Our aim is to contribute to a deeper understanding of the biochemistry and molecular biology of jute. In this respect the focus of our laboratory for many years has been to develop methods to understand jute at the molecular level.
Jute is a self pollinated crop with cross incompatibility among the two cultivated species, Corchorus capsularis and Corchorus olitorius. Therefore our initial research on jute concentrated on determining the extent of polymorphisms in the jute cultivars. After preliminary and successful attempts using non-specific RAPD primers in determining the genetic relatedness of the cultivars, we generated jute specific primers for further study on jute polymorphisms. We have produced a few sparse maps using such primers, however our focus now is to produce a dense molecular map of jute.
Since the two cultivated species can not be crossed therefore any attempt to improve jute in terms of growth, yield or quality has to depend on genetic transformation. Thus one of the goals of our lab was to develop a simple and efficient transformation protocol of jute. In attempts by quite a few research labs to transform jute using tissue culture-base techniques the fibre crop was found to be recalcitrant. We turned our attention to in-planta method of genetic transformation. A couple of years ago our laboratory reported a successful and efficient protocol for genetic transformation of jute using techniques independent of tissue culture. Using this approach my team is now working on developing jute crop capable of withstanding not only the challenges faced in growing in inhospitable terrains due to pressure for growing more food but also the threats posed by climate change.
We are currently trying to characterize a number of putative jute genes which show very strong response under different stress conditions, both biotic and abiotic. Work is underway in determining the function and the location of these genes.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small non-coding RNA molecules (containing about 22 nucleotides) found in plants, animals, and some viruses, which functions in RNA silencing and post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression. We also working on identification of various stress responsive jute microRNAs & their corresponding target genes with a view to improving stress tolerance in jute.
Plant associated microbes (generally bacteria and fungi) that live within plants as an integral part of the host metabolism and function are referred to as endophytes. Several recent studies have shown that this intrinsic microbial community brings significant benefits to plants. Endophytes have been shown to stimulate growth, increase nitrogen fixation, enhance protection against pathogens, increase drought resistance help the plant in obtaining nutrients and regulate phytohormones.
However, this symbiotic mutualism can be species and environment specific. Identification and characterization of novel metabolites from endophytic microbiota may lead to the discovery of new drugs for human, plants and animals. Very few attempts have been undertaken to study their roles in the growth and metabolism of jute and allied fiber-producing plants. Through this sub-project we aim to identify the fungal and bacterial endophytes of jute, determine their mutualistic relationship through biochemical, molecular biology, genomics and proteomics analyses, investigate potential industrial and medical applications through identifying important secondary metabolites and genes, assess their roles as mediators of biotic and abiotic stress resistance and growth enhancers as this important crop is being pushed towards inhospitable terrains in our country to make space for the food crops. This sub-project will open new windows for potential application of endophytes in improving growth and cultivation of jute, phytoremediation, organic farming, bio-control, accelerated retting, etc. We highly anticipate that these applications will be extended to other major crops.
The techniques we use to examine these research questions range from sequence analysis, gene expression assays, to genetic transformation. The multi-tiered approach used in our lab to understand the cellular and molecular basis of jute and its problems is allowing us to make meaningful insights into what appears to be a strange world of jute biology.