Let us be inquisitive, look, and find out, says Professor Horst Kaiser

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Professor Horst Kaiser, Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science, Rhodes University
Professor Horst Kaiser, Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science, Rhodes University

By Zindzi Nkunzi



Esteemed professors, family, colleagues and friends of Professor Horst Kaiser recently gathered at the Eden Grove Blue lecture theatre for his long-awaited lecture that was meant to take place last year but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Inaugural lectures allow appointed full professors to introduce themselves by sharing their academic knowledge, ground-breaking research, innovative ideas and significant milestones in their academic careers.

Rhodes University Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, Professor Peter Clayton, welcomed all attendees and introduced Professor Kaiser.

"The presentation of an inaugural lecture is an old tradition, and we use it to celebrate discipline, scholarship, and contributions of a recently appointed full professor and tonight we are celebrating Professor Kaiser," he said.

In introducing Professor Kaiser, Professor Clayton gave a brief history of the guest, his academic journey, career, and achievements. Moreover, it outlined the significant academic grinds and contributions the distinguished guest undertook and played in research.

He was born in Germany in 1960, and after high school, Professor Kaiser studied Agricultural Sciences at the University of Bonn, where he received a PhD in 1987. As a doctoral student, he was offered an aquacultural project and worked for a company that built and sold intensive fish farming systems. In 1989, he left his position for a postdoctoral scholarship from the German Research Foundation. In 1992, he was awarded a one-year NRF Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Rhodes University Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science. "That was thirty years ago, and here he still is," Professor Clayton said.

Professor Kaiser is now a Rhodes University lecturer and lectures on intensive aquaculture, fish physiology, fish health management, experimental design, and applied fish biology, among others.

During his time at Rhodes University, he has published 88 peer-reviewed papers, more than 100 conference papers, three popular books on koi-carp culture and many other popular articles. He has collaborated with multiple researchers in Austria, France, Belgium and more locally at the University of Johannesburg and University of Pretoria through joint supervision of postgraduates and participation in international research programmes. It does not only end there for Professor Kaiser, as he has had many significant career feats and is involved in many important and impactful contributions and insights to the academic and research community.

Before commencing his presentation on the topic, "Interesting, but what can you do with that?" Professor Kaiser acknowledged his wife for her continuous support. "My wife is here too. She's been sitting through probably years of me coming home from work, saying all these interesting things I found out. Thank you so much for the support you offered for so many years," he said.

"The talk goes back to when I was still at home in high school and was breeding my own fish. I did it in my parent's greenhouses; they had greenhouses as a business," he said.

"Every time I found something interesting in the process, I was very excited to tell them. The response that I got was pragmatic because my parents were businesspeople, and they would ask me, 'Interesting, but what can we do with that?'"

Later, when he went to university, this question continued to be raised, with others added, such as, "How much money does that make? Will you ever get a promotion?"

Professor Kaiser indicated that he had not specialised in one field, so his presentation covered four different topics. Firstly, he spoke about the brine shrimp that come from the genus Artemia as distinct species. He explained his findings through the demonstration of photographs. Detailing the findings of what these animals are, where they come from, how they operate and their significance, he discovered that the main interest is that "it is an important animal for aquaculture and the demand for their eggs comes to about 3000 tons a year. There is also a group of biologists who are particularly fascinated by the unique abilities these have".

He believes we can contribute to conserving a genus population and increase the knowledge base about a unique genus.

The second section of the talk covered the South African Abalone H. midae. "South African Abalone H. midae is one of our most farmed aquatic animal species. This farming activity is very capital intensive and requires a very long time because it is a very slow growing animal," Professor Kaiser said.

Having outlined the role played by the farms that grow and take care of these aquatic animals, their significance and contribution and the discoveries found, Professor Kaiser said, "Sometimes one can do a lot with the knowledge that one finds, and one can use that to control some organisms on the farm as well, without necessarily having to destroy them."

Thirdly, it was discovered that a fish species called Oreochromis mossambicus, also known as Mozambique Tilapia, can stop breathing. "That was quite a surprise. It has never been seen in any fish species before. We made an initial observation and found they stop breathing, a peculiar movement, and they could do that for some time," Professor Kaiser said.

Relative elaborate work was done to measure the oxygen consumption rate, and the fish were observed to stop breathing. This was done so that "we could arrive at a confirmation that the sensation of a particular movement in those fish was indeed the same as not taking out more oxygen," he added.

Lastly, he concluded with the 'curious case' of red blood cell production in fish. He concluded, "I believe basic research is like a message in a bottle found at just the right time."

In closing, the Dean of Science, Professor Tony Booth, said, "Science is about questioning and not necessarily about finding the truth."

Source:  Communications