Vidushi Neergheen-Bhujun (Mauritius) and Alexander (Sasha) Kagansky (UK) were jointly awarded a research grant from GYA in 2015, following a call for proposal at the GYA GA in May 2015. The research exchange was funded under the GYA North South Interdisciplinary Grant set to expand the professional horizons by taking a journey across disciplines to merge biodiversity conservation, nutrition, and cancer research. The collaboration started with Sasha Kagansky’s visit to the University of Mauritius in Reduit in November 2015.
Subsequently, the two GYA members resumed their collaboration during Vidushi’s return visit to Sasha’s lab at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland from 22-25 March 2016.
One of the highlights of the return meeting was an activity with students from a local school for a Young Scientists Ambassador Program (YSAP) similar to the one conducted in Mauritius in November 2015. The Program aims at fostering science education and direct immersion of young people into science. During the YSAP event, 60 students between 10 and 11 years of age were given the opportunity to receive face-to-face explanation, get involved in the scientists’ research and learn about the importance of biodiversity and human health. The theme of the day was inspired by a quote from the book “Nature’s Playground” by Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield: “If tomorrow’s caretakers of the Earth are to love and understand the natural world, they need to explore it, enjoy it and recognise our reliance upon it.”
Vidushi Neergheen-Bhujun and Sasha Kagansky invited the children to a guided tour in Royal Botanic Garden of
Edinburgh so that they could experience biodiversity differently, with first-hand informal exploration and playful activities. Back in the classroom, the students were challenged into a portfolio competition titled “Biodiversity through the Eyes of Children” based on the species they had previously worked on in the botanic garden.
The two experts in the field of biodiversity were accompanied throughout their activities by PhD student Rima Beesoo from the University of Mauritius, who has been on placement in Sasha’s lab for the past three months as part of the interdisciplinary grant. One objective of the placement were to initiate the molecular epigenetics and cancer research of the natural products from Mauritius; these had been previously selected based on their documented ethnobotanical use and antioxidant properties. A second objective of the placement was to pilot the case of biodiversity generating competitive income. The purpose behind this objective was to promote the protection of wildlife, by showing their benefits to society, and by extension promote both the cultivation and the preservation of the heritage of biodiverse species in developing countries.
On 24 March 2016, a mini symposium on Natural extracts as potential cancer modulators was organized at the MRC Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine (IGMM) of The University of Edinburgh. This provided a platform for several scientists to exchange ideas and lay the foundations for new collaborative initiatives.
The productive meeting once again brought out the immense potential of interdisciplinary collaborations and international research exchange. According to Vidushi Neergheen-Bhujun, these events have an unprecedented potential for GYA members to envision a wider scope of their field perspectives and should definitely be maintained and encouraged further.