There are no sections under this division. However, there are a “Centre for Biofuels” and a National Culture collection centre –NII”, which functions under the division. The activities of the centre for biofuels form part of the major focus area on Biofuels & Bioenergy of the division
R & D Activities
Biotechnology division has three major R & D focus areas
Industrial Biotechnology is the core strength of NIIST’s biotechnology division. The division is engaged in R&D related to production of Industrial Enzymes, Microbial Food Colorants, Secondary metabolites, Organic acids, Biopesticides, Biopolymers and, Plant Growth Promoting Activities from microbes.
The division is working on the bio-processes for production of industrial enzymes and their applications. This include the food enzymes- Amylases, Pectinases, Proteases, Tannases; Enzymes used in Detergent and Textile industry – Cellulases, Proteases, Lipases; Those used in animal feeds -Phytase, In Paper and pulp industry-Xylanases , Cellulases, and in Biomass conversion- cellulases, xylanases, beta glucosidases etc to name a few.
The division is considered to be one of the leading labs of the nation in the field of solid state fermentation technology. Several novel processes for enzyme production employing solid state fermentation have been developed by the division and some of them are patented and commercialized.
Secondary metabolites, bioactive microbial compounds, microbial food colorants and organic acids are other important areas where the division is actively pursuing research. The division is also working on the production of both microbe and protein based bio-pesticides as well as on the production of microbial agents promoting plant growth.
R&D also focuses on utilization of regional resources for production of value added metabolites.
Biofuels & Bioenergy
With the ever increasing demand for transportation fuels and the fast depleting petroleum resources, India has to look forwards towards developing alternative fuels, especially liquid transportation fuels. The only foreseeable resource for renewable fuel is the biomass, but the lack of cost effective technologies for biomass conversion to fuel hinders the progress in this direction. Bioethanol and Biodiesel are the major liquid transportation fuels projected for future. Statistics indicate that India has ample biomass resources in the form of surplus agro and forest residues residues to support production of lignocellulosic ethanol. It also point to rice and wheat straw and sugar cane bagasse as the possible feed stocks for ethanol production in India.
The country lacks mature technologies for ethanol production from lignocellulosic biomass which is by far the most abundant renewable resource that may be exploited. Though biomass itself is cheap, the costs of its processing are relatively high. Technologies for biomass to ethanol conversion are also under various stages of development. Major initiatives are needed in overall process integration and working out the process scenario, cost inputs and potential gains weighed against it.
India has a higher demand for Diesel than Gasoline which implies that the first generation Biofuel – Biodiesel is also going to be a major player in the renewable transportation fuel sector. Here the major limitation is the lack of raw material in sufficient quantities. The government has already initiated steps in this direction and has identified waste land for, marginal lands and other land resources not used for crops for the cultivation of Jatropha.
Biotechnology diviison of NIIST has been actively involved in Biethanol research for several years and has recently set up a “Centre for biofuels” for exclusive centre for R &D on ethanol production from lignocellulosic biomass. We are setting up a pilot plant for demonstration of bioethanol production technology using select feedstock, the work of which has already started and will be commissioned soon. The centre has future plans on R &D in other biofuels and on bioenergy.
Genomics and Infectious diseases
The division’s R & D on genomics include gene level studies on possible future drug targets in Mycobacteria and the screening for novel bioactivities in the prokaryotic DNA pool by using metagenomics approach.
Mycobacteria consist of pathogens responsible for significant morbidity and mortality throughout the world such as M.tuberculosis and M.leprae. Interest in the treatment of tuberculosis has grown in recent years due to prevalence of the disease in immuno-compromised conditions as in HIV infections.
The beta -lactam class of antibiotics has not been used in treatment of Mycobacterial infections since the bacteria are resistant to this class of antibiotics and produces beta-lactamase enzymes capable of degrading the lactam -antibiotics.
The increasing need for new antibiotics to overcome rapidly developing resistance mechanisms has placed critical emphasis on the search for new antibacterial enzyme targets. Among these potential targets, the enzymes responsible for integrating the amino acid methionine into proteins, along with its subsequent post-translational modification and repair, have emerged as promising candidates for the development of novel antibiotics. Of particular interest are the enzymes peptide deformylase and methionine aminopeptidase.
Another important aspect about the mycobacteria is the peculiarity of its cell wall in terms of the abundance of mannolipids, mannose polysaccharides and O’ mannosylated proteins.
The division’s R&D on Mycobacteria follows a multifaceted approach by addressing the drug resistance and drug targeting issues at the genetic level. Beta-lactamase genes from Mycobacteria are studied to understand the mechanism of antibiotic resitance, besides studies on the mannose biosynthetic pathway. Also the enzymes peptide deformylase and met-aminopeptidase are studied as probable drug targets.
The division is also engaged in screening of novel bioactivities (especially lipases and other enzymes with novel properties and inhibitors of beta lactamases) from metagenomic libraries constructed out of niche environmental DNA samples.
Microbial diversity is an unseen national resource that deserves greater attention. Too small to be seen no longer means too small to be studied or valued. Microbial diversity encompasses the spectrum of variability among all types of microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, viruses and many more) in the natural world and as altered by human intervention. The untapped diversity of microorganisms is a resource for new genes and organisms of value to biotechnology. We are involved in several projects which either diercetly or indirectly deals with microbial biodiversity.
We have collected samples of soil from diverse ecological niches and are isolating microbes and s creening them for various bioactivities ranging from plant growth promoting activities (PGPR) to antibiotic resistance.
Another major approach followed by the lab is to look at the non-culturable microbail biodiversity using a metagenomic approach. We are constructing soil DNA librarie using soil samples from various ecological niches and are screening for industriallly and medically important bioactivities.