The Centre has been making significant strides in developing nanonutrients, nanopesticides and nanoformulations. Keeping in mind deteriorating soil health, growing demand of food, water safety are the biggest challenges, the Centre is uniquely poised to develop path breaking technologies using biologicals interwoven with nanotechnologies and biocompatible materials. Such activities are being pursued jointly through strategic collaborations with Deakin University and partners worldwide.
Nanomaterials in Agriculture
Nanomaterials display several valuable properties such as increased surface area, cation exchange capacity, ion adsorption and complexation not possessed by the bulk materials and these are well known to result in different patterns that enhance adsorption and redox reactions. These nanomaterials could be beneficially used for developing applications for agriculture including smart delivery of agrochemicals, improved storage and controlled release of pesticides and fertilizers and increase crop yields through nutrient management.
Regulatory tools and biosafety
Along with new inventions in the nano technology concerns towards hazards and safety are in the fore front for some time. TD-NBC recognized these urgencies and took lead to develop technologies using biologicals mimicking various complex but effective phenomenon interplaying in nature. Understanding implications of current products and technologies are also being given major emphasis in research agenda of the TD-NBC. Regulatory teeths and requisite inputs to donors both in the government and private sector are some of the high priority activities at the centre currently.
Improving the existing properties of biofertilizers by innovative interventions and understanding natural soil interactions between microbes and plants will provide vital clues for the development of the next generation products for enhanced plant growth that can generate significant benefits to farmers by improving shelf life of biofertilizers, field performance and reducing input expenses not only by cost reduction but by reducing application losses as well.
Seed coating of high value crops
Biological, chemical and physiological characteristics of seeds affect subsequent plant yield, performance and its resistance to undesirable environmental stresses. It is possible to control seed diseases and provide plant protection by treating the seed before planting it and this is achieved by coating the seed with fertilizers, pesticides, nutrients, growth regulators and biologicals along with adhesive agents. Such practices lead to increased benefits to the seed and fertilizer industry. Nanobiotechnology interventions will pave the way to further rationalize smart and precision farming.
Nanomaterial based diagnostics and early detection of diseases
The losses in crop yield due to plant diseases ranges between 20% and 40%. Detection and identification of diseases in crops could be realized via both direct and indirect methods. Nanotechnology innovations have resulted in the advancement of highly sensitive biosensors, the specificity of which could be greatly enhanced by the use of additives like enzymes, antibodies, DNA etc. or use of nanomaterial matrices.
Mycorrhizal elicitation of medicinal molecules from plants
We have developed a true to type novel “in vitro system” for screening and selection of cultivars for the production of medicinal molecules like rosmarinic acid, phenolics, polyphenolics, antioxidants etc. This system holds great promise not only for bioprospecting but also for targeted production of selected, medicinally relevant metabolites. Further innovation using nanomaterials as elicitors expected to enhance efficiency many-folds.
Nanotechnology can help in post-harvest management of plant produce by controlling growth and development of microbes by using nanometarials and controlling influence of gases and the harmful rays (UV), increasing strength and quality of packaging coupled with use of nanobiosensors for labeling products.
Large collection of unicellular algae being utilized for production of Bioactives and Biofuel
Microalgae are seen as a promising feedstock for the co- production of a variety of new sustainable products in future. They are high in lipid content and are a rich source of proteins. Highly explored for lipids, microalgae also produce metabolites such as carotenoids, long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFA), and vitamins that are widely used in nutraceuticals industries as food additives. Green extraction and milking of metabolites using nanomaterials is a key for the future.
Utilizing algae as bio factories for novel products and improving algal biomass
Products from microalgae (sugars, proteins) make promising platform chemicals from which new materials could be produced. Thus, the potential of microalgae to produce a variety of new bio-products makes them a sustainable and versatile feedstock for future from which many commercial applications could be explored through a biorefinery approach.
Referred to as pharming, this field is of immense potential and interest to the biotechnology industry and involves the process of genetically engineering plants to produce therapeutically important compounds and associated molecules. Using inspired discovery, significant leaps can be made in this area for improving quality of human life.
Toxicity assessment of Nanoparticles
Engineered nanomaterials have elbowed their way into our ecosystem including soil, water and atmosphere. Concerns loom about risks posed by engineered nanomaterials, their potential to cause undesirable effects, and contaminate the environment. Information about toxicity and biokinetics of nanomaterials combined with the knowledge of unintentional exposure or intentional delivery for specific purposes will be necessary to determine real risks of nanomaterials. In this regard, some studies are being undertaken at the Centre to determine toxicity of engineered nanomaterial of biological systems based on their mode of application. Foremost in toxicity assessment are the evaluation of human and environmental exposure, and biokinetics, and biopersistence in cells and subcellular structures to perform meaningful lifecycle assessment analysis. Mammalian model systems are being used for this purpose.