Sibusiso Mahlangu’s first application to study at university was unsuccessful. But he seems to take a stoic approach to these setbacks.

“As with anything in life, challenges will be there,” he says.

Mahlangu recounts how he witnessed his parents perform miracles each year so that he could continue his studies – things were not always easy.

The 27-year-old student was born and raised in the township of Soshanguve in Pretoria. He says he had a passion for science from an early age, which continues to this day…

“From being interested in nature shows on animals that would follow animals in populations and how they live and interact with their environment (50/50 on SABC 2 and National Geographic etc), till studying Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Johannesburg,” he says.

His interests led him to take up an Honours degree in Zoology and find his passion in molecular ecology. He is currently enrolled for his Master’s degree at the University of Johannesburg and receives funding through an FBIP bursary.

He adds that working on his MSc in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging.

Sibusiso has taken some time to tell us about his project and how it will make a difference:

“My present study uses DNA barcoding and metabarcoding as tools to study estuarine macroinvertebrates on the KwaZulu-Natal coast. Through DNA barcoding I am building a regional genetic library of the estuaries I have selected (Kosi Bay, Mpenjati, iLovu, Mlalazi, iZinkwazi and Thukela) in addition to some phylogenetic analysis that might reveal cryptic diversity in some of the macroinvertebrates found in those systems.

With DNA metabarcoding (eDNA metabarcoding of the sediment) I am getting a snapshot of the macroinvertebrate assemblage in these systems and doing some comparative analysis along the sites, and looking for any interesting patterns.

The study will make a difference in documenting a part of South Africa’s rich biodiversity. Estuaries are some of the least studied environments even though they play roles in maintaining our biodiversity and ecological activities.

The study also contributes to the growing concern (globally) of documenting the world biodiversity and feeding into projects such as the International Barcode of Life Consortium (iBOL) and filling gaps found in our biodiversity databases.”

Impactful research

Sibusiso’s career aspirations include studies in genetic engineering for conservation purposes and leading a research team that does IMPACTFUL research.

This should be research that pushes the boundaries of science in our country and establishes a balance between the preservation of our ecosystems, biodiversity, and the livelihoods of our people. 

He would also love to have a research-consulting company that will create products and services for commercial purposes that help clients operate in a sustainable manner. He says his company should also give back to society and educate them in sustainable practices.

In the end, he sees the possibility of returning to academia to groom the next leaders in science.

Institution: University of Johannesburg (UJ)

Project title: DNA barcoding and eDNA metabarcoding of estuarine macroinvertebrate fauna of KwaZulu-Natal

Supervisors: Prof Peter Teske (UJ) & Fiona Mackay (Oceanic Research Institute)