UJ Botanists lead the way in biodiversity conservation

The attention paid by health authorities to the use of medicinal plants has increased considerably. In developing countries, this has largely resulted from a decision to take traditional forms of medicine seriously and to explore the possibility of utilising them in primary health care, especially in rural communities. These were some of the views shared during the South African Association of Botanists conference at the University of Johannesburg (UJ)’s Auckland Park Kingsway Campus.

The 45th Annual Congress, held between 8 to 11 January 2019, was hosted by UJ’s Department of Botany and Plant Biotechnology, Faculty of Science. The event, which is affiliated with the African Mycological Association and the Southern African Society for Systematic Biology, set an agenda for biodiversity research. Held under the theme: “Biodiversity and conservation for a better tomorrow“, the conference sought to provide an exciting opportunity to present new research, interact with colleagues in related fields and encourage them to attend workshops linked to the congress.

“One of the important aspects of the conference is around the study of the use of plants as medicine. This is a pressing global issue, since we are faced with the development of multidrug resistant pathogens,” said Prof Annah Moteetee, Head of Botany and Plant Biotechnology Department. “With global health at stake, creating a scientific community of trust and teamwork makes it easier to share research among stakeholders.”

She added: “The conference is meant to promote sharing of knowledge among the world’s biodiversity plants experts and collaboration. We love that we get to show people from all over the world not only our facilities, but also the beauty and hospitality of UJ.”

About 150 scientists and faculty members across South Africa and abroad participated in the conference. These scientists, in their lectures, presentations and panel discussions, elaborated recent trends in their respective fields of expertise, including Invasion Biology, Ecology, Plant Conservation, Savannah ecology, Physiology and Biotechnology as well as Plants interacting with other organisms; Systematics and taxonomy; Plant anatomy.

The conference concluded that proper identification of plant species has major benefits for a wide range of key role players ranging from forestry services, botanists, taxonomists, physicians, pharmaceutical laboratories and organisations fighting for endangered species, governments and the public at large. Consequently, this has fueled an interest in developing automated systems for the recognition of different plant species. It is anticipated that a web-based or mobile computer system for the automatic recognition of medicinal plants will help the rural community to improve their knowledge on medicinal plants, help taxonomists to develop more efficient species identification techniques and contribute significantly in the protection of endangered species.

This conference adds another success story to a Department with an outstanding record of excellence in research. The Department showcased the work of its researchers in anatomy, biotechnology, ethnobotany, and plant taxonomy and systematics, as well as the DNA barcoding research of Prof Michelle van der Bank, an established researcher whose stellar reputation in postgraduate student mentoring, research outputs and citations has done the University of Johannesburg proud.


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