Top Marks for Microbiologist
Ms Amanda Wellmann graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science Honours degree specialising in the area of Microbiology.
The Honours programme consisted of five course work modules and one research project module with course work modules running individually for a series of six weeks at a time and covering a range of concepts and skills required in Mycology, Bacteriology, Biotechnology and Molecular Genetics. The research project module ran for the entire year.
Wellmann’s project was on microbial source tracking which aimed at identifying strains of the bacteria Bacteroides fragilis, via the presence of host-specific bacteriophages, which could be used as specific indicators of human faecal pollution in various water sources. The project was highly relevant in a South African context as faecally-contaminated water sources can give rise to a variety of harmful human diseases. Many rural settlements in South Africa unfortunately rely on these hazardous sources of water.
Despite the importance of microbial source tracking in preventing the dissemination of infectious diseases, an optimal method has not yet been identified and no method is currently being implemented within the National Microbial Monitoring framework of South Africa. Different strains of B. fragilis have found success in microbial source tracking studies in other parts of the world and the aim of the project was to determine which host strains would be applicable to South African waters.
Wellmann elected to do a general microbiology course in order to gain exposure to a diverse range of laboratory and molecular techniques, which would best equip her for future research projects.
She said she found the journey through her Honours year exciting and challenging. The excitement was in working independently in laboratories, deriving her own research methods and most importantly, developing unique and rewarding relationships between classmates and supervisors. The challenge was managing the workload and perseverance.
‘In no way would I have been capable of achieving the results I did without the support of the classmates who I now consider friends,’ said Wellmann.
Wellmann is currently busy with a masters degree at the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis (TB) and HIV (K-RITH), studying populations of innate lymphoid cells, and their fates in TB-infected individuals, in the presence and absence of HIV co-infection.
‘It is very exciting to be granted the opportunity to pursue such important research, which has grown to become a passion of mine and from which I gain great satisfaction. Although I consider research to be highly important, the battle will not be won by research alone. I feel that as a scientist, added benefits can also be achieved by raising awareness, preaching the importance of knowledge of these diseases, and reaching out to community.’
Wellmann acknowledged that her motivation to succeed stemmed from the standards her grandmother, Mrs Margaret Calder, maintained whilst being a Microbiologist and Hematologist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). ‘Professor Ade Olaniran has also been a great mentor throughout my academic career,’ said Wellmann.
Similar positive sentiments were echoed by Professor Olaniran: ‘Amanda is a well-motivated individual who has demonstrated an excellent level of intelligence and scholarly aptitude at the various levels of her studies at the University. She is a very diligent, dedicated, reliable and hardworking person with good interpersonal and communication skills. Mentoring such a willing, intelligent and budding scientist like Amanda is academically fulfilling and I have no doubt that her academic ability will be nurtured and developed into full potential. I wish her well in her newly found passion on TB and HIV research.’
- Leena Rajpal