Six Chinese students graduated with their PhDs from UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES).
Their studies fell under a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between UKZN and the Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences (JAAS) in China. Following several visits and the signing of a five-year MoU in 2014, academics at UKZN and JAAS began the supervision of nine PhD students from China in disciplines such as microbiology, biochemistry and crop science. The MoU encourages co-operation between staff and students for study and research purposes that include staff and graduate exchanges, collaborative research and exchange of information. A Steering Committee meets annually to evaluate the progress of the agreement. Plans are also in place for the implementation of a joint postdoctoral programme.
Professor Jun Huang, JAAS Vice-President, attended the ceremony together with eight colleagues.
‘We are pleased that this research partnership has been mutually beneficial to both institutions over the years, resulting in joint research publications and supervision of students,’ said Professor Ademola Olaniran, Dean and Head of the School of Life Sciences. ‘I commend the students for their dedication, diligence and commitment that has resulted in the production of high quality work worthy of PhD degrees,’ said Olaniran.
Supervised by Dr Paul Mokoena and Olaniran at UKZN, Fang Ji’s study concerned Fusarium toxin contamination of cereal grains in Jiangsu Province, China. Fungal contamination of grain crops poses a serious threat to food security, and warm, humid climatic regions in South Africa and China provide conditions suitable for plant epidemics such as Fusarium head blight and other fungal grain plant diseases. Consumption of mycotoxin-contaminated food and feed threatens human and animal health, even being linked to oesophageal cancer.
Yao Shu’s study, which was supervised by Professor Bala Pillay at UKZN, investigated the breeding of japonica super rice varieties in Jiangsu Province, China. This forms part of a large breeding programme undertaken by the Nanjing Branch of the Chinese National Center for Rice Improvement at JAAS. The aim of the breeding programme is to obtain high yields with concomitant improvement in quality and taste. One aim behind the collaboration is to promote rice production in South Africa, reducing the country’s reliance on imports of two million tons each year. Trials investigating how to irrigate the crop have produced promising results.
Wu Yuziconducted her research on Mycoplasmal pneumonia of swine (MPS) caused by Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae. This chronic and contagious respiratory disease with high infectivity and morbidity is widespread in intensive pig farms worldwide, restricts the development of livestock breeding and results in huge economic losses. Without early detection and treatment of outbreaks, large herds are culled to prevent disease transmission. Dr Hafizah Chenia at UKZN and Professor Hongbo Shao at JAAS supervised this research.
Wang Guangfei, supervised by Dr Roshini Govinden and Dr Hafizah Chenia at UKZN, investigated the influence of straw biochar with different properties for controlling Phytophthora blight of pepper. This involved investigating its soil biochemical properties and disease control effect, its effect on microbial populations, microbial community structure, proportion of antagonists and average antagonistic ability of microorganisms, as well as enriched biocontrol microorganisms. The study provided a framework and theoretical basis for biochar selection and application for the control of Phytophthora blight of pepper, which has a huge impact in China, the world’s largest producer of pepper. Pepper is a growing market in South Africa.
Hongduo Bao’s study, supervised by Professor Stefan Schmidt and Olaniran, concerned bacteriophages (viruses that use bacterial cells to replicate). She investigated whether bacteriophages could be employed like ‘probiotics to improve the health of animals to contribute to agriculture. Her PhD highlighted that bacteriophages have potential as ‘probiotics’ and could reduce antibiotic use in agriculture.
Yingliang Yu’s research was supervised by Dr Alfred Odindo and Professor Bala Pillay at UKZN, and investigated whether biochar made from wheat-straw residue can be used as an amendment to improve the soil’s capacity to retain nitrogen (N) and thus reduce N losses through leaching. This is due to intensive vegetable production systems in developed regions in China relying heavily on external fertiliser application, with excessive N application compared to conventional crops, resulting in considerable environmental degradation and pollution. In South Africa municipalities face significant challenges in providing sanitation facilities to growing urban populations, also involving environmental degradation and pollution. Biochar, which can be produced from human waste, is attracting attention due to its capacity to increase crop yields by ameliorating the soil environment and regulating nutrient processes.
Words: Christine Cuénod
Photographs: Rajesh Jantilal