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Macfast explores curative traits of freshwater weeds

Radhakrishnan Kuttoor
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crucial research:Maya Subramoni at the advanced biotechnology laboratory at Macfast in Thiruvalla.— Photo: Leju Kamal
crucial research:Maya Subramoni at the advanced biotechnology laboratory at Macfast in Thiruvalla.— Photo: Leju Kamal

“Weeds that apparently pose threat to freshwater sources in the State could have therapeutic properties. At Macfast, we are trying to make the bane a boon,” says Maya Subramoni, director of the Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Resources and Algal Biotechnology at Mar Athanasios College for Advanced Studies, Thiruvalla (Macfast).

Dr. Subramoni and her research team aim at identifying and isolating a compound in the freshwater weeds, especially Cabomba Caroliniana, found in freshwater sources in the State, and develop cure to ailments such as cancer, arthritis, and inflammatory diseases. The weeds are found in abundance in the rivers Pampa, Achencoil, Manimala, and the Vembanad wetland system that houses the backwaters of Kuttanad.

Their preliminary work has already proved the anti-arthritic potential of the weeds Cabomba, Salvinia Molesta, and Eichornia. More than 20 species of aquatic weeds examined were good anti-microbial and anti-fungal agents, she said. Vimal Narayanan is assisting Dr. Subramoni in the final phase of the project.

Dr. Subramoni said Cabomba had been found to have profound bioactivity in terms of anti-arthritic effect and the study was progressing well in collaboration with the Pushpagiri Research Centre and Medical College.

Cabomba is an alien species that grows in stagnant or slow-flowing water bodies. The weed is spreading fast in the Pampa and its tributaries and in the Kuttanad water system. Cabomba, with its extremely dense strands, obstructs free flow of water, besides increasing siltation. Environmentalists consider it a ‘killer weed’ with a capacity to change the ecology of the entire water body.

Systematic screening of freshwater weeds found in different parts of the State could open the door towards production of newer and more effective plant-based drugs, said Dr. Subramoni. “It is high time Kerala made earnest efforts to exploit the healthcare potential of freshwater weeds, hitherto considered a deterrent to farming and water conservation,” she said.

“However, technology, labour, and quality analysis issues should be addressed to fully realise this immense research potential,” she added.

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