Ms Angelique du Preez
Microbiology and Plant Pathology
Cycads (Cycadales) are ancient perennial, dioecious, gymnosperm seed plants, with a long fossil history dating back approximately 300 million years ago (MYA), therefore making them the oldest seed plants recorded. These cycads were then found with the existence of a large number of species, however now these days’ cycads have declined in diversity. These ancient plants are an important part of our history and biodiversity, however 62% of the world’s cycads are threatened with extinction. For instance many of the African cycad species of the genus Encephalartos have been threatened with extinction over many years. South Africa alone consists of 56% of the Encephalartos species, of which 78% are threatened including 12 that are critically endangered and four that are already extinct. The decline of Encephalartos in South Africa is due to several reasons: the cycads being used in harvesting for traditional medicines, destruction of natural habitats, poaching and private collectors, illegal trade, as well as pathogens and pests that live in/on cycads resulting in damage and death of the plant.
I am a Plant Pathology student in my first year of PhD. My research project run by the South African Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) in conjunction with the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) will focus on the health of Cycads in South Africa, specifically on the identification of microorganisms and pests causing damage to these ancient plants. In order to discover the true microbial killers of Cycads, so that awareness and management aspects can be implemented to reduce the number of microbial related deaths.