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With botany, the grass is now greener

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Though it encompassed the plant kingdom, botany earlier had limited offshoots. Technology has changed all that, as has been shown by the National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow.

All aflame: Botany is no staid science, as the discipline finds applications in various facets of human enterprise. Photo: Reuters
All aflame: Botany is no staid science, as the discipline finds applications in various facets of human enterprise. Photo: Reuters

Though botany embraces the entire panorama of plant life on our planet, it is often considered a discipline with limited offshoots. But the tremendous strides in biological sciences in recent times have opened up a multitude of knowledge branches related to botany.

It is a challenge to specialise thoroughly even in a segment of the extensive world of botany and associated domains. The spread of botany is so wide that its in-depth study has to be multi-disciplinary.

A prominent institution that undertakes such studies and research in botany and related areas is the National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI), Rana Pratap Marg, Lucknow - 226 001, Web: www.nbri.res.in.

It is a premier plant-based multi-disciplinary, state-of-art national research and development (R&D) centre under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. The institute undertakes research from classical taxonomy to cutting-edge areas of modern biology.

Studies cover biochemistry, bioinformatics, biotechnology, conservation biology, cytogenetics, environmental sciences, ethnopharmacology, floriculture, microbiology, molecular biology and genetic engineering, pharmacognosy, pharmacy, physiology, phytochemistry, plant biodiversity, plant breeding, taxonomy, and tree biology.

The NBRI had a modest beginning as the National Botanic Gardens under the Uttar Pradesh government. It was taken over by the CSIR in 1953. In view of its wider areas of work, the gardens were renamed the National Botanical Research Institute in 1978. The institute is geared to work as a convergence of a botanical garden and an applied botanical research laboratory.

The institute has four experimental research stations — the Banthra Research Station, the Biomass Research Centre, the Aurawan Research Centre, and the Betelvine Research Centre, Mahoba. They mostly serve as extension centres for the demonstration of agro-technologies developed by the institute and for raising large-scale, experimental cultivation of different types of plants.

The main objectives of the NBRI can be very briefly indicated as follows:

Basic and applied botanical, horticultural, and phytochemical research on plants and plant products.

Development of production technologies for new plant sources of commercial importance.

Providing technical expertise and assistance in the field.

R&D areas

To help aspirants for research in botany and related subjects, let us look into the details of the R&D facilities and the nature of studies in the institute.

The facilities have been divided into 10 segments for the sake of convenience in organisation. There are further sub-divisions in each segment. The work in each element is briefly indicated.

Plant biology and conservation biology

Angiosperm taxonomy: Survey, collection, identification, and documentation of the floristic wealth of the country. Biodiversity assessment for judging environmental impact.

Bryology: It refers to study of bryophytes (non-flowering plants comprising mosses, liverworts, and hornworts). Assessing the diversity of Indian bryophytes and exploring their economic and medicinal importance. Enrichment of the bryophyte herbarium.

Conservation and molecular taxonomy

Pteridology: Study of ferns and related plants

Lichenology: Study of lichens (plant-like organisms made up of an alga and a fungus growing in symbiotic association on a solid surface like a rock)

Algology: Studies of freshwater algae and soil algae of different geographical regions. Algal bio-fertilizer production, effect of these fertilisers on field crops.

Ethnobotany and ecology: Collection, processing, identification, and documentation of plants and plant products used by tribal and aboriginal people for food, fodder, medicine, oils, tribal crafts, gums, resin, contraceptive narcotics, and so on. Nutritional screening of ethno-medicinal and food plants.

Seed biology: Reproductive biology of Indian medicinal plants, legumes, and multipurpose plant species.

Biomass biology and environmental sciences.

Eco-monitoring. Environmental impact assessment.

Eco-toxicology and bio-remediation: assessment of global warming potential by trace gases.

Strategies to contain urban and industrial pollution.

Bioremediation of contaminated sites and industrial waste.

Eco-restoration of degraded ecosystems.

Eco-planning and management of industries.

Removal of organic pollutants through sorption.

Restoration ecology: Afforestation on sodic soils.

Creation of new “biotope” and gene bank.

Genetics, plant breeding, and agro-technology

Development of high-yielding varieties of crops through genetics.

Determination of gene actions and biogenetic pathways of different alkaloids

Cytogenetics: Collection, conservation, and evaluation of grain amaranths germplasm.

Studying genome relationship between the weedy and wild and cultivated species

Plant microbial interaction

Microbiology: Development of efficient assays to evaluate the root colonisation capability of the native rhizospheric bacterial population.

Identification of plant beneficial native stress-tolerant nitrogen fixing and phosphate solubilising bacteria.

Identification and characterisation of novel drought-tolerant genes

Exploration of microbial wealth of India for biotechnological prospects.

Molecular biology and genetic engineering

Plant molecular biology

Plant transgenics (A transgenic is an organism or cell of one species into which one or more genes of another species have been incorporated)

Plant gene expression

Plant genomics

Plant molecular virology

Characterisation and localisation of competent regenerative tissues in recalcitrant plant species and their in vitro proliferation.

Pharmacognosy and ethno-pharmacology

Natural product development

Phytochemistry: Exploration and identification of new sources of seed gums from Indian flora

Rheological, structural and interaction studies of seed gums

Commercial utilisation of vegetable gums as food additives

Identification of important resins

Lipid chemistry

Botanic garden and floriculture

Botanic garden: Domestication of wild plant species of ornamental significance.

Development of new and novel cultivars of ornamental plants for commercial exploitation. (A cultivar is a plant variety that has been produced in cultivation by selective breeding.)

Floriculture: Development of new and novel ornamental varieties in Asiatic lily, bougainvillea, chrysanthemum, dahlia, gerbera, gladiolus, hibiscus, lantana depressa, rose, marigold, tuberose, and so on through conventional breeding, induced mutation, and tissue culture.

Conservatory and fernery

Biotechnology and plant physiology

Plant transformation: Characterisation of novel hyperthermophilic proteins from plants and their use in pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, and comaceutical products.

Thermo tolerance in plants.

Post-harvest physiology of fruits such as apples, mangoes, bananas, and guavas.

Plant tissue culture

Plant physiology

Betelvine biotechnology

Herbarium

Development and maintenance of a herbarium as a national facility. The NBRI herbarium holds nearly 2.25 lakh specimens, including angiosperms, lichens, pteridophytes, bryophytes, and gymnosperms. Studies of rare and endangered species are also being undertaken in this segment.


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