Ms Jerusha Naidoo (right) with her supervisor
Dr Yougasphree Naidoo.

A PhD candidate in the School of Life Sciences, Ms Jerusha Naidoo, has won first prize for her presentation at the 16th Annual meeting of the Research Centre for Plant Growth and Development (RCPGD) on the Pietermaritzburg campus.

The prize allows her to attend a prestigious international conference.

Naidoo, who completed her Masters research last year examined the anatomy of the leaves of Pycnostachys urticifolia using electron microscopy as well as the phytochemical properties of the leaves in her thesis. Her work was also aimed at developing a micropropagation protocol for this species.

Naidoo, who is continuing with research into the pharmacological properties of the plant for her PhD, delivered her award-winning presentation on the topic of “Micromorphology and Pharmacognosy of Wild and Micropropagated Leaves of Pycnostachys urticifolia Hook”.

The annual meeting of the RCPGD is a congress where Masters, PhD and post-doctoral researchers – under the supervision or co-supervision of the Centre’s Director, Professor Johannes van Staden – present their research work to scientists from around the world who are invited to the congress.

At last year’s meeting, 30 postgraduate students attended, along with seven scientists from research institutes and universities across South Africa and 13 invited international speakers from countries such as Hungary, the Czech Republic and Argentina who presented their research findings.

Naidoo was awarded first prize from among 30 postgraduate presentations after three respected overseas professors agreed on her presentation being the best at the congress. Naidoo now plans to attend the 63rd International Congress and Annual Meeting of the Society for Medicinal Plants and Natural Product Research (GA2015) in Budapest, Hungary.

‘Being awarded first prize was such a surprise to me since there were many excellent researchers presenting on a variety of topics in plant sciences,’ said Naidoo. ‘They included local and international candidates, ranging from MSc level to professors associated with RCPGD, all competing for this prize. It was a great compliment and honour that international delegates from European universities awarded the first prize for my research presentation.’

Naidoo’s supervisor, Dr Yougasphree Naidoo, spoke highly of her student’s success. ‘Ms Naidoo is intelligent, highly responsible and a jovial student. She takes a keen interest in the activities of the School of Life Sciences where she was the ex-Postgraduate representative in 2013. During her MSc, I supported her to present a paper at the International Conference on Advances in Plant Sciences in Thailand in 2012, as well as at the annual meeting of the Microscopy Society of Southern Africa on aspects of her medicinal plant research.

‘Her Master’s research, which I supervised in association with Dr Muhammad Nakhooda, was awarded cum laude and subsequently converted to a PhD. She was chosen to attend a GC-MS workshop at Stellenbosch University and was the Chairperson of the School of Life Sciences postgraduate Research Day organising committee in 2014. She has excelled in her academic career as an Ad-Hoc Lecturer for undergraduate Biology modules in 2014. She is a promising young scientist and we are proud of her achievement at the RCPGD meeting.’

Said Naidoo: ‘I am sincerely grateful to my supervisors Dr Yougasphree Naidoo and Professor Johannes van Staden for giving me the opportunity to present my research at this meeting. I would also like to thank my parents and my best friend and colleague, Ms Benita Kalicharan, for their unwavering support, prayers and assistance throughout my postgraduate academic career.’

Naidoo, who is from Durban, chose to study at UKZN because of the A-rated scientists at the Institution who she identified as being important mentors in her work. She was inspired to pursue her research on medicinal plants and cell biology after conducting a project on medicinal plants and microscopy during her third year in Biomedical Science.

Naidoo plans to continue her work into the investigation of potential therapeutic medicinal uses for plants.

‘South Africa has such high floral biodiversity with species that have yet to be investigated for their medicinal value and so the main aim of my research is to elucidate the therapeutic properties of plants that have been used in traditional medicine but have not been scientifically validated. My future career plans involve further postdoctoral research into indigenous species in terms of their ethnopharmacology and the biotechnology that can be applied to obtain efficient therapeutic compounds.’