Dr Tiisetso Lephoto

Microbiology researcher

Dr Tiisetso Lephoto may only be 26 years old, but she’s managed to cram a lifetime of achievements into that short timespan. She has already obtained her PhD in molecular and cell biology with an emphasis on microbiology, biotechnology, genomics, nematology and bioinformatics, and she’s a postdoctoral researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand. She is the academic supervisor of five master’s students and three honours students and lectures at Wits. She was professionally mentored as an interning consultant at Illumina Inc. Informatics Department in California in 2016 and was chosen to be one of 87 women to participate in the Techwomen Emerging Leaders program in the US.

“I am the chief operations officer of GoMaths, secretary of Katleho Pele Education, a Tii- Moves founder and the founder of Yes We are Moving,” says Lephoto. “I have also presented my research at national and international conferences. In my PhD research, under the supervision of Professor Vincent Gray, I isolated and characterised a novel entomopathogenic nematode species. I then sequenced, assembled and annotated its whole genome and pathogenic bacteria symbiont.”

On top of these achievements and accolades, Lephoto has also managed to balance numerous awards. She won the Best Young Researcher Award from the Biotech Fundi and Innovation Hub 2017, came first for the best innovative project presentation at the NRF Green-Fund/National postdoctoral form in 2016, and won Best Researcher at the 9th Annual Agriculture Research Symposium 2016.

The list of awards that Lephoto has won in her life extends down almost an entire page. She received her BSc in genetics and microbiology at 20, her honours in genetics and developmental biology at 21, her master’s in biotechnology and microbiology when she was 23, and she was then awarded membership in the Golden Key International Honor Society. “My research focuses on isolating and identifying biological control agents which can be used in agricultural industries to control problematic insects in farms instead of using synthetic chemical pesticides that have a negative impact on human, animal and plant health,” she says.

Lephoto is also passionate about youth development and mentors young people through tutoring high school students and doing motivational talks at Katleho Pele Education. Her commitment and passion towards empowering youth led her to be selected as one of the top 100 Brightest Young Minds in South Africa and a One Young World ambassador.

“My vision is to change the world,” she concludes. “I started a project called Yes We Are Moving where I host aerobic marathons to collect clothes, food parcels and books for orphanages. I also provide nutritional advice and physical training through Tii-Moves, my fitness and wellness project.”

— Tamsin Oxford

Twitter: @TiisetsoLephoto