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Postdoctoral Fellow

Department

Genetics
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Biographic sketch:

I was born and educated in Jammu & Kashmir, INDIA. I lived in number of places during my career and did my schooling from a very small village Singo which is situated in district Pulwama (J&K). I did my bachelors degree from University of Kashmir (J&K) and masters in Botany from University of Pune (MH), INDIA. I worked for my doctorate degree in CSIR-Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine (IIIM), Jammu and was registered at Guru Nanak Dev University, India. After completing my Ph. D, I worked as a Lecturer for one year at University of Kashmir for teaching post graduate students. Then I did a short postdoc of seven months at University of Delhi (INDIA). Finally in November, 2012 I joined University of Pretoria, South Africa as Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow under the direct supervision of Prof. Don A Cowan, Director Centre for Microbial Ecology and Genomics (IRT-Genomics). Since my academic and research background was all related to plant sciences so developed a collaborative project with Prof. Alexander A Myburg, Chair, FMG. At present working under the joint supervision of Prof. Don A Cowan and Prof. Alexander A Myburg.

Research interest

My current research centers on second generation biofuels. As plant biomass is the most abundant renewable carbon source. It provides a promising alternative to fossil fuels. However, the enzymes most commonly used for de-polymerization of lignocellulosic biomass are expensive, and the development of cost-effective alternative conversion technologies would be desirable. I am working on cloning and expression of recombinant hyperthermophilic lignocellulose digesting enzymes. The genes corresponding to these enzymes are cloned form extreme environments or identified from the databases, resynthesized and engineered through various side chain modifications. The expression constructs are targeted to sub-cellular compartments under the control of various signal peptide and CAMV 35S promoter for optimum storage and accumulation in the heterologous hosts. Currently the studies are demonstrated on Arabidopsis and the long term goal would be to use Populus, a dedicated bioenergy plant,as a host. The long term goal of this work is to develop the biofuel feedstocks with improved biofuel production.

My previous research interests focus on molecular biology, genetic diversity, plant tissue culture, molecular markers, and secondary metabolites. During my Ph. D I have worked on Characterization of Genetic Diversity in Withania somnifera Dunal (L.) using biochemical and molecular markers. W. somnifera is a plant of immense medicinal value largely due to the presence of array of bioactive withanolides. I have made small contributions in several aspects of this important medicinal plant. Made a collection of about two dozen accessions from several locations across the country (INDIA) and maintained them at the Institute where I was working for my PhD. Genetic characterization of the accessions was carried through morphological, biochemical and molecular markers viz. RFLP, RAPD and AFLP. A new species W. ashwagandha was reported for the first time from India by resolving the long standing taxonomic riddle using Morphology, chemical profiling, molecular markers (AFLP and RAPD), chloroplast and ITS PCR-RFLP and sequence data of ITS. The distinctness of the germplasm was also substantiated by DNA bar-coding data using five recommended loci. During this research an elite accession on the basis of withanolides’ content was identified which was investigated for several aspects including biochemical profiles and anti-oxidative potential through a battery of assays and techniques. I have also worked out the cytology and floral biology of the elites to access their potential in protocols of conventional breeding. I also developed in-vitro protocols for propagation and withanolide production.

Till now I have published over 17 research papers, review articles and book chapters and sit in the editorial board of three international journals and serves as reviewer of many international journals in the field of biomolecules, plant tissue culture and molecular biology. Besides I have also attended /presented in over 15 national and international conferences.

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Publication
Mir BA, Mewalal R, Mizrachi E, Myburg AA, Cowan DA. (2014) Recombinant hyperthermophilic enzyme expression in plants: a novel approach for lignocellulose digestion. Trends in Biotechnology 32(5):281–289. 10.1016/j.tibtech.2014.03.003