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Plant & Microbial Biotechnology

Agriculture and industries are two pillars of socio-economic progress of a society or country. While agriculture is mostly a reflection of crop yield, a large number of industries are driven by microbes or microbial products. According to one of the estimates, the human population is increasing rapidly, and is likely to increase from 7.3 billion to 9.6 billion by 2050. Hence, the agricultural produce must increase substantially to meet the growing demand. It has also been estimated that the production of rice, which accounts for nearly 23% of human consumption of carbohydrates, itself should increase to at least 800 million metric tons from the current production of 585 million metric tons. With the increase in human population it is also expected that industrial activities, including that based on microbes and microbial products would increase, which in turn might require microbes of improved quality and efficiency. Keeping these in view, the efforts in this group will aim at finding ways and means for increasing agriculture productivity in environmentally challenged ecosystems and address the current demand and the future needs of industry for improved microbe-based technologies.

Scientists Working in the Field

Major activities undertaken during last 5 years

Microbial biotechnology group is working on the genome-based reconstruction of metabolic model and functional analysis of pathways linked to phenotypic expression in bacteria, especially in extremophiles, which represent a largely untapped resource with unlimited potential for novel beneficial products. Reconstruction of metabolic model and functional analysis of pathways involved in bio-geochemical cycle, synthesis of metabolites & drug resistance in bacteria have significant benefits not only in terms of environmental issues but also in terms of pharmaceuticals.

Crop improvement group works on biochemical and molecular aspects of salt tolerance in plants using halophyte as a model. The group interest lies in identification and characterization of key regulatory and functional genes involved in salt tolerance from naturally salt-tolerant halophytes and their subsequent mobilization to crop species for generating transgenic plants. This research program has the potential of transforming large areas of cultivated land in India (<5 Million Ha) affected by salinity and thereby enhancing agricultural productivity in coastal areas.

Plant biotechnology group works primarily on the biochemical and molecular basis of grain filling process in rice. This is considering the fact that poor grain filling in the basal spikelets of rice panicle results in yield loss as high as 50 %. Hence, the effort is being made to identify the key factor(s) determining the grain filling process by a comparative study of the expression pattern of the genes in the spikelets located on an apical and basal region of the panicle for biotechnology intervention, which may increase the yield of rice by 30-50 %. The group is interested in gene mining from halophytes, the extremophiles of plant origin, for key genes imparting salt and/or drought tolerance in them and identifying the genes/proteins involved in tolerance of a crop plant to a pathogen for developing transgenic crop plants with the desired trait for the benefit of agriculture.

Plant molecular biology group works on the development of efficient promoters for enhanced expression of the transgenes in transgenic plants because transcriptional promoters (wild type) of plant/non-plant origin are usually long and weak. The strength and tissue specificity of native promoters are being enhanced by manipulating the ‘cis-architecture’ through ‘cis-engineering’ thereby generating improved synthetic promoters. Over the last three decades, synthetic promoters have gained extensive popularity in plant biotechnology for regulating plant gene expression. This group is also interested in plant molecular farming in which important genes from the human origin are expressed in the plant for bulk production.