Projects available for MSc or PhD studies
Novel Marine Drugs through (meta)Genomics
The South African coast harbours high levels of marine species endemism. This project involves the isolation of biosynthetic gene clusters encoding novel bioactive compounds from prokaryotes associated with marine invertebrates and sediments. The approaches employed are aimed to overcome two of the major bottlenecks which hinder the discovery and development of pharmacological drug compounds.
Metagenomic Mining in Extreme Environments
A Malawian hot spring metagenome has been sequenced. There are several near-complete genomes assembled which represent novel species. One of the aims will be to describe these new species and identify characteristics that could inform on their adaptation to the thermophilic environment which they inhabit. The data will also be analysed for the isolation of novel biocatalysts or enzymes which may have biotechnological application.
The absence of an appropriate biocatalyst has been an impeding factor in many biotechnologies, and thus there is an urgent need for biotechnology innovation. Metagenomics has for almost two decades promised to deliver these biocatalysts, but due to several limitations, it has not achieved all that it promised. We have shown the proof of concept for a highly innovative, novel and powerful technology to take metagenomics to a new level, which represents a paradigm shift in the way that functional metagenomic screening is conducted. The further development of this technology innovation will be the focus of this project, and is expected to result in the accelerated discovery of novel enzymes, bioactivities and organisms with enormous commercializable potential in a number of (bio)technology sectors.
Novel microbial surfactants as natural speciality chemicals for commercial application
Surfactants are amphipathic molecules with both hydrophilic and hydrophobic moieties that partition preferentially at the interface between fluid phases such as oil/water or air/water interfaces. Such
characteristics confer excellent detergency, emulsifying, foaming, and dispersing traits, which makes surfactants some of the most versatile process chemicals. Synthetic surfactants; however, are increasingly considered as an environmental risk and biosurfactants (microbially produced surface-active compounds), which are biodegradable and generally considered environmentally friendly, have increasingly gathered a lot of interest as potential alternatives. The IMBM is in the process of developing a portfolio of biosurfactants for use in a variety of industrial processes. The project involves the isolation and characterisation (chemical, structural and performance) of novel biosurfactants, as well as the upscaling of biosurfactant production.
Assessing the prevalence of antimicrobial resistance genes in domestic greywater systems
Domestic greywater systems have greywater as a potential source of antimicrobial resistance organisms, which could lead to environmental contamination. The aims of this project are to employ various molecular techniques (qPCR, FACS or T-RFLP) to screen for and quantify antimicrobial resistance genes in domestic grey water systems. A novel FACS assay for the detection of resistance phenotypes will also be established.
For MSc: BSc Hons or equivalent qualification with a minimum average of 60%; majoring in Microbiology, Biotechnology, Biochemistry or a related relevant field.
For PhD: MSc in Microbiology, Biotechnology, Biochemistry or an equivalent qualification.
Experience and skills in molecular biology techniques, method development and good laboratory practice. Responsibility, reliability, good problem solving, time management, communication (written and verbal) and interpersonal skills, as well as computer literacy, are absolute requirements. Experience in extraction, isolation and structural analysis technologies is a major advantage