The Fruit Tree Biotechnology Programme (FTBP) held the annual Hans Merensky Foundation Student Presentation seminars at FABI on 8 September. The seminars are a platform to present progress on research conducted by students and staff in the FTBP to the foundation’s board members. The foundation funds FTBP through its subsidiary Westfalia Technology Services, in a venture to facilitate the development of superior avocado rootstocks.

FTBP research leader Prof, Noëlani van den Berg welcomed guests; who included Chairman of the Hans Merensky Holdings Board Dr Kevin Mossie, Chief Executive Officer of the Hans Merensky Foundation, Dr Khotso Mokhele and FABI Director Prof. Mike Wingfield. Though the presentations focused mostly on efforts to understand the complexities of the interaction between avocado and the pathogen Phytophthora cinnamomi, the seminars also highlighted research conducted on macadamia nuts, which are increasingly becoming an economically valuable crop in South Africa.

The names of the presenters and their presentation titles are listed below:

Dr Ashok Prabhu: Ex vitro generation of composite avocado plants: A proof-of-concept study.

Dr Lydia Wahba: Identification and functional characterization of avocado miRNAs in response to Phytophthora cinnamomi infection.

PhD student Ilkadim Rautenbach: Molecular identification of Phytophthora cinnamomi RxLR effector-interacting partners in Avocado by Y2H screening.

MSc student Michael Bufé: The early physiological response of avocado rootstocks to infection with Phytophthora cinnamomi interaction.

PhD student Robert Backer: Molecular cloning and functional characterisation of NPR1-like genes from Persea americana (Mill.).

MSc student Zanelle Mufamadi: Identification and management of macadamia husk rot.

MSc student Tsakani Miyambo: The identification and expression analysis of polygalacturonases (PGs) and polygalacturonase-inhibiting proteins (PGIPs) during the Persea americana - Phytophthora cinnamomi interaction.

MSc student Mohamed Seedat: Identification of CRN effector genes in Phytophthora cinnamomi during avocado root infection.

PhD student Buyani Ndlovu: Transient expression and effect-evaluation of putative Phytophthora cinnamomi RXLRs on Nicotiana benthamiana.

BSc (Hons) student Melissa Joubert: Establishing a detached leaf pathosystem for the study of Phytophthora cinnamomi in Nicotiana benthamiana.

Researcher Juanita Engelbrecht – Development of microsatellite markers and applying these markers to understand population biology of Phytophthora cinnamomi from South Africa.