Like most university students, 25 year old Lee-Ann Niekerk is looking forward to the holiday period. The young ‘cum laude’ scientist has had a busy year. In addition to completing her Master’s degree, she was invited as a research scholar in the US and she was recently awarded a grant to present her findings at the prestigious Plant Cell Dynamics international conference in Madison, Wisconsin. She now looks forward to completing her PhD.
The University of the Western Cape (UWC) student recently returned from Columbia in the US where she spent the year as a research scholar at the University of Missouri. She was chosen as part of a collaborative research initiative between UWC’s ‘Environmental Biotechnology Laboratory’ and Missouri’s ‘Dr. Antjie Heese Laboratory’. To make the trip possible, the top achiever was awarded a grant by the Center of Excellence for Food Security, the National Research Foundation and the National Science Foundation.
During her time at Missouri, she conducted research on the effects of Cadmium, a toxic element released through mining. It keeps plants from growing by disrupting the photosynthesis process and could lead to food shortages. Through her study of the molecular makeup of Arabidopsis Thaliana, she is hoping to understand this toxic element and contribute to a future where everybody has something to eat. Her hard work has not gone unnoticed.
Realising the potential breakthroughs that her research could produce, she was offered a grant to present her findings at the ‘Plant Cell Dynamics’ international conference in Madison, Wisconsin. The grant was awarded to her by the ‘Midwest Plant Cell Biology’. She was also granted funding by the ‘Interdisciplinary Plant Group’ and the University of Missouri, to further her research at Missouri.
Born and raised in Bonteheuwel, Lee-Ann completed her degree in 2015 and Honours degree in 2016, both in Biotechnology. She graduated cum laude and went on to study for a Master’s degree in 2017. Her Master’s thesis focuses on Antimony stress and how it influences the Physiological and Biochemical characteristics of Phaseolus vulgaris L. She has experience in Biochemical analysis, DNA extraction, Protein extraction and Gel electrophoresis. Apart from her academic achievement, when she is not attempting to make a scientific breakthrough, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, as well as exploring nature.
Of her stay at Missouri, she says that she is grateful for the opportunity to have done her research under the guidance of some of the top research biochemists and biologists in the world. She is also happy to have experienced snow for the first time in her life. For now however, the future Dr. Niekerk is just focused on getting some rest before she gets busy again, completing her PhD.