Broad Research Interests of the Department
Prof Gregory L BLATCH - Molecular chaperones in biology, medicine and protein biotechnology The broad objective of this research is to study the mechanism by which molecular chaperones and their associated co-chaperones interact and function in cytoprotection, and to apply this knowledge in medicine and protein biotechnology. A number of research programmes are currently in progress addressing: (i) the molecular basis of chaperone-co-chaperone interactions; (ii) the role of heat shock proteins in disease (stem cells and cancer) and parasitology (malaria and trypanosomes); and (iii) improved recombinant protein over-production by co-production of chaperones.
Dr Brett PLETSCHKE - Cellulosome Research Group Dr Brett Pletschke’s research is primarily focused on a study of the effect of key metabolites on the activity of cellulosome-associated cellulases in anaerobic environments. A number of studies have been devoted to further the understanding of the enzymatic degradation of cellulose by bacteria and fungi. However, the exact mechanism by which either isolated enzymes or multi-component enzymatic systems are able to attack and digest crystalline biopolymers such as cellulose under anaerobic conditions remains a mystery. The following techniques are used: protein purification, enzyme kinetics, TEM/SEM and anaerobic bioreactor design.
Prof Chris G WHITELEY - Biomedical and nanotechnology research: Biological synthesis of metal nanoparticles (silver, gold, platinum) using viral capsids and protein cages and their interaction with biomedical targets specific for neurological disorders, (Alzheimers, Parkinsons, Lou Gehrigs) and malaria. The neurodegenerative biomedical targets include the enzymes associated with arginine metabolism (nitric oxide synthase, peptidyl arginine deiminase). Malarial biomedical targets under investigation are ribonuclease, thiazolekinase and superoxide dismutase of Plasmodium falciparum. Research into the enzymatic synthesis and biomedical properties of short chain fructooligosaccharides is also being undertaken
Dr Brendan WILHELMI - Determination of dietary preferences of herbivores Fundamental molecular data on the plant species of the Valley Bushveld of the Great Fish River Reserve (GFRR) will be collected, and the dietary preferences of the endangered Black Rhinoceros determined. The information will be used to assess the level of competition between the different large herbivores for plant resources when establishing land carrying capacity. Target plant DNA will be cloned and sequenced, and a database of target DNA sequences of indigenous plant species from the GFRR compiled. The sequence information will be used to identify plants preferentially browsed by large herbivores. Variable regions will be used to design a restriction fragment length analysis technique for the rapid identification of specific plant species from herbivore dung.
Dr Joanna DAMES- Mycorrhizal Research Group Dr Dames is involved in mycorrhizal research and studies both the arbuscular and ectomycorrhizal fungal groups. Her research interests include the identification and characterization of mycorrhizal species on a morphological and molecular level, determining the effect of management practices on mycorrhizal populations and investigating the commercial potential and application of mycorrhizal fungi in agriculture and forestry. Dr Dames is part of a group of scientists who developed and is now commercialising a soil amendment product based on indigenous arbsucular mycorrhizal isolates. Current projects include assessing competition between mycorrhizal fungi and other beneficial or harmful soil microorganisms and investigating the potential of edible ectomycorrhizal fungi including the Kalahari truffle.
Prof Rosemary DORRINGTON - Molecular biology of small insect RNA viruses Prof Dorrington’s research is focused on the molecular biology of members of the Tetraviridae, a family of small insect RNA viruses, which are amongst the simplest viruses known. Our interest in tetraviruses stems from their emergence as important agricultural pest control agents and their virus-like particles have applications in the development of targeted drug delivery systems in the pharmaceutical industry. We are interested in understanding the mechanisms by which tetraviruses are able to infect their host cells and then redirect their metabolism to support virus replication. Current research involves functional analysis of viral replication proteins sand sub-cellular localization of viral replication complexes
Dr Caroline KNOX - Virus-Host Cell Interactions Dr Knox’s research interests centre around the molecular mechanisms by which Picornaviruses interact with the host cells they infect. Specifically we are investigating the localisation and membrane-binding properties of the non-structural P2 proteins, namely 2B, 2BC and 2C, which are known to play essential roles in virus replication. In addition we are attempting to identify host components with which these proteins interact during the replication cycle. An understanding of such interactions is necessary for designing novel and effective strategies of disease control.
Prof Janice LIMSON- Biosensor Research Group Dr Janice Limson’s research is primarily in the field of electrochemical chemosensors, biosensors, biofuel cells and nanobiotechnology. Emphasis is placed on the research of immobilization protocols for nanostructured materials, enzymes and other electrocatalysts onto working electrodes surfaces; as well as the identification of new membrane surfaces for enzyme or protein entrapment. Current projects include novel laccase biosensors for phenolic analysis and pesticide degradant analysis in the agricultural sector and in honeybees. We also work closely with the Neurosciences Research Group at Rhodes University in the identification of metal-ligand interactions of toxicological significance in humans and also in gauging protein-protein interactions using quartz crystal microbalance technology.
Dr Earl PRINSLOO- Stem Cell Biotechnology Dr Earl Prinsloo's research focuses on the basic and applied sides of stem cell biology. Interests include the role of mitochondria in stem cell biology and the directed differentiation of stem cells into defined cell types. Stem cells hold great promise for the future of regenerative medicine. Understanding the regulatory balance that maintains stem cell self-renewal and differentiation will allow for the biotechnological exploitation of pluripotent stem cells. Dr Prinsloo believes in a systems biology approach to answering research questions using in silico, in vitro and ex vivo methods.