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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

UFS scientists involved in groundbreaking research to protect rhino horns
2010-07-27

Pictured from the left are: Prof. Paul Grobler (UFS), Prof. Antoinette Kotze (NZG) and Ms. Karen Ehlers (UFS).
Photo: Supplied

Scientists at the University of the Free State (UFS) are involved in a research study that will help to trace the source of any southern white rhino product to a specific geographic location.

This is an initiative of the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (NZG).

Prof. Paul Grobler, who is heading the project in the Department of Genetics at the UFS, said that the research might even allow the identification of the individual animal from which a product was derived. This would allow law enforcement agencies not only to determine with certainty whether rhino horn, traded illegally on the international black market, had its origin in South Africa, but also from which region of South Africa the product came.

This additional knowledge is expected to have a major impact on the illicit trade in rhino horn and provide a potent legal club to get at rhino horn smugglers and traders.

The full research team consists of Prof. Grobler; Christiaan Labuschagne, a Ph.D. student at the UFS; Prof. Antoinette Kotze from the NZG, who is also an affiliated professor at the UFS; and Dr Desire Dalton, also from the NZG.

The team’s research involves the identification of small differences in the genetic code among white rhino populations in different regions of South Africa. The genetic code of every species is unique, and is composed of a sequence of the four nucleotide bases G, A, T and C that are inherited from one generation to the next. When one nucleotide base is changed or mutated in an individual, this mutated base is also inherited by the individual's progeny.

If, after many generations, this changed base is present in at least 1% of the individuals of a group, it is described as a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), pronounced "snip". Breeding populations that are geographically and reproductively isolated often contain different patterns of such SNPs, which act as a unique genetic signature for each population.

The team is assembling a detailed list of all SNPs found in white rhinos from different regions in South Africa. The work is done in collaboration with the Pretoria-based company, Inqaba Biotech, who is performing the nucleotide sequencing that is required for the identification of the SNPs.

Financial support for the project is provided by the Advanced Biomolecular Research cluster at the UFS.

The southern white rhino was once thought to be extinct, but in a conservation success story the species was boosted from an initial population of about 100 individuals located in KwaZulu-Natal at the end of the 19th century, to the present population of about 15 000 individuals. The southern white rhino is still, however, listed as “near threatened” by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Media Release:
Mangaliso Radebe
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2828
Cell: 078 460 3320
E-mail: radebemt@ufs.ac.za 
27 July 2010



 

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