Dr Sangata Kaufononga’s doctoral research involved researching ryegrass as a way of improving meat and milk production in cattle.
“There is this a common grass here in New Zealand grazed by the livestock called perennial ryegrass,” Dr Kaufononga said.
“It naturally harbours a fungus, or an endophyte known as Epichloë festucae var. lolii.
“They form a mutual relationship; grass offers habitat for the fungus and the fungus produces an array of alkaloids, some of which are beneficial by protecting the grass from insect pests, but some cause disease in grazing livestock.”
She said there was a high demand in the commercial market for a grass-endophyte association that could produce the good compounds and minimal or no detrimental effect.
“For that association to produce, the effect of the compounds produce in perennial ryegrass on insect pests and livestock should be fully understand,” Dr Kaufononga said.
A few novel endophytes in the commercial market, which resulted from research by AgResearch Ltd team, had already benefited the economy due to higher quality meat and milk productions.
“In my research, I analysed the compounds from perennial ryegrass, especially those at the early state at the biosynthetic pathway, by pulling them out from the grass and purify them individually,” she said.
“At pure form, the compounds were structurally elucidated and tested against porina larvae, an insect pest of perennial ryegrass.”
Her chief supervisor was Associate Professor Michèle Prinsep (Organic Chemist) from the University of Waikato. Her two supervisors from AgResearch Ltd were chemist/toxicologist Dr Sarah Finch and entomologist Dr Alison Popay.
Dr Kaufononga’s research was fully funded by the New Zealand Crown Research Institute AgResearch.
“This great opportunity was through networking with my chief supervisor and with the skills I acquired during my master’s study,” she said.
“I believe the key for the unveiling hidden opportunities is communication. Ask and shall be given, look and shall be find and knock and the door shall be opened.
“This great support opened various doors for me in terms of my career as a chemist and scientist.”
Dr Kaufononga has already co-authored a number of scientific publications and said she would love to carry on more research.
“I had experienced being a teacher and I would like to experience a different career but that will depend on the door that God will open for me to take,” she said.
The main points
- Dr Kaufononga’s doctoral research involved researching ryegrass as a way of improving meat and milk production in cattle.
- She said she was grateful for her supervisors’ patience, guidance and encouragement.