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Institute for Microbial Biotechnology and Metagenomics- Research Interests and Current Projects

The Institute for Microbial Biotechnology and Metagenomics was established by Professor Don Cowan in 2007, and is now led by Professor Marla Tuffin as the Acting Director. Recognised as one of the leading research units at UWC, IMBM forms part of the Department of Biotechnology. IMBM is dedicated to excellence in research and in the training of future research leaders, and additionally contributes to the Department’s undergraduate teaching and activities.

IMBM is accommodated in the New Life Sciences Building, providing state-of-the-art research facilities and equipment. In 2011 we launched the Next Generation Sequencing Facility, designed to provide a regional and national high throughput sequencing service. The platform, managed by Dr Bronwyn Kirby, boasts 2 sequencers (Roche GS Junior and an Illumina MiSeq); a Lightcycler 480 and an Agilent Bioanalyser. This platform is the first of its kind in the Western Cape, and aims to make affordable high throughput sequencing accessible to academic research laboratories.

The IMBM team encompasses 50 research-, administrative- and technical staff. The Principal Investigators leading the research activities are Prof. Marla Tuffin, Dr. Rolene Bauer and Dr. Bronwyn Kirby. In addition, Dr. Heide Goodman assists in all aspects of the Institute’s management. The group currently supports a large post-graduate contingency comprising 7 Honours students, 11 Masters, 7 PhD, 13 Post-Doctoral researchers, and 7 technical and support staff.


IMBM Research Areas

The research interests within the Institute include Environmental and Plant Microbiology, Metagenomics, Applied Genomics, Nanotechnology, Marine Biotechnology, Enzymology and Structural Biology. IMBM researchers employ and develop modern and leading-edge technologies for metagenomic gene discovery and molecular ecology research. We have extensive skills in the cloning, expression, and recovery of heterologous genes, and the technology to conduct detailed physical and functional characterization of novel enzymes. We have accumulated an extensive collection of microbial isolates (including over 300 thermophilic bacteria, 100 psychrotrophic bacteria, 100 actinomycetes and several extremophilic bacteriophages), metagenomic libraries and environmental DNA preparations. These materials constitute a highly valuable resource for the identification of novel genes, metabolic pathways and secondary metabolites. With the Proteomics and Sequencing facilities within the Department, we are ideally positioned for “omics” research, and are involved in the comparative assessment of microbial growth, gene expression, engineered strains and much more.

Prof Marla Tuffin

Current Projects

  • Delivering on Metagenomic Promises.

  • Novel Marine Drugs through Metagenomics.

  • Bacteriophage Ecology and Biotechnology.

  • Development of magnetic nanoparticles.

  • Plant-microbe interactions.

  • Bioenergy and biofuels.

  • Drinking water treatment technology.

Dr Bronwyn Kirby

Current Projects

  • Screening for novel endophytic actinobacteria from medicinal fynbos species.

  • Polyurethane foam microbial communities for the removal of contaminants from industrial wastewater.

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