Department of Biosciences

Research Areas

PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY AND PHYTOCHEMISTRY
Medicinal and aromatic plants have been used since time immemorial as panacea for a plethora of illnesses. Given the vulnerability of many of these plants to over-exploitation by the industry, the establishment of tissue culture protocols for these plants is urgently needed. The characterization of their major phytochemical constituents from tissue cultures and natural samples provide insights on their anti oxidant, anti microbial and cytotoxic properties for effective therapeutic regimens.
RESEARCH SUMMARY
  • Adhatoda vasica Nees (Malabar Nut) is a perennial shrub of the Indian subcontinent that is routinely used in codified and non-codified systems of medicine. Based on the inputs on the efficacy of drugs from Adhatoda vasica in traditional medicine, the department has:
    - Pioneered the development of in vitro tissue culture methods for propagation of this plant under laboratory conditions
    - Made an attempt to define the morphological markers that reflect metabolite content
    - Nominated potential binding partners for the alkaloids using in silico methods
    - Acquired insights on the binding modes of the alkaloids using spectroscopic, thermodynamic and functional methods
    The current body of work is directed towards characterizing all the major alkaloids from Adhatoda vasica and studying their functional aspects.
MAJOR RESEARCH ACTIVITIES
Collaborations
  • Dr. Arun Sreekumar, Dept. of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA
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PROTEIN STRUCTURE AND FUNCTION
Proteins are extremely tiny molecular machines of sub-nano dimensions that occur in myriad shapes and sizes in a typical living organism. They are the workhorses which carry out numerous biological functions within the organism. Understanding their intricate structure and highly specific function constitutes an intriguing area of research.
RESEARCH SUMMARY
  • Structural and functional aspects of proteins are studied using hemocyanin purified from endemic snails as a model protein. Hemocyanins—through their various levels of structural organization—exhibit one of the largest protein assemblies found in nature. Ease of purification from the source and its availability in large quantities make hemocyanin a tangible model for study. Apart from the study of its structure using various biochemical and biophysical techniques, the research is focused on activation and enhancement of phenoloxidase-like enzyme activity in hemocyanins which are well known only as oxygen carrier proteins. This is attempted by exposing the protein to certain chemical agents which might bring about subtle structural modifications that are responsible to elicit enzyme activity in the protein. Phenoloxidase-like function of hemocyanins is studied in vitro using enzyme kinetics and the structural modifications underlying the elicitation of the activity is studied in silico using molecular dynamics simulations.
MAJOR RESEARCH ACTIVITIES
Research Projects
  • Doctoral thesis work to study the structure, function and biotechnological application of hemocyanin purified from endemic snails is nearing completion.
Collaborations
  • Dr. J S Bhargav , Geological Survey of India, Hyderabad
  • Prof. Ram Prabhu, Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Chennai
Other Activities
  • A hemocyanin-based prototypic first generation sensor to detect phenols in aqueous solutions has been developed
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MOLECULAR MICROBIOLOGY
Prevention and treatment of increasingly prevalent multidrug resistant bacterial infections is dependent on the availability of effective antibiotics. There is an urgent need to understand molecular mechanisms by which human pathogenic bacteria are evolving to attain multidrug resistance. This would greatly enhance the current knowledge of their ability to adapt to, invade and thrive in human tissues.
RESEARCH SUMMARY
  • The focus of research in Molecular Microbiology is on how human pathogenic bacteria evolve to attain multi-drug resistance. The department’s expertise includes bacteriological analysis, antibiotic susceptibility testing and molecular epidemiology. New testing methods pioneered here include tests for susceptibility in vitro, PCR diagnostics, bacterial gene sequencing and whole genome sequencing of select bacterial pathogens.
MAJOR RESEARCH ACTIVITIES
Research Projects
  • Evaluation of clinically isolated Enterobacteriaceae producing Extended Spectrum β-Lactamases (ESBL).
  • Evaluation of clinically isolated Pseudomonas producing VIM and IMP Metallo- β-Lactamases
Collaborations
  • Dept. of Microbiology, Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, Prasanthigram
  • Prof. V Nagaraja, Dept. of Microbiology and Cell Biology, Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore
  • Dr. S Shivakumara Swamy, Faculty Scientist, Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology, Bangalore
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REGENERATIVE MEDICINE AND TISSUE ENGINEERING
Regenerative Medicine and Tissue engineering is one of the frontier areas of research that aims to in vitro synthesize tissue equivalents of bone, heart muscle, nerve, cartilage, blood vessels and other organs for repair or replacement of damaged tissue through disease or trauma. This transdisciplinary research area encompasses principles from chemical, physical, biological, nano materials science and mechanical engineering. It brings together basic scientists and clinicians onto a single platform to develop bench to bedside solutions.
RESEARCH SUMMARY
  • Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation (ACI) - comprises of a series of procedures. First, a cartilage sample is harvested arthroscopically from a non-weight bearing area of the affected knee joint. The chondrocyte cells extracted from the harvested cartilage are cultured for four to six weeks to expand the cell population (by a factor of about 50). Then, in a second open surgical procedure, the cultured chondrocytes are implanted into areas denuded of cartilage by disease or injury. Each damaged area is carefully debrided and covered with a periosteal tissue flap, beneath which the autologous chondrocytes are injected. In a modification of the treatment, extracted chondrocytes are cultured within a collagen matrix, which is then implanted (matrix-guided ACI). The implantation is followed by a specific rehabilitation protocol following the procedure.
MAJOR RESEARCH ACTIVITIES
Research Projects
  • Role of Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation in Chondral Defects of Knee Joint
Collaborations
  • Dept. of Orthopaedics, Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, Prasanthigram, India
Other Activities
  • Technical support from Prof. Anders Lindahl and Prof. Lars Peterson, Sahlgrenska University, Hospital, Gothenburg, Sweden
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SYSTEMS BIOLOGY OF DISEASES
Homocysteine is a toxic, non-essential aminoacid that is an unavoidable intermediate in many synthetic reactions of cells. It is a common risk factor in many diseases such as eye, cancer, bone, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. The focus is to explore unifying mechanisms for homocystine induced diseases.
RESEARCH SUMMARY
  • The department is primarily interested in understanding the mechanism by which homocysteine (also cytokines, hypoxia and adenosine deaminase) causes inflammation, leading to manifestation of disease and the role of chaperones and HDACs in modulating inflammation. It employs multidisciplinary and multifaceted approaches like genomic, metabolomic, bioinformatic/systems biology, clinical, biophysical, biochemical, molecular biology, cell culture techniques, animal models and patient samples to answer specific questions in an effort to understand the mechanisms of diseases.

    Analyses have provided evidence for the lead role of homocysteine in promoting inflammation. It has been elucidated that purinergic signalling is one of the components of inflammation. Genomic tools are being used to elucidate the functional implications of SNPs. Yeast knock-out model expressing human genes or their variants will be employed to understand role of SNPs. Mice models of disease are being used to understand multiple sclerosis.
MAJOR RESEARCH ACTIVITIES
Research Projects
  • A homocysteine network behind human diseases - Unifying mechanisms, emerging therapeutic targets:
    - Bone Disease: Avascular Necrosis of Femoral Head, Rheumatoid Arthritis
    - Eye Disease: Glaucoma
    - Neurodegenerative Diseases: Multiple Sclerosis
    - Cancer: Glioma
  • Mechanisms of ATP secretion and the role of ATP activated P2 receptors in inflammation: Implications for Multiple Sclerosis.
  • HDAC inhibitors inhibit inflammation by interfering with purinergic signaling.
Collaborations
  • Dr. Arun Sreekumar, Baylor College of Medicine, USA
  • Dr. Prakash Khanchandani, Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, Prasanthigram
  • Prof. Lakshminarayanan, Raman Research Institute, Bangalore
  • Prof. Seshagiri, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
  • Dr. Arun Roy, Raman Research Institute, Bangalore
  • Dr. Vijayalakshmi Venkatesan, National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad
  • Dr. V R Rao, Dept. of Anthropology, University of Delhi
Other Activities
  • Developing a diagnostic kit for homocysteine
  • Developing diagnostic kits using Q-PCR (multiplexing) conjugated to a nanoparticle based fluorescent-quencher system
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CANCER BIOLOGY
In silico tools provide ample scope for understanding mechanisms of drug-receptor interactions and enzyme activity. The research presently focuses on investigating these interactions with specific reference to ovarian and prostate cancer.
RESEARCH SUMMARY
  • Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer. It accounts for 5% of all cancer deaths in women. An attempt is being made to identify the key signaling pathways leading to the development of ovarian cancer and metastasis. Following identification of the most significant signal transduction pathway, a couple of proteins/enzymes involved in that pathway will be shortlisted. In silico tools would then be used to study the interaction of these proteins with specific drugs being used to treat ovarian cancer.
  • Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in adult men. Prostate is an androgen dependent organ which needs testosterone or its active form dihydrotestosterone for growth. Androgen binds to its receptor to transduce the signal in normal cells. However, in prostate cancer, the prostrate gland becomes androgen independent and grows even in the absence of androgen. The interaction between the androgen receptor and flutamide (a drug used widely in treatment of prostate cancer) is being investigated using In silico techniques.
MAJOR RESEARCH ACTIVITIES
Research Projects
  • A comprehensive study of ovarian cancer and mechanism of drug therapy - A bioinformatics study
  • A comprehensive study of prostate cancer and mechanism of drug therapy - A bioinformatics study
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MICROBIAL BIOTECHNOLOGY
Microorganisms (bacteria and fungi) are harnessed for varied applications ranging from bioremediation to production of bioactive compounds. Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) are bioelectrochemical systems that rely on the bacterial oxidation of organic wastes for wastewater treatment coupled with production of electricity.
RESEARCH SUMMARY
  • The microbial biotechnology group at SSSIHL has been focusing on the following novel, resource-efficient methods and applications to assess performance of bioelectrochemical systems.
    • Application of a non – invasive oxygen sensor to monitor oxygen in the cathode and anode chambers of an MFC
    • Optimization of a Dye Reduction – based Electron-transfer Activity Monitoring (DREAM) assay to study electron transfer in microbial cultures
    • Design and construction of an innovative four – way MFC to rapidly screen components and carry out multiple iterations of an experiment using a single setup
  • Work on metagenomic profiling of microbial communities and metaproteomic analysis has been initiated to understand the biology of electron transfer mechanisms of electrogenic microbial consortia in wastewater and sediments of natural water bodies.

MAJOR RESEARCH ACTIVITIES
Research Projects
  • Doctoral thesis work on “Microbial Fuel Cells – Indicators of Performance” is nearing completion.
Collaborations
  • Dr. Govind Rao, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, USA
  • Dr. M Sivakumar, University of Wollongong. Australia
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© Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, Vidyagiri, Prasanthi Nilayam - 515 134, India.