Human Practices


Amidst the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in India, a group of undergraduate students from IISER Thiruvananthapuram came across iGEM. Being extremely keen on synthetic biology and recognizing the potential iGEM had to develop their interest in synbio, they decided to give it a shot.

Our search for a plausible iGEM project led us to scour through numerous wikis of erstwhile iGEM teams. Catechewing coli - an eco-friendly enzyme to remove paan stains from walls by iGEM Ruia Mumbai 2018 grabbed our attention. Taking inspiration from their project, we explored many different issues, primarily prioritizing environmental concerns.

We also observed black patches on walls, later identified as a collection of several mold species. We decided to develop an antifungal enzyme in the form of recombinant chitinases to eradicate black mold thriving on walls of buildings because they were nasty to look at. We started working along this line and identified a few fungal species growing on our campus’ walls. Our interactions with protein biologists helped us design gene sequences that would later produce our recombinant chitinases.

Dr. Binod Parameswaran pointed out the difficulties of manufacturing an enzyme for application in external settings due to concerns over its stability and the high cost-benefit ratio. He suggested that we could make a more significant impact through our project by showing us the plight caused by fungi in mainly two domains: health and agriculture.

Prevention is better than cure. Developing an enzyme that would remove molds from walls would substantially prevent the diseases they caused. This belief of ours largely met with dissent from many medical experts whom we consulted to assess the impact of our project. Regardless of medical experts not being our direct stakeholders, our correspondence with them helped us realize that removing molds from walls would not significantly reduce the fungal spore contamination in the atmosphere. The persistent fungal spores can still lead to severe complications in people. Additionally, our parallel dialogue with local farmers pointed at agricultural losses due to fungal infestation, especially in rubber plantations.

Consequently, we were open to two choices:

  1. An antifungal therapeutic solution to fungal infections in humans.
  2. An antifungal solution to the havoc wreaked by losses in agriculture due to fungal infestation.

During this time, India witnessed an enormous soar in the number of Mucormycosis cases as a post covid complication. This essentially helped us in resolving the dilemma and chose to work on the former option, ergo ‘Moldemort’- a class of antifungal therapeutics to invasive fungal infections. In addition to the recombinant genes we had already designed, our team developed a new gene from two bacterial species, mainly to target Rhizopus spp., which is one of the main causative agents of Mucormycosis.

We also indulged in interactions with our stakeholders through surveys and awareness programmes to educate the public about fungi and their menace. Their feedback and suggestions, along with a discussion with Dr. Rachit Agarwal, were instrumental in designing our drug-delivery system. Dr. Ravindra Ghooi’s guidance helped us devise a plan for implementing the future aspects, including commercialization and clinical trials.