Exploring Plant Biotech in the North-Eastern States

20 Feb 2018

plant biotechnology

The North Eastern Region of India is popularly known as "Land of Seven Sisters" comprising geographically contiguous states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura and the only brother state Sikkim separated by the Chicken's neck corridor of tiny land strip in Siliguri (North Bengal) that joins the North East with the rest of India. Sharing international boundary with China, Myanmar and Bangladesh, the region is the geographic gateway to the flora and fauna of South East Asia thereby recognized as a part of both "Himalaya" and "Indo-Burma" biodiversity hotspots. The region represents temperate and sub-alpine zones in high Himalayan range and sub-tropical zone extends from the foothill of Himalaya. The region is characterized by highest rainfall areas of Mawsynram in Meghalaya. Though the region occupies 7.7% of India's total geographical area it hosts 50% of the flowering plants (ca. 8000 species), of which 2526 species are endemic thus it is described as the 'cradle of flowering plants'.

Though the region is rich biological resources and conducive agro-climate for the agriculture-based enterprise, yet the substantial population of this region live below poverty line. Due to ever-increasing population pressure and unplanned sporadic development activities the region is now experiencing severe alterations in its land use and land cover pausing a serious threat to the coexistence of man and nature. In this context adoption of biotechnological tools is become vital for the development of this region. Ever since of its establishment in 1993, TERI has been conducting biotechnological research and implementing the project that is relevant to the region. Notably out of India's 1300 species of orchids northeast region hosts to about 800 species. TERI has taken up Orchid exploration, propagation and database development in collaboration with 8 northeastern state partners. In the field of medicinal plant research, TERI has executed 3 projects on high altitude medicinal plant Hippophae salicifolia, exploration, and propagation and understanding the gene involved in fruit ripening through Nextgen sequence analysis of transcriptome. It also has undertaken research on identifying the gene involved the formation of agarwood oil in Aquilaria malaccensis adopting transcriptome analysis. In the field of Bamboo, it has carried out clonal propagation of and field trial across the northeastern states in collaboration state forest department. The highly priced Malbhog banana (AAB), a silk class table banana variety TERI has carried out micropropagation and mutation induction for generic improvement. In algae sector, it has isolated 181 microalgal strains and evaluated 70 of it for biodiesel potential. Presently algae are being explored for rubber wastewater treatment. Tea is one of largest livelihood and revenue earning enterprise in the region, the centre is carrying out to find the solution to deal with drought tolerance in tea. Due to high humidity in the atmosphere and subtropical climate the region is favourable for pathogen growth that destroys standing crop and crop productivity. As the region accounted the least consumption of pesticides and recognized organic by default, the centre has carried out biocontrol solution of mustard aphids employing entomopathogenic fungi. Muga silk the golden fabric endemic to the region and Assam, in particular, is the pride of the region that fetches high commercial value. TERI has developed a sustainable process of degumming of Muga silk through microbial pectinase enzyme that enhanced fibre properties and aesthetic shine.

Shouldering with Swachch Bharat Mission the centre is implementing next-generation anaerobic biodigester enriched by human faeces eating microbes in 100 schools of northeastern states.

The necessity to ignite young mind for the conservation of rich bioresources, the centre had executed region-wide Natural resources awareness programme in schools benefitting 75810 students from 392 schools.

Over the years of TERI's presence in the region, it could understand the aspiration of the people for livelihood and resource potential it would continue to endeavour its effort to cater solution for the region that is ecologically sound and economically feasible and user-friendly delivery.