Several research projects, including basic research have been conducted so far at the IFS, which have yielded promising formulations of BFBFs for tea, rice, maize, vegetables, strawberry, potato and floriculture crops. After extensive research conducted in collaboration with the Tea Research Institute of Sri Lanka, Biofilm-T, the BFBF for tea has now been commercialized in the country by Lanka Bio Fertilizers (Pvt) Ltd. It was distributed to about 10,000 acres of tea cultivation during 2014. This can cut down 50% of chemical fertilizers used in tea cultivation. This biofertiliser technology is now being extended to other crops in agriculture and the plantations. It is hoped that this can save billions of rupees in foreign exchange by reducing fertilizer imports to the country reduce pollution and also the environment.
With the aim to establish scientific bases for a healthy human life, we are conducting extensive research in the field of nutritional biochemistry using in vivo and in vitro assays. This project focuses on various aspects of functional and nutritional properties of foods and covers a wide area like bioactivity of food, bioavailability of food, food safety, and functional food product development. Studies are aimed for pinpointing the beneficial properties of naturally available food sources and in the context of selection of these commodities in food processing, agriculture and medicine.
Research activities of the Natural Product Project have been focused on the chemistry and bioactivity of secondary metabolites from plants, fungi (including endophytic fungi) and edible fruits of Sri Lanka. Another area of research has been the identification of polyphenols found in tea, fruits and edible spices using Liquid Chromatography – Mass Spectrometry (LC-MS). The overall objective of these projects is the identification bioactive extracts and compounds from natural sources, as potential resources for control of human and plant diseases.
The bioactivities of extracts and compounds are assessed using bioassays such as 2,2’-diphenyl-1picrylhydrazyl [DPPH] radical scavenging assay to detect the presence of natural antioxidants; the brine shrimp (Artemia salina) lethality assay to detect cytotoxicity lettuce (Lactuca sativa) seed germination assay to detect the presence of phytotoxic and allelopathic compounds and TLC bioautography method to detect the presence of antifungal compounds.
Naturally occurring enzyme inhibitors are important in the field of drug research and are biochemical tools that have potential utility in the treatment of diseases. These inhibitors interact with enzymes and block their activity towards their corresponding natural substrate. Inhibitors of -amylase, gluosidase, and lipase are drug targets for the treatments of diabetes, obesity and hyperlipidemia. Enzyme assays to detect the presence of naturally occurring -amylase, -glucosidase and lipase inhibitors respectively, are being used in the recognition of natural sources that may be of importance in the identification of extracts/compounds that can find application in the formulation of health and food related products. For example, -amylase, -glucosidase and lipase inhibitors are drug targets for the treatment of diabetes, obesity and hyperlipaemia, and may eventually be of use in drug research leading to the development of new therapeutic products. During 2014 the establishment of assays to detect the presence of inhibitors of urease and chymotrypsin enzymes is in progress.
The accidental discovery of the first antibiotic Penicillin from the mould Penicillium notatum led to the age of antibiotics and research on fungal metabolites. Some endophytic fungal strains produce natural products that are either identical or closely related to those produced by the host plant. Taxol, an anti-cancer drug obtained from the Pacific Yew tree Taxus brevifolia, was also produced by the endophytic fungus Taxomyces andreanae from the bark of T. brevifolia. Isolation of endophytic fungal strains from some Sri Lankan fruits (F. indica, Musa sp., seeds of Pouteria campechiana) and leaves of allelopathic plants has resulted in the isolation of some unusual bioactive metabolites. Compounds isolated from the leaves of Aspergillus niger included polyketide naphthopyrones rubrofurarin, foncesin, aurosperone, fonsecinone A and also ergosterol. Studies on metabolites produced by the Ambrosia fungus Monacrosporium ambrosium, ectosymbiotic fungus of the Shothole borer beetle (Xyleborus fornicatus) of tea, are in progress.
The Plant and Environmental Sciences group is conducting research related to the plant sciences and the environment. Our Major Focus is on Forest Ecology and Environmental Remediation.
Forest Ecology is looking at a relict pristine wet zone forest as well as the dry forests in Sri Lanka. We also have an Arboretum in Dambulla, which is a model for forest restoration. We are also studying the ecology of serpentine sites in Sri Lanka to understand the accumulation of heavy metals in plant species in this unique habitat.
The Environmental Remediation project is exploring the role of plants in phytoremediation as well as plant based biosorbents to bioremediate heavy metals and textile dyes from the aquatic environment.
Under Other Research we are conducting studies on the Impact of climate change – looking at historical trends in the local climate using baseline data and controlling the spread of dengue in Sri Lanka. The latter is part of a mega project implemented nationally. Besides looking at the socio-economic associations with the spread of the disease a small aquatic organism called copepods are being investigated as potential predators of the mosquito larvae.
The Plant Cell Biology project, which was initiated in 2001, evolved over the years to become the Cell Biology project in 2009 and currently the Molecular Microbiology and Human Diseases Project, since 2017. The research carried out by the group was initially focused on three main areas: cyanobacteria, pulmonary diseases, and on human gene expression analysis. Currently the main focus areas of the group are pulmonary diseases, airborne microorganisms and gene expression studies in relation to chronic kidney disease.
Study of microbiome is the study of microorganisms in a particular environment. Microorganisms live in our surroundings as well as in and on our body. As a country where a great portion of the population suffers from a variety of respiratory diseases, this provides an insight to the microbial population associated with the specific diseases and may eventually help develop new methods for diagnosis and treatment. Read more…
Air borne microorganisms lead to many human respiratory diseases. Respiratory diseases are increasing in Sri Lanka due to rapid development and urbanization which can cause a significant burden on the health care system, which would eventually require an increased budget allocation. Although airborne microbes are recognized as an emerging public health problem in developing countries, such as Sri Lanka most of these countries are not capable of evaluating the actual magnitude of the problem due to the lack of adequate data about airborne microorganisms. Read more…
Chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology (CKDu( is one of the major health problems in Sri Lanka affecting the farming community of the country since the late 1990’s. Finding its root cause and possible solutions are national priorities. The CKDu project focuses on analyzing the blood transcriptome patterns of CKDu patients in comparison to healthy individuals in order to better understand the disease, identify possible causative factors and suitable biomarkers for the disease. Read more…