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Across the continents… UNH Research Travels

November 26, 2008

The following article appeared in Hindi in Amar Ujala; a national Hindi language daily of India. An English translation of the article is printed here:

“So that the Plants can Stand Tall even under Stress: Advancements in Research, DNA may help”

Amar Ujala, Chandigarh, Tuesday, November 18, 2008. (www.amarujala.com)

By Mohit Dhuppar (mohit_dhuppar@rediffmail.com)

With the help of polyamines, plants may not wilt under adverse water conditions. The plants will stay green and healthy and stand tall. In this regards, Dr. Subhash C. Minocha of the University of New Hampshire (USA) is doing research.

In a special interview, Dr. Minocha told Amar Ujala that decreased water availability, increased salinity and heavy metals, which are increasing in our agricultural soils, and excess sunlight, may become tolerable by the plants in future; manipulation of polyamines in the plants may help in this. To achieve this, research is underway in which the DNA sequences (genes) responsible for the biosynthesis of polyamines are transferred into plant cells which are then grown into whole plants. It is expected that these modified plants should become tolerant of various forms of stress; even the growth of these plants may be promoted by this approach. In this regard, Dr. Subhash C. Minocha, originally from India, is undertaking research at the USA-based University of New Hampshire. His wife, Dr. Rakesh Minocha (USDA Forest Service) and several of his students are partners in this research.

At a UGS-Sponsored “National Symposium on Envirotrends” being held at D.A.V. College Ambala City, Haryana (November 16-17, 2008), Dr. Minocha said that it is not only humans who suffer from stress, the plants are increasingly facing a large number of stresses from the environment, many of which have been created by human activities. Generally people do not think that plants also face stress. In response to many of these stresses, plants may wilt or grow slowly or may even die. Some examples of common stresses that plants feel are drought, increasing salinity, heavy metals, and high light intensity.

Dr. Minocha said that first of all one has to figure out through biochemical and physiological studies as to what chemicals and genes change in the plants when they are exposed to a particular stress, which of these may be involved in protecting the plants from the stress, and then manipulate these chemicals through various means including breeding and genetic engineering. He said that polyamines have been considered as target molecules in this regard which may be able to help the plants tolerate various forms of stress. But their amounts in plants are often not high enough that the plants could stand up to these stresses. That is why our lab (and several others) is using the DNA responsible for biosynthesis of these chemicals for transfer into plant cells to modify their cellular content.
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What are Polyamines?
Polyamines are small molecules like amino acids that are found in plants. They are very rich in nitrogen. These chemicals help the plants in fighting or tolerating various kinds of stress. Now with the help of Agrobacterium, electric shock or gene gun, one can transfer the genes (DNA) responsible for their biosynthesis into plant cells and grow them into whole plants; this type of research is currently going on in several labs including dr. Minocha’s at the University of New Hampshire.

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Dr. Minocha hails from Kaithal (a small town in Haryana)
Dr. Subhash C. Minocha is originally from Kaithal, a small town in Haryana. He attended the Government Higher Secondary School in Kaithal, did his Pre-Medical from D.A.V. College, Ambala City, and went on to do his B.Sc. Hons. and M.Sc. Hons. degrees in Botany from Panjab University, Chandigarh. He received his Ph.D. in Botany from the University of Washington. He has been at the University of New Hampshire for 34 years, and is currently a Professor of Plant Biology and Genetics. He has done collaborative research in Germany, Norway, Japan and New Zealand during his sabbatical leaves.

In a separate article in another Hindi language national newspaper ‘Punjab Kesari’ (www.punjabkesari.com), published from several cities in Northwestern India, while commenting on the National Symposium, the following statement appeared:

“….Professor Subhash C. Minocha (Plant Biology and Genetics, University of New Hampshire, USA) was the center of attraction for his presentation on the role of plants in cleaning soil and water pollution and his views on the global aspects of the environment. He placed the responsibility for most environmental and pollution-related problems directly on our attitudes and our planning (and challenged the citizens of India to take the charge of helping clean the local environment themselves). ….” 

Dr. Minocha was interviewed by an Indian Daily Newspaper “Amar Ujala” at the occasion of “National Symposium on Envirotrends” being held at D.A.V. College Ambala City, Haryana, November 16-17, 2008. Dr. Minocha is an alumnus of this college. The symposium is part of a series of national symposia and workshops sponsored by the University Grants Commission, Government of India (www.UGC.ac.in), to promote the teaching of courses at the undergraduate level related to the environmental issues and global change. University Grants Commission is the Indian Government body responsible for the accreditation of universities and determination of college education standards in the country. Prior to the interview, Dr. Minocha had delivered a special guest lecture to the symposium participants on the topic of “Phytoremediation and Biosensors: Cleaning and Monitoring the Environment with Plants”.
Dr. Minocha is on a visit to India to participate in the Golden Jubilee Conference on Challenges and Emerging Strategies for Improving Plant Productivity, organized by he Indian Society of Plant Physiologists (www.ISPP-online.org) being held at the Indian Agricutlural Research Institute, New Delhi, November 12-14, 2004. He delivered a keynote lecture entitled “Abiotic Stress in Plants – Perception, Response, Amelioration and Detection” and chaired a session on Abiotic Stress in plants at this conference. At the same symposium, Dr. Rakesh Minocha (USDA Forest service, Durham, NH), who holds a position of Affiliate Faculty at UNH in the Department of Biological Sciences and the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, also made a major presentation entitled, “Climate Change and Forest Productivity: Nitrogen and Calcium”, and chaired a session on Biotechnology and Molecular Biology. The conference was attended by over 500 plant physiologists from all over India.

In addition to the above activities; Dr. Subhash Minocha has delivered invited lectures to graduate students and faculty at (1) the Botany Department, Panjab University Chandigarh (www.botany.puchd.ac.in) on the topic of “The World of Plant Biotechnology” (November 18, 2008);  (2) the International Center for Plant Biotechnology and Molecular Biology, Indian Agriculture Research Institute, Delhi (November 20, 2008 -  www.iari.res.in); and (3) the Botany Department, Delhi University, Delhi (November 21). The topic of his lectures was “Functional Genomics of the Polyamine Pathway: The Polyaminome”. Dr. Minocha is an alumnus of PUC where he did his B.Sc. and M.Sc. Honors degrees prior to coming to the US.

Dr. Minocha has research collaborations at various research institutions in India and has been invited twice in the past (1996 and 1998) by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR – www.CSIR.res.in), Government of India under the TOKTEN (Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals) program in an advisory capacity to interact with scientists at various research centers in the field of plant biotechnology.


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