By: Allison O’Brien
Tarteela Alkayyali is searching for a new way to extract natural products from marine sponges and sediments.
Currently, scientists are only able to culture 1% of existing bacteria to create natural products that can be used in antibiotics, medicine, and cosmetics.
“We hear a lot of people talking about antibiotic resistance. When someone is sick, they take an antibiotic and they say it’s not effective anymore. That’s a phenomenon that is increasingly being seen, so to make new antibiotics, we need more of these chemicals and to get more of these chemicals, we need different types of bacteria,” she said.
In order to tap into the potential of the remaining 99% of bacteria, scientists are focusing on new ways of growing bacteria and studying their chemical outputs.
As an engineer, Alkayyali has created a device that allows marine bacteria to grow in an ocean environment.
“We’re taking the bacteria out of marine sediments and encapsulating it in a system using microfluidics, it’s basically just the use of micro-scale channels to create droplets,” she said.
Those droplets are then placed in Alkayyali’s device, which is placed back into the marine sediments to grow and produce valuable chemicals.
Alkayyali says she knew she wanted to pursue science from a very young age.
Raised in Jordan, her mom and dad encouraged her to work hard and pursue graduate degrees.
“My dad is also an engineer, a civil engineer. I always saw him motivating me, and he always pushed me [and my sisters] to continue on our education and be dependent on ourselves.”
Alkayyali says there is a stereotype that certain countries prevent their women from pursuing academia, but it isn’t all true.
“Where I came from, almost 50% of the students in my engineering program were females.”
Alkayyali expects to graduate this May, and has already applied to begin her PhD.
“My life goal is to become a university professor and hopefully teach people that science and engineering is beautiful.”