26 January 2021

Professor Mbeng was recognised for his research work at the 2020 UMP Research and Engagement Awards. He says the award is a key that will open more doors. 

"I am overwhelmed because I believe that my hard work has been acknowledged and rewarded accordingly. The award serves as spark or stimulus for a bigger blaze in my academic trajectory. It speaks volumes to my career, as there are opportunities which I will be able to get from having this award. For example, when applying for international grants this award will add credibility to my application. I’m very thankful to the University of Mpumalanga," he says.

His research comprised of three key areas: Indigenous Knowledge Systems, Ethnobotany (Medicinal plants) and Ethno pharmacology (cosmeceuticals).

“Firstly, I utilise ethno-botanical surveys to explore the traditional ecological knowledge of indigenous communities on medicinal plants. Then, the efficacy of medicinal plants with the highest informant consensus factors is determined using in vitro antimicrobial susceptibility tests and antioxidant assays,” he says.

“Thirdly, the safety or toxicity of selected medicinal plants is determined using cell lines. Finally, identification and isolation of the bioactive compounds responsible for the supposed activity of selected medicinal plants are done with sophisticated instrument such as gas chromatography – mass spectrometer (gc-ms) and nuclear magnetic resonance (nmr).”

Through his research, 52 plants from 27 families and 22 non-plant materials, which are used as folk cosmeceuticals by Indigenous communities in Vhembe District Municipality, were identified.

“The result revealed the presence of bioactive compounds which are known to exhibit various biological activities which validate the cosmeceutic importance of the plant,” he adds.

“Among the compounds identified, eucalyptol which is a monoterpene found in the extract of S. columbaria was reported to be frequently used in the manufacture of cosmetics. Benzene, 1, 4-dichloro-, one of the main components found in the extract of S.columbaria, was reported as being used as a deodorant and phytol, a key acyclic diterpene was also reported to exhibit antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli by causing enormous damage to bacterial cell membranes.”

Professor Mbeng completed a Doctorate Degree in Botany from the University of Fort Hare in 2013, Master of Science and Bachelor of Science Degrees in Botany in 2005 and 2001; respectively, from the University of Buea in Cameroon.

“I started my teaching career as a tutor of Botany at the University of Fort Hare in 2010 and later as a part-time lecturer at the same University. I was a senior lecturer in Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) at North-West University, Mafikeng Campus in 2016.

His journey at UMP started in 2017 when he was appointed as a Senior Lecturer in Botany in the School of Biology and Environmental Sciences. He has published 35 scientific papers and two book chapters in peer reviewed journals.

 “During my tenure at UMP (from 2017 to the present), 21 journal articles and two book chapters have been published and my research team comprises three post doctoral scholars, two nGAP lecturers, one NRF intern, two PhD, and two master's students.”

@Story by Cleopatra Makhaga. Pictures @ChrisplPhoto.