The on-going research projects in this group arose out of my fascination with plant phenolics during my course of lectures delivered to postgraduate students here at the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur (IIT-Kharagpur), and an even longer running passion with phenolic catabolism, which I indulged during my doctoral research with Drs Nick Walton and Adrian Parr at the BBSRC Institute of Food Research in Norwich.
A decade ago, I took up a faculty position at IIT Kharagpur and started organizing my own research group. My group is well-built in the analytical expertise it can bring to bear in this area of phenolic compounds, and there is particular expertise in the analysis and characterization of plant phenylpropanoids and their enzymology. In recent years we are expanding our research with a metabolic phytochemistry approach by bridging two disciplines, phytochemistry & molecular biology. We anticipate that this will serve as an excellent springboard for our future research on transgenics and metabolic engineering. Projects are supported by different funding agencies, including AICTE, CSIR, DAE-BRNS, DBT, DST and IFS (Sweden). A number of projects involved collaboration with other partners such as TU-Braunschweig, University of Evora, University of Calcutta, Bose Institute, CPCRI, Visva-Bharati University and the University of Burdwan.
The major focus of the group is on natural product biotechnology, especially in the area of phenolic compounds. The broad aim is the investigation of the properties of plants as they relate to food and other post-harvest uses, including for example, flavour/fragrance and production and isolation of bioactive compounds. In addition to phytochemical analysis, the group continues to do plant cell and organ cultures for isolation of enzymes and genes responsible for the synthesis of natural products of their interest (hydroxybenzoates and xanthones). To be specific, we try to understand why, how and when hydroxybenzoate molecules are formed in plants, and how microbes bio-transform cinnamate-derivatives into hydroxybenzoate-derivatives. Working on phenolics at the interface of plant and microbial metabolism appeared interesting, particularly on plant hydroxycinnamates metabolism; we discovered the existence of typical plant pathways for phenolic catabolism in several actinomycetes species, which might be due to their large genome, complex life-cycle and their proximity to plants in the soil environment. As a succession to these studies, more recently, the group has undertaken the task to elucidate the underlying enzymology for these phenolic products formation, particularly in plants. These enzymological studies have now reached an exciting stage with interesting observations, which are now being characterized at the molecular level.