Bio Saga Headlines

Bio Saga

Friday, March 6, 2009

Anna University develops bio-defence shield

Microbes as bio-defence against chemical weapons, a skin-thin membrane to protect soldiers against toxic environments and cost-effective bio-diesel to fuel military vehicles are among the contributions researchers in the city are set to make for the Indian solider. Developing these futuristic systems is Anna University, with funding from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

Of the 12 projects the university submitted, DRDO has approved four and allocated Rs 88 lakh as the first instalment. "The projects are research for bio-defence against pathogens and toxins, development of membranes for gas and organic vapour separation, development of novel anti-fouling nano and ultra filtration membranes (these membranes will prevent the solider from imbibing nano-sized toxins) and development of alternative source for bio-diesel from non-edible oils," D Mohan, a senior scientist with Anna University told the press.

The most important among these is the research on development of bio-defence. "The threat of biological warfare is real, as enemies can unleash bacterial and viral pathogens resistant to known drugs. Even while trying to develop drugs against these pathogens, we have to develop new categories of probiotic microbes, considered good microbes, to resist and overpower toxic microbes,' said K Sankaran, a biotechnologist involved in the project, said.

He added that research is on to develop prevention systems. "We are developing sophisticated remote sensing systems to identify the probable nature and signature of the toxins that the enemies could use. We are also looking at microbes which could be used to negate the effects of a biological attack."

An effective mask against such toxic materials would be a membrane under development that can keep out noxious gases from inhalable air. "This membrane will be used in gas masks. Our challenge is to allow oxygen in and keep harmful and organic vapours out. We have the expertise in membrane technology and we hope to successfully complete the project soon," D Mohan said.

The team developing the membrane is also involved in the research on anti-fouling nano and ultra filtration membranes. "Bio-fouling, the formation of a mucous-like membrane over objects kept in water for long duration, is the main reason for damage of membranes in treatment plants. We need to develop a membrane which can prevent bio-fouling and can perform consistently. Our soldiers, who are camping in extreme conditions, do not get good quality drinking water. With the development of these membranes, the efficiency of water treatment plants in extreme condition will improve," Mohan said.

Anna University is also developing cost-effective bio-diesel from non-edible oil. The aim of this research is to bring down the cost of fueling military vehicles.

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Life Science and Informatics

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