Research in my laboratory is being carried out on two key areas of applied biosciences namely pharmaceutical molecules from plant/cell-culture/microbial systems and signaling components of secondary metabolite synthesis.
Numerous pharmaceuticals currently on the market are based on plant-derived compounds. Almost all of these molecules have a very high degree of complexity in their structures which renders their chemical synthesis commercially infeasible. As a result, many of these compounds are still isolated from whole plants or parts thereof, this being the only production method feasible at desired scales. The exploitation of cell-culture systems and biotechnological production of these complex molecules has been limited thus far owing largely to the lack of knowledge on their biosynthesis. The major focus of my research group is to increase the contents of Taxol (one of the most celebrated anticancer drugs), tropane alkaloids (mainly scopolamine and hyoscyamine, highly effective anticholinergic drugs) terpenoid indole alkaloids (TIAs; mainly vincristine and vinblastine, antineoplastic drugs at par with taxol in efficacy) and anti-thrombotic drugs in endophytic fungi. So far, research in this area in my laboratory has been carried out using some of the frontline biotechnologically important organisms like a taxol-producing endophytic fungus Fusarium solani, terpenoid indole alkaloid producing plant Catharanthus roseus and tropane alkaloid producing plant Datura metel. In principle, these studies are centered on four major research themes viz. (i) Studying the genes involved in the biosynthesis of these compounds; (ii) Investigating the effects of elicitors for yield enhancement in cell culture systems, etc.; (iii) Analyzing the biochemical characterizations of their recombinant biosynthetic enzymes and (iv) Development of transgenic organisms and/or cell culture systems for improving their production by genetic and metabolic engineering approaches.
The second area involves cloning, identification, characterization and overexpression of genes of signal transduction involved in secondary metabolite and plant stress-signaling pathways such as protein kinases and transcription factors. Our research on an economically important crop chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.) has shown the differential expression of CaCPK1 and CaCPK2 genes in its various organs and in response to various phytohormones as well as biotic and abiotic stresses, thus implicating these two genes in the stress physiology of this important crop. Isolation of transcription factor genes from Datura metel has also been achieved. Research work is underway to overexpress these genes in their respective systems to improve production of secondary metabolites as well as to develop transgenic chickpea for enhanced tolerance/resistance to abiotic/biotic stresses
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