Biotechnology is the broad discipline where one creates new technology and applications on existing biological processes and systems in order to make something useful. The department of Biotechnology at the Indian Institute of Technology at Madras has been striving at spreading its research in the various sub fields of Biotechnology since 2004 like Bioprocess Engineering, Medical Biotechnology, Computational Biology, Protein Bioinformatics, Cancer Biology and Plant Biotechnology. Team iGEM-IIT Madras forms one of the primary undergraduate research organs of the department.
Being aspiring biotechnologists, we decided to educate our fellow undergraduates in various sub fields of Biotechnology from other universities in Tamil Nadu with the help of professors that have expertise in these various fields. A two day workshop and lecture series was planned that tried to incorporate as many diverse fields as possible like plant biotechnology, enzyme biology, bio process engineering, medical biotechnology, systems biology, protein bioinformatics and computational neuroscience. The contents were split into the 2 days of the workshop based on the broad criterion of being computationally intensive or not.
The first day started with an introduction to research in IIT Madras by the Head of the Department of Biotechnology Dr. Karunagaran and the various labs and specialities. He also introduced the audience about the past and present of iGEM in IIT Madras from the inception of its participation in 2008. The first day saw a widespread audience from more than 5 different universities along with the all the freshmen from the Department of Biotechnology.
The first session of the day was a lecture and workshop that was conducted by the Lab of Dr. Anju Chadha on “Bioprocess studies of a high value product from microbial source up to commercial production”. The next session was a demonstration by the lab of Dr. Smita Shrivastava on “Plant Cell Technology” that showed the various steps and preparation of tissue cultures for the study of plant processes. The day ended with Dr. Mukesh Doble who introduced the audience to the exciting world of Medical Biomaterials. The audience was enthralled by the vast expanse of synthetic biomaterials that are being used in Medicine and surgery today. Dr. Doble showed the audience artificial catheters, valves, urinary tubes and patches to heal wounds. The session ended with a visit to his lab that worked on Biomaterials.
The second day of the Biotechnology workshop was aimed at introducing the audience to computational and applied fields. It begun with an intensive workshop in learning how to use Cytoscape, a software to view molecular interaction networks. The session was conducted by the lab of Dr. Karthik Raman who primarily works in Systems biology. The next session was conducted by Dr. Athi Naganathan who introduced the audience to Protein stability, function and allostery via a mutational lens. He captivated the audience with this interesting field ending with research that was conducted in his lab.
The third session was conducted by Dr. Srinivas Chakravarthy who works in Computational Neuroscience. The audience was fascinated by his talk on “understanding the Brain using simplifying computational models”. He ended his talk with an introduction to his popular initiative of a unifying script for all Indian languages- the Bharathi script. The audience including team iGEM was extremely interested to learn about his initiatives and public engagement that reminded them of our own initiative- Language Project. We decided to seek his advice on our public engagement for the Language Project on a weekly basis. The next session was conducted by the lab of Dr. G K Suraishkumar which included an interesting workshop on “biocement applications and liquid phase oxygen supply to bioreactor”.
Concluding session by students of iGEM
The final session was conducted by students of iGEM-IIT Madras that introduced the audience to the the history and present of the competition. A special introduction to the participation of IIT Madras and accolades received so far was mentioned. We also conducted a short activity that introduced the audience to The Language Project. Members of the audience speaking different languages were asked to introduce the concept of ‘Mutation’ in their own language. After a number of languages, the audience was shown the videos of Language Project in their own language and suggestions on improvement was noted. Having participated in the activity, the audience appreciated our efforts and realized the impact of the initiative. The next segment consisted of an introduction to our Software tool- ChassiDex and the motivation for constructing the database. The final segment of the workshop included an introduction to our project for 2018 explaining in detail about the reason for working with a unique host.
Having understood in detail about the opportunities in Biotechnology and participating in iGEM, Team IIT Madras promised to mentor any of the attending universities for iGEM in the years to come. We also received feedback regarding the workshop.