School: Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School, St. Catharines, Ont.
Whose leadership inspires you? Aly Raisman, 2012 Canadian Olympic gold medallist in gymnastics
The summer before starting Grade 9, Varsha Jayasankar of St. Catharines, Ont., was visiting family in southern India. She found herself eating a lot of mango ginger—a plant closely related to turmeric. “My grandpa was cutting it up and putting it in everything,” says Jayasankar, 17. “I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘To be healthy,’ ” referring to a long-held belief that the plant offers powerful antimicrobial beneﬁts. Jayasankar set out to investigate: “I said, ‘I’ll prove you wrong.’ ”
With initial guidance from her father, Jay Subramanian, a professor at the University of Guelph, Jayasankar began her research, eventually developing a powerful extract of mango ginger. This year, she isolated a new antimicrobial compound from it. “I’ve tested it against plant pathogenic and human pathogenic bacteria,” including C. difficile and MRSA, which plague Canadian hospitals and health care facilities. The compound has proven highly effective, she says, a promising new ally in the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These bugs are “developing resistance [to drugs] and it’s a problem,” Jayasankar explains. “We need new sources to fight them,” and mango ginger could be a candidate. Read more>>