Prof Zander Myburg, winner of the 2014/15 NSTF award for research and its outputs over the last five to 10 years, spoke to a group of Grade 9-11 learners at the Arcelormittal Science Centre in Sebokeng on 6 August 2015. The topic of discussion was the molecular genetics of forests.

Prof Myburg’s work focuses on the development, growth, needs and importance of trees. He explained that his research aims at understanding the genetic regulation of growth and wood formation in plantation trees with the aim of improving productivity and sustainability, and to develop trees with novel wood properties for bioprocessing and new bio-based materials.

He explained that trees are capable of removing CO² from the atmosphere and, combined with solar energy, can produce renewable materials such as wood, which is rich in biopolymers and energy. He believes that fast-growing trees will become one of the cornerstones of the future bio-based economy (‘bio-based economy’ refers to all economic activity flowing from scientific/research activity focused on biotechnology.)

Prof Myburg listed career opportunities in the fields of genetics, forestry and agricultural biotechnology. He also told the students what qualities they would need in order to become good scientists: passion, curiosity, imagination, grit, and the ability to think critically.

The NSTF thanks Prof Myburg for his entertaining and informative talk.