By Tiyese Jeranji for Spotlight• 16 August 2021
When renowned geneticist Prof Michèle Ramsay is not building knowledge of African genomic diversity and working on decoding clues for genetic susceptibility to disease, she is knitting a ‘Covid blanket’. Spotlight spoke to her about her passion for genetics, the complexities of genome editing and how she copes with Covid-19.
As a child, South Africa’s Prof Michèle Ramsay never dreamt of a future in academia or receiving an “Oscar in Science”. Instead, she was interested in climbing trees and pretending they were spaceships.
By the time she started her first year at the University of Stellenbosch, Ramsay had lived in four countries — South Africa (Vereeniging), Mexico, Canada and the United Kingdom. Her father was an engineer and the family followed him to where his work took him. It is these experiences that gave Ramsay valuable insight into the diversity of people and which shaped her worldview.
Today, Ramsay is a professor of human genetics and director of the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience at Wits University. Last year, Ramsay won the National Science and Technology Forum-South32 Lifetime Achievement Award for pioneering genomic medicine approaches in Africa, and for leading a transcontinental study to search for factors that contribute to diseases among people living on the African continent. The awards are dubbed the “Oscars of Science”.
Genetics: A passion is born