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The Department of Biotechnology 2013‑2014

Rapid fire
  • Rotavirus vaccine success encouraged numerous international collaborations
  • Star college and other human resource development activity received boost
  • Energy & agricultural research & medical technologies saw sunshine areas

It was a very significant year for DBT. A highlight was the low-cost Rotavirus vaccine developed in the country in collaboration with international partners saw the twilight. Results of its Phase III Clinical Trial Developed in India showed strong efficacy. Its journey is still on. While we mention it here, the chronicle of its development and use merits a larger share of the internet space. So, more on it later.
Taking a leaf from this success story, this was a result of partnerships across countries and organizations, DBT embarked on many more of them.
Last year, a lot of sunshine news poured in from the land of sunrise. The, DBT AIST (Japan) International Laboratory for Advanced Biomedicine DAILAB was inaugurated to focus on combating pathologies such as cancer and neuro-degeneration.

DBT and RIKEN, Japan’s largest research organization signed Memoranda of Understanding for launching joint research programmes in the fields of biology and life sciences. The specific areas of collaboration were identified, as genome-related research including systems biology, computational science including development of bioinformatics tools and detection tools like spectroscopy.
Under the Indo-Australia Collaboration DBT had announced Indo-Australian Career Boosting Gold Fellowships (IACBGF) for 2013 2014. Apart from this, discussions were initiated with the Cambridge University, UK for collaborations in plant sciences and disease biology.
Along with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Department launched the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge India to support talented researchers to conceptualise prototypes and field-test highly innovative ways to process human waste for sanitation service delivery.

Developing domestic capability

The DBT increased its funding support substantially to the star colleges programme. Among the 55 proposals received, 31 new star colleges were selected between 2012 and 2013, the highest so far. Between 2013 and 2014, only eight colleges were selected, thereby demonstrating a rise of benchmark for selection of star colleges.

Clinics for counseling on genetic and developmental disorders were set up to facilitate disease-based analysis. One such genetic diagnostic lab was supported by the department at Assam Medical College.

A major achievement by the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (NIBMG), Kayani a DBT-aided autonomous institute was the study on the genomics of oral cancer. The paper, led by Dr Partha Majumdar, Director of NIBMG, was published in Nature Communications. An innovative research and development proposal to develop a Multiplexed Point-of-Care test for acute febrile illness (a rapid onset of fever and symptoms such as headache, chills or muscle and joint pains) by another DBT-aided autonomous institute, the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI) was shortlisted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for funding.

Technologies galore

A biosensor based on Raman scattering and photoluminiscence emission for medical diagnostics and mutation detection in diseased DNA was developed. It gave more reliable results than those currently available in the market. An unique technology for limb immobilization that supports the injured parts of the body, especially the extremities; and another for neonatal resuscitation that helps administer artificial respiration to a new born baby, were developed.

Major support provided to tuberculosis research among the infectious diseases programme saw the completion of a major trial using indigenous strain Mycobacterium indicuspranii showed an advantage in difficult-to-treat pulmonary tuberculosis patients. Guidelines for stem cell research were formulated. To augment research in biofuels, three bioenergy centres were established and a bioenergy roadmap “vision 2020” was launched.

Agricultural biotechnology saw new research in analysis of genes to produce improved varieties of rice that can with stand biotic stress and fine mapping of yield enhancing characteristics from wild rice.

This is, however, only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. We will soon highlight more on the science from our many other funding efforts. In no way is this write up representative of the specific achievements of each of the various programmes. Neither does it represent the efforts that the ace science administrators of the Department have silently put in through the year.

In research, it can take decades of persistence to see discovery or application. An example is the Rotavac, which took more than two decades to translate from a brilliant discovery to people’s benefits.