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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

Extending new discoveries in the deep subsurface – UFS paper published in Nature Communications
2015-11-30



Scanning electron microscopy of some of the Eukarya recovered from two different mines. (a) Dochmiotrema sp. (Plathyelminthes), (b) A. hemprichi (Annelida), (c) Mylonchulus brachyurus (Nematoda), (d) Amphiascoides (Arthropoda). Scale bar, 50 µm (a,b), 100 µm (c), 20 µm (d).

Following the discovery of the first Eukarya in the deep subsurface (Nature, 2010) by a research group from the Department of Microbial, Biochemical, and Food Biotechnology at the University of the Free State (UFS) and their international collaborators, intense interest has developed in understanding the diversity of more complex organisms living in these extreme environments.

Prof Gaetan Borgonie from Extreme Life Isyensya, together with a group of UFS researchers, took this research further, resulting in a paper on this research released in Nature Communications – impact factor 11.47.  This paper is an extension of the first reports of more complex life at great depths, and their abilities to survive these harsh conditions.

Ten authors from the UFS contributed with the array of expertise needed to define this discovery. The group was supported by staff from the different mining groups, long-term leading collaborators from the USA and Canada, and the idea specialist driver of the paper, Prof Borganie.

“After a sampling campaign that lasted more than two years, we identified that Platyhelminthes, Rotifera, Annelida and Arthropoda are thriving at 1.4 km depths in fissure water up to 12,000-years old in the South African mines of Driefontein and Kopanang,” said Prof Borgonie, who was appointed as associated researcher in the Department of Microbial, Biochemical, and Food Biotechnology.

This paper really opens a “can of worms” so to speak. According to Prof Esta van Heerden from the Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology at the UFS they extended to define protozoa and fungi. “However, they are present in low numbers,” she said.

Characterisation of the different species reveals that many are opportunistic organisms. In house-adapted video equipment was used to film inside the fissure for the home of the organisms.

This is the first-known study to demonstrate the in situ distribution of biofilms on fissure rock faces using video documentation. Calculations suggest that food, not dissolved oxygen, is the limiting factor for population growth. The discovery of a group of complex multicellular organisms in the underground has important implications for the search for life on other planets in our solar system.

More articles

The strange beasts that live in solid rock deep underground
A microscopic ‘zoo’ is found deep, deep underground

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