Research group of Prof. Appa Rao Podile of University of Hyderabad is one among the eight academic partners
University of Hyderabad (UoH), Department of Plant Sciences is taking part in an international consortium supported by the European Union (EU). Research group of Prof. Appa Rao Podile of UoH is one among the eight academic partners, along with 14 other big or small/medium enterprises of this international consortium to work on “NanoBioEngineering of BioInspired BioPolymers” – in short referred to as “Nano3Bio”.
While the oil is slowly but surely running out, renewable resources are becoming increasingly important. In future, the biological production of raw materials has to play an even greater role to meet the needs in an environmentally friendly-manner. An international consortium of researchers and companies, including University of Hyderabad, now rises to this challenge. Its goal is the biotechnological production of so-called chitosans, which are used as raw materials for medicine, agriculture, water treatment, cosmetics, paper and textile industries as well as many other fields of application. To tap this potential, the European Commission supports the research project “Nano3Bio” with a total of almost 9 million Euros (approximately Rs. 75 crores) up to 2017. In addition to the experts from UoH, India, research institutes as well as companies from Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, Spain and Sweden are involved. The partners of the consortium recently met to kick off the project in Munster, Germany.
“The Nano3Bio project is making a scientific dream come true, because this strong consortium will be able to achieve a breakthrough from basic research to the biotechnological production of chitosans” says Professor Dr. Bruno Moerschbacher, biologist at the University of Munster and coordinator of the project. So far, chitosans are typically obtained by chemical means from limited resources such as the shells of crabs and shrimps, or, rarely, from fungi or squid pens. Within the biotechnological process, specially prepared fungi, bacteria or algae are to take over the production of chitosans. One hope of the researchers is that this will be energy-saving, more environmentally friendly and less expensive than using current methods. But, equally important is the replacement of chemical methods by biological ones which will lead to more natural and better defined chitosans than available today. Moerschbacher says “succeeding would be a great success, including huge economic potential”. But, the road is challenging. For example, it is important to determine which biological organisms are able to produce exactly that quality of chitosan, which is required for a specific application.
The biotechnological quality of chitosans is at least as diverse as their applications. For example, one specific chitosan is suitable for finishing seeds to protect them pests and diseases, and to yield richer harvests. Another one is acting as anti-microbial, film-forming agent in spray plaster accelerating scar-free wound healing. In medical applications, specific chitosans can ensure the transport of drugs to their target sites, e.g. in the brain or in cancer cells. Furthermore, the researchers assume that many other fields of application will be found in which a specific chitosan can replace or support other substances. For many applications, this is a highly promising prospect since one of the good qualities of chitosans lies in the fact that they are well tolerated by the human body and easily biodegradable in the environment.
Prof. Appa Rao Podile, representing University of Hyderabad expects significant progress through this project in the coming four years.