Scientists Ekandjo and her colleague, Paulus from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Namibia

As the largest and capital city of Namibia in Southern Africa, Windhoek is a busy metropolis dubbed “The Gateway to Endless Opportunities.” And along the rural outskirts of the city, citizens are steadily seeking those opportunities by opening independent garages and vehicle mechanic shops as a means to earn a living.

So what’s the problem? Most of these entrepreneurial establishments don’t know how to safely dispose of engine oil and lubricant oil. As more vehicle repair shops pop up and more oil makes its way into the surrounding soil, the implications to health and the environment become increasingly dire.

Combating pollution through soil remediation in Southern Africa

Cleaning up the mess through molecular biology

To ensure clean soil for healthy crops, keep poisonous contaminants out of rivers and drinking water, and allow independent mechanics to stay hard at work, Paulus Kapolo has turned to science for much-needed solutions.

A senior technologist in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department at the University of Namibia, Kapolo is working with colleagues and students to clean up areas contaminated by oil and prevent pollution from happening in the future. How?

“The first thing that we will do is provide mechanics with better methods of discarding this engine oil. Then that means that there is no more future contamination,” explains Kapolo. “Now, the remaining contaminated areas, we are planning to treat them with microbes in a controlled environment so that we'll reclaim the soil structure again.”

Through molecular biology, Kapolo and his team can identify specific microorganisms that garage owners, mechanics, and the larger municipality can utilize to restore the soil. Not only is this approach to bioremediation inexpensive and environmentally friendly; it’s also an exceptionally efficient way of solving serious problems throughout Windhoek and the rest of the world.

“We still have people who go to bed without bread or a meal. So food security is still a question,” says Kapolo. “We cannot allow any other risk that is reducing our way of progressing toward food security or stability. Reclaiming the soil structure will help us in becoming productive.”

In addition to protecting more sustainable food production, Kapolo’s research can prevent the dangerous and costly water contamination, while also supporting mechanics’ abilities to make money and support their families.

The tech needed to tackle pollution

While he has made substantial headway in his research efforts, Kapolo needs more equipment to identify the microorganisms required for large-scale bioremediation.

Currently, he and his team must send their samples to other campuses around Namibia and even to labs in outside countries for analysis. This process significantly slows their progress and the rate at which they can get quality data.

“The country has very few scientific centers or research centers that can do the genetic and biotechnology research,” Kapolo says. “You have to wait maybe two or three months until you get your results.”

Unfortunately, even the instrumentation that Kapolo does have lacks the key capabilities he needs. “The PCR [machine] that we have is an outdated version,” he explains. “We don’t have the means to take good pictures, for example, quality pictures that we can publish. This can already hinder us from publishing our results, because the question would be there of the reliability.”

A PCR donation helps mobilize remediation

Through a partnership between Boston-based NGO Seeding Labs and Thermo Fisher Scientific, scientists like Kapolo are being equipped to continue their world-changing research. This program gives Thermo Fisher Scientific customers the chance to trade up their legacy thermal cyclers and donate these fully-functional machines to support science around the world.

Kapolo is thrilled about what the donation of a PCR thermal cycler means for his team’s bioremediation research, for his students, and for the health of the Windhoek community.

“If we have this PCR machine that is up to date, it will improve the rate at which we publish our work and also help us with giving our academic students more practicals,” he says.

Thanks to the second life of a donated PCR thermal cycler, Kapolo’s dreams for healthy soil, clean water, and a thriving city can also come to life. It’s an outcome that, in Kapolo’s words, “means everything.”

“We will be excited to see this machine, and really appreciate it. If we have this help, it almost means everything to us.”

Donate and be an instrument of change

Find out how you can trade up your thermal cycler to help accelerate the research of global scientists like Paulus Kapolo.

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