Education and Career

A university helps conserve mountain economies facing climate brunt

A university helps conserve mountain economies facing climate brunt

Solan: A research-based university near here in Himachal Pradesh is working for mountain people and its fragile biodiversity — that is facing the brunt of climate change — by researching and piloting programmes on high-value products, innovative livelihood options and rural income-generation strategies.

Climate change has emerged as a major problem for the Himalayan states with receding glaciers and instances of extreme climate. In sustainable energy, it is working to design equipment to harness solar energy, besides conserving extremophiles from hot springs.

“We are working in research areas of relevance to the country and the people, especially in the Himalayan region,” Shoolini University Vice Chancellor P.K. Khosla said.

The university is also called Shoolini University of Biotechnology and Management Sciences and is located at Bajol village in Solan district.

Khosla said that like other Himalayan states, Himachal Pradesh, the country’s fruit and vegetable bowl, too is facing impacts on biodiversity by climate change and human activities, and steps are required to advance the mechanisms for identification and its protection.

“For conserving mountain economies, extensive research is going in the university’s food technology and biotechnology schools to design technologies for processing of exotic and wild fruits from the region,” he said.

Biotechnology researchers are working on fruits and vegetable diseases to find environment-friendly solutions.

“Since Himachal Pradesh is a biodiversity hotspot, its sustainable utilisation and conservation is a major area of our focus.

For example, researchers have conserved the extremophiles from hot springs of Tattapani (50 km from the state capital), which were lost due to construction of a dam,” Khosla, the brain behind setting up the university in 2009, told IANS in an interview.

The Himalayas have unique flora, which has not been fully studied for medicinal properties. Extensive research is going on in the university to study these plants for their therapeutic and biological properties.

“In vitro and in vivo screening of plant extracts, extract fractions and isolated compounds for cancer, infectious, neurological, osteoporosis, drug resistance and psoriasis diseases, etc., is underway and leads have been identified.”

According to Khosla, biochips for diagnosis of celiac disease and cardiovascular diseases have been designed.

A major focus of the research is on material sciences and the design, synthesis and characterisation of materials for water purification, nanomaterials for the defence and medical applications.

It is also working on renewable energy to design equipment for harnessing solar energy for various applications like solar drying of fruits and vegetables.

“Forest fires are a major problem in the state and result in mass destruction of microflora. The impact of this loss is under study,” he said.

Records of the state forest department say 22 percent, or 8,267 sq km, of the total forest area in the state is fire-prone.

A majority of the fires are reported in summer from the pine forests, found up to an altitude of 5,500 feet. The trees shed pine needles that are highly inflammable due to the rich content of turpentine oil.

Shoolini University has 1,020 publications; out of which 582 publications are indexed in Scopus, the world’s largest abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed research literature.

“The quality of our productivity has improved since 2014 by publishing 469 papers with field-weighted citation impact of 1.46, citation impact of 5.2 and 38.2 per cent of papers with international collaborations,” Khosla said.

In comparison, the top 10 universities of India, as per National Institutional Ranking Framework, published 5,620 papers on an average since 2014 with field-weighted citation impact of 0.95, citation impact of 3.5 and 19 per cent of papers with international collaborations.

The university has filed 111 Indian patent applications so far.