Linking Fields: A Day at Stellenbosch University
During my Scientific Internship with the Marine Dynamics Academy (MDA), I was given an opportunity to explore a new part of the world and vastly different ecosystems to that of Ireland. Whilst in Kleinbaai and Gansbaai I participated in many activities, gaining new skills and enhancing previously acquired ones. For example, endemic shy shark and catshark tagging and exploring coastal ecosystems. As a marine scientist, it is easy to solely focus on the fieldwork, which is thoroughly enjoyable, however, relating such research to other fields is often not thought of. A visit to Stellenbosch University in Cape Town was arranged where we were given a tour of their Tuberculosis drug development laboratory located in the Tygerberg Hospital.
The Tuberculosis Research group looks at the natural environment to find organic compounds that might have anti-tuberculosis properties. Organic compounds found within washed up marine fauna such as sponges, coral, and invertebrates, etc., are extracted and tested against disease causing microbes such as that of TB. Our hosts showed us some of the insights into the connection between marine work and that of a biochemist. Nanoparticles of various compositions and shapes can be used in the administration of such drugs and depending on the aforementioned parameters, which in turn, allow for controlled release of the payload and the amount of which the specific nanoparticle can carry. After being introduced to nanoparticles, we began to synthesise them in the laboratory, making both iron and silver nanoparticles.
The presence of nanoparticles was tested by projecting a high-grade laser through the solution. The refraction of light bouncing off the nanoparticles created a change in the laser beam’s direction, creating an oddly satisfying green geometric pattern.
First-hand experience in a laboratory is always great, especially when it involves an experiment I hadn’t previously conducted. The overlap between the work of a marine biologist and that of scientists in a drug development lab such as that of the VuyoLab at Stellenbosch University was previously unknown to me and can be inspirational to anyone who aspires to pursue a career in marine biology. The work conducted as a marine biologist can be viewed as a constant dedication to conservation. To be able to contribute to potentially groundbreaking research developments in the field of marine biology and in the medical field is an accomplishing and extremely significant concept, especially as TB affects so many with devastating consequences. The potential production and availability of a new treatment would be significant on a global and local scale.
My visit the Stellenbosch University also allowed me to explore a new perspective on conservation sciences in addition to exploring a new campus and post-graduate options. This has allowed me to take a new approach to my future career path, opening doors to potential pathways I previously hadn’t considered. A very enjoyable and eye-opening day and a standout moment of my internship.