South African Journal of Science
Academy of Science for South Africa (ASSAf)
|Coverage||Vol 97 Issue 1 & 2 Jan/Feb 2001 - current|
A hitherto unidentified medicinal plant is here identified for the first time as Pteronia camphorata (L.) L.,an aromatic shrub of the Asteraceae family endemic to the western and southern coastal region of South Africa. The plant was described in this journal by Laidler in 1928 as 'D|nhora buchu', and is one of the important types of buchu used by the Nama people. We report the traditional medicinal uses among San and Nama people, based on our interviews with rural participants. These include the treatment of colds, influenza, chest ailments and tuberculosis, as well as convulsions, haemorrhoids and inflammation of the neck. The major and minor chemical compounds of the essential oil that is produced by the plant are identified, together with the site of accumulation of this volatile oil within the leaf. We also investigated the plant's antimicrobial activity against a selection of a yeast and two Gram-negative and one Gram-positive bacteria, all of which are associated with respiratory infections. P. camphorata is scientifically poorly known but is an important San and Nama traditional remedy. Our study not only prevents the potential loss of historically important indigenous knowledge, but also provides the first scientific evidence to validate the traditional use of |nhora against upper and lower respiratory tract infections, including tuberculosis. This detailed study has wider application in demonstrating the fragility of the oral-traditional knowledge of a scientifically neglected indigenous group. It also highlights the scientific and practical importance of preserving traditional plant-use knowledge within a botanically diverse region.
Adenosylcobalamin (AdoCbl), or coenzyme B12, is a cofactor for enzymes important in metabolism in humans (and other mammals) and bacteria. AdoCbl contains a Co-C bond and is extremely light sensitive, but, until recently, this light sensitivity appeared to have no physiological function. Recently, AdoCbl has been found to act as cofactor for a photoreceptor protein (CarH) that controls the expression of DNA coding for transcription of the proteins needed for synthesis of carotenes in certain non-photosynthetic bacteria. In 2015, the X-ray crystal structures of two dark states of the photoreceptor protein from the bacterium Thermus thermophilus were determined: CarH bound to AdoCbl and CarH bound to a large portion of the cognate DNA operator (and AdoCbl); a light state was also determined in which CarH was bound to cobalamin in which the Co-C bond had been broken. The breaking of the Co-C bond of Ado-Cbl acts as a trigger for the regulatory switch that allows the transcription of DNA. In the two dark states AdoCbl is bound to a conserved histidine from CarH, which displaces the lower 5,6-dimethylbenzimidazole ligand of AdoCbl. In the light state the 5'-deoxyadenosyl group of AdoCbl is replaced by a second histidine from CarH, giving a bis-histidine cobalamin and 4',5'-anhydroadenosine. Genes for B12-dependent photoreceptors are widespread in bacteria. Control of DNA transcription may represent an evolutionarily ancient function of AdoCbl, possibly pre-dating its function as a protein cofactor.
Snowfall occurs every winter over the mountains of South Africa but is rare over the highly populated metropolises over the interior of South Africa. When snowfall does occur over highly populated areas, it causes widespread disruption to infrastructure and even loss of life. Because of the rarity of snow over the interior of South Africa, inexperienced weather forecasters often miss these events. We propose a five-step snow forecasting decision tree in which all five criteria must be met to forecast snowfall. The decision tree comprises physical attributes that are necessary for snowfall to occur. The first step recognises the synoptic circulation patterns associated with snow and the second step detects whether precipitation is likely in an area. The remaining steps all deal with identifying the presence of a snowflake in a cloud and determining that the snowflake will not melt on the way to the ground. The decision tree is especially useful to forecast the very rare snow events that develop from relatively dry and warmer surface conditions. We propose operational implementation of the decision tree in the weather forecasting offices of South Africa, as it is foreseen that this approach could significantly contribute to accurately forecasting snow over the interior of South Africa.
The polar regions are more critically affected by climate change than any other region on our planet. On the Antarctic continent and in its surrounding oceans, the effects of climate change are likely to be dramatic, and include largescale catastrophic ice melt, loss of habitat and biodiversity, and global sea level rise. The 'Southern Ocean' refers to the region where Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Ocean waters come together to encircle Antarctica. These waters connect the different ocean basins by linking the shallow and deep limbs of the global ocean current system ('overturning circulation') and play a critical role in storing and distributing heat and carbon dioxide (CO2). The Southern Ocean thus regulates not only the climate of the Antarctic, but of the entire earth system. By extension, the capacity of the global ocean to ameliorate earth's changing climate is strongly controlled by the Southern Ocean.
Marine phytoplankton (microscopic plants inhabiting the sunlit upper ocean) convert CO2 (an inorganic form of carbon) dissolved in surface waters into organic carbon through photosynthesis. This organic carbon fuels upper trophic levels such as fish, mammals and birds, and a portion sinks into the deep ocean where it remains stored for hundreds to thousands of years. This mechanism, which lowers the atmospheric concentration of CO2, is termed the 'biological pump'. The efficiency of the global ocean's biological pump is currently limited by the Southern Ocean, where the macronutrients (nitrate and phosphate) required for photosynthesis are never fully consumed in surface waters. In theory, increased consumption of these nutrients could drive higher organic carbon removal to the deep ocean, enhancing the oceanic uptake of atmospheric CO2. Indeed, more complete consumption of Southern Ocean nutrients is a leading hypothesis for the decrease in atmospheric CO2 that characterised the ice ages.
Despite the global importance of the Southern Ocean, knowledge of the controls on and interactions among the physical, chemical and biological processes operating in Antarctic ecosystems is limited, largely because of a scarcity of in-situ observational data, compounded by the challenge of integrating siloed scientific fields. Given predictions that diverse aspects of Southern Ocean physics and carbon biogeochemistry are likely to change in the coming decades, a transdisciplinary approach to studying Antarctic systems is critical.
The Department of Science and Technology's (DST's) 10-year Global Change Grand Challenge programme requires platforms to 'attract young researchers to the region and retain them by exciting their interest in aspects of global change; while developing their capacity and professional skills in the relevant fields of investigation'. In addition, in July 2014, President Zuma officially launched Operation Phakisa and announced that a key target of this Oceans Economy initiative would be 'for the Department of Higher Education and Training to drive alignment between theoretical and workplace learning'.
SEAmester - South Africa's recently established Class Afloat - achieves just that. SEAmester introduces marine science as an applied and cross-disciplinary field to students who have shown an affinity for core science disciplines. It identifies with government's National Development Plan on education, training and innovation - critical to South Africa's long-term development and investment in this sector.
SEAmester has a long-term vision aimed at building capacity within the marine sciences by coordinating and fostering cross-disciplinary research projects and achieving this goal through a highly innovative programme. The strength of SEAmester is that postgraduate students combine theoretical classroom learning with the application of this knowledge through ship-based, and more importantly, hands-on research. The state-of-the-art research vessel, SA Agulhas II, provides an ideal teaching and research platform for this programme; its size, comfort and shipboard facilities allow large groups of students and lecturers to productively interact over a period of 10 days.