Innovus e-news 29th edition

August 2015

SU Plant Breeding Laboratory develops cultivars and breeders of the future

  (From left to right) Aletta Ellis (SU-PBL Lab Manager), Corneli Smit (former SU-PBL Masters student), Kim Coetzee (former SU-PBL Masters student) and Willem Botes standing among the SU-PBL cultivar AgBeacon at Napier.

Even if you've never heard of triticale, there's a good chance it might be part of your food chain. Triticale is one of the first successful examples of a man-made grain and in South Africa, especially the Western Cape, it's an important feed crop for livestock. The prevalence of the plant in South Africa is largely thanks to 40 years of breeding efforts at Stellenbosch and the continuing efforts of Stellenbosch University's Plant Breeding Laboratory (SU-PBL), headed by current triticale breeder Willem Botes.

So what exactly is triticale? In the late 1800s, plant breeders crossed wheat (from the genus Triticum) and rye (genus Secale) to create a new hybrid grain crop. They intended to combine the desirable traits from each parent crop- wheat's high yield potential and rye's hardiness. In the late 1960s, scientists in Hungary and Canada released the first commercial cultivars. Globally, breeders refined triticale varieties with traits suited to particular local growing conditions. Amazingly, after just a century of breeding (compared to millennia for other staple grains), triticale is now an important crop in marginal land agriculture.

In South Africa, farmers plant thousands of hectares of winter and spring triticale each season as grain for animal feed, to make silage and as a groundcover in the wine industry. Triticale's advantage over other crops is its hardiness. It thrives on marginal ground, even with low levels of fertiliser, where growing wheat or other small grains isn't feasible.

Today, all of the spring-type triticale cultivars grown in South Africa originate from the SU-PBL, which, with the assistance of Innovus, has commercialised several cultivars through licensing agreements. Licensees then market and sell the cultivars on to farmers. During the past decade, SU has earned a tidy amount of royalty income. Some cultivars have even found success beyond South Africa's borders, for example in Ethiopia.

However, modern agriculture relies on plant breeders to stay ahead of agricultural pests and diseases by continuously improving crops' resistance. Willem explains that rust diseases are the biggest threat to triticale production in South Africa, and that older SU-PBL cultivars have become susceptible. Therefore, the SU-PBL is developing new, more resistant and higher yielding cultivars to replace those currently on the market.

The Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) awarded seed funding to the SU-PBL's triticale breeding project in 2015 to support commercialisation of some of its most promising advance breeding lines. Field trials and multiplication of breeder's seed are underway. Thereafter, the SU-PBL will apply for plant breeder's rights and inclusion on the national variety list- both requirements for taking the new cultivars to market. The SU-PBL has already established relationships and contracts with nearly all of the major seed companies marketing spring triticale in South Africa, including PANNAR, Barenbrug, Agricol, OverbergAgri and KaapAgri.

Triticale breeding is not the only successful project underway at the SU-PBL. In 2008, Willem, who holds a master's degree in agriculture from SU, became project lead for small grain breeding. Now, as the SU-PBL's principal investigator, he has also overseen successful rye cultivar development and a wheat pre-breeding programme.

Unlike the semi-commercial triticale and rye programmes, the SU-PBL's wheat pre-breeding programme is industry funded - the main contributors are the Winter Cereal Trust and GrainSA. The pre-breeding programme is based on SU-PBL's male sterility mediated marker assisted recurrent selection scheme. The goal is to create novel germplasm with new resistance genes and new combinations of these genes. Each year, the SU-PBL releases a nursery collection of these lines to South Africa's wheat breeding programmes, and 2015 marks their 10th annual nursery. From the nursery, breeders can select suitable crossing parents with desirable traits. In this manner, pre-breeding accelerates production of cultivars with broad-spectrum resistance to disease and better quality characteristics. This year, with a generous grant from DST's Bioeconomy initiative in partnership with GrainSA, the SU-PBL pre-breeding programme expanded to include yield-related traits as well.

Historically, plant breeding in Stellenbosch dates back more than a century. Since then, technologies have improved markedly, and today, the SU-PBL, situated on the Welgevallen Experimental Farm, incorporates a laboratory for modern molecular genetics and quality evaluation, growth houses and growth chambers. Despite the importance of plant breeders to both economic development and food security, trained breeders are in short supply in South Africa and beyond. As one of just three training facilities remaining in the country and the only one with a fully functional breeding programme that consistently releases cultivars, the SU-PBL plays an essential role in educating and developing a new generation of plant breeders.

In this spirit, Willem says, "As the president of the Southern African Plant Breeders Association, I would like to extend an invitation to all interested parties to attend the 2016 11th Southern African Plant Breeding Symposium themed "Back to the Phenotype", which will be hosted at the Protea Hotel Stellenbosch."

Veggie snack wins first Innovus Food Science competition

  The winning team of (front) Megan Kleyn, Paula Louw, Lauren Todd, Sumare Marais, (back) Megan Twentyman-Jones, Christle de Beer (Innovus), Chisala Ngandwe (lecturer) and Danie Haumann.
Photo: Engela Duvenage

An innovative new snack devised by fourth year Food Science students at Stellenbosch University has claimed the honours in the first Innovus Food Science competition. The honour went to Pop-In's, a guilt-free snack with a North African-styled filling that can be popped into a toaster. The competition was sponsored by the University's technology transfer company, Innovus, in an effort to stimulate creative and innovative product development among Food Science students.

The winning team consists of Megan Kleyn, Paula Louw, Lauren Todd, Sumare Marais, Megan Twentyman-Jones and Danie Haumann, all BSc in Food Sciences students. The judges were so impressed by the standard of the entries received that Innovus decided to up the initial prize money to R5 000.

Pop-In's also received the first prize in the Food Science department's recent internal competition for fourth year students. Pop-In's is a frozen product made of rice flour and cauliflower dough. It ticks all the right boxes when it comes to catering for different niche markets. Not only is it a vegetarian snack, but also gluten-free, soy-free and dairy-free. "But it certainly isn't taste-free," says one of its developers, Lauren Todd.

According to Christle de Beer of Innovus, the competition forms part of the company's endeavours to encourage innovative thinking and design among Stellenbosch University students, and to make them aware of the opportunities available to them. During the prize-giving ceremony, De Beer and her Innovus colleagues highlighted the ways in which Innovus can support young designers and developers to shape their entrepreneurial skills and business ideas.

Brandon Paschal from the LaunchLab, a former SU engineering student, and Antoine van Heerden, manufacturer of ButtaNutt, also presented opportunities for the students to take their ideas forward at Stellenbosch University's resident business incubator, the LaunchLab. If these projects move beyond mere research, the LaunchLab is a key partner with a proven track record in developing businesses and providing access to the market and investment opportunities.
Dirk van Dyk of Von Seidels Intellectual Property Attorneys also briefed the students about the basics behind patenting or registering new designs and ideas. These will come in handy as the students prepare for their next challenge: to come up with innovative packaging as part of their packaging course this semester. Innovus will again sponsor a prize for the best idea.

Innovus online shop provides marketplace for SU-invented products

The Innovus online shop, where the products and services of a number of Stellenbosch University technologies are sold is showing promising signs of success.

"At this stage, we are still testing the market, but there is clearly a need for this service," says Doris Peters, Senior Admin & Financial (IP) Officer of Innovus, who is also responsible for the Intellectual Property portfolio of Innovus. "There has been a remarkable response to the brochures and flyers we sent out to possible clients and networks of our inventors."

The online shop is an initiative of Innovus, the technology transfer office which manages the commercialisation of Stellenbosch University's (SU) innovation and intellectual property portfolio through patenting, licensing and the formation of spin-out companies.

Anita Nel, CEO of Innovus and Senior Director: Innovation and Business Development at SU, says that the online shop is a service that helps inventors to get their products in the market and to assist with the granting of licences once clients buy a product.

"Not all our technologies are suitable for the online shop. However, where inventors have products that are ready to go to market, but they do not yet justify the establishment of a new company, we will create a 'space' in our online shop for these products. We can do the marketing effectively and more cheaply from within the university structures. When the projects grow too large or when the contractual risk to the university becomes too big, the project can become a spin-out company that takes over this task," Nel says.

The online shop kicked off in 2013 and there are currently three technologies for sale, namely InductEX, CubeSat components and SUDEM. The online shop operates from within Innovus, which is responsible for the marketing, selling and licensing of these products.

InductEx

Professor Coenrad Fourie, the head of the team that developed InductEX (which is now registered as the spin-out company SUN Magnetics (Pty)Ltd), says the shop is very efficient regarding receiving and processing orders from clients.
"It is the first year that our product has been available commercially, and I was surprised by the efficacy of the site. Within the first six months, we had twice as many buyers as we had projected for the whole year. The online shop is linked directly to our company's website, and it therefore goes hand-in-hand with marketing our products."

InductEX is the first tool in a software tool set for the design and verification of integrated circuits that contain superconducting elements. InductEX calculates electrical inductance and magnetic coupling in integrated circuit layouts, and maps the results to circuit schematics used by engineers to evaluate circuit performance. It is of value to the design of superconducting digital circuits and quantum logic circuits.

"The layout and successful fabrication of some modern superconducting and quantum circuits is not possible without the use of InductEX," says Fourie.

CubeSat

Professor Herman Steyn heads up Stellenbosch University's Satellite Engineering Research Group within the Electronic Systems Laboratory (ESL), which specialises in research and technology development relating to the automation of air, space, terrestrial and underwater vehicles. Prof. Steyn's team develops components for CubeSats, which are nanosatellites with a total mass of between 1-10 kg. They are constructed from modular cubes of 10 x 10 x 10 cm each, and three of these cubes will form a three-unit (3U) CubeSat.

"These satellites are mostly built as educational university projects to train students in all aspects of satellite engineering. Due to its relative low cost to build and launch, more commercial enterprises – from traditional to new satellite companies – are beginning to use CubeSats for scientific and low earth orbit data communication missions, and also to qualify new satellite components for space use."

The ESL's nanosatellite team developed various components for these satellites and these were the first products on the Innovus online shop. The team has since been branded as Cubespace and is now housed in the LaunchLab, where they have a dedicated office and clean room facility.

Cubespace distributes a number of products through the online shop:

  • CubeComputer – a low power on-board computer module for CubeSats. This computer has been tested to be space-radiation tolerant, and has already been space qualified without any failures on three satellites with accumulated flight time of more than two years.
  • CubeSense – an accurate, large field of view sensor to determine the sun vector and earth vector direction. It can also be used as a space camera for 180-degree images from space.
  • CubeTorquer – a magnetic torquer rod for attitude control of a CubeSat.
  • CubeWheel – a small reaction/momentum wheel for CubeSat attitude control.
  • CubeControl – a sensor (magnetometer, coarse sun, rate sensors) and actuator (magnetic torquers and reaction/momentum wheel) interface module for CubeSat attitude control.

SUDEM

SUDEM is the second registered spin-out company emanating from the online shop. Professor Adriaan van Niekerk, head of the Stellenbosch University Digital Elevation Model (SUDEM), explains that his company is a geographical database of elevation (height) information. "The SUDEM is unique in that it covers all of South Africa at a very high (5m) resolution. The data is ideal for use in a geographical information system (GIS) for hydrological modelling (e.g. flood risk, flow accumulation, point sources pollution analysis), infrastructure planning, remote sensing (e.g. orthorectification), visual impact assessments and soil-landscape modelling."

The online shop is just one more example of how Innovus is supporting researchers to make SU very successful in the field of innovation. "With the exception of SASOL, we patent more products and services than any other university, or private or government organisation locally, if you consider the published PCT patent applications emanating from South Africa between 2009 and 2014," concludes Nel.

Maties I players represent WC in SAB u21 champs

Two Maties players were recently selected for the Western Cape under-21 team in the SAB National Football Tournament, which took place in Pretoria in June/July this year. Euwen Manuel (19) was selected in the original squad of 18, with Regan Rhode (21) getting a late call-up on the evening of the departure for the Western Cape training camp in Beaufort West.

"Both players have huge potential and are ones to look out for in future," says Maties Football Manager Garth le Roux. "They have been part of the first team squad of Maties for the past three seasons, and have put in consistent performances week in and week out. They are therefore most definitely an asset to the Western Cape team."

Midfielders Euwen and Regan have both benefited from the Maties Football Development Programme, a Stellenbosch University initiative which aims to develop football in the communities surrounding the University's main campus. "Euwen and Regan have been exposed to quality coaching on a weekly basis. The technical staff of the Maties I team boasts ample experience and they have the development of our youngsters at heart. The development of the players is always the primary objective. Winning is secondary," says Le Roux.

The Maties players travelled to Beaufort West on the evening of Wednesday, 24 June to attend a provincial training camp, before departing on Saturday evening, 27 June for the national championships in Pretoria. Maties I football coach Jason Rhode said he was very pleased with the players' inclusion in the squad. "It's a compliment to everyone involved with the club and proof that we are on the right track," he said.

The 2015 SAB under-21 Championships took place at Giant Stadium in Soshanguve from Monday 29 June to Saturday, 4 July. During the six-day tournament, the Western Cape team claimed decisive victories over their Gauteng and Northern Cape compatriots. The championship culminated in the final match between the Free State and Mpumalanga provinces on Saturday, 4 July. Free State ultimately emerged as the tournament champions, claiming a 3-1 win over Mpumalanga.

SU's LaunchLab thrives in its new home

It's been nearly five months since the LaunchLab moved into its new home, formally known as the Stellenbosch University Nedbank LaunchLab. The new space is clearly bearing fruit, as the LaunchLab business incubator is already abuzz with the activity of high-energy entrepreneurs.

Home to a number of Stellenbosch University spin-out and non-spin-out companies, as well as freelance entrepreneurs, the incubator has received significant support from its key stakeholders, Stellenbosch University and Innovus, as well as main sponsor partners Nedbank and the Department of Trade and Industry. Recent additions to an impressive list of residents are two food start-ups, ButtaNutt and Ice Cream Community. The two new tenants are a welcome addition to the daily grind of technology and engineering start-ups.

The incubator offers numerous services to its residents and the local academic and business community. A few of these services are highlighted below:

  • Offices and hot desk space
    With 15 fully furnished offices, ranging in size from 11m2 to 34m2, and space for over 50 hot seat residents, the LaunchLab is one of Stellenbosch's most exciting entrepreneurial communities and co-working spaces. All residents enjoy access to knowledge sharing events, mentors, business coaches and interns who join through the LaunchLab's internship programme.
  • Meeting and training rooms
    The incubator offers the option of hiring meeting and training spaces. If you need an energetic, pleasant space to conduct meetings off-site, the incubator boasts a 20-seater boardroom. It also has two smaller meeting rooms which each seat eight people comfortably, making them the ideal space for a small meeting. These two meeting rooms can also be combined into a single room to host 20 – 30 people. They are fully equipped with audio and visual equipment.
  • Coffee shop
    Damascus Road Coffee Company is the incubator's in-house coffee shop. Owned and managed by Luke Simmonds, it is a warm, quaint spot for a casual meet-up or informal team meeting. The menu boasts a range of specialty beverages and meals that are freshly prepared on-site.
  • 3D lab
    The on-site 3D printing lab offers discounted prices for a variety of 3D printing services and training.

For a full list of services and related prices, please visit http://www.launchlab.co.za/services/facilities-pricing-information/.

Should you want to arrange an incubator visit or discuss your incubator services interests, please don't hesitate to contact the Operations Manager, Brandon Paschal, via e-mail at brandon@launchlab.co.za. The LaunchLab team looks forward to welcoming you into their space.

Where great minds meet and mingle

On Friday, 14 August Stellenbosch University (SU) researchers met with their research colleagues from other faculties at an Innovus event, which aims to stimulate academic collaboration at the University. "The idea with these networking events is to encourage symbiotic relationships between researchers across all our campuses," says Anita Nel, Senior Director of Innovation and Business Development at SU and CEO of Innovus.

The most recent networking event took place at the University's LaunchLab offices on Friday, 14 August at 3pm. A short presentation on one of the University's exciting new technologies was presented, as well as a short introduction on a hot new topic in the international research arena. There was also ample time to mingle with other researchers and colleagues from faculties all over campus. "We have earmarked 2015 as the 'Year of Inspiration' and we'd like to use these networking events to inspire our researchers and prompt more of the innovative thinking that Stellenbosch University has become renowned for," says Nel.

The most recent event was the fourth networking event of its kind, after the opportunity was first created for researchers to meet at an Innovation Breakfast hosted by Innovus in August 2014. According to Nel, these events were prompted by the fact that SU researchers often coincidentally speak to each other about their work and then realise that they can work together to solve a problem. The researcher networking events seek to provide the platform for such "chance" meetings in a relaxed environment.

"We'd like to ignite a renewed sense of excitement about the research taking place at SU and many similar events are planned for the future. I'd like to invite all deans and heads of departments to market these events in their faculties and departments. It's the ideal opportunity to meet like-minded academics who can provide valuable insight and feedback on the research projects taking place all over campus," says Anita.

For information about similar networking events planned for the future, please contact Christle de Beer at christled@sun.ac.za or call (021) 808 9062.