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14 December 2020
Prof Abdon Atangana
Prof Abdon Atangana is known for his work in developing a new fractional operator used to model real-world problems arising in the fields of science, technology, and engineering. He was recently awarded the TWAS Mohammad A. Hamdan Award by The World Academy of Sciences.

Prof Abdon Atangana, Professor of Applied Mathematics in the Institute for Groundwater Studies at the University of the Free State (UFS), was awarded the TWAS Mohammad A. Hamdan Award by The World Academy of Sciences for the advancement of science in developing countries.

It is the first time that the TWAS Mohammad A. Hamdan Award was bestowed. According to a statement issued by TWAS, this award is given for outstanding mathematical work carried out by a scientist working and living in Africa or the Arab region. It states that the award can be given for work in pure mathematics, applied mathematics, probability, or statistics. Prof Atangana received the award for his contribution to fractal mathematics and partial differential equations.

Making a difference in society

He is known for his research in developing a new fractional operator, the Atangana-Baleanu operator, which is used to model real-world problems. With this operator, he not only describes the rate at which something will change, but also account for disrupting factors that will help to produce better projections.

His work can be applied to make complicated predictions in the fields of science, technology, and engineering. His models can, for instance, help to predict the spread of infectious diseases among people in a settlement, forecasting the number of people who will be infected each day, the number of people who will recover, and the number of people who will die.

Prof Atangana’s models can also help to advise people drilling for water by predicting how groundwater is flowing in a complex geological formation. These are only two examples of how his work can be applied to make a difference in society.

The award from TWAS is the third prestigious commendation he has received in the past month. He was recently named as one of the top 1% scientists on the global Clarivate Web of Science list. His name also appeared on a global list of leading scientists published by Stanford University in the United States. The list is the result of a study published in PLOS Biology, a peer-reviewed open-access journal.

World’s most accomplished scientists

Honours awarded by TWAS and its partners are among the most prestigious for research in the developing world. They recognise outstanding achievements and contributions to science and acknowledge the best work by scientists from the global South.

TWAS, founded in 1983 by a group of scientists under the leadership of Pakistani physicist and Nobel laureate, Abdus Salam, believes that developing nations – by growing strength in science and engineering – will be able to address challenges such as hunger, disease, and poverty, through their knowledge and skills.

TWAS is represented in 100 countries, and of the more than a thousand elected fellows, 14 are Nobel laureates. Eighty-four percent of these fellows are from developing nations. TWAS fellows are also some of the world’s most accomplished scientists.

News Archive

Research eradicates bacteria from avocado facility

 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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