Molecular Genetics and Biotechnology Research Group

Mr Z.Dhlamini(PI), Mr N.Mangoma, Mr K.Mushonga, Mrs L. Banda-Ndebele, Miss A.Dube and Mr A.Maunganidze 

Research is conducted in four major areas: plant biotechnology, metagenomics, population genetics and molecular diagnostics.

Plant biotechnology
The group focuses on plant research that addresses present and future agricultural, environmental and societal needs. Currently, the main focus is onthe metabolic engineering of crops through chemically induced mutagenesis (ethyl methane sulfonate, EMS) and mutant selection by TILLING. This provides an opportunity for plant breeders to develop new and improved cultivars with desirable characteristics (farmer or breeder preferred traits). Inducing mutations provides a wide range of variability and a high chance of obtaining the desired characteristics. The lab is currently working on altering the flavonoid accumulation profiles in local varieties of Sorghum bicolorand Cleome gynandra, through chemical mutagenesis,so as to obtain profiles that are favourable to farmers as well as the end user industries. Several other improved traits such as increased yield and increased fungal resistance are also being sought for under this project. 

Another area of interest is the development and use of molecular markers for genetic diversity conservation studies. Genetic diversity studies are critical to the success of plant breeding programs. Such studies give information on the genetic variability and help in understanding the relationships within and amongst cultivars. Molecular markers are simply DNA regions whose phenotypic expression is frequently easily discerned and used to detect an individual, or as a probe to mark a chromosome, nucleus, or locus. The lab is carrying out work on the development of a reliable marker system for the easy identification of Hordeumvulgare (barley) varieties and for germplasm conservation of neglected and underutilized species such as Amaranthus (amaranth) and Cleome gynandra(spiderplant).

Metagenomics is based on the genomic analysis of microbial DNA that is extracted directly from communities in environmental samples. It applies a range of genomic technologies and bioinformatics tools to directly access and analyse the genetic content of entire microbial communities. It has paved way for research of microbes that are un-culturable or difficult to culture. The group is currently applying such technologies to assess microbial diversity in selected environments as well asbioprospecting for novel hydrolytic enzymes that have potential industrial applications.

Population genetics
Population genetics deals with frequencies of alleles and genotypes within populations. Such studies are usually done to help understand evolution and speciation. In addition to the plant genetic diversity studies, we also have ongoing studies on the genotyping of wild and domesticated animals.  The group runs the institutional DNA testing lab (Applied Genetics Testing Centre) which specializes in human identification using modern technologies such as short tandem repeats (STRs). The genetic variation and structure of the Zimbabwean human population is being evaluated using autosomal and Y chromosome STR DNA markers.

Molecular diagnostics
The group also undertakes research for validating and application of various protocols for the diagnosis of important pathogens such as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

Recent Publications

  • Brandenberg O., Dhlamini Z., Sensi A., Ghosh K., and Sonnino A (2011) Introduction to Molecular Biology and Genetic Engineering (143 pages). FAO, Rome, Italy 143 pages. (ISBN 978-92-106718-5).
  • Dhlamini Z., Spillane C., Moss J.P., Ruane J., Urquia N., & Sonnino A. (2005) Status of Research and Application of Crop Biotechnologies in Developing Countries - A Preliminary Assessment. FAO, Rome, Italy 53 pages. (ISBN 92-5-105290-5).
  • Dhlamini Z and Sithole-Niang I (2014). Random Amplified Polymorphic DNA (RAPD) based assessment of genetic relationships among some Zimbabwean sorghum landraces with different seed proanthocyanidin levels. African Journal of Biotechnology 13(19) 1934 – 1951.
  • Dube AN, Moyo F, Dhlamini Z. 2015. Metagenome sequencing of the greater kudu (Tragelaphusstrepsiceros) rumen microbiome. Genome Announc 3(4) : e00897-15. doi:10.1128/genomeA.00897-15.
  • Dube-Mandishora RS, Dhlamini Z, Mutetwa R, Duri K, Stray-Pedersen B, Mason P (2015). Diagnosis of Multi-Drug Resistant tuberculosis Mutations Using Hain Line Probe Assay and GeneXpert: A Study Done in Zimbabwe. British Journal of Medicine and Medical Research 5 (8) 1044-1052