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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

Plant scientists address wheat rust diseases at SASPP congress
2015-02-02

Pictured from the left are: Prof Zakkie Pretorius, Dr Botma Visser and Howard Castelyn.
Photo: Supplied

In his research, Dr Botma Visser, researcher in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of the Free State, highlighted the population dynamics of the stem rust fungus (Puccinia graminis f. sp. tritici) in Southern Africa. In recent years, two foreign stem rust races were introduced to South Africa, and a local virulence adaptation occurred in a third.

All of these races form part of the Ug99 group, a highly virulent collection of rust races endangering wheat production in many parts of the world. Despite the fact that half of the members of the Ug99 race group is prevalent in South Africa, Dr Visser’s work has clearly shown that Ug99 did not have its origin here. This emphasised the need to include neighbouring countries in the annual stem rust surveys, to proactively identify new races that could threaten local wheat production. In his research, Dr Visser also mentioned the way in which he has optimised modern molecular tools to accurately detect Ug99 isolates.

Dr Visser is one of three scientists from the Department of Plant Sciences that addressed delegates attending the biennial congress of the Southern African Society for Plant Pathology (SASPP) on the Bloemfontein Campus earlier this month on progress regarding research on wheat rust diseases conducted at the UFS.

Howard Castelyn, a PhD student in Plant Sciences, presented his research on quantifying fungal growth of the stem rust pathogen in wheat varieties displaying genetic resistance. This resistance, which is best expressed in adult plants, has the potential to remain durable in the presence of new rust variants. His presentation at the congress focused on optimising microscopic and molecular techniques to track fungal development in stem tissues of adult plants. These results now allow scientists to link rust infection levels and cellular responses with particular resistance genes expressed by the wheat plant, and contributing to the understanding and exploitation of durable resistance.

Prof Zakkie Pretorius presented his research, explaining how new genetic diversity for resistance to the stripe (yellow) rust fungus (Puccinia striiformis) is discovered, analysed and applied in South Africa. This research, conducted in collaboration with Dr Renée Prins and her team at CenGen, is unravelling the genetic basis of stripe rust resistance in a promising wheat line identified by Dr Willem Boshoff, a plant breeder at Pannar. The line and DNA markers to track the resistance genes will soon be introduced to South African wheat breeding programmes.

The rust research programme at the UFS contributes significantly to the successful control of these important crop diseases.

In addition to the contributions by the UFS, rust fungi featured prominently at the SASPP, with first reports of new diseases on sugar cane and Acacia and Eucalyptus trees in South Africa. A case study of the use of a rust fungus as a biological control agent for invasive plant species in the Western Cape, was also presented.

 

For more information or enquiries contact news@ufs.ac.za .

 

 

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