Several sub-projects in this field aim to increase our understanding of the inhibition and regulation of cysteine protease activity by plant cystatins. This includes the role of cysteine proteases and cystatins during nodule development and senescence in soybean as well as the possibility of using cystatins to increase abiotic stress resistance in nodules. A further project relates to the inhibition of insect digestive proteases by plant cystatins and their potential for use in developing insect resistant crops.

We study the function and importance of specific amino acids in the cystatin proteins using techniques such as homology modelling and protein-protein docking to study and predict specific interactions in silico. We also change specific amino acids in the proteins through site-directed mutagenesis in order to study their effect on the inhibition potential of the modified cystatins in vitro. Selected cystatins have also been recombinantly expressed in various plants to evaluate their role in vivo particularly in repressing senescence and protein degradation.

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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