Slovak researcher visits Stellenbosch biofuels researchers

Scientific relations between South Africa and Slovakia have been strengthened with the visit of a leading Slovak researcher to Stellenbosch to collaborate in the activities of biofuels researchers in the Department of Microbiology.

This follows the signing of a cultural and scientific collaboration treaty three years ago between South Africa and Slovakia, a small country in the heart of Europe that was part of the former Czechoslovakia. In the frame of this activity, a call for bilateral scientific projects between these two countries was posted in 2007.VanZylBielyklein

One of the successful project proposals was submitted by Dr Peter Biely from the Institute of Chemistry of the Slovak Academy of Sciences in Bratislava, capitol of Slovakia, and Prof Emile van Zyl, holder of the SANERI Research Chair in Biofuels in the Department of Microbiology at Stellenbosch University.

The aim of the project is to study and improve the xylanolytic enzymes of the well known xylose-fermenting yeast Pichia stipitis. This unique yeast is equipped with metabolic pathways that enable the microorganism to convert xylan, which is abundant in woody materials, directly to ethanol. This research can thus be useful to produce biofuels from plant material and other biotechnological applications.

Prof van Zyl’s research group is trying to create recombinant yeast strains that produce the unique enzyme a-glucuronidase of Pichia stipitis in higher quantities. Dr Peter Biely is currently visiting South Africa to assist in developing methodology to examine the production of the new a-glucuronidase recently described by him and Prof van Zyl in the international journal FEBS Letters. Prof Biely presented a departmental seminar on 4 December entitled: Xylanolytic Enzymes: Properties and Applications.

During a visit to Slovakia in May 2009, Prof. van Zyl had the opportunity to present seminars at the Slovak Academy of Sciences, as well as at the 37th Annual Conference on Yeasts which was held in Smolenice Castle, the Congress Center of the Slovak Academy of Sciences.

Caption: Prof Emile van Zyl and Dr Peter Biely earlier this year during a conference in Slovakia.