unizeit | study & teaching | natural sciences & mathematics
unizeit Schriftzug

Trackingdownmicroorganismstogether

InternationalcooperationisabigdealatKielUniversity.Inmicrobiology,itreachesallthewaytoEthiopia.Thereasonsarenotjustscientific.

Students in a laboratory.
Prof.RuthSchmitz-Streit

StudentsoftheUniversityofAddisAbabainthelaboratoryduringthepracticalpartofthemicrobiologicalworkshop.ProfessorRuthSchmitz-StreitofKielUniversityregularlyholdsworkshopsinEthiopia.

"Ethiopiaisafascinatingcountry,andacountryofcontrasts,"saysRuthSchmitz-Streit,professorattheInstituteofGeneralMicrobiology.ItisacountrywhereremnantsoftheadvancedculturefromtheSolomonicdynasty,saidtobedescendedfromthebiblicalKingSolomon,canbeexperienced;where"Lucy",oneoftheearliesthumanancestors,wasfound;butalsoacountrywherebitterpoverty,warandconflictprevail.

Thelandscapeisalsofullofcontrasts-greencountrysidewithhillsandvalleysalternatewithscraggyzonesandbarrendeserts.Thereareactivevolcanoes,hotspringsandsaltlakes."ItispreciselythisecologicaldiversitythatmakestheEastAfricancountrysointerestingformicrobiologists,"saysSchmitz-Streit,explainingthat"Ethiopiaisextremelyrichinnaturalresources.Duetoitsoftenuniqueecologicalconditions,thereareinterestingmicroorganismsandbiomoleculesthatwedon'thaveinGermany."Butthemeanstostudythemscientificallyandmakeuseofthemareoftenlacking,saystheprofessor,whowouldliketousethisinternationalcooperativeefforttoshareherknowledgeatthesametimethatsheresearchesthemicroorganismstogetherwiththelocalspecialists.

TheactiveexchangebetweenKielandAddisAbaba,thecapitalofEthiopia,hasbeengoingonsince2009.Backthen,Schmitz-Streitandherhusband,professorWolfgangStreit,whoworksinthefieldofbiologyattheInstituteofPlantScienceandMicrobiologyatUniversittHamburg,adoptedachildfromEthiopiaandthengotevenmoreinvolvedwiththeEastAfricancountry.Sincethen,thecouplehasputtheirheartandsoulintotheirprofessionalcooperationwiththecountry'suniversitiesandeducationofitsstudentsaswell.SeveraldoctoralresearchersfromEthiopiahaveusedDAADscholarshipstodoresearchinKielandHamburg.Schmitz-StreitandherhusbandhavealsolecturedattheuniversityinAddisAbabaandcollectedsamplesfromthecountrywithstudentsseveraltimes,sometimesduringtheirholidaysandattheirownexpense.

Enzymescanbreakdownplasticsorenableplantstoabsorbnutrientsbetter.

RuthSchmitz-Streit

ThelatestworkshopattheuniversityinAddisAbabawasheldduringtheEasterholidays.Itwasallaboutbiotechnology,withtheoreticalintroductionsandpracticalexperiments,"explainsthemicrobiologist.Thestudents'task,inbrief,wastoproduceimportantmicrobiologicalenzymesusinglocalmicroorganismsinordertousetheminsubsequentresearch.Howtoimprovetheshelflifeoftheenzymesorachievegoodeffectivenessatveryhighandverylowtemperaturesaretypicalresearchquestions.

"Theresultsareimportantbothforscienceandforindustry,"explainsSchmitz-Streit.Thisisbecauseenzymesactascatalystsforchemicalreactions.Inthehumanbody,forinstance,theygetdigestiongoing,amongotherthings.Usedindetergents,theybreakupproteins,fatsandstarches,whichmakeupmanystains,providingcleanresultsat95degreesorinacold-waterwoollenwashcycle."Enzymescanbreakdownplasticsorenableplantstoabsorbnutrientsbetter."Researchisunderwayinbothareas,inEthiopiaaswellasSchleswig-Holstein.ThemicroorganismsfromAfricahelpwiththisbecausetheyareaccustomedtoother,moreextremeconditions,suchashighertemperatures,duetothegeographicandclimaticconditionsinthecountry.

Schmitz-StreitalsohastodealwithdifferentconditionsatherworkshopsinEthiopia."Sometimesthereisnopower,sometimesnowaterforthreedays,sometimeswehaveInternetaccessandsometimeswedont.Youhavetogetusedit,"saystheprofessor.Thelocalequipmentisdefinitelygood.Butthereisalackofknowledgeofhowtouseit."Despitetheconditions,thestudentsarehard-working,enthusiasticandmotivated.Thisiswhatdrivesmetopassalongmyexperience."Notjustasaprivatecitizen,butalsothroughKielUniversity.TheuniversityinAddisAbabaisinterestedinapermanentworkingrelationship,interactionandstudentexchange,shesays.AndtheKielmicrobiologistsareinterestedinmorewide-rangingcooperativeefforts.Butitdoesn'talwaysworkashoped:"AcolleagueandfriendofminefromtheuniversityinAddisAbabaisactuallysupposedtobeinKielresearchingwithus,"explainsthemicrobiologist,whomettheprofessorbackwhenshewasearningherdoctorate.Backthen,hespenthalfayearinKiel.Butitwasnotpossibletocontinueworkingtogetheronsite."Hisvisawasdeniedonshortnotice."ForSchmitz-Streit,thiswasarealdisappointment,besidesthetime,effortandfinancialcostsofcancellingflightsthathadbeenbookedandpaidforandarentedapartmentinKiel."Butthat'spartoflife,andofscience.Setbackshappen.Butwearealreadyworkingonaprojectproposalforaninternationalsponsor.Wedon'tgiveupthateasily!"

Author:JenniferRuske