25 September 2013 Volume :1 Issue :3

UKZN Researcher to Present Paper in Chile

UKZN Researcher to Present Paper in Chile
Sugarcane researcher, Dr Elliosha Hajari, working in the lab.

Dr Elliosha Hajari, a UKZN Post-doctoral Researcher, has been awarded a partial scholarship from the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) to present an oral paper at the International Symposium on the Nitrogen Nutrition of Plants in Chile later this year.

The ICGEB is an organisation dedicated to the advancement of research and training in molecular biology and biotechnology. It foregrounds science and technology intensive solutions as a means to improve the quality of life of people across the globe.

‘I am extremely excited about attending the conference. I am eager to present my work to an international audience and to get their feedback. I am even more thrilled at the opportunity to learn more about this field,’ said Hajari regarding the conference in Chile.

The overall scope of Hajari’s research, which she is conducting under the supervision of UKZN’s Professor Paula Watt and Dr Sandy Snyman of the South African Sugarcane Research Institute, relates to sugarcane biotechnology and aims to reduce nitrogen fertiliser application.

‘At present, large amounts of fertiliser are applied to sugarcane but a large proportion is not used by the crop. This is costly for farmers and excess fertiliser causes environmental damage,’ said Hajari.

‘Therefore, efforts need to be focused towards identifying and/or developing sugarcane varieties that use applied fertilisers more efficiently. Currently, my research involves investigating how nitrogen – in the form of nitrate and ammonium – is taken up and used by sugarcane plants in the in vitro system.’

Presently, sugarcane varieties are classified in terms of their nitrogen use efficiency based on pot and field trials which are resource, labour and time intensive. An in vitro system, as is being investigated by Hajari, would have the advantages of screening many genotypes quickly, in a small space in the laboratory, and under controlled conditions.

Limited work has been done on nitrogen uptake kinetics in sugarcane and Hajari hopes to fill this gap through her research. ‘I believe that it is important to have a fundamental understanding of a system before applied work can be undertaken and I hope that my work will play a role towards understanding this,’ she said.

Hajari completed both her undergrad and postgraduate degrees at UKZN and has worked under the supervision and guidance of a number of notable academics including Professor Paula Watt, Professor Pat Berjak and Professor Norman Pammenter.

Hajari has continually excelled and received her MSc cum laude. She published her first academic paper from her MSc and a further two academic papers were published from her PhD thesis.

‘I really enjoy the work that I do and gain great satisfaction from it simply because it interests me. I think that if you are involved in scientific research, it is essential to have an enquiring mind,’ says Hajari.

Hajari admits to being a workaholic, but finds balance through family and a number of activities which include reading and a decent amount of retail therapy!

 -Barrington Marais

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