Industrial Biotechnology

Biofuels and Industrial Biotechnology

Five Groups at ICGEB New Delhi develop technologies for the production of clean energy from biological sources. The goal of the Microbial Engineering Group (Yazdani) is to develop cost-effective processes to produce second-generation biofuels; they isolate novel enzymes (cellulases, xylanases) with higher specificity towards cellulosic biomass, and engineer fungi with enzymes that can produce biofuels from this energy source. The Group uses metabolic engineering and synthetic biology approaches to produce highdensity fuels and green chemicals. Current projects in the Yeast Biofuel Group (Gaur) aim to develop novel yeast strains for microbial biorefineries to produce fuels and chemicals in a cost-effective manner. They are developing robust yeast strains for the production of ethanol, fatty acid ethyl ester, xylitol, xylo-oligosaccharide, and TAG from molasses and lignocellulosic biomasses. The Group is focusing on scale-up studies for industrial use and advanced fuel and chemical production. Algal Biology is the focus of the Omics of Algae Group (Jutur), where research aims to understand the molecular changes within algal systems through an integrative multi-omics approach with well-defined functional pathways that will elucidate an effective strategy for converting light/carbon source to biomass, biofuels and biorenewables (B3) for sustainable solutions. Findings will provide important breakthroughs on the essential metabolism in these microalgae, required for biotechnological improvement of next-generation biofuels/biorenewables. The Systems Biology for Biofuels Group (Srivastava) conducts quantitative metabolic analyses, including the development of genome-scale metabolic models of biotechnologically-important microorganisms to improve biofuel and bioproduct yields and rates, and investigates marine cyanobacteria as factories to produce biofuel candidate molecules. The Metabolic Engineering Group (Kumar) has various projects of industrial interest, working on a sustainable algal biofuels programme using synthetic biology and genome-editing tools. They aim to reduce carbon footprints by introducing Carbon Concentration Mechanisms (CCM) into marine algae and knocking out genes that limit the carbon capture efficiency of photosynthetic organisms via RNAi/CRISPR Cas9. The process to develop an alkane-producing algal system for “drop-in jetfuel” is also underway, via synthetic biology. The Group also works on enhancing artemisinin biosynthesis in the Artemisia annua plant, via chloroplast engineering to produce a complete artemisinin drug in edible plants for coherent treatment of malaria.


A major achievement of Yazdani’s Group has been the scale-up of its enzyme technology to pre-commercial 15,000 litre scale for use in lignocellulosic biomass hydrolysis. Further, the Group identified a drug efflux mechanism of hypercellulolytic fungus Penicillium funiculosum and developed strategies to block these efflux pumps for development of effective transformation tools for genome engineering (Biotechnology for Biofuels, 2021). The genetic tool kits were also extended to the co-expression of multiple proteins of diverse physiological implications (Biotechnology Reports, 2021). The Group performed extensive proteomic studies to discover some of the key enzymes necessary for effective hydrolysis of pre-treated sugarcane bagasse (Biotechnology for Biofuels, 2021). In terms of conferring tolerance to the inhibitors during the fermentation of cellulosic biomass hydrolysate, the group identified a novel oxidoreductase YghA that conferred tolerance to furfural in ethanologenic E. coli (Appl and Environl Microbiol, 2021).

Yazdani’s group also performed extensive biophysical and structural studies of a crucialhydrocarbon biosynthetic enzyme acyl ACP reductase, which revealed the marginal stability of the enzyme (Sci Rep, 2021). Metabolomic profiling of Rhodosporidium toruloides by Gaur’s group revealed the diversion of the cytidinediphosphate-diacylglycerol and glycerol pathway towards de novo triacylglycerol synthesis (Journal of Fungi 2021). Carotenoid(s) extracted from red yeast showed antimalarial activity against P. falciparum (Biologia Futura, 2021) and the Ddi1 gene of P. falciparum was expressed and characterized in yeast in context of inhibition by artemisinin (Pathogens, 2021). Sphingolipidomics of drug resistant clinical isolates of Candida auris revealed distinct sphingolipid species signatures, compared with susceptible isolates (BBA-Molecular and Cell Biology of Lipids, 2021).

The Metabolic Engineering (MBE) Group has been involved in improving photosynthetic organisms using the approaches of synthetic biology and participated in the meetings/ consortia “contributions of the international plant science community to the fight against human infectious diseases – part 1: Epidemic and pandemic diseases and – part 2: Affordable drugs in edible plants for endemic and re-emerging diseases” (Plant Biotech J, 2021, Plant Biotech J, 2021) respectively. The group developed the bioremediation technology “Cultivation of microalgae on unhydrolysed waste molasses syrup using mass cultivation strategy for improved biodiesel”. Further, in collaboration of Tata Steel Pvt Ltd., the MBE group has developed a genetically improved super algal strain that can thrive well in industrial exhaust (10% CO2).