January 3-7


Moving forward with biotechnology

Dr Manju Sharma and Dr Renu Swarup

The writers are Secretary and Director, respectively of the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, Govt. of India

BIOTECHNOLOGY is one of the most important scientific and technological revolutions of the last Century which has greatly influenced various aspects of human life. The potential of Biotechnology is enormous, and has already offered new breakthroughs in healthcare, food, agricultural products and environmental protection.

Our Vision is: "Attaining new heights in biotechnology research, shaping biotechnology into a premier precision tool of the future for creation of wealth and ensuring social justice - specially for the welfare of the poor".

The use of Biotechnology for increased food production is of great importance to developing countries. Ranging from basic research in plant molecules biology, transgenics, genetic modification for developing resistance to biotic and abiotic stress, nutritional enhancement and value addition, biotechnological interventions have made tremendous impact. Area under transgenics is today 58 mha. The need for new and innovative research leading to increased agricultural productivity is steadily increasing world wide. Not only crops, the live stock sector, fisheries and forestry, have all felt the impact of the powerful tools of biology. When appropriately integrated with other technologies for the production of food, agricultural products and services, biotechnology can meet the needs of an expanding and increasingly urbanized population in this millennium.

Some of the new biotechnologies responsible for bioindustrial revolution are genetic engineering, cell fusion technology, bioprocess technologies and structure based molecular designs. The pharmaceutical sector has had maximum benefit but gradually, the agriculture and environment also have had profound impact, specially areas of bioprospecting and bioremediation are becoming a money spinner.

The Department of Biotechnology is committed to generate excellence in biotechnology research for a strong, indigenous knowledge base and to ensure its application as a premier precision tool for creation of economic wealth for the welfare of the society and national prosperity. Sustainable development and utilization of bioresources towards food, nutritional, health, environmental and livelihood security of the people by harnessing the powers of biotechnology is the dream of the scientific community. The focus has been on basic and application oriented new biology and biotechnology covering agriculture and plants, genomics, molecular medicine, bioinstrumentation, bioinformatics, biofuels, biofertilizers, biopesticides, human resource development and environment and biodiversity. Research has been supported in all these areas by Department of Biotechnology.

Biotechnology is one of the most research-intensive industries in the world. Biological advances have an overwhelming impact in the developed world and are beginning to give rich dividends in the developing countries as well. In India there has been an exponential increase in the Biotech industry. 1500 conventional industries are existing of which about 800 are in the Biotech sector. 55 modern biotech companies working on recombinant DNA products have been set up, 75 per cent of which have been during the last five years. The investment for this sector has been US$1100 i.e. 1.1 billion. The Private sector investment is however, still relatively low and in 2001 this was US$ 2 million. The Foreign Direct investment in Biotechnology has however increased from US$ 10.7 million in 1999 to US$ 25.5 million in 2002. The biotech business in 2002 was US$ 150 million and it is estimated that this would increase to US$ 750 million in 2005 and US$ 2500 million in 2010. The major investment and product consumption is in the healthcare sector followed by agriculture.

Through the DBT support nearly 50 technologies have been perfected, validated and commercialized. These are being supplemented by private individual entrepreneurs for developing appropriate goods and services for local needs as well as for the export market. The country has a pool of skilled manpower, abundant bioresources, infrastructure and capital. Therefore with the local development of more globally competitive biotechnologies, India could become a global player in most of the areas in this emerging field.

Socio-economic development

The developments in applied biotechnology are directed towards economic production of new and conventional biological products for widespread human use. Importantly, biotechnology is aiming at higher yields from agriculture with reduced inputs and to provide affordable diagnostics, pharmaceuticals, vaccines and therapeutics for preventing and cure of human diseases. Both these approaches will have significantly concomitant impact on industrial growth.

International Cooperation

The international collaboration in biotechnology has increased manifold from a meagre number of three collaborations in biotechnology about 10 years ago, today we have more than 25 countries with which bilateral programmes are going on. These are with both developed and developing countries. In fact, India is even helping some of the developing countries to initiate major biotechnology projects. For example, in Syria a National Biotechnology Centre was recently inaugurated by the Hon'ble Prime Minister of India and H.E. the President, Republic of Syria. Other countries like Mauritius, Sudan, Myanmar and many others with whom we are working very closely to address common problems of large population, employment generation, better food and nutrition and health care systems have evinced keen interest in bilateral collaboration in biotechnology.

In order to realize the full potential of biotechnology, the Indian biotechnological enterprise will be systematically nurtured at three distinct levels - enhancing the knowledge base, generating highly skilled human resource and nurturing the research leads of potential utility and bringing bioproducts to the market place. Sustained efforts would be directed towards optimal utilization of the infrastructure, their upgradation, creation of new centres of excellence whenever necessary and advanced training of human resource covering all aspects of modern biology and biotechnology. The 21st century belongs to biology and biotechnology. India is poised to take lead in the coming years in this field.