JANUARY 14, 2013
A look at the Defence Institute of Bio-Energy Research (DIBER) at Haldwani in Uttarakhand.
Last week, this column discussed the role of bioengineering in Defence systems and the studies carried out by DEBEL, a laboratory under the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). There is another laboratory under the DRDO that works in the area of bioengineering research, but in an altogether different style, focussing mainly on the gifts from agriculture.
Students of agriculture and related fields will find opportunities for research in a scene totally different from conventional agricultural centres.
The Defence Institute of Bio-Energy Research (DIBER) is located at Haldwani in Uttarakhand; Website:
http://drdo.gov.in/drdo/labs/ DIBER/English/index.jsp? pg=homebody.jsp
There is an interesting story behind the genesis of DIBER. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru thought of growing suitable crops in Ladakh and setting up a small agricultural research centre in Leh. The work on the project was initiated in 1960 under the aegis of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research by establishing a high-altitude agricultural research unit. Owing to logistic problems, the project was transferred to the DRDO in 1962.
With a new Defence strategy, the detachment at Almora was upgraded to an independent agricultural research unit in 1970. Field stations were opened in remote border areas. A new base was established at Haldwani in 1981 to provide logistic support for undertaking research work in difficult terrain. In 1984, the unit was upgraded as the Defence Agricultural Research Laboratory.
The R&D work on vegetable cultivation and broiler production was undertaken in a cold desert in 1991, to solve the logistics of supplying fresh vegetables and broiler chickens to the armed forces. Besides agricultural research, a multidisciplinary approach on natural bio-resources was taken up with a view to bringing all-round improvement in the inhospitable high-altitude areas of the central Himalayas. The laboratory successfully introduced hydroponics (growing plants in nutrient solutions, without soil) and established greenhouse cultivation of vegetables and flowers in the polar region for the first time in the history of Indian Antarctic expeditions.
Areas of work
Development of biotic and abiotic stress-tolerant vegetable varieties and hybrids through genetic engineering and conventional breeding.
Survey and screening of medicinal plants of the Himalayan region and development of herbal products.
Greenhouse technology to enhance vegetable production for troops and the civil populace in the Himalayan region.
Cultivation and processing of Jatropha curcas and trials of Jatropha seed oil (bio-diesel) on Army vehicles in different terrains.
Extension services on agro-animal husbandry ventures to the Defence forces and local farmers.
The institute offers opportunities for special studies and research in areas such as broiler production in the hills, Angora rabbit farming for wool production, nutritive value of vegetable crops in the central Himalayas, hydroponics, aromatic and medicinal plants and vermi-composting.
Vegetable varieties and hybrids.
Medicinal and aromatic plants.
Seeds, cuttings and rooted slips of fodder species.
Germplasm of vegetable crops (bottle gourd, bitter gourd, pumpkin, ridge gourd, sponge gourd, cucumber, squash, okra, onion, garlic, rajmash, French beans, colocasia, ginger, chilli, capsicum, tomato, brinjal, methi, coriander, amaranthus, lahi and and chamsoor).
Earthworms for vermi-composting.
Dairy pedigree animals
A quick look at some of the achievements of the institute will provide a picture of the diverse areas of studies and research available. An indicative list is provided below.
Regenerated tomato plants transformed with osmotin gene.
Regenerated and transformed plants in cucumber, tomato, snake gourd and long melon.
Random amplified polymorphic DNA fingerprinting technique.
Biodegradation of noxious waste.
Bio-control of pests in vegetable crops.
Mushroom production in the hills.
Polyherbal products for treating leucoderma, eczema and toothache.
A herbal product for cold and sunburn for use in high-altitude areas.
A poly-herbal honey for protection against throat and mouth apathies.
A medicated beverage out of the high-value medicinal plants growing widely in the hills. This helps in relaxing hypertension, soothing nerves and refreshing and energising your system in general.
Adapted germplasm of dairy cattle for wholesome milk.
Development of gray-coat Angora rabbit.
Pisciculture (fish culture) technology for central Himalayas.
Agro-horticulture and floriculture activities.
Special mention has to be made of the efforts to develop bio-fuel as an alternative source of energy. In view of the dwindling natural reserves of natural petroleum, man has been searching for practical alternatives.
There are instances of limited success in the endeavour. One such breakthrough is the studies on Jatropha curcas , a plant for bio-fuel production.
Nursery for raising the plant, agro-technology for higher yield, mechanical extraction of oil, trans-esterification, field trials in diesel engines, anti-freezer for low temperature use, and use of bio-diesel in Defence vehicles and generating sets are some of the areas of studies in DIBER.
All these discussions may create some suspicion as to whether these studies are effectively being carried out in a Defence organisation.
For historical and logistical reasons, this research institute came under the DRDO, where it functions well offering opportunities for aspirants of research in the area of active bioengineering.