The overall aim of this project is to develop a joint training and cutting edge research program based on "state of the-art", technologies that will strengthen the research partnership between the University of Pretoria in South Africa, the Leeds University, UK and VIB Ghent, Belgium in legume improvement, which is of major agronomic importance both in the EU and in Africa. This aim will be achieved through short and longer-term periods of staff exchanges between the African and European partners and networking activities between the three institutions. The ultimate goal of this project is to achieve more rapid progress in advancing current knowledge and concepts through joint endeavour leading to joint-author high citation index publications and possibly also patents. In this way we will establish a long-term research cooperation between the three institutions based on active technology and scientific knowledge application and transfer.

In general, nodule development is a complex process that has been insensitively studied for many years. However, key questions remain concerning the orchestration of bacterial infection, nodule development and nodule senescence in relation to the senescence of the whole plant. As with other major crops, grain legume production can be severely restricted by environmental stresses. However, little information is available on the mechanisms that cause the breakdown of symbiosis particularly during stress. The mechanisms that trigger the end of symbiosis in development-dependent and stress-induced nodule senescence remain to be characterised.

This project is focused on nodule development from the point where the bacteria are taken up by the plant cells, develop into bacteroids within symbiosomes and start to fix atmospheric nitrogen to the point where symbiosis ends and the nodules loose the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen. Although the initial steps of nodule development, mediated by the bacterial Nod factors have been intensively studied, relatively few traits that have the potential to contribute or enhance nitrogen fixation in agricultural practices have been characterised in terms of molecular and protein biology. This project will address this issue directly and contribute to current knowledge and concepts of nodule development and sustainability. The proposed joint research effort is based on the interfacing and interdisciplinary skills and knowhow of each of the partners.

New Publications

Juan Vorster, Chris Cullis, Karl Kunert. (2019) Plant Vacuolar Processing Enzymes. Frontiers in Plant Science :00497. 10.3389/fpls.2019.00479 PDF
Cullis C, Lawler DW, Chimwamurombe P, Kunert K, Bbebe N, Vorster J. (2019) Development of marama bean, an orphan legume, as a crop. Food and Energy Security e00164:1-12. 10.1002/fes3.164 PDF
NM Okumu, BJ Vorster, CF Reinhardt. (2019) Growth-stage and temperature influence glyphosate resistance in Conyza bonariensis (L.) Cronquist.. South African Journal of Botany 121:248-256. 10.1016/j.sajb.2018.10.034 PDF
Cristopher Cullis, Percy Chimwamurombe, Nigel Barker, Karl Kunert, Juan Vorster. (2018) Orphan Legumes Growing in Dry Environments: Marama Bean as a Case Study. Frontiers in Plant Science 9:11999. 10.3389/fpls.2018.01199 PDF
Magdeleen Cilliers, Stefan van Wyk, Phillipus van Heerden, Karl Kunert, Juan Vorster. (2018) Identification and changes of the drought-induced cysteine protease transcriptome in soybean (Glycine max) root nodules. Journal of Experimental and Environmental Botany 148:59-69. 10.1016/j.envexpbot.2017.12.005