D. Ravinder Reddy
J. Gowrishankar has his favourite questions —how cells cope with less water, discovering how and why mutations occur in non-dividing cells, and figuring out how information stored in DNA unravels itself into functional cell protein. At the Laboratory of Bacterial Genetics, Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, Hyderabad, he engineered bacteria that could produce recombinant proteins when induced with saline water. When bacterial cells face water deficit or too much of salt water, they retaliate by creating a compound, betaine. Now here’s the magic: you can physically add betaine (which costs little) to the soil to help plants cope with drought. Now drought-prone crops could even be genetically engineered to make, retain betaine. The team awaits a patent for a process that can help the move away from traditional proteins to DNA vaccines. DNA is more stable and has a much longer shelf-life—20 years as compared to 2-3 years for traditional ones. There’s also work going on to produce cheap anti-rabies DNA vaccines for animals.