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Change Make Challenge Award for Biology Master student: Gayathri Jaikumar

Gayathri Jaikamur has been awarded by the Dopper Foundation in the Change Make Challenge. She is a student of Masters Biology (Specialisation: Evolution, Conservation and Biodiversity) from India - working under the supervision of CML-researcher Dr. Thijs Bosker (and co-supervision of Dr. Nadja Brun). It was a competition open to all Masters students studying or pursuing their internship with any Dutch University on the topic of Water or Plastics management.

The three winners of the Change Maker Challenge Finals: Eric Ziemann, Brigit van Brenk and Gayathri Jaikumar

The competition

From all the initial applicants, 20 were shortlisted for the finals on the basis of a short write-up about our research.  From these students- 10 were chosen for the finals and awarded 500 euros; and further, 3 students received a grant of 3000 euros in the grand finals. The grand finals was conducted in a sail boat trip at the Wadden Sea - and Gayathri was  lucky to be one among the three chosen. 

Gayathri her research is titled "Daphnids in distress? Study of effects of microplastics on organisms at the base of aquatic ecosystems".  In this study - She seeks to compare the effects of primary and secondary microplastics on 3 different species that represent the base levels of fresh water ecosystems.

The grands finals was conducted in a sail boat trip at the Wadden Sea

The topic

Microplastics, which are anthropogenic litter particles of sizes 5mm or smaller, are ubiquitous in the environment and a cause of rising global concern. They have been accumulating increasingly in both fresh and marine water bodies corresponding to the peaking dependence of mankind on plastics.

For example, a recent study showed that the number of microplastics exceeded that of larval fish in the Danube river. Microplastics are classified based on their mode of entry into the environment as either primary and secondary microplastics. Primary microplastics are intentionally produced and added to a variety of products, including cosmetics and personal-care products, and eventually end up in the environment following their usage. Secondary microplastics are formed by the physical and chemical degradation of larger plastic particles in the environment.

There is increased concern among scientists, policy makers and general public alike, about their potential impacts on freshwater and marine ecosystems. However, to date little is known about adverse effects on organisms. For example, it is unclear whether there are difference in response in organisms exposed to primary or secondary microplastics.  Furthermore, it is known that there are variations among different species in their responses to the presence of contaminants in their environment, however this is poorly understood for microplastics.

Therefore, the goal of Gayathri her research is to study the impacts of different types of microplastics on the uptake, health and reproductive capacity of 3 different species of Daphnids, which are small organisms that form the base of food webs in freshwater ecosystems. In addition,  she wants to increase the environmental relevance of her study design by including the potential of trophic transfer of microplastics. She intends to do this by adding another trophic level (i.e. and animal which feeds on Daphnia) to her experimental design to study the trophic transfer of microplastics from lower to higher levels.

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