UP Plant Sciences student wins best poster award at national botanist congress

Posted on February 25, 2019

Ofentse Mathibela, an honours student in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, recently received the award for best poster in the Physiology/ Ecophysiology/ Biotechnology category at the 45th annual congress of the South African Association of Botanists held in early January. This year’s congress was a joint affiliation with the African Mycological Association and the Southern African Society for Systematic Biology.

“It is a great honour to see my work being recognised in the science community,” an elated Mathibela says. “Honours studies are usually viewed as a foundation in one’s research career, and this award serves as an inspiration for me to continue working towards achieving my goals.

Mathibela's studies focused on characterising Bowman-Birk Inhibitors (BBI) in transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana – a flowering plant widely used as a model organism, which is studied to understand particular biological phenomena – under drought and high saline conditions. BBIs are serine protease inhibitors that act as defence enzymes against biotic stress, which is caused by living organisms. “But there is a lack of characterisation of BBI involvement in the tolerance of abiotic stress [which is caused by naturally occurring factors],” Mathibela explains. “The characterisation of BBIs provides a foundation for abiotic stress improvement in economically important crops such as soy beans, which could be beneficial in the agricultural sector.”

Mathibela owes much of her success as a young scientist to her mentors. As a mentee in UP’s Centre of Excellence in Tree Health Biotechnology mentorship programme in 2016, she had the opportunity to work alongside a postgraduate student in a laboratory setting. “My mentor’s experience greatly influenced my perception of research and a future career in science,” Mathibela says. “It took a group of extraordinary people to shape me into the young scientist that I am today. I’d also like to thank my supervisor, Dr Eugene Makgopa, for his sterling mentoring throughout the year.”

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