School welcomes researchers from Engage Nepal with Science
In February we welcomed two researchers from Engage Nepal with Science - a project initiated in the School to engage Nepalese communities with STEM - to explore new research collaborations and conduct public engagement with Scottish schools.
Prajwal Rajbhandari and Suvechhya Bastola, are collaborators from the Nepalese research institute, Research Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology (RIBB, Nepal).
Prajwal is the president of RIBB and his research interests include natural preservatives, secondary metabolites and probiotics. Suvechhya is a researcher and the public engagement manager at RIBB.
The collaboration with RIBB started in 2019 when a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed to kick start Engage Nepal with Science. The project aims to spread the culture of engaging with scientific research, empowering and inspiring Nepalese communities with STEM.
During the lunch seminar, Prajwal gave an overview on the research that RIBB has been carrying out in Nepal since 2011 when RIBB was founded by a group of like-minded researchers.
Suvechhya talked about the work that Engage Nepal with Science has been doing working with communities in Nepal to promote science and build confidence in STEM.
Q. Briefly, what are the main areas of research in RIBB?
A. RIBB started its research by exploring, identifying and characterizing Nepal’s rich biodiversity (plants & microbes) by using biotechnological tools. From its inception, the institute has expanded its research areas to environment and biomedical sciences to find scientific solutions to Nepalese local problems.
In this regard, RIBB has collaborated with Kathmandu Research Institute for Biological Sciences (KRIBS) to start a BSL-2 Laboratory inside the research campus. Along with that, a growth chamber and green house facility have also been added to conduct research in the areas of climate change.
Q. What type of research collaborations are you looking for in the UK?
A. We are looking at developing a new platform for protein science at our institute where we can express and produce in-house pfu polymerase for PCR reaction, among other proteins and enzymes that can be very useful for our day-to-day research.
Phutung Research Institute (PRI), one of the members of Biomedicum Research Campus (Biomedicum), has developed a portable PCR machine for diagnostic purposes in Nepal that has been supported by the Department of Applied Microbiology and Food Technology at RIBB.
It would be great if we can produce pfu polymerase in-house with the help from Wellcome Center for Cell Biology (WCB) scientists and use the portable PCR machine developed by PRI at Biomedicum to fulfil Nepalese research and science engagement purposes.
We are also aiming to clone and express native enzymes like β-gal in the E. Coli expression system which would help us produce enzymes in larger amounts to conduct research on its enzyme kinetics and further production of prebiotics compounds (GOS) from Cheese whey.
Q. What type of capacity development programs are you looking for in the coming days and how can the WCB help you?
A. During the visit, we got the chance to meet Dr. Martin Wear, Facility manager at Edinburgh Protein Production Facility (EPPF) to visit the protein facility at Edinburgh.
A 2-3 weeks training on protein science for RIBB researchers at the EPPF would definitely boost the Nepalese researcher’s confidence and skills on protein expression, purification and enzymatic assays.
We also had fruitful meetings with two Wellcome Center for Cell Biology (WCB) Group Leaders Prof. Bill Earnshaw and Prof. Jeyaprakash Arulannandam. Furthermore, we also met with Prof. Neil Mabbott from The Roslin Institute and Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Sciences and Prof. Gary Loake from the Centre for Engineering Biology.
All these meetings were mostly focused on how to build research bridges between Nepal and Scotland to support a research ecosystem in Nepal in the coming days.
Q. Why a protein production platform is needed at Biomedicum and in the Nepalese context in general?
A. For a country like Nepal, it is extremely costly and time-consuming to purchase recombinant proteins and enzymes. Sometimes it takes more than six months to receive them after lots of customs hurdles before clearance.
Along with that, these reagents need to be transported at low temperatures which is another burden. Therefore, there is a significant loss of undesirable time and money that could hamper the RIBB research objectives.
By transferring the technology and skills from our UK collaborators, we can produce in-house recombinant proteins, which could save a lot of resources for our ongoing and future research.
Also, in the near future, we aim to produce customized proteins/enzymes needed for University/Research Institute labs for research purposes which would help us generate funds for our research activities as well.
Along with expanding their research collaborations, Suvechhya and Prajwal also wanted to get the experience of conducting workshops outside Nepal, while they were here in Scotland.
The Engage Nepal with Science workshop, Meet the Microbes, was organised in four different Midlothian schools, who are partnered with schools in Nepal through another Engage Nepal with Science project.
The workshops were facilitated by Suvechhya and Prajwal along with several Wellcome Center for Cell Biology (WCB) researchers and the WCB Public Engagement team engaging nearly 200 students with cells, DNA and the world of microscopes and microbes.
The workshops included a presentation session introducing Nepal, Engage Nepal with Science and information about good and bad microbes, followed by three hands-on activities. The activities included:
- Looking at and identifying Gram positive and Gram negative bacteria under the microscope
- Exploring microorganisms under the microscope in a drop of pond water
- Making their own microbe using plasticine while learning about the features of different disease-causing microbes.
This experience of working with Scottish schools helped the team from Nepal understand that kids in any part of the world are always filled with enthusiasm and eagerness to learn. It was a great opportunity to witness the impact that partnering with a Nepalese school has had on Scottish students. They already knew so much about Nepal, a completely different country from theirs, both culturally and economically! It really was very exciting to see Nepalese flags, national animals and flowers in the Scottish classrooms.
Engage Nepal with Science engages Nepalese communities with science to empower, inspire and build confidence in STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics). The main focus is empowering women and girls from underprivileged and rural communities across Nepal.
Engage Nepal with Science believes that STEM empowerment is crucial to promote critical and innovative thinking, which is key to make informed decisions, create a fairer, more inclusive society and to foster positive social change.
The initiative is led by Dr. Alba Abad, life sciences researcher at the Wellcome Centre for Cell Biology (University of Edinburgh) passionate about science outreach, environmental sustainability and gender equality.
Engage Nepal with Science represents a strong collaboration between the University of Edinburgh and RIBB. Since the beginning of 2019 Engage Nepal with Science has engaged over 2000 students, educators and researchers via hands-on science and gamification workshops.
The beauty of Engage Nepal with Science is that via the delivery of the hands-on science school workshops, Nepalese researchers are connected and back in touch with their communities. Researchers now understand what the pressing issues in Nepal are, which is influencing and shaping their research. The visit of the Nepalese researchers to Scotland represented a great opportunity to strengthen collaborations, for knowledge exchange and to share ideas and resources.
Research Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology (RIBB, Nepal)
Phutung Research Institute (PRI)
Edinburgh Protein Production Facility (EPPF)
Kathmandu Research Institute for Biological Sciences (KRIBS)