Congratulations to Velushka Swart on the successful defence of her PhD degree on 18 May! This last stage in the completion of her degree was preceded by the presentation of her prestige seminar at the FABI auditorium. She presented a summary of her research project, titled “Functional genomics of the cercosporin biosynthetic gene cluster in the maize pathogen, Cercospora zeina”.

Her project was supervised by Prof. Dave Berger (Molecular Plant Pathogen Interactions research group) and Dr Bridget Crampton. Her external examiners were Prof. Rosie Bradshaw of the Institute of Fundamental Sciences at Massey University, New Zealand; Prof. Lisa Vaillancourt of the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Kentucky, USA and Prof. Noelani van den Berg at the University of Pretoria.

Velushka’s research sought to understand the role of cercosporin, a phytotoxin that was thought to be essential for pathogenicity in Cercospora species that are pathogens on different hosts. She discovered through functional genomics that one of the cercosporin biosynthetic genes was defective in Cercospora zeina, thus shedding light on a long-standing puzzle as to why this fungus does not produce cercosporin in culture. C. zeina is the causal agent of grey leaf spot disease in maize. The disease causes devastating losses in maize yields and poses a threat to food security, especially in a country like South Africa where maize is a staple food crop.

New Publications

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Human ZR, Crous CJ, Roets F, Venter SN, Wingfield MJ, de Beer ZW. (2017) Biodiversity and ecology of flower-associated actinomycetes in different flowering stages of Protea repens. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek 10.1007/s10482-017-0942-3
McTaggart AR, Beasley DR, Wingfield MJ, Wood AR, Pretorius ZA, Drenth A, Shivas RG, Roux J. (2017) A dynamic, web-based resource to identify rust fungi (Pucciniales) in southern Africa. MycoKeys 26:77-83. 10.3897/mycokeys.26.14602
De Maayer P, Aliyu H, Vikram S, Blom J, Duffy B, Cowan DA, Smits THM, Venter SN, Coutinho TA. (2017) Phylogenomic, pan-genomic, pathogenomic and evolutionary genomic insights into the agronomically relevant enterobacteria Pantoea ananatis and Pantoea stewartii. Frontiers in Microbiology 8(1755) 10.3389/fmicb.2017.01755
Jami F, Wingfield MJ, Gryzenhout M, Slippers B. (2017) Diversity of tree-infecting Botryosphaeriales on native and non-native trees in South Africa and Namibia. Australasian Plant Pathology 10.1007/s13313-017-0516-x
Stewart JE, Ross-Davis AL, Graҫa RN, Alfenas AC, Peever TL, Hanna JW, Uchida JY, Hauff RD, Kadooka CY, Kim MS, Cannon PG, Namba S, Simeto S, Pérez CA, Rayamajhi MB, Lodge DJ, Arguedas M, Medel-Ortiz R, López-Ramirez MA, Tennant P, Glen M, Machado PS, McTaggart AR, Carnegie AJ, Klopfenstein NB, Cleary M. (2017) Genetic diversity of the myrtle rust pathogen (Austropuccinia psidii) in the Americas and Hawaii: Global implications for invasive threat assessments. Forest Pathology 10.1111/efp.12378