Youth Month 2021: Dr Deon Neveling

Youth Month 2021: Dr Deon Neveling

June is Youth Month, and this year the NRF is celebrating the Youth of the NRF who are Advancing Knowledge, Transforming Lives and Inspiring a Nation. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us and we hope that you are inspired by the young dreamers and achievers who are affiliated with the NRF through their work or studies.

Dr Deon Neveling is a Postdoctoral Researcher in Biochemistry at Stellenbosch University. He has received funding from the NRF since the start of his postgraduate journey: NRF BSc (Hons) Scholarship; NRF Innovation Master’s Scholarship; NRF Innovation Doctoral Scholarship and an NRF Innovation Postdoctoral Scholarship.

This is his story…

I grew up in Durban and went to school at Port Natal school. I moved to Stellenbosch in 2007 to study Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at Stellenbosch University. Thereafter, I decided to continue my education and registered as a postgraduate student in Microbiology and completed my PhD in 2018.

Initially, I wanted to study medicine but I couldn’t get into the program. I then decided to study science to improve my opportunity to be selected. After a few years of studying and doing my postgrad, I decided to stay in the field of science. My study journey started with Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, and then I specialised in Microbiology during my postgrad.

Did you have to overcome any obstacles to be where you are today, and what did you learn from it?

The obstacles I faced during my studies were to acquire funding to continue my journey in educating myself. Thanks to the NRF funding scheme, I was given the opportunity to continue my journey! For this, I am forever grateful.

 What is your research focus on/what is your area of expertise?

My doctoral research focussed on designing broiler-specific probiotics which can improve animal health. Currently, my research focus is on coenzyme-A biology with a focus on drug discovery. My general research interests are bacterial taxonomy, probiotic development, antimicrobial drug discovery, nanotechnology, and biosensors.

How can your research/work advance knowledge, transform lives and inspire a nation?

My research during my doctoral studies focused on developing a probiotic for chickens to elevate the use of antibiotic feed additives. The use of natural alternatives can have a major impact on the rate of antibiotic resistance development which can have a major impact on South African society and the environment.

For my postdoctoral studies, I will endeavour to develop a vaginal probiotic to promote female genital health while preventing the occurrence of Candida albicans infections, improving the well-being of the women of South Africa.

What are some of your proudest achievements?

My proudest achievements are the publication of 12 peer-reviewed articles and three patents. One of the patents is a probiotic for broiler chickens based on microbiota from the guts of free-range chickens. The story was picked up by, amongst others, Bizcommunity in 2018. The other patents were for “systems and methods for the detection of biomolecules methods”, and “systems and devices for detecting inflammation”.

I am also a co-founder of a biotechnology spin-out company [Biotikum (Pty) Ltd] which focuses on researching and developing microbial additives to promote sustainable agriculture. The use of microbial additives is an environmentally friendly means to promote sustainable farming practices and improves profitability. Read more here.

Did the COVID-19 pandemic (and national lockdown) change the way you work/study? How did you adapt to the “new normal”?

COVID-19 had a huge impact on my work during the national lockdown, however, after the lockdown things returned to normality – with minor changes. Changes implemented focused on having a balanced lifestyle to ensure mental health.

What is the best advice you have ever received (and from whom)?

Never give up on your dreams. Visualise where you want to be in the future and keep working towards those goals every day.

What, in your opinion, are some of the best ways to get youngsters interested in science-related careers?

In my opinion, the youth of South Africa need to be informed about the opportunities that exist in STEM fields. Government should hold roadshows at schools to showcase these opportunities and the impact that these ventures can have on the society of South Africa.

What are your career aspirations for the future?

My career aspirations for the future are to become an NRF-rated researcher to add value to South Africa society and globally.

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