• Question: Do you harm the enviroment in your work?

    Asked by deanhl01 to Jim on 21 Jun 2011.
    • Photo: Jim Caryl

      Jim Caryl answered on 21 Jun 2011:

      I try my hardest not to!

      I’m actually a bit of an eco-warrior and spend a great deal of time trying to encourage people to recycle, compost and grow their own vegetables. I also try to cycle rather than drive. I hate unnecessary packaging on foods and products as it’s usually so unnecessary. One of the big issues in science research is that we use a LOT of plasticware (tubes, dishes, containers, tools), which we often have to dispose of after a single-use because they are contaminated.

      In the old days many biology labs used more glassware, which could be cleaned and re-used. In our lab we continue to use glassware, and where possible I use tools that can be sterilised and used again and again. It’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to.

      At a larger scale, the field of bacterial genetics and microbiology has an important role to play in the de-toxifying of human waste. We use bacteria to process sewerage from cities, and we also develop bacteria that can breakdown plastics and other toxic chemicals, or use bacteria to make useful materials from waste materials (called biodegradation and bioremediation). I used to work in a lab that studied a natural bacteria that could eat oil, and they have sprayed this bacteria onto oil spills to help clean it up.

      There are many ways in which a knowledge of genes and bacteria can help protects and clean up our environment, so this is one of the reasons I love my field so much.