Peshawar’s all-girls science teams propose six bizarre but totally viable ideas

Peshawar Biotech Students
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As Pakistani entrepreneurs hop around incubators and release one app after another, it feels like the field of science is missing from the innovative action. Dr Faisal Khan at the University of Peshawar — where the student body consists of 90 per cent girls — felt similarly, and decided to do his part by introducing a new course last year.

He planned a course that would help students bridge the gap between academia and industry, by undertaking practical scientific applications through entrepreneurship. His course was offered to final year bio-technology students, who were taught relevant skills for life-sciences start-ups. To get them interested, Khan split the students up into teams, and each was asked to brainstorm a project that solved a real-life problem through a science start-up.

Peshawar Biotech Students
Students working on ‘Electro-Marvel’: a battery powered by bacteria.

A judges panel of academicians, government officials and people working in the private sector, was asked to select projects that could move on the second stage: implementation. The judges selected 21 start-ups for their creativity and viability, out of which, here are six particularly bizarre but completely viable ideas.

Electro-Marvel: Bacteria-charged battery that lasts for years

Imagine having to charge your UPS’ battery only once in a year. No, really. One all girls-team from the university wanted to solve the country’s loadshedding woes, and has deviced an alternative charging mechanism for UPS batteries, which they call ‘Electro-marvel.’

The basic concept consists of a battery — similar to the ones already available in markets — except that it will be powered by bacteria instead of electricity, and will last a whole year instead of just a few hours.

Aside from the UPS, Electro-marvel will also work with heavy household appliances.

If the girls pull this off, it might be an expensive investment — costing Rs40,000 per battery — but it will last for years. Think of all the money saved on replacing chargers and batteries.

Bio-Lumin: Glowing seeds to fend off pest attacks

One of the biggest problems plaguing the agricultural industry is pests, which can reduce a farmer’s crop yield significantly. In rural areas, farmers use pesticides to avoid pest attacks. Unfortunately, chemicals in pesticides are the source of multiple environmental problems, including soil pollution affects the food being grown and leads to health problems in the animals and humans consuming it.

One team is proposing an unconventional but simple solution, by growing seeds that glow in case of a pest attack. Genes from a fish (which has glowing qualities) will be added to plant seeds, so when the altered seeds grow, the plant will also be able to grow in case of a pest attack. A kilogram of these seeds could be available in the market for Rs2,000, and a farmer would only need to plant a few of the seeds special seeds throughout his fields.

Alpine: an alternative to the banned Shatoosh shawls

Shatoosh shawls are made from the wool of a rare species of Tibetan antelopes, Chiru, known as the ‘King of wool.’ These shawls are banned in both India and Pakistan, but because they come from a rare, endangered animal found in the hills of Kashmir, owning them has become a status symbol.

Since they are sold and worn illegally, Shatoosh shawls are expensive. One student team wants the shawl to be common commodity that can be worn by people belonging to middle and lower classes to. In order to create a cheaper shawl of the same material — which they will call ‘Alpine’ — the students will transmit the genes of a Tibetan antelope into sheep and lambs. Once the animals breed, their wool will grow similarly to that of the Chiro without causing the endangered species to go into extinction.

Biotechnology students in Peshawar
Students will transmit the genes of a Tibetan antelope into sheep and lambs to grow wool similar to that of the Chiro.

Culture-hub: Self-producing chemicals used in medical sciences

According to one student’s research, Pakistan imports different chemicals worth $330 million each year from countries including the United States, Germany, Sweden and Finland. It might serve the country better to produce these chemicals locally, and to finally build a hub that could serve as a resource for science and medicine research and diagnostic labs.

One team wants to do exactly that. They have drawn up a blueprint for a factory that will produce all the chemicals used in life sciences in Pakistan, and is ready to kick-start their idea. For the project’s first phase, a pharmaceutical company’s laboratory will be sufficient, as soon as they find one. The production, the team estimates, could potentially profit $400 million to the country’s exchequer each year.

Dracu-stroke: Blood thinner for stroke patients

Draculin, which is commonly found in vampire bats, can help with the thinning of blood. If it is combined with a commonly available herb to create a new bio-herb, the new concoction can be injected into a patient suffering fro a stroke. Essentially, this bio-herb works as a blood thinner or an anti-coagulant.

A local chemical laboratory and hub could profit the country $400 million each year.
A local chemical laboratory and hub could profit the country $400 million each year.

The team chooses to call their bio-herb ‘Dracu-stroke’ because of its effectiveness in treating stroke patients. The brilliant thing about Dracu-stroke will be its minimal after effects when compared to other available thinners like Aspirin and Warfarin. Its after effects will last for only eight hours, and it will also be cheaper from other options in the market at a cost of Rs2,000.

BioLamp and bacteria-powered uses

Bio-lamp’s idea is simple: a bulb that glows in the dark and dims in daylight without using any electricity. Such a bulb is possible, according to one student team, by using bio-luminescent bacteria to make bulbs and energy savers. Their idea is similar to the team proposing to build bacteria-powered batteries, except in this case, the bulbs will be auto-regulated, without any need of human intervention.

The team also wants to build a long-lasting charging device called BioVolt. Using a mechanism similar to that of a power bank used to charge cell phones and laptops, BioVolt will work for years on end.

21 teams were selected by the judges at Peshawar University this year, compared to last year's 14 teams.
21 teams were selected by the judges at Peshawar University this year, compared to last year’s 14 teams.

Unlike regular power banks, once again, the BioVolt will be powered by bacteria instead of electricity. The BioVolt will also be smaller in size compared to power banks, and will emit a pleasant smell to users because of the bacteria.

Published in Dawn on Feb 2, 2016