Foreign scientists open to collaborations in plant research in India

Researchers interested in wild species found in country 

Thiruvananthapuram, Feb 9: Leading scientists from different countries have shown interest in collaborations with the premium research institute Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB) here, to enable better understanding of genetic properties of native Indian plant species and incorporate the findings to improve crop productivity.

"We are already working in a detailed manner on a number of spices and are open to collaborations with these foreign scientists who can lend us their know-how to create value additions to our native spices like ginger and pepper," said E V Soniya, Scientist, RGCB.

Molecular plant biologists from nearly 20 countries including Canada, Belgium, Germany, Israel, Spain and Australia were among others participating in a recently concluded four-day conference organised here jointly by RGCB and the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO).

Dr Takayuki Tohge, a Japanese scientist who works with Germany's Max Plant Institute and with an interest in folk medicines, expressed his interest in expanding his research into the spices found in Kerala.

"My interest is in polyphenonyls and I have worked on tomato, a little bit of maize, potatoes and beans among other crops, testing to identify the beneficial compounds that can be used to cross breed and engineer disease resistant and stable crops. I am interested in extending it to spices like ginger and pepper among others as well," said Tohge.

According to Jennifer Ann Harikrishna, Professor, Institute Of Biological Sciences, Malaysia, global climate change and various fungal diseases adversely affect the cultivation of banana crop in the world and researchers are now looking into native species of bananas.

"India, like Malayasia, has a lot of native varieties of bananas and various plant scientists around the world are looking at the wild genetic varieties to understand how to better protect the crop from funguses and virus attacks," Harikrishna said.

"We don't have any ongoing collaborations, but will be interested for future. Our current research is on how to grow saline tolerant bananas because while coconut and palm trees can grow in salt water, bananas cannot and people both in India and Malaysia are fond of their bananas," she said.

Soybean, one of the most protein rich plants found in nature is a widely cultivated crop in India, which has health properties like cholesterol reducing, anti-diabetic and heart healthy benefits. It also fixes nitrogen in soil thus reducing nitrogen fertilizers.

"India has got a good potential for cultivation of soybean. We need more genetic sequencing research to get maximum yield," said Prof Babu Valliyodan from University of Missouri, who is exploring collaborations with different institutes in India.

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