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Lab Members


Laboratory Head: Dr. Pierre Durand
Phone: +27 (11) 717 2165


Current lab members

Andrew Ndhlovu

MSc student: 2012-2015 (graduated with distinction); PhD student: 2016-Present

MSc project: An evolutionary rates database EvoDB and alignment algorithm to infer protein domain function

PhD project: The metagenomics of an algal bloom

Andrew's PhD project will use a metagenomics approach to investigate changes in microbial communities (abundance and composition) during an algal bloom on the west coast of South Africa.


Ikhlaas Raoof

BScEng(Mechanical): 2013-2017; ECL Laboratory Assistant: 2017

Ikhlaas joned the ECL in 2017 and recently completed an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering. At the ECL, Ikhlaas is primarily responsible for managing the laboratory and the culture collection. He has also taken over as content-manager of the ECL webpage. The ECL logo is of his design.


Jasper Grobler

MSc student: 2017-Present

Jasper's MSc project (which is being undertaken in collaboration with the CSIR) entails the biochemical characterisation of South African indigenous microalgae for biofuel production potential. He also aims to obtain more information about the isolates from the Microalgal Culture Collection South Africa (MiCCSA), which are maintained in duplicate at the CSIR and the University of Witwatersrand.

Jasper was employed at the Biomanufacturing Industry Development Centre of the CSIR from January 2016 to April 2017 where he was involved with bacterial fermentation (1 - 1000 L), microalgal culture (0.1 - 200 L), upstream & downstream bio-product processing, and related analytics. 


Jonathan Featherston

PhD student: 2011-2017

Project title: Genomic and genetic changes during the transition to multicellularity in the volvocine algae.

Jonathan's research involves genome sequencing of Tetrabaena socialis in the Volvocine lineage. The aim of the research is to identify the molecular basis for the evolution of complexity in this lineage, starting with the simplest colonial member T. socialis.



Past lab members

Nisha Dhar

PhD Student: 2012-2016

Project title: The molecular evolution of complexity at the origin of life

Nisha's PhD project focused on understanding the steps and mechanisms of how and why a random collection of biomolecules (catalytic RNA) formed higher levels of complexity or an ordered assemblage that displayed at least some of the biochemical properties that we associate with life.

She graduated in 2016 and remains as a postdoctoral fellow for 2016-2017. Her postdoctoral work involves investigating the role of programmed cell death in algal blooms using the Prorocentrum – Brevibacterium system isolated from a naturally occurring bloom on the west coast of South Africa.

Nisha currently works for the Respiratory and Meningeal Pathogens Research Unit at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, South Africa.

Nisha's Favourite Quote: "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts" - Albert Einstein


Rajdeep Choudhury

URC Postdoctoral fellow: 2012-2013

Project: Molecular basis for the adaptive evolution of programmed cell death

Rajdeep's postdoctoral research interest involved the investigation of the evolutionary origin of programmed cell death (PCD) in the unicellular organism Chlamydomonas. The aim was to investigate the fitness effects of PCD in one species on other species.


Santosh Sathe

URC Postdoctoral fellow: 2013

Project 1: The proximate causes and the role of kinship in the evolution of multicellularity.

The evolution of multicellularity is one of the major transitions in evolution. Unlike other major transitions (ex., evolution of the eukaryotic cell) the unicellular to multicellular transition has happened independently and on multiple occasions among various taxa. Multicellular individuals (because of increased size and division of labour between different cell types) have obvious fitness advantages over their unicellular ancestors. However, the initial selective forces responsible for unicellular to multicellular transition and the role of genetic relatedness in this transition are largely unknown. A group of green algae (volvocine) which comprise unicellular Chlamydomonas and multicellular Volvox offers a good study system to address these issues. In our recent study we have shown that the predation was probably one of the major selective force for inducing simple multicellular group formation and the process was affected by cell size and motility. Interestingly, the primitive groups were genetically heterogeneous suggesting high genetic relatedness was not necessary for this transition.

Project 2: Evolution of programmed cell death in unicellular Chlamydomonas.

Programmed cell death (PCD) is a genetically controlled cell death mechanism found in both unicellular (ex., Saccharomyces, Chlamydomonas) and multicellular (ex., metazoa and metaphyta) organisms. The presence of active cell death mechanism in unicellular organisms is an evolutionary conundrum: how can a 'death pathway' evolve by natural selection whose outcome leads to the elimination of all the individuals which activate the pathway? Using a unicellular Chlorophyte Chlamydomonas reinhardtii we are studying (a) the ecological factors responsible for the induction of PCD and (b) the fitness benefits of PCD on neighbouring clones.

Santosh is currently a member of the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology at the University of Zürich.



Laboratory visitors

Professor Alexey Grigoryevich Desnitskiy (2017), St. Petersburg State University

Mr. Abhishek Upadhyay (2015), University of Hong Kong

Mr. Nishant Garg (2015), Boston University Medical School

Professor Cristian Solari (2015), University of Buenos Aires

Professor Rick Michod (2014), University of Arizona

Mrs. Yogita Dolas (2014)


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