Strange IndiaStrange India

“Some of the oldest organisms on Earth are cyanobacteria: they have a fossil record dating back 3,500 million years. These photosynthesizing life forms have experienced extreme environmental events — from very cold periods to atmospheric pollution to mass extinctions. By studying their resilient nature, we can find solutions for how to adapt to the climate changes we’re experiencing now.

My main research programme focuses on using microorganisms, including cyanobacteria, microalgae, fungi and yeasts, to improve agricultural crops in the face of prolonged droughts, pests and a lack of arable soil. In 2017, I founded a biotechnology company, Spiral Blue Food Spa, to identify, isolate and cultivate microorganisms that can help to improve crop growth and reduce water consumption.

So far, my team and I have isolated almost 500 strains of cyanobacteria, from the Chilean Andes and elsewhere. Some of these can be used in biofertilizers, biopesticides and other agricultural products. For instance, we use cyanobacteria under certain conditions to produce antifungal peptides for agriculture, proteins for the food industry and antioxidants for the pharmaceutical industry.

In this picture, I am in my laboratory in Chincolco, Chile, observing three species of cyanobacteria — Arthrospira platensis, Limnospira maxima and Spirulina major — that Spiral Blue Food Spa is cultivating.

To understand the macrouniverse, we need to understand the microuniverse. Microorganisms shape entire ecosystems, in part through decomposition, nutrient cycling and their interactions with other organisms. My ultimate goal is to share my knowledge of the microuniverse with local community members in Chile, so they can develop more resilient and sustainable agricultural practices.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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