Marine Biotechnology in India

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National strategy for biotechnology

The first National Biotechnology Strategy [1]) was approved in 2007-2008, over 20 years after the National Biotechnology Board and then the DBT (Department of Biotechnology) had been established (1982 and 1986 respectively). DBT manages development and funding in the overall area and puts 30% of its funds into public-private partnership activities in biotechnology. DBT works with the Science & Technology Councils of a number of individual states, including Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal, Haryana, Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, Mizoram, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Biotechnology Application Centres have been set up in Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal.

The Antarctic research activities, in which India has been involved since 1981, are the responsibility of the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MES, previously the Department of Ocean Development DOD).

DBT established the National Bio-resource Development Board NBDB in 1999, to help coordinate the development of India’s biodiversity towards new products and processes. NBDB’s remit includes marine bioresources.

Some States have established their own Biotechnology strategies: an example is the Government of Gujarat Department of Science and Technology Biotechnology Policy 2007-2012 [2], which includes commentary on marine biotechnology.

National strategy for marine biotechnology

At national level, DBT has a Task Force on Aquaculture and Marine Biotechnology, set up in 1998, which oversees individual research projects and network projects with national and international partners. The 11th Five Year Plan (2007-2012) mentions marine bioresources as elements of the biotechnology/science & technology aspects, including bioresource development and utilization and increased productivity and disease management in aquaculture, in the report of the DPB and biotechnology working party [3].

At state level, Gujarat identifies “the key activities in marine biotechnology … screening of marine resource for new molecules/active compounds, bio-prospecting of marine resource, conservation of marine bio-diversity, extraction of value added products and utilization of marine bio-mass etc. The state would focus on mangrove, sea weed and marine micro flora- fauna” [4]. The plan includes a marine biotechnology centre, but remains to be fulfilled.

India’s National Policy on Biofuels was released in 2009 and requires 20% blending of biofuel with petrol and diesel by 2017. In addition to work on land-based biomass and wastes, this has stimulated research and demonstration on algal biofuels, funded by DBT and the New Millennium Indian Leadership Initiative (NMILI). In addition to use of macroalgae for ethanol and biogas, there is a strong focus on Botryococcus braunii as a lipid-generating microalga. The US’s NREL completed a report in 2010 that pinpointed a very strong future for India in algal biofuels, based on a combination of light, temperature, available land and availability of inputs. The report estimates that 45%-100% of India’s diesel requirements could be replaced by algal biodiesel under favourable conditions and using no more than 10% of the current waste land area.


Although DBT is the major funder of biotechnology projects, there is increasing coordination with the other central organisations such as DST, CSIR, MES and ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research), to avoid duplication of research funding. Under the Task Force on Aquaculture and Marine Biotechnology, DBT has funded over 200 projects since 1998. The biotechnology-based projects explore detection, monitoring or prevention of diseases of farmed fish and shellfish, including the use of bacteriophages, and detection of food-borne toxins and pathogens. There has also been work on establishing fish and shellfish cell lines and, increasingly since 2006, publications on bioactives (including antimalarial compounds), biosurfactants and other active molecules from marine microbes and macroalgae . Water bioremediation using aquatic microorganism consortia is also a topic.

Network programmes currently under consideration are discovery and development of bioactives from marine actinobacteria, complete genome analyses of the important freshwater aquaculture fish Labeo rohita (Rohu, a carp) and Clarias batrachus (walking catfish), and a National Training Programme in molecular biology and biotechnology for fisheries professionals. DBT also supports Masters’ programmes in marine biotechnology, mainly at Goa University and Cochin University of Science and Technology CUSAT. DBT’s two most successful industry-focused programmes are the Small Business Research and Innovation Initiative SBIRI [5] and the Biotechnology Industry Partnership Programme BIPP [6].

NMILI (New Millennium Indian Leadership Initiative [7] is a programme of DST (the Department of Science and Technology), supervised by DST’s Council of Scientific & Industrial Research CSIR [8]. It is currently providing R13 crore (US$2.65M) for a project Bio-fuel from marine micro-algae, involving 9 universities and research institutes, running from 2010-2013. This has already produced enough algal biofuel for test runs in a car using 20% biodiesel.

The DBT has helped fund Biotechnology Parks or Incubation Centres in Lucknow Uttar Pradesh, Bangalore Karnataka, and in Kerala, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh states. Guwahati Biotech Park Incubation Centre has recently been launched. There is some activity by State and Central Governments to assist industry in developing marine biotechnology, including infrastructure such as marine biotech science parks, research centres and training, but nothing is yet established. Examples of future plans include: Gujarat – a dedicated Marine Biotechnology Park at Jamnagar or Bhavnagar; Andhra Pradesh - a 218-acre Marine Biotech Park (MBP) in Visakhapatnam; Tamil Nadu – and investment of over US$11M in a Marine Biotechnology Park at Mamallapuram, with incubators for pharmaceutical, food supplements and cosmetic developments; Karnataka – a joint plan between the Department of Fisheries and the University of Agricultural Sciences Dharwad for a marine biotech park at Karwar. The University of Science and Technology at Cochin, Kerala, is planning a Centre for Marine Biotechnology to work on genotypic characterization, gene-sequencing and isolation of novel enzymes and marine natural products and biomaterials, as well as establishing a database on marine biotechnology.

Centres of marine biotechnology research

Marine biotechnology is carried out by CSIR-funded laboratories including the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), Goa and Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI) and Universities and establishments funded by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), including structural and functional genomics, cultivation of seaweeds, bioprospecting and bioactives, microbial extremophiles, bioremediation. DBT’s biotechnology work includes fish and crustacean farming, with aspects such as disease diagnostics and vaccine development, bioactive compounds and transgenics.

The National Institute of Oceanography in Goa works in bioprospecting, marine microorganism biotechnology, cultivation of marine organisms for industrial use, chemical synthesis of novel compounds from the sea, biofilms and biofouling; it is a participant in the EU-funded project MAREX [9]. CSMCRI at Bhavnagar carries out functional genomics and other –omics to make use of coastal and marine bioresources, with metabolic engineering of systems of interest [10]. Extensive work is carried out on natural chemistry of marine bioactives, on intensive seaweed aquaculture and value-added products including ethanol, and environmental applications of marine microorganisms including bioremediation. The University of Madras has used macroalgae to produce biogas through anaerobic digestion. ICGEB (the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology) has a programme on modification of microalgae for biofuels production.

The Antarctic research activities are led by the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean research NCAOR, Goa, which plans and coordinates projects, sends expeditions to polar and oceanic regions, and is responsible for India’s Maitri station in Antarctica [11].

A number of Universities offer MScs and/or PhDs in Marine Biotechnology, including Andhra University [12], Visakhapatnam, focusing on fish and prawn cultural biotech; Goa University [13], where the programme is direct-funded by DBT, with support by FIST-DST (the Dept of Science and Technology’s Infrastructure Fund [14] since 2008, with research foci including marine enzymes, bioactives, bioremediation and risk assessment of rDNA in the marine environment; AMET University, Kanathur, working on marine bioactives and industrial applications and offering PhD and MPhil courses in marine biotechnology [15]. Cochin University of Science and Technology offers an MTech in Marine Biotechnology.

ICAR’s institutes CIBA (Central Institute of Brackishwater Aquaculture [16]) and CIFA (Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture [17]) are working with Nofima (the Norwegian Institute of Food , Fisheries and Aquaculture Research) to sequence the transcriptome and genome of the tiger shrimp. CIBA has a number of in-house and externally-funded projects in marine biotechnology, including genomics for abiotic stress, genomics for productivity enhancement and RNA vaccines for shrimp diseases. There is a co-funded mega-project ‘Indo-Norwegian platform on fish and shellfish vaccine development’, with involvement of 10 R&D laboratories in India including ICAR’s institutes, the DBT-funded National Institute of Immunology, State and Central Universities and ICGEB, the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, due to finish its first phase in March 2013.


For algal biofuels, DBT created a National Algal Biofuel Network in 2008-2009. This involves 12 laboratories with activities in culture collections and repositories, strain improvement, production system development, and collection and characterisation. DBT is also co-funding with ICT a new national Centre for Energy Biosciences, which will have some aspect of marine bioenergy as yet undefined.

One of DBT’s projects funded through the Task Force on Aquaculture and Marine Biotechnology has led to the establishment of a National Repository for fish and shellfish cell lines, based at the National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources, Lucknow [18]. This will host about 40 cell lines which have so far been developed, and will be available for academic and industry work.

Private investment

The broad biotechnology sector in India is well-established and growing, especially in human health and in nutraceutical areas. Many companies are active in extracting and selling carotenoids and other pigments from algae. Parry Nutraceuticals produces Spirulina for health supplements, but also extracts the blue food colourant phycocyanin from Spirulina and uses Dunaliella to produce beta-carotene. Mangalore Biotech [19] makes diagnostic kits for bacterial and viral infections in aquaculture, immunostimulants for shrimp culture and a marine bacteriophage-based product to treat Vibrio infections in farmed shrimp; the products were originally developed with funding from India’s DBT and licensed to the company by the research institutions involved. Poseidon Biotech, Chennai, has commercialised other DBT-funded inventions . Shantha Marine, based in Chennai, sells algal beta-carotene, algal lutein, alpha carotene, zeaxanthin and cryptoxanthin and beta-carotene fortified food products. GeoMarine Biotechnologies is a company providing probiotics for use in aquaculture.


DBT’s industry-focused programmes SBIRI and BIPP are likely to be merged and managed by BIRAC (Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council), the Government of India’s not-for-profit company that promotes biotechnology across the range from researchers to companies. BIRAC will deal with low risk and high risk projects in various sectors of biotechnology, IPR issues, bio-incubators, bio-clusters and commercialization aspects including policy matters.

The Central Government’s 12th Plan will establish an Institute of Marine and Microbial Biotechnology, under the DBT (Department of Biotechnology). The budget is currently being finalised for Cabinet approval.

A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed with Norway for collaboration on disease prevention in Indian aquaculture, which will underpin further progress in projects such as the platform on fish and shellfish vaccines.



This draft country profile is based on available online information sources and contributions from various country experts and stakeholders. It does not aim nor claim to be complete or final, but should be considered as a dynamic and living information resource that will be elaborated, updated and improved as more information becomes available, including further inputs from experts and stakeholders.

The information on this page is based on information initially compiled by Meredith Lloyd-Evans (BioBridge) as part of the CSA MarineBiotech Project activities (2011-2013).