Industrial Biotechnology

Biofuels and Industrial Biotechnology

Five Groups in 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 bacteria with enzymes capable of producing biofuel from this energy source.

Current projects in the Yeast Biofuel Group (Gaur) also aim to develop a cost-effective and viable lignocellulosic biofuel technology; developing yeast strains capable of utilising C5 and C6 sugars for improved fermentation performance. Microalgae are the focus of research 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 at reconstructing 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) also develops various projects of industrial interest; besides additional work on modified algae as a source of biofuels, the Group aims at improving the production of the antimalarial drug artemisin by transferring the Artemisia genes necessary for the biosynthesis of this molecule to other plants. One of this Group’s projects is also to develop hypoallergenic latex products to enhance the yield of natural rubber production.

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. Additional work foreseeing applications for the biotech industry is carried out by the Industrial Biotechnology Group (Degrassi), located at the ICGEB Outstation in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The Group focuses on the development of biotechnological products and processes to be used in agriculture and industry, specifically on the study of endophytic bacteria having beneficial effects for crops.

Highlights 

A collaboration between the Microbial Engineering Group and Transcription Regulation Group in New Delhi, has isolated a novel gene from a cellulytic microbe, which displays greatly enhanced activity towards insoluble plant biomass (Pasari et al., 2017, Sci Rep., 7, 3700). This study has important implications for improvements in the degradation of agricultural residue, and for generating glycoside hydrolases with superior enzymatic activity. The Metabolic Engineering Group in New Delhi also made important advances in the use of microalgae for phycoremediation of municipal wastewaters.

In this study they identified the green alga P.kessleri-l as being extremely effective for treatment of municipal wastewater and having the added bonus of being able to generate biodiesel in the process (Singh et al., Int. J. Phytoremediation, 2017, 19, 805). The Systems Biology for Biofuel Group in Delhi has also developed an innovative genome-scale metabolic model of Geobacillus thermoglucosidasius, with a view to using this organism to generate biofuel from rice straw (Ahmad et al., 2017, J. Biotechnol. 10, 30). The study also provides an invaluable, publicly-available model for aiding the further metabolic engineering of this organism.