An Indian research laboratory, the Central Salt and
Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI), based in Bhavnagar,
Gujarat, will start a 5-year, Rs 4.88 crore ($1.1 mn) research project
to develop new varieties of biofuel bearing shrub, jatropha curcas L,
for large scale plantation in the US. CSMCRI is one of the constituent
laboratories of the publicly-funded Council of Scientific and
Industrial Research (CSIR) network. The project is being funded by the
world's leading automobile manufacturer, General Motors (GM) as part of
its green initiatives.
According to GM India's President and MD, Karl Sym, CSMCRI will grow
jatropha varieties in 83 hectares of land for research purposes under
the agreement. While researchers at CSMCRI will try to develop
frost-tolerant varieties and also attempt to increase biofuel
conversion efficiency of the plant. CSMCRI scientists will modify
the plant to make it withstand severe climatic conditions. These crops
will be developed further for frost tolerance in US research institutes
by General Motors.
Frost tolerance has emerged as one of the requirements if jatropha has
to be commercially cultivated in the southern part of the US and Latin
America. Jatropha curcas plant is a native plant of Brazil. So far, all
attempts to grow jatropha curcas on commercial scale have not succeeded
due to the havoc wreaked by frost on this otherwise hardy crop.
If CSMCRI scientist manages to genetically alter the crop to make it
frost tolerant, it will be a major scientific breakthrough. To reduce
pressure on biofuel crops replacing food crops, government policies
restrict cultivation of jatropha to degraded wastelands. Hence CSMCRI
scientists also try to make the plants adopt better to very harsh
environmental conditions that prevail in many parts of the country.
Pushpito Ghosh, director of CSMCRI, said, “Scientists will also try to
prepare a full environmental life cycle of jatropha. The results will
provide useful scientific data in the backdrop of severe criticism of
jatropha and other biofuel plants being not very efficient in
terms of improving the environmental conditions.”
Jatropha is a variety of shrubs and trees belonging to the genus
Euphorbiaceae. There are over 175 varieties of this succulent plant
that grows widely throughout the tropics and in parts of North America,
Caribbean and Africa. The oil is extracted from the non-edible seeds
and has been used successfully as biofuels in automobiles.
In fact, GM itself ran some of its vehicles on experimental basis for
over 15,000 kilometers on biodiesel and the energy efficiency has been
found to be very good. This has prompted the company to develop
biodiesel-bearing plants in as many areas as possible.
Efficient agronomic practices for jatropha have not been developed so
far on the lines of edible oil plants like canola, rapeseed.
Agronomic practices become important as the crop is touted as suitable
for arid and marginal lands. Experts have found that confining jatropha
and other biofuel crops to marginal lands is restricting the scope for
increasing the crop's oil yields that is crucial to make biodiesel
production economical and to make it a strong alternative biofuel.
OSDD releases the C2D
The Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD) initiative of CSIR has released
the results of its 'Connect 2 Decode' (C2D) project to re-annotate the
biological and genetic information related to the Mycobacterium
tuberculosis (Mtb) genome, in New Delhi.
C2D's findings may help to reveal the previously undiscovered details
of tuberculosis (TB); resulting in developing TB drugs in India and
other developing countries. This is the first time that a comprehensive
mapping of the Mtb genome has been made publicly available.
The Mtb map has been hosted on a web portal (www.osdd.net)
custom-developed by Infosys and uses an emerging format (Web 3.0) that
allows users to get better search results. C2D demonstrates the power
of people to connect through the Internet, particularly young people,
and accomplish complex research tasks.
According to WHO, 17 lakh people die annually from TB. The emergence of
multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and extensively drug-resistant TB
(XDR-TB), where patients cannot be treated with first-line drugs (or,
in the case of XDR-TB, more expensive second-line drugs), further
underscores the need for a new generation of TB drugs.
Under the C2D project, researchers and students pooled their time and
skills using online tools to provide insights into 4,000 genes of the
As a first-of-its-kind government initiative, the OSDD was launched in
September 2008 by CSIR. It is a Rs 146 crore collaborative research
effort that focuses primarily on TB. Its objective is to accelerate
R&D for TB drugs. With a global community of nearly 3,000 members
from 74 countries, the OSDD brings together scientists, doctors,
students, policy experts, software professionals and others to work on TB research.