Innovative water purification technology by IISC wins Google award

Ground water from Mavillipura before and after purification (Photo: Sanjiv Sambandan)

A Novel wastewater filtration technique developed by a team from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore recently won first place at the Google Pitch Fest in Switzerland. The technology is particularly designed to benefit people in remote and disaster-hit areas that have sources of water, but none that are fit for drinking. No water is wasted in the process, and no membranes or chemicals are used.

“My background is in device physics and circuits. I haven’t really worked in the water technology area before this,” said Sanjiv Sambandan, Assistant Professor at the Department of Instrumentation and Applied Physics, “but when I started my lab, one of the ideas that we discussed was to use electric fields to purify sewage water.” The proposal got a small amount of funding from IISc. The idea uses the understanding of how particles behave in electric fields. If one disperses particles in any fluid—and if there is a permittivity or conductivity difference between the particles and the fluid, the particles will polarize in an electric field. The polarized particles have an attractive force, which will cluster these tiny particles into larger clumps. Using this along with other phenomena that aid clustering, these larger clumps can be removed with a very low-cost sieve, without the need for a very fine membrane.

The system was initially built on a small printed circuit board as a proof of concept. At that time the throughput was one microliter a minute, which is essentially a tiny droplet. The big challenge was in scaling up and building a technology that could purify a few hundred litres of water within an hour. “The engineering behind increasing the throughput while maintaining a low energy currency has been, in some sense, the most important stride in our work,” said Sambandan. What this took was more a psychological change than any adoption of new techniques.


There exist technologies that can achieve a high level of purification of water. However, these technologies are expensive and don’t lend themselves well to very remote settings or disaster-hit areas, which suffer from limited accessibility and little or no electricity. The question the team asked was: “can these people themselves build a water filter from locally available materials that achieve this goal?” They worked backwards keeping in mind the limited resources that may be available in these settings. Sambandan acknowledged that, much to their surprise, the throughput improvement came about when they peeled off unnecessarily fine precision requirements and started working with a crude set-up. “That, in some sense, led to a nice optimization of the engineering problem,” he said.

While the technique is not as good as the reverse osmosis technology, it meets potable water standards—it can remove sub-micron particles, metal oxides, hardness, all coliform bacteria, and also corrects for pH to some extent. The system also desalinates the water to a small extent. A 1-litre water bottle can be purified in just 5 minutes, powered by batteries, a hand crank or a small solar cell.

For all of the trial demos, the team used Mavallipura bore water, which is known to be extremely contaminated, as the trial source. Currently, they are running a pilot project at the IISc sewage plant. This project is supposed to treat 500L an hour of sewage water. They plan to set up constant testing by several labs, which regularly do water testing with potable water standards and observe how the various contaminants evolve with time. Plans for a larger social project at Mavallipura are also in the pipeline.

–  by Harini Barath

Program Manager (Science Communication),


iGEM Giant Jamboree 2015 & Teams from India.

Image : iGEM

What is iGEM ?

The iGEM Foundation is dedicated to education and competition, advancement of synthetic biology, and the development of open community and collaboration.

The main program at the iGEM Foundation is the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Competition. The iGEM Competition is the premiere student competition in Synthetic Biology. Since 2004, participants of the competition have experienced education, teamwork, sharing, and more in a unique competition setting.

iGEM is also much more than a competition; our community has a long history of involving students and the public in the development of the new field of synthetic biology.


About The Giant Jamboree :

The Giant Jamboree is the annual event where all of the collegiate and high school iGEM teams come together to present their synthetic biology projects. This year, the Hynes Convention Center, located in historic Boston, MA, will host more than 260 international, multidisciplinary teams eager to share and celebrate their work.

With 15 tracks available, there is something for everyone!

The iGEM competition encourages university and high school student researchers to work in teams and solve real-world challenges by building genetically engineered biological systems with standard, interchangeable parts called BioBricks from the Registry of Standard Biological Parts. Each team manages their own projects, advocates for their research, and secures funding. Teams are also challenged to actively consider and address the safety, security and environmental implications of their work. This Years The Giant Jamboree is in September 24 – 28, 2015 at Hynes Convention Center – Boston, MA.

Teams from India:

This year IISER Pune conducted a national meetup from 16 to 17th July 2015. In other words the first national conference of the undergraduate teams in India. Team members from IIT-Delhi and IIT-Kharagpur made their way to Pune. Since this is an undergraduate contest, with able assistance from administration and the go-aheads from the heads of biology and the director, the students conducted the proceedings ably.

IISER-Pune Project Idea:

           The aim of the project is to propose a potential solution for fast detection of Tuberculosis involving the manipulation of known pathways, genetic-circuits, protein networks and processes at a cellular scale. We wish to develop a genetic device which would interfere with the cell cycle of M. tuberculosis and accelerate its rate of division. This would help us achieve larger cell density within a short interval of time which can be easily detected by some readable output.

     IISER Pune team prepares to make headway with the difficult and sometimes frustrating reaction chemistry of DNA and proteins mixed with cells, they look forward to completing the project in time for the 24-September Giant Jamboree in Boston.

Interesting Project by iGEM Paris-Bettencourt 2O15:

Image : Team Paris_Bettencourt

Video about their Project :  Ferment It Yourself


Other Links :

iGEM IIT Kharagpur.   (Project)

iGEM2015 IISER Pune.

iGEM2015 IIT Delhi.  (Project)

India Meetup of the Synthetic Biology Undergraduate Contest: iGEM 2015.

iGEM & The Giant Jamboree 2015.






Unraveling the mysteries of Tulsi



–  By Suneha Mohanty

          Knowledge of advantages of the natural world is steeped into the Indian subconscious. Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum), a ubiquitous herb is used for therapeutic purposes. It has been mentioned in ancient Indian scriptures and has found a wide usage in Ayurveda, the Indian traditional system of medicine. Known for producing many aromatic compounds, Tulsi is known as ‘Queen of Herbs’.

A multi-institutional team led by Sowdhamini Ramanathan from NCBS, Bangalore, have revisited the age old knowledge of “Tulsi and its medicinal effects” in their laboratories. The team included researchers from NCBS, inStem and CCAMP, all members of the Bangalore Life Sciences Cluster.

Tulsi grows extensively in tropical climates, and is found in most parts of Asia, Africa and Central and South America. The plant synthesises a wide range of bioactive compounds, known for their anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-pyretic and anti-cancer properties. These compounds are metabolites — compounds that are a by-product of plant metabolism, typically used for plant self-defence. These metabolites are very poorly understood because of lack of genomic information.

Sowdhamini and team have produced the first draft genome of O. tenuiflorum Krishna subtype, which is an important step in understanding and identifying the genes responsible for production of metabolites with medicinal properties. Focusing on the important metabolite genes, the team used five different types of Tulsi, (Ocimum tenuflorium subtype Rama, O. tenuflorium subtype Krishna, O. gratissimum, O. saccharicum and O. kilmund) to collect the genomic data and compare it with species like Arabidopsis thaliana, about which a lot of information is available.

“The genome sequencing projects involved generation of huge amounts of data. The genes were identified from this enormous amount of data using complex prediction models and were then numbered for easy identification. This assembled genome and the set of genes served as a starting point for all downstream analysis”, said Adwait Joshi, one of the team members.

“The organization of these data with RNA-seq results into a database was an interesting experience” says Oommen Mathew, one of the team members.

“Apigenin, Taxol and Ursolic acid are implicated in anti-cancer properties of the plant, Citral for its anti-septic nature and Eugenol for its anti-infective properties and so on.” says Atul Upadhyay, the primary member in the team.

Some metabolites have been used in the perfume and cosmetic industries, while others have been exploited in curing human ailments like malaria, bronchitis, diarrhea and dysentery, etc. “Like many other plants, Tulsi also produces specialized metabolites as a part of its defence mechanism. Linalool, Linalyl, Geraniol, Camphor, Thymol, Safrol, Apigenin, Citral, Eugenol, Taxol and Ursolic acid are few examples among the important secondary metabolites of Ocimum species” says Harini, a team member.

The metabolic pathway concerning the synthesis of Ursolic acid was investigated as a case study. Studying mature roots, leaves, flowers, seeds and other parts of the plant, the team found that the precursors of these metabolites are synthesized in young tissues, and retain their specific medicinal properties when transported to their mature counterparts. “Owing to the 3000 years of cultivation of Krishna Tulsi and extensive descriptions in ancient Indian texts, it is assumed to be of Indian origin. The findings of the experiments reinstate the household knowledge passed on for generations, even when prodded by modern scientific techniques”, feels Nitish Sathyanarayana, one of the authors.

‘The sequence reveals the interesting pathways used by Tulsi to make Ursolic acid a medically important compound.  If one could now use modern synthetic biology techniques to synthesise Ursolic acid – a compound with multiple chiral centers –   it would be of great benefit. “, says Prof. S. Ramaswamy, from inStem.

Prof. Sowdhamini said, “This is the first report of draft genome sequencing of a plant species from NCBS and we hope to do more”. Convinced of the huge array of genes and their respective downstream compounds yet to be unraveled in further research, the team looks forward to provide the next version of the draft of Tulsi genome.


The paper was published on BMC Plant Biology and can be read here.

Contact Information:

Sowdhamini. R :

Suneha Mohanty  is a writer with the Research Media Services Division of Gubbi Labs.

Original News : NCBS News