Highlights from the current issue of SOUTH AFRICAN JOURNAL OF SCIENCE Vol 107, No 11/12 (2011)

24 November 2011, 08:39

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South Africa’s patent system falling short 

Anthipi Pouris, Anastassios Pouris 

The South African intellectual property rights system comes under scrutiny in this article and is found to be seriously lacking. Not only does the South African patent system not support the objectives of the national innovation system, but it also allows exploitation by foreign interests, creates social costs such as the monitoring of non-novel patents, and obstructs further R&D. 

Unlike most international systems, South Africa is a non-examining country, which means that the novelty or inventive merit of the invention is not validated.  The South African system is also 20–30 times cheaper than most international systems, which makes it vulnerable to frivolous and useless patents. These low costs also disadvantage South African inventors: foreign inventors are able to patent their inventions in South Africa cheaply, but South African inventors cannot afford the high costs of overseas systems. 

Intellectual property rights systems and policies are important for the economic growth of a country and South Africa’s system is falling short. 

Read more: Pouris A, Pouris A. Patents and economic development in South Africa: Managing intellectual property rights. S Afr J Sci. 2011;107(11/12), Art. #355, 10 pages. http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/sajs.v107i11/12.355 

On human evolution, Australopithecus sediba and nation building

Alan Morris 

In this article Morris dissects the recent high-profile palaeoanthropological fossil discoveries of Australopithecus sediba at the Malapa site in the North West Province, which  have been the subject of much scientific interest lately. Of particular interest are the findings that suggest that Au. sediba is the transformational stage into Homo – our own genus. The fossil finds have captured not only the interest of the palaeontological community but also that of the general public and have placed South Africa in the spotlight. 

Morris also discusses the engagement of the current and past South African governments in palaeoanthropology and archaeology, from Jan Smuts’ ‘soft-spot’ for palaeontological endeavours and Thabo Mbeki’s pro-science administration to the current government’s funding of the African Origins Platform. The purpose of this platform is not only to highlight our African heritage, for example by popularising the find, but also to support tertiary institutions in producing a new generation of palaeontology researchers. 

Read more: Morris A. On human evolution, Australopithecus sediba and nation building. S Afr J Sci. 2011;107(11/12), Art. #957, 3 pages. http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/
sajs.v107i11/12.957
 

Gene mapping indicates genetic link between Tswana and African–American populations

Hlengiwe P. Mbongwa, Petrus J. Pretorius, Annemarie Kruger, Gerhard Koekemoer, Carolus J. Reinecke 

Mbongwa et al. investigated the genotype distribution and copy number variations of the SULT1A1 gene in a Tswana population and compared their results with findings for other Black, Caucasian and mixed-race population groups. Although genotype distribution was not different amongst the population groups, the number of copies was similar only between the Tswana population and an African–American population, indicating a genetic link between the Tswana and African–American populations despite differences in cultural lifestyle associated with their geographical location. Copy number variations influence gene expression. The SULT1A1 gene codes for the SULT enzymes which are necessary for the detoxification of hormones and drugs; and  the SULT1A1*2 form has been linked to a higher risk of cancer. Identification of susceptible genes betters our understanding of  disease, and assists in the development of medication and treatment specific to a target population. 

Read more: Mbongwa HP, Pretorius PJ, Kruger A, Koekemoer G, Reinecke CJ. Single nucleotide and copy number polymorphisms of the SULT1A1 gene in a South African Tswana population group. S Afr J Sci. 2011;107(11/12), Art. #395, 6 pages. http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/ sajs.v107i11/12.395 

A century of infrastructure service delivery: South Africa now and in 1910

Kevin Wall 

In his commentary on the last 100 years (1910 – 2010) of service delivery, Wall discusses the remarkable development in infrastructure in South Africa. He paints a stark contrast between the lifestyle of South Africans in 1910, when the supply of water, power, telephones and other amenities were a luxury, and in 2011, in which we take all these amenities for granted. Wall also discusses the changes in the transport industry – from the heyday of the rail service to the now thriving taxi industry – and the growth of the information and communication technology (ICT) sector. The investment in infrastructure has revolutionised society, but the provision for its maintenance is letting us down, as evidenced, for for example, by  ‘load shedding’.  Wall asks: “Do we appreciate how much we owe to infrastructure engineering and the science that underlies that engineering – and do we value the infrastructure service that has been delivered?”.

Read more: Wall K. A century of infrastructure service delivery. S Afr J Sci. 2011;107(11/12), Art. #968, 3 pages. http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/sajs.v107i11/12.968