NRF Youth Month 2024: Xolile Nuse

NRF Youth Month 2024: Xolile Nuse

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.

Mr Xolile Nuse is a PhD candidate in Genetics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He currently receives funding from the NRF.

How did your journey start?

I am from a small town called Engcobo in the Eastern Cape. I am currently studying for my PhD in Genetics at the School of Life Sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Pietermaritzburg campus. I completed my undergraduate degree (BSc Agric: Animal Science) and MSc in Animal Science at the University of Fort Hare in 2016 and 2020 respectively.

I decided to study agriculture because, when I was in high school, I enjoyed Agricultural and Life Sciences. Since the University of Fort Hare is one of the leading institutions in the Eastern Cape that offers Agricultural studies, I decided to register and further my studies with the institution. During the course of my studies, I understood that the agricultural sector makes a valuable contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country.

When I finished my undergraduate degree, I went straight to my MSc studies to further investigate possible means to improve agricultural production; livestock, in particular. My MSc research project was entitled The effects of protein supplementation on nutrient digestibility, growth performance, nutritional status and wool production of the Dohne Merino sheep. This was inspired by the fact that developing countries are faced with the predicament of food insecurity. While many households already faced food insecurity and poor nutrition, it was projected that the global population is highly likely to increase, resulting in an increasing demand for food and nutrition. To supply this ever-increasing need, it was predicted that global meat production needs to increase through improved livestock production.

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

It was not an easy journey at all, but it’s doable. I faced serious financial constraints during my first year Master’s as I did not have funding. As a dedicated, hardworking student who can withstand adversities and who is determined to achieve his goals, I worked relentlessly between the university, Dohne Agricultural Development Institute and the Animal Feed Industry to organise and get my MSc research project started.

I received NRF funding for my Master’s in my second year and I was even more encouraged to further my studies and develop myself in the academic domain.

I am currently doing my PhD studies, funded by an NRF Doctoral Scholarship. The funding enabled the smooth running of my research project which will influence the completion of my studies in record time.

What is your area of expertise?

I am a student with specialist expertise in bacterial (pathogen) genomics, phylogenetics and statistical genetics. I have a profound interest in infectious diseases and combining molecular epidemiology with statistical analysis of pathogen genomic variation. Therefore, my current research interests include the use of a genomics approach as well as phylogenetic models to understand the drivers and molecular (genetic) mechanisms of infection transmission of heartwater disease in ruminants to assist in the development of an effective and safe vaccine against the disease.

Why is your work/studies important?

Animal diseases are an increasing global concern. Infectious diseases such as heartwater pose a significant challenge to ruminant production. This disease poses an economic threat to goat production in endemic areas infested by Amblyomma hebraeum ticks that transmit the causative agent, Ehrlichia ruminantium.

The contributions of genomics and bioinformatics to our understanding of biology and its role in diseases have expanded significantly. Next-generation sequencing (NGS) and other high-throughput genomics technologies, including genome-wide association studies, have become ever-present in epidemiological research. Sequencing for pathogen characterisation and monitoring plays a pivotal role in the development of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. However, the development of incurable infectious diseases has called much greater attention to the role of genomic surveillance as an essential public health tool.

Advanced genomic sequencing capabilities and proactive surveillance efforts allow for the early identification of variants, and discoveries play a crucial role in alerting the country to the potential of outbreaks and the need for enhanced monitoring. NGS, combined with bioinformatics, has been used successfully in a vast array of analyses for infectious disease research of public health relevance.

What are some of your proudest academic achievements?

  • My completed MSc research project
  • My completed undergraduate project:The influence of cattle age on the meat quality attributes at slaughter.

In 2020,I was selected as the Top Influential Agriculturalist in the National Agricultural Marketing Council. I have also attended and presented my research findings at national and international conferences.

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