Read time: 3 minutes

Biotechnology research may aid in prevention of agricultural food insecurity

Azande Ralephenya

Dr Louis Bengyella, a biotechnologist working at the Vaal University of Technology Faculty of Applied and Computer Sciences, has published his first book: "Pathogenicity of Cochliobolus Species in Post Genomic Era".

Cochliobolus species are cross-kingdom pathogens that cause life-threatening diseases in humans and animals, and have devastating effects to varieties of plant species, infecting the root, stem, leaf and tissue head of crops.

Referencing devastating historical events such as the Bengal rice famine of the 1940s that led to the death of over 2 million people due to starvation; the Southern Corn Blight epidemic of the 1970s in the USA; and the Northern Spot-Blight of Maize in the 90s in China, Dr Bengyalla notes all of these crop disasters had one thing in common: that is, Cochliobolus species colonising and infecting its host (the crops). These events and more have heavily influenced his research on Cochliobolus.

According to: "How to feed the world by 2050", a report issued by the Food Agricultural Organisation, the world's population will reach 9.1 billion in the year 2050, 34% higher than it is today. This increase in population will particularly be seen in developing countries. This also means food production must increase proportionally. However, an increase in food production does not necessarily mean there will be food security, as the agricultural industry is consistently faced with harsh environmental challenges. This is where science can assist in creating solutions.

The book aims to provide insights into the traits of Cochliobolus as well as providing clues that may aid in the management of Cochliobolus diseases in economic crops such as maize, sorghum, rice and wheat. Cochliobolus species have devastating environmental effects, and this book incorporates new insights gathered from the genomic era and superimposes data to further unpack the pathogenicity that impedes global food security and health.

"This research is not only for myself, but for every single human being that eats and breathes. It's important to find out what the impact of the Cochliobolus fungus is, how these pathogens destroy our crops, animal life, and how we can prevent this from happening in southern Africa," he says.

Dr Bengyella says his book is easy to read, understand and digest, although mainly targeted for lecturers, students and researchers. He is influenced by the motto: "Our past and our present is based on our education; the future can be shaped based on what you read and write." He hopes that even non-academics will read and gain insight from his writings. He wants people to educate themselves through reading his work and the writings of others.

Dr Louis Bengyella

From very humble beginnings, Dr Bengyella started his education in the English speaking part of Cameroon, what is now known as the Southern Cameroon. After high school, he studied at the University of Yaound'e I, Cameroon, where he obtained his BSc, honour's and MSc in biochemistry majoring in phytopathology and phytobiochemistry.

Due to his exceptional academic performance, he received a sponsorship from The World Academy of Sciences Fellowship (TWAS) to study for his PhD in biotechnology at the University of Burdwan, India. With this opportunity, he further studied the interaction of Cochliobolus fungus. From what he says, little did he know, this was the beginning of a love story between Cochliobolus and the Solanum tuberosum L (potato). He has published peer-reviewed papers in over 27 reputable journals and has been serving as an editorial board member for Springer, Elsevier, Science Alert and Academic publishers.

In 2014, he joined Wits University's School of Cell and Molecular Biology for his post-doctoral studies, and was a senior lecturer at the University of Health and Allied Sciences, Ghana, in 2016.