The struggle for water 



 BAR HARBOR  The topic of the online MDI Science Café for Monday, Aug. 10, will be “A Glimpse into the Future of Global Water Struggles from a Rural Farming Community in Sri Lanka,” presented by NishadJayasundara, Ph.D., an assistant professor at University of Maineand Fulbright recipient Emily Craig. 

Water was often the nexus that shaped agrarian civilizations and continues to be vital to many farming communities around the world. However, agricultural practices have changed dramatically over the last century, especially since the green revolution. Among other factors, ubiquitous use of agrochemicals havebecome a focal point in modern crop production. Similar to many rural agricultural communities, Sri Lanka, a small island nation in the Indian Ocean, adopted extensive use of agrochemicals.  

Today, some of these farming communities have been affected by a mysterious kidney disease, including Sri Lanka, India, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and in the United States. Jayasundara’s research in this area focuses mainly on Sri Lanka, where he found that in some communities, around 20 percent of the people, including children, suffer from kidney dysfunction. While the mystery around the precise causes of this disease remains unsolved, Jayasundara’s studies point to a complex contaminant burden of the drinking water of the farmers, but mostly at levels considered safe for drinking. While he continues to explore the link between the farmers’ drinking water and this mysterious kidney disease, this issue highlights a series of global health concerns linked to regulations on environmental contaminants, changing climate and economic disparity, and provides a glimpse into the future struggles of water health around world. 

Jayasundara’s research focuses on environmental health and comparative physiology; broadly examining how organisms modify a common set of biochemical processes to survive and adapt to their naturalenvironment, and working to understand organismal responses to rapidlychanging global chemical and physical environments. His interest in this area of research first started as an undergraduate trainee in late Dr. David Towle’s laboratory at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, while he was concurrently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in humaecology at College of the Atlantic as a Davis World College Scholar. After COA, Nishad pursued his doctoral degree at Stanford University and completed his postdoctoral training at Duke University, before deciding to return to Maine. 

Emily Craig graduated from the University of Maine’s Honors College in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree inmarine science and a minor in chemistry. Post-graduation, she began working with Jayasundara. She received a Fulbright grant to continue on this research path in Sri Lanka, where she was resident from November 2019 to March 2020 until the coronavirus pandemic prematurely ended her grant.  

The free, online Science Café will be held at 5 p.m. and registration is necessary to gain access for the presentation. Register for the event at mdibl.org/events.  

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