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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

Africa's Black Rhino conservation strategy must change
2017-07-10

 Description: Black Rhino Tags: conservation strategy, black rhino, Nature Scientific Reports, National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, extinction, decline in genetic diversity, Prof Antoinette Kotze, Research and Scientific Services, Dr Desire Dalton 

The black rhino is on the brink of extinction. The study that was 
published in the Nature Scientific Reports reveals that the
species has lost an astonishing 69% of its genetic variation. 
Photo: iStock

The conservation strategy of the black rhino in Africa needs to change in order to protect the species from extinction, a group of international researchers has found. The study that was published in the Nature Scientific Reports reveals that the species has lost an astonishing 69% of its genetic variation. 

South African researchers took part 

The researchers, which included local researchers from the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (NZG), have highlighted the fact that this means the black rhino is on the brink of extinction. "We have found that there is a decline in genetic diversity, with 44 of 64 genetic lineages no longer existing," said Prof Antoinette Kotze, the Manager of Research and Scientific Services at the Zoo in Pretoria. She is also affiliate Professor in the Department of Genetics at the University of the Free State and has been involved in rhino research in South Africa since the early 2000s.  

DNA from museums and the wild 
The study compared DNA from specimens in museums around the world, which originated in the different regions of Africa, to the DNA of live wild animals. The DNA was extracted from the skin of museum specimen and from tissue and faecal samples from animals in the wild. The research used the mitochondrial genome.

"The rhino poaching ‘pandemic’
needs to be defeated, because
it puts further strain on the genetic
diversity of the black rhino.”


Ability to adapt 
Dr Desire Dalton, one of the collaborators in the paper and a senior researcher at the NZG, said the loss of genetic diversity may compromise the rhinos’ ability to adapt to climate change. The study further underlined that two distinct populations now exists on either side of the Zambezi River. Dr Dalton said these definite populations need to be managed separately in order to conserve their genetic diversity. The study found that although the data suggests that the future is bleak for the black rhinoceros, the researchers did identify populations of priority for conservation, which might offer a better chance of preventing the species from total extinction. However, it stressed that the rhino poaching ‘pandemic’ needs to be defeated, because it puts further strain on the genetic diversity of the black rhino. 

Extinct in many African countries 
The research report further said that black rhino had been hunted and poached to extinction in many parts of Africa, such as Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Sudan, and Ethiopia. These rhino are now only found in five African countries. They are Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Namibia, and South Africa, where the majority of the animals can be found. 

 

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