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The University Research Office is based at the Govan Mbeki building on Westville campus

The University of KwaZulu-Natal currently has more than 250 post-doctoral fellows

Funds requests must be directed through the Colleges at the office of the College Dean of Research

You can upload your own publications on IRMA and ResearchSpace

ResearchSpace is the institutional repository of UKZN. It is a collection of full text theses and also includes research publications produced by UKZN academics.

Biotechnology is a broad multi-disciplinary area which is defined by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity as “any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use”. Biotechnology has a range of applications in medicine, industry, agriculture, and the environment.

The adoption of the National Biotechnology Strategy in 2001 created the impetus for rapid growth in the field of biotechnology in South Africa. The challenges identified in that strategy have informed a number of research groups at UKZN which are involved in the various sectors of biotechnology.

The School of Biochemistry, Genetics, and Microbiology leads the biotechnology initiative at UKZN by providing a common link to various biotechnology research projects and has a wide curriculum geared to train students in areas of biotechnology ranging from the bio-engineering of industrial yeast for controlled flocculation to biofuel production, mitochondrial enzyme regulation, the development of biomarkers of water pollution in aquatic organisms and an examination of the microbial response to climate changes in soils, and the implications on carbon-cycle feedbacks.

Specific Research Disciplines within the field include:

Chemistry: Research areas include organic synthesis, asymmetric catalysis, peptide drug design and computational chemistry. Collaborative research is conducted around the testing of tuberculosis and anti-fungal drugs, the identification and diagnosis of tuberculosis and radio-labelled imaging agents. Researchers have access to an extensive collection of modern instrumentation – among the best on the African continent – which includes four NMR spectrometers (including 600 MHz with solids probe), a wide range of chromatographic equipment (including GC-MS, LC-MS and MALDI TOF).

Medical Biochemistry: A mini drug discovery platform set-up facilitates the conducting of assays for various natural and synthetic compounds to test for cytoxicity. An evaluation of immunotoxicity using apoptosis assays is also conducted.

HIV/AIDS and TB: A collaborative link with Virology at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital has been established to screen compounds for anti-HIV activity. Currently, the research focus is on using micro RNA species to type serum in patients infected with TB.

Cancer: Novel drug development and screening also targets cancer.

Diabetes: Development of a novel non-genetic animal model for Type-2 diabetes is under way using rats. This research also focuses on the analysis of the chemical composition of several functional foods and medicinal plants and extracts as well as their effects on non-communicable chronic diseases.

Malaria: To combat the scourge of malaria in Africa, a research team is focused on malaria-related biochemistry, diagnostics, vaccines, metabolism, sequestration, immune-modulation, anti-malarial drug action and potential drug targets. The team is looking at developing new ways to diagnose malaria with a simple and cost-effective dipstick assay. To understand how the disease affects cells of the immune system during a malaria infection and under the influence of anti-malarial drug therapy, an X-Ray microanalysis is used which enables the measurement of minute changes in the concentrations of elements within individual cells. The expression, location and structure of the protein are being studied.

Sleeping Sickness: Research is conducted into Trypanosomiasis which looks at poultry pathogens and trypanosomes of importance in South Africa and the rest of Africa in order to develop diagnostic assays, therapeutic strategies and, ultimately, vaccines against the diseases caused by these infectious agents. The research focuses on the molecules involved in the binding of the pathogens to their host tissues, antigenic differences between different strains of pathogens and between those of field strains and vaccine strains. Techniques in protein purification and characterisation, immunochemistry and molecular biology are employed.

Stem cell research: Research is conducted involving the regulation of skeletal muscle formation from mouse and human stem cells. The effect of extracellular and growth factors as well as anti-retrovirals (ARVs) on this process is being investigated. In addition, the generation of in vitro three-dimensional, functional, skeletal muscle is under development. Techniques used include tissue culture, primary cell isolation, fluorescence and confocal microscopy (including live cell imaging), wound healing assays and standard protein determination methods.

Nano-therapeutics: Research is conducted into the use of nanotechnology in foreign gene delivery (classical and mitochondrial gene therapy), expression and gene silencing mediated by RNA interference. UKZN has a dedicated cell/tissue culture facility which is also actively involved in assays looking at the in vitro cytotoxic effects of natural products.

Genetics: Quantitative, population and molecular genetics technologies are employed in unveiling the contribution that genes make to important traits in animals. Molecular techniques are used to examine genetic factors underpinning biological diversity in the field of evolutionary biology. In the field of redox systems biology, the focus is on elucidating how the components in biological systems are integrated to give functional properties.

Microbiology: Research is conducted into the role and function of micro-organisms in a wide range of environmental and biotechnological processes. These include screening for biocatalysts from environmental samples, optimisation of biotechnological processes by artificial intelligence tools, isolation and characterisation of micro-organisms and their secondary metabolites with potential to tackle pathogens, improving beer quality by profiling flavour-active ester compounds in beer under different fermentation and nutritional conditions, and the study of diesel degradation mechanisms by several isolates using real time PCR and proteomic techniques.

Screening is performed to isolate micro-organisms with potential for biotechnological applications. Among the studies currently under way are the following:

Biofuels: Research in this area focuses on the impact of microbial population dynamics on the stability and performance of biotechnological processes employed to generate bio-gas or bio-hydrogen and an assessment of the potential of organic waste materials for microbiological energy generation. It also includes bio-mining for novel, thermophilic enzymes for lignocelluloses metabolism, cloning in heterologous hosts and enzyme characterisation, construction of lignocelluloses-metabolising and ethanol fermenting strains, construction of consortia for lignocelluloses bioconversion to ethanol, and the application of crude enzyme extracts in conjunction with recombinant yeast strains expressing cellulose and xylanase-degrading enzymes in order to develop enzyme cocktails to be used in biofuel production from lignocellulosic biomass in consolidated bio-processing fermentations.

Biopulping: An assessment of seasonal microflora variation and their physical and chemical effects on wood chips for the pulping industry is under way. The aim is the developmentof strategies to manage chip piles in order to avoid chip deterioration which leads to reduced pulp yields or inferior pulp quality.

Water-related studies: Studies are taking place which examine the biochemical and molecular characterisation of bacteria isolated from wastewater treatment plant for chlorophenol degradation. Research focuses on the genomic evolution and adaptation of phenol-degrading bacteria to lethal phenol concentrations. Phenol-degrading isolate increased the phenol tolerance level from 400 mg/L to 800 mg/L and 2.5 fold in degradation rate within a 10-day adaptation period. Studies in a virus evaluation programme of the Umgeni River in Durban showed varying viral abundance along the Umgeni River and many enteropathogenic viruses have been detected. Other studies demonstrate that bio-competitive exclusion can be used to slow down metal corrosion by supplementing additional nitrogen sources. Studies into the generation and on-site treatment of synthetic grey water for non-potable application are also carried out by the discipline.

Other water-related studies include:

The impact of irrigation water quality on the safety of fresh fruits and vegetables, a six-year collaborative research project with the University of Pretoria.

Bioremediation of water co-contaminated with chlorinated organic compound and heavy metals and profiling the microbial population and diversity involved in the degradation processes. In order to gain insight into the metabolic functioning of the microbial population the total DNA (metagenome) isolated from the contaminated site was sequenced by pyrosequencing.

The contribution of heterotrophic micro-organisms to eliminate metal from groundwater.

The study of bacterial diseases associated with aquaculture and the ability of the pathogenic bacteria to form biofilms, identifying their antimicrobial resistance phenotypes, identifying alternative strategies to eliminate these micro-organisms, including the use of phytochemicals, identifying the role of quorum sensing in biofilm formation and attempting to inhibit quorum sensing and thus the associated pathogenicity. Additionally, genotyping of these bacterial pathogens is being undertaken, as is a study on the genes associated with antimicrobial resistance which hamper effective therapy.

Aerobic catabolism of aromatic priority pollutants by freshwater and marine micro-organisms.

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