Biotech partnership with India in search for sustainable fuels

Friday, 25 January 2013

david-fell-india

Oxford Brookes University has joined forces with the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi to develop cheap and sustainable biofuels

Oxford Brookes University has joined forces with the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi to develop cheap and sustainable biofuels in a project funded by an Indian Partnering Award from the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

The project may expand to involve partner institutions elsewhere in India and the UK. It follows a successful four-year collaboration between Professor David Fell (pictured) from the Department of Biological and Medical Sciences at Oxford Brookes and Dr Sudip Kundu, from the Department of Biophysics, Molecular Biology and Bioinformatics at the University of Calcutta which focussed on the metabolic properties of rice.

Prof Fell said: “We are delighted to be developing this partnership and hope to win further funding for more extensive research collaborations. This type of partnership provides tremendous advantages for all parties: we take a computational modelling approach whilst our Indian colleagues have the experience and facilities to test out our predictions, rather than just relying on proof of principle.”

Prof Fell was in a visiting party from UK universities, funded by the BBSRC, that met with the Indian Government’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and Indian scientists in Delhi in October 2011 to promote and facilitate collaborative bioenergy research by researchers and academics from both the UK and India. They agreed to explore three possible sources of biofuels: planktonic algae, seaweed and the by-products of rice production - rice straw - to avoid competition between biofuel and food production. It was here that he met Dr Shams Yazdani (ICGEB) and Professor K J Mukherjee (JNU).

He returned to Delhi in October 2012 with colleagues from Oxford Brookes and the University of Aberdeen and delivered a week-long practical course about metabolic models and bioenergy research for 12 postgraduate researchers and staff. During the week, students were selected to visit the UK in 2013 to work at Oxford Brookes and the University of Aberdeen.

The latest project aims to build computer models of the metabolism of bacteria and then design and implement changes that could help provide a credible biofuel for India.