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25 June 2019 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Barend Nagel
Marnus du Plooy
Marnus du Plooy, recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship, will depart for the Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, in August to complete a doctoral degree.

Marnus du Plooy will receive his master’s degree at the University of the Free State’s Winter Graduation Ceremony.

After completing his BSc degree in Microbiology, he discovered a passion for this field of research and enrolled for postgraduate studies in the Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology at the UFS.

During his master’s, Du Plooy focused on the pathogenic yeasts, Cryptococcus neoformans and a related species, C. deneoformans.

Passion for science instilled at a young age

His passion for this field comes from a young age. “Both my parents were Science teachers and they instilled a love for Science in me. At school, I enjoyed the Science subjects the most and usually obtained my highest marks in these,” Du Plooy said. 

The pathogenic yeasts studied by Du Plooy, Cryptococcus neoformans and the sister species, C. deneoformans, often cause meningitis in immunocompromised individuals, such as in people living with HIV/Aids.

He pointed out: “Infection caused by these yeasts is right on the heels of TB as the second largest killer of HIV-positive patients in sub-Saharan Africa. The focus of my master’s project was to investigate new ways in which genes can be ‘switched off’ in these yeasts in order to study the role of the genes in virulence. Doing so could help to identify new drug targets for the treatment of this form of meningitis in subsequent studies.”

Expanding his international footprint

Although Du Plooy received his master’s degree from the UFS, he grabbed the opportunity to study abroad with both hands. He applied for and received a Fulbright scholarship from the Fulbright Foreign Student Programme, giving him the opportunity to study in the US.

“I did not expect to get very far with the application, as very few candidates are selected each year. I was very lucky to receive a Fulbright scholarship and an admission offer from Duke University for PhD studies in Microbiology,” said Du Plooy.

He hopes to continue with research on Cryptococcus and to contribute to improving the lives of HIV/Aids patients. “I have always been interested in pharmaceutical and medical research and noticed a need for better cryptococcal treatments, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Cryptococcal meningitis is a neglected disease which claims more than 600 000 lives worldwide every year. The current treatment options are several decades old, with some only available in well-resourced areas.”

Du Plooy will depart for the US in August. “The duration of the degree is four to five years, where-after I will return to South Africa to apply what I have learned at home.”

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