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February 2006


Obituary: Dr Winston Leukes (1969 - 2006)

Winston pictured walking his dog, Scamp at Sea Point in Cape Town.

Biotechnology in South Africa lost one of its most promising and entrepreneurial young scientists when Winston Leukes died suddenly on the 5th of February. Winston was a dedicated and highly regarded Biotechnologist. Born in Cape Town, he completed a BSc at UCT and then studied at Rhodes University obtaining a distinction in Biotechnology Honours followed by a PhD, under the supervision of Professor Peter Rose in 1999. His doctoral studies resulted in the patenting of a novel bioreactor system for large scale production of commercially important molecules and has recently been developed into a fully commercial product by Synexa, the biotechnology company Winston co-founded.

After completing his PhD, Winston continued to be a highly creative and innovative scientist as a member of staff at Rhodes University. His passion and enthusiasm for his discipline was an inspiration to the many students he taught and supervised in his relatively short academic career. Among the many novel processes Winston and his students/collaborators developed were membrane bioreactors for the production of natural products from micro-organisms and for effluent treatment as well as a highly innovative fermentation system for the production of an indigenous honeywine, Iqhilikha, which led to another biotechnology start-up company, Makana Meadery, which he co-founded and which now markets the mead product internationally.

In 2002 Winston was promoted to Senior Lecturer and Head of the Biotechnology Division in the Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Biotechnology and was beginning to develop a very promising academic career when his entrepreneurial spirit lured him to explore the opportunities offered by commercial Biotechnology. He joined Synexa as Chief Scientific Officer in 2003 and in the words of his colleagues in the company, in a very short time made an immense contribution to the company both in terms of intellectual leadership and personal commitment, qualities which characterisied his short life. Winston continued to be associated with Rhodes University as a Visiting Fellow in Biotechnology.

As a result of his standing and expertise in the field of Biotechnology, Winston was appointed to a number of important national advisory posts and acted as a project reviewer for several major funding and research organisations. The full contribution he could have made to biotechnology and science in general in South Africa will sadly never be known but even in his short career it was undoubtedly highly significant. Winston will be sadly missed not only by his family and friends but also by his many colleagues in South Africa and around the world.

Prof John Duncan
Dean of Research
Rhodes University

More information:

Winston Leukes was one of Science in Africa magazine's strongest supporters. He served on our panel of experts, collaborated on our scientific research, and was a mentor and friend. He will be sorely missed - Ed.

Article - A day in the life of Winston Leukes


Makana Meadery

Rhodes University


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