NRF Youth Month 2024: Mpho Sebabiki Maleke

NRF Youth Month 2024: Mpho Sebabiki Maleke

This year’s Youth Month is significant as the NRF celebrates 25 Years of Research, Innovation, Impact and Partnerships. These are the stories of the youth who have not only been impacted by the NRF but who also have an impact in their own spaces – and beyond! We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us.

Ms Mpho Sebabiki Maleke is a PhD candidate in Food Technology at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). She has received funding from the NRF for her entire postgraduate journey (BTech to PhD).

How did your journey start?

Initially, I wanted to be a virologist, but the university I chose, the University of Johannesburg (UJ), did not have it as one of their courses. A very kind student assistant advised me during my matric to take it via Biotechnology and then progress to Virology at a different institution. Unfortunately, I could not get space to study Biotechnology so I opted for Food Technology because they were similar. The difference is that Food Technology strictly focuses on food while Biotechnology also looks at the medical side of things and a bit of chemistry.

I ended up falling in love with Food Technology and I furthered my studies – shout out to all lectures under the Department of Biotechnology and Food Technology who made the course fun and interesting. This was the reason I continued with my studies at UJ.

After my diploma, I pursued my Btech at the same Department. This was when the NRF was introduced to us. I then continued with NRF for my Master’s under the supervision of Prof Adebo. I am currently doing my PhD – still with the University of Johannesburg under the supervisor and the same scholarship (NRF). He is the reason why I decided to pursue my PhD together with Dr Luruli who encouraged me to do my PhD before “my life gets too busy”.

When I applied to the NRF and got an email that I was to receive the funding, I just knew that this was meant to be. This is all thanks to God’s amazing grace and NRF as well as UJ.

How has your affiliation with the NRF impacted your studies/career?

In 2018, I received funding from NRF for my B-Tech studies and in 2020, I received a supervisor-linked bursary for my Master’s. I was able to focus on my studies without having to worry about my finances. I managed to finish both qualifications in record time and I was also able to publish three articles under my name during my Master’s. I am currently working on the fourth one with the kind assistance from my supervisors and colleagues at UJ.

I am currently doing my second year PhD in Food Technology, funded by the NRF. Due to the opportunities I was given by NRF, I was allowed to travel abroad for my PhD studies. We went for a research visit at Abertay University in Scotland, and so far, this is the biggest highlight of my studies.  I am very grateful to the NRF for exposing me to such exciting opportunities.

What is your is your area of expertise?

The crisis of malnutrition is currently going on across the world. The demand for healthy diets encouraged me to work on improving processing techniques to enhance the nutritional and health benefits of underutilised food materials such as sorghum, millets and some medicinal plants such as Moringa oleifera as well as introducing edible insects to the modern lifestyle. My area of expertise is in new product development and food processing.

Why is your work/studies important?

My current research focuses on developing products with improved nutritional and health benefits using advanced technology such as 3D printing. The use of processing techniques in my study, such as fermentation and ultrasonication, will produce enriched functional snacks that will encourage healthy eating among consumers.

Due to the growing demand for healthy diets among consumers, the application of evolving technology, such as 3D food printing to complement traditional processes, can re-invent local products in the food system.

What are some of your proudest academic achievements?

Having published three research articles and travelling within the country and abroad.

My publications are:

  • Maleke, M.S., Adefisoye, M.A., Doorsamy, W. and Adebo, O.A., 2021. Processing, nutritional composition and microbiology of amasi: A Southern African fermented milk product. Scientific African12.
  • Maleke, M., Doorsamy, W., Abrahams, A.M., Adefisoye, M.A., Masenya, K. and Adebo, O.A., 2022. Influence of fermentation conditions (temperature and time) on the physicochemical properties and bacteria microbiota of amasiFermentation8(2), p.57.
  • Maleke, M.S. and Adebo, O.A., 2022. Nutritional Composition and Health-Promoting Properties of amasi: A South African Fermented Milk Product. Fermentation8(10), p.493. 

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