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Nepal’s World-class Research in Biotechnology

March 4, 2016 , by DREAMS, Leave your thoughts
The Elsevier Award for 2016 is awarded to Dr Sushila Maharjan who was NOT researching in the USA. The American prestigious award recognised the standards of a public-owned research institute in Nepal run by Dr Maharjan and her colleagues. DREAMS realised the importance of this feat as a big leap in the field of science and technology in Nepal. While she was receiving her award in the USA, Dr Roshan Lal Shrestha asked a few important questions to her on behalf of DREAMS.
 
How was your student life?

I was an average student during my student life until undergraduate. However, my passion to complete higher studies led me to secure good marks in the entrance examination for MSc at Tribhuvan University. This is when I got the full scholarship to undertake MSc in organic Chemistry at TU.

What attracted you towards life sciences / biology?

In those days when I finished SLC, the trend was, once you get first division you tend to study science with the aim to become a doctor or engineer. I was not an exception. I completed Intermediate in Science with biology as major, but I continued BSc with chemistry as major. It was then that I realized chemistry was quite an interesting field of science. To be frank, then I had a feeling that chemistry is the basis of life and nature and so I completed MSc in organic chemistry from TU.

Did you do anything differently while you were a student which perhaps has helped you in your professional career?

The scholarship that I received for my MSc course motivated and directed me to do wet lab based research work. By then I had learnt that my interest was in scientific research. As a partial fulfillment of MSc degree I had to do a research project. Then I decided that I would do something different and noble. With this plan, I tried to study the composition of Pudina plant and its medicinal values. I reached at certain level of the research but unfortunately department did not have fund to support my work so I had to abandon it. But the good thing about attempting to pursue this project was, it made me more interested to study the medicinal values of different compounds that can be extracted from natural products or microorganisms. This was what my current research is all about.

Additionally, I along with other few scientists in Nepal established a research lab called Research Institute for bioscience and biotechnology (RIBB). The establishment of RIBB also keeps me pushing to apply grant, do research and busy myself to be in this stage.

What is your specialization within your sector?

I did my PhD in metabolic and genetic engineering with major focus on Streptomycetes. I am more interested in antibiotic biosynthetic pathway engineering to develop new antibiotics or scale up the existing antibiotics. To be precise my specialization is in industrial microbiology. I use molecular biology and biochemical techniques for my research works.

What one thing would like to do within your field in Nepal given a chance to innovate or implement?

Being a researcher, definitely I would advocate for development of scientific research in Nepal. Without scientific research it is not possible to develop a nation. Since my expertise is in industrial microbiology, I would advocate for research and development followed by production. This pathway will not only develop the culture of scientific research in the country but also helps in economic development. For instance, in Nepal we have several herbs like Yarshagumba etc. that have medicinal values. We can do detail studies on these herbs/plants and develop into refined products. This way we would be contributing on scientific research as well as develop the economy of the country. Long story short, I would support for the research-based production.

What does Elsevier award 2016 mean to you?

When we established RIBB, no one had belief on us. There were people who even took it as our stupidity. Even a month back people were wondering whether we were up to our expectation or not with our lab. The Elsevier Foundation Award 2016 that I received for my work that is being done in RIBB is a good answer for all of them who had doubt on our venture. Not only this, receiving this award set a good example to show that if you have enthusiasm and interest we can do world class research even in Nepal with limited source and infrastructure. I hope government of Nepal takes this positively and comes up with some ideas to support and motivate young scientists in Nepal.

Personally, this award has given me national and international recognition within the scientific community. Additionally, I was felicitated by Newah Organization of America (NOA) at DC metropolitan area in the USA and got the chance to interact with Nepali diaspora in DC area. I also got the chance to meet with the Ambassador of Nepal for USA in Washington DC. I got all these chances due to Elsevier Award that has definitely built up my confidence level as well.

"When we established RIBB, no one had belief on us. There were people who even took it as our stupidity. Even a month back people were wondering whether we were up to our expectation or not with our lab."
 
 
What were the criteria that you believe you fulfilled which eventually led to such a prestigious recognition?

Elsevier Foundation Award is given to those who have had outstanding performance in basic science research with limited resources and infrastructure in developing countries. Therefore, I believe that initiating the basic science research in Nepal through RIBB and getting success to some extent are the keys that helped me to receive this recognition. On top of that, my research was focused on subjects related to Nepal and its biodiversity.

 
In your opinion, what should the students of various sciences do differently in Nepal to continue the kind of benchmark you have established?
In my opinion, the education system in our county is very traditional, in a sense, it is more exam oriented. The teaching methodology should be changed. The students should adopt evidence based learning protocol. In this age of internet, students should be taught and be able to access any scientific journals from across the globe so that they become updated on the studies being done in their fields of interest. This makes students more open and familiar with scientific environment.
In your opinion, what should the professionals in your field do differently in Nepal to continue bringing home such glory?
We should not lay back saying that there is no scope for basic science and there is no government funding for research in Nepal. It is not about scope, it is about concept and appropriate use of the existing facility. I would not say everyone should invest their own money and establish research labs but should utilize the resources that we have. Central departments of microbiology, biotechnology, and chemistry in Tribhuvan University and several laboratories in Kathmandu University have many scientific equipments that can be used in collaborative way. Scientists in Nepal are not with fewer calibers than with those of developed countries. Only if we work as a team rather than an individual, then I am sure we can bring home several prestigious awards.
 
"If you have enthusiasm and interest we can do world class research even in Nepal with limited source and infrastructure."
How makes Nepali women different to those from rest of the world? What makes them similar?

Within scientific community, Nepalese women are equally intellectual as the women in rest of the world. But only the problem, in my opinion is hesitancy, partly due to inaccessibility to external scientific world due to various reasons. Because of this, Nepalese woman scientists are undermining themselves. They are performing too low than what they could actually perform.

How do you think we can narrow down the differences? How could the similarities be exploited?
The most important thing is that women should be given the chance to expose in the international scientific arena. They should be given equal chance to participate in international scientific conferences so that they can learn themselves to show off their expertise.

There are few government seats secured for the women for pursuing higher studies. These kind of facilities should be practiced for scientific trainings as well. Government should come up with strategy to bring the women scientists forward to use their intellectuality for scientific development in the country.

What is your suggestion to science students in Nepal who want to go for research degrees aboard?

Research degree in Nepal is too primitive. So I would suggest to go abroad to get research trainings either in Masters or PhD levels. Get trained abroad but use your expertise for scientific development in Nepal.

How can your institute, RIBB support the new scientists or students in Nepal?

Currently, we are providing supervision to the graduate thesis students. We fund their thesis through our grant as well. In fact our grant covers a student’s stipend, tuition fee and bench fee for research work. Additionally, we provide hands-on trainings on molecular techniques to interested science students. We also organize seminars and conferences to keep the Nepalese scientists up to date in scientific studies.

Anything you would like to say at the end?

At the end, I would like to request all the Nepalese scientists around the world to contribute somehow in developing science and technology in our country. Without science and technology a nation can never be developed. Let’s establish the culture of scientific research in our own country.

 
 
 
 In conversation with Dr Roshan Lal Shrestha, National Institutes of Health, USA.
 
 
 

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