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Ed Rybicki | Biopharming Research Unit

Research | Publications | Patents | Collaborations | Lab members | Telephone: +27 21 650 3265 | Facsimile: +27 21 650 2646


Vaccinology / protein expression
Research activities here are centred on the use of plants and of recombinant baculoviruses in insect tissue cultures to make candidate vaccines against Human papillomaviruses, HIV-1 subtype C, Beak and feather disease virus (BFDV) of psittacines, H5N1 and H1N1 influenza viruses, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever and Rift Valley fever viruses, and Foot and mouth disease virus. The use of geminiviruses as vectors of foreign genes in plants is a topic of interest. The group also has a strong interest in the use of novel DNA vaccine vectors incorporating Porcine circovirus type 1 (PCV-1) enhancer elements, and the use of plants to make commercially important reagents and diagnostics.

Marine Viromics / Virus Diversity
A recent project is a next-generation sequencing programme aimed at assessing oceanic and near-shore diversity of viruses, and in particular those associated with cellular organisms important in marine food webs. We are also continuing an investigation of plant geminivirus diversity and molecular biology (since 1985), of Human papillomaviruses (since 1989) and of Beak and feather disease virus of psittacines in southern Africa (since 2004).

Virus graphics courtesy of Russell Kightley

Selected publications

I have authored or co-authored over 120 articles and 19 reviews in peer-reviewed journals, and about 20 book chapters, as well as a number of popular or opinion articles and conference report-backs in journals. A comprehensive and up-to-date list is available via Google Scholar citations.

As of late June 2015, I have published two ebooks with a virology theme on the Apple iBooks Store. These are A Short History of the Discovery of Viruses, and Influenza Virus: Introduction to a Killer. Both were composed using Apple's iBooks Author app, and published in iBooks format, for reading with the iBooks app on Mac, iPad or iPhone. I am amenable to publishing PDF versions of both if there is any demand - however, this means losing some of the iBooks functionality.

Sadly, neither is available on the South African store, so if you would like one, go to the US/UK stores via iTunes. If you would like a promotional code in order to assess the books for recommendation to students or colleagues, please contact me directly.

I have been involved since 1994 in writing educational and study material for the Web, and my much-updated Electronic Introduction to Molecular Virology is still available on this site, as well as via the UCT Open Educational Resources page. One of the more accessed resources in the UCT OER repository is my Manual of Online Molecular Biology Techniques, which is extensively used by researchers outside of UCT.

Additionally, I maintain a university-level Virology teaching resource called ViroBlogy, as well as a general public information site called Virology News. I also run the International Society for Plant Molecular Farming site, co-curate an information page on aquatic viruses and another on virology and bioinformatics, and tweet on virology topics (and other things) under @edrybicki.

I have also written a number of stories, essays and songs for the Web over the last 20 years.


I am listed as an inventor on some 17 patent families, with around 44 country patents published (see Google Scholar).
Recent patents:

2020 | Extracellular Assembly of Virus Like Particles, Dennis, Susan Jennifer, Meyers, Ann Elizabeth, Hitzeroth, Inga Isabel, Rybicki, Edward Peter PA172961/P | Provisional filed

2020 | Plant Produced Bovine Papillomavirus Virus-Like Particles and Pseudovirions, Rybicki, Edward Peter; Van Zyl, Albertha René, Hitzeroth, Inga Isabel; Pietersen, Inge PA173571/P | Provisional filed in ZA and GB

2018 | Plant Produced PCV Pseudovirion, Rybicki, Edward Peter. Hitzeroth, Inga Isabel, Regnard, Guy Louis, PA169568/P | Provisional and PCT filed 2019, National phase ZA, US

2016 | Production of a Horseradish Peroxidase-IgG Fusion Protein, EP Rybicki, II Hitzeroth, EA Meyers, PA165327, WO2017203426A1
Filed in ZA, GB, EP, CN, JP, US

2013 | HPV Chimaeric Particle, EP Rybicki, II Hitzeroth | WO Patent 2,013,080,187

2013 | Expression of Proteins in Plants, A Williamson, EP Rybicki, JM Maclean, II Becker-Hitzeroth | US Patent 20,130,130,314

2013 | HPV Pseudovirions, EP Rybicki, II Hitzeroth PA158146, EP3024937, US20160168583A1 | Granted in ZA, US, EP, DE, filed in FR, GB, ES, IT, CA, PC

2012 | Rotavirus Virus-like particle production in plants, EP Rybicki, II Hitzeroth, DLR Mutepfa EP2847324B1 (PCT No WO2013166609A1)
Filed in US, Korea, | Granted in Europe, China, Canada, Denmark, Spain | Applicant Medicago

2012 Chimaeric Human Papillomavirus 16 L1 Virus-like Particles and a Method for Preparing the Particles, AD Varsani, EP Rybicki | US Patent 8,163,557

2011 | HPV Chimaeric Particle (small VLP), EP Rybicki, II Hitzeroth, PA154565, US20140377367A1, EP2785842A4 | Filed in Philippines, Europe, Thailand, Canada, Australia, SA, Japan, Korea, United Arab Emirates, Israel, India, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, Malaysia, Viet Nam, Hong Kong, Japan. | Granted in US, China, Russia, New Zealand

2011 | Recombinant Protein Bodies as Immunogen-Specific Adjuvants, EP Rybicki, AE Meyers, F Devesa, P Marzábal Luna, II Hitzeroth, P Öhlschläger | US Patent 20,110,262,478

2011 | Expression of Viral Proteins in Plants, A Williamson, EP Rybicki, JM Maclean | EP Patent 2,374,892

2011 | Method for Enhancing the Expression of HPV L1, EP Rybicki, II Hitzeroth | WO Patent WO/2011/077,371 

2008 | Recombinant protein bodies as immunogen-specific adjuvants, EP Rybicki, AE Meyers, F Devesa, P Marzábal Luna, II Hitzeroth, P Öhlschläger; PCT | No WO2010040847A3, EP2356133A2, KR20110084906A, JP5667062B2 | Filed in Europe, Korea | Granted in Japan, US | Applicant ERA Biotech   


Prof Vernon Coyne, MCB
Prof Anna-Lise Williamson, Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine
Prof Sue Harrison, Dept Chemical Engineering, UCT
Prof Marietjie Venter, University of Pretoria
Markus Sack, Fraunhofer Institute, Aachen
Dr Tomas Moravec, Institute of Experimental Botany, Czech Republic
Dr Neil Christensen, Dept Pathology, Penn State, USA
Miriam Bastida, ZIP Solutions, Spain
Andres Wigdorowitz, INTA, Argentina
Marc-Andre D’Aoust, Medicago, Canada

Lab members
Prof Ed Rybicki
Principal Investigator
Office 303A
Tel +27 21 650 3265
Fax +27 21 650 2646
More informationAssoc. Prof. Inga Hitzeroth
Senior Research Officer
Lab 304 | Tel +27 21 650 5712
Own website
More informationDr Ann Meyers
Research Officer
Lab 304 | Tel +27 21 650 5712
Own website
Sandiswa MbewanaMore information
Junior Research Fellow
Dr Alta van ZylMore information
Junior Research Fellow
Sue Dr Sue DennisMore information
Post-doctoral Fellow
Dr Megan Hendrickse Dr Emmanuel MargolinMore information
Post-doctoral Fellow
Dr Jennifer StanderMore information
Post-doctoral Fellow
Matt VerbeekMore information
Scientific officer
Phindile XimbaMore information
PhD student
Buyani Ndlovu Buyani NdlovuMore information
PhD student
Goodman Mulondo More information
PhD student

More informationMélie Buyse
PhD student

dylan Dylan StevensMore information
PhD student
Lekita SinghMore information
PhD student
Asanda MatisoMore information
MSc student
Tim PlasketMore information
MSc student
Aune AngobeMore information
MSc student 
Gloria LuhangaMore information
MSc student 
Munyaradzi TinarwoMore information
MSc student
Abigail GwynnMore information
MSc student
Amy EdwardsMore information
MSc student
Assoc. Prof. Inga Isabel Hitzeroth
Senior Research Officer
I grew up in Namibia and studied in South Africa at the University of Cape Town in Cape Town from 1980 - 1986. I did my undergraduate studies in Microbiology and Biochemistry and my PhD on hake population genetics while working for Sea Fisheries in Cape Town. My post-doctoral years I spent at medical school at UCT working on gonadotropin releasing hormone. In 2000 I started to work in Prof Rybicki’s group in a then very new and novel field of expression of viral proteins in plants.

We are specifically working on production of vaccine candidates against Human papillomavirus (HPV) and development of second generation vaccines that will be cheaper by production in plants and will protect against more than one type of HPV. HPV is the cause of cervical cancer the second most prevalent cancer in women in developing countries.

Other diseases that we are working on are: rotavirus, which causes severe diarrhoea in children; Beak and Feather Disease Virus (BFDV) which causes Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) in all psittacine birds (parrots); and Avian influenza.

The research that I have been involved in over the last thirteen years has come a long way from just being an idea to produce viral proteins in plants to becoming a reality with proteins being expressed in high enough levels to make it feasible to produce them as vaccines.

Go to Dr Hitzeroth's webpage
Dr Ann Meyers
Research Officer
I grew up in Pietermaritzburg and came to UCT to study a BSc in 1983. I graduated in 1985 and then did a BSc Hons at UCT in 1987.  After travelling overseas for 2 years and subsequently working as a Scientific Officer in the Department of Microbiology at UCT I enrolled for my PhD in the department in 1996 where I investigated the bacterial pathogens of the red macroalga Gracilaria gracilis and its response to bacterial infection.  I obtained my PhD in 1999 and took up a Postdoctoral Fellowship at UWC for a year working on marker assisted selection of disease-resistance apples.  In 2000, I took up a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Prof Ed Rybicki’s research group where I worked on the development of a HIV-1 Gag virus-like particle (VLP) vaccine in plants.  In 2010 I was appointed as a Research Officer and embarked on a new project involving the production of Bluetongue virus (BTV) particles in plants as a potential animal vaccine.  My research interests lie in the expression of recombinant proteins, diagnostics and subunit vaccines (particularly veterinary vaccines) in plants.   I am currently focussing on the production of second generation VLP vaccines against BTV as well as the related African horse sickness virus (AHSV). In addition, I am working on the production of AHSV antigens which can potentially be used as diagnostic reagents in ELISA. Since 2000 I have supervised and co-supervised a total of 10 MSc students and 7 PhD students as well as 14 honours students.
Go to Dr Meyers' webpage
Dr Sandiswa Mbewana
Junior Research Fellow
MeganI am a Biotechnologist specializing in Plant Biotechnology.  My Bsc Biotechnology degree was obtained at the University of the Western Cape in 2005. My post graduate studies (BSc Hons and MSc in Wine biotechnology) were completed at Stellenbosch University. My MSc was on the analysis of possible fungal resistance phenotype in transgenic tobacco plants over-expressing the native cinnamyl alcohol dehydrogenase gene.  The key study area was Grapevine biotechnology focusing on disease resistance. 

Since 2008 I have been working as a Scientific Officer in the plant based vaccine group. My project was on the development of an avian influenza virus (H5N1) vaccine using plants and insect cell expression system. I completed my PhD 2017 on the development of Rift Valley Fever Virus vaccine in plants. I was a Carnegie International Postdoc Fellow from 2017 to 2020 and I have been recently appointed as a Carnegie DEAL Junior Research Follow. My research focuses on the production of valuable pharmaceuticals in plants, particularly vaccine candidates and diagnostic reagents.  My work has been on Influenza virus, Rift Valley Fever and Bluetongue orbiviruses.  Other projects I have been involved in include the production of diagnostic reagents for Shuni virus.

Dr Alta van Zyl
Junior Research Fellow
AltaI received my PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Cape Town in 2014. My PhD focussed on the development of plant-based vaccine candidates for Bluetongue virus.  Currently I’m a Junior Research Fellow in the Biopharming Research Unit (BRU). My research interests centre around the expression of recombinant proteins in plants and in cell culture, particularly proteins that can be used as potential vaccine candidates for humans and animals. 

I have a keen interest in human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine research and have worked on the development of a platform for the expression of HPV vaccine candidates in plants. I have extensive experience in the production and purification of papilloma virus-like particles (VLPs) and pseudovirions (PsVs) in plants. Other projects I am involved in include the production of VLPs and recombinant proteins for bovine papillomavirus, porcine circovirus and beak and feather disease virus; all of these are of great interest in the animal health sector. 


Dr Sue Dennis
Post-doctoral fellow
Sue DennisI completed my undergraduate studies at Stellenbosch University in 1985 followed by an Honours degree in Molecular Biology in 1986. I moved to Pretoria in 1987 to work on Bluetongue Virus at the Onderstepoort Veterinary Research Institute and while there, obtained an MSc degree in 1990 from the University of Pretoria. The next 25 years were spent assisting my husband, David, with the administration of his medical practice and being a Mom to our four children.

I registered for a PhD in 2015 in Prof Rybicki's Biopharming Research Unit working on the development of safe and cost effective VLP candidate vaccines against African horse sickness and graduated in July 2019. I am currently a post-doctoral research fellow in the BRU under the supervision of Prof Ed Rybicki, Assoc Prof Inga Hitzeroth and Dr Ann Meyers, where I am continuing to work with AHSV vaccine development while co-supervising other students on the project.
Dr Emmanuel Margolin
Post-doctoral fellow

I completed my undergraduate studies in the Molecular and Cell Biology department at UCT, before moving to Medical School for postgraduate training in Virology. My research aims to develop viral glycoprotein-based vaccines against emerging and pandemic viruses in Africa. Whilst most proteins accumulate at high levels in plants, viral glycoproteins often express poorly and may not undergo appropriate maturation along the secretory pathway. In order to circumvent these constraints, we are working to transiently engineer the secretory pathway to support chaperone-mediated folding, proteolytic processing and glycosylation. A major current focus is to engineer the glycosylation of these antigens to better reproduce the glycosylation present on the native virus, and to test the immunogenicity of these glyco-optimized antigens in animal models. In addition to working with Dr Ann Meyers and Prof Ed Rybicki, I work closely with Matt Verbeek (Scientific Officer) and Abdul Isaacs (M.Sc. student).

Google scholar profile:

Dr Jennifer Stander
Post-doctoral fellow

Jennifer StanderI grew up in Gauteng and completed my BSc, BSc Honours and MSc in Microbiology at the University of Pretoria. My studies focused on establishing a high-throughput sequencing-based diagnostic system for the detection of grapevine viruses. My fascination with viruses and their diagnosis led me to BRU at the University of Cape Town, with their new and exciting approaches to serological reagent and vaccine development.

Working under the supervision of Dr Ann Meyers, Prof. Ed Rybicki and Dr Aleyo Chabeda, my PhD was focused on the development of candidate vaccines for West Nile virus in Nicotiana benthamiana. This research guided my interest in the possibility of developing multimeric vaccines, in plants, for virus genera such as the flaviviruses, which is the focus of my post-doctoral fellowship. My aspiration as a researcher is to develop diagnostic reagents and vaccines that would benefit low-and-middle-income countries.

Matt Verbeek
Scientific officer
Matt VerbeekI am a typical Joburg boy having grown up in the Northern Suburbs of Johannesburg. I moved down to Cape Town in 2012 to start my undergrad degree at UCT and seem to have fallen in love with the mother city. I completed my BSc in Chemistry and Biochemistry as well both my Honours and MSc in Molecular and Cell Biology, the latter within the BRU.
I am currently employed as a Scientific Officer under Dr Emmanuel Margolin to focus on research around the expression of notable viral glycoproteins in the pursuit of developing plant expressed vaccine candidates. The area of foremost importance being research into the development of a possible plant expressed HIV vaccine candidate.
Mélie Buyse
PhD student
Melie BuyseI am a Belgian Vet. I completed my Masters in Veterinary Science at Ghent University 2010. I then went on to open my own veterinary practice. After 4 years of running my own business I decided I wanted to further my studies and embark on obtaining my PhD.

I am particularly interested in vaccine development as I had years of experience using the medication and identified a gap for new and improved vaccines. I came across the Biopharming Research Unit and I then knew that this would be the ideal environment for me to be able to contribute in this industry. I then packed up my entire life in one suitcase and made the move to Cape Town.

My PhD is based on developing a vaccine for Beak and Feather Disease Virus. I will be working under the supervision of Dr. Inga Hitzeroth and Prof. Ed Rybicki.
Phindile Ximba
PhD student
Phindile XimbaI am originally from the small town in the Northern side of KZN. I completed my B.Sc in Biochemistry and Chemistry at University of KwaZulu Natal in 2011. I then completed MSc in Biochemistry in 2014, also at UKZN. My MSc project focused on recombinant expression and characterisation of trypanosomal cysteine proteases for the development of point-of-care diagnostic tests for animal trypanosomiasis.

In 2015, I joined UCT Medical Virology lab as a scientific officer working on the SHIP project focusing on developing HIV-1 Env subunit vaccines to elicit broadly neutralising antibodies. I am currently registered as a PhD student under the co-supervision of Dr Ros Chapman, Prof. Anna-Lise Williamson, Dr Ann Mayers and Prof. Ed Rybicki. My project is focusing on using different tags to improve the production and immunogenicity of Env produced in both mammalian and plant expression systems.
Dylan Stevens
PhD student
Dylan StevensI obtained my undergraduate degrees in human genetics and phylogenetics from the University of Pretoria. I did a master’s degree in Molecular Biology at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

I am currently doing a PhD at the Centre for Bioprocess Engineering Research (CeBER) looking into the production of high value heterologous proteins in green microalgae under the co-supervision of Dr Sue Huddy and Prof Rybicki from the BRU.
Buyani Ndlovu 
PhD student
Dylan StevensI was born and raised in Ladysmith, a small town in northern KwaZulu-Natal. I completed a BSc (Biological Science) and BSc Hons (Cell Biology) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and later obtained an MSc (Wine Biotechnology) at Stellenbosch University.
I am currently enrolled for a PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology, working with Prof Inga Hitzeroth and Dr Aleyo Chabeda of Biopharming Research Unit. My research project focuses on developing replicating plant virus vectors for transient expression of recombinant proteins in plants.
Goodman Mulondo
PhD student
I am originally from Venda (Malamangwa Village). I completed my BSc, Honours and Masters degree at the University of Venda.  My honours project was based on the evaluation of the Qiagen DNA mini kit (commercial) against a standardized in-house extraction method for E. coli DNA from water samples, and my MSc project was based on the molecular characterization of Norovirus Strains isolated from older children and adults in impoverished communities of Vhembe District, South Africa. I first joined Biopharming Research Unit in 2019 as a DST-NRF intern. I am currently doing a PhD in the Biopharming Research Unit (BRU), under the supervision of A/Prof Inga Hitzeroth, Dr Ann Meyers and Dr Sandiswa Mbewana. The focus of my work is on the development of a purification protocol for specific VLPs by utilising immobilised VLP-specific antibodies harvested from quail’s eggs. 
Lekita Singh
PhD student
I completed a BSc degree in Microbiology and Biochemistry at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. I then went on to complete a BSc Honours and an MSc specializing in Microbiology. My MSc research focused on the crisis of antibiotic resistant bacteria found in the environment, and its impact on life forms. I thereafter received an Erasmus Mundus Scholarship to complete an MSc (Bioinformatics, Biomathematics and Computational Biology) exchange program at the University of Bologna, Italy. After these years of research, I chose to gain industry experience and relocated to Cape Town where I fulfilled the role of Senior Manager at a manufacturing company. I was then offered full funding and am presently enrolled for a PhD within the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology. My research is focused on utilizing Bioinformatics as a tool in new drug discovery and development by eliciting an immune response related to specific SARS-Cov-2 proteins.  
Asanda Matiso
MSc student
I'm originally from King William's Town in the Eastern Cape. I completed my National diploma in Biotechnology (2010 - 2012) and BTech degree in Biomedical Technology (2013 - 2014) at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. I first joined BRU in April 2016 as a NRF intern. I am currently pursuing my MSc under the supervision of Dr Ann Meyers, Dr Inga Hitzeroth and Prof Ed Rybicki. My project focuses on the use of a mouse phage display library to generate single chain variable fragments (scFvs) antibodies against Ribulose-1,5-biphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase or RuBisCO which is regarded as the main potential contaminant in plant produced proteins.
Tim Plasket
MSc student
TimI grew up in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. I moved to Cape Town to study at UCT in 2014. I completed my BSc with majors in Biochemistry and Genetics in 2016, which I then followed with a BSc(Hons) in Molecular and Cell Biology in 2017.

I am currently in the Biopharming Research Unit studying towards my MSc under the supervision of Dr Inga Hitzeroth and Dr Rosemary Meggersee. My project focuses on the African Horse Sickness Virus (AHSV), a midge-borne disease which severely affects equids in Sub-Saharan Africa. I am particularly interested in generating antibody-like molecules (short chain variable fragments or ScFvs) derived from a phage display library which are specific to AHSV serotype 5.
Aune Angobe
MSc student
AuneI grew up in the northern part of Namibia and moved to Windhoek to pursue BSc in Microbiology (honours) at the University of Namibia. My honours project focused on Anti-plasmodium activities in Selected Namibian herbs. In 2019 I moved to Cape Town to pursue Masters at the University of Cape Town. My project focuses on developing a plant-made immunoassay for the detection of porcine circovirus antibodies in South African Swine herds.
Gloria Luhanga
MSc student
GloriaI’m originally from Malawi. I acquired my undergraduate degree in Biomedicine (2015-2017) at Pearson Institute of Higher education in Midrand, South Africa. I later proceeded to do my Honours degree at the University of Cape Town and graduated with a BMedSc (Hons) in Medical Cell Biology (2018).
I’m currently pursuing my MSc in Molecular and Cell Biology in the BRU lab, with the supervision of Dr Inga Hitzeroth, Dr Ann Meyers and Dr Sue Dennis. My project focuses on investigating the production of a multivalent African horse sickness virus (AHSV) vaccine candidate. This will allow me to produce a vaccine which contains at least more than one VP2 domains (immunogenic component on the AHSV structure) from the nine known AHSV serotypes.
Munyaradzi Tinarwo
MSc student
MunyaradziI am currently an MSc student with interests in biopharming and virology. I am a holder of B.Tech (Hons) in Biotechnology from Chinhoyi University of Technology (Zimbabwe) and a BSc (Hons) in Microbiology from North-West University (South Africa). I am currently working on the African horse sickness virus for my MSc research. Previously, I have worked on Optimization of the Isolation and Cloning Techniques of the Kinase Domain of the Triphosphate Tunnel Metalloenzyme (TTM) gene from Arabidopsis thaliana. I also worked on the reduction of Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) in distillery effluent by bioaugmentation techniques.
Amy Edwards
MSc student
MulondoMy academic career started at the University of Cape Town in 2015 where I discovered my passion for Microbiology while majoring in Genetics and Biochemistry. I completed my undergraduate studies and joined the Biopharming Research Unit in 2019 during my Honours year where I worked to develop a Bovine papillomavirus vaccine candidate in plants under the supervision of Dr Alta van Zyl and Associate Professor Inga Hitzeroth. This project ignited my love of Virology and Vaccinology and led to my pursuit of an MSc project in BRU. I am currently working to develop a therapeutic human papillomavirus vaccine based on the technology developed during my Honours year once again under the supervision of Dr Alta van Zyl and A/Prof Inga Hitzeroth.