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Senior Lecturer

Department

Plant Production and Soil Science
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Research Profiles

 

I did my undergraduate degree in plant physiology and a MSc. in molecular biology at the University of Pretoria.  During my PhD. I spent more than a year conducting research in whole genome comparisons at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio in the USA., before returning to the University of Pretoria to complete my PhD in 2008. This was followed by a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the Université Laval in Quebec City, Canada that focused on recombinant protein expression as well as protein modelling and rational design of proteins for improved function. In 2010 I was appointed in the Department of Plant Production and Soil Science at the University of Pretoria.

 

 

Understanding stress biology through functional genomics and proteomics.

 

Our main research focus is on the interaction between cysteine proteases and cysteine protease inhibitors and the involvement of this protease-protease inhibitor system in soybean nodule development. Root nodules are important to fix nitrogen in legumes such as soybean. Since cysteine proteases have been previously identified to play an important role in plant senescence, a specific research target is the identification of inhibitor involvement in preventing cysteine protease activity in particular during premature stress-induced nodule senescence. Elevated cysteine protease activity is causing severe protein degradation and ultimately nodule death. The soybean genome contains over 50 cysteine protease sequences as well as 19 cysteine protease inhibitor sequences. Sequence conservation between the different members of these to gene families makes it very difficult to identify and analyze the expression of different members on an individual basis. We therefore used RNASeq to obtain the first known transcriptome sequence data for soybean nodules at three different developmental stages. This has allowed for the identification of both proteases and inhibitors that play an important role in nodule development and natural senescence, as well as a large number of other genes that are significantly up or down regulated between the different time points in development. In the second phase of this project we aim to generate more transcriptome data of nodules under stress induced senescence and compare this data to our current transcriptome database.

 

 


I am responsible for teaching the Weed Science component of Crop Protection (PLG 251), Crop Physiology (APS 461) and Weed Science (OKW413).

A also coordinate the Biotechnology in the Workplace (BTW701) module. 


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Book Chapters
Kunert K, Vorster J, Bester C, Cullis C, Rajasekaran K, Jacks T, Finley J. 2002. DNA microchip technology in the plant tissue culture industry. In: Crop Biotechnology, ACS Symposium Series, Vol. 829. American Chemical Society, USA, pp 86-96.
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Publication
Foyer CH, Lam H-M, Nguyen HT, Siddique KHM, Varshney RK, Colmer TD, Cowling W, Bramley H, Mori TA, Hodgson JM, Cooper JW, Miller AJ, Kunert K, Vorster J, Cullis C, Ozga JA, Wahlqvist ML, Liang Y, Shou H, Shi K, Yu J, Fodor N, Kaiser BN, Wong F-L, Valliyodan B, Considine MJ. (2016) Neglecting legumes has compromised human health and sustainable food production. Nature Plants 2:16112. 10.1038/nplants.2016.112
Pillay P, Kunert KJ, van Wyk S, Makgopa ME, Cullis CA, Vorster BJ. (2016) Agroinfiltration contributes to VP1 recombinant protein degradation. Bioengineered 7(6):459-477. 10.1080/21655979.2016.1208868
Kunert K, Vorster BJ, Fenta BA, Kibido T, Dionisio G, Foyer CH. (2016) Drought stress responses in soybean roots and nodules. Frontiers in Plant Science 7(1015) 10.3389/fpls.2016.01015 PDF
Naidoo SIM, Laurie SM, Odeny DA, Vorster BJ, Mphela WM, Greyling MM, Crampton BG. (2016) Genetic analysis of yield and flesh colour in sweetpotato. African Crop Science Journal 24(1):61-73. 10.4314/acsj.v24i1.5 PDF
Sainsbury F, Jutras PV, Vorster J, Goulet MC , Michaud D. (2016) A Chimeric Affinity Tag for Efficient Expression and Chromatographic Purification of Heterologous Proteins from Plants. Frontiers in Plant Science 7:141. 10.3389/fpls.2016.00141
Van Wyk SG, Kunert KJ, Cullis CA, Pillay P, Makgopa ME, Schluter U , Vorster BJ. (2016) The future of cystatin engineering. Plant Science 246:119-127. 10.1016/j.plantsci.2016.02.016 PDF
van Wyk SG, Du Plessis M, Cullis CA, Kunert KJ, Vorster BJ. (2014) Cysteine protease and cystatin expression and activity during soybean nodule development and senescence. BMC Plant Biology 14(294) 10.1186/s12870-014-0294-3
Pillay P, Schlüter U, van Wyk S, Kunert KJ, Vorster BJ. (2014) Proteolysis of recombinant proteins in bioengineered plant cells. Bioengineered 5(1):15-20. 10.4161/bioe.25158
Vorster BJ, Schlüter U, du Plessis M, van Wyk S, Makgopa ME, Ncube I, Quain MD, Kunert K, Foyer CH. (2013) The Cysteine Protease – Cysteine Protease Inhibitor System Explored in Soybean Nodule Development. Agronomy 3(3):550-570. 10.3390/agronomy3030550
Vorster B, Schlüter U, du Plessis M, van Wyk S, Makgopa M, Ncube I, Quain M, Kunert K, Foyer C. (2013) The cysteine protease–cysteine protease inhibitor system explored in soybean nodule development. Agronomy 3(3):550-570. 10.3390/agronomy3030550
Mphangwe NIK, Vorster J, Steyn JM, Nyirenda HE, Taylor NJ, Apostolides Z. (2013) Screening of Tea (Camellia sinensis) for Trait-Associated Molecular Markers. Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology 171:437-449. 10.1007/s12010-013-0370-4
Vorster BJ, Schlüter U, du Plessis M, van Wyk S, Makgopa M, Ncube I, Quain M, Kunert KJ, Foyer C. (2013) The Cysteine Protease–Cysteine Protease Inhibitor System Explored in Soybean Nodule Development. Agronomy 3(3):550-570.
Kunert KJ, Okole B, Vorster BJ, Brewin NJ, Cullis CA. (2012) A general model for training the next generation of biotechnology entrepreneurs based on recent experience of USA-UK-South Africa collaborations. Journal of Commercial Biotechnology 18:62-66. 10.5912/jcb.525
Pillay P, Kibido T, Du Plessis M, Van der Vyver C, Beyene G, Vorster BJ, Kunert KJ, Schlueter U. (2012) Use of Transgenic Oryzacystatin-I-Expressing Plants Enhances Recombinant Protein Production. Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology 168(6):1608-1620. 10.1007/s12010-012-9882-6
Sainsbury F, Rheaume A-J, Goulet M-C, Vorster J, Michaud D. (2012) Discrimination of Differentially Inhibited Cysteine Proteases by Activity-Based Profiling Using Cystatin Variants with Tailored Specificities. Journal of Proteome Research 11:5983-5993. 10.1021/pr300699n
Afiukwa CA, Kunert KJ, Vorster J, Cullis CA, Ubi BE. (2011) Microsatellite association with seed protein content and flowering time in Nigerian cowpea cultivars. African Journal of Biotechnology 10:18057-18064. 10.5897/AJB10.2537
Van der Vyver C, Vorster BJ, Kunert KJ, Cullis CA. (2011) Analysis of radiation-induced genome alterations in Vigna unguiculata. Research and Reports in Biology 2:89-99. 10.2147/RRB.S22790
Benchabane M, Schluter U, Vorster J, Goulet M, Michaud D. (2010) Plant cystatins. Biochimie 92(11):1657-1666. 10.1016/j.biochi.2010.06.006
Khalf M, Goulet C, Vorster BJ, Brunelle F, Anguenot R, Fliss I, Michaud D. (2010) Tubers from potato lines expressing a tomato Kunitz protease inhibitor are substantially equivalent to parental and transigenic controls. Plant Biotechnology Journal 8(2):155-169. 10.1111/j.1467-7652.2009.00471.x
Kiggundu A, Muchwezi J, Van der Vyver C, Viljoen A, Vorster BJ, Schluter U, Kunert KJ, Michaud D. (2010) Deleterious effects of plant cystatins against the Banana weevil Cosmopolites sordidus. Archives of Insect Biochemistry and Physiology 73(2):87-105. 10.1002/arch.20342
Schluter U, Benchabane M, Munger A, Kiggundu A, Vorster J, Goulet M, Cloutier C, Michaud D. (2010) Recombinant protease inhibitors for herbivore pest control: a multitrophic perspective. Journal of Experimental Botany 61(15):4169-4183. 10.1093/jxb/erq166
Cullis CA, Vorster BJ, van der Vyver C, Kunert KJ. (2009) Transfer of genetic material between the chloroplast and nucleus: how is it related to stress in plants?. Annals of Botany 103(4):625-633. 10.1093/aob/mcn173
Vorster BJ, Kunert KJ, Cullis CA. (2002) Use of representational difference analysis for the characterization of sequence differences between date palm varieties. Plant Cell Reports 21(3):271-275. 10.1007/s00299-002-0501-9