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First Person: Looking Back: An Environmental Microbiologist Values His Pharmacy Training
My pharmacy degree from PCP&S was the scientific basis for a fascinating progression through a series of scientific endeavors leading to a successful career in environmental microbiology. After earning a degree in pharmacy in 1960, I changed fields and obtained an MS from Hahnemann Medical College and a PhD in microbiology/biochemistry from the University of Illinois, Urbana. Thereafter, I worked as an environmental microbiologist for 40 years. I would like to list a few reasons why I believe that my training as a pharmacist proved extremely valuable for my later career in environmental science.
The first 15 years of my career as an environmental scientist were spent working as a scientist for engineering companies dealing with hazardous chemicals released at places such as Love Canal in New York. My job was to evaluate the biodegradability of hundreds of hazardous chemicals at a time when data from the literature was not always available. The situation required that I make structure-comparisons between chemicals that were known to be biodegradable and those for which there was no such information. Due to my PCP&S coursework in pharmacology and pharmaceutical chemistry, I was able to perform these comparisons and arrive at an informed opinion about a chemical’s biodegradability in soil and aqueous environments.
The last 25 years of my environmental career focused on the development of a proprietary system for biologically treating trichloroethylene (TCE), a hazardous chemical commonly found in groundwater and soil of industrial clients. My partner and I started a small biotechnology firm in order to develop a unique “enrichment bacterial culture” that would degrade TCE. The bacterium, subsequently named by others Dehalococcoides ethenogenes (Dhc), literally breathes TCE using anaerobic respiration to obtain energy for growth. It does this by using molecular hydrogen atoms to remove chlorine atoms from TCE, transforming the TCE to ethylene, a harmless end-product. At Bioremediation Consulting Inc., we developed a field application for providing both the bacteria and the hydrogen. We advised our engineering clients to inject sodium lactate, which was biologically converted into acetate and hydrogen, both of which were used by Dhc for growth and dechlorination. We grew the Dhc bacteria in batches of 10 to 100 liters in our laboratory for injection into client’s groundwater. (One of our successful treatment sites is located in nearby Malvern Pennsylvania). The culturing of this organism required biochemical understanding for proper selection of electron donors and acceptors. My years of biochemistry both at PCP&S and at graduate school provided a solid foundation for understanding how to grow a useful bacterium.
As a microbiologist, calculations of concentration using English, metric, and molar units were essential for conducting my research. I attribute the relentless practice at PCP&S of using simple conversion from grains and drams to grams and moles as contributing to my success in the field of microbiology and bioremediation. Finally, Dean Tice instilled in us pharmacy majors a sense of ethics, perhaps derived from his personal background but also from the ethics of pharmacy at the time. We were provided with a sense of responsibility for dispensing of drugs and a connected sense of care, carefulness, and quality control.
Such are some of the benefits that I derived my four years of pharmacy at PCP&S.
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