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Silk and Medicinal Plants
Medicinal Plants
India is globally known for its unique health care system called Ayurveda – Knowledge of Life, which is a system based on lifestyle management rather than using curatives. The system is millennia old. However, despite its basic emphasis on holistic living, Ayurveda also has an elaborate knowledge base on medicinal plants and herbs. Besides, there are other related systems such as Siddha, Unani and Amchi.
The Department of Biotechnology has been building on this enormous body of traditional prior-knowledge to work out methods of utilisation of India’s amazing variety of medicinal plants and herbs.
Herbal medicines are being used by about 80 per cent of the world population primarily in the developing countries for primary health care. In addition, tribal populations employ a large number of species of plants in their healing.
International trade for herbs related trade is about USD 60 billion, growing annually at the rate of seven per cent. In India, the herbal drug market is about USD one billion and the export of plant-based crude drugs is around USD80 million.
The export of herbal medicines from India is negligible, largely due to
  • The lack of well-documented traditional use
  • Single-plant medicines
  • Medicinal plants free from pesticides, heavy metals etc
  • Standardisation based on chemical and activity profile, and
  • Safety and stability
However, lots of expansive work has been done in recent times by the BBT. The areas of work spans

Expert Group on Translational Research for Products and Processes from Medicinal and Aromatic Plants

Silk
Silk is as much a romantic notion as a science issue. While the romance of silk lies in the concept of long voyages along the Silk Route that connected China, Middle East and Europe, with India at the centre, the science relating to silk has to deal with less romantic subjects like increasing volumes of production while matching quality at the same time.
Though silk was first used in China as long ago as 3500 BC, India is a major sericulture country in the world, being the homeland of all the four varieties of natural silks: Mulberry, Tasar (including Oak tasar), Eri and Muga.
Tropical tasar silkworm is reared by the tribal inhabitants of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal states, while the temperate tasar silkworm feeds on oak plants in the North Eastern sub-Himalayan states of India.
Muga silkmoth is exclusively found only in Assam, a northeast Indian state, and is known for its unique valuable golden coloured silk fibre.
The non-mulberry silks are called “vanya silks”. Mulberry sericulture dominates, with a share of 89 per cent in production, and 95 per cent in exports. Ninety-eight per cent of mulberry silk is produced in the states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Jammu & Kashmir.
As an important part of the economy, the sector’s strengths for growth and rationale for further investments lie in its huge and unsatiated domestic demand, and potential for further increase in exports.
The Department of Biotechnology from the beginning decided on a programme for the application of biotechnology for increasing silk productivity, enhancing quality of silk and improvement of host plants in both mulberry and non-mulberry sector.

Expert Group on Research on Technology Development in Silk and its Applications in BioMaterials