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PhD’s video steals the limelight in SAASTA competition

Posted on March 20, 2019

Mr Darryl Herron, a PhD student in Microbiology at the University of Pretoria (UP), won the video category of the South Africa Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) Young Science Communicators Competition. He also won third place in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences’ #EndPlantBlindness competition with a similar video.

“I am absolutely delighted that my video was selected as the winner in the video category of the SAASTA* Competition. I hope that the win will give the video more exposure so that many people hear my message: ‘Our trees are at risk’. I am currently producing a number of other videos to help spread the word about plant health in South Africa. Seeing my video succeed has given me confidence. I now know that people want to watch what I produce and it seems to be having an impact. That is the whole point of science communication: impact.”

The key message in his video is that plants get sick because of various pests (insects) and pathogens (fungi, bacteria, viruses, etc.). As a result, plants will die. South Africa, like many other countries, are at risk from various pests and pathogens that threaten the trees we build industries on, such as agriculture, forestry, and tourism. South Africans need to know that, without well-funded science, we could end up with a South Africa without trees.

Mr Herron manages the Plant Diagnostic Clinic of the Tree Protection Cooperative Programme/Centre of Excellence in Tree Health Biotechnology at UP’s Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI). He conducts his research under supervision of Prof Emma Steenkamp, Prof Brenda Wingfield and Prof Mike Wingfield at FABI, where he focuses on a group of important plant disease-causing fungi, Fusarium, and the diseases they cause in commercial forestry. Throughout his career, he has used his love of storytelling, comics and blogs to share some of his work with a broader audience.

He explains that trees and plants aren’t going to be here forever, unless we do something to protect them. “Many people who don’t work with plants every day are unaware of the threats that face our plant-based industries. The arrival of two devastating pests in South Africa, namely the fall army worm and the polyphagous shot hole borer, has highlighted South Africa’s inability to effectively predict, limit and deal with accidental introductions of these pests.”

“The government and the people of South Africa need to work together so that we don’t wake up to a South Africa without any trees. We need to know that all of our livelihoods depend on keeping our plants healthy and, right now, we are battling to do that,” Mr Herron concluded.

Watch the winning SAASTA video on YouTube, https://youtu.be/vgn3x1b611k. His #EndPlantBlindness video is also available here: https://youtu.be/oCMHcmB7tLU

*SAASTA is a business unit of the National Research Foundation (NRF) with the mandate to advance public awareness, appreciation and engagement of science, engineering, innovation and technology in South Africa.

- Author Martie Meyer

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