Backyard Pigs Subject of Doctoral Research
The Prevalence of Various Animal RiboNucleic Acid (RNA) Viruses in Backyard Pig Populations in South Africa was the subject of a PhD study conducted at UKZN’s School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences (Medical Microbiology).
The study revealed the diversity of various swine enteric RNA viruses in South African backyard pig populations.
The study, which resulted in Dr Ravendra Singh Chauhan graduating with a PhD in Philosophy (Medical Microbiology), revealed that rotaviruses such as Rotavirus A and Rotavirus C and the Hepatitis E virus may be circulating in South African backyard pig populations undetected due to subclinical infections in pigs. These viruses have a zoonotic propensity and therefore can be transmitted to humans.
While Rotaviruses can cause diarrhoea in children, Hepatitis E virus infections may develop into chronic hepatitis in immunocompromised individuals. The prevalence of swine enteric viruses in domestic pigs poses a risk of diarrhoeic diseases in pigs which can affect their growth and cause economic losses to the pig farmers.
Chauhan says a PhD degree is not only an academic qualification but a journey that equips young minds with scientific knowledge. ‘The skills that I acquired during the PhD programme at UKZN will enable me to translate my ideas into tools to serve the people. My research findings will serve as a reference for future detection of RNA viruses at South African backyard pig farms.
‘I was attracted towards the PhD programme in Medical Microbiology because the programme prepares graduates with the necessary skills to embark on microbiology/virology research.’
One of the major challenges he encountered during his studies was caused by the COVID-19 lockdowns and movement restrictions which delayed his lab work for a few months, however, he kept his spirits high and wrote several review articles related to influenza.
‘I must admit that writing the reviews related to my research during the lockdown helped inform me about the latest developments in the field, equipping me with several innovative research ideas I will explore in the near future.
‘I am thankful to my PhD supervisor Professor Michelle Gordon for mentoring and supporting me each step of the way during the PhD programme,’ said Chauhan.
‘Currently, I am a visiting researcher at Rhodes University where I am associated with a variety of exciting research projects related to virus surveillance. In the long-term, I hope to get established in the industry producing cutting-edge research for the benefit of society.
‘I am the first scientist in my family. I believe that family support is necessary to excel in any career. I am blessed to be surrounded by wonderful people in my family who are always there for me,’ he added.
Words: Lihle Sosibo