Latest Happenings


JM Moloi

Dr MJ Moloi attended the 46th SAAB ANNUAL CONFERENCE, UFS Qwaqwa Campus, 7-10 January 2020.


UFS delegates that attended the 51st Congress of the Southern African Society for Plant Pathology

UFS delegates at the 51st Congress of the Southern African Society for Plant Pathology. From left to right: Wilku Meyer, Hancko Minnaar, Dr Gert Marais, Aphiwe Kozana, Conrad Achilonu, Prof Botma Visser, Jolene Coertzen, Prof Sakkie Pretorius, Nicola Theron, Cornel Bender, Prof Wijnand Swart, Lisa Rothman, Dr Willem Boshoff.

Thirteen staff members and students from the department of Plant Sciences recently attended the 51st Congress of the Southern African Society for Plant Pathology at Club Mykonos in Langebaan. In total, six papers and four posters were presented by the delegates. Prof Zakkie Pretorius was one of the invited keynote speakers, with the title “Are cereal rusts still important?” During the conference, many existing collaborations were strengthened.

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From left to right Prof Botma Visser, Prof Robert Park and Dr Willem Boshoff.

Professor Robert Park, Head of Cereal Rust Research at the Plant Breeding Institute (PBI) at the University of Sydney, visited Dr Willem Boshoff and Prof Botma Visser from the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of the Free State during October, 2019. Rust researchers at the two Institutions have been involved in many collaborative projects in the past and through this visit, these ties were strengthened. During his visit, he gave a talk entitled “Approaching 100 years of cereal rust research at the University of Sydney; lessons learnt and the way ahead”.

Over the past 31 years, Prof Park established a very successful cereal rust research program at the PBI and currently has 40 staff members under his supervision. His research mandate include the monitoring of several cereal rust populations in Australia, the development and release of rust resistant wheat, rye, oat and barley varieties and the cloning of rust resistance genes from these crops.

During his talk, Prof Park emphasised that while the continuous evolution of local rust races into more virulent races remains a problem in Australia, a bigger threat is the introduction of exotic rust isolates that are genetically distinct. Since it is often difficult to accurately determine the exact origin of these incursions, they often had a bigger impact on wheat production than the local races that mostly evolve through single step mutations. These new incursions often carry more complex virulence factor combinations than the local races, thereby simultaneously rendering many cultivars susceptible. Predicting the appearance of these exotic incursions and the virulence factors they might carry, is almost impossible when considering anticipatory resistance breeding strategies. New incursions may result from human interventions such as pathogen spores sticking to travellers’ clothes.

Prof Park stressed that understanding the genetics of both the pathogens (such as how a pathogen takes over the metabolic processes of its host) and their hosts is important to manage cereal rust pathogens. Despite many challenges, they have been fairly successful with breeding for rust resistance and he estimated that this saves AUD$ 1.04 billion per year through genetic resistance. The application of new technologies like “Pathogenomics” is improving the global surveillance of rusts and assists in unravelling the molecular basis of host pathogen interactions. Advances through resistance gene cloning provide high throughput diagnostic markers for gene pyramiding which further opens the possibility of cis- and transgenic approaches.

Prof Park concluded that “as researchers we must ensure the continued translation of research outputs to the field to help farmers.” It was a great pleasure to host Prof Park and we are looking forward to further collaborate with his group to the benefit of local farmers and consumers.

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Dr Willem Boshoff, Prof Liezel Herselman, Prof Maryke Labuschagne, Dr Brigitta Töth (postdoctoral fellow) and Yiguo Liu (Plant Breeding PhD student, next to his poster) from the Department of Plant Sciences attended the 1st International Wheat Congress in July 2019 in Saskatoon, Canada. They presented one oral and five posters presentations. More than 900 delegates from 50 countries attended this historical event.

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Dr Ntombokulunga Mbuma (left) with Ms Natalie Hofmann (right from SASRI) attended and presented at Australian Society of Sugar Cane Technologist conference in 2019, at university of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, in Australia.


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Third year Plant Breeding students visiting the Rascals Seed Research facility in Christiana, North West, September 2018

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Danette Strauss receiving her prize from Prof. Anna Moteete from UJ.

Five postgraduate students (Martin Chemonges, Ettienne Theron, Jacques van der Merwe, Danette Strauss and Stephanie MacDonald) from the Department of Plant Sciences recently competed in the annual post-graduate symposium of the Department of Botany and Plant Biotechnology at the University of Johannesburg. During the symposium, each student presented results of their respective research projects. While Martin was announced as the runner-up in the PhD category, Danette and Stephanie were respectively announced as the winner and runner-up of the BSc Honors category. The department is very proud of their achievements. Prof Botma Visser and Dr Andri van Aardt accompanied the students.

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Delegates that attended the 15th ICRPMC meeting in Skukuza.

Five personnel (Proff. Botma Visser, Sakkie Pretorius, Liezel Herselman, Dr. Willem Boshoff, Mrs. Cornel Bender) of the Department of Plant Sciences presented the International Cereal Rusts and Powdery Mildews Conference at the Nombolo Mdluli Conference centre in Skukuza, Kruger National Park from 23-26 September 2018. The conference which was presented under the auspices of the European and Mediterranean Cereal Rusts Foundation, attracted international delegates from as far as Canada and Australia. Besides the five personnel, three UFS post-graduate students (Ansori Mare, Howard Castelyn and Rinette Labuschagne) attended the conference. During the conference, new research on the epidemiology, population biology and management of the cereal rusts and powdery mildews, as well as the cloning of both plant disease resistance genes and pathogen avirulence genes were presented. Many current and proposed collaborative research projects between the UFS and international delegates were strengthened. Both Prof. Pretorius and Dr. Boshoff were included as co-authors on the winning poster of Jianping Zhang of the CSIRO in Australia. Besides the cutting-edge science that was presented, the game-viewing was also of the highest standard.

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The UFS delegation that attended the 9th BGRI Technical Workshop in Marrakech, Morocco. Fltr: Botma Visser, Willem Boshoff, Zakkie Pretorius, Tegwe Soko, Howard Castelyn, Martin Chemonges, Liezel Herselman

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The UFS delegation during a visit to the ICARDA Bouida experimental farm outside of Marrakech. Fltr: Botma Visser, Howard Castelyn, Willem Boshoff, Martin Chemonges, Zakkie Pretorius, Liezel Herselman.

Prof. Zakkie Pretorius, Liezel Herselman, Botma Visser and Dr. Willem Boshoff from the Department of Plant Sciences attended the 9th Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) Technical Workshop in Marrakech, Morocco from 14-17 April 2018. Howard Castelyn and Martin Chemonges, current PhD students, and Tegwe Soko, PhD student from Zimbabwe who will graduate in June, completed the Southern African delegation. The theme of the workshop was “Delivering genetic gain in wheat” and was attended by 333 delegates from 52 countries from around the world. Four poster presentations were made of which the “Innovative manufacturing of a cereal rust inoculation device” poster by Prof. Pretorius won the prize for best poster at the workshop while the “Gone with the wind: Revisiting stem rust dispersal between southern Africa and Australia” poster by Prof. Visser was announced as runner-up.

Plant Breeding students collecting Sclerotinia samples from diseased soybean fields near Luckhoff, Free State, March 2018.

Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences Open Day, May 2018. At the department of Plant Sciences, we recruit as early as possible.
Photo Top: Dr Andri van Aardt and a prospective botanist.
Photo bottom: Prospective Plant Breeder, Rickus Steyn

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Dr Ntombokulunga Mbuma (left) with Mr Julius Siwale (PhD student - right) attended and presented at South African Plant Breeders’ Association conference in 2018 held at Umhlanga Hotel in Durban. Dr Ntombokulunga Mbuma and Julius Siwale received SAPBA Student Award for the best oral and poster presentations, respectively. 

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Dr Ntombokulunga Mbuma (2nd person from the left), Prof Marvellous Zhou (3rd person from the left), and Ms Tondani Mishasha (PhD student- 2nd  person from the right) with other SASRI breeders attended and presented at South African Sugarcane Technologists’ Association congress held at ICC-Durban in 2018.

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Dr Ntombokulunga Mbuma (right) with COO of SASTA congress, Dr Sumita Ramgareeb (left). Dr Ntombokulunga Mbuma attended and presented at South African Sugarcane Technologists’ Association congress held at ICC-Durban in 2018 and received Student Award in Agriculture Section for the best paper oral presentation.


South African Sclerotinia Research Network: Project proposal meeting, September 2017, GrainSA, Pretoria. From left to right: Carmen Meyer (MSc Plant Breeding student), Dr Chrisna Steyn, Dr Adré Minnaar-Ontong.

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The UFS delegates attending the post-graduate symposium of the Dept. Botany and Plant Biotechnology University of Johannesburg, were (from left to right) Dinè Pretorius, Andri van Aardt, Marlese Bester, Ansori Maré, Botma Visser and Clausanne Esterhuizen.

Four post-graduate students from the Department of Plant Sciences recently attended the annual post-graduate symposium of the Department Botany and Plant Biotechnology, University of Johannesburg. The students were Ansori Maré (PhD), Marlese Bester (MSc), Clausanne Esterhuizen (BSc Honors) and Dinè Pretorius (BSc Honors). Prof Botma Visser and Dr Andri van Aardt accompanied them to the two-day event.

During the symposium, each student competed against their peers from UJ when each presented a 10-minute paper on their research results for their respective degrees. While all four students presented excellent papers (and received complements for it), Dinè Pretorius was awarded with the prize for the best BSc Honors presentation at the symposium. The title of her presentation was “Evaluation of sunflower as a potential soil rehabilitation crop” and the work was completed under the supervision of Dr Gerhard Potgieter. Congratulations Dinè!

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Dr Ntombokulunga Mbuma (left) with COO of SASTA congress, Dr Sumita Ramgareeb (right). Dr Ntombokulunga Mbuma attended and presented at South African Sugarcane Technologists’ Association congress held at ICC-Durban in 2017 and received Student Award in Agriculture Section for the best paper oral presentation.


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