Microbiologist Ramesh Subramani shares his passion for discovering new antibiotics and looks back on the research route he has taken from Germany to South Korea to Fiji Islands.
When I was pursuing my doctorate in marine microbiology at the University of Madras, I got the opportunity to go to Germany and carry out part of my doctorate research at Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany. Thanks to the DAAD scholarship, I have been researching (since 2003) on marine bacteria and sponges for ‘discovering new antibiotics’. A number of valuable antibiotics (e.g., Amoxycillin, Streptomycin etc.) have been derived from soil microorganisms, although efforts in this area have diminished since the late 1980s because of the feeling that this resource has been exhaustively studied.
Additionally, these drugs cannot kill or control the recent deadly disease-causing pathogens; further they have been resistant to multiple drugs available in the world. So, new drugs and antibiotics are urgently needed for combating these deadly diseases for protecting the next generation.
The ocean has been recently demonstrated as an ecosystem with many unique forms of microbes which produce new antibiotics. After my first postdoctoral research in South Korea, I came to Fiji because Pacific countries/islands have not been much explored for this kind of study and some islands have not been touched by humans. So, I selected Fiji Islands for my research on marine organisms for novel therapeutic drugs.
Uniqueness of the USP
The University of the South Pacific (USP) is a premier institution of higher learning in the Pacific region, uniquely placed in a region of extraordinary physical, social and economic diversity. It is jointly owned by the governments of 12 member countries: Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Samoa. The university has campuses in all member countries. The main campus, Laucala, is in Suva, Fiji.
The academic schools, institutes and centres at the USP are organised into three faculties, which include the Faculty of Arts, Law and Education; the Faculty of Business and Economics; and the Faculty of Science, Technology and Environment. Each faculty comprises a number of schools which offer a wide range of academic programmes and courses at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
The multi-cultural nature of the staff members and student body give USP an exceptional character. It is a quality institution producing degrees comparable to those awarded by universities in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
Graduates from the USP are found in important executive positions throughout the public and private sectors in all member countries and in numerous countries around the world. The university has set a high standard for quality in its research. Major research commitments include business management, teacher education, Pacific studies, marine studies, agriculture, science and technology.
Fiji is perhaps the most cosmopolitan of all South Pacific nations. Its population, just under 8,70,000, is a combination of indigenous Fijians (50 per cent), Indians (40 per cent), the remainder of the population include Rotumans, Chinese, other Pacific Islanders and Europeans. The ‘India–Fiji bond’ is unique and special because ‘Indians’ are not new to Fiji Islands. In 1874, the British colonised the Fiji islands, and the British brought Indian contract labourers to work in the sugar plantations in Fiji.
Suva is the capital city of the Fiji Islands. It is one of the South Pacific's largest and most sophisticated cities and home to the main campus of USP, the Fiji Museum, interesting colonial buildings and a major port. Suva is a multicultural city which is reflected by the mosques, churches, temples and cultural centres. There are many Indian restaurants, bars, coffee shops, nightclubs and a large cinema complex where all the latest movies from Hollywood and Bollywood are screened. There are a lot of native Indians in Suva, and you are bound to meet a person from your State at least once a day on campus. Fiji is like India and I am sure Indian students will never get homesick and they will feel like they are in their home town. The High Commission of India, Indian Cultural Centre and Life Insurance of India are active in Suva and Fiji. The public transport facilities are good, and students will never miss home food as there are a number of Indian food courts on campus and throughout Suva.
Fiji is one of the world-class tourist places and some Bollywood, Hollywood and even Kollywood movies have been filmed here in the Fiji Islands. In Fiji, the national drink kava (also called grog) is part of life, in all important socio-political events.
The writer is a Postdoctoral Scientist from the Institute of Applied Sciences, The University of the South Pacific, Fiji Islands.