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14 June 2018 Photo Supplied
Next Chapter Green Ribbon campaign addresses mental health
Members of Next Chapter and UFS Student counselling are working together to address mental health issues.

Next Chapter, a student support group at the UFS presented the Green Ribbon campaign, pledging their support to students and providing them with assistance in coping with life events that stimulate stress and contribute negatively to their mental health. The team aims to break the stigma surrounding mental health care, and continually assist students with mental health-related issues that they struggle with daily.

The Green Ribbon represents mental health awareness, which is a pressing matter for students and is the type of support students need in a stressful university environment. The campaign focuses on teaching students how to cope with life events that stimulate stress, and contribute negatively to their mental health.
 
A discussion by Dr Ancel George: practising clinical psychologist and lecturer from the UFS Department of Psychology, and Dr Mellissa Barnaschone: Director of UFS Student Counselling, took place, where talks were prominent about creating an inclusive environment for UFS students.

The panel shared a few tips on how students should work towards managing stress, and motivated them for the main mid-year examinations.
 
The follow-up Exam Cram Workshop, presented by Nadia Cloete and Lize Wolmarans, that combined time and stress management, took place on 2 June 2018, and saw students receiving advice on how to approach various issues during the examination period.
 
Mental health awareness does not end with the campaign and Next Chapter’s slogan “Your story continues” encourages students to regularly wear and commemorate the green ribbon in support of continual mental healthcare.
 
Should you have any enquiries or input for the ongoing campaign, contact the Next Chapter team on ufsnextchapter@gmail.com, or further email Tshepang Mahlatsi, founder of Next Chapter on tshepangmahlatsi767@gmail.com

News Archive

Research eradicates bacteria from avocado facility
2017-01-17

 Description: Listeria monocytogenes Tags: Listeria monocytogenes

Listeria monocytogenes as seen under an electron
microscope. The photo was taken with a transmission
electron microscope at the microscopy unit of the UFS.
Bacteriophages (lollipop-like structures) can be seen
next to the bacterial cells.
Photo: Supplied

“The aim of my project was to identify and characterise the contamination problem in an avocado-processing facility and then to find a solution,” said Dr Amy Strydom, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Microbial Biochemical and Food Biotechnology at the University of the Free State (UFS).

Her PhD, “Control of Listeria monocytogenes in an Avocado-processing Facility”, aimed to identify and characterise the contamination problem in a facility where avocados were processed into guacamole. Dr Strydom completed her MSc in food science in 2009 at Stellenbosch University and this was the catalyst for her starting her PhD in microbiology in 2012 at the UFS. The research was conducted over a period of four years and she graduated in 2016. The research project was funded by the National Research Foundation.

The opportunity to work closely with the food industry further motivated Dr Strydom to conduct her research. The research has made a significant contribution to a food producer (avocado facility) that will sell products that are not contaminated with any pathogens. The public will then buy food that is safe for human consumption.


What is Listeria monocytogenes?

Listeria monocytogenes is a food-borne pathogenic bacterium. When a food product is contaminated with L. monocytogenes, it will not be altered in ways that are obvious to the consumer, such as taste and smell. When ingested, however, it can cause a wide range of illnesses in people with impaired immune systems. “Risk groups include newborn babies, the elderly, and people suffering from diseases that weaken their immune systems,” Dr Strydom said. The processing adjustments based on her findings resulted in decreased numbers of Listeria in the facility.

The bacteria can also survive and grow at refrigeration temperatures, making them dangerous food pathogens, organisms which can cause illnesses [in humans]. Dr Strydom worked closely with the facility and developed an in-house monitoring system by means of which the facility could test their products and the processing environment. She also evaluated bacteriophages as a biological control agent in the processing facility. Bacteriophages are viruses that can only infect specific strains of bacteria. Despite bacteriophage products specifically intended for the use of controlling L. monocytogenes being commercially available in the food industry, Dr Strydom found that only 26% of the L. monocytogenes population in the facility was destroyed by the ListexP100TM product. “I concluded that the genetic diversity of the bacteria in the facility was too high and that the bacteriophages could not be used as a control measure. However, there is much we do not understand about bacteriophages, and with a few adjustments, we might be able to use them in the food industry.”

Microbiological and molecular characterisation of L. monocytogenes

The bacteria were isolated and purified using basic microbiological culturing. Characterisation was done based on specific genes present in the bacterial genome. “I amplified these genes with polymerase chain reaction (PCR), using various primers targeting these specific genes,” Dr Strydom said. Some amplification results were analysed with a subsequent restriction digestion where the genes were cut in specific areas with enzymes to create fragments. The lengths of these fragments can be used to differentiate between strains. “I also compared the whole genomes of some of the bacterial strains.” The bacteriophages were then isolated from waste water samples at the facility using the isolated bacterial strains. “However, I was not able to isolate a bacteriophage that could infect the bacteria in the facility.

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