The finalists in the 2018/2019 NSTF-South32 Awards have been announced. These awards, also known as the ‘Science Oscars of South Africa’, is the flagship project of the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) and the first science awards in South Africa. The NSTF-South32 Awards are annual national awards that honour and celebrate outstanding contributions to science, engineering, technology (SET) and innovation.

The announcement of the winners will be made at the 21st NSTF Awards Gala Dinner on 27 June 2019 in Gauteng with the Minister of Science and Technology who will be handing over the awards. Several nominees’ contributions focus on the agricultural, forestry and related industries.

Lifetime Award

Prof John Bolton: Emeritus professor and senior research scholar: University of Cape Town           

Professor John Bolton’s work is helping farmers to grow seaweeds for feed and for use in bioremediation, enabling water recirculation, resulting in greatly reducing costs in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Before Prof Bolton, marine plants in South Africa were previously much under-studied, despite their critical role in marine ecosystems and the ‘blue economy’. He has led projects on the biology, resource use and aquaculture of seaweeds in South Africa.

Prof John Bolton.

The known seaweed diversity in South Africa has increased from about 550 species to over 850 species since he began his work, and well over half of this increase was produced by research on projects he led.

He has also made significant contributions to knowledge of marine algae in numerous countries in Southern and East Africa. He has been recognised both locally and internationally for his contributions to marine science.

Prof Robin Crewe, senior research fellow: Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship, University of Pretoria         

Prof Robin Crewe is solving the global bee extinction crisis by introducing disease-genetically-resistant African honeybees to declining bee populations.

Bee extinction threatens food security, as honeybees play a critical role, not only as producers of honey, but also as pollinators of crops.

Prof Robin Crewe.

His work has provided insight into the social insects’ communication systems and social organisation. He has also assessed indigenous populations of honeybees to verify the impact of honeybee diseases, the colony collapse disorder, winter losses and weak bee colonies.

The African continent is home to the largest number of wild honeybee swarms, meaning that the most genetic diversity is also to be found here, Prof Crewe discovered.

TW Kambule-NSTF Awards: Emerging Researcher

Prof Eshchar Mizrachi, associate professor: Department of Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology, and Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute, UP

Prof Mizrachi’s research focuses on wood development and evolution, informing biology and genetic programming of production of industrially important molecules, compounds and polymers in trees

Prof Eshchar Mizrachi.

The research on wood formation addresses major gaps in the forestry and renewable biomass biotechnology sector.

The work involves forest tree materials from three to ten year old trials grown in Sappi Forests and has also attracted new funding (from the South African Technology Innovation Agency) which will include bioprospecting additional plant species for novel phenolic compounds or other secondary metabolites that can impact woody biomass properties.

Dr Bohani Mtileni, senior lecturer: Department of Animal Sciences, Tshwane University of Technology    

Dr Mtileni’s project contributes knowledge towards developing effective programmes that will improve the productivity of goats in rural and peri-urban areas, and the livelihoods of the targeted beneficiaries which are the goat farming communities in South Africa. This project benefits industry partners through the development of a new testing kit which directly broadens its target market and allows a new stream of revenue generation from the goat farming industry. The overall results directly benefit goat farmers and industry as a whole, since the alternative control measures or selection strategies to either reduce or eliminate the current dependence on chemotherapy for parasite control, were developed.

Dr Bohani Mtileni.

The long-term objective of the project was to investigate genetic variation in internal parasite resistance between and within indigenous goat populations in different regions of South Africa. Short term objectives were: To investigate the distribution and prevalence of internal parasites in selected regions of South Africa; to investigate genetic variation to internal parasite within and between goat breeds using egg count per gram and packed cell volume; and to identify genes or QTL regions associated with resistance to internal parasites and productivity of goats using SNP genotyping.

Communication Award

Mologadi Makwela, communications officer: Department of Science and Technology/National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence: Food Security, University of the Western Cape          

Mologadi Makwela developed and implemented an integrated science engagement strategy for the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security, using innovative and established tools to promote food security research for public consumption.  Communication strategies include multimedia platforms, theatre, cultural events and poetry.

Mologadi Makwela

This was done in recognition of the challenge of food insecurity in South Africa. Although over one quarter of South Africans experience food insecurity, much of what is written about this topic is not easily understood by the public. Reasons include that the knowledge producers concerning food security span multiple disciplines, and that there are significant contestations within this community. The potential consequence of providing misleading or misunderstood information is high. – Ursula Human, AgriOrbit