NEW DELHI: The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Jodhpur has launched a unique initiative to conserve and restore the Thar desert, its minerals, medicines, flora and fauna by carrying out ecosystem phenomics through transdisciplinary framework of medical, engineering, environmental and life sciences.
The initiative called Desert Ecosystem Sciences Guided by Nature and Selection (DESIGNS) was launched under the aegis of the Jodhpur City Knowledge and Innovation Cluster.
According to officials, Thar is a hot desert, unique to the Indian subcontinent and is characterised by high maximum temperature with large diurnal variations, scanty rainfall, extreme aridity, and intense UV radiations.
This has been one of the largest natural laboratories for evolving innovative 'designs' that ensures adaptation and survival of its constituent species, their interdependencies and the conservation of the entire ecosystem.
"The impact of loss of natural deserts is immense as these habitats are rich in flora and fauna as well as minerals and medicines that nurture and maintain different life forms on earth.
Often considered as wastelands, deserts are crucial for stabilisation of climate.
"Any shift in climate change or anthropogenic activity can lead to mal-adaptations for organisms who live at the ebb of physiological extremes, loss of diversity through extirpations and ultimately an ecosystem collapse.
This threatens the lives and livelihood of the native inhabitants," said Mitali Mukerji, professor and head, Department of Bioscience and Bioengineering.
Under this initiative, the researchers will use IOT enabled devices and Big Data analytics framework to crowd source observations from the local ecosystem to the regional level keeping the cultural context and traditional medicine knowledge in perspective.
Researchers would also integrate computer vision and machine learning along with domain knowledge to infer links between environment, phenotype and genotype at geo-spatio temporal scales and identify signatures of Thar DESIGNS for early actionable intervention strategies.
"This knowledge generation will result in providing a 'Desert Ecosystem Knowledge Grid' that could foster the cycle of engineering- research-development-commercialisation.
"This data grid will be helpful in finding solutions for management of diseases common and endemic to desert regions, novel bioprospecting opportunities and innovative bio-inspired engineering designs.
It could also help evolve unique strategies for ecological conservation and restoration that ensures sustained livelihood for its inhabitants," Mukerji said.