The first in her family to complete a postgraduate degree, Ms Farzana Mohamed has graduated with 73% for her MSc in Microbiology.
Mohamed, who attributes her Science acumen to her late teacher, Ms A Ramishwar, says her preferred choice of institution was UKZN which is ranked among the top five universities in South Africa.
Mohamed registered for a Bachelor of Medical Science degree in Physiology (with majors in Physiology and Microbiology) but it was during studies for her honour’s degree that she became fascinated with the world of microbes.
‘Microbiology will always be relevant in health science and technology. We need microbiologists to create advances in biotechnology through the manipulation and control of micro-organisms,’ she said. This interest in nanotechnology and microbiology motivated her to continue to an MSc.
Mohamed’s research involved using eco-friendly metallic nanoparticles to jam the social network (aka quorum sensing) that bacteria use to communicate with each other. Bacteria use quorum sensing to carry out activities related to their infectivity and fouling of surfaces.
The nanoparticles generated during her research can be used for various applications where infections and biofilms are a problem, particularly in the field of medical biotechnology.
‘Currently, toxic chemicals are used to combat biofilms but our solution is to biosynthesize nanoparticles which can jam the communication mechanism used by microorganisms to form communities,’ said Mohamed.
‘The majority of nanoparticles currently synthesised utilise toxic chemical synthesis techniques involving metals such as silver and zinc. These chemically synthesised nanoparticles demonstrate toxicity to the environment and host cells. This, therefore, creates a niche for using microorganisms for the biosynthesis of less toxic, environmentally-friendly nanoparticles.’
Mohamed’s project was carried out in collaboration with the Technology Innovation Agency of South Africa with the aim of bridging the gap between research and development. She is also working on patenting the process in the near future. In addition, the promising results from the nanoparticles for anti-HIV activities has allowed her to pursue the research through to her current PhD studies. She wants to determine the full range of potential applications for the nanoparticles.
Currently Mohamed is gaining experience working with cancer cell lines and testing the nanoparticles for in vitro anti-cancer effects. She plans to become an academic researcher with research expertise in nanotechnology, nanoparticles for drug-delivery and biotechnology. ‘I’m also hoping to take the toolbox of skills I’ve acquired and translate them into a business idea,’ said Mohamed.
‘Research has undoubtedly and unquestionably been one of the most rewarding and most difficult components of my entire education,’ she said.
Mohamed acknowledged her supervisor in UKZN’s School of Life Sciences, Dr Hafizah Chenia who was always willing to teach and advise her.
Said Chenia: ‘Farzana has a vision for her future and a drive to be a good researcher. She paves the way for her family and peers in showing how determination and self-belief can lead to success. She is passionate about her research and is constantly wanting to improve her skills. She is an excellent mentor to junior postgraduates and is always willing to go the extra mile in ensuring that good quality research is being undertaken.’
Dr Roshini Govinden, Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of Microbiology, said: ‘Ms Mohammed is not only an excellent researcher who has excelled in her lab bench work, she has a keen and inquiring mind which has made her strive to obtain the answers she seeks. She is dedicated, diligent, meticulous, highly organised with a determination to succeed at what she attempts. Farzana is also blessed with a lovely personality, she is highly presentable, professional, and articulate and is a team player who interacts well with her peers and superiors. It has been a joy to watch her blossom as a researcher.’
Proud parents Mr and Mrs Mohamed said: ‘It was a difficult process with many challenges, but she overcame them all like the confident young woman she is. Her sincere efforts, hard work and sleepless nights have finally paid off. We wish her all the best with her PhD. Keep working hard and making us proud!’
Words: Leena Rajpal
Photograph: Udayshia Vencatasu