IISER students to come up with project to fight fungal infection
The 19-member team is led by faculty member and mentor Ravi Maruthachalam, assistant professor of the School of Biology in the institute.
Published: 30th May 2021 07:12 AM | Last Updated: 30th May 2021 07:12 AM | A+A A-
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: At a time when the country is witnessing ‘black fungus’ and ‘white fungus’ cases, a group of students at IISER (Indian Institute of Science Education and Research), Thiruvananthapuram, have started working on a research project to address fungal contamination and sporulation. Their work is mainly on the practical application in medical science and agriculture, as it can provide an eco-friendly solution to mucormycosis and other fungi. However, they need funding to continue their work. Interestingly, they are taking part in an online competition, where the team with the most retweets will win 2,000 US dollars.
The 19-member team is led by faculty member and mentor Ravi Maruthachalam, assistant professor of the School of Biology in the institute. Tejas Sabu is the leader of students. According to Ravi, the motivation to start this project seeded when they observed black-coloured moulds on the walls in several areas, particularly damp areas. After a few brainstorming sessions in August 2020, the project started in its full-fledged form in January 2021. Since then, the team has consulted multiple experts in the field whose suggestions and guidance have helped refine the project.
“It didn’t take long to figure out that fungal contamination was the cause and that the issue was far more grave than it initially seemed. Fungal contamination in hospital settings causes mortality of thousands of immunocompromised patients each year, a problem bolstered by the limited collection of anti-fungal drugs and the development of drug-resistant fungal strains.
Alarmed by these findings, we set about to design a novel, broad-spectrum and eco-friendly anti-fungal solution, which would not be toxic to humans and limit the emergence of resistant fungal strains. In the current Covid asituation, fungal infection in immunocompromised patients is a matter of concern, which emphasises the importance of identifying new means to tackle these pathogens,” said Ravi. The project is currently going in full swing. Team members are actively working on various aspects such as enzyme design, wet lab work, mathematical modelling, expert interactions, human practices and outreach, biosafety and social media.
“We are completely invested in the idea and believe in its potential to make a difference. We hope to have our first broad-spectrum genetically engineered enzymes in hand and demonstrate their enhanced activity by September 2021. The iGEM’s ( International Genetically Engineered Machine) annual competition, where teams from all around the world showcase their work, is scheduled to happen in October 2021. We will present our innovation in the competition,” he said. The annual international synthetic biology competition, conducted by the iGEM Foundation, gathers participation from over 45 countries.
The competition provides a platform for teams to identify real-world problems and solve them through genetic engineering. The teams are supplied with genetic parts to design and build biological systems that operate in living cells. They collaborate and carry out experiments throughout the summer and present their findings at the annual Giant Jamboree in Paris.
Currently, the team consists of 15 students, one instructor, and is mentored by two alumni and Ravi. There are 300 plus teams taking part in the iGEM competition, totalling more than 3,000 students. The team has been in discussion with several potential sponsors and is confident of getting positive responses in near future. “We would be delighted to speak to interested companies or organisations and present our project to them in detail. The retweeting activity is one such effort to raise funds. If it succeeds, we will get sufficient funds for completing the project,” said Ravi.
PROJECT IN FULL SWING
Team members are actively working on various aspects such as enzyme design, wet lab work, mathematical modelling, expert interactions, human practices and outreach, biosafety and social media.