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. 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 microbial 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. Microalgae are the research focus of the Omics of Algae Group (Jutur), which studies the production of algal oils that serve as material for conversion to biofuels. The Group aims to reconstruct the metabolic pathways involved in the biosynthesis of triacylglycerols, essential for rendering algae-derived biofuels economically competitive. 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) develops various projects of industrial interest, working on a sustainable algal biofuels programme using synthetic biology and genome editing tools, and reducing carbon foot printing via engineering of carbon Concentration mechanism in marine algae. The Group is also working on artemisinin enhancement in Artemisia annua via chloroplast engineering and application of synthetic biology to produce artemisinin in edible plants for coherent malaria treatment (as reported in Mol Plant 2016). These activities are complemented by the Translational Bioinformatics Group (Gupta), which provides computational biology and artificial intelligence tools for the analysis of complex biological data, drug design and comparative genomics. The Industrial Biotechnology Group (Degrassi), located at the ICGEB Outstation in Buenos Aires, Argentina, focuses on the development of biotechnological products and processes to be used in agriculture and industry. Current projects are specifically focused on the study of endophytic bacteria that have beneficial effects for crops.
In a very extensive study involving MetaExoProteomic and MetaTranscriptomic approaches, the Microbial Engineering Group mined the complete repertoires of cellulases and xylanases present in the symbionts of rice yellow stem borer (Singh et al., Biotechnol Biofuels. 2019;12:265). The Group studied the critical features of a gut bacterium, Paenibacillus polymyxa that aided its survival in the gut of termite (Pasari et al., Sci Rep. 2019;9(1):6091). CRISPR/Cas9-mediated marker-free engineering of Escherichia coli was performed for n-butanol production from C5/C6 sugars (Abdelaal et al., Ind Microbiol Biotechnol. 2019;46(7):965-975). 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 Omics of Algae Group was involved in developing a new method for investigating the modulation of metabolites under high light in mixotrophic alga Asteracys sp. using a metabolic approach in collaboration with the Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT), Mumbai (Agarwal et al., 2019, Algal Res. 43, 101646). They also captured the metabolomic changes in oleaginous trebouxiophycean alga Parachlorella kessleri when subjected to nutrient deprivation for enhanced biofuel production (Shaikh et al., 2019, Biotechnol. Biofuels 12, 182). 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 https://doi.org/10.1186/ 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 (Metabolites, In Press).