International collaboration taking place in Pakrasi lab

The cost of not addressing the energy demands of a growing population is enormous. It has been estimated that by 2050 the population of India will reach 1.6 billion, which means the consumer demand for traditional fossil fuels will outpace what is available. It is critical for universities to lead the way in identifying solutions and systems that provide access to energy for all people without adversely affecting the environment.

With that in mind, the Indo-U.S. Advanced Bioenergy Consortium for Second Generation Biofuels (IUABC) program was launched in 2015.  The consortium was developed between the government of India’s Department of Biotechnology, Indian corporate leaders and Washington University in St. Louis, and roughly $2.5 million has been invested into this international collaboration.

The IUABC is a joint binational center led by Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay (IITB), and Washington University in St. Louis, all of which are members of the McDonnell International Scholars Academy.

Professor Himadri Pakrasi instructs IITB student, Annesha Sengupta, in his lab. Photo by Joe Angeles/WUSTL Photos

Currently, in the depths of the McDonnell Hall basement at Washington University, a PhD student from IITB, Annesha Sengupta, is performing research that could have major global significance in the future. Since April 2018, Sengupta has been learning the CRISPR genome editing technique from scientists in the Pakrasi Lab. Once Sengupta masters this skill, she will then edit the genome of an Indian cyanobacterial isolate for the purpose of creating a platform for biofuel production.

“The goal of the IUABC is to focus on biofuel research that is cost-effective, environmentally sustainable, and that can be scaled up,” said Himadri Pakrasi, the Myron and Sonya Glassberg/Albert and Blanche Greensfelder Distinguished University Professor and Director of the International Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability (InCEES). “IUABC continues to significantly invest in the knowledge base in India and the U.S. to meet this challenge.”

This is the second time a Washington University has hosted a student as part of the IUABC exchange.  Suchismita Roy, a graduate student from JNU, was taught the protein crystallography method in Professor Joseph Jez’s lab in 2015.

“Participating in the IUABC has allowed me to learn several cutting edge scientific techniques from experts in the field,” said Sengupta. “And interacting and exchanging research ideas with eminent scientists from multidisciplinary areas has broadened my horizon and enriched me in many ways.”

Sengupta will continue her research at Washington University until the end of 2018. 

IUABC partners include:

  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India
  • Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Mumbai, India
  • International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), New Delhi, India
  • Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, India
  • University of Delhi, South Campus (UDSC), New Delhi, India
  • National Facility for Marine Cyanobacteria (NFMC), Tiruchirappalli, India
  • National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bangalore, India
  • Bioseed Research India, Hyderabad, India
  • Reliance Industries Limited, Mumbai, India