A hearty congratulations to Lazarus Takawira on completing his PhD and presenting his Prestige seminar “Inferring secondary cell wall-related R2R3-MYB transcription factor gene target in Eucalyptus grandis using DNA affinity purification sequencing” on 29 November. Lazarus’ PhD was completed under the supervision of Prof. Steven Hussey, Prof. Zander Myburg and Prof. Eschar Mizrachi. The examiners for his thesis were Prof. Gerard Theron from Stellenbosch University, Prof. Christian Dubos of the Institute for Plant Science of Montpellier and Prof. Amy Brunner of Virginia Technology Institute, USA.

Prof. Steven Hussey, who is now resident in Melbourne, Australia, joined via Zoom to introduce Lazarus whom he described as a person with a very clear life plan and who has an infectious, big smile. “He has come a long way and I am exceptionally proud of him that he has finished his journey despite technical and personal challenges and a pandemic!” He also pointed out that Lazarus authored a book titled “Imagine Africa” prior to starting his PhD at FABI.

Lazarus’ PhD explored the use of DNA Affinity Purification Sequencing (DAP-seq) in fast-tracking our understanding of the transcriptional regulation of secondary cell wall (SCW) biosynthesis in the economically important hardwood, Eucalyptus grandis. By optimising the assay, collaborating with Dr Mounet’s group at the University of Toulouse and incorporating machine learning, his research demonstrated that that biological functions of R2R3-MYB transcription factors linked to SCW biosynthesis could be inferred from their genome-wide binding sites using DAP-seq. He was able to reconstruct a transcriptional regulatory network involving hundreds of previously unknown transcription factor-gene interactions, significantly advancing our understanding of the mechanisms by which hardwood trees regulate genes involved in wood development.