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Masters Degrees (Genetics)

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    Genetic analyses of antimicrobial resistance and virulence genes in Enterococcus species isolated from livestock production systems in South Africa.
    (2021) Mnguni, Anele Buhle.; Zishiri, Oliver.
    Enterococcus species are widely dispersed in the environment this includes soil, water, plants, food and animals. Although Enterococcus constitute mostly as a commensal bacterium; over the past years the bacterium has evolved to cause nosocomial infections. The proliferation of this pathogen is attributed to its ability in successfully transferring antimicrobial and virulence genes using several channels such as mobile genetic elements. This study investigated the prevalence of Enterococcus spp. in small-scale commercial farms in rural South Africa. The dissemination of virulent E. faecium and E. faecalis isolates allied with livestock production in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces was investigated. A total of 276 samples randomly sampled from livestock and their associated environments (feed, soil and water) were screened for Enterococcus spp. using selective media and using DNA molecular methods. E. faecalis and E. faecium prevalence was confirmed by the amplification of the tuf and sodA genes. Sixty-one percent of total presumptive isolates were E. faecalis (n=61) and only 8% (n=8) were identified as E. faecium. The presence of virulence determining factors such as asa1, ccf, cylA, esp, gelE and hyl was screened in all samples that tested positive for Enterococcus species. Presumptive E.faecalis and E. faecium isolates were mostly recovered from Amandawe (KZN). E. faecalis isolates harboured the most virulence genes asa1 (25%; n=), ccf (84%; n=), esp(4%;n= ), gelE (69%; n=) and hyl (12%; n= ). Whilst E. faecium isolates only harboured of asa1(12.5%; n=1), ccf (100%; n=8), gelE (75%;n=6 ) and hyl (25%;n=2). The current study also evaluated the antibiotic resistance profiles and their associated genes in these two species. Antibiotic susceptibility profiles of E. faecium and E. faecalis were assessed using Kirby-Bauer disk-diffusion assay as per the CSLI guidelines. Erythromycin had the highest occurrence of resistant isolates in both species with 75% (n=6) and 54.1% (n=33) respectively. Isolates were least resistant to ampicillin, with 0.03% resistance in E. faecalis and 0% in E. faecium. E. faecalis had the highest prevalence of Multi Drug Resistance (MDR), exhibiting phenotypic resistance to macrolides, aminoglycoside, tetracyclines and fluoroquinolones. TET-CIP-ERY was the most observed antibiotic resistance pattern. Furthermore, the isolates were screened for vanA, vanB, vanC1, vanC2/3, aac(6”)-aph(2”) ,ermA and ermB. The resistance genes that amplified in E. faecalis included vanB (8%;n=5), vanC1 (37%;n=23), vanC2/3 (37%; n=23), ermB (96%;n=58), ermA (8%;n=5) and aac(6”)-aph(2”) (1.6%;n=1). The immense dissemination of E. faecalis that has potentially pathogenic virulent determinants is a cause for concern in livestock production systems. In addition, faecal contamination from livestock poses a threat to the dissemination of virulent strains. The study demonstrated that E. faecium and E. Faecalis isolated from livestock and their associated environment were predominantly resistant to macrolides, glycopeptides, tetracyclines and fluroquinolones. In addition to be the first study in South Africa to document the emergence of inducible vanC determinants in Vancomycin Resistant Enterococci isolates.
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    Designing T-cell epitope-based vaccine against Eimeria infection in chicken using immunoinformatics approach.
    (2021) Madlala, Thabile.; Adeleke, Matthew Adekunle.; Okpeku, Moses.
    Chicken coccidiosis is the most significant ubiquitous, intestinal parasitic disease known to infect chickens globally. It is recognised for incurring significant production loss to the poultry industry, caused by single or multiple Eimeria spp. infections which threaten chicken welfare and productivity. The emergence of drug resistance in parasites and pathogenicity reversion has put pressure on the poultry industry to reduce chemoprophylactic drugs and live vaccines as preventive measures against coccidiosis. Recombinant DNA vaccines have shown promising results as an alternative option, but complete protection has not been reported highlighting the need for the design of new vaccine against this disease. In this study, Eimeria antigens Immune Mapped Protein-1(IMP1) and Microneme Protein-2(MIC2) were explored using reverse vaccinology and immunoinformatics tool to predict and design potential multiepitope vaccine candidate against coccidiosis. A total of 28 and 19 antigenic T-cell epitopes were predicted and used to construct two multiepitope vaccines with 610 and 512 amino acids for IMP1 and MIC2, respectively. The produced vaccines exhibited favoured characteristics for an ideal vaccine candidate; they were antigenic (Vaxijen score of 0.5989 and 0.5103), immunogenic (scores: 10.15 and 9 419), thermostable (instability index <40 ), and non-allergic. The presence of IFN-gamma and IL-4 inducing epitopes in the constructed vaccine enables vaccine to trigger a cellular and humoral response within the host. Molecular docking of designed vaccines with toll-like receptors (TLR4 and TLR5) to determine vaccine interaction and stability was confirmed by molecular dynamics simulation root-mean square deviation (RMDS) and root-mean-square fluctuation (RMSF) analysis. The designed vaccines induced immune response through production of cytokines and antibodies associated with tertiary response. When exposed to online immune simulation C-ImmSim, both vaccines produced potent immune response through production of IgG, Tc and Th cell and memory Bcells. The constructed multiepitope vaccine in this present study is highly promising and as such further experimental work should be done to confirm its suitability against chicken coccidiosis.
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    Phylogenetic diversity, host specificity and geographic distribution of avian malaria in Africa.
    (2022) Van Zweiten, Sam Falcon.; Willows-Munro, Sandi.
    Abstract available in PDF.
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    The thioredoxin redox charge as a measure of cell redox homeostasis in Schizosaccharomyces pombe.
    (2022) Bhagwandeen, Tejal.; Pillay, Che Sobashkar.
    Thiol-based redox systems play essential roles in repairing oxidatively damaged proteins, deoxyribonucleotide synthesis, sulfur metabolism, protein folding, and oxidant detoxification and signaling. The principal thiol systems in most cells are the thioredoxin (Trx) and the glutathione/glutaredoxin (GSH/Grx) systems. In the thioredoxin system, reducing equivalents from NADPH are transferred by thioredoxin reductase to thioredoxin, resulting in reduced thioredoxin. Thioredoxin in the reduced form further reduces target proteins and is itself consequently oxidized. Given the system’s essential role in cellular physiology, inhibition of the thioredoxin system is an important drug target for communicable and non-communicable diseases. However, measuring the activity of the thioredoxin system in vivo is challenging. The thioredoxin redox charge (reduced thioredoxin/total thioredoxin) was proposed as a novel, surrogate measure of the thioredoxin system’s activity and could be used as a general measure of the cellular redox state. Indeed, published data showed that the thioredoxin redox charge and cell viability collapsed if a chemical inhibitor directly targeted thioredoxin reductase. To evaluate the utility of the thioredoxin redox charge as a generic indicator of redox stress, the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe, was subjected to various stressors including hydrogen peroxide, heat, cadmium sulfate and potassium ferricyanide and the thioredoxin redox charge and cell viability were measured over time. We found dynamic changes in the thioredoxin redox charge profiles, in response to these stressors, but only obtained weak, positive correlations between the thioredoxin redox charge and cell viability. Thus, and in contrast to our initial hypothesis, the thioredoxin redox charge appeared to be buffered in response to high-stress perturbations, even when cell viability was clearly inhibited. These results show that the redox poise of the thioredoxin system can presumably only be disrupted by direct inhibitors of the system. Future work should aim to elucidate the mechanisms underlying the preservation of the thioredoxin redox charge.
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    Genetic characterization and molecular detection of antimicrobial resistance genes and virulence genes present in campylobacter spp. isolated from broiler chickens and human clinical samples in Durban.
    (2016) Reddy, Samantha.; Zishiri, Oliver Tendayi.
    Campylobacter jejuni and Campylobacter coli have evolved as the most prevalent Campylobacter species which are responsible for gastroenteritis infections in humans. Successful infection and continued fitness of Campylobacter species depend on virulence determinants and antimicrobial resistance elements which differ amongst strains of different origin. There is a paucity of information regarding Campylobacter virulence genes and the antimicrobial resistance genes in developing countries such as South Africa. Therefore, research is essential to characterize pathogenic markers and to implement strategies for proper control and prevention of infection caused by this pathogen. This study aimed to detect the presence of virulence genes such as: cadF, hipO, asp, ciaB, dnaJ, pldA, cdtA, cdtB and cdtC as well as the detection of genes associated with antimicrobial resistance which included gyrA, blaOXA-61and tetO present in C. jejuni and C. coli. Following ethical approval, 100 commercial chicken fecal samples were collected and 100 human clinical isolates were selected from a collection of Campylobacter spp. which originated from a private pathology laboratory in South Africa. From the 100 chicken fecal samples 78% were positive for Campylobacter growth on mCCDA and from the collection of a 100 human clinical isolates 83% demonstrated positive Campylobacter spp. growth following culturing methods. The cadF gene was present in 100% of poultry and human clinical isolates. This could indicate that the presence of this gene is needed for successful infection in a host. C. jejuni was the main species detected in both poultry and human clinical isolates while C. coli were detected at a low incidence (chicken =13%, human=17%) and therefore, not statistically significant in either host (p>0.05). The resistance genes gyrA(235bp), gyrA(270bp), blaOXA-61 and tetO were also detected at a higher percentage (51%, 36%, 58% and 68% respectively) in chicken samples compared to human clinical samples (49%, 36%, 53% and 64% respectively). In conclusion, this study demonstrated high prevalence of virulence and antibiotic resistance genes in Campylobacter species from South Africa. The high prevalence rates demonstrated the importance of Campylobacter spp. as a food borne zoonotic pathogen capable of causing persistent infection due to acquisition of antimicrobial resistance genes and virulence genes via the food chain. The study finally recommended limited and prudent use of antimicrobial agents as a mitigating measure to combat the evolution of multiple drug resistance.
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    The effect of genotype on avian malaria infections in the Amur falcon (Falco amurensis)
    (2022) Stoffberg, Rachel Caitlin.; Willows-Munro, Sandi.
    Avian malaria is caused by haemosporidian parasites (Plasmodium, Haemoproteus and Leucocytozoon) that are transmitted by dipteran vectors. Passerines have been the focus of avian malaria research however raptors are generally keystone species in ecosystems making them important hosts to investigate. The Amur falcon (Falco amurensis) is a small raptor with the longest migration recorded in any raptor species. This host is particularly interesting to investigate as although it is a raptor it belongs to the order Falconiforms which ultimately is more closely related to parrots and passerines compared to other raptors. The falcons congregate in large flocks during migration which may impact the infection rate of the parasites. The Amur falcon has had a depletion in numbers due to mass harvesting in 2012 as well as two hailstorms that killed approximately 1000 falcons in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa, making it a novel host to test for bottleneck events as well as genetic diversity and population structure. The main aim of this thesis was to determine the significance of age, sex and individual heterozygosity on avian malaria infections in the Amur falcon. The results of this study indicated that the Amur falcon had a high rate of haemosporidian parasite infection, particularly Haemoproteus. Phylogenetic analyses indicated that Haemoproteus was host specific while Leucocytozoon was found to be more generalist, infecting many different species of birds. The Amur falcon population had high genetic diversity and low levels of inbreeding indicating a healthy population. There was a lack of population structure. Generalized linear models were used to test whether sex (male or female), age (juvenile or adult) and individual heterozygosity were drivers of avian malaria infection in the Amur falcon. No significant associations were found except when the different lineages of Haemoproteus were considered independently. The data and results presented in this thesis provide a baseline for future studies on the Amur falcon, and also contributes towards a growing body of work examining haemosporidian parasite infections in migratory birds.
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    The role of thioredoxin in the redox regulation of the Tpx1/Pap1 pathway in Schizosaccharomyces pombe.
    (2022) Naidoo, Kelisa Cheyen.; Pillay, Che Sobashkar.
    Reactive oxygen species (ROS) can damage cellular components leading to dysfunction and cell death. Paradoxically, ROS, such as hydrogen peroxide, are also essential for a range of metabolic and signalling functions within cells. Given these opposing functions, cells have developed several redox signalling mechanisms to manage ROS within specific homeostatic limits. In bacterial cells, thiol-peroxidases (peroxiredoxins) and other enzymes detoxify ROS, while the antioxidant transcriptional response is induced by transcription factors directly oxidized by ROS. In many eukaryotes, these functions are combined with peroxiredoxins detoxifying ROS as well as activating redox-sensitive transcription factors. The relative benefits and disadvantages of such sensor-mediated redox signalling systems are unknown, and we aimed to understand the logic underlying this signalling mechanism using the Schizosaccharomyces pombe Tpx1/Pap1 pathway. In this pathway, the peroxiredoxin Tpx1 reduces hydrogen peroxide and oxidizes the redox transcription factor Pap1. Following a hydrogen peroxide perturbation, the Pap1 signal profile revealed a biphasic profile with a rapid initial increase followed by a relatively prolonged decrease in Pap1 oxidation. These dynamics were suggestive of an incoherent feedforward loop, and we hypothesized that the Trx1 protein was responsible for the incoherence as it could both dampen and increase the signal by reducing Pap1 and Tpx1, respectively. To test this hypothesis, we analyzed the effect of several oxidants (hydrogen peroxide, tert-butyl hydroperoxide, and diamide) on Pap1 activation to determine if we could selectively modulate signal duration. However, we could not quantitatively delineate the effects of these oxidants on the signal profiles obtained. We, therefore, utilized computational modelling to analyze the Tpx1/Pap1 pathway and found that excess Trx1 reduced Tpx1 faster, preventing the association of Tpx1 and Pap1. On the other hand, insufficient Trx1 allowed for Pap1 to be oxidized over a longer interval which increased the signal duration. Thus, our analysis showed that, in contrast to our hypothesis, Trx1 limitation, rather than incoherence, was responsible for the Pap1 oxidation profile. These results indicate that in the presence of ROS, Trx1 plays a vital role in determining the signal profile of Pap1.
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    Genetic diversity of some Moringa oleifera Lam. cultivars available in South Africa.
    (2020) Makgolane, Thandy Ramathetje.; Tsvuura, Zivanai.; Zishiri, Oliver Tendayi.; Ndhlala, Ashwell Rungano.
    Moringa oleifera Lam. (Moringaceae) is a nutritious and high medicinal value tree. The species is native to India but grown globally due to its properties. The nutritional content of the species includes high levels of vitamins, minerals, calcium, magnesium and iron. It is now known that different cultivars of M. oleifera are grown throughout the world depending on the intended products. However, in South Africa, there is limited knowledge on the genetic variation of the cultivars most farmers and researchers are growing. In this study, a partial sequence of chloroplast atpB gene was used to determine genetic diversity of M. oleifera cultivars from different regions across the world but grown for research at the Agricultural Research Council, Vegetable and Ornamental Plants campus in Roodeplaat, Gauteng Province, South Africa. Thirteen cultivars were collected, of which three were domesticated cultivars from South Africa, eight were from Thailand, and one cultivar each was from Taiwan and the United States of America. Each cultivar consisted of six replicates. DNA extraction, PCR and gel electrophoresis were performed at the University of KwaZulu-Natal whereas DNA sequencing was done at Inqaba Biotec laboratory. DNA sequence analysis was done using BioEdit, MegaX, POPArT and DnaSP softwares. Based on the phylogenetic analysis, the average total length of the sequences was 404 nucleotides with the number of polymorphic segregating sites and mutation of 21 and 24, respectively. From the maximum likelihood tree and neighbour-joining tree, South African domesticated cultivars SH and Limpopo were more related to each other than to the domesticated cultivar, CHM (South African). The cluster which was well supported with 84% bootstrap value was between cultivars TOT 5077 (Thailand) and TOT 4100 (Taiwan). The polymorphic data indicated a nucleotide diversity of 0.01654 and average number of nucleotide difference (k) of 6.58095. The haplotype network also showed less genetic differences between the cultivars with some cultivars recorded as similar. The low genetic diversity observed in these cultivars suggests that the cultivars might have originated from a common ancestor. However, further study is necessary by collecting more cultivars of M. oleifera South Africa and other parts of the world to get a clear view on the genetic diversity. The results from this study will be an addition to the already existing knowledge of M. oleifera available in the world and new knowledge on genetic variation among South African cultivars, which may be relevant in cultivar development and conservation.
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    The glutaredoxin/glutathione post-stress recovery system is dependent on the availability of glutathione in the cell.
    (2020) Blom, Erin Shelby.; Pillay, Che Sobashkar.
    The cellular response to oxidative stress involves three interconnected processes: reactive oxygen species detoxification, adaptation and repair. Glutathionylation is an adaptive response in which glutathione binds to labile proteins protecting them from oxidative damage but also inactivating them. While it has been established that glutaredoxins play a crucial role in deglutathionylating these proteins, the kinetic regulation of this post-stress repair process is less clear. Intriguingly, aged cells have decreased glutathione levels, although the mechanistic significance of this decrease has not been well-understood. We hypothesized that in these cells, the lower glutathione levels reduced the efficiency of the glutaredoxin/glutathione system which impaired the recovery of the cell post-stress. To test this hypothesis, we used a validated computational model of the glutaredoxin/glutathione system to determine how perturbation of the glutaredoxin system affected the availability of active glutaredoxin as well as the rate of deglutathionylation. We separated the effects of the kinetic and thermodynamic components of glutaredoxin activity and found that the overall flux was primarily controlled by the kinetic effects and that the activity of the system was largely dependent on the availability of reduced glutathione. To test whether reduced deglutathionylation activity was a characteristic of aging, aging and glutathione determination experiments were undertaken in the fission yeast, Schizosaccharomyces pombe. In contrast to our hypothesis and data from other studies, fission yeast cells aged for five days were shown to have increased glutathione concentrations, from 36.62 μM to 43.09 μM in minimal media when compared with two-day old cells, except in the presence of additional glutathione or Lbuthionine sulfoximine, a glutathione synthesis inhibitor. Further, glutathionylation levels decreased or remained unchanged in the aged cultures which we speculate was due to an adaptive response by the glutathione synthesis pathway in these cells. Future experiments will need to measure both the glutaredoxin system and the metabolic pathways that provide reductive inputs into the system in order to understand the role of the glutathionylation cycle in post-stress recovery.
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    Quantification of time-dependent redox signalling in the Tpx1/Pap1 pathway in Schizosaccharomyces pombe.
    (2019) Lind, Diane Justine.
    Reactive oxygen species (ROS) can damage cellular components leading to cell death, but paradoxically, ROS also play essential roles in metabolism and signalling in eukaryotic cells. Dysregulation of this balance is associated with a range of host diseases and cells have consequently evolved sophisticated signalling networks to sense, detoxify and adapt to changes in ROS levels. Hydrogen peroxide, for example, is reduced by thiol-peroxidases which in turn, can trigger the oxidation of thiol-dependent redox transcription factors. However, the relationship between hydrogen peroxide stimuli and the level of redox transcription factor activation has largely been described in qualitative terms. Because quantitative measures of the redox signal have been lacking, we tested whether three signalling parameters viz. the signalling time, duration and amplitude could be used to quantify the hydrogen peroxide-dependent redox signal in the Tpx1/Pap1 pathway in Schizosaccharomyces pombe. We found significant differences in the signalling time and duration, but not signal amplitude as hydrogen peroxide concentrations were increased from 100 to 1000 μM in our assays. By way of comparison, we also found that the general oxidant, tert-butyl hydroperoxide at 200 μM, decreased signal time and duration in the Pap1 pathway when compared to an equivalent hydrogen peroxide concentration. This method was also used to compare the hydrogen peroxide signalling by OxyR in Escherichia coli and Yap1 in Saccharomyces cerevisiae showing that these measures could be used to characterize and compare redox signalling from different oxidants and in different species. Thus, quantification of time-dependent redox signalling revealed new insights into hydrogen peroxide signalling that could not be readily obtained by qualitative methods and, these measures are expected to facilitate a better understanding of the role of redox signalling in health and disease.
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    Methylation profiling and validation of candidate tDMRs for identification of human blood, saliva, semen and vaginal fluid and its application in forensics.
    (2017) Naidoo, Natalie.; Ghai, Meenu.
    Identification of body fluids and tissues is an essential step in forensic investigation because it can be used as strong evidence in identifying suspects and victims. Currently in forensic investigations, catalytic, enzymatic and immunological techniques are used to identify body fluids, however, are limited due to lack of sensitivity and specificity. Hence, researchers are always on the lookout for novel methods that can be used to identify and analyse body fluids. Recently, DNA methylation-based markers have proven to be more sensitive and specific than conventional methods for body fluid identification. Genome-wide methylation studies have demonstrated that tissue specific differentially methylated regions (tDMRs) vary in methylation profiles in various cell types and tissues. The differences in methylation profiles of tDMRs can be targeted to be used as biomarkers to differentiate between body fluids and tissues. To date, only a few DNA methylation-based markers have been reported to identify body fluids. To enhance the specificity and robustness of DNA methylation-based identification, novel markers are required. Additionally, methylation-based markers require further interrogation, to evaluate the stability of their methylation profiles under simulated forensics conditions such as UV light, temperature, rain and microbes, which could cause DNA degradation and affect DNA recovery as well as the methylation status of body fluids. In a previous study, based on differential gene expression in blood, saliva, semen and vaginal fluid, gene body CpG islands were selected, in genes Zinc finger protein 282 (ZNF282), Protein tyrosine phosphatase, receptor S (PTPRS) and Hippocalcin like 1 (HPCAL1), that have potential tDMRs to differentiate between, blood, saliva, semen and vaginal fluid. It was proposed that differential gene expression could be possibly due to differences in methylation patterns. The present study was undertaken to establish the methylation status of potential tDMRs in target body fluids by using methylation specific PCR (MSP) and bisulfite sequencing (BS). In both MSP and BS, the methylation status of 3 genes ZNF282, PTPRS and HPCAL1 were analysed in 10 samples of each body fluid. With MSP analysis the ZNF282 and PTPRS1 tDMR displayed semen-specific hypomethylation while HPCAL1 tDMR showed saliva-specific hypomethylation. The PTPRS 2 tDMR did not differentiate between any body fluids due to presence of methylation and unmethylation for all body fluids. With quantitative analysis by BS the ZNF282 tDMR showed statistically significant difference in overall methylation status between semen and all other body fluids as well as at individual CpG sites (p < 0.05). Therefore, ZNF282 tDMR has the potential to be used to be a semen-specific hypomethylated marker. However, no statistically significant difference in methylation profiles was observed for PTPRS 1 and PTPRS 2 tDMR between body fluids or at individual CpG sites (p > 0.05). The BS study showed that the tDMR for the HPCAL1 gene displayed non-specific amplification therefore was not further analysed. Furthermore, a sensitivity and forensic simulation study was conducted to determine the stability of methylation profiles. To determine the lowest DNA concentration that can be evaluated with MSP, a sensitivity study was conducted using five-fold serial dilution (25, 20, 15, 10, 5, 1 ng) of blood DNA samples. Each DNA dilution was subjected to bisulfite modification, followed by amplification with ZNF282, PTPRS 1, PTPRS 2, and HPCAL1 primers. The results showed that the detection limits were 10 ng for ZNF282 tDMR, 5 ng for PTPRS 1, 15 ng for PTPRS 2, and 5 ng for HPCAL1 tDMR. Thus, it was concluded that a DNA concentration greater than 10 ng would yield successful results with MSP analyses. To evaluate whether environmental conditions has an effect on the stability of methylation profiles of the ZNF282 tDMR, five samples of each body fluid were subjected to five different forensic simulated conditions (dry at room temperature, wet in an exsiccator, outside on the ground, sprayed with alcohol and sprayed with bleach) for 50 days. Following the 50 days, vaginal fluid showed highest DNA recovery under all conditions while semen had least DNA quantity. Under outside on the ground condition, all body fluids except semen showed decrease in methylation level, however, significant decrease in methylation level was observed for saliva. A statistical significant difference was observed for saliva and semen (p < 0.05) in the outside on the ground condition. No differences in methylation level were observed for the ZNF282 tDMR under all conditions for vaginal fluid samples. Thus, ZNF282 tDMR is stable under environmental insults and can be used as reliable semen-specific hypomethylated marker. The analysis of tDMRs represents a unique, efficient and reliable technique that can be used to differentiate between human body fluids. In the future, identification and validation of new tDMRs based markers as well as determining methylation differences in other forensically relevant body fluids will be beneficial for forensics applications.
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    Genetic characterization of resistance and virulence genes in Enterococcus species from animal isolates in Durban.
    (2018) Eberechi, Phoebe Nnah.; Adeleke, Matthew Adekunle.; Zishiri, Oliver Tendayi.
    Misuse of antimicrobials in animal agriculture has given rise to strains of bacteria that are resistant to multiple antibiotics. Enterococci bacteria have emerged among such antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria and infections due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria is one of the world’s critical health challenge. Enterococci are gut commensal bacteria but are currently confirmed pathogenic bacteria responsible for so many hospital-acquired infections like urinary tract infections. The aim of this research was to detect the occurrence of Enterococcus species in chickens, cats, and dogs; their phenotypic and genotypic resistance to antibiotic drugs and virulence genes. Isolation of Enterococcus species was done using microbiological culture methods and confirmed using specific primers through Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). Presumptive Enterococcus growth on bile esculin agar was positive for 94% of all the isolates. Overall, 77.3% of the isolates were positive for Tuf gene (Enterococcus genus-specific gene). Enterococcus faecalis was detected at a higher frequency (40.4%; P <0.05) compared to Enterococcus faecium (8.5%). All the Enterococcus isolates were susceptible to High-Level Gentamicin on antimicrobial susceptibility test. Enterococcus species in chickens exhibited higher resistance to the antibiotics than the pets. Highest resistance was observed in Quinupristin/Dalfopristin (89.4%) followed by Vancomycin (87.9%), Rifampicin (85%), Ampicillin (76.6%), Erythromycin (72.3%), and Tetracycline (64.5%). Chloramphenicol (24.8%), High-Level Streptomycin Resistance (24.1%), and Ciprofloxacin (14.2%). Eighty-four percent (84%) of the Enterococcus isolates expressed multidrug resistance (MDR). Three of the four resistance genes screened were detected: 21.3%, 7.8% and 4.3% for Kanamycin, Streptomycin, and Vancomycin resistance genes respectively. Gentamicin resistance gene was absent in all the isolates. PCR detection of virulence gene showed highest prevalence in EfaA gene at 88.7% frequency followed by GelE (82.3%), ccf (81.6%), Esp (26.2%) and CylA (25.5%). All E. faecalis and E. faecium detected harbored multiple virulence genes. These findings show that chickens, cats, and dogs can be colonized by pathogenic Enterococci which harbor resistance and virulence genes and are multidrug resistant. It is therefore important that antibiotics are used prudently in animal husbandry to mitigate emergence and transfer of Enterococci pathogens to humans via food chain and direct contact of pets by their owners.
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    Prevalence of Staphylococcus aureus and its antimicrobial resistance and virulence genes in pet dogs of Durban: the risks of reservoir populations.
    (2017) Brouckaert, Mary-Anne Frances.; Adeleke, Matthew Adekunle.; Zishiri, Oliver Tendayi.
    Abstract available in pdf.
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    Genetic diversity of populations of a Southern African millipede, Bicoxidens flavicollis (Diplopoda, Spirostreptida, Spirostreptidae)
    (2018) Gounden, Yevette.; Zishiri, Oliver Tendayi.; Mwabvu, Tarombera.
    The African millipede genus Bicoxidens is endemic to Southern Africa, inhabiting a variety of regions ranging from woodlands to forests. Nine species are known within the genus but Bicoxidens flavicollis is the most dominant and wide spread species found across Zimbabwe. Bicoxidens flavicollis individuals have been found to express phenotypic variation in several morphological traits. The most commonly observed body colours are brown and black. In the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe body colour ranges from orange- yellow to black, individuals from North East of Harare have a green-black appearance and a range in size (75–110 mm). There is disparity in body size which has been noted with individuals ranging from medium to large and displaying variation in the number of body rings. Although much morphological variation has been observed within this species, characterization based on gonopod morphology alone cannot distinguish or define variation between phenotypically distinct individuals. Morphological classification has been found to be too inclusive and hiding significant genetic variation. Taxa must be re-assessed with the implementation of DNA molecular methods to identify the variation between individuals. This study aimed to detect genetic divergence of B. flavicollis due to isolation by distance of populations across Zimbabwe. The mitochondrial DNA 16S and 12S rRNA genes were used to detect levels of genetic variation as mitochondrial markers express high variability making them suitable for phylogenetic studies. Sequence analysis of the 16S rRNA gene resulted in the generation of 22 haplotypes, derived from 42 sequences with strong haplotype diversity (Hd > 0.9). Analysis of Molecular Variance (AMOVA) analysis determined that variation among the populations was significantly greater (> 80 %) than the variation occurring within populations (< 12 %). A high fixation index (FST = 0.88229) indicated a high level of population genetic differentiation. With analysis of the 16S rRNA gene, B. flavicollis individuals demonstrated both distinctive phylogeographic diversity and genetic similarity for specific regions within Zimbabwe. Phylogenetic analyses using the 12S rRNA gene provided evidence of a more distinct genetic structure between localities. Nineteen haplotypes were derived from 19 sequences, which indicated a genetically distinct population structure (Hd = 1.000). The AMOVA analysis demonstrated that variation among the populations was greater (> 60 %) than the variation occurring within populations (< 40 %), although both were quite high. A low fixation index (FST = 0.37466) suggests a predominantly homozygous population structure. Both genes indicated distinctly structured populations, whilst the 16S rRNA also suggested the existence of closely clustered populations based on PCoA analyses, which is further supported by the presence of admixed haplotypes. The results are significant for B. flavicollis as a genetically diverse species. The findings of this study can be considered for future comparative research within the genus Bicoxidens or against other geographically distant genera. Additional markers such as those of nuclear origin, can be used along with mitochondrial markers to investigate and identify more diplopods which exhibit this level of genetic divergence although belonging to a single species. Acquired knowledge and understanding from phylogeographic studies will provide researchers with greater taxonomic awareness.
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    Population genetics of the bearded vulture.
    (2018) Burke, Melanie Bertha.; Willows-Munro, Sandi.; Krüger, Sonja.
    The bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) is a large, long-lived bird which inhabits high-altitude mountains across Africa, Europe and Asia. Low breeding rates and heightened persecution over the last two centuries have left many populations severely diminished or extinct. The species is globally at risk and is thus listed as ‘Near Threatened’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This global conservation status may under-represent the threats faced by local populations. The southern African population, which is the most geographically isolated, is estimated at 100 breeding pairs, and is classified regionally as Critically Endangered. This thesis aims to describe the genetic status of G. barbatus populations using a panel of 14 microsatellite loci. In the first chapter, the phylogeographic structure and genetic connectivity among G. barbatus populations across Africa and Europe will be assessed. In particular, this chapter focusses on determining if the geographically isolated southern Africa population is genetically unique. In the second chapter, the genetic diversity of the southern African G. barbatus population is compared to that of the Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres), Hooded Vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus) and the African White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus). These vulture species are ecologically similar and also occur in southern Africa. In the third data chapter, the genetic data is combined with ecological and behavioural data to determine the southern African population’s future in a population viability analysis. My results show that the presence of spatial genetic differentiation and the low level of gene flow into the southern African population supports the management of this population as a separate entity. The genetic assessment of the global and southern African G. barbatus populations is useful in revising and updating the current conservation management for this species. Although the southern African population harbours more homozygosity in comparison to two other vulture species occurring in southern Africa and beyond, these bearded vultures had comparatively high allelic richness. The expected high inbreeding found in the southern African G. barbatus population highlights the need for conservation programmes to effectively manage and maintain the extant genetic diversity. Recommendations reported in this thesis will contribute significantly towards conservation efforts to ensure the sustainability of this emblematic species.
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    Population genetic diversity of Fasciola spp. from Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal provinces of South Africa.
    (2017) Chikowore, Tatenda Jimmy Blessing.; Mukaratirwa, Samson.; Zishiri, Oliver Tendayi.
    Fasciola hepatica and Fasciola gigantica have been identified as the species causing fascioliasis in ruminants and humans with intermediate species being reported as well. Studies have shown an economic loss in excess of three billion United States dollars annually in the livestock sector due to infection by fasciolids. With the increase in importance of the disease, taxonomic classification and genetic characterization of Fasciola spp. is essential. Molecular markers have shown utility in both identification of species and elucidating phylogenetic patterns. Recent studies have shown utility of mitochondrial markers in elucidating genetic relationships and diversity due to their high variability and rapid analysis. The current study was aimed at elucidating the evolutionary relationships and genetic diversity of Fasciola isolates from the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Mpumalanga provinces in South Africa through analysis of the CO1 mitochondrial sequences. Fifty-five flukes were collected from abattoirs in the KZN and Mpumalanga provinces and DNA was extracted using the Phenol/Chloroform method. PCR amplification using the CO1 primers was performed with amplicons being sequenced at the Central Analytical Facilities of Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Resulting sequences were subjected to phylogenetic and diversity analysis. The study sequences were comparatively analysed with Genbank sequences from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Niger, Egypt and China; with Schistosoma japonicum as an outgroup. Phylogenetic analysis showed that F. hepatica was present in all localities studied whilst F. gigantica was identified only in the Mpumalanga province. A 100% prevalence of F. hepatica was observed in KwaZulu-Natal and the high-veld region of Mpumalanga (21 and 17 isolates respectively). Thirteen (76%) of the seventeen flukes collected from the Belfast region of Mpumalanga were identified as F. hepatica while four isolates were identified as F. gigantica. A total of twenty-two haplotypes were identified with eighteen novel haplotypes being unique to the isolates from South Africa. Two novel F. gigantica haplotypes were identified with none of the study isolates sharing haplotypes with the Genbank isolates from China, Niger and Zimbabwe. Sixteen novel F. hepatica haplotypes were identified and one haplotype was shared between the experimental flukes and the Genbank isolates from China and Niger. Within the study samples, a number of haplotypes were restricted to a few individuals with a haplotype diversity of 0.89 indicating high diversity. Results from this study adds new knowledge to the genetic diversity of Fasciola species and its distribution in the KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga provinces of South Africa.
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    Testing the utility of DNA barcoding on dipteria of eThekwini.
    (2016) Duze, Sanelisiwe Thinasonke.; Willows-Munro, Sandi.
    Abstract available in PDF file.
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    Prevalence and antibiotic susceptibility of Listeria monocytogenes isolated from broiler chickens within Durban, South Africa.
    (2016) Dawlat, Shrinav Rai.; Zishiri, Oliver Tendayi.
    Abstract available in PDF file.
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    The taxonomy and systematics of the bee genus Scrapter (Colletidae: Colletinae: Scraptrini)
    (2016) Mthethwa, Qiniso Michael.; Willows-Munro, Sandi.; Eardley, Connal Desmond.
    Scrapter is a southern African endemic pollen-collecting genus consisting of 43 described species with 13 species also occurring in neighbouring countries such as Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Classification of Scrapter has been partially investigated using only morphological data set. In this study I reassess previous classification and describe a putative new species which has never been described before, Scrapter leovalis sp. nov. This study aimed at reassessing previous classification of Scrapter using 46 morphological characters and provide a new classification based molecular data; 28SrRNA, EF-1α and Opsin gene. Using phylogenetic methods such as parsimony analysis, maximum likelihood and bayesian analysis classification of Scrapter was possible. However, analyses of morphological characters only did not produce reliable phylogenies due to low branch supports (bootstrap and posterior support). Molecular data was analyzed individually and in supermatrix analyses which produced phylogenetic trees with high branch supports. To see how the morphological and molecular data complemented each other a simultaneous analysis of 28SrRNA EF-1α, Opsin and morphological characters was carried out. Simultaneous analysis produced phylogenetic trees resembling supermatrix trees obtained in the simultaneous analysis of the three genes alone. It was then concluded that morphological characters chosen for this study were not phylogenetically informative.
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    Structural analysis of the mycobacterium tuberculosis redox defence network reveals a unique bi-fan motif design associated with hydrogen peroxide reduction.
    (2017) John, Nolyn.; Pillay, Che Sobashkar.; Rohwer, Johann M.
    Abstract available in PDF file.