ADDRESS AT INAUGURATION OF PLANT MOLECULAR AND GENETIC ENGINEERING LABORATORY AT VASANTDADA SUGAR INSTITUTE, PUNE
30-11-2002 : VASANTDADA SUGAR INSTITUTE, Pune
I am indeed delighted to inaugurate the Plant Molecular Biology and Genetic Engineering (MB&GE) Laboratory at the Vasantdada Sugar Institute. Development of variety of sugarcane and its yield takes a large amount of time. The typical research potential in sugarcane development are the following. (a) Less water cultivation (b) 12-18 months growth cycle (c) cost of input for sugarcane cultivation and also sugar production (d) regulated growth cycle of sugarcane so that factories can get continuous supply of sugarcane. I am glad, the MB & GE laboratory has been established to evolve newer sugarcane varieties through development by MB&GE lab, since tissue culture lab is also co-located, the sugarcane varieties can be multiplied through micro-propagation so that new transgenic varieties can be grown in Maharashtra and elsewhere in a few year's time.
Apart from the genetic engineering research the MB&GE laboratory will be undertaking research on molecular characterization of the sugarcane genome, molecular diagnosis of diseases and molecular biology of sugarcane pathogens and nitrogen fixing micro-organisms. The molecular characterization of sugarcane genome will be useful in early selection of desirable plants in the breeding programme on the basis of molecular markets. It is also envisaged to isolate desirable genes (for resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses) from the wild relative species of sugarcane so as to transfer them in the cultivated varieties. Molecular characterization of the disease causing organisms like viruses is useful in controlling the diseases. Development of higher nitrogen fixing microbes will be useful in sustainable and low cost sugarcane production. I understand that the Vasantdada Sugar Institute has constituted an Institutional Bio Safety Committee, according to the norms of the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India so as to take care of the bio-safety of human beings, animals and the ecology before the transgenics (GEP) are released for commercial cultivation.
Several major crops plants, including corn, oilseed canola, soyabean, and cotton, have been engineered with genes that make them resistant to insects, pests or to herbicides, so that farmers can apply the weed killer without fear of wiping out their budding crop. The benefits derived from these varieties include the reduced use of insecticides and herbicides, thus reducing soil and groundwater pollution, and reduced tillage that results in topsoil loss. Also, scientists recently developed a technology to bioengineer salt-tolerant plants by over-expressing a single gene. This development could be applied for sugar cultivation in certain parts of our country where salt content is more in soil.
India is rich in herbs, germ-plasm and micro-organisms. Industrially developed countries are importing these bio-resources in the raw forms and add value to them for export to developing countries including India as special seeds, medicines and bio-materials, fully protecting patents of such products. Instead of allowing export of such resources and importing value added products at high cost, India must add its own technology for conversion of such resources to value added products for use in domestic requirement and also for export. An improved sugarcane variety can be given for commercial cultivation within a span of 7-8 years. Similarly herbal molecule to drug conversion also takes about 8-10 years since it involves various types of tests from lab to clinical. Efforts need to be made to minimize large time durations for realizing the economic benefits particularly in herbal and sugarcane areas. Development of sugarcane crops which are high breed variety for high yield, more sugar content and crystal clear sugar need to be focused.
Knowledge society components
In the 21st century, a new society is emerging where knowledge is the primary production resource instead of capital and labour. Efficient utilisation of this existing knowledge can create comprehensive wealth for the nation in the form of better health, education, infrastructure and other social indicators. Such a knowledge society has two very important components driven by societal transformation and wealth generation. The societal transformation has to be through large-scale development in education, healthcare, agriculture and governance. These in turn will lead to employment generation, high productivity and rural prosperity. How do we do that?
Recognising this, the Planning Commission of India had formed a task force to evolve plan of actions for transforming India into a knowledge superpower. This team has identified wealth generation as a very important task for the nation, which has to be woven around national competencies. The task team has also identified core areas that will spearhead our march towards knowledge society. The areas are: Information & Communication Technology, bio-technology, weather forecasting, disaster management, tele-medicine and tele-education, technologies to produce native knowledge products, service sector and Infotainment which is the emerging area resulting from convergence of Information and entertainment. These core technologies, fortunately, can be interwoven by IT. IT took off only due to enterprising spirit of the young. Hence multiple technologies and management structure that have to get integrated to generate knowledge society. It has to be recognised that the difference between an IT-driven society and a knowledge-driven society is the role of multiple technology growth engines. With India carving a niche for itself in Information Technology, the country is hence uniquely placed to capitalise the opportunity to transform into a knowledge society. The foundation for a knowledge society is the societal transformation which demands transparent Government.
I am also very happy to note that the Vasantdada Sugar Institute had a collaboration with TIFAC (Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council), particularly in reduction of sulphur content in sugar and increase in sugar production. I am also happy to note that the laboratory scale R&D evaluation work in collaboration between TIFAC and Vasantdada Sugar Institute has been completed, to explore feasibility of converting bagasse into a decolourising agent for decolourisation of sugarcane juice, by treatment with Amino based re-agents. I wish the Vasantdada Sugar Institute