Dr Rolene Bauer is taking nanotechnology to new depths – of the ocean, that is. Her research, which probes the fascinating world of marine life, is targeted at finding prospective drug candidates from marine algae. In work cutting across several disciplines, combining molecular biology with chemistry and high-resolution imaging coupled with nanoscience and nanotechnology approaches, her research could hold the key to harvesting new antimicrobials and other bioactive compounds from the deep.
A PhD in Microbiology from Stellenbosch University, followed by a post-doctoral research position at the Institute for Plant Biotechnology led her on a clear upward trajectory to her present position as Group Leader at the Institute for Microbial Biotechnology and Metagenomics (IMBM) at the University of the Western Cape.
Dr. Bauer is inspired by the possibilities that her work holds. “As infectious diseases develop resistance to current drugs, we have to become more innovative in our search for new pharmaceuticals,” she says. “The ocean holds infinite promise with its rich biodiversity. Many organisms with unique features are found only in the ocean. With groundbreaking new tools in metagenomics and nanotechnology, we can more fully explore this untapped resource.” Her research makes extensive use of nanoparticles to study the mechanism of action of new molecules isolated from algae.
Crucially, Dr Bauer’s work also entails creating platforms to cultivate algae, part of a larger programme of research aimed at promoting the development of an algal bio-based industry (e.g. pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, cosmetics, biofuels) in South Africa.
Dr Bauer has gained international recognition for her work, with funded international collaborations with Switzerland and Argentina. With a C2 NRF rating and a healthy track record of publications in the form of peer-reviewed journal papers, book chapters and conference presentations, she reflects that while she has worked hard to establish herself in her chosen field, science is ultimately about the thrill of discovery. “Being a pioneer, working at the cutting edge to learn and explore – that is what makes being a scientist so rewarding. While inspired by the possibilities of improving health and nutrition, I feel strongly that efforts must be aimed at driving commercial development opportunities and job-creation in South Africa.”
Although her work keeps her extremely busy, Dr Bauer reserves time to cultivate a keen interest in wine. She is a graduated Wine Master (Cape Wine Academy) and also serves as Associate Editor and board member of the South African Journal for Enology and Viticulture. “You put in a lot of time and energy, and you constantly find yourself having to rethink the way that you approach problems.” She maintains that a glass of Cederberg Chenin blanc is the perfect way to unwind! But the thrill of the chase and the lure of undiscovered treasure in the ocean soon have her back at work. “I don’t know what we will find. That’s what has me so hooked.”
Writer: Michelle Robinson