Local researcher honoured with profile by National Geographic Society

Local researcher honoured with profile by National Geographic Society

- Dr Riaan Rifkin was honoured with a profile in a recent edition of National Geographic Society

- Dr Rifkin is a bioarcheologist who studies ancient disease organisms at a molecular (DNA) level

- He was honoured by the National Geographic Society for his work on tracing the DNA of ancient human diseases

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Dr Riaan Rifkin from the University of Pretoria was recently honoured with a profile in a new edition of National Geographic Society. Dr Rifkin's profile was for his work on tracing the DNA of ancient human diseases. As a bio-archaeologist, he studies ancient disease organisms at a molecular level and works in the field of molecular archaeology.

The National Geographic Society funds Dr Rifkin's research at the Centre for Microbial Ecology and Genomics (CMEG) at UP. Dr Rifkin is looking for clues concerning the past prevalence of common and novel human diseases.

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He holds a Master's degree in prehistoric rock art as well as a PhD from the University of Witwatersrand's Institute for Human Evolution. Dr Rifkin spends his days in cave-sites searching for ancient DNA in sediments and human remains.

National Geographic Society profiles UP researcher who traces ancient human diseases
Dr Riaan Rifkin's ethnographic research amongst the OvaHimba tribe of Namibia inspired his current research project. Source: Provided
Source: UGC

He wants to find out which diseases plagued ancient humans and which of these were taken to Europe and Asia as our ancestors left Africa to populate these regions, as he says "our ancestors knew how to overcome illnesses at that time".

Based on his work with the OvaHimba tribe of Namibia, he developed an interest in the possible influence of diseases in our African ancestors.

"The OvaHimba informed me that the red ochre mixture also prevented them from being bitten by mosquitoes. As mosquitoes are important disease vectors still today – including Zika virus, West Nile virus, Chikungunya virus, dengue, and malaria – I started to gather information concerning ancient African diseases, and how these would have influenced the evolution of our species in Africa,” says Dr Rifkin.

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Dr Rifkin's work entails determining the evolutionary relationships between ancient African human populations and pathogenic and beneficial microbial species as well as exploring the ways in which emerging ‘ancestral’ human diseases are expected to affect modern-day sub-Saharan African populations.

The final step is producing policy guidelines for the integration of novel DNA information into epidemiological models about disease emergence and outbreak-response planning.

In other news about Saffas making international waves, Briefly.co.za previously reported on a local teen who made history by bagging bronze medal at the 2020 Maths Olympiad. Kgaogelo Bopape has flown South Africa's flag high. The Grade 12 pupil, who hails from Soweto, managed to obtain an amazing achievement.

The 17-year-old Horizon International School pupil walked away with a bronze medal at the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). The Olympiad was set to be hosted in Russia this year but because of the pandemic, young maths geniuses from around the world took part in it virtually.

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Bopape not only managed to get a medal, he also made history. The young maths whizz became the first African to ever get a bronze medal at the IMO.

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Source: Briefly.co.za

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