India to join EU research on micro-algal system

This project aims at discovering new drug molecules, including anti-cancerous, antiviral, antifungal & antiprotozoal.

Published: 09th July 2016 04:42 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th July 2016 04:42 AM   |  A+A-


CHENNAI: India is set to join the elite European Union (EU) research group on Micro Algal system, opening up a fresh chapter in research on naturally produced toxins.

This project aims at discovering new drug molecules, including anti-cancerous, antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial and antiprotozoal from cyanobacteria (Blue Green Algae) found in marine and other terrestrial symbiotic living systems (Cyacada, Lichens) and are infamous for the production of toxins.

Toxins are a very important research area even in the Defence and Strategic point of view with India having a long coastline hosting several key installations. India will be represented by Professor S Elumalai, Professor & Head, Department of Biotechnology, University of Madras, in this lead group. He will be the principal investigator from Indian side in the global research project.

Besides India, the other two nations involved in this trilateral collaboration are Germany and Finland.

In an interview with Express, after returning from a three-week visit to Finland and Germany to discuss the modalities, professor Elumalai said this is part of Indo-European Union long-term strategy programme.

“We are in the final stages of preparing a draft proposal with the focused objects and have already sent the concept notes to the EU group. Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India, and members of EU group have already given in-principle approval for the path-breaking research project,” professor Elumalai added.

Biomolecular Division Head of University of Helsinki in Finland Prof Kaarina Sivonen, one of the lead researchers in this area in the world with about three decades of research experience and several patents to her credit, would be heading the project.

Already five lead research groups, including Brazil, Finland, Germany, Canada and Sweden, are working on Microalgae toxins for the past three decades. Now, India along with these five research groups would be exploring the possibilities of converting these marine algal toxins into drug molecules.

“I have already done substantial research work on micro algal-based protein, pigments and some anti-cancerous molecules from indigenous micro algal systems sourced from Himalayas and Coramandel coast. One of my PhD students has successfully isolated potential anti-cancerous molecule and tested with skin cancer cell lines. Under this new project, we will integrate the decades of research and knowledge by all the lead groups to achieve a common objective of discovering new drug molecules from these cyanobacteria,” professor Elumalai explained.

The first phase of the research project would be for three years with an approximate funding of two million euros with equal contribution from three collaborating investigators. The formal signing of the agreement would be in the month of October, 2016. India’s interest in this present research proposal is to adopt a new approach at isolating lichen-based cyanobacteria and screen bioactive molecules from these isolated cyanobacteria from Indian climatic conditions.

Cyanobacteria could be found in diverse environments, from aquatic to terrestrial system. Even Chennai beaches are covered by harmful algal blooms producing toxins.

However, many different types of cyanobacterial  compounds possess strong antibiotic properties that could lay good research foundation of discovering new drugs, the professor said highlighting project objective. “Penicillin was discovered in 1928 by Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming from a fungus through similar approach,” the head of Department of Biotechnology at the University of Madras, Professor Elumalai added.

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