Ms Ofentse Mathibela, an honours student in plant science at the University of Pretoria (UP), was named as the winner of the Best poster in Physiology/Ecophysiology/Biotechnology at the 45th Annual Congress of the South African Association of Botanists in early January 2019.
The congress is an affiliation of the Annual South Association of Botanists African (SAAB), the African Mycological Association (AMA) and the Southern African Society for Systematic Biology (SASSB) Joint Congress.
‘Honours studies are usually viewed as a foundation in one’s research career. It is a great honour to see my work being recognised in the science community. The award serves as an inspiration for me to continue working towards achieving my goals. As much as the award has personal meaning, it was actually a team effort. It took a group of extraordinary people (KK Lab) to groom me into the young scientist I am today. Also, many thanks to my supervisor, Dr Eugene Makgopa, for his sterling mentoring throughout the year,’ said an elated Ms Mathibela after winning the award.
Ms Mathibela explained that the aim of her honours study was to characterise Bowman-Birk inhibitors (BBI) in transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana under drought and salt stress conditions, with the objective of performing physiological and biochemical analysis of the plants under well-watered conditions, drought stress and saline conditions. ‘BBI are serine protease inhibitors known for their involvement as defence enzymes against biotic stress in sugar cane. There is a lack of characterisation of BBI involvement in abiotic stress tolerance. The characterisation of BBI provides a foundation of abiotic stress improvement in economically important crops such as soy beans, which could be beneficial in the agricultural sector.’
Ms Mathibela was also a mentee in the UP Centre of Excellence in Tree Health Biotechnology (CTHB) Mentorship Programme from March to December 2016, where she had the opportunity to work alongside a postgraduate student in a laboratory setting. Ms Mathibela says: ‘This was a great opportunity as my mentor’s experience in the programme greatly influenced my perception of research and a future career in science.’