Six 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; the Group isolates novel enzymes (cellulases, xylanases) with higher specificity towards cellulosic biomass, and engineers fungi and bacteria with these enzymes that are capable of producing biofuels from this energy source. The Group further uses the metabolic engineering and synthetic biology approaches to produce high density fuels and green chemicals. Current projects in the Yeast Biofuel Group (Gaur) aim to develop a cost-effective lignocellulosic material-based technology for fuels and chemical production. The Group is also developing robust yeast strains for the production of ethanol, fatty acid ethyl ester, xylitol, xylo- oligosaccharide and TAG from molasses and lignocellulosic biomass. The Group is focusing on scale-up studies for industrial use and advanced fuel and chemical production. Algal Biology is the thematic focus of the Omics of Algae Group (Jutur), where the research aims to understand the dynamics of microalgal systems through 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 futuristic solutions. These findings will provide important breakthrough on the essential metabolism in these microalgae, which are required for biotechnological improvement of next-generation biofuels/biorenewables. The Systems Biology for Biofuels Group (Srivastava) develops quantitative, genome-scale metabolic models of bacteria that could lead to increased biofuel production, and investigates marine cyanobacteria as factories to produce biofuel candidate molecules. The Metabolic Engineering Group (Kumar) having various projects of industrial interest, working on a sustainable algal biofuels programme using synthetic biology and genome editing tools. The Group aims at reducing carbon footprint by introducing Carbon Concentration Mechanism (CCM) in marine algae and knocking out genes that limit the carbon capture efficiency of photosynthetic organisms via RNAi/CRISPR-cas9. The process to develop alkanes producing algal system for “drop-in jetfuel” is also underway via synthetic biology. The Group also works on enhancing artemisinin biosynthesis in 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 this year had been breaking the code of antibiotic tolerance in hypercellulolytic fungi to facilitate genetic transformation, genome engineering and CRISPR/Cas9 mediated gene editing (Randhawa et al., Biotechnol Biofuels. 2021;14:1-18). The Group further characterized a novel Polysaccharide Monooxygenase of fungus and overexpressed it along with Cellobiohydrolase I to enhance the efficiency of the secreted cellulase enzyme (Ogunyewo et al., Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 2020; 86:23). The resultant enzyme preparation DICzyme-3 showed higher biomass hydrolysis potential as compared to commercial enzyme Ctech3 and is ready for the scale-up study. An optimal fermentation process was also developed for production of high quantity of cellulase enzyme in a cheaper media (Ogunyewo et al., Process Biochemistry 2020; 92:49-60. In terms of high energy density butanol production, the Group devised a new methology for butanol production by comparing pathways assembled via Operon, Pseudo-Operon and Monocistronic manner (Jawed et al., ACS Synthetic Biology, 2020; 9:2390-2398. The Yeast Biofuel Group developed CRISPR/Cas9 based microbial modification tools for scarless genome engineering to produce fuels and chemicals (Kumari et al., 2019, Methods Mol Biol. 1995:161-171), and identified a robust yeast strain producing higher ethanol at 40oC (Pandey, A. K et al., 2019. Biotechnol Biofuels; 12:40). The Metabolic Engineering Group (Kumar), has shown that the co-culture of alga with endophytic fungus enhanced the algal biomass from 471.6 to 704 mg/L, and fatty acid methyl ester (FAME) dramatically (Bhatnagar et al., Biotechnol Biofuels, 2019; 12:176). Their cost effective algal harvesting technology reported reuse of culture medium without pH neutralization (Augustine et al., Algal Research, 2019; 39: 101437). They performed Life cycle assessment of Chlorella species producing biodiesel and remediating wastewater (Nawkarkar et al., J Biosci, 2019, 44:89). The MBE group enhanced artemisinin biosynthesis in Artemisia annua plant via chloroplast engineering (Plant Biotechnology Journal 2020) and produced a complete artemisinin drug in edible plants for coherent treatment of malaria (Molecular Plant 2016). The Omics of Algae Group was involved in understanding the molecular mechanisms of the CO2-driven carbon partitioning and metabolic regulation within oleaginous microalgae i.e., Microchloropsis gaditana (Kareya et al., 2020, Front. Plant Sci. 11: 981; Kareya et al., 2020, Mater. Sci. Energy Technol., 3: 420). Evaluated multifaceted potential of the indigenous isolate Chlamydomonas TRC-1 for wastewater bioremediation along with production of bioelectricity and/or biofuels in collaboration with Amity University, India and University of Eastern Finland, Finland (Behl et al., 2020, Biores. Technol. 304: 122993) and also demonstrated that nutrient deprivation mobilizes the production of unique tocopherols as a stress-promoting response in a new indigenous isolate Monoraphidium sp. (Singh et al., 2020, Front. Mar. Sci., 7: 575817) . Reported new method of employing hybrid genome assembly and functional annotation to reveal insights on lipid biosynthesis of oleaginous native isolate Parachlorella kessleri (Shaikh et al., 2020, Algal Res., 52: 102118) and also developed an efficient protocol for isolation of chloroplast DNA from Asterarcys sp. in collaboration with Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT), India (Kumari et al., 2020, Algal Res., 49: 101952). The Systems Biology for Biofuels Group has identified a native marine cyanobacterium with fast growth, high amounts of glycogen and other attractive properties that can be developed for feedstock applications (Metabolites, In Press), and genetic engineering of another marine cyanobacterium to increase its growth and glycogen levels (Biotechnol. Biofuels 2020 s13068-020-1656-8). The Group published a genome-scale metabolic model (GSMM) of a methanotroph (PeerJ 2019 https://peerj.com/articles/6685/). This work was among the top 5 most-viewed articles in the Synthetic Biology Journal. The Group has also created a GSMM of the native marine cyanobacterium, which was used to identify the genetic engineering targets to produce several compounds of interest.