Professor Tukayi Kudanga, Deputy Dean: Faculty of Applied Sciences at the Durban University of Technology, hosted a virtual inaugural professorial lecture on Thursday, 13 May 2021 via MS Teams.
Prof Kudanga is a member of the Enzyme Technology Research Focus Area where he is the Research leader of the Biocatalysis and Biomaterials Research Group. His research projects include development of green technologies for functionalization of lignocellulose materials, biocatalysis – enzymatic synthesis of bioactive compounds mainly antioxidants, enzymatic modification of food biopolymers, and tailoring enzymes for desired applications. The projects have been funded in excess of R4.5 million mainly through external funding by the National Research Foundation (NRF), Agricultural Research Council (ARC), and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
Prof Kudanga is internationally recognised in his field and has made tremendous contributions to the university and scientific community through national, regional and international collaborations with scientists in Germany, Austria, Italy, Zimbabwe and Slovakia.
The Programme Director at the virtual event was Prof Darren Lortan Head: Department of Mathematics, who thanked everyone for availing themselves to the lecture. “This inaugural lecture represents in some sense an opportunity to reflect on his accomplishments so far and to possibly look at where his research may take him and others in his field,” he said.
Giving the welcome and opening remarks was Professor Sibusiso Moyo, DUT’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Engagement, who spoke on behalf of the DUT Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof Thandwa Mthembu. She acknowledged the presence of the Council Chairperson, Mr Wiseman Madinane, other council members who may have also been present at the lecture, the DUT community, students and stakeholders present.
She also recognised the presence of Prof Nokuthula Sibiya, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning, Prof Suren Singh, Executive Dean: Faculty of Applied Sciences, as well as Prof Theo Andrew, Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor: People and Operations, who were also present at the lecture.
“‘We come together as a university community as well as DUT strategic partners to celebrate the ascension of Professor Tukayi Kudanga to the status of full professorship at DUT. It also reminds us to reflect on DUT’s ENVISION2030 strategy and the four perspectives on Stewardship, Systems and Processes, Sustainability and Society. We know that inaugural lectures form part of our Stewardship perspective as a university to demonstrate to the public what it is we hope most important in terms of our values and purpose, excellence, research ethics and integrity. The inaugural lecture, apart from being the most outstanding milestone in an outstanding academic, also represents the official recognition by the university of the outstanding achievement made through a rigorous process of appointing a professor at DUT,” she said.
Giving an introduction of Prof Kudanga’s life and academic credentials was Prof Singh, Executive Dean: Faculty of Applied Sciences.
“It is indeed an honour to introduce Prof Kudanga for his inaugural lecture. Prof Kudanga, the faculty salutes you as well as the university in your career, having achieved such great success in such a short space of time and under challenging circumstances. As always, my office will support and catalyse every endeavour you seek to achieve and together to ensure that you reach greater heights in terms of innovation and in your quest for new enzymes,” he said.
Prof Kudanga Deputy Dean: Faculty of Applied Sciences gave his presentation titled: One enzyme, multiple functions: why promiscuous enzymes are key for the bioeconomy agenda.
His talk looked at the bioeconomy agenda which has seen enzymes become the centrepiece of the aspired green economy. However, he said that the discovery or development of enzymes that are needed for the many desired applications is painfully slow. His lecture proposes promiscuous enzymes, as candidates for catalysing the establishment of bioeconomies sooner rather than later, with an emphasis placed on laccase, an enzyme that is attracting interest as a versatile and ‘eco-friendly’ catalyst.
He indicated that global leaders are focused on grand challenges which are food security, energy security, climate change and resource depletion.
“Looking at South Africa, on a few global rankings, one that stands out is of Co2 emission, and we are ranked 13th in the world. This is a major concern and there is a need to minimise human impact on the environment. We need to decouple the economy from fossil fuel, especially when 77% of South Africa’s energy is derived from coal. What is required is a shift from energy intensive industrial processes (non-renewable resources) to sustainable green economies (renewable resources),” he said.
He then delved onto the subject of bioeconomy, which he said offers us (South Africa) the opportunity for sustainable economic growth which is coupled with responsible environmental action.
He relayed further, defining it as the knowledge-based production and utilisation of biological resources, biological processes and principles to sustainably provide goods and services across all economic sectors, and which speaks to virtually all 17 sustainable development goals.
He focused on the bioeconomy policies around the world, and on the cascading of green strategies in South Africa, and in particular the DUT ENVISION2030, which is aligned to South Africa’s Bioeconomy strategy (2013).
“One objective that stands out is the Green Ecosystems which is aimed to improve efficiency of resource utilisation and decrease environmental risk,” he said.
Prof Kudanga emphasized more on the key elements of a bioeconomy, saying that the utilisation of renewable biomass and efficient bioprocesses is necessary to achieve a sustainable production. He also indicated that the utilisation of enabling and converging technologies, including biotechnology which is defined as any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use; is vital. He mentioned the importance of integration across applications such as agriculture, health and industry.
“According to the OECD (Based on the model developed by the BAV Group, a unit of global marketing communications company VMLY&R), and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania), industrial biotechnology can reduce 1 to 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year, by 2030,” he said.
Prof Kudanga spoke further on enzymes, saying that it is biological catalysts, and most are proteins.
“Enzymes increase the rates of reactions, one million fold and the reaction time is reduced from years to seconds when enzymes are used,” he said.
He gave more insight into the industrial applications of enzymes, green technology and the textile industry, saying that stone washing uses approximately one kilogram of stones for one kilogram of jeans. He said that the solution is celluloses’ and laccase-mediator systems. In terms of ddetergents’, he said that phosphorous based detergents cause eutrophication. He relayed that what can be done is to reduce the temperature from 60 °C to 30 °C or cold, to save energy.
Prof Kudanga then spoke on enzyme promiscuity, indicating that enzymes catalyze more than one reaction. He then spoke on condition promiscuity which is enzymatic activity under various reaction conditions different from their natural ones. He conveyed more on substrate promiscuity which are enzymes with broad substrate specificity. He also spoke on catalytic promiscuity which is based on the ability of a single enzyme active site to catalyze several chemical transformations.
He said the possible reasons for promiscuity are that ‘perfect’ specificity is unachievable, and that specificity is a result of evolution/natural selection.
Prof Kudanga looked at the research focus areas which are the enzymatic synthesis of bioactive molecules; enzymatic functionalisation of lignocellulose materials; enzymatic modification of food biopolymers and enzyme engineering for tailoring properties to applications.
Further into his presentation, he spoke on antioxidant activity measuring methods, plasma and cellular antioxidant measurement, Laccases in bio catalysis, as well as oxidative stress.
“Non-communicable diseases (NCD) caused by oxidative stress is on the rise, 63% of all deaths (globally) stem from NCDs,” he said.
He said that oxidative stress is the imbalance between free radicals and cellular and it is linked to several diseases and conditions, also speaking about the problem and objectives.
“There is a high demand for supplementary dietary antioxidants such as quercetin for the prevention of conditions related to oxidative stress and free-radical damage,” he said.
He then focused on the poor physiological properties, for example monomeric phenols such as catechin which are easily degraded by light, have poor water solubility, and may have pro-oxidant properties. He indicated the proposed solution/objective is laccase-catalysed homo- and hetero-coupling.
Prof Kudanga also gave more insight into other work done by the Biocatalysis and Biomaterials Research Group, such as research on the modification of food biopolymers, which is the celiac disease-genetic, auto-immune disease caused by gluten consumption. He also thanked his Biocatalysis and Biomaterials Research Group for their sterling work and former supervisors, sponsors, funders, partners, colleagues and his parents, and family for their immense support through his academic journey.
The presentation was then followed by a question and answer session and a vote of thanks which was given by Prof Nokuthula Sibiya-Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning.
Prof Kudanga has supervised five PhD and five Masters students to completion and is currently supervising nine postgraduate students. Over 50 peer-reviewed articles have been published in high impact scientific journals (h-index 23). His work has been acknowledged through NRF rating (Y2, 2013; C2, 2019) and various scientific appointments.
Pictured: Professor Tukayi Kudanga, Deputy Dean: Faculty of Applied Sciences.