South African Women in Biotech Fellows join ICGEB Cape Town

2024 sees ICGEB Cape Town welcoming three new Fellows as part of the ICGEB South African Women in Biotechnology (SAWBP) Programme, in partnership with the Department of Science and Innovation and the South African National Research Foundation.

Launched in 2022, the ICGEB SAWBP supports PhD and Postdoctoral South African women scientists to carry out research in the state-of-the-art labs at ICGEB Cape Town. A unique component of the Fellowships is that it also promotes the interaction and mobility of Fellows and the ICGEB community, including support to visit ICGEB Components in Trieste, Italy and New Delhi, India.

Congratulating the SAWBP 2024 Fellows, we hear about their current research as part of the programme. Dr. Shannon Leigh-Sparks, Postdoctoral Fellow, is part of the ICGEB Plant Systems Biology Group. Her research aims to investigate how plants modulate auxin biosynthesis in response to salt stress in order to engineer plants with enhanced salt tolerance. “I am immensely grateful for being awarded the ICGEB SAWBP Fellowship, which allows me to conduct research in a space that promotes the exchange of innovative ideas between a diverse group of people. I am excited and welcome the opportunity to gain invaluable knowledge and grow as a scientist” Shannon states.

Cheval Sookram – ICGEB SAWBP PhD Fellow – Infectious Diseases

Cheval Sookram, PhD Fellow, will continue her PhD project in the Infectious Diseases Group, characterising the diverse immune cells involved in HIV acquisition in the male genital tract whilst investigating the impact of HIV viral subtypes on infection.  She also will continue to interrogate mechanisms of  interferon based antiviral responses using small molecules in an ex vivo infection assay developed in her lab. She states: “I am extremely grateful to have received the ICGEB SAWBP fellowship, which is a testament to my many years of hard work and dedication. This support and recognition is an absolute privilege as it allows me to be amongst the talented and resilient community of African women and other amazing scientists who are shaping the future.”

Bianca Delport – ICGEB SAWBP PhD Fellow – Plant Systems Biology

Bianca Deport joins as a  PhD Fellow conducting her research in the Plant Systems Biology Group. Her research will use a combined approach to analyse the microbial diversity and co-occurrence network in sorghum samples from various African regions. A culture collection of these microbes will also be created and tested for plant growth-promoting activities.

She says on her Fellowship, “Being awarded the SAWBP fellowship is a great honour, especially given its focus on empowering women in science. This opportunity enables me to contribute to innovative research with potential benefits for South Africa, while also learning from accomplished researchers. I’m grateful for the support and the chance to grow academically and professionally.”

The 2025 call for SAWBP Postdoctoral Fellowships has now closed. The PhD call will be opened later in the year.