When humans adopted an agrarian lifestyle some 10 000 years ago, we learned to manipulate the water bodies around us. Water was often the nexus that shaped civilizations and continues to be for many farming communities around the world. However, agricultural practices have changed dramatically, especially the heavy use of agrochemicals. Similar to many rural agricultural communities, Sri Lanka, a small island nation in the Indian Ocean, adopted extensive use of agrochemicals, that were sold with heavy subsidies. Today, some of these farming communities have been affected by a mysterious kidney disease. Notably, a similar disease has emerged around the world affecting farming communities in several countries including in India, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and in the United States. In Sri Lanka, where our research is primarily focused on, we find that in some communities ~20% of the people, including children suffer from kidney dysfunction. While the mystery around the precise causes of this disease remains unsolved, our studies point to a complex contaminant burden of the drinking water of the farmers, but mostly at levels considered safe for drinking. While our studies continue to explore the link between drinking water and this mysterious kidney disease, this highlights a series of global health concerns surrounding regulations on environmental contaminants, changing climate, and economic disparity and provides a glimpse into the future struggles of water health around world.
Nishad Jayasundara is an assistant professor at University of Maine, Orono and his research is focused on environmental health and comparative physiology. Nishad’s research broadly examines how organisms modify a common set of biochemical processes to survive and adapt to their natural environment, and is aimed at understanding organismal responses to rapidly changing global chemical and physical environments. His interests in this research first started as an undergraduate trainee in late Dr. David Towle’s laboratory at The Mount Dessert Island Biological Laboratory. At the time, Nishad was pursuing his BA at College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor as a Davis Scholar. After COA, Nishad pursued his doctoral degree at Stanford University, CA, and completed his postdoctoral training at Duke University, NC, before deciding to return to Maine.