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14 May 2019 | Story Thabo Kessah | Photo Tsepo Moeketsi
Prof Ashafa
Prof Ashafa’s research documents plants used by the Basotho in the management of different ailments.

The Phytomedicine and Phytopharmacology Research Programme (PPRP) in the Department of Plant Sciences on the Qwaqwa Campus researches the biological effects of medicinal plants used in the folkloric medicine of the Eastern Free State, particularly to explore the values and contribution of indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) towards broader scientific research. This is according to the programme’s principal investigator and researcher, NRF C2-rated researcher, Professor Anofi Ashafa. 

 “Our research is mainly aimed at documenting plants used by the Basotho in the management of different ailments and to further discover, isolate, and purify active phytoconstituents that are responsible for disease curation or amelioration, thereby assisting in the global promotion of accessible and affordable medication in developing countries,” said Prof Ashafa. 

Since 2012, the PPRP has worked extensively on Basotho medicinal plants (BMP) used as antimicrobials, antioxidants, antidiabetics, antitubercular, anticancer, anthelmintic, and antidiarrheal agents, starting from biological activities up to the  evaluation of the toxicity of these plants for the kidney, liver, and heart functions in order to establish safe dosage parameters. These activities have led to the discovery of four potent antidiabetic biomolecules that are awaiting the processes of patency and commercialisation. Additional outputs include 104 published peer-reviewed articles , 7 postdoctoral fellows, 6 PhDs, 9 master’s, and 16 honours graduates. 

“Our research informs teaching and the development of expertise in ethnobotany, 
phytomedicine, and phytopharmacology in order to contribute to the National Development Plan (NDP) through human capacity development, skills, and knowledge transfer.

The group is also investigating some medicinal plants on the endangered red list of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), through micropropagation and field trials as well as proposing conservation strategies to preserve these valuable species.

The PPRP consists of postdoctoral fellows, PhD, master’s, and honours students and research is done in collaboration with several local and international universities as well as the Agricultural Research Council of South Africa. 


News Archive

Researcher takes home gold at international Famelab competition
2017-06-26

Description: Famelab competition Tags: Famelab competition

UFS researcher nabbed a top international award for
her ground-breaking metallurgical research in the UK.
Photo: Supplied

Recently, University of the Free State (UFS) Centre for Environmental Management master’s student, Tshiamo Legoale, was announced the FameLab International champion at the Cheltenham Science Festival in the United Kingdom. She is probing methods to use wheat as a gold hyper-accumulator – or, as she puts it, “grow gold from wheat”. The young researcher made South Africa proud by winning both the audience’s and the judges’ vote.

Coming back home a hero
“Winning was a surprise to me, because all 31 contestants had wonderful research. They all had really good presentations. I’m very grateful for all the support that I received from home. Social media showed me a lot of love and support. When I felt unconfident, they gave me ‘likes’ and that boosted my confidence a bit,” said Legoale about her win.

As South Africa celebrates Youth Month in June, Tshiamo represents hope for thousands of young South Africans to overcome difficult circumstances and follow careers in science.

The human impact is crucial, because Legoale’s win is not only scientific. It is also social and political. As a young female scientist in South Africa, she represented one of three African countries making it to the finals of FameLab, which has grown to one of the largest science communication competitions internationally.

With this in mind, Legoale says it may, in the end, be necessary to balance the needs of communities with the desire to increase yield. “Are we looking to make a fortune or are we looking to put food on the table?” she asks. “These are all things we consider when we conduct such research.”

World-class research from Africa
In South Africa, an estimated 17.7 million tons of gold is wasted. “All this gold was mined out previously, but tiny amounts remain in the dumps,” Legoale explains.

Her research focuses on the uses of wheat as a gold hyper-accumulator, which essentially means wheat plants are used to harvest gold from mine dumps. Simply put, the wheat is planted in the dumps, where enzymes found in the roots react with the gold and the plant absorbs it. The gold is then absorbed by every part of the plant, except the seeds, which means the next harvest can be used for food if need be.

“South Africa's world-champion young scientist, Tshiamo, represents all that is good about this country – brilliant, bright, and set for a fine future. I'm so proud that British Council SA, together with our partners SAASTA and Jive Media Africa, can help her along the way. Huge congratulations to her from all of us – it is a big win for Africa on the world stage,” said Colm McGivern, British Council South Africa Country Director.

The research represents a win on multiple levels. First, there are the obvious potential socio-economic benefits: food production, job creation, and phytomining is more economical than other contemporary mining methods.

Then there is safety. It is a more environmentally friendly practice than methods like heap leaching, carbon-in-leach or carbon-in-pulp. It is also safer for miners themselves, who will not be exposed to dangerous chemicals like mercury, which has been responsible for a great deal of toxicity in mine dumps. And it is safer for those living in the surrounds.

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