Jazmin Conway visits Rhodes University (June - August 2022)

The SA/UK ADD Hub seeks to develop the capacity of Natural Product screening and drug discovery activities in Africa, to improve the capacity of African researchers to maximize use of our continent’s vast biodiversity, and to improve drug discovery infrastructure capacity of the continent. One of the ways in which we have hoped to do this is through Knowledge Exchange, transferring expertise between the Hub’s collaborating research groups. However, the pandemic has restricted travel activities until quite recently, and we are slowly implementing our planned Knowledge Exchange Programme. In June, Jazmin Conway on the University of Plymouth, UK visited the Dorrington Research Group at Rhodes University, SA for 6 weeks. During her visit, she shared expertise in acquisition and analysis of whole genome sequencing performed using the Oxford Nanopore Platform, newly acquired by the Dorrington Group for performance of the Project’s objectives. Additionally, she was trained in the Dorrington Lab’s protocol for mass spectrometry analysis of sponge specimens, to dereplicate sponge extracts by feature-based molecular networking. When the team went out on a field trip, Jaz took the opportunity to participate in sample collection from Algoa Bay, the main sampling site of the Dorrington Research Group. “I watched the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) enter the water and move along the seabed. On the boat we were able to observe the wonders of the seabed and the level of diversity from the screen on deck, from where the taxonomist (Dr Shirley Parker-Nance) chose sea sponges and soft corals, and they were brought back onto the ship to be immediately processed and preserved. This was something very exhilarating to be part of!”, Jaz enthused upon returning to the lab. The swift processing immediately after reaching the surface is important to preserve the sponges and their associated microbiota, along with their present chemistry. “After a very long day at sea, we returned to land with sea legs and a sense of achievement. This was made even better when we spotted Giraffes on the drive home! Overall, it was a brilliant experience and something I will cherish forever; the entire six weeks was an incredible learning curve and I have made some good friends.”

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