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30 October 2020 | Story Leonie Bolleurs

The Department of Science and Technology has extended two of the National Research Foundation’s SARChI research chairs at the University of the Free State (UFS). 

The Research Chair in Diseases and Quality of Field Crops, together with the Research Chair in Vector-borne and Zoonotic Pathogens, have both been extended for another five years. 

Prof Maryke Labuschagne, currently Professor of Plant Breeding in the Department of Plant Sciences, is leading the chair on Diseases and Quality of Field Crops.

The Chair on Vector-borne and Zoonotic Pathogens is headed by Prof Felicity Burt from the Division of Virology in the Faculty of Health Sciences.

Prof Corli Witthuhn, Vice-Rector: Research, says it was the hard work and commitment of Profs Labuschagne and Burt that resulted in the extension of the SARChI research chairs. “They have excelled in terms of student supervision and publications in high-impact international journals.  They also serve as mentors for young academics, postdoctoral fellows, and colleagues through their passion for their different fields of interest.”

Prof Witthuhn believes that this extension of the two SARChI chairs speaks of the progress that the UFS has made in terms of developing itself as a research-led university. “We are proud of the two senior academics for their supervision, mentorship, and leadership and their contribution to building our reputation,” she says. 

Diseases and Quality of Field Crops

The focus of the research chair in Diseases and Quality of Field Crops is on advancing food security and nutrition in Africa and contributing to poverty reduction and achieving sustainability goals. 

Prof Labuschagne says despite recent advances, the headlines regarding hunger and food security remain alarming: one in nine people on earth will go to bed hungry every night. Globally, 800 million people do not have enough to eat to be healthy, and a third of all deaths among children under five in developing countries are linked to undernourishment. 

She believes the uniqueness and strength of the research chair lies in a two-pronged approach, namely the breeding of cereal crops for resistance to fungal diseases, and improving the quality of crops for processing and consumption, thus making an impact on food security in South Africa and the rest of Africa through this collaborative effort. 

She is confident that the extension of the research chair will allow them to continue and to expand their research, “which has built up a lot of momentum”.

Besides the 12 PhD and 8 MSc degrees they delivered in the first five years, they also contributed significant research outputs and cultivar releases. She adds that they would like to expand on the significant international collaboration they have established. 

Vector-borne and Zoonotic Pathogens

According to Prof Burt, the SARChI chair in Vector-borne and Zoonotic Pathogens builds on existing research strengths at the UFS and aims to contribute towards identifying and investigating medically significant arboviruses and zoonotic viruses in the country.
 
“To date, the research chair has facilitated progress towards establishing serosurveillance studies for various vector-borne viruses, specifically Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever virus, a tick-borne and zoonotic virus that causes severe disease with fatalities.”

The team of researchers operating within this research chair is currently also performing studies to determine the seroprevalence of severe acute respiratory coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in the Free State.

Prof Burt has always taken the importance of community engagement into account, and with the current pandemic, she believes that it is now more important than ever to increase public awareness of zoonotic diseases.

She emphasises that the majority of new and emerging viruses are zoonotic in origin and that the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic highlights the impact of an emerging zoonotic pathogen on society. Therefore, she feels that it is important to build capacity in this field and to focus research efforts on identifying and understanding where these pathogens cycle in nature, the potential for spill-over to humans, and what the drivers are for the emergence of these pathogens.

Prof Burt trusts that the renewal of the research chair will allow them to take advantage of the new biosafety laboratory that the UFS has invested in. “This will permit us to research pathogens that were previously excluded from our programme due to biosafety considerations.  The chair will furthermore contribute towards enhancing, strengthening, and developing research and knowledge in the field of epidemiology and pathogenesis of vector-borne and zoonotic viruses,” she says. 

News Archive

Enhancement of social justice focus at research colloquium
2010-10-07

At the third Education for Social Justice Research Colloquium the publication Praxis towards sustainable empowering learning environments in South were handed to Prof. Ezekiel Moraka, Vice-Rector: External Relations at the UFS. At this occasion were, from the left: Prof. Dennis Francis, Dean of the UFS Faculty of Education; Prof. Sechaba Mahlomaholo, Research Professor in the Faculty of Education Sciences at the North-West University; Prof. Moraka; and Dr Milton Nkoane, Senior Lecturer in the UFS Faculty of Education.
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs

 

This year, the University of the Free State (UFS) was the host for the Research Colloquium: Education for Social Justice for the very first time. It is the third time that this colloquium has been presented.

Prof. Ezekiel Moraka, Vice-Rector: External Relations at the UFS, opened the colloquium, stating that academics, through their research, are ultimately in a good standing to advise government on important issues such as social justice for them to address these issues accordingly.

Prof. Sechaba Mahlomaholo, Research Professor in the Faculty of Education Sciences at the North-West University, delivered the opening address on the theme: Validating community cultural wealth towards sustainable empowering learning environments for social justice. He said that the legacy of our recent past as South Africa still continues to haunt us, especially as exemplified in the dysfunctionalities that are rife in our education.

“With the colloquium we manage to bring together the ideas, thoughts, resources and efforts of educators and/or educationists concerned with the creation of a more equitable, equal, free, hopeful, peaceful and socially just society. Through our teaching, our community engagement and research activities we strive towards a more humane, caring, respecting and respectful South Africa and the world,” he said.

According to Prof. Mahlomaholo, education and its research are some of the most potent mechanisms at the very centre of social transformation. The papers at the colloquium focused on investigating, understanding and responding to issues of amongst others:

  • The medium of teaching and learning which continues to be a barrier to many learners to perform to the best of their abilities in the majority of the education institutions in South Africa;
  • Health, sexuality, HIV/Aids, stigmatisation and other deseases plaguing our communities currently;
  • Self-fulfilling prophecies and stereotypes about some learners not being as intelligent as the rest and this finally being reflected and confirmed in their poor academic achievements;
  • Differentiated levels of parental involvement in the activities of their children’s learning due to long absences from their families as they have to work in far-off places of employment;

Papers delivered at the colloquium moved beyond merely identifying the problems; they also suggested possible and plausible research-based solutions to these, such as integrating HIV/Aids education in curricula, listening to the aspirations of significant stakeholders such as mothers and parents generally in teaching and facilitating more rigorous community engagement practices.

At the colloquium gala dinner the book Praxis towards sustainable empowering learning environments in South Africa by authors Dr Milton Nkoane, Senior Lecturer in the UFS Faculty of Education, Prof. Mahlomaholo and Prof. Dennis Francis, Dean of the Faculty of Education at the UFS, was launched. The publication consists of a collection of the best peer-reviewed papers from a conference with the theme Creating sustainable empowering learning environments through scholarship of engagement. The main criterion for inclusion was that the paper should contribute to the theme by means of an original, tight, theoretical and empirical study conducted with the aim of informing the practice of creating sustainable empowering learning environments. The concrete cases examined in many of the chapters are very useful to helping readers understand the specific, on-the-ground concerns related to higher education and schools.

Media Release
Issued by: Leonie Bolleurs
Strategic Communication
Tel: 051 401 2707
Sel: 0836455853
Email: bolleursl@ufs.ac.za  
30 September 2010
 

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