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Suhail Rafudeen

Dr Suhail Rafudeen
Plant Stress Laboratory | Telephone: +27 21 650 3263 | Facsimile: +27 21 689 7573

The main research focus of our group is to understand the abiotic stress responses in Xerophyta viscosa, Eragrostis species and maize.

Resurrection plants are unique angiosperms, capable of surviving extreme desiccation and South Africa has been blessed with a number of different genera and species. The monocotyledonous X. viscosa can be dehydrated down to 5% relative water content and upon watering the desiccated plant rehydrates within 4 days. Eragrostis nindensis is one of eleven resurrection grasses widely distributed in Namibia and other arid areas of South Africa. It is a perennial grass that can also survive severe water loss for an extended period of time.

In contrast, Eragrostis tef is a desiccation sensitive domestic grass indigenous to Ethiopia and Eritrea that belongs to the same subfamily as E. nindensis, Eragrostideae. It is a highly nutritious cereal and is used for human nutrition and fodder. Maize is the staple and most important food cereal in Africa and crop loss due to severe drought can lead to famine.

The resurrection plants are extremophiles that are ideal model systems to study abiotic stress tolerance and could serve as a source of genes or direct strategies for the development of transgenic crops (maize and E. tef in particular) capable of withstanding drought stress.

We use a multi-disciplinary approach combining transcriptomics and proteomics together with molecular biological methods to characterise genes or proteins involved in plant stress response. This characterisation can help elucidate specific genes/proteins and signalling pathways which give resurrection plants their unique ability to survive extreme environmental conditions.

Selected Projects

X.viscosa subcellular proteomics
Our current focus is on subcellular or tissue proteomics where we intend to characterise the proteome of specific organelles or tissues of X. viscosa in response to desiccation. We are in the process of characterising the nuclear proteome in response to desiccation.

Osmotic stress tolerance in Maize
We have established a maize tissue culture system (BMS) and characterizing the response of the proteome to various abiotic stresses.

E. tef and E. nindensis proteomics
Our study aims to carry out proteomic analysis of E. tef and E.nindensis to identify novel and/or differentially regulated proteins between the different species when subject to desiccation.

Characterisation of XvVTC2, a gene involved in Ascorbate (Vitamin C) biosynthesis
Recently our group isolated and preliminary characterised XvVTC2, a gene coding for a GDP-L-Galactose phosphorylase. In Arabidopsis, this enzyme that has been shown to catalyze the final step in vitamin C biosynthesis. The XvVTC2 gene was specifically up-regulated in response to desiccation and current work aims to elucidate the regulatory mechanism and significance of the XvVTC2 response.


Kamal Omer Abdalla, Jennifer Ann Thomson, Muhammad Suhail Rafudeen*. 2009. Protocols for nuclei isolation and nuclear protein extraction from the resurrection plant Xerophyta viscosa for proteomic studies. Analytical Biochemistry 384: 365–367. (*corresponding author)

Revel Iyer, Sagadevan Mundree, Mohamed Suhail Rafudeen*, Jennifer Ann Thomson. 2007. “XvSap1, A Desiccation Tolerance Gene with Potential in Crop Improvement” Section 3, Chap 10: 283 – 296. Plant Desiccation Tolerance. Ed M.A Jenks and A.J Wood. Blackwell, Oxford, UK.
(*corresponding author)

Ndimba B., Rafudeen S., Gehring C., Meyer Z., Simon W., Chivasa S., and Slabas A. 2005. Proteomic identification of an hsp70.1 protein induced in Arabidopsis cells following hyperosmotic stress treatments. S. African J. Science. 101 ( 9/10): 449-453.

Rafudeen, M.S. , Gxaba, N. , Makgoke, G.D. , Bradley, G. , Pironcheva, G. , Raitt, L.M. , Irving, H.R. and Gehring, C.A. 2003. A role for plant natriuretic peptide immuno-analogues in NaCl and drought stress responses. Physiolgia Plantarum. 119: 1-9.

London, L., Ehrlich R., Rafudeen S., Krige F. and Vurgarellis P. 1994. Notification of pesticide poisoning in the Western Cape 1987-1991. SA Med. J. 84: 269-272

Reid, S.J, M.S. Rafudeen and N.G. Leat. 1999. The genes controlling sucrose utilization in Clostridium beijerinckii NCIMB 8052 constitute an operon. Microbiology. 145:1461-1472

Conferences and Workshops

Gordon Conference: Salt & Water Stress In Plants, 13 June – 18 June 2010, Les Diablerets Conference Center in Les Diablerets, Switzerland.

Proteomics workshop: Presented MCB proteomic projects in July 2009 held at the University of the Witwatesrand.

5th International Workshop on Desiccation Sensitivity and Tolerance in Seeds and Vegetative Plant Tissues, 14-21 January 2007, Drakensberg, South Africa.

Protein Crystallography Workshop, 26-30 July 2004. University of the Western Cape. South African Structural Biology Initiative.

Rafudeen, M.S. and Reid, S.J. 1998. Catabolite repression of the sucrose gene in Clostridium beijerinckii by regB. S.A Society of Microbiology. 10 th Biennial Congress. Durban. July 1998, p 125


Dr Rafudeen also serves as a collaborator and co-supervisor on a number of projects within and outside the department

- Assoc Prof Abratt: Proteomics study on metronidazole resistance/sensitivity in Bacteroides fragilis
- Prof Coyne: Proteomics projects investigating nitrogen stress in seaweed
- Prof Rybicki: Proteomics and transcriptomics analysis of Maize streak virus infection in maize plants
- Dr Samson Chimphango (Botany): Investigation of nitrogen fixation by indigenous (Fynbos) leguminous plants.

Lab Members

Graduated students
Tamaryn Ellick (BSc Hons)
Jeffery Holiday (BSc Hons)
Brandon Gibbon (BSc Hons)
Georgina Beukes (BSc Hons)
Kebatshabile Nfanyana (BSc Hons)
Felix Medie (MSc)
Kamal Abdalla (PhD)

Current students
Ali Kiyaei
Shakiera Sattar
Alexis Neumann
Driaan Bresler
Bevin Reynolds
Pule Hlahane

Co-supervised students
Co-supervised with Prof Farrant:
Yiguo Liu
Tsegho Gill
Rizqah Kamies
Ryman Shoko

Co-supervised with assoc Prof Abratt:
Bruna Galvao

Co-supervised with Prof Coyne:
Rene Naidoo
Taryn Boom
Bridget Calder

Co-supervised with Prof Rybicki:
Rizwan Syed

Co-supervised with Dr Sayed at UWC:
James Onyemata