Biotechnology In Odisha: Why It’s Important For Universities To Collaborate With Natl Institutes?
The biotechnology policy 2018 of the Odisha government focuses on promoting technology development with the academia-industry and social interface, specifically in priority areas of agriculture, marine and human health. In addition, it also focuses on a novel venture to support finishing schools for generating industry-ready skilled human resources in various areas of biotechnology.
The objective is to bring dynamic industry-friendly policies, vibrant entrepreneurial culture and a competitive startup ecosystem, propelling the state into a future biotech hub of the country. In this direction, a vaccine production unit of Bharat Biotech has already been established at the Biotech Park of Bhubaneswar.
At the recently concluded ‘Make In Odisha Conclave 2022 (MIO ’22)’, the Government of Odisha, reinforced its policy decision of conferring Biotechnology a ‘Thrust Area’ with a resolve to transform Bhubaneswar into a vibrant biotech hub of the country. To harness the facilities available in the state, the government reiterated its commitment to policy support, incentives and handholding to biotechnology-based enterprises, incubators and startups with a focus on key areas like agriculture, food processing, floriculture, marine biotech and human life interventions.
During a special thematic session on biotechnology titled ‘Emerging Landscape of Biotechnology in Odisha’ at the MIO ’22, deliberations by an august panel of industry leaders, experts, startup czars, entrepreneurs, policymakers and other stakeholders centred around propelling the growth of the biotechnology sector in the state with the spotlight on health and livelihood solutions. Five MoUs, with a total investment commitment of over Rs 1,250 crore were signed with a string of top-notch enterprises on the occasion.
Odisha is endowed with natural resources having adequate forest cover, abundant freshwater in nine major rivers, 480 kilometres of coastline along with two Ramsar sites: Bhitarkanika, the second highest in the world with maximum diversity of mangrove species and Chilika Lake, the largest brackish water lagoon in Asia; biodiversity rich sanctuaries like Kuldiha, Hadagada, Chandaka-Dampada, Balikhanda-Konark, Baisipali, Satkosia, Khalasuni, Badarama, Debrigada, Karlapata, Kotagada, Lakhari valley, Mandasaru, Mahendragiri across the state in addition to Similipal biosphere reserve with many known and yet unknown plant and animal resources is a befitting geographical region of India to focus on technology development for bio-prospecting in agriculture, health care and environmental management.
After the start of biotechnology teaching at the PG level at Utkal University in 2002, it expanded further in subsequent years. At present, the subject is taught for generating human resources at more than 20 universities/institutions in Odisha, of which four (Utkal University, Berhampur University, Rama Devi Women’s University and Gandhi Engineering College, Gunupur) are supported directly by the Dept. of Biotechnology, Govt of India, and students admitted on All India basis through a combined entrance examination conducted by JNU.
All these higher education institutions including the agriculture and technical universities, NIT, IIT, NISER, and IISER of our state need to notify their core competencies in the biotechnology sector and collaborate with the six ICAR institutes, one ICMR institute (Regional Medical Research Centre), one CSIR institute (Institute of Minerals and Materials Technology), one DBT institute (Institute of Life Sciences) and Regional Plant Resources Centre (RPRC) in the respective fields of expertise with a focus on developing trained manpower with the skill to establish startups through academia-industry-social involvement.
The core ideology of the biotech policy is to enhance the capabilities of the state and central institutes of the state for nurturing and facilitating young and innovative brains, motivating and empowering them to engage in bio incubators as well as in emerging biotech industries propelling Odisha into a sustainable Bio-economy. The government is also committed to attracting the involvement of industries in the biotech sector and to support enhancing their capabilities to achieve the envisaged goal.
The focus of biotechnology research – technology development – entrepreneurship relevant to our state as follows are the possible areas to establish biotech incubators/ industries:
- In the agriculture sector: Development of drought, water-logging and salt tolerant rice; conservation of several rice varieties now almost on the verge of extinction, millets and tuber crops; production of bovine, goat and fish using selected species; use of biofertilizers, biopesticides, plant-based pesticides, seaweed liquid fertilizer, vermicomposting, organic farming and natural farming, seaweed farming, agar -gar/agarose production, soil quality maintenance and enrichment, value-added products from diverse agriculture produce, patenting and marketing.
- Environment and ecology: Bio-fuel and alternate energy like biodiesel, bioethanol, and biohydrogen; bioremediation of soil, biodiversity and bioresource mapping of eastern Ghats (Similipal, Bhitarkanika, Mandasuru, Mahendragiri, Gandhamardan, Chilika, Bahuda and 460 km seacoast including the lagoons and wetlands), identifying potential species using the polyphasic approach, DNA barcoding, their metabolomics study for bioprospecting and utilisation.
- Health care sector: Development of plant-based drugs, natural antibiotics and antibacterial substances from plants and microbes, secondary metabolites from medicinal plants using those used by tribal population of around 27% in our state and drug development, nano-medicine, antioxidant compounds, sunscreens and single-cell proteins using suitable bacteria, algae, cyanobacteria and fungal species occurring in diverse habitats of Odisha. A state-level microbial culture collection can also be established for encouraging their industrial scale-up, product isolation and entrepreneurship.
(The writer is the former Vice-Chancellor of Fakir Mohan University, Balasore, former Professor & Head of the Department Biotechnology at Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan, and former Professor of Botany & Biotechnology, Utkal University, Bhubaneswar)
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