Challenges No Match for Dr Sibanda’s Hunger for Success
The road to success is not easy to navigate, especially if you throw in a PhD; an often-lonely affair that requires focus and discipline, a circumstance which proved all too true for Dr Edson Panganayi Sibanda.
The 41-year-old is a Principal Research Scientist in a Biomedical Food and Biomedical Technology Institute called the Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Centre (SIRDC), Harare, Zimbabwe, graduated with his Doctoral degree in Philosophy in Health Sciences (Physiology) in the School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences.
Sibanda completed his BSc Hons Biochemistry in Zimbabwe in 2000; later obtaining his MSc Biotechnology at the University of Zimbabwe in 2003. He said studying at UKZN presented him with an opportunity to be trained under and mentored by accomplished researchers such as supervisors Professor Takafira Mduluza and Professor Musa Mabandla. He was drawn to UKZN due to the University’s attractive fee remission and postgraduate scholarship policies. UKZN ranks as one of the top 500 universities in the world with an excellent reputation and high research output productivity which also played a part in Sibanda’s decision to study at UKZN.
Titled: Fungal endophytes: isolation, identification and assessment of bioactive potential of their natural products, his PhD study investigated the diversity of endophytic fungi hosted by the plants Warburgia salutaris, Annona senegalensis, Kigelia africana and Vitex payos used in Zimbabwean traditional medicine and their potential to produce compounds with antioxidant and antimicrobial activity. The endophyte diversity findings from this study contribute to the general body of knowledge concerning fungal endophyte diversity and provides information that will assist in gaining a better understanding of the host range of fungal endophytes. Endophytic fungi from the studied medicinal plants have potential as sources of natural compounds with antimicrobial and antioxidant activity. However; further research is required to confirm and expand on the initial findings before products that can be commercialised are manufactured utilising the natural products.
During the first year of his PhD journey, Sibanda would however face challenges in meeting some of the application deadlines. He failed to meet the deadline to apply for the postgraduate research grant partly because he was conducting components of his research in Zimbabwe since he was not based in South Africa full-time. Missing the deadline for the research grant pushed him to be proactive in seeking relevant information and this principle has helped him to keep ahead. Being a full-time PhD student who was not fully based in South Africa presented another challenge as it made him ineligible for a student stipend, leaving him financially dependent on his spouse to see him through his studies.
Sibanda would however rise above his challenges and earn himself a PhD. ‘This degree has equipped me with all the necessary knowledge and skills to further my goal of contributing to the discovery of new bioactive natural products that can be used to address some of the unmet human needs. I plan to apply the gained knowledge and skills in bioprospecting for useful natural compounds in the unique environments found in Africa and Zimbabwe in particular.’
Words: Lihle Sosibo
Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal