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It’s all in the sea, as new Rhodes SARChI Chair will reveal

Date Released: Wed, 7 August 2013 10:59 +0200

Rhodes University has appointed Microbiology Professor Rosemary Dorrington as the SARChI Chair in Marine Natural Product Research, following a successful nomination by the University and approval by the National Research Foundation (NRF).

The approval was granted following a robust review process and evaluation by an NRF panel, and announced on 30 July 2013 by Dr Vathiswa Papu-Zamxaka, Director: Review and Evaluation, NRF.

SARChI Chairs, awarded by the DST-NRF South African Research Chairs Initiative, are widely regarded as South Africa’s most prestigious academic research platforms. Rhodes as the smallest university in South Africa holds an impressive 10 SARChI Chairs or 7% of all SARChI Chairs awarded to date.

South Africa, the EU, USA, China and Australia are vigorously pursuing research into finding useful marine natural products and marine microbial resources. It’s a field known as ‘marine biodiscovery’ or ‘marine bioprospecting’.

Marine biodiscovery or bioprospecting is defined as ‘searching for marine natural products and other materials from which there is an economic benefit to society including pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals’. It also includes the sustainable, wise use and management of the world’s oceans.

Many marine organisms (invertebrates, algae and microorganisms) produce marine natural products as a chemical defence against predation or inter-specific competition for limited resources (e.g. space on a reef or nutrients in the water).

South African marine natural products and their derivatives are, for example, currently being screened in the Rhodes Department of Biochemistry and the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IIDMM) at the University of Cape Town as molecular probes to characterise biochemical processes in cancer cells and malaria.

“Professor Dorrington’s leadership will see this Chair building on the international reputation of Rhodes University as the centre of excellence in marine natural products research on the African continent,” says the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research & Development at Rhodes University, Dr Peter Clayton.

“Marine natural products can potentially fulfill an important role in achieving the 2018 vision of South Africa being one of the top three emerging economies in the global pharmaceutical industry, based on an expanded innovation system using the nation’s indigenous knowledge and rich biodiversity.

“The primary role of the Chair will be to strengthen and further develop the field of marine natural product research on the African continent through ongoing and new national and international research collaborations.”

Over the past 20 years marine natural products research groups at Rhodes in the Department of Chemistry and the Faculty of Pharmacy have published over 60 international research papers in marine natural product chemistry and have graduated more than 25 MSc and PhD students in this field. This has established Rhodes University as the only university in Africa with an internationally recognised and productive marine natural products research programme.

Rhodes prides itself on its high percentage of postgraduate students. At the 2013 graduation ceremony Rhodes graduated 948 students or 41% with postgraduate degrees. It celebrated a new University record of 63 PhDs – an outstanding achievement for the smallest university in the country. The Science Faculty produced 35 PhD graduates, 83 Masters graduates, 132 honours graduates.

Rhodes has one of the highest percentages of staff with doctorates of all South African universities: 56% of Rhodes academics have Doctorates and 29% have Masters degrees.

Rhodes holds ten SARChI Chairs, including:

  • Marine Ecosystems;
  • The SKA Chair in Radio Astronomy Techniques and Technologies;
  • Medicinal Chemistry and Nanotechnology;
  • Mathematics Education;
  • Numeracy;
  • Intellectualisation of African Languages, Multilingualism and Education;
  • Insects in Sustainable Agricultural Ecosystems;
  • Interdisciplinary Science in Land and Natural Resource Use for Sustainable Livelihoods;
  • Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction: Human and Social Dynamics; and
  • Marine Natural Products Research.

Rhodes is currently funding a range of new academic initiatives as part of its strategy to grow its postgraduate student numbers, research and development programmes and to increase its research outputs. This will further enhance its standing as the ‘Scholarly University’.