BIOTECHNOLOGY : HARNESSING GENETIC DIVERSITY IN LIVING ORGANISMS
 
 
DR.(MRS.) Manju Sharma * and S.R. Rao **
 
 
 
    With the advent of recombinant DNA technique and understanding at the cellular and molecular level of the structure and function, it is now possible to harness the genetic diversity in the living organisms for the manufacture of useful products and production of novel microbes, plants and animals with improved qualities.

    The setting up of a separate Department of Biotechnology, under the Ministry of  Science and Technology in 1986, gave a new impetus to the development in the field of modern biology and biotechnology in India. In a decade of existence, the department has promoted and accelerated the pace of development of biotechnology in the country. A clear visible impact of this field has been seen through more than 1000 R&D projects, demonstrations and creation of infrastructural facilities in the country.
 

Agriculture

    As a part of the mandate of Technology Mission on Oil Seeds, the department has popularised cultivation of Oil Palm in 3,150 ha in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka on farmers' field. This demonstration had a wide spread impact in area expansion to about 25,000 ha. For the first time, the cultivation of tissue culture raised small cardamom which has been demonstrated in an area of 102 ha in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu resulting in up to 40% increased yield compared to the seedling derived plants.

    Through the establishment of two tissue culture pilot plants at National Chemical Laboratory (NCL), Pune and Tata Energy Research Institute (TERI), New Delhi, nearly 4 million plant-lets of eucalyptus, popular teak, bamboo's and anogysia (desert teak) have been field demonstrated in 3,500 ha covering 17 States. Micro-propagation technology parks established at these pilot plants are serving as platform for effective transfer of technology to the entrepreneurs; training of manpower and demonstration of technology for mass multiplication of horticulture and forestry species.

    Tissue culture production protocols for regeneration have been perfected for coffee, tea, pepper, cocoa and with very good leads in mango. In citrus varieties, diseases free planting material is being produced.

    For popularising use of biofertilisers 7,000 experimental demonstrations were conducted and about 6,000 farmers were trained in the use of blue green algae and rhizobium. The increase in paddy yields due to blue green algae ranged from 13-16.67% whereas in pulses and oil seeds application of rhizobium resulted in yield increase in the range of 5-13.5%.

    Eight new bio-pesticides have been developed and two pilot plants are producing bio-control agents for use by the farmers, catering to the needs of about 0.224 million ha. An area of 55,000 ha. has been covered in various field crops for demonstrating the use of bio-control agents. About 20,000 farmers were benefited by attending the on-site training programmes and extension activities. The technologies for mass production of candidate biocontrol agents - baculovirus, parasites, predators, antagonistics, fungi and bacteria - for economically important crops have been transferred to industries.

    Cloning and sequencing of at least six genes related to storage proteins, disease and pest resistance has been achieved. Transgenics of mustard, tobacco and chick pea are being evaluated for field demonstrations.
 

Sericulture

    A transgenic silk worm has been produced. For construction of the molecular genetic map, a silkworm genome project has been initiated. For the detection of pebrine disease of tussar silkworm, a demonstration of a diagnostic kit was held by using purified polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies.
 

Animal Sciences and Aquaculture

    The embryo transfer in cattle and buffaloes has been successfully transferred to farmers resulting in birth of about 1,000 calves. Cows produced through embryo transfer technology (ETT) produce 3000-6000 litres milk per lactation. DNA markers for sex determination of embryos during embryo transfer were developed and field tested. This technology is now a customised service.

    A production of about 18 tonne per ha of carp per year was demonstrated through intensive carp farming at Central Institute of Fresh Water Aquaculture (CIFA). Similarly, a production of more than 10 tonne/ha of prawns was demonstrated through semi-intensive farming. A hatchery with million capacity was also set up subsequently at CIFA, alongwith a feed mill which is now in operation.

    Towards alleviation of diseases in animals and aquaculture, major projects for development of vaccines and diagnostics have been undertaken. All validation trials have been completed accordingly for tissue culture based vaccine for new castle (Raniket) disease in poultry and IBR (infectious bovine rhinotrachietis) disease of cattle. The technology transfer is being effected by National Research and Development Council (NRDC), New Delhi.
 

Health Care and Medical Research

    A mission like approach to develop cholera vaccine has been major breakthrough in development of candidate vaccine strain by employing molecular biology and recombinant technologies. The validation of the vaccine in Phase 1 trials is undergoing in three different hospitals. Similarly, Phase I clinical trials have been planned subsequent to development of a candidate vaccine strain for rota viral diarrhoe besides, a candidate BhCG vaccine that prevents pregnancy in women.

     The "LEPROVAC", the leprosy vaccine developed at National Institute of Immunology (NII), is now being produced commercially.

    An indigenous AIDS diagnostics, ELISA system using synthetic peptides for HIV & II, chimerical monoclonal reagents to detect HIV I&II in a drop of blood and Western Immunoblot assays, has been developed for transfer to industry. This would result in early and correct detection of dangerous infection.

    For the treatment of systematic fungal infection, Amphotercin B encapsulated liposomes has been transferred to industry. During Phase II trials, more than 60 patients were fully cured from chronic fungal infection.

    The National Centre for Cell Science, Pune, has transferred the cryo preservation technology for bone marrow and stem cells and for healing the burn cases by skin culture.

    At the Centre for DNA fingerprinting and Diagnostics, 250 cases of DNA fingerprinting have been dealt with.
 

Food Products and Processing

    In an inter-institutional R&D programme, low cost nutrient supplement for malnourished children has been launched.

    Protocols have been standardised for detection of food toxicants, pesticide residues, contaminants and for colour leaching from plastic containers.

    Protocols for production of biodegradable eco-friendly packaging films for preservation of food were developed and tested for their performance. These films extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables by 21 days at ambient temperature and over 40 days at cold storage temperature.

    A National Food Safety has been established at Central Food Technology Research Institute (CFTRI), Mysore.
 

Environment and Biodiversity Conservation

    Four technologies for environmental monitoring based on DNA probes and ELISA technique, have been developed each in the area of detection of Entamoeba, pathogenic viruses, and organo-phosphate pesticide residues in drinking water.

    Precombustion biobenefication of coal, precombustion desulphurisation of gaseous fuels and emissions containing hydrogen sulphide with concomitant recovery of elemental sulphur were developed and transferred to industry.

    Restoration of manganese and coal-mine spoil dumps, using biotechnological approaches in holistic manner, is in progress at Gumgaon mines of Manganese Ore India Ltd. and Dongribuzreg Coal Mines near Nagpur. Due to various on-going projects, a spectacular regeneration of forest cover has been achieved. This has been a major effort towards conserving the environment and biodiversity.
 

Biotechnology Based Programmes for Society

    The department is also implementing several programmes to provide benefits of biotechnological processes and techniques to SC/ST populations, women and rural society. Projects on training, field demonstration and extension - oriented activities on proven technologies/processes are implemented so that technology transfer could be done effectively among the target population of the society. The programme aims to increase the skill and income in addition to their present occupation. The implementing agencies are universities, Krishi Vigyan Kendras, NGOs, voluntary organisations, national laboratories and other institutions.

    For the benefit of SC/ST population and weaker sections, 30 demonstration-cum-extension type of projects were implemented in the area of mushroom cultivation, vermicomposting, poultry, biofertilizer, sericulture, aquaculture and medicinal land aromatic plants. About 15,000 persons have benefited in terms of training, employment, improved nutrition and health status.
 

Commemorating 50th Year of India's Independence

    To commemorate the Golden Jubilee of India's Independence, a number of events have been successfully concluded. These cover a broad range of activities from incentives and rewards for biotechnology research to technology transfer and creation of centres of excellence for brain, plant genome research, creation of bio-village and biotechnology park for women aiming at application of biotechnology for societal benefits.

    The Department, within a decade of its existence, has implemented more than 900 R&D projects and established several centres for excellence. A nation wide bioinformatic network is being used by more than 10,000 scientists per year. The research and development efforts are now culminating into products and processes. More than 5,000 research publications, 4,000 post-doctoral students, 22 technologies transferred to industries and 21 patents filed including 2 US patents can be considered as a modest beginning. Biotechnology research in the next millennium would constitute a major technological power for socio- economic progress of the country.

 

* Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology
 

** Principal Scientific Officer, Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology