Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj
by Jason Gondziola
Powlowski is no stranger to this area of research. After finishing his
undergraduate work at McGill, he did his doctorate at the University of
Minnesota, where a handful of researchers were investigating biochemical
applications for cleaning the environment. After postdoctoral research
at the University of Michigan, studying how enzymes work, he went to Europe,
where he got some additional experience.
I followed my future wife to Sweden and found somebody who was
working on this microorganism that degraded phenol and was interested
in having someone work for her who could characterize proteins,
he said. It turned out to be a very interesting enzyme, because
no one had ever managed to purify it.
Were trying to understand how some bacteria are able to degrade
things that are toxic to most other living organisms, Powlowski
said. Theres a lot of interesting fundamental biochemistry
to be learned from those systems. We also need to learn what their limitations
are so that we can engineer them to be more efficient at degrading chemicals
that we want them to degrade. Another project examines the same
process, using yeast instead of bacteria. In both cases, the potential
environmental benefits are immense.
Powlowski keeps busy. Hes working on another project that involves
mercuric ions, which are toxic because they bind tightly and indiscriminately
to cellular proteins. Unlike aromatics, mercury cannot be transformed
into another compound.
Amid all of this work, Powlowski is preparing to move to the new sciences
building at Loyola. Hes confident that the new building will help
to encourage both students and sponsors, necessary components to any successful
faculty. Currently, his department is involved in a joint funding application
by all of the facultys science departments to the Canadian Foundation
The Science Complex, scheduled to open in September, will provide the department with some much-needed modernization. Its great to be moving into a building thats designed for science in the 21st century.