“We want to find ways to make biogas from leftover chicken feathers”
Elisabeth Feuk-Lagerstedt had not imagined becoming a teacher, but that she wanted to work in a laboratory environment was clear quite early. Now she teaches prospective engineers in the subjects which form the basis of biotechnology. Alongside this she is trying to induce bacteria to break down leftover chicken feathers so that we can do something useful with them.
Why did you become a researcher?
“You can say that I slipped into it gradually and one thing led to another. I have had quite a long journey which started with me supplementing my final school grades with evening courses. Then I worked with teaching and snapped up opportunities of further studies and starting research. But the research was always done alongside my regular job, so it took me ten years to take my doctorate.”
- Senior lecturer in biomedicine
- Took a doctorate in 2006 in microbiology
- Started teaching at the University College of Health Sciences (Vårdhögskolan) in Borås in 1988, when it was owned by the county council and has remained since then (in 1999 the University College of Health Sciences in Borås became a department at the University of Borås). Since 2000 teaches in biotechnology at first and second cycle.
- Enjoys making long trips and her latest trip was to the Galápagos Islands. Prefers to save for a long trip occasionally than spending money on other consumption.
- Has resumed bird-watching as a hobby, something she had lain fallow for many years.
Do you have any role models in the scientific community?
“No, I don't. But I get lots of input from people in my surroundings who have a lot of ideas for resource recycling. We have a creative and open atmosphere in the research group at work, and we brainstorm ideas both in work contexts and during coffee breaks. As a child I was very fascinated by Marie Curie. Perhaps my early interest in natural science was from studying about her.”
You conduct research within biotechnology – can you explain what it is about?
“Yes, we want to find ways to take care of different types of waste, for example, chicken feathers. There are loads of chicken feathers as waste from chicken farms all over the world. We want to use a micro-organism which produces an enzyme which breaks down the type of protein which chicken feathers comprise of. If the chicken feathers can be broken down to smaller units we would, for example, be able to make biogas from them.”
How far have you come?
“I work with a researcher from Algeria, Soltana Fellahi, and we have now isolated a bacteria which produces the right type of keratinase, as the enzyme is called, and which can break down chicken feathers quickly. Now we will map the bacteria's DNA, in order to find the gene which controls enzyme production. This can hopefully result in a large-scale production of the enzyme. We have received a grant from Sparbanksstiftelsen Sjuhärad for this research.”
What is the best thing you've done in your work?
“It is inspiring the students to become interested in, among other things, microbiology. Explaining the life of the cell and how through biotechnology we can utilise this. When I was young I definitely did not want to become a teacher, but after supervising students in my job as a biomedical analyst I reconsidered. Now I am very interested in teaching!”
My working hours on a scale:
50 % tuition
20 % research
30 % other (senior faculty administrator, assistant supervisor for a doctoral student, laboratory responsibility, education committee, etc.)
What prejudices do you encounter regarding researchers?
“I have never noticed any prejudices at all against researchers, at least not at my level within the profession-related research.”
What do you do in your spare time?
“Then I am outdoors a lot. I like nature, bird-watching and travelling. So I take long walks, make trips to islands in the archipelago of Gothenburg and many excursions. My latest trip was to the Galápagos Islands, and now I am planning my next long trip.”
Text and photo: Lena M Fredriksson