PhD student in Genetics receives STVM's Norval-Young Award

Posted on October 13, 2016


An academically brilliant student, whose master's degree was of such a high standard that it was upgraded to a PhD, was recently awarded the 2016 Society of Tropical Veterinary Medicine (STVM) Norval-Young Award. Luïse Robbertse, a PhD student in the Department of Genetics at the Universiity of Pretoria (UP), received this award at the Joint International Conference of the Association of Institutions for Tropical Veterinary Medicine (AITVM) and the STVM, organised by the Institute for Parasitology and Tropical Veterinary Medicine at the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany.

The award was established to honour the memory of Dr Andy Norval and Dr Alan Young, two distinguished researchers who made enormous contributions to the present understanding of tick-borne diseases in the tropics. Both these scientists were dedicated to student participation, encouragement and support and it was to honour these ideals that this award was created. The award is presented every two years to one candidate, recognised to be a leading young mind in the field of Tropical Veterinary Medicine.

Ms Robbertse received the Norval-Young Award based on her work completed during her BSc (Hons) degree, under the supervision of Prof Christine Maritz-Olivier. The title of the study is: 'Genetic diversity, acaricide resistance status and evolutionary potential of a Rhipicephalus microplus population from a disease-controlled cattle farming area in South Africa'. This work was published as an invited research article in a special edition of the International journal, Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases in 2016. In addition to producing high quality scientific outputs, she is passionate about translational science and believes that research should not be conducted for the sake of research only, but to contribute to the improvement of quality of life for both animals and humans.

This study was the first to describe the status of acaricide resistance against synthetic pyrethroids and amitraz in the Mnisi area of Mpumalanga, a resource poor area with government-funded communal dip-stations. Evidence of the presence of a high frequency of alleles that contribute to resistance was provided and used for the development of new strategies for effective tick control in these heavily infested areas. Negotiations with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and industry (Zoetis South Africa Pty Ltd) took place during September 2016 and are currently in progress to establish a strategic plan for improved tick control. This involves researchers from Prof Maritz-Olivier's tick research group at UP, state veterinarians, farmers and industry. These findings will therefore soon be effectively converted into real-life actions impacting animal health, ensuring food security in livestock-dependant areas and uplifting resource poor communities via knowledge-based implementation of protective tick control strategies.

Ms Robbertse obtained a BSc (Medical Sciences) and a BSc Hons (Genetics) degree from UP. Her current PhD study, under the continued supervision of Prof Christine Maritz-Olivier from the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, focuses on the comparative immunoprofiling of three economically important cattle breeds, following Rhipicephalus microplus infestation. During her PhD studies she ultimately aims to unravel the complexity of the immune responses underlying the interphases between ixodid ticks and their bovine hosts to improve adjuvant selection and antigen production strategies for vaccine development against Rhipicephalus cattle ticks.



- Author Martie Meyer

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