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UNCP’s fermentation technology an international attraction


Have science, we’ll travel. That is how Dr. B. Madhusudana Rao describes his reasons for coming to UNCP’s Biotechnology laboratories.

Dr. Rao is a Ph.D. microbiologist from India’s Central Institute of Fisheries Technology, an arm of the giant Indian Council of Agriculture Research in the Ministry of Agriculture. India is a huge hungry nation with advanced agricultural and fisheries technologies.

“India, through the National Agricultural Innovation Project, is sending its scientists to different parts of the world to get advanced training,” Dr. Rao said. “I came here for the fermentation technology in this lab.”

Dr. Rao is the fourth international scientist to work in UNCP’s Biotechnology Center at COMtech, said Dr. Len Holmes, director. “Their fees help support our labs and the undergraduate research we do here. The international scientist come here to use the fermentation technology, and we learn from them.”

After a three-month stay, Dr. Rao returned with a new UNCP lab coat and some new findings regarding his specialty field. Dr. Rao studies the production of by-products from shrimp shells, which are used for medical and other purposes.

“I came to learn how to culture the microorganism on a large scale for enzyme production using bio-reactors in this lab,” he said. “Here, we have done it.”

The enzyme Dr. Rao is seeking to produce is used to break down shells into valuable compounds more efficiently and with less environmental impact than current methods.

“Everybody eats the shrimp meat, but we want to use the entire shrimp,” Dr. Rao said. The uses of the compounds chitin and chitosan from shrimp shells are many, including anti-bacterial and anti-fungal compounds and treatments for cancer, arthritis (glucosamine) and malaria.

There was a bonus to studying in Pembroke. Dr. Len Holmes, a biochemist and Dr. Rao’s host scientist, is an expert in bioluminescence research and organisms that produce their own light, also produce shells similar to shrimp.

“Bioluminescent animals all produce chitinase, but nobody knows why. It is something in nature,” Dr. Rao said. “I studied the bacteria that produces bioluminescence, and we thought when the bacteria levels are growing, the organism produced more chitinase.”

They were wrong; it was the opposite. Science was pushed one step further.

“I had a good three months,” Dr. Rao said. “I gained knowledge; there was a good learning curve.”

Dr. Rao has been followed by Dr S.K. Purbey, who is also funded by India’s National Agricultural Innovation Project. He is studying the uses for byproducts of litchi fruit cultivation.

Dr. Holmes expects several published papers from Dr. Rao’s work which will cite UNCP scientists. “He did some really good work here,” Dr. Holmes said. “One of the ways we measure the progress of our lab is through published papers.”

“This is truly an international exchange,” he said. “In December, I will travel to New Delhi to teach a two-week seminar on fermentation technology. It’s a good opportunity for me.”

To contact UNCP’s Biotechnology Center, please call 910.521.6650.