ants (<em>Camponotus fulvopilosus</em>), and the common fierce ants (<em>Tetramorium sericeiventre</em>). While they all responded differently to disease exposure, none of them implemented a full lockdown.</p><p><strong>From quarantine to doctor's visits</strong></p><p>The large pugnacious ants (<em>A. custodiens</em>) used a wide range of social immunity mechanisms to prevent infections and relied heavily on social-based interventions. For example, they implement a form of quarantine where ants that were exposed to the infection did not enter the chambers where the queen and the young stayed; they also generally remained in the nest chamber closest to the colony exit. This species also implemented more frequent and intense allogrooming, their form of a doctor's visits, where nestmates clean and disinfect the potentially exposed individuals. The parallel I see here is with those countries with very high population densities, where it is important to work together to prevent the spread of disease. In a similar fashion to how some countries have implemented strict lockdowns, these ants prevent risky individuals from interacting with colony members who are essential to the functioning of the colony. </p><p><strong>Social distancing and communal disinfection</strong></p><p>The yellow-haired sugar ants (<em>C. fulvopilosus</em>) did not show any form of quarantine. They did, however, make use of social distancing. Out of the three species we assessed, these ants engaged with each other the least, relying instead on a self-care approach to prevent the spread of a pathogen. But this was not their only defence against disease. Sugar ants are well known for their liberal use of formic acid, a potent antimicrobial substance, to defend the nest and we expect that they use this substance to manage exposure to pathogens. In one instance, we observed a novel behaviour where an individual applying formic acid would cause surrounding ants to also apply their own formic acid, possibly a form of communal disinfectant.</p><p><strong>Innate immunity coupled with grooming </strong></p><p>The common fierce ants (<em>T. sericeiventre</em>) appeared to use a measured approach relying on both individual responses to infection and group responses like allogrooming. Out of our three species, they appeared to have the best innate immunity against the infection. We think this may be a result of previous experience with disease, as they live in the wettest areas of the studied species, and for soil dwelling ants, wetter environments harbour more microbial organisms, some of which can be pathogenic. This species response can be paralleled with countries that have experienced previous epidemics and so could react quickly and effectively to minimise the spread of the Covid-19 infection. </p><div class="ms-rtestate-read ms-rte-embedcode ms-rte-embedil ms-rtestate-notify"><iframe width="540" height="303" src="/english/_layouts/15/videoembedplayer.aspx?site=fd815503b3e242dba5d4c9d4c07b52b0&web=8df8337c4e81442e97dacf869c9a6eb5&folder=caa6c847f94240ac932b03d878acc2a5&img=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Esun%2Eac%2Eza%2Fenglish%2FPublishingImages%2FCollective%2520Disinfection%2520in%2520an%2520ant%2520colony%2FPreview%2520Images%2FCollective%2520Disinfection%5Fmp4%2Epng&" data-title="Collective Disinfection in an ant colony" data-description="Collective Disinfection in an ant colony" data-duration="19"></iframe> </div><p><br></p><p><strong>What do ant colonies do differently?</strong></p><p>While there are many parallels between ants and humans, there are also distinct differences. Many humans can be described as altruistic, willing to put their life on the line to protect others. However, compared to ants we have much to learn. Most ants will do their utmost to protect the colony and there is little to no room for selfish ambition in the functioning of a colony. Those that try to forge their own path are heavily policed. This enables ant colonies to remain relatively unaffected by large scale epidemics, despite their potentially high level of risk.</p><p>Another distinct difference is the fact that communication between colonies of ants is rare and epidemics, to my knowledge, do not develop into pandemics. Considering how interconnected humankind is, however, the risks of pandemics are much greater. What can we therefore learn from how ants and social insects fight disease? And could we incorporate this knowledge into strategies to combat Covid-19 and any future pandemics?  </p><p><strong>Ant wisdom offers hope</strong></p><p>Our research does provide some hope, as all three ant species, working together as a colony, were able to mitigate and overcome the effect of exposure to the disease. Taking a lesson from our ants, we should put our own interests aside, cooperate and do what is necessary o mitigate the spread and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Ant wisdom suggests that is the right thing to do.</p><ul><li>Dr David Phair received his PhD during Stellenbosch University's virtual April graduation ceremony this Friday, 3 April. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the research group of Prof Theresa Wossler in SU's Department of Botany and Zoology. His research was funded by the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis (SACEMA) and a grant from the National Research Foundation. <br></li></ul><p><strong>On the photo, </strong>A trail of sugar ants (<em>Camponotus fulvopilosus)</em> in the Karoo National Park. Ants are thought to have evolved around 168 million years ago and became ecologically dominant about 60 million years ago. <em>Image: Brigitte Braschler, Iimbovane Outreach Project</em></p><img src="file:///C:/Users/science/AppData/Local/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image004.jpg" alt="" style="width:275px;margin:5px;" /><p><strong>Media interviews</strong></p><p>Dr David Phair</p><p>E-mail: <a href="mailto:djphair@sun.ac.za">djphair@sun.ac.za</a> or dphair77@gmail.com</p><p>Mobile: 072 481 7600 <br></p><p><br></p>
Covid-19: SU researchers turning bread into hand sanitiser https://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7240Covid-19: SU researchers turning bread into hand sanitiser Engela Duvenage / AgriSciences<p>​If you have the right equipment, some ingenuity and a few loaves of bread, it seems you can do almost anything in times of crisis. That is what Stellenbosch University food scientists have proven, having made 18 litres of alcohol-based hand sanitiser from stale bread crumbs in their in-house fermentation tank. After a weeklong process, they were able to bottle the end product hours before South Africa went into lock-down because of Covid-19.<br></p><p>Departmental staff was able to take a good supply of hand sanitiser home. A few bottles were left at the ready in the Food Science building, for when authorised staff visited the facility to check up on the running of experiments.  </p><p>“It smells just a little bit like toast," says Dr Stefan Hayward, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Food Science at Stellenbosch University (SU).</p><p>He is part of a research group in the Department who on a normal day focuses on ways to reduce food waste being produced on the one hand, and on another on ways to put these by-products to use. </p><p>“Waste implies a need to discard something which has become useless and needs to be disposed of. We see waste products and the tendency to produce too much food not as a problem, but as raw ingredients or by-products that can provide the impetus to invent new ways of reducing, reusing and recycling," he explains the rationale behind their work. </p><p>The plan to make their own hand sanitiser came a day after the Presidency announced self-isolation measures, during a brainstorming session between Dr Hayward, another postdoctoral researcher, Dr Timo Tait and MSc food science student Sebastian Orth. </p><p>“We were talking about alternative uses for some of the everyday items we often discard, bread being one of them," remembers Dr Hayward. </p><p>One thing led to another, and they decided to try and produce bio-ethanol from bread with which to make hand sanitiser. </p><p>“Bread is composed of 40% starch which can be used as an excellent carbohydrate source during the production of bio-ethanol via fermentation," explains Dr Hayward. </p><p>“The global Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for better hygiene practices and adequate supplies of antiseptic products such as hand sanitiser to help 'flatten the curve'," he added. </p><p>They knew that they'd have no problem finding their main ingredient, because unsold bread past its sell-by date is generally returned to distribution centres from where it is discarded as waste, or at best used as animal feed. </p><p>They were able to obtain dried bread crumbs from one of their industry partners, Innovative Research Solutions (IRS). IRS, in turn, is currently helping a major food producer make something worthwhile out of the large amounts of bread returned daily to its distribution centres. The idea is to convert this waste stream into functional ingredients that can be put to new use.</p><p>In the Department's fermentation tank, they combined 60 kg of bread crumbs with hot water and added alpha amylase enzymes that are regularly used in the food industry to the mix. They then adjusted the pH level to optimal levels to convert starch to sugar. The mixture was then incubated at 65°C for 60 minutes to enable saccharification and therefore sugar production, Thereafter, the mixture was cooled to 30°C before a specialised yeast strain used by the distilling industry was added.</p><p>The end product, which looks very much like mashed potatoes, was left at room temperature for seven days until the fermentation process was complete and they could start distilling the mixture. </p><p>From the initial 60 kg of bread in their first batch, they were able to produce 10.5 litres of 75% ethanol. Using a recipe found on the Internet, it was combined with ingredients such as glycerol, hydro peroxide (that also kills viruses and bacterial spores) and a denaturant to ultimately make 18.2 litres of hand sanitiser.</p><p>Because of the lockdown the researchers could not continue their work, but they hope to do so once the situation returns to normal in the country.</p><p>“We were able to satisfy our scientific curiosity whether or not we would be able to ferment bio-ethanol from a waste product such as stale bread, and at the same time were also able to apply our knowledge to produce an antiseptic formula that can be of help in this time of crisis," says Dr Hayward.</p><p>In 2018, Dr Hayward was involved in a student project in the Department of Food Science in which beer was brewed using bread. <br></p><p><br> </p>