CSIR Biosciences develops innovative and cutting-edge tools and products for the life sciences sector that deliver socio-economic benefits.
The unit has strong competencies in process and product development in agroprocessing, bioprocessing and biomanufacturing. These capabilities are positioned to support the creation of novel industries in biotechnology-based services and products, as well as translating these into new companies or supporting the competitiveness of the existing industries. The unit also generates knowledge and tools that address specific needs in the health and related biotechnology sectors. These include the development of point-of-care diagnostics, high-throughput screening platform and bioassays, synthetic biology and proteomics. The unit has strong translational biomedical research that has significant impact on how drugs are identified in the medical and pharmaceutical industry.
CSIR Biosciences provides access to its capabilities in the following sectors: bioprospecting and agroprocessing technologies, biomanufacturing and bioprocessing technologies, health science technologies and translational biomedical research.
The unit’s two flagship initiatives, the Biomanufacturing Industry Development Centre programme and the Southern Africa Network for Biosciences, ensure that its technologies and expertise have a wider impact in industry and the Southern African Development Community region.
The unit offers accessible, world-class, integrated multidisciplinary skills and a high-quality infrastructure base that facilitate the translation of life sciences discoveries into tangible products through start-up ventures and/or partnerships.
CSIR research and development in biosciences
Microarray screening technology
Microarray screening platforms, in which multiples biological experiments can be conducted in parallel, are becoming an increasingly popular approach. Traditional screening methods, such as systematic well-plate based screening using robotic or manual handling of samples and low-density arrays of printed siRNA, can be time consuming and expensive in resources and manpower.
The CSIR has developed a ‘movable type’ high throughput printing technology capable of compressing up to 3150 RNA-interference experiments onto a single glass slide that can be produced at 100 times the scale of existing technologies. This creates a genome screening technology that is portable, that is a standalone commodity and that can be treated as a consumable. It reduces the screening time from six weeks to six hours for a single screen and opens genome scale experimentation to questions that were previously inaccessible. The technology was extensively validated within the CSIR. This technology was spun-out from the CSIR and is licensed under the company named Persomics AB based in Boston USA.
Biologically based eco-friendly technology
In response to global challenges for sustainable preservation of water resources and the environment, the CSIR has developed biologically-based eco-friendly technologies and products. These products use the concept of biomimicry to put active bacteria to work in cleaning, water treatment, sanitation, agriculture, aquaculture, environmental bioremediation and solid waste treatment.
The technology has been tested to liquefy and degrade solid waste material, industrial and domestic effluents, reduce odour and reduce prevalence of diseases causing pathogens, while preserving the sustainability of natural environments. Through a new start-up company called OptimusBio, the CSIR technology has been translated into market-ready product offerings in various formats to meet the growing customer awareness of green technologies.
Point-of-care diagnostics for infectious diseases
Infectious livestock diseases threaten African food security and prevent livestock commodity exports to lucrative markets. The diagnosis of infectious (bacteria and viruses) diseases at the point-of-care reduces long-term testing costs, improves sample viability and minimises the need for cold chain storage and the transportation of samples. In most cases, it reduces the turnaround time of test results, which is pivotal in the event of an infectious disease outbreak leading to better disease management and containment.
The CSIR has developed an isothermal polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology, complete with a point-of-care testing capacity. This gene-based technique allows for disease diagnosis from relatively crude samples and can be easily adapted for the detection of a specific pathogen. The PCR technology has been optimised at the CSIR for diagnosis of foot-and-mouth disease as well as other livestock diseases.
Developing South Africa’s biomanufacturing industry through a hub for open innovation
Despite excellent biosciences research and development in South Africa, the conversion of outputs into commercialised products and technologies has been extremely limited. In response to this challenge, the CSIR established the Biomanufacturing Industry Development Centre (BIDC), funded through the Department of Science and Technology-led Industrial Innovation Partnership Programme and the Jobs Fund.
The BIDC is a hub for innovation in the biomanufacturing sector. It provides the skills and infrastructure to translate research and development into market-ready products and services. It supports small, medium, micro enterprises in the biomanufacturing sector with bio-based product development, formulation, labelling and packaging, scale-up, process optimisation, regulatory support, training and technical incubation.
Using indigenous vegetables to develop highly nutritious food products
The CSIR implemented an integrated nutrition intervention pilot programme in five schools in Cofimvaba in the Eastern Cape. A nutritional drink was developed from a combination of various food products such as sorghum, soya and indigenous leafy vegetables. The breakfast drink is a good source of vitamin A, zinc and iron and the researchers are currently studying the bio-accessibility of the micronutrients from the drink. The data will be used to improve the formula and may lead to a better understanding of the role of genetics in nutrition. The programme also supports school gardening projects and encourages healthy eating habits through education.