“Most of the research that is carried out at Arab universities and research centres is theoretical and general, and does not tackle serious questions to create solutions, overcome difficulties, and face societal challenges.”
She is currently studying the behaviour of microorganisms in harsh environments like the Dead Sea, outer space, deserts and polluted areas. She said her goal was not only to study these organisms but also to explore how humanity could benefit from such research.
In cooperation with the U.S.-based KSF Space Foundation, Malkawi runs a research project on the possibility of growing non-pathogenic bacteria and other microbes in outer space and their resistance to conditions like zero gravity, radiation and fluctuations in temperature and pressure.
This April she prepared bacterial samples that were launched in a capsule into a low-space orbit 33 kilometers above sea level. The capsule returned to earth a day later.
After examining the samples, Malkawi noticed genetic mutations where the microorganisms had not only survived but adapted in some way. She believes this finding could hold important implications for human health.
“We are studying how these bacteria could be used in the service of astronauts and their diets,” she said. “This gives us a model that may help develop strategies to mitigate future risks.”
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Ideas she has patented include a process for using magnetic nanoparticles to detect and eliminate pathogenic microbes in water and the use of nanotechnology in detecting and reducing cancerous tumors.
Arab Scientific Research ‘Too Theoretical’
Malkawi was critical about the reality of scientific research in the Arab world. She said there was no clear strategy to support applied research or link it to what was needed in industry.