BIOTECHNOLOGY is an interesting and fast developing field, says S. Meenakshisundaram, assistant professor, Centre for Biotechnology, Anna University, Chennai. But there is no fast money here, he adds. Standing around him at the molecular biology laboratory are young genetic engineering researchers, some of whom are foreigners. A major activity in the laboratory is the development of vaccines and diagnostic kits for filariasis (elephantiasis).
There is no treatment for filariasis. We have developed a kit, which is already in the market, for diagnosing it. Earlier, we used to test the blood at night and observe it for micro-filarial worms. Now we conduct the tests at any time of the day, explains S. Meenakshisundaram.
At the bioprocess laboratory, students cultivate micro-organisms for producing enzymes, antibiotics, and recombinant proteins. Some work in bio-reactors to maximise the productivity of enzymes and recombinant proteins. Biotechnology has applications in various fields. For instance, enzymes are used to manufacture detergents, process leather and treat denim. They are used in the paper and textile industries. Biotechnology is a highly sought-after discipline, next only to information technology. Anna University, Madurai Kamaraj University and Shanmugha Arts, Science, Technology and Research Academy (SASTRA), Thanjavur, are reputed institutions with good infrastructure for biotechnology programmes. Alagappa Chettiar College of Technology at Guindy, Chennai, a constituent of Anna University, offers both B.Tech and M.Tech. programmes in biotechnology. The Coimbatore-based Government College of Technology and PSG College of Technology also offer B.Tech. programmes in biotechnology under the self-financing stream.
About 30 colleges under Anna University offer B.Tech. in biotechnology. Several universities (under Section 3 of the UGC Act, 1956), including the National Institute of Technology (earlier, Regional Engineering College), in Tiruchi also offer the programme. At Bharath Institute of Higher Education and Research, Selaiyur, Chennai, students can pursue B.E./B.Tech. programmes in biomedical engineering and bioinformatics and M.Sc. in medical biochemistry, medical microbiology and medical biotechnology. At Dr. M.G.R. Educational and Research Institute, Maduravoyal, Chennai, there are B.Tech. and M.Tech. programmes in biomedical Instrumentation and an M.S. programme in bioinformatics. Karunya Institute of Technology and Science, Coimbatore, also offers B.E. and B.Tech. programmes in bioinformatics and biotechnology.
For a successful biotechnology department, you should have a good chemical engineering department. SASTRA started its chemical engineering department in 1994, said S. Swaminathan, professor, School of Chemical and Biotechnology, and director, Centre for Nanotechnology and Advanced Biomaterials at SASTRA. SASTRA offers B.Tech. programmes in bio-engineering, bioinformatics and biotechnology, postgraduate programmes in bioinformatics and biomedical signal processing and instrumentation, Ph.D. programmes and a five-year integrated programme in industrial biotechnology.
Susila Mariappan, director, University Students Advisory Bureau, University of Madras, said there was a huge demand for admission in biotechnology, biomedical engineering, microbiology and biochemistry programmes. Pursuing an undergraduate programme in biotechnology is not advisable, she said.T.S. Subramanian