UP lecturer appointed to International Society for Microbial Ecology board

Posted on October 18, 2018

Dr Thulani Makhalanyane currently lectures in the Department of Genetics, teaching metagenomics, the study of genetic material recovered directly from environmental samples. He has a broad focus in his research within the field of microbial ecology and, after serving as a young ambassador for the International Society for Microbial Ecology, he’s now been appointed to the society’s board. Tukkievaria caught up with Dr Makhalanyane to find out more about his appointment.

Tell us about the work you do?

I work in the field of microorganisms, which means I study bacteria, archaea, fungi, protists and viruses. They are the most abundant numerical entities on earth.

What is the ISME?

ISME is a non-profit association in the field of microbial ecology. They are responsible for connecting, sponsoring, providing platforms and information, and organising events around the field of microbial ecology. They promote microbial ecology in all aspects, forming a global network and community that enables us to connect with our peers. They also publish the scientific publication ISME Journal, which aims to showcase the latest research and findings in microbial ecology.

What are the challenges faced in this field, and how is your work helping?

Despite their abundance, we know very little about the role that microorganisms play across ecosystems.  This is primarily due to problems associated with isolating microorganisms in the lab. My research aims to understand the role of microorganisms in regulating ecosystems using microbiomics. The ecosystems are broad, spanning across host-associated microbiomes – human gut and sharks – to marine environments.

What got you started in your research area of interest?

I completed my postgraduate degrees on Antarctic microbiomics. This work ignited my interest to understand microbial communities living under environmental extremes, which has now expanded to other systems – but the key questions remain the same.

How did you get involved with the ISME?

My introduction was when I attended my first ISME meeting as a student in 2010. I was inspired by the level of science presented. I then attended meetings every two years, and continued to be inspired. I have acted as an Ambassador for the society, contributing to outreach activities primarily targeted at school learners, hoping to inspire future microbial ecologists.

How do you feel about being included on the ISME board?

ISME has been an important guiding force in my own career, and my appointment to the board is an immense privilege and honour.

What are some of the things you will be working on in the future?

I plan to expand my existing research on marine communities. I have plans to broaden our participation on important marine regions proximal to South Africa. Through the South African National Antarctic Programme and other bilateral programs funded through the National Research Foundation, we plan to expand the role played by UP researchers in the global marine microbial ecology sphere.

- Author Myan Subrayan

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