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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

Carbon dioxide makes for more aromatic decaffeinated coffee
2017-10-27


 Description: Carbon dioxide makes for more aromatic decaffeinated coffee 1b Tags: Carbon dioxide makes for more aromatic decaffeinated coffee 1b 

The Inorganic Group in the Department of Chemistry
at the UFS is systematically researching the utilisation
of carbon dioxide. From the left, are, Dr Ebrahiem Botha,
Postdoctoral Fellow; Mahlomolo Khasemene, MSc student;
Prof André Roodt; Dr Marietjie Schutte-Smith, Senior Lecturer;
and Mokete Motente, MSc student.
Photo: Charl Devenish

Several industries in South Africa are currently producing hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon dioxide a year, which are released directly into the air. A typical family sedan doing around 10 000 km per year, is annually releasing more than one ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The Inorganic Chemistry Research Group in the Department of Chemistry at the University of the Free State (UFS), in collaboration with the University of Zurich in Switzerland, has focused in recent years on using carbon dioxide – which is regarded as a harmful and global warming gas – in a meaningful way. 

According to Prof André Roodt, Head of Inorganic Chemistry at the UFS, the Department of Chemistry has for the past five decades been researching natural products that could be extracted from plants. These products are manufactured by plants through photosynthesis, in other words the utilisation of sunlight and carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and other nutrients from the soil.

Caffeine and chlorophyll 
“The Inorganic group is systematically researching the utilisation of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is absorbed by plants through chlorophyll and used to make interesting and valuable compounds and sugars, which in turn could be used for the production of important new medicines,” says Prof Roodt.

Caffeine, a major energy enhancer, is also manufactured through photosynthesis in plants. It is commonly found in tea and coffee, but also (artificially added) in energy drinks. Because caffeine is a stimulant of the central nervous system and reduces fatigue and drowsiness, some people prefer decaffeinated coffee when enjoying this hot drink late at night. 

Removing caffeine from coffee could be expensive and time-consuming, but also environmentally unfriendly, because it involves the use of harmful and flammable liquids. Some of the Inorganic Group’s research focus areas include the use of carbon dioxide for the extraction of compounds, such as caffeine from plants. 

“Therefore, the research could lead to the availability of more decaffeinated coffee products. Although decaffeinated coffee is currently aromatic, we want to investigate further to ensure better quality flavours,” says Prof Roodt.

Another research aspect the team is focusing on is the use of carbon dioxide to extract chlorophyll from plants which have medicinal properties themselves. Chemical suppliers sell chlorophyll at R3 000 a gram. “In the process of investigating chlorophyll, our group discovered simpler techniques to comfortably extract larger quantities from green vegetables and other plants,” says Prof Roodt.

Medicines
In addition, the Inorganic Research Group is also looking to use carbon dioxide as a building block for more valuable compounds. Some of these compounds will be used in the Inorganic Group’s research focus on radiopharmaceutical products for the identification and possibly even the treatment of diseases such as certain cancers, tuberculosis, and malaria.

 

 

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