UP PhD student scoops top award at international conference in San Francisco

Posted on May 20, 2019

Doctoral student Lazarus Takawira of the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) recently won the Best Student Poster award at the US Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute’s 14th annual Genomics of Energy & Environment Meeting in San Francisco. He took home the prize for his PhD research on the use of JGI-developed DNA purification sequencing to reconstruct transcriptional networks in Eucalyptus associated with wood formation.

“Representing UP at the conference was an honour, and I was delighted to have scooped the top prize, given the exceptional level of excellence in science that was on exhibition,” Takawira says. “It was awesome to win the award as the only group from Africa there. I have always believed that hard work pays off, but I did not anticipate such recognition at that level.”

Takawira is no stranger to winning scientific awards: in 2018 he received the poster award for best PhD at the South African Association of Botanists Conference and the prize for the best PhD oral presentation at the inaugural postgraduate research symposium of the Department of Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology.

“My PhD research aims to decipher transcriptional regulatory networks involved in secondary cell wall biogenesis in Eucalyptus grandis,” Takawira explains. “Understanding the transcriptional mechanisms that regulate secondary cell wall development during wood formation in plants may enable strategic re-engineering of woody biomass traits.”

He says success belongs to those who push the boundaries, and that hard work always pays off, as his PhD supervisor, Dr Steven Hussey, usually tells him. 

“Always give your best,” he advises, “even if you do not see the rewards today. Eventually, your work will bear fruit.” 

- Author Xolani Mathibela

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