The School of Chemistry @ Pietermaritzburg has an active Organic Chemistry research group with several
focus areas. The group currently comprises 3 academic members of staff:
• Prof. Siegfried Drewes (Emeritus Professor)
• Dr. Anna Soares • Dr. Ross Robinson
• Prof. Fanie van Heerden
The Group has two well-equipped research laboratories:
Organic Synthesis Laboratory (fully equipped for anaerobic and anhydrous work on air- and water-sensitive
compounds, radial chromatography, and polarimetry). Warren Organic Research Laboratory is named after
Professor Warren who founded the Frank Warren conference held in South Africa biennially.
Organic Instrument Laboratory (Perkin-Elmer HPLC system, several workstations, Polaris GC-MS system,
gas chromatography, and droplet counter current chromatography, DCCC).
Chemistry of Traditional Medicines
This research programme is headed by Prof. Drewes and Prof. van Heerden and involves the extraction,
purification, and characterization of active compounds from medicinal ("Muthi") plants used in traditional
medicine in Southern Africa. Recent compounds that have been isolated and studied include:
Anti-inflammatory compounds (from Ocotea bullata, the Black Stinkwood)
Insect repellents (from Alberta magna)
Synthetic organic chemistry (Dr. Ross Robinson) currently focuses on heterocyclic compounds and involves the
development of generalized synthetic routes to naturally occurring biologically active nitrogen-, oxygen- and
sulfur-containing compounds (alkaloids, coumarins, psoralens).
Dr. Soares's research is concerned with the use of microorganisms as production and processing agents of
organic compounds with biological activity. Our work is an integration of organic synthesis, structural
elucidation, biosynthetic studies and biomimetic synthesis.
This work involves:
• Structural determination of biologically active compounds
• Determination of the key biosynthetic precursor using fluorinated and isotopically labeled precursors in vivo.
• Analysis of the probable biosynthetic pathways involved. This then leads to the proposal of an efficient
synthetic approach to the compound, the success of which is based on the biosynthetic principles.
• Finally, novel structural analogues can be synthesized by biomimetic synthesis.