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New species of dog-sized dinosaur lived in underground burrows species of dog-sized dinosaur lived in underground burrowsFaculty of Science (media & communication)<p>​A newly discovered ancestor of <em>Thescelosaurus</em> shows evidence that these animals spent at least part of their time in underground burrows.<br></p><p>According to a media release issued by North Carolina State University, the new dinosaur, named <em>Fona herzogae</em>, was a small-bodied, plant-eating dinosaur about the size of a large dog, covered in a downy coat of colourful feathers.<br></p><p style="text-align:center;"><img src="/english/PublishingImages/Lists/dualnews/My%20Items%20View/Fona%20herzogae%20v2%20credit%20Jorge%20Gonzalez.jpg" alt="Fona herzogae v2 credit Jorge Gonzalez.jpg" style="margin:5px;width:342px;" /><br></p><p><em>Fona</em> lived 99 million years ago in present-day Utah, while <em>Thescelosaurus</em> lived just before the mass extinction event about 66 million years ago. During <em>Fona's</em> time on earth, the area was a large floodplain ecosystem sandwiched between the shores of a massive inland ocean to the east and active volcanoes and mountains to the west. Overall, it was a warm, wet, muddy environment with numerous rivers running through it.</p><p>Dr Ryan Tucker, a sedimentologist from Stellenbosch University's Department of Earth Sciences, was part of the team of scientists from North Carolina State University (NCSU) and the North Carolina Science Museum (NCSM) who unearthed several specimens from the same species in the Mussentuchit Member of the Cedar Mountain Formation in 2013.</p><p>For the past decade, Dr Tucker's on-going collaboration with Dr Lindsay Zanno from NCSM and NCSU has focused on describing and dating the immediate environmental and climatic conditions of the area where <em>Fona</em> and other newly discovered fossils have been found. </p><p>He recently discovered several well-preserved volcanic ash fall beds associated with this and other key fossil finds (such as <em>Moros intrepidus</em> and <em>Iani smithi</em>), which facilitated more accurate dating as the deposited ash is laid down relatively instantaneously in geological time. This newly formulated temporal framework was recently published in the Journal <em>Geology. </em></p><p>Tucker indicates that there is still a great deal of work to be done in the mid-Cretaceous Western Interior Basin to better understand climate change during this period of Earth's history. The above efforts are currently supported by the National Science Foundation in the United States of America.</p><p>Tucker and postgraduate student Kira Venter will again be joining Zanno and an internationally diverse multidisciplinary team for a two-month field expedition to the East Gobi Basin in Mongolia. Funded by National Geographic, the expedition forms part of a large-scale study to understand paleoclimate trends in eastern Asia 125 to 83 million years ago. </p><p>“If successful, we will be able to better understand climate change on a hemispheric scale (with comparison to North America), along with generating data that could facilitate meaningful climate forecasts for our own near future if current trends remain unchanged," he explains.</p><p>Click here to read the full media release from North Carolina State University about the newly described dinosaur <em>Fona herzogae</em> –​​</p>
Walking 160 kilometers to raise funds for postgraduate studies in polymer science at SU 160 kilometers to raise funds for postgraduate studies in polymer science at SUFaculty of Science (media and communication)<p>​Walking 160 kilometers in four days, a chemistry lecturer from Stellenbosch University (SU) plans to raise funds for the <a href="">Ron Sanderson Bursary Fund</a>, established in 2015 in recognition of the late Prof. Ron Sanderson's contribution to the development of polymer education in South Africa.</p><p><a href="">Prof. Bert Klumperman</a>, himself recognized as a world leader in the field of polymer chemistry, will be one of more than 45 000 people from 70 nationalities taking part in <a href="">The Walk of the World</a>. Described as the world's largest walking event, it will take place from 16 to 19 July in Nijmegen in The Netherlands. Originally known as the 4DaysMarches (<em>4Daagse</em> in Dutch), participants walk 30 to 50 kilometers per day, while thousands of spectators line the streets to cheer them on.</p><p>Klumperman started collaborating with Sanderson in the late 1990s while lecturing at Eindhoven University of Technology in The Netherlands. <a href="/english/archive/Lists/English_News_Archive_110518/DispForm.aspx?ID=3007&ContentTypeId=0x010019F8BC5373DFA740B008FC720EA25DE601008842D5DFBB60F541BF61E7750F3D6BA5">Sanderson</a> is credited with establishing polymer science in South Africa in the 1970s and since 1982 SU's Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science offers the only postgraduate degrees in Polymer Science in South Africa. </p><p>In 2006 the long-time collaboration between the two scientists was formalised when Klumperman was awarded the South African Research Chair in Advanced Macromolecular Architectures at SU, and in 2007 he received an A-rating from South Africa's National Research Foundation (NRF). </p><p>So started more than 15 years of long-distance commuting between South Africa and his family home in The Netherlands.</p><p>Klumperman says the aim of the Ron Sanderson Bursary Fund is to support BSc-graduates wanting to continue with the BSc Honours degree in Polymer Science: “At the moment, there exist bursary opportunities for postgraduate studies in polymer science on MSc and PhD level, but none for BSc Honours students. It is important that we assist more students to bridge this gap and train the next generation of polymer scientists in South Africa."</p><p>Klumperman is well-known amongst first year science students for lecturing the Chemistry 124 module in the first semester of their first year at university. And apart from regular long walks and learning to play the French horn recently, he is also closely involved with building a culture of entrepreneurship in SU's Faculty of Science. Over the years, he has registered 25 patents, the latest of which has resulted in the spin-out company <a href="">Nanosene</a>, co-founded with his former PhD student, Dr Gestél Kuyler.</p><p>While in Stellenbosch, he undertakes frequent walks in and around the town and Jonkershoek, most recently having completed a 28 kilometer walk on a Sunday morning. In The Netherlands, he will be joined on the four-day walk by his wife, Linda, and 16-year-old daughter Rosa. This will be his fourth time participating.</p><p>Click on the link below for his crowdfunding project on the GivenGain platform – every donation counts!</p><p><a href=""></a><br></p><p>​<br></p>
Prof Donita Africander advances women’s health through groundbreaking research Donita Africander advances women’s health through groundbreaking research Corporate Communication and Marketing/Korporatiewe Kommunikasie en Bemarking<p>​Prof Donita Africander from the Department of Biochemistry in the Faculty of Science at Stellenbosch University delivered her inaugural lecture recently. The title of her lecture was “Improving women's health: insights into contraceptives and menopausal hormone therapy".<br></p><p>Africander spoke to the Corporate Communication and Marketing Division about how she uses her research to help improve the health, well-being and quality of life for women globally.</p><p><strong>Tell us more about your research and why you became interested in this specific field.</strong></p><p>My research focuses on understanding the biological effects of progestins, which are synthetic compounds designed to mimic the actions of the natural sex steroid hormone progesterone. Progestins are widely used in contraception, menopausal hormone therapy, and the treatment of gynaecological disorders such as endometriosis (when tissue similar to the lining inside the uterus (endometrium) grows outside the uterus). Despite their therapeutic benefits, the clinical use of some progestins has been associated with various side-effects, such as increased incidence of invasive breast cancer and increased susceptibility to HIV. Given the diversity in chemical structure and biological function among the many therapeutically available progestins, it is likely that their beneficial effects and side-effects may vary. By delving into progestin mechanisms at the cellular level, I aim to identify the most clinically effective progestins with the least adverse effects, and to debunk the notion that all progestins are the same. This pursuit drives my research, as I strive to contribute to meaningful advancements in women's health through a comprehensive understanding of progestin biology. </p><p><strong>How would you describe the relevance of your work, especially as it relates to women's health?</strong></p><p>Insights into progestin mechanisms and how they are linked to diseases such as breast cancer and HIV is particularly significant for women's health, given the widespread use of progestins in contraception and menopausal hormone therapy. Advancing our knowledge in this field may lead to the development of safer, more effective formulations that have minimal adverse effects and optimal benefits. Our research has the potential to influence clinical practices, ultimately improving the well-being and quality of life for women globally.</p><p><strong>Based on your research, why is it so important to improve our understanding of contraceptives and menopausal hormone therapy?</strong></p><p>The terms contraceptives and menopausal hormone therapy on their own lacks specificity as they do not distinguish between different types or specific components. The distinction is crucial as not all formulations have been evaluated for side-effects such as an increased incidence of breast cancer and susceptibility to HIV. Improving our understanding of the components in contraceptives and menopausal hormone therapy, particularly the progestin component, is critical for enabling women and clinicians to make informed choices. Given the widespread use of contraceptives and hormone therapy, advancements in this area can have significant public health implications, potentially reducing disease burden and improving the quality of life for countless women. </p><p><strong>You have spent many years in the challenging environment of higher education. What keeps you motivated when things get tough?</strong></p><p>Without a doubt, mentoring future scientists, whether they are undergraduate or postgraduate students, or early career academics, keeps me motivated. As a passionate advocate for transformation, my commitment to being a role model for other women in science and black scientists provides me with a sense of duty that helps me navigate challenging times. Additionally, the knowledge that our research has the potential to positively impact women's health globally serves as powerful motivation to overcome obstacles.</p><p><strong>What aspects of your work do you enjoy the most?</strong></p><p>I find the most joy in working with my research team, especially mentoring students and junior researchers. It is personally fulfilling to nurture the next generation of scientists. I cherish the exchange of ideas and the collective effort of my research team and our collaborators as we strive to find the missing pieces to complete the puzzle of progestins in women's health. Knowing that the work has the potential to improve health outcomes for women worldwide is incredibly rewarding.</p><p><strong>What would your message be to young girls who aspire to a career in science?</strong></p><p>Science benefits from diverse perspectives and voices, and your ideas and contributions matter. Believe in your abilities and potential; with hard work, you can achieve anything you set your mind to. You belong in the world of science, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise! </p><p><strong>Tell us something exciting about yourself that people would not expect.</strong></p><p>Outside of the lab, I indulge in being a bit of a food and wine snob – exploring flavours, trying new cuisines, and pairing them with the perfect wines. I also have a deep love for singing and dancing, often belting out tunes in the shower or hitting the dance floor with family and friends.</p><p><strong>How do you spend your free time?</strong></p><p>In my free time, I cherish moments with my husband and two daughters, particularly exploring new recipes together. I have a passion for cooking, especially experimenting with Indian and Asian cuisine. When I'm not in the kitchen, you might find me binge-watching crime or law series. I often immerse myself so deeply in the intricate and suspenseful plots that the researcher in me transforms into a detective or lawyer – much to the dismay of my family!</p><ul><li><strong>Photo by Ignus Dreyer (The Stellenbosch Centre for Photographic Services).</strong></li></ul><p>​<br></p>
Two new species of Psilocybe mushrooms discovered in southern Africa new species of Psilocybe mushrooms discovered in southern AfricaFaculty of Science/Fakulteit Natuurwetenskappe<p>​</p><p>Two new species of psychoactive mushrooms in the genus <em>Psilocybe</em> have been described from southern Africa, bringing the list to six known species indigenous to Africa.</p><p>This is even though <em>Psilocybe</em> species are amongst the most well-known and well-studied species of psychoactive mushrooms in the world, with around 140 described species. </p><p>In a paper published in the journal <a href=""><em>Mycologia</em></a> this week, researchers from Stellenbosch University (SU) and citizen mycologists describe the two new species as <em>Psilocybe ingeli</em> and <em>Psilocybe maluti</em>. </p><p><em>Psilocybe ingeli</em> was first found in 2023 growing in pastureland in KwaZulu-Natal by Talan Moult, a self-taught citizen mycologist.  <em>Psilocybe maluti</em> was first found on a Free State small holding in 2021 by Daniella Mulder, who sent photos of the mushrooms for identification to Andrew Killian, one of South Africa's leading citizen mycologists based in Somerset West.</p><p>In both instances, the unusual looking specimens were sent to Breyten van der Merwe for DNA sequencing and analysis in the lab of Prof. Karin Jacobs in SU's Department of Microbiology. Van der Merwe, now a postgraduate student in chemical engineering at SU, is a trained mycologist and first author of the paper. </p><p>The paper also contains information on the traditional use of <em>P. maluti</em> by Basotho traditional healers from the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. According to the researchers, this appears to be the only recorded first-hand report of hallucinogenic mushrooms being used traditionally in Africa. </p><p>Cullen Taylor Clark, a citizen mycologist and co-author, worked with Mamosebetsi Sethathi, a Mosotho traditional healer, to document the use of <em>P. maluti</em> (locally known as <em>koae-ea-lekhoaba</em>) in traditional healing practices. This forms part of a larger effort, led by Clark, to document the use of mushrooms by indigenous groups in southern Africa. </p><p>Van der Merwe says there are very likely more southern African species in this genus, and that more citizen scientists need to become involved: “These two species were sent to me by citizen scientists. It would be impossible for a single researcher to cover a fraction of an area these mushroom enthusiasts have access to. This is the only way we will be able to further studies in African mycology."</p><p>Jacobs echoes this sentiment: “There are only a handful of mycologists in Africa documenting local biodiversity. Considering the vast mycological diversity on the continent, it is a daunting task. Collaborating with citizen mycologists is therefore hugely beneficial. In addition to more material, collaboration also opens avenues for conversation and exploration, which can lead to documenting <em>mycophilia</em> (the love of mushrooms) on the African continent."</p><p>END</p><p>       </p><p><strong><em>CAPTIONS</em></strong></p><ul style="list-style-type:disc;"><li><em>Psilocybe maluti</em> was found growing in pastureland on cow manure in the Free State and Kwa-Zulu Natal provinces of South Africa, as well as the highlands of Lesotho. Credit:  Cullen Taylor Clark</li><li>A single collection of <em>Psilocybe ingeli</em> was found in KwaZulu-Natal, growing in pasture land. <em>Credit: Talan Moult</em></li><li>Breyten van der Merwe from Stellenbosch University with his collection of mushrooms in the Department of Microbiology. Photo: Stefan Els</li></ul><p> </p><p><br></p>
SACEMA shortlisted for NRF societal impact award shortlisted for NRF societal impact awardCorporate Communication and Marketing/Korporatiewe Kommunikasie en Bemarking [Alec Basson]<p>​The <a href=""><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis</strong></a> (SACEMA) at Stellenbosch University (SU) has been shortlisted for the National Research Foundation (NRF)'s prestigious Societal Impact Award. The winners will be announced at the <a href=""><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">NRF Awards</strong></a> ceremony in August 2024.</p><p>The new Societal Impact Award recognises NRF-funded researchers and research entities whose work has led to tangible and beneficial societal impact, either in terms of social impact, economic impact, innovation, or environmental impact.</p><p>SACEMA has been shortlisted for its significant contributions to the understanding of HIV, Tuberculosis (TB), human papillomavirus (HPV), measles, polio, trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) and other infectious diseases over the past 18 years. It also played a crucial role in the response to the Covid-19 pandemic by providing pivotal forecasts for Covid-19's early spread across Africa, influencing regional and public health strategies. In addition, SACEMA has been instrumental in global HIV modelling and estimation, has conducted research on the impact of HPV prevention strategies, and contributed to the design of groundbreaking studies, supporting routine TB surveillance.<br></p><p>SACEMA has worked closely with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, the United States Centres for Disease Control, the World Health Organization's Cervical Cancer Elimination Modelling Consortium and the Desmond Tutu TB Centre. It also leads the secretariat of the UNAIDS Reference Group on Estimates, Modelling and Projections.</p><p>Commenting on SACEMA's shortlisting, Prof Frank Tanser, Director of SACEMA, says it is a massive honour for SACEMA to be shortlisted for this prestigious reward. “It demonstrates the high regard in which SACEMA is held and is a testament to the excellent science and substantial societal contribution that SACEMA has made over the last 18 years.</p><p>“SACEMA will build on this recognition and going forward we will continue to make substantial impact to the field and to society working with the team at the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI)," adds Tanser, who is also the Director: Population Health Innovation at CERI in the School for Data Science and Computational Thinking at SU.</p><p>Healthcare providers, policymakers, international governments, public health officials, researchers, communities affected by HIV/AIDS and TB, and women at risk of cervical cancer have all benefitted from SACEMA's work.</p><ul><li>Photo by Stefan Els (Corporate Communication and Marketing)<br></li></ul><p>​<br></p>
Gatherings in Biosemiotics: unique platform for engagement between biological sciences and humanities in Biosemiotics: unique platform for engagement between biological sciences and humanitiesFaculty of Science (media & communication)<p>​The <a href="">24th Gatherings in Biosemiotics</a> was hosted recently at the <a href="">University of the Free State</a> in Bloemfontein, South Africa – the first time for this meeting to be held in Africa and only the fourth outside of Europe.<br></p><p><a href="">Biosemiotics</a> is an emerging field of study with an interdisciplinary research agenda investigating the myriad forms of communication and signification found in and between living systems – from biological codes to intercellular signalling processes to animal display behavior and human semiotic artifacts such as language and symbolic thought as well as ecosystem design. </p><p>Dr Xany Jansen van Vuuren, a lecturer in UFS Department of Linguistics and Language Practice and chair of the organising committee, says the annual Gatherings in Biosemiotics provide a unique and creative platform for the biological sciences and humanities to work together to open our thinking about more-than-humanness and humanness. Because of this biological connotation – i.e, people gathering to discuss – it is called a gathering and not a conference.</p><p>This year's gathering featured 34 in-person and online participants from 14 countries, including Zimbabwe, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Czechia, The Netherlands, Estonia, Norway, the United States of America, Mexico, Switzerland, Russia, Brazil, Argentina and Italy. </p><p>Prof. Kalevi Kull, president of the International Society for Biosemiotic Studies and professor of biosemiotics at Tartu University in Estonia, said biosemiotics covers studies on pre-linguistic meaning-making – the needs and communication of all biodiversity. </p><p>“In this field, we approach questions like 'what do non-human living beings know, how they acquire their knowing, how they communicate, and how they see their world'. Or, in other terms, what is living as such, how it interprets and make its choices. These are fundamental questions for biology. However, biology alone cannot solve these problems. It needs additional tools from other fields, first of all from semiotics. Semiotics is the basis not only of the humanities, but covers broadly all areas of knowledge-making, including biological," he explains.  </p><p>Kull, who has worked in the field of biosemiotics since 1980s, delivered a guest lecture and two papers at the gathering, covering topics such as the semiotic window, other means of interspecies sign relations, and natural contradictions. From Stellenbosch University Prof. Jannie Hofmeyr presented a paper on “The role of formal cause in biosemiotics processes", while Prof. Louise du Toit and Wiida Fourie-Basson co-presented a paper titled “Making sense of our place in the world: In conversation with Pierre Hadot and eco-phenomenology". </p><p>Prof. Kobus Marais, head of the Department of Linguistics and Language Practice at UFS, says the interdisciplinarity of the annual gathering is a major plus: “For an entire week, there is a platform for biologists, ecologists, humanities scholars from various disciplines such as philosophy, literary and translation studies, and social scientists like journalists, to engage with one another.</p><p>“I think that the ecological crisis asks of humans to rethink the way in which they are part of nature as one species among many other and that we co-exist with nature. Biosemiotics provides us with the terminology and a conceptual framework for considering this task," Marais adds.</p><p>Van Vuuren and Marais say they hope to establish a South African biosemiotics thinking group beyond UFS with a strong Southern Africa and Global South voice. At UFS, they have already successfully established a collaboration with Dr Helen-Mary Cawood from the Department of Philosophy and Ancient Studies. </p><p>The 25th Gatherings in Biosemiotics will take place in July 2025 at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. <a href="">Click here</a> to join the <a href="">International Society for Biosemiotic Studies</a> to stay up to date with announcements.</p><p>On the photo above: Standing, from left to right: Prof. Kobus Marais (UFS), Emiliano Vargas (University of Turin), Prof. Louise du Toit (SU), Dr. Jana Švorcová (Charles University), Thorolf von Walsum (University of Tartu), Prof. Kalevi Kull (University of Tartu), Prof. Jannie Hofmeyr (SU), Prof. Karel Kleisner (Charles University), Dr Filip Jaros (University of Hradec Králové), Prof. Sergey Chebanov (St Petersburg State University). And seated: Lani de Beer (UFS), Dr Xany Jansen van Vuuren (UFS), Dr Helen-Mary Cawood (UFS), Dr Innocent Dembe (UFS), Wiida Fourie-Basson (SU), and Dr Tim Ireland (University of Sheffield).</p>​
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>