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Inga Hitzeroth | Biopharming Research Unit

Research | Publications | Patents | Collaborations | Lab members | News | Telephone: +27 21 650 5712 | Facsimile: +27 21 650 2646


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.

Virus graphics courtesy of Russell Kightley


Expression of viral proteins in plants - HPV
A Williamson, EP Rybicki, JM Maclean, II Becker-Hitzeroth
EP Patent 1,883,701 2012
WO Patent 2,006,119,516, 2006
US Patent app. 11/912,912, 2006

Expression of viral proteins in plants - Flu
A Williamson, EP Rybicki, JM Maclean, II Becker-Hitzeroth

Recombinant protein bodies as immunogen-specific adjuvants
EP Rybicki, AE Meyers, F Devesa, P Marzábal Luna, II Hitzeroth, P Öhlschläger
EP Patent 2,356,133, 2011
WO Patent 2,010,040,847, 2010
US Patent App. 13/123,510, 2009

Method for enhancing the expression of HPVL1
EP Rybicki, II Hitzeroth
WO Patent 2,011,077,371; 2011

HPV Chimaeric Particle
EP Rybicki, II Hitzeroth
WO Patent 2,013,080,187; 2013
WO Patent App. PCT/IB2012/056,912; 2012


Prof Vernon Coyne, MCB
Brandon Weber, EM unit, UCT
Markus Sack, Fraunhofer Institute, Aachen, Germany
Prof Peter Öhlschläger, Department of Chemistry and Biotechnology, Aachen University of Applied Sciences, Aachen, Germany
Renate Lamprecht, Afrigen, South Africa
Milaid Granadillo & Isis Torrens, Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Havana, Cuba
Eva Stöger & Elsa Arcalís, Department of Applied Genetics and Cell Biology, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria
Marc-Andre D’Aoust, Medicago, Quebec, Canada
Bhudev Das, Amity Institute of Molecular Medicine & Stem Cell Research (AIMMSCR), Amity University Uttar Pradesh, India
Priya Debata, Department of Zoology, North Orissa University, Baripada, Odisha, India
Prof Hu Zheng, Department of Gynecological Oncology, The First Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen University, Guangdong, China
Prof Konstantin Severinov, Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, Moscow, Russia

Lab members
Renate More informationDr Renate Lamprecht
Honorary Research Affiliate
More informationDr Megan Hendrickse
Post-doctoral Fellow
More informationDr Guy Regnard
Post-doctoral Fellow
More informationDr Alta van Zyl
Post-doctoral Fellow
Dr Rosemary Meggersee More informationDr Rosemary Meggersee
Post-doctoral fellow
More informationAleyo Chabeda
Post-doctoral fellow
Francisco PeraMore information
CGEX intern
Corrie More informationCorrie Gunter
NRF intern
Melie Mélie BuyseMore information
PhD student
Inge More informationInge Pietersen
MSc student
Raygaanah More informationRaygaanah Jacobs
MSc student
Hendrik Hendrik ElsMore information
MSc student
More informationAyesha Adams
MSc student
More informationMatt Verbeek
MSc student
Asanda MatisoMore information
MSc student
Paulina NaupaMore information
MSc student
Frances LeesMore information
MSc student
Tim PlasketMore information
MSc student
Dr Renate Lamprecht
Honorary Research Affiliate
Renate I completed my BSC, BSc Hons and MSc degrees in Microbiology at University of Pretoria during 2003 to 2008. In my initial post-graduate years I have characterized two new plant rhabdoviruses. After University of Pretoria, I moved to Somerset West and started my PhD in Genetics at Stellenbosch University. During my PhD I characterized two South African isolates of Grapevine fanleaf virus, by determining their the full-length genome sequences. These full-length genome sequences were the first GFLV isolates to be completely sequenced from Africa. One of these two isolates was found to be associated with a satellite RNA, which was only the second Grapevine fanleaf virus satellite RNA to be described worldwide. I constructed a fully functional full-length infectious cDNA clone based on the newly described satellite RNA, which may in future studies prove to be a powerful molecular tool in the grapevine research community. Currently, I am a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Prof Ed Rybicki's group, working on recombinant HPV protein production in plants, for the development of cheaper vaccines to protect against multiple HPV types.  
Dr Megan Hendrickse
Post-doctoral fellow
Dr Megan Hendrickse I am originally from Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape where I completed my MSc at NMMU (Formerly UPE). After moving to Cape Town, I undertook my PhD in Medical Biochemistry in the receptor biology group (UCT Medical Campus).
I am currently a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Prof Ed Rybicki's lab where I will be conducting the L2-based pseudovirion neutralising assay to evaluate the immunogenicity of in-house produced Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines. - See more at:  
Dr Guy Regnard
Post-doctoral Fellow
My research interest is in applied science specifically virology and using virus genetic elements to build protein production platforms that can be applied in human and animal health, and industry. In addition, I am interested in viral replication of RNA and DNA viruses. To this end I have published 9 research articles in peer-reviewed journals. I am an associate member of the American Society of Virology and a member of the International Society for Plant Molecular Farming.

I am currently a postdoctoral research fellow under the supervision of Prof. Ed Rybicki and Prof. Anna-Lise Williamson in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and Institute of Infectious Disease & Molecular Medicine. I supervise two PhD students and one Masters student and recently graduated my first Masters student. When I am not supervising I am involved in concept design, grant writing, editing manuscripts and in the beginning stages of lecturing with an aim to establish my own research.
Dr Alta van Zyl
Post-doctoral Fellow
I obtained my honours degree in Biochemistry at the University of the Free State in 2006, after which I completed my MSc degree (also at UFS) in the Veterinary Biotechnology research group. I relocated to Cape Town to pursue a PhD degree in the Biopharming Research Unit under the supervision of Prof Rybicki and Dr Meyers.

My PhD focussed on the development of plant-produced vaccines against Bluetongue virus. 

As a Post-doctoral fellow in the BRU I have worked on the production of Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine candidates in plants. I have supervised students working on HPV, Foot and mouth disease virus (FMDV) and Bovine papillomavirus (BPV).  My present research project focusses on the production of candidate vaccines against Lassa fever virus (LASV) and Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever virus (CCHFV).
Dr Rosemary Meggersee
Post-doctoral fellow
Rosemary Meggersee I completed my undergraduate studies in the Molecular and Cell Biology department at UCT. My postgraduate studies, including my PhD, were completed in MCB under the supervision of Dr V. Abratt and investigated the antibiotic resistance present in the anaerobic bacterium Bacteroides fragilis. My first Post-Doctoral research project was under the joint supervision of BRU and Assoc. Prof V. Coyne and involved the development of a phage display library which could be used to develop DNA vaccines for farmed fish.  
My current Post-Doctoral research project involves using a mouse phage display library in order to generate antibodies that can be used for both diagnostic tests and as therapeutics to a wide variety of antigens. 
Aleyo Chabeda
Post-doctoral fellow
I am from Nairobi, Kenya. I completed my BSc in Biochemistry and Microbiology from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and a BSc (Hons) in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of Cape Town (UCT). On completion of my Honours, I remained at UCT to do a MSc in the Biopharming Research Unit and upgraded to PhD. My PhD research focused on the development of potentially broadly protective prophylactic virus-like particle (VLP) vaccine candidates for Human papillomaviruses (HPV), and the production of synthetic HPV viruses for the delivery of a DNA vaccine.

My Post-Doctoral research project will explore the use of CRIPSR/cas genome editing tools for the treatment and cure of cervical cancer, caused by HPV.
Francisco Pera
CGEX intern
FranciscoI was born in Lisbon, Portugal and lived there until I was 17. After finishing high-school, I decided to go to France to start university. I did my first BSc year (biology) in the Universite du Havre (Northern France) and then moved to Toulouse where I did my consecutive two years BSc in bio-engineering applied to plants in the Universite Paul Sabatier, Toulouse 3. In 2012, I decided to move to
Cape Town, South Africa and I did my BSc (Hons) at UCT in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology working on a new rotavirus vaccine made of virus-like particles (VLPs) under the supervision of Dr. Inga Hitzeroth and Prof. Ed Rybicki. I am currently doing my MSc on plant produced vaccines against the Influenza Virus.
Corrie Gunter
NRF intern
CorrieI completed my BSc and Honours degrees in Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Cape Town. During my undergraduate studies I became ever more fascinated by viruses. I joined the BRU lab during my Honours year where I started working on developing plant produced porcine circovirus (PCV) coat protein.
I am currently enrolled as a full time Master’s degree student in the BRU working under the supervision of Prof Ed Rybicki, Dr Inga Hitzeroth and Dr Guy Regnard. The objective of my MSc is to further investigate the expression of the PCV capsid protein.
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 was 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.
Inge Pietersen
MSc student
IngeI grew up in Pretoria and completed both my BSc and BSc (Hons) at the University of Pretoria. After spending a year living in Amsterdam and travelling around Europe, I moved to Cape Town to pursue an MSc in the Biopharming Research Unit, under the supervision of Dr. Inga Hitzeroth, Prof. Ed Rybicki, and Dr. Ann Meyers.
The focus of my MSc project is the development of a prophylactic (and potentially therapeutic) vaccine against Bovine papillomavirus type-1, which has been implicated in numerous debilitating diseases and cancers in cattle and equids, including wild species such as zebra, giraffes, and sable antelope. The hope is that we will be able to produce vaccines against multiple BPV types.
Raygaanah Jacobs
MSc student
RaygaanahI completed my undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Microbiology at UCT. I then completed my Honours degree in Molecular and Cell biology in the Biopharming Research Unit (BRU) under the supervision of Dr. Guy Regnard and Dr. Inga Hitzeroth. My Honours project focused on improving the replicating plant expression vector, pRIC, that’s based on a mild strain of the Bean yellow dwarf virus (BeYDV). This was done by manipulating the replication machinery to achieve optimum protein expression in plants.
I am currently doing my MSc. Degree in the BRU lab which will be a continuation of my Honours project. In this project we will be expressing Zika virus proteins in N. benthamiana.
Hendrik (Johann) Els
MSc student
HendrikOriginally from Johannesburg, I have done a BSc in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Stellenbosch followed by Honours in Molecular Cell Biology at the University of Cape Town. My honours research entailed the production of recombinant Rotavirus virus-like particles in tobacco at the Biopharming Research Unit. My MSc project combines both molecular biology with bioprocess engineering done at the Centre for Bioprocess Engineering (CeBER). The research entails working with algae viruses for new genetic engineering techniques under the supervision of Prof Rybicki, Dr Hitzeroth and Dr Harrison (CeBER).
Ayesha Admas
MSc student
Ayesha AdamsI completed my undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Genetics at UCT in 2015. I then did my Honours degree in Molecular and Cell biology in the Biopharming Research Unit (BRU) and I am now doing my masters in the BRU under the supervision of Dr. Megan Hendrikse, Dr. Inga Hitzeroth and Prof Ed Rybicki. My Master’s project focuses on producing high yields of Human papillomavirus (HPV) pseudovirions in tobacco plants.
Matt Verbeek
MSc student
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. I completed my BSc in Chemistry and Biochemistry in 2015 followed by my BSc Honours in Molecular and Cell Biology in 2016. I began my Master's in 2017.
I am currently working under Dr Inga Hitzeroth with my project focusing on expressing Shuni virus envelope glycoproteins and nucleoproteins in plants such as Nicotiana benthamiana for use as possible diagnostic tools and hopefully the possible development of a vaccine. 
Asanda Matiso
MSc student
AsandaI'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.
Paulina Naupa
MSc student
PaulinaI was born and raised in the northern part of Namibia. In 2013 I started my undergraduate studies in Bsc Microbiology (honours) at the University of Namibia, which I completed in 2016.  My honours project focused on the antibacterial properties of plants. I then moved to South Africa to pursue Msc with the biopharming research unit at the University of Cape Town under the supervision of Dr Inga Hitzeroth, Dr Alta van Zyl and Dr Megan Hendrickse. My Master’s project focuses on the production of Human papillomavirus (HPV) universal L2-based pseudovirions in tobacco plants.
Frances Lees
MSc student
FrancesI completed my BSc in Genetics and Biochemistry at UCT. I then completed a BSc (Hons) in Molecular and Cell Biology department at UCT under the supervision of  Prof. Nicola Illing, and my project focused on the extraction of ancient DNA from bones that have been excavated from South African archaeological sites.  

I am currently a first year Masters student in the Biopharming Research Unit in the MCB department, under the supervision of Dr Inga Hitzeroth and Dr Renate Lamprecht. My project focuses on expressing and the purification of outer membrane proteins and an enzyme of the Brucella bacterium in plants for the development of a candidate subunit vaccine. 
Tim Plasket
MSc student
TimI grew up in Grahamstown in the Estern 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.

BRU eNCA news clip
This is a short clip from eNCA news in February 2016, describing the making of human papillomavirus pseudovirions in plants by the University of Cape Town's Biopharming Research Unit. This follows a press release on the publication of a paper describing the achievement in the journal, Nature Scientific Reports.

BRU press release: February 2016
An article from the SABC website - Your next DNA vaccine might come from tobacco. Download the pdf.​

Bru: The Movie!

Front page article in SA Journal of Science September/October 2013