The Biochemical Engineering Research Centre (BERC) at IIT Delhi was founded in 1974 by the then unprecedented vision that marrying Biology with Chemical Engineering could dramatically accelerate progress in Biotechnology. The BERC became the Department of Biochemical Engineering and Biotechnology (DBEB) effective 1993.
Over the last 42 years, this vision has borne rich dividends:
(a) The department was the first to develop a technically viable process for bioethanol production, a feat that earned it international visibility. Even today, it harbors the leading Indian researchers in membrane separations (Prof. G. P. Agarwal), enzyme technology (Prof. Subhash Chand), bioprocess technology & plant cell biotechnology (Profs. V. S. Bisaria and A. K. Srivastava), recombinant DNA technology (Prof. Saroj Mishra), biomolecular machines and bionanotechnology (Profs. Sunil Nath and Prashant Mishra), applied biocatalysis (Prof. M.N. Gupta), animal cell technology (Prof. P.K. Roychoudhary) and waste-water treatment (Prof. T. R. Sreekrishnan).
(b) The department was among the first in the country to secure significant extramural research funding from international agencies.
(c) Biotechnology departments in virtually all the Indian engineering schools are populated, and in many instances, headed by alumni of our department.
(d) Numerous technical and business leaders of the global and domestic biotechnology industry received their undergraduate or graduate education in our department.
Today, the department consists of 16 permanent faculty members, 1 Emeritus Professor and 1 Visiting Faculty. The research publications of our Faculty are very significant both qualitatively and quantitatively.
Our interdisciplinary approach to teaching, which combines the principles of molecular biology and chemical engineering, has yielded academic recognition and reward. Our students have been admitted to highly ranked academic institutions within the country and abroad, where they have made, and continue to make, significant contribution to biotechnology in academics and industry.
The prescient vision of marrying Biology with Chemical Engineering is now being replicated across the world, but there is a new twist. Rapid advances in molecular biology have made it possible (and perhaps, even essential), to pose key questions of biotechnology at the molecular level, thus making them amenable to the quantitatively rigorous theories of Physics, Chemistry, and Systems Engineering. The recognition of this fact has led to dramatic changes in the organizational structure and curriculum development of leading educational institutions across the world. Major schools of biology have spun off "Departments of Systems Biology" to emphasize their focus on attempts to explain cellular and tissue-level phenomena in terms of molecular biology. On the other hand, chemical engineering departments, which focused traditionally on cellular and tissue-level phenomena, have renamed themselves "Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering" to highlight the new focus on the molecular level.
In the last 6-7 years, our department has undergone a similar transformation. We have hired eight new faculty members specializing in the new and emergent areas of Bioinformatics & Genomics (Dr. D. Sundar), Metagenomics (Dr. Shilpi Sharma), Systems Biology (Dr. Atul Narang), RNAi technology & microRNA therapeutics (Dr. Ritu Kulshreshtha), Single-Molecule Dynamics (Dr. Ravikrishnan Elangovan), chromosome maintenance (Dr. Preeti Srivastava), Waste treatment & bioremediation (Dr. Ziauddin Ahammad) and Metabolic analyses & engineering (Dr. Ashish Misra). The research programs of all these new faculty members have a common underlying theme, namely, to attack higher-level problems of biotechnology from the molecular standpoint. These faculty members have also infused a fresh perspective to the teaching of biotechnology in our department. We are already offering new courses, such as Bioinformatics and Genomics. Traditional courses, such as Biochemical Reaction Engineering and Bioseparations have been transformed by the inclusion of mathematical theories, such as Nonlinear Dynamics, Bifurcation Theory, and Stochastic Processes. The description of new methodologies such as Metabolic Control Theory, RNAi Technology, Genome Engineering, Metagenomics, Bioprospecting and Synthetic Biology, has been incorporated in the revised teaching curriculum. Finally, in order to expose our students to the emerging technologies and issues of the twenty first century, we have embarked on new pedagogical initiatives, such as participation in the international Genetically Engineered Machines competition (iGEM) and the bioethics progam at IIT-D.
The department has actively pursued the recruitment of faculty to ensure cutting-edge research and teaching. We believe that we are ideally positioned to achieve the new synthesis of Biology with the quantitative areas of Physics, Chemistry, and Systems Engineering. First, our department has a long history of interdisciplinary work. Biologists and Chemical Engineers have fruitfully coexisted and collaborated in our department since the 1970's. Second, we are housed in IIT-D, a pre-eminent center of science & engineering in India, thus making it easy to establish cross-departmental and inter-institutional collaborations with other researchers in Physics, Chemistry, Engineering, and Computer Science. Finally, unlike many Biotechnology departments in the country, we have always maintained a strong quantitative slant. In the early years, this slant was toward the field of Process Engineering, but it is now firmly in the direction of Systems Biology.