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International workshop tackles management of invasives in protected areas workshop tackles management of invasives in protected areasMedia: School for Climate Studies<p>​Ecologists from 17 countries and six continents gathered in Stellenbosch recently to share knowledge and best practice approaches to the management of invasive species in protected areas.</p><p>The three-day workshop was hosted under the umbrella of the Centre for Invasion Biology <a href="">Chair in Managing Invasions in Protected Areas</a> which is hosted within Stellenbosch University's (SU) School for Climate Studies.</p><p>Prof. Tammy Robinson-Smythe, holder of the chair, said in her welcoming address that it was exciting to have specialists from just about every ecosystem – from marine and terrestrial to freshwater ecosystems – together in one room, making this a unique geographically representative gathering.</p><p>The objective of the workshop was to work towards achieving Target six of the <a href="">Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework</a>, concerned with, inter alia, reducing the rates of introduction and establishment of known or potential invasive alien species by at least 50% by 2030.</p><p>Robinson says invasive species have a broad impact on biodiversity, ecosystem services and people's livelihoods. In this sense, tackling Target 6 already works towards the overall objective of the Global Biodiversity Framework, also known at the <a href="">Biodiversity Plan for Life of Earth</a>.  </p><p>As protected areas are focal points of action, already set up to protect valuable ecosystem services, she believes these centres of conservation expertise can be capitalised on to maximise the benefits of management interventions. </p><p>“With this workshop, we are hoping to identify and overcome the barriers in achieving the Global Biodiversity Framework targets," she adds.</p><p>A selection of papers delivered at the workshop will be published in a special edition of the journal <em>Biological Invasions</em>. Additionally, an overarching paper will draw together insights from the workshop, serving as a synthesis of the state of knowledge and identifying gaps in current practice and opportunities for meeting Target 6. </p><p>Prof. Guy Midgley, interim director of the School for Climate Studies at SU, said in his welcome address that invasive species are perfectly poised to benefit from increased CO<sub>2</sub> levels in the atmosphere and warmer temperatures when establishing in new territories. In that sense, the management of invasive species should also take the bigger picture of climate change into consideration.</p><p>This point was reiterated by Prof. Belinda Gallardo from the Pyrenean Institute of Ecology in Spain who pointed out that proactive approaches are needed to protect national parks from the combined impacts of invasions and a changing climate.</p><p>Some of the participants in the workshop also emphasised the importance of recognising the role of humans, especially tourists, in introducing alien species to new environments. <a href="">Prof. Philip Hulme</a> from Lincoln University in New Zealand, emphasised ecotourism as an important pathway for the introduction of alien species into protected areas: “People underestimate how quickly the tourism pathway is evolving," he said.<br></p><p>​<br></p>
MSc student Francisca Darkoh recipient of prestigious Mandela Rhodes Scholarship student Francisca Darkoh recipient of prestigious Mandela Rhodes ScholarshipFaculty of Science (media & communication)<p></p><p>When Francisca Darkoh applied for yet another bursary to support her postgraduate studies in physiological sciences at Stellenbosch University (SU) last year, she had no idea that the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship, administered by the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, is one of Nelson Mandela's three official legacy projects.</p><p>“I had no idea it was such a big thing! I thought it was just another bursary with Mandela's name attached to it, like so many other things out there," she laughs. The <a href="">Mandela Rhodes Scholarship</a> provides comprehensive funding, including tuition and registration fees, allowances for study materials, research and medical aid, accommodation and meals, as well as a personal and travel allowance.</p><p>Moreover, to her surprise she learned that the scholarship does not only involve financial support: “They do not just give you money for your studies, they actually have a programme in place to help you succeed in your studies," she explains.</p><p>Coming from a family that has struggled greatly financially, Francisca has become used to hustling to make ends meet. Taking inspiration from her Ghanaian mother, she has applied for a host of bursaries and established three businesses while studying – from offering personal training sessions to fellow students, to selling Jollof – a traditional rice dish from West Africa.</p><p>She is currently enrolled for an MSc in Physiological Sciences under the guidance of Dr Theo Nell and Professor Resia Pretorius in the <a href="/english/pgstudies/Pages/Science/Physiological-Sciences.aspx">Department of Physiological Sciences</a> at SU</p><p>Francisca, a former learner from <a href="">Stirling High School</a> in East London, initially came to Stellenbosch University on a sports scholarship, as she has been playing hockey on national level since U/16. During this time, she excelled in her studies and fulfilled several leadership roles, such as House Committee member of the women's residence, Erica, and Chairperson/Primaria of Huis Russell Botman House.</p><p>Her biggest and most unforeseen setback, however, came in the middle of her BScHonours year, when she was hospitalised for months at a time for sepsis. In the process, she suffered a partial foot amputation undergoing six surgeries over the span of five months. </p><p>“Fortunately, the physiotherapist taught me to walk again just before graduation, so that I could walk over the stage by myself."</p><p>An eternal optimist, she is now focusing her research on sepsis, with the hope of making a significant contribution to the early diagnosing and detection of sepsis in the African and South African context. </p><p>The title of her dissertation is “Characterizing hemostatic and vascular blood parameters in systemic inflammatory processes during sepsis: a multidimensional analysis".<br></p><p>On the photo above, MSc student Fransisca Darkoh on the Stellenbosch University campus. <em>Photo: Wiida Fourie-Basson</em><br></p><p>​<br></p>
Science faculty bids farewell to first female dean in its history faculty bids farewell to first female dean in its history Wiida Fourie-Basson (Media: Faculty of Science)<p>​​In February 2014, Prof. Louise Warnich made history when she was appointed as the first female Dean of the Faculty of Science at Stellenbosch University.<br></p><p>For the past decade she was at the helm steering staff and students through the stormy waters of the COVID pandemic, the Fees-must-fall student protests, Day Zero and load shedding, as well as significant changes in the National Research Foundation's (NRF) funding model.</p><p>Looking back as her term comes to an end on 31 March 2024, she says she would never have considered applying for the position if she wasn't approached by colleagues in the science faculty. At the time, she was Vice-Dean and acting Dean in the Faculty of AgriSciences: “I then considered it a new challenge. I realised it offered new opportunities to play a role on a strategic level in the development of staff and students in the science faculty."</p><p>She says at the time the Faculty of Science was already making an excellent contribution to the University's teaching and research outputs: “However, I realised that we were too reliant on funding from the NRF and warned about it. Yet, when the funding model changed, it hit us even harder than expected, especially when combined with the coming to end of more than one South African research chair (SARCHi) and Centres of Excellence.</p><p>“Thankfully we came through this and other challenges because of the excellent cooperation of staff and students and their 'can-do' attitude," she adds.</p><p>Her advice for future deans?</p><p>That would be the same as that given by her mentor, the late Prof. Doug Rawlings, namely: “Appoint the right people, support them, and then leave them alone – they will thrive!"</p><p>She believes there are many more opportunities than challenges in the higher education sector: “There is so much that can be done, especially in South Africa and on this continent. We have unique opportunities and excellent people. But experience has taught me that few opportunities simply fall into one's lap. You must keep your eyes open, grab that opportunity when it comes along, and then work hard on its successful delivery."</p><p>Over the years, she followed this approach more than once. In cultivating a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, for example, the Faculty of Science currently leads the score board with the roll-out of nine spin-out companies since 2018 and a growing list of patents.</p><p>Realising the importance of the emerging field of bioinformatics in modern biology, she led the process to establish a Centre for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (CBCB). With the status of an academic department, the CBCB's work now successfully spans over three faculties.</p><p>In spite of many challenges, the faculty has maintained a fairly constant research output, delivering a record number of 68 PhD students in 2019. In 2022, the first structured MSc in Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence was established in the Applied Mathematics Division. In the spirit of continuous programme renewal and addressing the needs of the job market, new undergraduate focus areas in the fields of applied medicinal chemistry, biomathematics, and biomedical mathematical sciences were introduced, as well as a BSc in Computer Science and the interdisciplinary Bachelor of Data Science degree.</p><p>Prof. Warnich also prides herself on having made a number of excellent appointments and some progress with diversity. The number of female academics has increased from 20% in 2015 to 41% in 2023, including the first Black and Coloured female professors.</p><p>Other highlights include closer relations with the Natural Science Student Committee, the promotion of science communication through initiatives such as the Stellenbosch Science Café, as well as a centenary gala in 2018 to celebrate and launch the coffee-table book, <em>A Particular Frame of Mind: Faculty of Science, Stellenbosch University, 1918-2018</em>, covering a hundred years of natural sciences at SU. </p><p>In her first presentation to the Faculty Board meeting in 2013, she showed an image of a snow avalanche, indicative of the potential of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) to disrupt the very essence of universities. “Ten years later, we know that while MOOCs have a place in higher education, the predicted disruption did not come about. Artificial intelligence now presents a similar challenge, but I am positive about the contribution AI can make to higher education without necessarily disrupting everything. Only time will tell!"</p><p>In the end, it requires “clear leadership, a platform for excellence and an innovative approach to challenges and opportunities if you want to remain at the helm of this faculty", she concludes.</p><p>Having worked with Prof. Warnich over the past decade as Vice-Dean: Teaching and Learning, Prof. Ingrid Rewitzky says her participatory management style helped navigate many a tumultuous phase: “Her honesty, fairness, compassion, loyalty and passion for her work has been a strength throughout her tenure and instilled trust among her colleagues. On behalf of the Faculty of Science, I would like to express our gratitude for her significant contribution to leading the growth and development of staff and students, and for leading the faculty to greater heights despite challenges beyond our control."</p><p>Prof. Sibusiso Moyo, Deputy Vice Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies, says while she has been working with Prof. Warnich only since September 2022, they have tackled major projects and national initiatives. This includes realising the establishment of the National Institute for Theoretical and Computational Science at SU, as well as the German Research Chair programme together with the Africa Institute for Mathematical Sciences (supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research).</p><p>“Indeed, the Faculty of Science is one of the most active in terms of innovation and entrepreneurship," she adds.</p><p>Prof. Warnich willnow  return to her academic home in the Faculty of AgriSciences, where she will tackle special projects across faculties, such as training for new heads of departments, revision of practicals in the biological sciences and much more. </p><p>Last, but not least, she hopes to leave a legacy in the form of the Catalyst Fund for Science to support postgraduate students. While there is currently R13 million in the fund, the first bursaries can only be awarded when it reaches R40 million – <a href="/english/faculty/science/donate#:~:text=Through%20the%20Catalyst%20Fund%20we,South%20Africa%20and%20the%20world.">Click here</a> if you would like to make a contribution towards that goal.</p><p>Hopefully this hard-working dean will now spend less time behind her desk and more time on hobbies such as long hikes in nature and travelling.</p><p>Wishing her the very best in her new endeavours and in the journey forward.<br></p><p>​<br></p>
SU’s Faculty of Science awards four joint international degrees’s Faculty of Science awards four joint international degreesWiida Fourie-Basson (Media: Faculty of Science)<p>​​Stellenbosch University's Faculty of Science this week awarded four joint PhD degrees with universities in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy in the fields of chemistry, physics, microbiology, and zoology.<br></p><p>A joint degree means that the students were co-supervised by a researcher from both universities, spending time at each institution to work on their research. Based on an agreement between the two universities, the degree is then awarded by both institutions.</p><p>Dr Dina Miora was awarded a PhD in physics from SU and the Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena, Germany; Dr Wessel Myburgh a PhD in microbiology from SU and the University of Padova, Italy; Dr Gestél Kuyler a PhD in polymer science and molecular pharmacology from SU and Coventry University in the United Kingdom; and Dr Laurie Araspin a PhD in Botany and Zoology from SU and the <em>Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle</em> (MNHN) in France.</p><p>Altogether 37 PhD, 75 MSc, and nine BScHonours degrees were awarded at the graduation ceremony on 26 March 2024 at the Coetzenburg Centre in Stellenbosch.<br></p><p>Myburgh says his research benefited immensely from the international exposure: “The expertise of the two groups complemented each other perfectly. In my case, Prof. Lorenzo Favaro's research group has experience in converting waste to energy using microbial technologies based on anaerobic digestion. They also have a wealth of knowledge in bioplastic production. Both these fields were lacking in our group. We, on the other hand, have a very strong background in recombinant yeast expression systems for fungal hydrolase production. I would not have been able to make so much progress in my PhD if it was done at either of the institutions alone."</p><p>Kuyler says her experience was both transformative and challenging: “Pursuing a dual-award PhD with the goal of bridging the disciplines of Polymer Science and Molecular Pharmacology was a daunting task, especially considering my limited prior knowledge in the latter. I am immensely thankful for this invaluable opportunity that has enabled me to expand my knowledge and develop into a versatile, multidisciplinary scientist."</p><p>Araspin's study leader, Prof. John Measey, says the joint degree came about as an extension of an ongoing collaboration between himself and Dr Anthony Harrell at the MNHN in France: “We were interested in finding out extreme differences between populations of frogs that live natively in South Africa and invasive populations in France. The biggest advantage was certainly for the student to have spent time in both countries, working on a topic important to both countries." Measey is a senior researcher at the Centre for Invasion Biology at SU.</p><p>Miora, who is also an alumnus of the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar, says the experience in Germany gave her the opportunity to work in an advanced and fully equipped laboratory: “It was rather quick to fix any work-related problems given the extensive human and materials resources at hand. At SU, each student project is quite different, even though we are all working in photonics. While it takes longer to solve an issue, because only my supervisor fully understands the problem, it also provides us with valuable skills to solve most problems by ourselves. In the end, being able to both work in a team and independently are valuable career skills," she says.</p><p>Despite having to cope with new languages and cultures, as well as the significant additional administrative burden of navigating the systems and requirements of another university, the students agree that it was a worthwhile and life-changing experience. </p><p>Prof. Louise Warnich, Dean of the Faculty of Science at SU, says international partnerships and joint degrees are very important for a research-intensive faculty: “It strengthens our ability to tackle important issues by joining forces with international specialists. It also offers an opportunity for our PhD students to become part of international networks early in their careers, and to gain access to specialist knowledge and facilities."</p><p>Both Kuyler and Myburgh's research also led to the registration of international patents and the establishment of spin-out companies <a href="">Nanosene</a> and <a href="">Urobo Biotech</a>. Miora is currently a postdoctoral fellow and image analyst at the Medical Research Council (MRC) <a href="">Laboratory of Molecular Biology</a> (LMB) in Cambridge, England.<br></p><p>On the photo above, from left to right, Dr Gestél Kuyler, Dr Wessel Myburgh, and Dr Dina Miora. <em>Pho</em><em>to: Stefan Els</em><br></p><p>​<br></p>
From Madagascar to the world with a PhD in physics Madagascar to the world with a PhD in physicsWiida Fourie-Basson (Media: Faculty of Science)<p>​​​Hailing from a rural village in Madagascar, Dr Dina Miora's academic journey has taken her to South Africa and Germany and today she is employed as a postdoctoral scientist and image analyst at the Medical Research Council (MRC) <a href="">Laboratory of Molecular Biology</a> (LMB) in Cambridge, England.</p><p>When she walks over the stage to be capped with a PhD in Physics from Stellenbosch University (SU) and the Friedrich-Schiller University Jena during SU's March graduation ceremony, she has literally and figuratively navigated a long journey marked by overcoming more than one cultural and language barrier, as well as the occasional bouts of home sickness. </p><p>But despite these challenges, during her postgraduate studies she also established a non-profit organisation called <a href="">Itatra</a> with the aim of providing “a better and equal education for all" in Madagascar. According to recent surveys, the number of high school learners majoring in physics, chemistry, and mathematics in Madagascar have dropped from 11% to only 5% between 2007 and 2017. Moreover, the field of optics, her speciality, is not offered at higher education institutions or only offered as a minor subject. 'Itatra' is the Malagasy word for expansion.</p><p>In 2022 she organised a two-week outreach initiative called “Vision" to three high schools in rural Madagascar with the goal of helping learners to see and understand the world through a lens. Supported by funding from <a href="">SPIE</a> (the international society for optics and photonics) learners also received diffraction glasses, as well as fun activities with modular optics <a href="">educational kits</a> from <a href="">OpenUC2</a>. In 2023 she again reached out to the same schools with a <a href="">photo contest</a> to celebrate the International Day of Light. </p><p><strong>From Madagascar to South Africa and the world</strong></p><p>Dina grew up in the rural village Fenoarivo-Be, about 180km from the capital Antananarivo, from where she went on to study mathematics at the University of Antananarivo.</p><p>A lecturer introduced her to the opportunities offered by the <a href="">African Institute for Mathematical Sciences</a> (AIMS) in Muizenberg, South Africa. AIMS is a pan-African network of Centres of Excellence for postgraduate training in the mathematical sciences. </p><p>Participating in AIMS' structured master's programme in 2016, she was introduced to laser physics when she chose to pursue a physics-related project to localise single fluorescent molecules moving in time in noisy images. remove noise from microscopic images. Under the guidance of her study leaders, emeritus professor Erich Rohwer and Dr Gurthwin Bosman at SU's <a href="">Department of Physics</a>, she then obtained an AIMS/DAAD bursary to pursue an MSc in laser physics. Her project focused on the development of microscopical techniques to determine the 3D position and orientation of single molecules.  </p><p>During this time, she met Prof. Rainer Heintzman, head of the <a href="">Department of Microscopy</a> at the Leibnitz Institute of Photonic Technology in Germany, during a workshop of the <a href="">African Laser Centre</a>. According to Dr Bosman, he was so impressed with her work that they started talking about a possible cotutelle for her PhD – this is when a student is jointly enrolled at two universities and spends time at each university. </p><p>At the time, Dina says, the exposure was intense: “Prof. Heintzman was so knowledgeable, and I felt as if I knew nothing. At the same time the meeting made me gain a totally new perspective of the importance of my research."</p><p>For her PhD research, Dina developed new techniques to optimise the modelling of optical systems in order to improve the quality of microscopic images. To achieve that, one requires simulation techniques that are sensitive to images that may be distorted.</p><p>Dr Bosman explains: “An image is like a painting, and if one can determine well enough the width and thickness of the paint brush, then you can mathematically eliminate the impact of finite width and thickness and thereby retrieve a high quality and more accurate painting."</p><p>For her work at the MRC's Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge, she is involved with both research and hands-on projects: “We are currently working with a research group at the University of Cambridge that has developed a software code for tracking single molecules. My task now is to test the efficiency and accuracy of their software," she explains.</p><p>As image analyst, she also handles requests from biologists about image processing and analysis: “They take images of their samples with microscopes, and our task is to help them extract the information that they need from these images." </p><p>For overcoming the language barrier in her field of research, Dina says it helped to avoid Google translate as much as possible: “With research and studies, the language is quite standardised. I found it more effective in the long run to look for the definition of a difficult word in the same language, rather than falling back on Google translate." </p><p>Verbal communication in social situations was, however, a different matter: “I had to learn to be more observant and to understand the context and the culture. It really helped being in a community of people with similar interests and values because it provided a safe zone to practice the new language and immerse yourself in another culture."</p><p>She plans to continue her <a href="">outreach activities</a> to promote physics, chemistry, and optics at high schools in Madagascar: “I believe that education plays an important role in the development of my country. I will continue my outreach activities wherever in the world I find myself. If I happen to stay outside of Africa, I will like it if I can come back from time to time to give training on image processing and analysis," she concludes.</p><p><strong>On the photo above: </strong>Dr Dina Miora at the custom-built microscope set-up in the Department of Physics at Stellenbosch University. <em>Photo: Stefan Els</em></p><p><br></p>
New ecoregion recognised in Malawi and Mozambique ecoregion recognised in Malawi and MozambiqueFaculty of Science (media & communication)<p>​A freshwater crab specialist from Stellenbosch University, Prof. Savel Daniels, was one of nearly 100 specialists from around the world whose research contributed to the recognition of a new ecoregion – the South East Africa Montane Archipelago (SEAMA) – stretching across northern Mozambique to Mount Mulanje in Malawi.</p><p>According to a press release issued by Oxford Brookes University in the United Kimgdom, the announcement is the result of two decades of biological surveys and over 30 scientific expeditions, unearthing a wealth of previously undocumented biodiversity. The results were recently published in the Nature journal, <a href="">Scientific Reports</a>.</p><p>The new ecoregion encompasses 30 granitic 'inselbergs' – so called by early German explorers because these mountains rise like little “islands" above the surrounding landscape (all more than 1 000 metres above sea level). All of these “islands in the sky" are covered by biologically unique montane grasslands and ancient forests, remnants of the pan-Africa forests which covered these regions millions of years ago.<br></p><p>The team of international researchers so far identified large numbers of endemic plants and insects – this means they occur only here and nowhere else on Earth. This includes 127 plants, 45 vertebrates (amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals) and 45 invertebrate species (butterflies, freshwater crabs), and two endemic genera of plants and reptiles.<br></p><p>According to Daniels he identified six strictly endemic freshwater crab species to the SEAMA ecoregion, two of which are still undescribed species. <br></p><p>Read the full press release below:<br></p><h1>Press Release</h1><p><strong>Scientists find hundreds of unique species in Africa's newest and most threatened ecoregion</strong></p><p>After two decades of biological surveys and over 30 scientific expeditions, groundbreaking research in southern Africa has unearthed a wealth of previously undocumented biodiversity in a newly recognised ecoregion. <br></p><p>The research has involved around 100 specialists from around the world, the results of which are now published in the <a href="">Nature journal, Scientific Reports</a>.</p><p>The findings are so significant that scientists from across the world have officially proposed the area as a new ecoregion - the South East Africa Montane Archipelago (SEAMA). The mountains stretch across northern Mozambique to Mount Mulanje in Malawi, southern Africa's second highest mountain. <br></p><p>Led by Professor Julian Bayliss, a Visiting Professor at <a href="">Oxford Brookes </a><a href="">University</a> who also works for the National Network for Community Management of Natural Resources (ReGECom) in  Mozambique, the study documents 127 plant species, and 90 species of amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, butterflies, and freshwater crabs, all of which are endemic (found nowhere else on Earth). </p><p>The mountains were formed hundreds of millions of years ago, and host both the largest (Mount Mabu) and the smallest (Mount Lico) mid-elevation rainforests in southern Africa, as well as biologically unique montane grasslands.<br></p><p>According to Professor Bayliss, the study's lead author: “Ecological regions (ecoregions) are widely used to inform global conservation priorities. They define large expanses of land or water, characterised by geographically distinct assemblages of animals and plants. New ecoregion definitions are rare, and typically follow many years of research across a range of scientific disciplines.<br></p><p>“It took decades of international collaboration to gather sufficient evidence to define the ecoregion. We documented hundreds of previously undescribed species, and researched the geology, climate, and genetic history of the ecosystems, to piece together what makes these mountains so unique. This new ecoregion will create an important platform from which to develop regional conservation initiatives".<br></p><p>Dr Harith Farooq, a biologist from the University of Lúrio in Mozambique and co-author of the study, said that more species remain to be discovered. He explained: “The ecoregion is fragmented across small isolated pockets of rainforest, montane grasslands and shrublands, each with their own unique, but distantly related, plants and animals. There is so much more to discover, but many of these species may go extinct before we can record them."<br></p><p>Despite being globally significant for biodiversity, the ecoregion is under severe threat. Since the scientists started their surveys around 20 years ago, the mountains have lost a fifth of their rainforest extent, nearly half in some cases - one of the highest deforestation rates in Africa. Such sites of high biodiversity and natural wilderness are increasingly rare and threatened globally.<br></p><p>Some of the forests, like <a href="">Mount Mabu</a>, are effectively protected by local communities. Others, such as <a href="">Mount Lico</a>, are too inaccessible to face any real threat. The majority lack any kind of formal protection and are <a href="">under pressure</a> from slash and burn agriculture, hunting and demands for fuel and timber.</p><p>“Our study highlights the need to protect this unique, rather understudied, ecoregion," commented Dr Gabriela Bittencourt, a co-author, and Postdoctoral Researcher at the Natural History Museum, London. "Encouraging conservation of the South East Africa Montane Archipelago is paramount as it's clear we've only begun to scratch the surface of what we can learn about this diverse region as well as consider how these learnings can be applied to global biodiversity conservation efforts."<br></p><p>Jose Monteiro, Director of ReGeCom in Mozambique and co-author, said: “This is the start of a new chapter. A real effort is now required to reduce the threats to this mountain ecoregion and to effectively engage communities in leading conservation efforts, similar to the work at Mt Mabu." <br></p><p>Dr Phil Platts, Director at BeZero Carbon, a carbon ratings agency which aims to help organisations make better climate decisions and senior author of the paper, said: “These ecosystems lock up carbon, regulate water flows, and are globally unique in the species that live there. Channelling national and international finance, to support local communities in protecting the climate and other benefits of the ecoregion, would benefit everyone." <br></p><p>Dr Paul Smith, Secretary General of Botanic Gardens and Conservation International and a co-author of the paper said: “The biodiversity of the SEAMA montane archipelago is of global importance, and our hope is that this publication will help to precipitate international support for conservation in the region."<br></p><p>Dr Zacharia Magombo, acting Director General of the National Herbarium and Botanic Gardens in Malawi and co-author, said: “As the ecoregion straddles the border between Mozambique and Malawi it also creates a trans-boundary region, which opens the doors to transboundary conservation initiatives between the two countries." <br></p><p>Carl Bruessow, Director of the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust in Malawi and co-author, said: “The new SEAMA ecoregion will catalyse a renewed Malawi and Mozambican conservation commitment."  </p><p>Dr Hermenegildo Matimele, a conservation scientist from the National Herbarium of Mozambique and co-author, commented: “The distribution of biodiversity transcends political boundaries. Therefore, conservation initiatives that capture the natural patterns of biodiversity will be more effective than those that restrict its potential through man-made borders. SEAMA aims to foster engagement between nations to work closely towards a common conservation goal in an effective manner."<br></p><p><strong>Ends</strong></p><p><strong>Notes to Editors: </strong></p><ol style="list-style-type:decimal;"><li>See the One Earth website for further information on <a href="">ecoregions </a></li><li>Photographs available on request<br></li></ol>
Department of Soil Science excels at Combined Congress 2024 of Soil Science excels at Combined Congress 2024AG Hardie-Pieters<p>​​Eight members of the Department of Soil Science attended the Combined Congress 2024 of the Soil and Crop Science Societies of South Africa held at Wilderness Hotel on 23-25 January 2024. Two of our postgraduate students received Soil Science Society of South Africa (SSSSA) awards for their research papers presented at the Congress. Ms Teneille Nel received the SSSSA award for Best Paper presented by a Researcher Younger than 30 years for her paper entitled: “Oxalate salt concentrations of vegetation and termite frass in the greater Cape floristic region of South Africa”. Ms Marina du Plessis received the SSSSA award for Best Poster entitled: “Effect of gypsum source and form on soil chemical properties and early canola (brassica napus) growth in an acidic sandy soil”. Mr Dawid du Toit, Prof PA Swanepoel and Dr AG Hardie received the SASCP award for Best Scientific Paper published in the SA Journal of Plant and Soil in 2022 for: “DU TOIT DJJ, SWANEPOEL PA, HARDIE AG (2022). Effect of lime source, fineness and granulation on neutralisation of soil pH. South African Journal of Plant and Soil 2022; 39(3):1-12.” Well done to all our staff and students!​<br></p>
African scientists secure major grants to accelerate drug discovery scientists secure major grants to accelerate drug discoveryWiida Fourie-Basson (Media: Faculty of Science)<p><span style="text-align:justify;">​​A network of world-class scientists across Africa has entered the global drug discovery arena following a US$7.2 million joint investment by the medical research charity </span><a href="" style="text-align:justify;">LifeArc</a><span style="text-align:justify;"> and the </span><a href="" style="text-align:justify;">Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation</a><span style="text-align:justify;"> in the Grand Challenges Africa Drug Discovery Accelerator (GC ADDA) programme.</span><br></p><p style="text-align:justify;"><a href="">Grand Challenges</a> is a family of initiatives fostering innovation to solve key global health and development problems.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">GC ADDA will leverage US$4.7 million (about R85 million) of the funding to develop new drugs in the fight against malaria and Tuberculosis (TB) – two of the top killers that disproportionally affect Africans – by supporting two teams led by scientists from the Universities of Ghana (UG) and Pretoria (UP) and Stellenbosch University (SU).</p><p style="text-align:justify;">While African countries have made remarkable progress in the fight against malaria and TB, the continent still bears the brunt of infectious diseases burden, with these two age-old diseases killing almost one million people on the continent each year. According to the World Health Organisation, of these, about 600 000 deaths are due to <a href="">malaria</a> and 400 000 due to <a href="">Tuberculosis</a>. The continued development of treatment-resistant forms of these diseases means that there is a critical need for innovative tools to eliminate them. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">GC ADDA has two main objectives: to support exciting drug discovery projects in Africa and create a project-driven virtual African drug discovery network that advances Global Health. GC ADDA brings together and leverages on partnerships that support strategic and scientific leadership.</p><p style="text-align:justify;"><strong>Leading research efforts on malaria and TB in Africa</strong></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Leading the drive to deliver novel malaria drug candidates are <a href="">Dr Richard Amewu</a>, head of the Drug Innovations Group at the University of Ghana, and <a href="">Prof. Lyn-Marié Birkholtz</a> from the University of Pretoria <a href="">Institute for Sustainable Malaria Control</a> (UP ISMC) in South Africa. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Prof. Birkholtz says the need for antimalarial drugs in Africa is critical since malaria cases are increasing. “We have to propel existing discoveries forward by building on our existing capacity and expertise."</p><p style="text-align:justify;">According to Dr Amewu, this funding will support ongoing efforts by African scientist in contributing to the global efforts to address this problem," he says. These efforts will expand the capabilities on the content and build on the leading contributions in drug discovery that stemmed from the <a href="">Holistic Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3D)</a> based at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">The network of scientists working on malaria also includes <a href="">Prof. Fabrice Boyom</a> at the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon; <a href="">Prof. Amanda Rousseau</a> at the University of the Witwatersrand; <a href="">Dr Winston Nxumalo</a> from the University of Limpopo; <a href="">Prof. Laurent Dembele</a> and <a href="">Dr Dinkorma Ouloguem</a> from the Université des Sciences, des Techniques et des Technologies de Bamako in Mali. They will interact closely with experts from the University of Dundee's <a href="">Drug Discovery Unit</a> in Scotland, the biotech company <a href="">Lgenia</a> (USA), <a href="">the Malaria Drug Accelerator</a>, and the <a href="">Medicines for Malaria Venture</a> (MMV) as well as the H3D.  </p><p style="text-align:justify;">In reaction to the announcement, Dr James Duffy, senior director of drug discovery at MMV, said it is going to be a game changer for African scientists and drug development on the continent: “A unique environment and opportunity has been created where world-class scientists from disease endemic countries can collaborate to discover new drugs to address unmet patient needs on their doorstep."</p><p style="text-align:justify;">In the fight against multi-drug resistant TB, the effort will be led by <a href="/english/faculty/science/biochemistry/research/strauss-group">Prof. Erick Strauss</a> from the <a href="/english/faculty/science/biochemistry/research/strauss-group">Department of Biochemistry</a> at Stellenbosch University (SU), in partnership with <a href="">Dr Gabriel Mashabela</a> at the South African Medical Research Centre for TB Research, (also at SU), and teams led by <a href="">Prof. Adrienne Edkins</a> at Rhodes University and by <a href="">Prof. Rajshekar Kapoormath</a> at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, as well as <a href="">Dr Elizabeth Kigondu</a> and <a href="">Dr Edwin Murungi</a> at the Kenya Medical Research Institute. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">According to Prof. Strauss, the aim is to pursue new, previously unexplored avenues for discovering effective treatments against TB. These efforts will complement the many existing drug development efforts led by other international consortia, such as the <a href="">Tuberculosis Drug Discovery Accelerator (TBDA)</a>. </p><p style="text-align:justify;"><a href="">Dr Clif Barry</a>, chief of the Tuberculosis Research Section at the National Institutes of Health in the United States, says TB and especially multidrug-resistant TB, continue to be a significant health burden in African countries: “It is only fitting that an investment of this scale should be made to support scientists on the continent who are working to develop new antituberculosis treatments." </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Both the malaria and TB projects will be supported by the Pan Africa DMPK (Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics) Centre of Excellence led by Professor Collen Masimirembwa, <a href="">African Institute of Biomedical Science and Technology (AiBST) </a>in Zimbabwe, and a funded member of the GC ADDA. The remainder of the funding will go to <a href="">Dr Fidele Ntie-Kang</a> from the University of Buea in Cameroon. He will be creating a set of 400 natural products found in Africa for screening against a range of diseases, including TB and malaria.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">H3D director <a href="">Prof. Kelly Chibale</a> said the grant is a major leap forward towards building a critical mass of scientists fighting these diseases on the African continent. H3D plays a leading role along with <a href="">H3D Foundation</a> and <a href="">Science for Africa Foundation</a> in the <a href="">Grand Challenges Africa (GC Africa)</a> initiative.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Prof. Sibusiso Moyo, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation, and Postgraduate Studies at SU, said the three universities have a long history of collaboration through the African Research University Alliance (ARUA) together with other African partners: “I want to congratulate the lead scientists for successfully securing the grant and demonstrating the role that universities can play in innovation and accelerating drug discovery."</p><p style="text-align:justify;"><strong>Background for editors</strong></p><p style="text-align:justify;"><strong>What is Malaria?</strong></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Malaria is a disease caused by parasites (<em>Plasmodium</em>) that can infect people after being bitten by an <em>Anopheles</em> mosquito that carries these parasites. Symptoms occur about two weeks after a person is bitten. In Africa, however, people can get bitten tens of times a night, thereby significantly increasing the risk of malaria disease. Moreover, the most lethal form of the parasite (<em>Plasmodium falciparum</em>) occurs in Africa. If treatment is left too late, it can cause death within 24 hours. Unfortunately, both the parasite and the mosquito have adapted to current control tools by developing resistance and the mosquito even changing its behavior. This makes control of the disease very difficult. New antimalarials must be developed continuously to prevent the disease, save lives, and stop the spread of the parasite. </p><p style="text-align:justify;"><strong>What is Tuberculosis?</strong></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by a bacterium (<em>Mycobacterium tuberculosis</em>) that is typically spread by the cough of infected individuals, releasing droplets containing the bacteria in the air. Once infected, the bacterium can remain dormant in carriers for years, causing no active disease symptoms. However, prior infection with HIV predisposes individuals to the disease to progress to lung-based TB. In such populations, the prevalence is nearly double that in those living without HIV. South Africa currently has one of the highest prevalence rates of TB infection, with almost 1 in every 100 of the population infected. While TB is treatable with a course of antibiotics, the standard course of treatment lasts for six months. The high disease burden, coupled with the difficulty many people face in completing treatment, has led to the development of new forms of TB that are resistant to nearly all forms of currently available treatments.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;"><em style="text-align:justify;">On the photo above, from left to right: Prof. Erick Strauss, Prof. Lyn-Marié Birkholtz, and Dr. Richard Amewu. Photo: Stefan Els</em><br></p><p>​<br></p>
CHPC/NITheCS Coding Summer School unlocks ‘a realm of possibilities’ Coding Summer School unlocks ‘a realm of possibilities’NITheCS (media and communication)<p>​From discovering a secret weapon to newly found superpowers, liberating and a game-changer. This is how students who attended the recent Coding Summer School described their introduction to programming languages such as Python, Gitbash and Spyder.<br></p><p>The <a href="">14th annual Coding Summer School</a>, hosted by the <a href="">Centre for High Performance Computing</a> (CHPC) and the <a href="">National Institute for Theoretical and Computational Sciences</a> (NITheCS) from 29 January to 9 February 2024, was attended by 580 students from more than 30 higher education institutions in South Africa and Kenya.</p><p>Mr Binjamin Barsch, Lead Software Engineer at the CHPC and lead coordinator for the Coding Summer School, said 297 of them qualified for a certificate – an increase of 18% from the previous year's number of graduates. </p><p>“It was great to see so many students participating. On our interactive communication medium on the Slack workspace, we had over 6500 messages posted throughout the two weeks," he said.</p><p>Barsch also provided some interesting statistics from this year's summer school: Of the 580 students attending 57% was male and 43% female, and 40% MSc students versus 25% PhD students. Most were from the fields of physics (21.6%), chemistry (17%), and biology (16.9%), followed by engineering (9.6%), environmental sciences and geography (9.5%) and the medical sciences (7.23%). </p><p>This year students from Northwest University's Vanderbijlpark Campus and Walter Sisulu University also joined for the first time. </p><p>Prof. Francesco Pettrucione, interim director of NITHeCS, said the growth of the school is a testament to the hard work of the champions and the keen interest of participants in pursuing excellence in their academic endeavours: “Looking ahead, we are committed to broadening the reach of the Coding Summer School. For the upcoming year, we aim to involve even more students from neighbouring countries, thereby fostering a richer, more diverse educational environment."</p><p>Thuthukile Khumalo, data analyst and part-time administrative assistant at NITheCS, says the success of the Coding Summer School depends largely on the support of the 45 champions at each of the participating institutions who organised venues, catering and handled registration. Some of them also gave lectures and presentations.</p><p>According to Barsch the Coding Summer School will continue in hybrid format. This means that students can attend the two-week long workshop online or in person at an institution of their choice where they then also have access to online lectures and in-person tutoring.</p><p>“The majority of the students found attending in-person to be more effective," he added.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">During week one participants learned the fundamentals of Python and data science to enable them to analyse and manipulate various datasets, including an introduction to Linux and Bash. Notes for these lectures were made available in isiXhosa, isiZulu, and Sepedi.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">During the second week they were introduced to the software solutions that they might need in their research, with examples ranging from machine learning to bioinformatics, the simulation of chemical systems and the application of Monte Carlo methods.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Below is a selection of quotes from the student's anonymous feedback:</p><ul><li>"Learning Python felt like unlocking a new realm of possibilities for my research. I'm excited to delve deeper into data manipulation and analysis using the skills gained in week 1."</li><li>"The introduction to bash scripting was a game-changer for me. It's like I found a secret weapon to tackle repetitive tasks efficiently in my work."</li><li>"Python and Gitbash have become my dynamic duo for data analysis. I can now navigate through datasets without the hassle of Excel, thanks to the coding summer school."</li><li>"The guest lectures provided insights that I could immediately share with fellow data science majors in the industry. The centralized learning approach made it all the more impactful."</li><li>"I never thought I'd appreciate plotting graphs in Python so much! It adds a creative dimension to data visualization that I was missing out on."</li><li>"The sessions on Linux and Github have expanded my toolkit for efficient research data processing. Now, I feel more comfortable and confident in managing my projects."</li><li>“Becoming comfortable with Bash and Spyder feels like gaining new superpowers. The integration with Gitbash has streamlined my file management, making my workflow smoother." </li><li>"The quizzes were a great touch. They challenged me to apply what I learned actively, reinforcing my understanding of Python and Gitbash commands."</li><li>"I used to rely heavily on Excel for data analysis, but now, after week 1, Python has become my go-to tool. The shift is not just practical; it's liberating."</li><li>"The coding summer school has turned me into a Python enthusiast. I can't wait to implement what I've learned, especially in the upcoming Streamlit project. Python/Bash is, indeed, awesome!"</li></ul><p style="text-align:justify;">The 15th Coding Summer School will take place again next year, same date and same format. Click here for the NITheCS weekly calendar to stay up to date with training and other public events - <a href="">NITheCS calendar: 26 Feb-3 Mar 2024 (</a> </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Click here for a YouTube video with images of participants from the various campuses - <a href="">Coding Summer School 2024 (</a><br></p><p>​<br></p>
The 400-year-old story of oaks: from cultural icons to invaders and victims 400-year-old story of oaks: from cultural icons to invaders and victimsFaculty of Science (media and communication)<p><span style="text-align:justify;">The</span><span style="text-align:justify;"> nearly 400-year-old history of oaks in South Africa may be coming to an end, forever changing the treescape of towns and cities such as Cape Town, George, Paarl, Stellenbosch and Swellendam.</span><br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">In a <a href="">research paper</a> published in the <em>South African Journal of Botany</em>, ecologists from the <a href="">Centre for Invasion Biology</a> (CIB) at Stellenbosch University's <a href="">School for Climate Studies</a>, traced the history of the introduction of the genus <em>Quercus</em> into South Africa, as well as its current status and the factors that are changing its distribution across our landscapes.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Christiaan Gildenhuys, a postgraduate student in SU's Department of Botany and Zoology and first author on the article, says the first written record of English oak (<em>Quercus robur</em>), dates to 1656, reportedly introduced under the authority of Jan van Riebeek himself: “Dozens of other oak species were introduced to the Cape of Good Hope by early Dutch settlers and the British colonial government. Many oaks were subsequently widely cultivated across the country and have since become one of the most widespread and recognised tree genera in South Africa today," he explains. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">But now the species may have arrived at a crossroads.     </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Gildenhuys found that three oak species – English oak, Pin oak,<em> </em>and Cork oak – have become invasive along riverbanks and the urban-wildland interface in Stellenbosch and Cape Town. These oaks do not cause major problems as invaders now but may do so in the future.     </p><p style="text-align:justify;">At the same time, many species (including the most widespread species, <em>Q. robur</em> or English oak) are highly susceptible to diseases and invasive beetles such as the <a href="/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=10438">polyphagous shot hole borer</a>: “Not only does this mean that many century-old oaks are at risk, but it also means that infected trees must be removed before the infestation spreads further," says Gildenhuys.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Prof. Dave Richardson, an ecologist at CIB and co-author, says the story of oaks in South Africa is a classic example of how global change is rapidly changing the roles and perspectives of species in urban areas.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">“We must accept that the potential impact of the polyphagous shot hole borer is a game changer. As a result of this invasion, the treescapes of many towns in South Africa are going to change rather radically. Landowners and authorities who may decide to replace infected <em>Q. robur</em> trees with less susceptible tree species must also consider the potential negative impacts of these species," he explains</p><p style="text-align:justify;">The ideal would be to replace the infected trees with indigenous species which are less susceptible to pests and diseases such as the PSHB. However, people's attachments to their oak-lined streets may inhibit replacement efforts and induce conflicts between management and stakeholders, he warns.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Prof. Guy Midgley, interim director of the School for Climate Studies, says trees make a vital contribution to lessening the impact of climate change by reducing heat stress in urban areas. On the other hand, the way thousands of diseased trees are disposed of may significantly impact carbon emissions. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Adding fuel to the fire is the debate about the cultural value of oaks in general. In one sector of South African society these centuries-old trees are celebrated as part of our cultural heritage. In another sector they are regarded as unwanted relics from a colonial past.</p><ul><li>​​​The article “<a href=""><em>The genus Quercus (Fagaceae) in South Africa: Introduction history, current status, and invasion ecology</em></a>" was authored by Christiaan Gildenhuys, Luke Potgieter and David Richardson and was published in the <em>South African Journal of Botany</em>.</li></ul><br> <strong>​​Interesting historical facts about oak trees in South Africa</strong><br><ul><li>1656: Earliest written record of <em>Quercus</em> species (<em>Q.robur</em>) in South Africa.</li><li>1795: Planting of historical oak avenue between Company Gardens and Parliament in Cape Town.</li><li>1868: First oaks planted in Potchefstroom.</li><li>1910: Planting of historical oak avenue in Potchefstroom (declared a national monument in 1977).</li><li>2012: First record of polyphagous shot hole borer in South Africa, reported from KwaZulu-Natal.</li></ul><br><strong>On the photo's above:​ </strong><em>Quercus robur </em>was first introduced into South Africa in 1656. Today it is one of the most widespread and recognised trees in the South African landscape, such as the centuries old oak trees lining the streets of Stellenbosch (also known as <em>Eikestad</em> or Oak City). But these centuries old trees are also the most susceptible to infections and pests such as the polyphagous shot hole borer. <em>Photos: Christiaan Gildenhuys</em><br><br> <br><b>Media enquiries</b><br><br>Christiaan Gildenhuys<br><br>E-mail:<br><br>Mobile: 079-0188751​<br><p>​<br></p>