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Dr. Musa M. Mhlanga  MPhil PhD (New York)

Gene Expression and Biophysics, Biomedical Translational Research Initiative

Musa Mhlanga
Technical Manager, Biomedical Translational Research Initiative (BTRI), Centre of Competence within the IDM & Full Member, IDM; Honorary Research Professor, Division of Chemical Systems & Synthetic Biology; Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town
Head, Synthetic Biology Programme & Gene Expression and Biophysics Laboratory, CSIR, Pretoria
Adjunct Faculty, Institute for Molecular Medicine, Lisbon Portugal
Visiting Faculty, Harvard University Chan School of Public Health

Novel imaging technologies including super resolution imaging and automated fluorescent microscopy have dramatically altered the way molecular processes are investigated by cell biologists. Our laboratory uses quantitative imaging to “eavesdrop” on cellular events at the single molecule scale. Our research has focused on understanding how RNA biology and nuclear architecture influence some of the most fundamental processes in cell biology. My graduate career began with David Ho and then with Fred R. Kramer and Sanjay Tyagi (The Rockefeller University and then at New York University School of Medicine). I was then awarded a United States National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship to work in the laboratory of Ulf Nehrbass at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, France. In late 2008 I moved my laboratory to South Africa.

Highly reduced, our core scientific questions to which we apply a myriad of tools are: Understanding the fundamental roles of genome architecture and RNA in spatial control of gene expression. We have harnessed the use of pathogens to decrypt this process. Several seminal contributions have emerged from our research including: The development of super resolution microscopy tools (QuickPALM, Nature Methods​, Journal of Cell Biology); the use of such tools to study higher order signalosomes (Nature Communications); and the causal nature of chromosomal contacts or “gene kissing” on transcription (Cell, Nucleus, Transcription); that pathogens utilize the “dark matter of the genome” (mirRNAs and lncRNAs) to direct host transcriptional and translational programs to avoid apoptosis (Frontiers); and systems biology approaches (DYPFISH) revealing RNA are spatially localized at sub-cellular scale.

Selected publications:

Janine Scholefield, Ricardo Henriques, Anca F. Savulescu, Elisabeth Fontan, Alix Boucharlat, Emmanuel Laplantine, Asma Smahi, Alain Israel, Fabrice Agou & Musa M. Mhlanga (2016). Super-resolution microscopy reveals a preformed NEMO lattice structure that is collapsed in incontinentia pigmenti.
Nature Communications in press

Samantha Barichievy, Jerolen Naidoo, Musa M. Mhlanga (2015). Non-coding RNAs and HIV: viral manipulation of host dark matter to shape the cellular environment. Frontiers in Genetics 6:108.

Tarantino Nadine, Tinevez Jean-Yves, Crowell Elizabeth Faris, Boisson Bertrand, Henriques Ricardo, Mhlanga Musa, Agou Fabrice, Israël Alain, Laplantine Emmanuel (2014). TNF and IL-1 exhibit distinct ubiquitin requirements for inducing NEMO-IKK supra-molecular structures. Journal of Cell Biology 204(2):231-245.

Fanucchi Stephanie, Shibayama Youtaro, Burd Shaun, Weinberg Marc S, Mhlanga Musa M. (2013). Chromosomal contact permits transcription between co-regulated genes. Cell 155 (3):606-620.

Meliopoulos VA, Andersen LE, Birrer KF, Simpson KJ, Lowenthal JW, Bean AG, Stambas J, Stewart CR, Tompkins SM, van Beusechem VW, Fraser I, Mhlanga M, Barichievy S, Smith Q, Leake D, Karpilow J, Buck A, Jona G, Tripp RA. (2012). Host gene targets for novel influenza therapies elucidated by high-throughput RNA interference screens. FASEB (4):1372-86.

Henriques R, Griffiths C, Rego EH and Mhlanga MM (2011). PALM and STORM: unlocking live-cell super-resolution. Biopolymers 95(5):322-31.

Henriques R, Lelek M, Fornasiero EF, Valtorta F, Zimmer C, Mhlanga MM (2010). QuickPALM: 3D real-time photoactivation nanoscopy image processing in ImageJ. Nature Methods 7(5):339-40.

Contact details:

Room N2.03, Wernher & Beit North
Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine
Faculty of Health Sciences
University of Cape Town
Observatory 7925
South Africa

Tel Office: +27 21 650 1638


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Group members

Dr Stephanie Fanucchi Staff Scientist CSIR
Dr Janine Scholefield Staff Scientist CSIR
Dr Youtaro Shibayama Staff Scientist CSIR
Ms Bianca Barrros Secretary
Jerolen Naidoo UCT PhD student
Loretta Magagula UCT PhD student
Ezio Fok UCT PhD student
Dr Anca Flavia Savulesca CSIR Postdoctoral Fellow
Dr Yutaka Negishi UCT Postdoctoral Fellow
Dr Laurianne Davignon Joint UCT/Institut Pasteur Postdoctoral Fellow