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Prof Nokwanda P Makunga
May 16, 2023 @ 17:3019:00
Diving deep into a medicinal plant treasure trove: a focus on South African medicinal flora and beyond
Nokwanda (Nox) Makunga’s research is centred on using a multidirectional approach that combines the areas of biotechnology, ethnopharmacology and phytochemistry.
After she joined Stellenbosch University in 2005, she established the area of medicinal plant biotechnology. Her research group (Medicinal Plant Biology) uses cutting-edge multi-omics technologies to understand how plants function at genetic and biochemical levels to produce the specialised metabolites that impart health-beneficial properties to medicinal plants. Along with her group, Nox also aims to better characterise responses of medicinal plants to the environment to help produce quality-assured, economically suitable phytopharmaceuticals. Several of her current research projects employ in vitro plant propagation methods to resolve everything from genetic to metabolome effects on various plant species. The exploitation of such technologies also provides a tool for conserving indigenous medicinal plants that may face overharvesting from wild populations. In addition, her interest in people-plant interactions, the cultural significance of medicinal plants and the opportunities they present for socioeconomic development has led Nox to a collaborative partnership with the organisation Cape Bush Doctors. These healers hold deep knowledge with regard to the medicinal plants of the greater Cape Floristic Region.
Nokwanda (Nox) Makunga received the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) annual award for distinguished young black female researcher in 2011, and the TW Kambule National Research Foundation (NRF) award in 2011/12. She was also a Fulbright research scholar, for which she was based at the University of Minnesota in 2017 and 2018. In 2022, Nox was a finalist in the NSTF awards for science communication. She is a founding member of the social advocacy movement Black Botanists Week, which was founded in 2020 to afford greater exposure to black people, indigenous people and people of colour whose interest in plants is underpinned by either formal or informal training.