Main thrust of activities Realising the tremendous potential of biotechnology to offer unique, efficient, ecofriendly and economically viable options for waste treatment in situ and degradation of hazardous toxic waste into relatively less harmful or harmless byproducts, the Department of Biotechnology has given a major thrust to programmes for ecorestoration of degraded ecosystems, mining spoil dumps, development of biosensors for detection of pollutants , treatment of industrial effluents, use of molecular markers for characterisation of biodiversity. The programme has been conceived and steered by distinguished scientists who chaired the task force on Environmental Biotechnology and Biodiversity Conservation over the last several years - Late Prof. T.N. Khoshoo, Prof. P. Khanna, Prof. Madhav Gadgil and Prof. Raghavendra Gadagkar comprising eminent scientists in the field. In addition to the distinguished members of the task force, inputs from a large number of scientists and experts from user industry are also obtained.
Achievements During the period of review, 65 projects were sanctioned. 45 projects have been completed and 50 are ongoing. The major areas supported include industrial effluent treatment particularly dye industry, paper and pulp industry, distillery , tannery, electroplating, oil refineries etc., use of isozymes and molecular markers such as RAPD, RFLP for characterisation of biodiversity, ecorestoration of degraded lands and mine spoil dumps. The Department has made concerted efforts to develop network programmes based on the need of users. Attempts are being made to convert research leads from ongoing and completed projects into technologies and demonstrate these at the site of user industries. Emphasis is being laid on involvement of user industry from the beginning so that the process can be validated on site resulting in smooth transfer of technology. Technologies standardised at lab scale are being upscaled and transferred to the industry for large scale exploitation. Efforts are made to identify priority areas and a no. of brain storming sessions were convened to formulate integrated R&D proposals in gap areas. Details of brain storming sessions held are given below:
- Degradation of pesticides held at ITRC Lucknow on May, 1999
- Biodiversity Conservation held at NEHU, Shillong on Sept, 16, 2000.
- Biodegradation of Textile and Dye Industry wastewater treatment at Sardar Patel University, Anand on 19th July, 2001
- Conservation and Genetic Enhancement of Cryptogamic Plants for Pollution abatement on 28-29th December, 2001 at NBRI, Lucknow
- Metabolic Engineering for Environmental amelioration on 8-9th April, 2002 at Thapar Institute, Patiala
The major achievements during this period are:
- Establishment of a Laboratory for conservation of endangered animal species CCMB, Hyderabad The Department has established a Laboratory for conservation of endangered animal species at CCMB, Hyderabad jointly with MOEF and AP State Government. A mobile laboratory for field studies and conducting research on various aspects of conservation and reproduction in endangered animals has been specially designed. Contrary to earlier belief, scientists from CCMB have shown scientific evidence that Asiatic lions and Indian tigers do not suffer from inbreeding depression and show moderate genetic variability of about 26% Asiatic lions have abundant immune diversity. Genomic library of lion has been made and screened for presence of microsatellites - one specific microsatellite has already been identified, which could be used to study genetic polymorphism. A rapid and simple method for extracting DNA from fecal samples has been developed. Protocols for collection and evaluation of semen and artificial insemination in pigeon have been standardised and 45% success has been achieved. It is proposed to extend this study to other endangered birds. CCMB has standardised a protocol for intravaginal insemination of cheetal deer as a model system to undertake similar inseminations in the highly endangered musk deer, brow antler deer and swamp deer. A calf was born after 190 days of gestation. Unfortunately, the calf died after birth. However, there are indications that a few more deer are pregnant. Notably, this has been achieved for the first time in India and only at one other place in the world. Study on marine turtle populations from east coast of India using DNA markers suggest that Indian population is genetically distinct from other populations and is probably ancestral to all the ridley populations. The studies on Molecular characterisation of Himalayan wolves by DNA fingerprinting indicate that both Indian wolf populations are distinct from each other as well as from populations elsewhere. Himalayan wolf population can be considered as a candidate for a new species status viz., C. himalayansis. A novel, simple and quick method for establishing identity of vast range of animal species in a universal manner has been developed. The PCT and US patent has been filed. The entire mitochondrial genome of Asiatic lion, Ganges River dolphins, Indian buffalo, partial genomes of Indian leopard and Dugong have been sequenced.
- Network programmes on pesticide degradation Three network programmes on degradation of chloro and nitro pesticides in contaminated soils and stocks of banned pesticides involving 4 research institutions each have been supported. Programmes cover isolation and characterisation of microorganisms capable of degrading DDT and its residues, development of suitable probes for tracking the organisms used for remediation of contaminated sites and development of bench scale reactor for biological treatment of pesticide waste and date expired pesticides.
- Programme on biodiversity conservation of North Eastern Region Six projects for ex situ conservation, micropropagation and in vitro conservation of rare and endangered plants of medicinal importance, orchids, ethnobotanical plants and microbial diversity of north eastern region have been supported.
- Programmes for conservation and use of lower plants as indicators of pollutionFive projects on biosystematics and conservation studies of liverworts, genetic diversity of ferns, lichens and their use as indicators of pollution have been supported.
- Programmes on molecular biology for environmental ameliorationSix projects on characterisation and molecular analysis of polyaromatic hydrocarbon degrading pathways, genetic engineering for improved heavy metal tolerance, cloning and characterisation of metal resistant genes have been supported.
- Ecorestoration of mine dumps and other degraded ecosystems An integrated biotechnological approach (IBA) for bioremediation of mine spoil dumps and degraded ecosystems has been developed by scientists at National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur & University of Delhi and has been successfully demonstrated at a number of sites. The process leads to the development of supportive and nutritive rhizosphere in mine spoil dumps through appropriate blending of spoil and organic waste(s) for association of plants with specialised culture(s) of microorganisms involved in nitrogen- fixation, phosphate solubilisation and growth promotion. IBA helps in restoration of microbial activity within a short span of around 18 months and restoration of natural bio-geochemical cycles within three-four years, a process that would normally take 100-300 years. Moreover, microbial processes such as humification and soil aggregation are also enhanced. Desertified sites and degraded ecosystems have been converted into lush green grasslands and three-storeyed forests by appropriate selection of plant species naturally found in the area combined with appropriate use of nitrogen fixers, phosphate solubilisers and other growth promoters.
- Mangrove afforestation through application of classical and biotechnological tools MSSRF, Chennai has employed an integrated approach combining classical and biotechnological tools to restore and rehabilitate mangrove forests and biodiversity in coastal areas by multi-species enrichment planting. The plantations comprised genetically superior candidate plus-trees identified by various morphological and physiological markers, and these were propagated through asexual methods (vegetative and tissue culture propagation).