Kannan received $50,000 as part of the award for using biocomputational methods to understand the causes of heightened infectivity in the disease mpox after it reemerged in 2022.
Saathvik’s approach, named Bioplex, uses a combination of machine learning and three-dimensional comparative protein modeling to decode structures like those that enable the mpox virus to replicate. This allowed him to identify the mutations in the virus that likely made it more infectious as well as other mutations that could make it resistant to antibiotics. Saathvik believes scientists will also be able to apply Bioplex to future outbreaks of other viruses.
The competition featured over 1,600 young scientists representing 49 states and over 60 countries. Nearly $9 million was awarded to finalists, who were evaluated by their project's innovation, creativity and level of scientific inquiry.