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Research Projects

Biotechnology Unit conducts researches in the fields of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. The researches carried out at the Biotechnology Unit span over a wide area including crop improvement and value addition through genetic engineering and plant tissue culture, production of recombinant enzymes, DNA based disease diagnostics and Bioremediation.

Development of PCR Based Test Kit for Detection of Whooping Cough

Whooping Caugh

Whooping cough, which is also known as Pertussis disease is a bacterial disease which is highly contagious. It is generally caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertusis. A similar by a milder form of the disease is caused by Bordetella parapertussis. Whooping cough affected 48.5 million people a year, worldwide and results in 295,000 deaths. It has become one of the leading causes of vaccine preventable deaths worldwide and 90% of all pertussis cases are reported from developing countries. The main vaccines used in preventing pertussis infections are DTP and DTaP.

For the detection of pertussis culturing in a special medium, PCR method, immunofluorescence method(DFA) and serological methods are available in the world. However after two weeks time of the infection the culture method and the immunofluorescence methods fail to provide accurate results (false negative results). Even after three weeks time PCR is the only method that still can provide reliable results. As the detection method for pertussis, PCR method has become more popular in the world due to its easiness to perform the diagnostic test and less time consumable.

Upon a customer request, producing a detection kit for pertussis disease based on PCR techniques has been started in the biotechnology unit of ITI. At the moment we are in the final stages of optimizing the kit and in future we expect to transfer the technology to public or private sector.

Industrial enzyme production


Industrial enzyme production is an interdisciplinary field that uses many environmental friendly applications. In Sri Lanka, enzymes are used in a wide range of industrial applications such as Food and Beverages, Leather Products, Textiles and Detergent manufacture.Due to its high cost of production, the entire industrial enzyme requirement of the country is satisfied by importing enzymes from countries such as Denmark, India and Singapore. Importation of these enzymes results in a loss of valuable foreign exchange to the country to the tune of 2 billion rupees annually.

Therefore, in line with the current Development Goals of the Sri Lankan Government, the ITI Biotechnology Unit has undertaken an ambitious project to produce common industrial enzymes such as α-amylase, cellulases and lipases for selected industries. As an initial step, our focus is on developing enzymes for brewing industry and garment washing plants.

We have identified that two main factors contributing to high cost of producing enzymes in Sri Lanka are high cost of raw material and the cost involved in downstream processing. Therefore, we have identified low cost alternatives to traditional raw material used in the enzyme industry and are in the process of developing low cost alternatives to downstream purification. Furthermore, the biotechnology unit is working on producing highly efficient organisms that synthesize recombinant enzymes much more effectively and efficiently than traditional methods. This project is funded by the Sri Lanka Treasury and the Lion Brewery Ltd. under the Public Private Sector Partnership Program.

 Development of a DNA rabies vaccine for dogs

Rabies Project 5


Rabies is a zoonotic disease that causes acute encephalitis. It is caused by the rabies virus. The vast majority of the estimated 55 000 deaths caused by rabies each year occur in Africa and Asia. In Sri Lanka 50 to 60 deaths occur annually due to bites from rabies infected dogs. Rabies is 100% fatal once symptoms have appeared. Vaccination is the only way to combat the disease before and after exposure or infection. Sri Lanka spends around Rs. 500 million for the treatment of rabies patients and rabies control per year, the most cost effective way for preventing rabies in people is to eliminate rabies in dogs through effective mass rabies immunization campaign since the dog is the main reservoir as well as the transmitter of rabies in Sri Lanka. 


Currently the dog rabies vaccine is imported by the country because there is no local rabies vaccine production. This may be due to complication of the rabies vaccine production process that require mammalian cell culture and other complicated downstream processes. Furthermore the inability of currently used vaccination strategies to provide highly potent, cost-effective safe and sustained protection, preferably after a single dose therapy, indicate the need for an improved rabies vaccine.


Recent discoveries show that DNA Vaccines can elicit strong, antigen specific immune responses in dogs .DNA vaccines have many advantages over currently used rabies vaccines for dogs. DNA vaccines are extraordinarily stable, only induce immune responses to the wanted antigen, easy to generate and their scale-up production is more uncomplicated and cost effective than that of purified protein vaccines or vaccines that require mammalian tissue cell culture.

Because DNA rabies vaccines have several advantages over killed rabies vaccine this research is focused on and developing a cost effective, safe, and protective vaccine to vaccinate rabid dogs to eliminate rabies from the country.

Branding Ceylon cinnamon – DNA barcoding  


This project was carried out as a support for the Branding of Ceylon Cinnamon, by upholding its scientific authentication as Cinnamomum zeylanicam, the true Ceylon Cinnamon.Since there is a synonym as Cinnamomum verum it is beneficial to Sri Lanka to establish the scientific authenticity in Cinnamomum zeylanicam because the name implies Cinnamon’s unique inheritance to Ceylon and thereby supports our national efforts in branding of Ceylon Cinnamon in the international market.

Using our expertise in DNA bar-coding, BTU was able to successfully barcode Cinnamomum zeylanicum and five indigenous Cinnamomum species and data have been successfully uploaded to Genbank

Bioremediation of soils contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons


Soil contamination with hydrocarbons causes extensive damage to local ecosystems. In Sri Lanka numerous contaminated sites exist as a result of more than 60 years of oil/petroleum activity. As opposed to chemical agents available to clean up hydrocarbon contaminations bioremediation provides an environmental friendly, efficient and cost-effective solution.

Although several countries have already used methods including microorganisms for bioremediation of petroleum spills, it has not been previously used in Sri Lanka. The goal of this project was to isolate indigenous bacterial strains from hydrocarbons contaminated soils and to assess their potential for bioremediation.   The BTU was able to identify several bacterial species which showed significant potential in removing/detoxifying hydrocarbon contaminations in soil/water. Work is currently underway to develop a bioproduct useful for soil/water inoculation to clean up hydrocarbon contaminated sites in Sri Lanka.


DNA Barcoding of endemic plant and animal species in Sri Lanka for Authentication and conservation purposes

Since Sri Lanka is a biodiversity hot spot, endemic species are frequently subjected to biopiracy and illegal trade. For the prevention of these consequences a scientific method should be established for identification of species. This will help to authenticate the endemic species and get the ownership to the country. Presently morphology based identification is carried out which poses major drawbacks. To fill these drawbacks, DNA barcoding has been developed and now it is a worldwide accepted scientific method for species identification. Therefore, with this project we are planning to keep a step forward in the history of biodiversity and conservation in Sri Lanka by establishing a reference centre for barcoding of endemic species.

This project would act as the foundation for the initiation of a national project aiming to barcode number of endemic plant and animal species, with a future of barcoding 1000s of endemic plant and animal species. This project would be directed towards establishing a national reference centre for authentication and conservation of endemic species in Sri Lanka.

More projects






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