Prof Okoh - C-Rated NRF Researcher- appointed to serve on National Wastewater Covid-19 surveillance team
Yet another feather has been added to UFH’s highly accomplished academic, Prof Anthony Okoh -Director of the SA Medical Research Council(SAMRC) Microbial Water Quality Monitoring Centre.
Recently, the university received news of his appointment to serve on the National Wastewater CoronaVirus Surveillance Team anchored by the SAMRC.
The objective of the surveillance project is to evaluate all municipal wastewater treatment plants in the country – especially those in hotspot areas, as reservoirs of the coronavirus in the environment, and through this, help to advise Government’s Strategic Covid-19 Team as appropriate. The treatment plants will be monitored for presence of the coronavirus, using influent and effluent samples as targets.
The project is fully funded by the SAMRC.
Prof Okoh’s group will monitor two municipalities namely, Amathole District Municipality and Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality.
This is just one of several accolades that Prof Okoh has earned since joining the University of Fort Hare in 2006.
Participation on the project is of immense benefit to students, his faculty and university at large.
“Team members including students, develop skills in environmental virology and infectious diseases research – a scarce skill area. The faculty will benefit because the project will attract new and expensive infrastructure from national government. At the end of the project, the equipment will remain with the faculty and the university,” explained Prof Okoh.
The university will also benefit from subsidies that will be generated from publications and students graduating from the project.
“In addition, the university will benefit from the visibility of our work in the project and as well as national recognition of the university as a leader in microbial water quality research,” he states.
Prof Okoh is no stranger to research excellence. He is the Director of SAMRC Microbial Water Quality Monitoring Centre here at UFH.
The Centre was established in 2015 and conducts its research within the confines of Applied and Environment genomics on the following focal themes:
- Quality indices of water/wastewater milieus;
- Reservoirs of antimicrobial resistance;
- Emerging biological and chemical pollutants in the aquatic environment and;
- Bioactive compounds of health and biotechnological importance.
He is also the leader of the UFH’s largest and highly reputable research group, the Applied and Environmental Microbiology Research Group (AEMREG) which he established in 2007. On average, in the last three years, the group has published over 40 articles per year in DHET accredited journals.
He has also been leading the UFH Water Research niche area since 2013 and served as Deputy Dean (Research and Internationalization) of the Faculty of Science and Agriculture between August 2016 and April 2020.
Record-breaking Achievements and Memberships
- Since joining the UFH in 2006, Prof Okoh has graduated 51 PhD and 66 MSc students (including 14 staff members).
- He has published over 370 articles in DHET accredited journals as well as a patent.
- He has generated over R70m in subsidy to the University of Fort Hare
- Prof Okoh is the university’s only Fellow of the African Academy of Science
- He is a member of the South African Academy of Sciences
- A Fellow of the Biotechnology Society of Nigeria; and
- A Fellow of the Water Institute of Southern Africa.
- He has served as President of the South Africa Society for Microbiology (2011-2013.
- In 2017, Prof Okoh set a publication record (at Fort Hare) of 42 journal articles
- He broke his own record by setting a new one of 61 journal articles in DHET accredited journals with an average impact factor of over 3.0 in 2019.
- Prof Okoh has attracted several national and international research grants to the university.
- He is a recipient of two UFH research awards: (a) The Emerging Researcher and the (b) Senior Researcher Awards - among other accolades.
Chairmanships and Panel Memberships
He also had the privilege of serving on several panels (including as Chairperson) for the NRF, SAMRC, WRC, UKZN (review of academic programmes at the university), the South Africa National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) discussion forum on Water Management and Skills, as well as (in 2016) a member of the South Africa delegation to Oman on the Oman-South Africa bilateral cooperation Workshop on Water & Agri-biotechnology. It is upon such accomplishments that he was nominated as a member of the coronavirus surveillance team.
A summary of milestones achieved by the SAMRC Microbial Water Quality Monitoring Centre includes the following:
- A Patent on Production of metal nanoparticles (Ref: Characterization and biomedical applications of green synthesized nanoparticles assisted by aqueous extract of Thuja). South Africa Patent #P84658ZA00 PJV/YDT, 27 May 2020.
- The group veloped an important resource entitled ‘A manual for the monitoring of cholera and non-cholera causing vibrio pathogens in water, vegetables and aquatic animals’, which is currently under consideration for inclusion in the National Water Resource Monitoring programme.
- The team’s report published in Chemical Engineering Journal, 401: 125562 with impact factor 10.652 entitled “Synthesis of CeO2 as promising adsorbent for the management of free-DNA harboring antibiotic resistance genes from tap water”. is a significant contribution to international efforts to find a solution to the removal of unpleasant genes in water.4
- The Centre is the first to model the role of environmental variables and anthropogenic gradients as ecological drivers of Plesiomonas shigelloides distribution and freshwaters quality, as well as the first to apply the pathogen as indicator of environmental pollution and health risk assessment of empirical treatment of infections. They are also the first to report on the detected carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella species in the Eastern Cape Province (ECP).5.
- Their reports on campylobacteriosis agents were the first of their kind in the ECP.
- The group was also the first to report on the application of green synthesis of AgNPs and antibacterial application from the plants Salvia ofﬁcinalis and Oedera genistifolia in South Africa.7
- Our group was also the first to identify the presence of circulating Recombinant form of HIV (CRF02_AG) and a unique mosaic pattern of recombinant C/D through our study on HIV-1 drug resistance surveillance among parturient women on anti-retroviral therapy in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.8
- Also, the first to molecularly characterize and determine the incidence of transmitted drug resistance among newly diagnosed treatment-naïve patients in rural Eastern Cape areas.9
- The Centre’s studies on Chlorella sorokiniana and Chlorella minutissima, Ecklonia maxima, Gelidium pristoides, Ulva rigida and Gracilaria gracilis) revealed that these algal species are a potential source of bioactive agents or nutraceuticals for the management of neurodegenerative diseases. This study has received generous funding from TIA (a collaboration between UFH and UKZN) for escalation and further studies towards commercialization.0
- ALL graduates of the Centre are gainfully employed. This is Prof Okoh’s greatest joy.
Current key research endeavors include:
- Quality indices and genomics of water resources in and outside of the ECP and emerging challenges in the water sector.
- Emerging chemical pollutants in the aquatic environment of the ECP and development of innovative nanomaterials for use in their removal from water/wastewater.
- Valorization of wastes using microbial entities.
- Antimicrobial resistance in the water-plant-food public health interface.
- Bioactive compounds of health and biotechnology importance.
- Wastewater coronavirus surveillance.
Prof Okoh attributes his achievements to the support provided by the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Sakhela Buhlungu and his Deputies.
He also acknowledges the support received from the Dean of the Faculty of Science and Agriculture, Prof Nomakhay Monde, the Govan Mbeki Research and Development Centre, drivers and managers with the university’s Transport department.
“There are several men and women of honour in our great university who have assisted us in one way or another. We are indeed very grateful for their support over the years.”