In the African Plant Systems biology for the Bioeconomy programme (APSB) we use systems biology, evo-devo approaches, genome engineering and synthetic biology to study important traits in African plants of ecological and economic importance. This includes how plants acquire, manage and invest sequestered carbon to adapt to low-nutrient environments, and create superior plant biomass. 

Chemical ecology is the study of the role that chemicals play mediating interactions between organisms and organisms and their environment, and the consequences of those interactions in ecological and evolutionary time. It is not an autonomous discipline but rather an approach to ecology, one of viewing ecological interactions through a chemical lens world.

 

In the Applied Mycology Research Programme, we are focusing on to better understand the fungal communities that produce mycotoxins in agricultural crops, food and animal feed. Emphasis is placed on the diversity and taxonomy of genera such as Alternaria, Aspergillus, Fusarium, Penicillium and Talaromyces, but many others are also studied.  Ultimately, our goal is to secure food and feed from farm to fork for future generations.

Avocado Research Programme, a programme of the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI), represents a cooperative venture between The Hans Merensky Foundation and the University of Pretoria, to deal with avocado disease problems, especially the avocado/Phytophthora cinnamomi interaction. HMF has committed a substantial amount to establish this research project at FABI and The University of Pretoria in turn provides the infrastructure necessary to conduct research.

The bacterial genomics and host pathogen interactions research group is interested in understanding molecular pathogen-host interactions between potato plants and their various pathogens. The objectives of the research include molecular identification of potato pathogens and pests, functional characterisation of bacterial virulence factors and elucidation of potato plant responses elicited by potato pathogens. We ultimately endevour to contribute knowledge toward the control of pathogens and pests under study.

The CERC-FABI Tree Protection Programme (CFTPP), is a co-operative venture programme established between the China Eucalypt Research Centre (CERC) of the Chinese Academy of Forestry in China, and the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI), at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. This Programme arose from a long term collaboration between the two institutions that was formally established in 2014. It has resulted in many important outputs in terms of fundamental research, solutions to eucalypt disease problems and education of post graduate students.

The research group focusses on the interaction between cereal plants and foliar fungal pathogens. Pathosystems currently under study include grey leaf spot in maize (GLS) caused by Cercospora zeina, and northern corn leaf blight (NCLB) in maize and sorghum caused by Exserohilum turcicum. Projects are aimed at studying population structure of these pathogens, identification and functional characterisation of pathogen effectors causing disease, and cereal plants’ response to pathogen infection.

The Crop Floral Biology and Environments research team is focused on understanding how changing environments affect floral development, anthesis (flowering from bud opening to pollination) and pollination in economically important crops such as maize and sunflower. The multidisciplinary projects draw together aspects of climatology, plant physiology, plant molecular biology and ecology to holistically address these questions.

The CTHB promotes the health of trees indigenous to South Africa through the use of biotechnology. This is accomplished through projects that typically consider the pathogens and pests associated with native trees and woody hosts. The CTHB also explores the possible effects that factors such as climate change, society, natural forest health and plant genetics may have on the health of native woody resources and ecosystems.

The EPPI group undertakes to gain an understanding of host broad-spectrum resistance to curb disease or pest incidence in Eucalyptus and Pine. Genomic approaches are employed to investigate Eucalyptus interactions to the insect pest Leptocybe invasa, the oomycete pathogen Phytophthora cinnamomi and the fungal pathogen Chrysoporthe austroafricana. In Pine, induced resistance is being investigated as a means to improve tolerance against Fusarium circinatum.

The Forest Molecular Genetics (FMG) Programme focuses on the genetic control of wood development in fast-growing plantation trees. We utilise a number of research and technology platforms, namely: tree genomics; high-throughput DNA marker analysis; functional genetics; as well as wood pheno¬typing. We work in close collaboration with South African forestry companies to develop capacity and resources for the application of tree biotechnology in operational tree improvement programmes.

The Grain Research Program (GRP) is a newly established programme falling within both the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST)/National Research Foundation (NRF) Centre of Excellence in Plant Health Biotechnology (CPHB) at the University of Pretoria. This programme was formed to engage directly with grain stakeholders to initiate research that will support this sector by identifying future challenges to the industry and exploring possible solutions to these challenges.

Macadamia is one of the fastest growing agricultural industries in the country and is of economic importance to South Africa. The industry is however hampered by a number of pests and diseases which can cause major economic loss, both in terms of yield as well as nut quality. The industry currently relies heavily on the use of commercially available pesticides and chemicals for pest and disease control. There is, however, growing concern regarding continuous build-up of resistance, and the long-term sustainability of the industry is dependent on the use of integrated pest management.

The Molecular Plant Physiology group collaborate with research groups in the UK, USA, Canada and Belgium to study the effect of biotic and abiotic stress in plants though a combination physiology, phenomics, functional genomics and proteomics. Using a holistic approach we aim to better understand the mechanisms underlying plant stress tolerance and resistance as well as the identification of potential biological markers that can then be used in plant improvement.

The Molecular Plant-Pathogen Interactions (MPPI) Group is located in the Plant Sciences Complex at the University of Pretoria and is headed by Prof Dave Berger. Research focuses on the molecular basis of plant-pathogen interactions using a range of approaches from whole plant phenotyping to functional genomics. We study the maize – grey leaf spot (Cercospora zeina) pathosystem.

The Phytobacteriology programme at FABI has two main research areas, viz. taxonomy and pathogenicity. Several plant pathogenic bacteria are currently being characterized using a range of techniques, and are also being formally described. As one of our main focus areas, the pathogenicity factors of Panteoa ananatis, an opportunistic plant pathogen, are being investigated using a functional genomics approach.

Research by this group focuses on the epidemiology, etiology, detection and identification of the two most important viruses of wine grapes and citrus respectively in order to improve control of the disease they induce. The group also does research on fastidious bacteria associated with Rutaceae (Citrus-family), which on citrus is associated with citrus greening disease.

The primary research focus of the Potato Pathology Programme is the epidemiology, diagnosis and control of soil- and seed-borne diseases of potatoes. Diseases currently being investigated include powdery scab, black scurf, stem canker, blackleg and soft rot. Various approaches are used to better understand disease spread and development, host-pathogen interactions and control, to provide growers with risk assessment and disease management strategies.  

 

The Polyphagous Shothole Borer (PSHB) outbreak in South Africa is the largest geographical outbreak of this beetle in the world. It is affecting trees in all sectors: the agricultural and commercial forestry sector, urban trees (public spaces, streets, gardens), as well as native trees in natural forests. Over the past year or more, researchers at FABI had been in contact with senior academics from seven universities in relation to PSHB research.

The RGE-FABI Tree Health Programme (RGE-FABI THP) was established in 2018 as a collaborative venture between the Indonesian-based Royal Golden Eagle (RGE) Group and the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) at the University of Pretoria. This partnership addresses challenges posed by pests and diseases to RGE’s forestry operations in Indonesia and Brazil. The initiative involves FABI researchers working in partnership with RGE’s divisions: Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Limited (APRIL) and Brazil based Bracell Limited.

Developing capacity in any research field requires high quality and discipline-specific academic leadership. How does one achieve capacity if certain expertise is not available in house? One approach is through the establishment of ‘Satellite Labs’. These laboratories are creating a link between a host institute and a partner in industry or academia to transfer knowledge and are led by next-generation experts in fields in which the host institute wants to build capacity. In return, the partner can benefit from another field of expertise that might be well developed at the host institute.

The group is actively involved in seed science research. Our research fields include seed health tests, general seed pathology, seed vigour and seed germination according to ISTA rules. We are also involved in evaluating industry, or developing novel, environmentally sustainable, seed treatments. The research focuses on grains, herbs and vegetables.

The Social Insects Research Group (SIRG) also known as the Bee group is a Research Group in the Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria. Our group studies fundamental and applied aspects of sociality in ants, bees, termites and wasps with a particular focus on honey bees, hence we are teaching and building capacity for bee research on the continent and beyond.

The Tree Protection Cooperative Programme (TPCP) represents a cooperative venture between the major players in the South African Forestry Industry and the University of Pretoria, to deal with tree disease problems. The programme is based on a membership concept where forestry organisations are members and contribute to a collaborative effort through the payment of annual fees. The University of Pretoria in turn provides the infrastructure necessary to conduct research into tree pests and diseases, which is technologically complicated and thus expensive.