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Pieter Steyn (1940 - )

The Order of Mapungubwe in

Pieter Steyn (1940 - ) Awarded for:
His excellent contribution to and achievements in chemistry and biosynthesis of mycotoxins.

Profile of Pieter Steyn

Professor Pieter Steyn was born in 1940 in Vryburg in the North West Province. He is recently retired as a senior researcher at the Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science at the University of Stellenbosch, and has distinguished himself in the area of the chemistry and biosynthesis of mycotoxins. These toxins are produced on substrates by the secondary metabolism of fungi. Prof. Steyn holds the distinction of having a toxigenic fungus bear his name: Aspergillus steynii.

He was extensively honoured for his work on the ochratoxins, a group of fungal toxins second only in importance to the aflatoxins, a group of potent liver carcinogens. He is recognised for his contribution to linking fungi to diseases, and developing mechanisms for control of these in food and feeds and has won the National Science and Technology Forum Award for 2008/09 for individual work over a lifetime. The research of Prof. Steyn culminated in the publication of more than 190 papers in the international scientific journals.

Prof. Steyn has devoted his career to the hazardous substances produced by fungi growing on cereals, coffee and nuts. Mycotoxins are present wherever toxigenic fungi can be found, for example on cereals and nuts and vines. Their impact of mycotoxins on the safety of food and feed during the growing, production and processing phases may be life-threatening.

He has carried out his work at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Pretoria, at the North West University, and lately at the University of Stellenbosch. His research on mycotoxins, hazardous substances produced by fungi, has led to improvements in food and safety standards in South Africa and overseas.

He also made path-finding contributions to understanding the chemistry of South African plant toxins, particularly the bufadle­nolides, with positive implications for a number of fields in agriculture. Africa is seriously at risk as the fungi have been linked to contamination of cereals both pre- and post-harvest and have been identified as contributing to liver and oesophageal cancer as well as diseases in sheep.

Based on expertise gained by Prof. Steyn’s research, in which the chemical characteristics of mycotoxins were scrutinised and recorded, sophisticated analytical methods were developed to determine these toxins at the parts per billion level, as well as to detoxify contaminated feeds and control their effects in the food chain.

The status of Prof. Steyn as a world leader in mycotoxins chemistry led to his appointment in 1973 as a member of the Food Contaminants Commission of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC, North Carolina, and USA), his election as President of the Applied Chemistry Division of IUPAC, and his election as President of IUPAC for 2002 – 2003. His international stand­ing contributed to his selection as President of the International Association of Cereal Science and Technology (ICC, Vienna) and to his service on the scientific advisory boards of many scientific journals. The ICC acknowledged the stewardship of Prof. Steyn by the award of coveted Friedrich Schweitzer Medal (1993). For his distinguished service in the furtherance of the aims and ideals of the ICC. It is remarkable that he was the first person from Africa to serve the international fraternity as President of IUPAC and of ICC. The current recognition of Steyn by the awards of prestigious National Order is significant since 2011 was declared by the UN General Assembly as the International Year of Chemistry, based on proposal of IUPAC and UNESCO.

Throughout his career Prof. Steyn as a proud South African was wholeheartedly committed to the promotion of science in our country. He attracted a number of prime conferences to South Africa, such as the IUPAC Symposium on the Chemistry of Nature Products (1982) and the IUPAC International Symposium on Mycotoxins and Phycotoxins (1985). In addition, Prof Steyn succeeded in inviting another major IUPAC conference to Stellenbosch, South Africa, namely CHEMRAWN XII entitled the Role of Chemistry in Sustainable Agriculture and Human wellbeing in Africa (2007).

We are proud to honour Professor Pieter Steyn with the Order of Mapungubwe in Silver for his excellent and lifetime contribution to research in the field of chemistry.