Home > People > Staff > Academic > Jill Farrant
Academic Staff

Jill Farrant | Plant Stress Lab

Research | PublicationsCollaborations | Lab members | News | Myrothamnus page

Professor Jill M. Farrant
NRF SARChI Chair | Telephone: +27 21 650 4496 | Facsimile: +27 21 650 1861

Professor Jill Farrant is a leader in the field of plant responses to water deficit stress (drought/desiccation tolerance), receiving international recognition for her research. She was the African/Arab States recipient of the 2012 L'Oreal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science (download the press release), one of only five scientists worldwide who were selected by an international jury as "researchers who will have a major impact on society and help light the way to the future". Subsequently,she has been invited to give talks and lectures on the international stage (TED talk, 2015; TEDx Cape Town, 2015; BioVision, 2013; the prestigious Falling Walls conference in Berlin,2013), has been awarded and nominated for numerous awards and is a fellow of the The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS). She has been awarded and maintained an A-rating by the National Research Foundation (the first female researcher at UCT ever to receive such a rating) and was made a member of the University of Cape Town College of Fellows. After holding the UCT Research Chair of Molecular Plant Physiology of Desiccation Tolerance for several years, she was awarded the NRF SARChI Chair in 2015 which she holds at the Molecular and Cell Biology Department at UCT. 
Also see Wikipedia for more information.

Drought is the greatest threat to world agriculture. Due to global warming, increased and extended droughts are predicted in Africa (inter alia), presenting a threat to food security.  Current crops do not tolerate much water loss, survival being contingent on mechanisms that retain water (technically drought resistance) which fail under severe drought. Resurrection plants (RPs) are tolerant of extreme water loss, and Southern African species can also survive extreme heat; conditions which severely limit current agricultural practices. My group has systematically investigated the mechanisms whereby RPs survive these extreme conditions, with the view of introducing such characteristics into crops for improved drought tolerance and ultimately food security in the face of climate change. 
Desiccation tolerance (DT) is a complex phenomenon involving multiple genes, the products of which interact in complex ways to facilitate subcellular and thus tissue survival of water deficit.  The aim of our research is to gain a comprehensive fundamental understanding of the mechanisms of DT in order to make informed decisions as to what is required for improved water deficit tolerance in crops.  Thus molecular characterisation of key changes associated with DT is followed using an “omics” approach in which high-throughput technologies are used for identification of transcripts, proteins and metabolites associated with drying to various critical water contents, and recovery therefrom.  Biochemical, biophysical and physiological studies are used, as appropriate, to ascertain functional significance of putative protectants. We have sequenced the genome of the monocot Xerophyta viscosa (a model for DT in cereals) and that of Eragrostis nindensis (model for DT in the crop Eragrosis tef) is underway.  Investigation of regulatory processes (roles of chemical and redox signalling and epigenetics) are underway. Such resources are allowing for an increasingly integrated understanding of the phenomenon of DT.  Collaborations with biotechnologists are enabling testing of hypotheses in crops.

Selected publications
  1. Costa, M.C., Artur, M.S. Maia, J., Jonkheer, E., Derks, M.F.L., Nijveen, H., Williams, B., Mundree, S.G., Jiménez-Gómez, J.M., Hesselink, T., Schijlen, E.G.W.M., Ligterink, W., Oliver, M.J., Farrant, J.M., Hilhorst, H.M.,W (2017) A ‘footprint’ of desiccation tolerance in the genome of the resurrection plant Xerophyta viscosa. Nature Plant 3, article number 17038| DOI: 10.1038/nplants.2017.38 |
  2. Costa MC, Cooper, K., Hilhorst, HMW, Farrant, JM (2017) Orthodox seeds and resurrection plants: two of a kind? Plant Physiology. DOI:10.1104/pp.17.00760.
  3. Kamies, R., Farrant, JM. Tadele, Z., Cannarozzi, G., Rafudeen, MS. (2017). A proteomic approach to investigate the drought response in the orphan crop Eragrostis tef. Journal of Proteome Research (in press).
  4. Nyau, V., Prakash, S., Rodrigues, J and Farrant, JM (2017). Domestic cooking effects of Bambara Groundnuts and Common Beans in the Antioxidant properties and Polyphenol Profiles. Journal of Food Research 6: 24-39. DOI: 10.5539/jfr.v6np24.
  5. Nyau, V., Prakash, S., Rodrigues, J and Farrant, J (2017). Profiling of Phenolic Compounds in Sprouted Common Beans and Bambara Groundnuts Journal of Food Research 6; 74-82. E-ISSN 1927-0895
  6. Tshabuse, F, Farrant, JM, Humbert, L., Moura, D., Rainteau, D., Espinasse, C Taghki, AI, Merlier, F., Acket, S., Rafudeen, MS, Thomasset, B, Ruelland, E. (2017). Glycerolipid analysis during desiccation and recovery of the resurrection plant Xerophyta humilis (Bak) Dur and Schinz. Plant Cell Environment  doi: 10.1111/pce.13063.
  7. Barak, S. and Farrant, J.M. (2016). Extremophyte adaptations to salt and water deficit stress. Functional Plant Biology 43: v-x.
  8. Zia, A., Berkley, J.W., Oung, H.M.O., Chavuri, D., Jahns, P., Cousins, A.B., Farrant, J.M., Reich, Z., and Kirchoff, H. (2016). Protection of the photosynthetic apparatus against dehydration stress in the resurrection plant Craterostigma pumilim. The Plant Journal 87: 664-680. doi:10.1111/tpj.13227
  9. Costa, M.C., Farrant, J.M., Oliver, M.J., Ligerink, W., Buitink, J. and Hilhorst, H.M.W. (2016). Key genes involved in desiccation tolerance and dormancy across life forms. Plant Science 251:162-168 doi:10.1016/j.plantsci.2016.02.001.
  10. Ruelland, E. and Farrant, J.M. (2015). Plant signalling mechanisms in response to the environment. Environmental and Experimental Botany 114: 1-3.
  11. Woodenburg, W.R., Pammenter, N.W., Farrant, J.M., Driouich, A., Berjak, P.(2015)  Embryo cell wall properties in relation to development and desiccation in the recalcitrant-seeded Encephalartos natalensis (Zamiaceae) Dyer and Verdoorn. Protoplasma, 252: 245-258.
  12. Nyau, V., Rodridgues, J and Farrant, J. (2015). Antioxidant activities of Bambara Groundnuts as Assessed by FRAP and DPPH assays. American Journal of Food and Nutrition, 3: 7-11.
  13. Nyau, V., Prakash, S., Rodrigues, J and Farrant, J. (2015). HPLC-PDA-ESI-MS indentification of Polyphenolic Phytochemicals in different market classes of common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.). International Journal of Biochemistry Research & Review 8: 1-11.
  14. Nyau, V., Prakash, S., Rodrigues, J and Farrant, J.M (2015). Identification of nutraceutical phenolic compounds in bambara groundnuts (Vigna subterranea L. Verdc) by HPLC-PDA-ESI-MS.  British journal of applied science and technology, 6: 77-85.
  15. Moore J.P. and Farrant, J.M. (2015) Editorial Current advances and challenges in understanding plant desiccation tolerance. Frontiers in Plant Science 6: article 768. DOI: 10.3389/fpls.2015.00768.
  16. Farrant,J.M., Dace, H.J.W., Cooper, K., Hilgart, A., Peton, N., Mundree, S.G, Rafudeen, M.S. and Thomson, J.A. (2015). A molecular physiological review of vegetative desiccation tolerance in the resurrection plant Xerophyta viscosa (Baker) with reference to biotechnological application for the production of drought tolerant cereals. Planta, 242: 407-426. DOI 10.1007/s00425-015-2320-6
  17. Charuvi, D., Nevo, R., Shimoni, E., Navey, L., Zia, A., Farrant, J.M., Kirchoff, H., Reich, Z. (2015). Photoprotection conferred by changes in photosynthetic protein levels and organization during dehydration of a homoiochlorophyllous resurrection plant. Plant Physiology 167: 1554-1565. DOI: 10.1104/pp:11425594.
  18. Plancot, B., Vanier, G., Maire, F., Bardor, M., Lerouge, P., Farrant, J.M., Moore, J.P., Driouich, A., Vicre-Gibouin, M., Afonso, C., Loutelier-Bourhis, C. (2014).  Structural characterization of arabinoxylans from two African plant species Eragrostis nindensis and Eragrostis tef by MALDI-MS, ESI-MS, IM-MS and GC-MS.  Rapid communications in Mass Spectrometry 28: 908–916.
  19. Woodenberg, W.R., Berjak, P., Pammenter, N.W and Farrant, J.M. (2013). Development of cycad ovules and seeds. 2. Histological and ultrastructural aspects of ontogeny of the embryo in Encephalatos natalensis (Zamiaceae). Protoplasma,251: 797-816.
  20. Folorunso Olufemi, S., Segun, A., Baba, M.M., and Farrant, J. (2013).  Oil of Camelia sinensis inhibits pathogenic bacteria. International Journal of Phytomedicine 5., 163-172.
  21. Bezuidenhout, L., Farrant, J., Gould, C. (2013). Academy of Science of South Africa survey: Responsibility in the life sciences. South African Medical Journal, 103, 704. DOI: 107196/SAMJ:7459
  22. Agrawal, G.A., Sarkar, A., Righetti, P.G., Pedreschi, R., Carpentier, S., Wang, T., Barkla, B.J.,  Kohli, A., Ndimba, B.K., Bykova, N., Rampitsch, C., Zolla,L., Rafudeen M.S, Cramer, R.,  Bindschedler, L.W.,Tsakirpaloglou, N., Ndimba, R.J., Farrant, J.M., Renaut, J., Job, D., Kikuchi, S, and Rakwal, R. (2013). A decade of plant proteomics and mass spectrometry: translation of technical advancements to food security and safety issues. Mass Spectrometry Reviews 9999, 1-32. Doi 10.111/pce.12065.
  23. Moore, J.P., Nguema-Ona, E.E., Vicre-Gibouin, M., Sørensen, I., Willats, W.G.T, Driouich, A. and Farrant, J.M. (2012).  Arabinose-rich polymers as an evolutionary strategy to plasticize resurrection plant cell walls against desiccation. Planta 237(3):739-54. DOI 10.1007/s00425-012-1785-9.
  24. Malan, H.L., Mesjasz-Przybylowica, J.M., Mesjasz-Przybylowica, W.J., Farrant, J.M. and Linder, P.W. (2012). Distribution patterns of the metal pollutants Cd and Ni in soybean seeds.  Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research B273: 157-160. 
  25. Beckett, M., Loreto, F., Velikova, V, Brunetti, C, Di Ferdninando, M., Tattini, M., Calfapietra, C. and Farrant, J.M.  (2012). Photosynthetic limitations and volatile and non-volatile isoprenoids in the poikilochlorophyllous resurrection plant Xerophyta humilis during dehydration and rehydration.  Plant Cell and Environment, 35: 2061-2074.  doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3040.2012.02536.

Dr MS Rafudeen.  MCB, UCT, SA
Dr JP Moore.  Institute of Wine Biotechnology, University of Stellenbosch, SA.
Dr J Buitink. Institut de Recherche en Horticulture et Semences, INRA, Université d’Angers, France.
Dr HWM Hilhorst, Plant Physiology, Wageningen University and Research, The Netherlands. 
Prof SG Mundree. Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities, Queensland University of Technology, Australia.
Prof MJ Oliver. Agricultural Research Services, United States Department of Agriculture, Missouri, USA.
Dr E Ruelland. Institut d'écologie et des sciences de l' environement de Paris CNRS, Université Paris-Est Créteil, France.

Lab members

Jeanne Korsman - Postdoctoral research fellow | Living organisms undergo a variety of stresses, both abiotic and biotic. I am interested in the interplay of these stresses. I am researching the roles of various genes involved in desiccation tolerance in plants. Additionally, I am investigating the makeup of endophytic communities of resurrection plants in different states of hydration.

Maria-Cecília Costa - Postdoctoral research fellow | Next generation sequencing is revolutionizing our understanding of complex traits, such as desiccation tolerance and sensitivity. I work on the analysis of whole-genome and transcriptome data to better understand desiccation tolerance in the resurrection species Xerophyta viscosa and desiccation sensitivity in the recalcitrant-seeded species Castanospermum australe.

Keren Cooper - Chief Scientific Officer | Lab manager - contact

Amogelang Tshego Gill - PhD | While several ferns are desiccation tolerant, the mechanisms employed by them are largely unknown. The resurrection fern Mohria caffrorum has fronds that are desiccation tolerant in the dry, summer months and are desiccation-sensitive in the rainy, winter months. I investigate this interesting phenomenon using physiology and proteomics tools.

Astrid Lillie Radermacher - PhD | I am investigating drought-induced senescence in the resurrection plant species Xerophyta viscosa. During desiccation, this plant withstands the loss of 95% subcellular water with minimal loss of tissue. This project aims to understand how senescence is prevented during drought, using a transcriptomics and biotechnological approach. 

Joanne Bentley - PhD | I research the metabolomic profiling and phylogenetic structuring of the resurrection plant Myrothamnus flabellifolia, with a particular focus on the phenolic components and the metabolic state in the field versus greenhouse conditions. Green chemistry is used to optimize the extraction of phenolics.

Chrissie Madden - PhD | My research aims at characterizing the transcriptome of an African resurrection grass Eragrostis nindensis under water-stress conditions to understand desiccation tolerance and which suites of genes are critical for cell protection and repair under extreme water stress, focusing on how senescence pathways respond in this extremophile.

Jean Felistas Ntuli - PhD | Crops face simultaneous stresses and this project aims to identify and fully characterise the molecular elements (genes, DNA, RNA – transcriptome & protein – transcription factors) that paly a dual role in plant defence for both drought tolerance and resistance to fungal pathogens. Modelling resurrection plant Xerophyta viscosa to improve Maize crops. 

Mehafo Nepembe - PhD | Characterization of GDP-mannose epimerase in Xerophyta viscosa.

Andri Kruger - MSc | The plant stress hormone abscisic acid (ABA) is critical for several abiotic stress responses. My project aims to dissect the involvement of each ABA receptor in aiding desiccation tolerance in Xerophyta viscosa. Through synthesizing functionally selective ABA analogs, various receptors can be tested to determine the agonistic or antagonistic effects. 

Arno Duvenhage - MSc | My research focuses on the roots metabolome of the resurrection species Eragrostis nindensis. Moreover, I investigate how the soil microbiome is altered by desiccation and rehydration in laboratory-grown plants; and if microbes from the field can be detected years after the plants have been collected.

International TED talk: November 2015. TED is a nonpartisan nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. TED Talks are videos that present a great idea in 18 minutes or less. They’re filmed at flagship TED conferences, independent TEDx events, and other programs. Their goal is to share Ideas Worth Spreading — in fields like science, technology, business, culture, art and design — around the world.
Al Jazeera reports on South African drought. Since the 1990s, the country has lost a third of its farms due to water scarcity. As a result, farmers have had to turn to a hi-tech solution to help cope with dwindling water supplies and harsher environments. 
Ndoni Khanyile speaks with Professor Jill Farrant who has been trying to unlock the secret behind resurrection plants which can survive long periods without water.


21 Icons is a visual celebration of the lives of men and women who have shaped the world around them for the better. Inspired by the life of Nelson Mandela, it tells the stories of people who have continued his legacy – whose lives have made the world a better place. The project seeks to celebrate those who have achieved success and recognition and combines fine-art portraits, short films, behind the scenes photography, written narrative and a feature length documentary. The hope was to capture in an immersive manner the lives of the people it features. 
Every year, the EPFL & EPFL WISH holds the prestigious Erna Hamburger Prize and Conference, an event that brings into the limelight an influential, leading woman who is transforming her field and executing change, creating role models for students and young researchers on campus, and the public at large. The 10th anniversary of the Erna Hamburger Prize was celebrated by welcoming Prof. Jill Farrant.

Falling Walls Conference 2013: Berlin, Germany – Breaking the Wall of Famine:
Unique Access to Breakthrough Research

The Falling Walls Conference is an annual global gathering of forward thinking individuals from 75 countries organized by the Falling Walls Foundation. Each year, 20 of the world's leading scientists are invited to Berlin to present their current breakthrough research. The aim of the conference is to connect science with the innovation industry, politics, media and culture; identify trends, opportunities and solutions for global challenges; make research understandable to a broad audience; inspire people to break down the walls that we face today.

100 World Class South Africans (City Press, Sept 2013)

Piante "Lazzaro" contro la siccità (Le Scienze, Jan 2014)

How plants come back from the dead (Wired, 3 Jan 2014)

La científica que estudia el secreto de la resurrección (BBC Mundo, 22 Dec 2013)

Jill Farrant: The Resurrection Plant - and Woman (Daily Maveick, 12 April 2012)