Digging into plants to come up with cures

The Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, Lucknow, and its various centres have been unlocking the potent power of herbs to fight diseases.

Published - July 19, 2011 03:54 pm IST

Commonplace but hard to find: Solutions to diseases lie hidden in nature. It is left to scientists to find them.

Commonplace but hard to find: Solutions to diseases lie hidden in nature. It is left to scientists to find them.

India is endowed with an abundance of medicinal plants. They have been used in large quantities by the nation's age-old medical systems of Ayurveda, Siddha, and Unani. Homeopathic and Allopathic systems also make use of drugs of vegetable origin.

Phytochemicals, which are non-nutritive plant chemicals, have preventive and curative properties. The complex chemical substances of varied composition in plants offer these properties. There are numerous ongoing studies to discover potent herbal drugs. India has to conduct extensive research in this fertile area of medicinal and aromatic plants, as part of developing its pharmaceutical and phytochemical industry.

The premier institution in this field functions under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research: Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP), Lucknow; >www.cimap.res.in

CIMAP, established in 1959, has research centres in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pantnagar, and Purara. The institute conducts multidisciplinary high-quality research in biological and chemical sciences. Further, it extends technologies and services to farmers and entrepreneurs. CIMAP has released several varieties of medicinal and aromatic plants and their complete agro-technology and post-harvest packages. The cultivation and business potential have been thereby revolutionised. For instance, India has become a global leader in mint varieties, thanks to the services of the institute.


Agronomy: The main focus of the Agronomy Department of the institute is development of agro-technologies for economically important medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) by introduction, domestication, crop geometry, and nutrient management. The emphasis lies on designing and perfecting new cropping systems of MAPs with food, vegetable, and spice crops, water management, weed management, and growth hormones for yield enhancement.

Soil science: The department conducts research in areas such as on-site specific fertilizer and manure requirement, fertilizer management of commercially important medicinal and aromatic crops, soil fertility evaluation, “phytoremediation” of heavy metal polluted soil, “rhizosphere” microbiology of “sodic” and heavy metal polluted soils, fertilizer and nutrient requirement and their management for the cultivation of MAPs, and problem soils affected with salinity, “sodicity,” and metal toxicity.


Plant biotechnology: This department works on molecular biology and tissue culture of MAPs. The major activities include expression profiling for metabolic and genetic diversity, DNA markers for breeding and identification genomics for pathway engineering, “artemisinin,” “withanolide,” and morphine biosynthesis, in vitro operations and manipulations

Molecular bio-prospection: Bio-prospecting natural resources for novel genes and value-added products, solutions for drug-resistant infections and metabolic disorders, and safety limits of herbal preparations/products.

Chemical sciences

Phytochemistry: Extracting, isolating, and purifying the compounds of medicinal and aromatic plants by employing classical and modern chromatography, chemical processing of waste plant material for the development of technologies useful in the production of bio-energy structure, and elucidation of purified natural products. Dozens of medicinal and aromatic plants have been investigated and hundreds of new and known compounds have been isolated and characterised.

Analytical chemistry: Isolation of chemical and bioactive marker compounds, development of chromatographic and molecular methods for quality assurance of specific chemotypic herbs and herbal formulations, semi-synthesis and synthesis of bioactive natural products, and isolation and characterisation of phytochemicals.

Process chemistry and chemical engineering: The main objective is to provide scientific and technical support to researchers, scientists, entrepreneurs, and industries in the areas of processing of MAPs.

Crop protection

Plant pathology: Investigations on diseases caused by fungal, bacterial, viral, phytoplasma, and ergot production, epidemiology and etiology of diseases, and potential and utilisation of beneficial microbes for the development of bio-fertilizers and bio-pesticides.

Microbial technology and entomology: Microbes useful as bio-fungicides, bio-nematicides and bio-fertilizers for biotic and abiotic stresses, and microbes for industrial use.

Microbial management of plant diseases: Integrated pest management strategies, and search for novel natural molecules as bio-pesticides and bio-nematicides for reducing pre- and post-harvest losses.


Plant breeding: Genetic improvement of MAPs, application of recombination, Cloline, mutation, polyploidy, and molecular approaches for qualitative and quantitative breeding of MAPs, utilisation of biometrical, population, and association genetics to realise genetic improvement of MAPs, general and molecular cytogenetics, DNA marker resources, and molecular phylogenetics.

Genetic resource management: The focus of the department is management of genetic resources of MAPs.

Plant biology

Metabolic and structural biology: This department combines the work groups of biochemists, molecular biologists, and bioinformaticians. It focusses on secondary metabolism, biological interactions of secondary metabolites, and pathway analyses. It offers opportunities to research scholars interested in pursuing the cutting-edge science of such blends and interfaces, withanomics, functional genomics, stress biology of secondary metabolism, exploration of drug potential of selected objects, general and molecular cytogenetics, DNA marker resources, and molecular phylogenetics.

Plant physiology and biochemistry: The department's focus is on basic research regarding the physiological aspects affecting plant growth and accumulation of secondary metabolites in some important MAPs.

Taxonomy and pharmacognosy: Survey and resource mapping of MAPs from different phyto-geographical zones of India, conservation and domestication of rare and endangered MAPs, taxonomic and pharmacognostic authentication, evaluation and standardisation of MAPs and herbal drugs, ethno-botanical survey and recording of tribal and folklore uses of MAPs, and enrichment and maintenance of herbarium and herbal drug repository.

CIMAP has two more divisions — information and project management and technology business development.


Its Bangalore centre is a field station on diverse aspects of MAPs from agronomy to breeding to phytochemistry, with focus on Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh.

The work includes agrotechnology and genetic improvement of economically important MAPs, micro-propagation, in vitro conservation, and crop improvement of MAPs through tissue culture techniques, effect of phyto-chemicals on functionally annotated human genes, lipidomics, transcriptomics, and metabolomics of MAPs using yeast as model systems, and “phytoremediation” using MAPs.

The Hyderabad centre does research on economically important MAPs in aspects such as agro-technology, varietal development, distillation of aromatic crops, byproduct utilisation, and wasteland and dryland development under resource constraint conditions.

Genetic improvement

The Pantnagar centre in Uttarakhand conducts genetic improvement of MAPs, agro-technology development, and planting material production

The Purara centre in Uttarakhand conducts collection, conservation, domestication, and characterisation of MAPs.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.