A team led by MCO graduate student Kumaresh Krishnan (G3) of the Engert Lab has been chosen to receive a $10,000 Seed for Change Grant from The Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute at Harvard. Seed for Change Grants support interdisciplinary collaborations with potential to create positive change on the ground in India and Pakistan.
Krishnan and his collaborators Shreyas Parkhie and Shubhra Singhal of the Indian Institute of Science, Education, and Research (IISER) in Tirupati are addressing the lack of affordable iron supplements in India through a project called “India Eradicating Anemia Through Spirulina” or simply “India EATS.”
About 40% of the Indian population experiences anemia, Krishnan says, and the high cost of iron supplements is a major obstacle to addressing the issue. “We want to use a natural alternative—an iron rich algae called spirulina to help overcome some of these problems,” Krishnan says. “Purifying and utilizing industry waste as a source of iron to enrich the algae will help us tackle two problems at once. Our goal is to make an iron supplement for the masses.”
Previous studies have shown that Spirulina can be grown in minimally-treated waste water and enriched with iron. The IndiaEATS hopes to find ways to purify iron from industrial waste and that the purified iron can then be used to enrich the algae. Their long-term goal is to assemble kits that be distributed to farmers, who can then grow the Spirulina. The IndiaEATS team also plans to form partnerships with NGOs and local groups to spread awareness about the project.
The project is completely separate from Krishnan’s research in the Engert Lab. Parkhie and Singhal came up with the core concept for the project as a potential way to boost natural immunity during a pandemic. MCB faculty Venki Murthy introduced Krishnan to Vasudharani Devanathan, an assistant professor at IISER Tirupati, who helped develop the project and put Krishnan in touch with Parkhie and Singhal. The three students have been developing the plan ever since.
“I am very excited by this award for Kumaresh and his teammates from India, college students Shubhra and Shreyas,” says Murthy. “In my long involvement with the Mittal Institute I have seen many wonderful projects led by social science or humanities students tackling fundamental societal issues. Now, I am particularly delighted to see these three young scientists invest time and effort on a tangible and immediate problem that is far from their everyday research projects. Congratulations to the IndiaEATS team!”
Receiving the Seed for Change Grant will enable the team to put their plan into action. “We faced wonderful competitors for this award,” Krishnan says. “I am delighted that our idea for a prototype was able to compete with established solutions presented by many other teams. We want to take the faith shown by the judges in our idea and put together a working prototype, a true ‘seed for change’.”