L'Oreal teams up with UNESCO in recognising Thailand's most promising female reserachers

In many countries around the world, science is still considered the forte of men, with women usually relegated to the more menial position of lab assistants. Fortunately Thailand is not among those nations, as L'Oreal (Thailand) has once again underlined by announcing it has granted fellowships to five female researchers under its "For Women in Science" 2014 programme.

Now in its 12th year, the programme has recognised three leading lights from Chulalongkorn's science faculty - Assistant Professor Dr Onruthai Pinyakong from the Department of Microbiology, Asst Prof Dr Wanpen Tachaboonyakiat from the Department of Materials Science and Asst Prof Dr Patchanita Thamyongkit from the Department of Chemistry. Also receiving fellowships are Associate Professor Dr Kwanchanok Pasuwat from King Mongkut's University of Technology Thon Buri's Biological Engineering Programme and Department of Chemical Engineering and Dr Pimpa Limthongkul from the National Metal and Materials Technology Centre of the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA).

Onruthai was recognised in the Life Science category for her work on the genome analysis of newly isolated petroleum oil-degrading bacteria for developing bacterial-based innovations for environmental remediation.

Recent disasters have made the public aware of the dangers posed by highly toxic contamination from oil spills. Onruthai's research focuses on bioremediation, essentially the use of micro-organisms to remove pollutants from the environment.

"It is thought to be the safest and most effective method for environmental treatment. A number of petroleum oil-degrading bacteria have been isolated from various environmental samples, including from the recent incident at Koh Samet," she says.

"This research aims to analyse a whole genome and the petroleum hydrocarbon metabolic network in oil-degrading bacteria so as to develop ready-to-use bacteria for bioremediation. The oil-degrading novosphingobium sphingomonas from mangrove sediment was used as a bacterial model in this study. Preliminary results revealed the presence of several important genes in the degradation pathways of aromatic and aliphatic compounds. Genes relevant to environmental stress response have also been found. The effects of the surrounding environmental condition on the degrading activity and behaviour of the PCY strain is to be assessed but all these studies will provide insight and useful information for successful application of novosphingobium sp, PCY and related bacteria in bioremediation."

Some of Onruthai's bacterial findings have already been produced for use in the industry.