Prof Dave Berger receives NSTF Special Award in Crop Science and Food Security

Posted on July 01, 2016

Prof Dave Berger from the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Pretoria (UP), has been awarded the Special Award in Crop Science and Food Security at the 2015/2016 National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) Awards. The NSTF Awards are referred to as the 'Science Oscars' of South Africa as they are the largest, most comprehensive and most sought-after national awards of their kind. The Special award in Crop Science is sponsored by the Department of Science and Technology and is made in honour of the 2016 International Year of Pulses as declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). 

Prof Berger is a 'gene detective' whose research is focused on finding which genes protect crop plants against fungal diseases. He is a member of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and leads the research group 'Molecular Plant-Pathogen Interactions' in the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) at UP. On joining UP in 2000, he set up the ACGT Microarray Facility, which continues to provide a service to local researchers. Microarrays are microscope slides onto which genes are 'printed' by a robot, allowing gene regulation studies of thousands of genes in a single experiment.  Prof Berger's research, supported in part by the Genomics Research Institute at UP, has focused on genomics technologies such as microarrays and next generation sequencing to address crop diseases that threaten food security. To date, his work on plant transcriptional responses using microarrays has led to development of five bioinformatics software packages, which have been applied for gene discovery.

Prof Berger's current gene research targets grey leaf spot disease, which is a global threat to maize.  He also co-ordinates a public-private partnership of local and international research partners on this topic. The consortium has identified maize resistance mechanisms and developed improved maize for both commercial and small-holder farmers. In addition to the maize work, the team is assessing the impact and diversity of the fungal pathogen locally, and the project recently expanded to other countries of sub-Saharan Africa. He also recently led the development of the first tomato diversity array for genetic mapping in wild tomato species as part of a European Union project.    

Prof Berger is an NRF Rated researcher (C1 category), and has published more than 50 scientific papers, several patents, book chapters and bioinformatics software packages.  He has supervised or co-supervised more than 50 PhD and MSc students.  His many accolades over the course of his career includes being a 2013 US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Norman E Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellow and being awarded a 2011 European Union Framework Programme prize in the Capacity Development category by the Department of Science and Technology, and the 2013 Biotech Fundi Award (Capacity Building) by the Gauteng Department of Agricultural and Rural Development. 

The University of Pretoria is extremely proud to count Prof Berger among its faculty and congratulates him on this exceptional achievement.


- Author Ansa Heyl

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