Plant Pathology Masters Candidate Wins Best Poster Award in San Diego
Masters candidate in the Discipline of Plant Pathology in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) Mr Thembani Nxumalo won a best poster award at the 2nd International Conference on Food Security and Sustainability held in San Diego in the United States.
Nxumalo received the award for his poster titled: “Application of Lecanicillium muscarium as a Biological Control Agent of Rust Pathogens”.
The Conference theme was: “Producing Sustainable Thoughts to Bolster the Future”. Nxumalo said he had enjoyed visiting the United States and that the Conference was well organised.
Nxumalo, supervised by Professor Mark Laing and Dr Kwasi Yobo, presented the results of the second chapter of his master’s degree dissertation.
An alumnus of Nhlalakahle High School in the Nqutu area of KwaZulu-Natal, Nxumalo followed his passion for agriculture into a four-year Plant Pathology degree at UKZN, progressing to masters studies at the Institution. He hopes that once he has completed his masters, he will progress to PhD studies and later to a career in research.
Nxumalo’s work involves investigating a viable biological control treatment for rust pathogens that affect numerous commercial crops such as wheat, soybean and maize. He began his research using the common Oxalis plant as a proxy for commercial crops to test his biological control agent formulated from the Lecanicillium muscarium fungus. This fungus occurs naturally in small quantities with the rust pathogen.
Nxumalo isolated the fungus and grew it under laboratory conditions for use as a biological control agent. Following successful control of rust on the Oxalis, Nxumalo is testing the agent on wheat at UKZN’s Ukulinga Research Farm.
Development of biocontrol agents for the treatment of disease on commercial crops is important, as these treatments are often considerably cheaper than chemical agents, safer for human health, environmentally friendly, and will not result in the development of resistance to treatments in the crops concerned. Researchers like Nxumalo aim to improve the yield of commercial crops and reduce wastage by treating these plant diseases, thereby increasing food security.
Nxumalo, who is an avid soccer player and works as an assistant at UKZN’s Disability Unit, thanked his funders for their support of his studies, and his supervisors for their invaluable academic guidance.
Words by: Christine Cuénod
Photograph supplied by Thembani Nxumalo