The overall aim of this project is to develop a joint training and cutting edge research program based on "state of the-art", technologies that will strengthen the research partnership between the University of Pretoria in South Africa, the Leeds University, UK and VIB Ghent, Belgium in legume improvement, which is of major agronomic importance both in the EU and in Africa. This aim will be achieved through short and longer-term periods of staff exchanges between the African and European partners and networking activities between the three institutions. The ultimate goal of this project is to achieve more rapid progress in advancing current knowledge and concepts through joint endeavour leading to joint-author high citation index publications and possibly also patents. In this way we will establish a long-term research cooperation between the three institutions based on active technology and scientific knowledge application and transfer.

In general, nodule development is a complex process that has been insensitively studied for many years. However, key questions remain concerning the orchestration of bacterial infection, nodule development and nodule senescence in relation to the senescence of the whole plant. As with other major crops, grain legume production can be severely restricted by environmental stresses. However, little information is available on the mechanisms that cause the breakdown of symbiosis particularly during stress. The mechanisms that trigger the end of symbiosis in development-dependent and stress-induced nodule senescence remain to be characterised.

This project is focused on nodule development from the point where the bacteria are taken up by the plant cells, develop into bacteroids within symbiosomes and start to fix atmospheric nitrogen to the point where symbiosis ends and the nodules loose the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen. Although the initial steps of nodule development, mediated by the bacterial Nod factors have been intensively studied, relatively few traits that have the potential to contribute or enhance nitrogen fixation in agricultural practices have been characterised in terms of molecular and protein biology. This project will address this issue directly and contribute to current knowledge and concepts of nodule development and sustainability. The proposed joint research effort is based on the interfacing and interdisciplinary skills and knowhow of each of the partners.

New Publications

Tremblay J, Goulet M-C, Vorster J, Goulet C, Michaud M. (2021) Harnessing the functional diversity of plant cystatins to design inhibitor variants highly active against herbivorous arthropod digestive proteases. The FEBS Journal 10.1111/febs.16288 PDF
Sukhorukov AP, Kushunina M, Reinhardt CF, Bezuidenhout H, Vorster BJ. (2021) First records of Amaranthus palmeri, a new emerging weed in southern Africa with further notes on other poorly known alien amaranths in the continent . BioInvasion Records 10(1):1-9. 10.3391/bir.2021.10.1.01 PDF
Kunert KJ, Botha A-M, Oberholster PJ, Yocgo R, Chimwamurombe P, Vorster J, Foyer CH. (2020) Factors facilitating sustainable scientific partnerships between developed and developing countries. Outlook on Agriculture 49(3):204-214. 10.1177/0030727020939592 PDF
Singh AA, Tsekoa TL, Morris L, Steinkellner H, Mach L, Whaley K, Zeitlin L, Pauly M, Vorster J, Bhiman JN, Gerber I, Alexandra K, Stoychev SH, Lotter-Stark T, Kwezi L, Pooe O, Chikwamba R. (2020) Plant-based production of highly potent anti-HIV antibodies with engineered posttranslational modifications. Scientific Reports 10:6201. 10.1038/s41598-020-63052-1 PDF
Malefo M, Mathibela O, Makgopa E, Crampton BG. (2020) Investigating the role of Bowman-Birk serine protease inhibitor in Arabidopsis plants under drought stress. Plant Physiology and Biochemistry 149:286-293. 10.1016/J.PLAPHY.2020.02.007