Biotechnological applications of polar microbes have been identified as a key area of interest. In addition, as highlighted in a series of MoES tweets, the proposed center will need to study the relationship between climate change and the emergence of infectious diseases, derive products from nature that could be valuable to industry, identify compounds. for purposes such as preventing infections, and exploring new molecules for commercial use.
The MoES-DBT collaboration will jointly identify other areas for action over time.
As a first step, the researchers will submit proposals to carry out research using the existing polar stations of the MoES. However, joint laboratories will be set up in the future so that researchers do not have to move samples to and from laboratories in India to perform experiments.
“We have done research in the Arctic, the Antarctic and the Himalayas – the three poles – but unfortunately we do not have expertise in biological sciences. DBT has the expertise, so we want to work together, ”said Dr M Ravichandran, director of the National Center for Polar and Oceanic Research (NCPOR), Swarajya.
Based in Goa, NCPOR is India’s premier R&D institution responsible for the country’s research activities in the Polar and Southern Ocean regions. It is an autonomous body under the Ministry of Earth Sciences, which is the nodal ministry of polar research in India.
According to Dr Ravichandran, the joint MoES-DBT effort will focus on “bioprospecting” and microbiology research.
Bioprospecting is the abbreviation for prospecting for biodiversity. It is the systematic study of bio-resources, such as plants and microorganisms, with the aim of developing products of commercial value for pharmaceutical, agricultural and other applications, and globally for the good of society. .
The bioprospecting process goes through the stages of sample collection, isolation, characterization and translation through to product development and commercialization, notes the United Nations Development Program in its report. 2016 on the subject.
“Bioprospecting, when properly regulated, generates income that can be directly linked to biodiversity conservation and the benefit of local communities,” the report says.
With eyes on bioprospecting and other biology research, India aims to add the muscle of biotechnology to the science it conducts in the polar region.
“We want to encourage cold climate polar biotechnology studies to strengthen the field of polar research,” said Dr Ravichandran.
Small-scale polar biology research is underway in India. The work is carried out by very few people and usually includes researchers from different universities and institutes whose proposals are accepted by NCPOR.
The Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology, the Wildlife Institute of India, the Zoological Survey of India and the Hindu University of Banaras are among the institutes that have fields such as microbiology and wildlife ecology at the poles.
Much of the biology over the past decade has involved the study of bacterial diversity and adaptability in snow and ice, both in terrestrial and marine environments in the region.
However, there is now a feeling that India can do more in polar biology.
The regions around the North and South Poles – north of the Arctic or south of the Antarctic Circles, respectively – are important natural laboratories for scientific research.
Much of the land and sea area of this region remains unexplored and this is where the opportunity lies for researchers to find answers to scientific questions.
India’s engagement with the polar regions goes back a long way. It started with the signing of the in February 1920 to initiate formal links with the Arctic. Getting into the Antarctic region took longer, but finally started when India launched its first Antarctic expedition in 1981.
Now, four decades later, India is participating in its 40th scientific expedition to Antarctica in January 2021.