© UDE/Juliana Fischer

Why I do research

Nadia Samak fights for clean ground water

  • von Juliana Fischer
  • 24.09.2023

What drives her to go to the lab every morning is the desire to find scientific solutions to environmental problems. The biochemist Dr Nadia Samak wants to use microbes as a biological mechanism to degrade toxic compounds in the ground water. A challenging environment, because there is no oxygen at groundwater depth, so the microbes have to work in an anaerobic environment.

‘Groundwater pollution is a massive problem. It is the basis for our drinking water and as such, clean groundwater is the foundation for the health of all species’, says Nadia Samak. Yet, through oil spill or industrial waste, groundwater gets contaminated. One of the toxic compounds that get into our groundwater are so called Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). They are used, for example, in the production of PVC plasticisers. So far, there are mainly chemical processes with which the substances can be degraded. But these have a negative side effects on the species that live in the affected ecosystem.

What if bacteria could ‘eat and digest’ this waste? Certain bacteria that produce certain enzymes that break down pollutants are already being used in order to clean up the ocean from microplastic in small projects. ‘However, applying bacteria and their enzymes to the groundwater, where no oxygen is present, is more difficult’ explains Samak. ‘I want to find out, how the microbes can degrade toxic compound in the anaerobic environment’ she adds. So, reduction instead of oxidation will be the key chemical reaction’. In order to find microbes that produce the perfect enzymes for degrading waste, the biologist uses genetic engineering tools to identify the responsible genes for producing PAHs degrading biocatalysts. The cloning and heterologous expression of these genes in a fast-growing organism such as E. col can help to produce the potential biocatalysts overnight and use them for the degradation of PAHs.    

Nadia Samak came to the UDE on an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship, one of the most prestigious fellowships for researchers of all nations and disciplines in Germany. Prior to this, the Egyptian-Italian-born scientist had research stays in Egypt, China, Japan and Russia. ‘I benefit a lot from my international experience. Teaming up with other experts and using new research equipment has consistently given me new ideas and made me realize, “I can achieve my scientific goals”’.

More information

Dr. Nadia Samak, Tel. 0201 183-4281, nadia.samak@uni-due.de
Water research at UDE: https://www.uni-due.de/wasserforschung/water_research

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