Scientists Ekandjo (left) and Paulus (right) in a laboratory from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Namibia

Global communities facing soil contamination are looking to microbial bioremediation to re-claim land and prevent additional environmental pollution. This is the story of how researchers at a university in southern Africa use molecular biology to select the most effective microbes, and how donated equipment like thermal cyclers is critical to their work.

Combating pollution through soil remediation in Africa: an impact story of thermal cycler donation

Paulus Kapolo, Senior Technologist at the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department at the University of Namibia discusses how their laboratory combats soil pollution through microbial bioremediation.

As the largest and capital city of Namibia in southern Africa, Windhoek is a busy metropolis dubbed “The Gateway to Endless Opportunities.” Along the rural outskirts of the city, citizens are steadily seeking those opportunities by opening independent garages and vehicle mechanic shops to earn a living. However, most of these entrepreneurial establishments don’t know how to safely dispose of engine oil and lubricant oil, leading to contaminated soil. In Namibia, this further adds to their lack of food security.

Oil contaminated soil remediation supported by molecular biology and microbiology

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.

“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,” he adds about microbial bioremediation.

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 oil contaminated soil remediation inexpensive and environmentally friendly, it’s also an efficient way of solving real-life problems throughout Windhoek, Namibia and the rest of the world by protecting more sustainable food production.

How quality PCR machines can aid microbial bioremediation research in Namibia

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 PCR samples to other campuses around Namibia and even to labs outside the country for analysis. This process significantly slows their progress and the rate at which they can get quality data.

Even the thermal cycler Kapolo’s lab 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 soil pollution and 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 microbial 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.”

Donate PCR thermal cyclers