Biotechnology Research and Development in India!
In the 1980s the Government of India considered the need for creating a separate institutional framework to strengthen biology and biotechnology research in the country.
Scientific agencies supporting research in modern biology included: Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Department of Science and Technology, and University Grants Commission.
Biotechnology was given an important boost in 1982 with the establishment of the National Biotechnology Board. Its priorities were human resource development, creation of infrastructure facilities, and supporting research and development (R&D) in specific areas.
The success and impact of the National Biotechnology Board prompted the Government to establish a separate Department of Biotechnology (DBT) in February 1986. There have been major accomplishments in areas of basic research in agriculture, health, environment, human resource development, industry, safety, and ethical issues.
Basic research is essential on all aspects of modern biology including development of the tools to identify, isolate, and manipulate the individual genes that govern the specific characters in plants, animals, and microorganisms. Recombinant DNA (rDNA) technology is the basis for these new developments.
The creativity of the scientists and the basic curiosity-driven research will be the keys to future success. India led through the work of G.N. Ramachandran, in which he elucidated the triple helical structure of collagen. The Ramachandran plot has proven to be fundamental in solving the protein structure.
Areas of biosystematics using molecular approaches, mathematical modeling, and genetics including genome sequencing for human beings, animals, and plants, will continue to have priority as we move into the next century. The tremendous impact of genome sequencing is increasingly evident in many fields.
As an increasing number of new genes are discovered, short, unique, expressed sequenced tags segments are used as signatures for gene identification. The power of high throughput sequencing, together with rapidly accumulating sequenced data, is opening new avenues in biosciences.
In the plant genome area, the sequencing of Arabidopsis and rice genome will soon be completed and cataloging and mapping of all the genes will be done. There have been major achievements in basic bioscience in the last decade or so in India, where we have expertise in practically all areas of modern biology. The institutions under the CSIR, ICMR, ICAR, DST, and DBT have established a large number of facilities where most advanced research work in biosciences are being done.
In the identification of new genes, development of new drug delivery systems, diagnostics, recombinant vaccines, computational biology, and many other related areas, considerable success has been achieved. Breakthroughs include studies on the three-dimensional structure of a novel amino acid, a long protein of mosquito (University of Poona), and demonstration of the potential of the reconstituted Sendai viral envelopes containing only the F protein of the virus, as an efficient and site-specific vehicle for the delivery of reporter genes into hepatocytes (Delhi University).
The post Green Revolution era is almost merging with the gene revolution for improving crop productivity and quality. The exploitation of heterosis vigor and development of new hybrids including apomixis, genes for abiotic and biotic resistance, and developing planting material with desirable traits and genetic enhancement of all important crops will dominate the research agenda in the next century.
Integrated nutrient management and development of new biofertilisers and bio-pesticides would be important from the view-point of sustainable agriculture, soil fertility, and a clean environment. Stress biology, marker-assisted breeding programmes, and studying the important genes will continue as priorities.
In India we have achieved the cloning and sequencing of at least six genes, developed regeneration protocols for citrus, coffee, mangrove species, and new types of biofertiliser and bio-pesticide formulations, including mycorrhisal fertilisers. Research to develop new genetically improved (transgenic) plants for brassicas, mung bean, cotton, and potato is well advanced. Industries have also shown a keen interest in the options of biotechnology and are participating in field trials and pilot level productions.
The successful tissue culture pilot plants in the country, one at TERI in New Delhi and the other at NCL in Pune are now functioning as Micro-propagation Technology Parks. This has given a new direction to the plant tissue culture industry. The micro-propagation parks serve as a platform for effective transfer of technology to entrepreneurs, including training and the demonstration of technology for mass multiplication of horticulture and trees. Considerable progress has been made with cardamom and vanilla, both important crops. Yield of cardamom has increased 40 percent using tissue-cultured plants.
Between 1996 and 1998, in just eight countries, the area covered by new genetically improved transgenic plants (from 16.8 to 27.8 million hectares). Some of the main crops grown are soybean, com, canola, cotton, and potato. The United States, Argentina, Brazil, and China have moved ahead quickly. The new plants exhibited herbicide, insect, and viral resistance, and overall improvement in product quality.
While the Green Revolution gave us self-reliance in food, the livestock population has provided a “White Revolution,” with 80 percent of the milk in India coming from small and marginal farms. This has had a major social impact. A diverse infrastructure has been established to help farmers in the application of embryo transfer technology.
The world’s first IVF buffalo calf (PRATHAM) was born through embryo transfer technology at the National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal. Multiple ovulation and embryo transfer, in vitro embryo production, embryo sexing, vaccines and diagnostic kits for animal health have also been developed. Waste recycling technologies that are cost effective and environmentally safe, are being generated. The animal science area is also opening up many avenues for employment generation.
With a coastline of more than 8,000 kilometers, and two island territories of Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep, there is great potential for marine resource development and aquaculture. To achieve an annual target production of 10 million metric tons of fish, scientific aquaculture offers great possibilities.
In fact, aquaculture products are among the fastest moving commodities in the world. We have to continuously improve seed production, feed, health products, cryopreservation, genetic studies, and related environmental factors. This is an area which will help substantially in the diversification of the breadbasket, and in combating nutritional deficiency.