Rup Lal earned his BSc degree from GNDU, Amritsar in 1973 and MSc from Kurukshetra University, in 1975. He obtained his PhD from University of Delhi, Delhi (1975-1980). His teaching career started as a lecturer in Zoology at Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi, in 1979. He was appointed as reader at the Department of Zoology, University of Delhi in 1992. In April 2000, he became professor in the same Department. He was the Head of the Department of Zoology (Nov, 2007-Nov, 2010) and Dean, Faculty of Science (Nov, 2007- July, 2010), University of Delhi. He has also served as Chairman of Board of Research Studies, Member of Academic & Executive Council, University of Delhi (2007-2010) and Coordinator UGC, SAP programme (2007-2010). Currently, he is Dean, (Examinations) University of Delhi.
Academic and Reserach Achievements: Prof. Lal has more than 35 years of research and teaching experience in Molecular Biology with emphasis on environmental, molecular microbiology, genomics and metagenomics. His initial research was on the development of cloning vector and transformation system for Amycolatopsis mediterranei- an actinobacterium that produces rifamycin B. The semisynthetic derivatives of rifamycin B are in use for curing tuberculosis and leprosy and several other mycobacterial infections. However existing rifamycins are not able to cure and tackle the problem of Multi- Drug- Resistant (MDR) strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In order to overcome this problem, one of the alternatives is to manipulate rifamycin biosynthetic gene cluster (combinatorial approach). For this, his group first developed a cloning vector and transformation system for Amycolatopsis mediterranei (US patent US005985560A) followed by the manipulations of the rifamycin polyketide biosynthetic gene cluster of Amycolatopsis mediterranei leading to the production of 24-desmethylrifamycin B (a derivative of rifamycin B). The semisynthetic derivatives of 24-desmethylrifamycin B were found to be effective against MDR strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The process and the analogue are being patented in Russia and China (Application no. PCT/IB2014/059989) and technology so developed is being commercialized. Prof. Lal has also contributed significantly and gained sufficient recognition in exploring the genetics, biochemistry and physiology of degradation of very persistent and hazardous chemicals hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH) isomers using microbial system. He has explored the microbial diversity at HCH/pesticide polluted sites, cloning of genes also called lin genes responsible for the degradation of HCH isomers from sphingomonads, thus investigating the pathways of degradation of β-, α- and δ- HCH. Initially his group has unravelled the biochemistry, physiology and genetics of degradation of HCH isomers from bacterial isolate Sphingobium indicum B90A and subsequently extended this to other sphingomonads isolated from the HCH dumpsite. His group reported for the first time the association of lin genes with IS elements (IS6100) and thus proposing a mechanism of acquisition and transfer of lin genes though horizontal gene transfer. He has been successful in elucidation of degradative pathways of HCH isomers especially α-, β- and δ- HCH. He has also attempted decontamination of HCH at the contaminated agricultural sites and the HCH dumpsite by ‘bioremediation, bioaugmentation and biostimulation’ approaches. The leads that were obtained can now be further pursued for the development of bioremediation technology. By using molecular tools he has carried out taxonomic characterization of nearly 40 bacteria upto species level from HCH contaminated dumpsites, agricultural fields and stressed niches. These new species were published in International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. His group has sequenced one complete genome of Amycolatopsis mediterranei S699, and announced more than 18 draft genomes. The draft genomes especially of Sphingobium indicum B90A, Thermus sp. RL and Acinetobacter sp. HA have opened up several new avenues for future research.The genomic data and the experience in the field of genomics were further extended to do comparative genomics and metagenomics. The comparative genomic analysis of sphingomonads reinforced the concept of horizontal transfer of lin genes among sphingomonads. Encouraged by these findings he used the culture independent approaches also called metagenomic approaches to solve the conundrum of community dynamics at stressed niches such as HCH dumpsite (450 mg of HCH g-1 soil) and Himalayan hot springs at Manikaran (temp. > 96°C) surpassing the conventional culture-dependent techniques. His group has already investigated the microbial dynamics by using metagenomic approaches at the HCH dumpsite. Comparative metagenomic survey of heavily contaminated HCH dumpsite (450 mg HCH g-1), 1 km away (0.7 mg HCH g-1) and 5 Km away (0.04 mg g-1) soil samples revealed interesting results in terms of microbial diversity as well as community potential of HCH degradation. Bacterial diversity at the three sites revealed notable differences at genera level, with Pseudomonas, Sphingomonas, Novosphingobium, Sphingopyxis, Marinobacter, Chromohalobacter among the most abundant at HCH dumpsite. This led to the conclusion that besides sphingomonads (avid HCH degraders), other indigenous bacterial species of the community should also be bio-stimulated for the development of an effective bioremediation technology. Furthermore, metagenome data at the HCH dumpsite was used along with genome sequence data of two HCH degrading Sphingobium species (Sphingobium japonicum UT26 and Sphingobium indicum B90A) to reconstruct last common ancestor (LCA) genotype. Comparison of LCA genotype with these two subspecies in terms of genes repertoire revealed absence of two genes i.e. linA and linB encoding for enzymes involved in the upper pathway of HCH degradation, which indicated that the descendants acquired these genes under HCH stress via transposon mediated lateral transfers. The studies further revealed that the lower pathway (linD, linE and linR) genes that encode enzymes for the HCH degradation makes for an evolutionary “long lived” event . Along the same line at the Hot spring sites of Manikaran, he demonstrated the reconstruction of two novel genomes of potential predator (Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus) and prey (Enterobacter cloacae). Genus Bdellovibrio has always raised interest of researchers as it feeds on other Gram negative bacteria (especially pathogenic), thus validating great potential as a ‘live’ antibiotic. These data were used to construct a theoretical model describing potential predator avoidance strategies, whereby the E. cloacae strains can move between anaerobic and aerobic niches by quorum sensing population size, which is modulated by a ‘kill the winner’ viral mechanism and predation by the obligate aerobe, B. Bacteriovorus. The results obtained from in-silco analysis were further confirmed by wet lab experiments. Since Bdellovibrio is contemplated to be eventually developed into a live antibiotic, his group is in a process of culturing this bacterium from thermal springs. These leads can eventually be exploited further establish a prey-predator relationship hitherto not explored by using metagenomics and culture dependent approaches. His group isolated several bacteria including Thermus sp. RL from the hot water springs located atop the Himalayan ranges at Manikaran, Himachal Pradesh. Thermus sp. RL appears to produce Taq DNA Polymerase that has the potential to be eventually exploited commercially.The expertise so gained in the field of genomics and metagenomics is further extended to analyze the human microbiome especially from oral and gut from the Indian population.
He has nearly 180 publications in peer-reviewed journals attracting over 3522 ISI citations along with h-index 31. He also has a US patent to his credit. Prof. Rup Lal has mentored more than 50 Ph.D. students and currently has 8 Ph. D students under his guidance. Many of his Ph.D. students are well settled and some of them are leaders in various capacities. He is a member of the Review Committee for the ASM-IUSSTF Indo-US Professorship in Microbiology (2009-2012).
Other Contributions: Prof. Lal has been instrumental in running two very long and fruitful international collaboration under ISCB (between DU, IMTECH, EAWAG and EPFL) and IACB (between DU, IMTECH and CSIRO, Canberra). Rup Lal was also Editor-in-Chief of the Indian Journal of Microbiology (INJM) and is Associate Editor of BMC Biotechnology & BMC Biochemistry and President, Association of Microbiologists of India (2013). He was the Ambassador to the Indian Ocean Region, American Society for Microbiology and is the General Secretary of Indian Network for Soil Contamination & Research (INSCR).
Awards and Honours: Prof. Lal is the recipient of Alexander von Humboldt (AvH) Fellowship from July 1988 to August 1990 and worked at the University of Bielefeld, Gentechnologie/Mikrobiologie, Germany. He subsequently visited (under the AvH Fellowship) University of Bielefeld between, May 1995 to July 1995; June to July, 2004 and June to July, 2008. He has also been a visiting scientist at the Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge from February to May, 1998. He was awarded Department of Biotechnology Short-term Overseas Associateship from May to Oct, 2000 to work at the Department of Genetics, University of Kaiserslautern, Germany. He was also awarded Indo-US professorship for the year 2008-09 by American Society of Microbiology (ASM) to conduct research at the Oregon State University in Corvalis. He has been awarded Prof. S. R. Vyas Memorial Award by Association of Microbiologistes of India and he is also the recepient of prstigious Moselio Schaechter Distinguished Service Award-2016 from American Society from Microbiology (ASM) for exemplary leadership and commitment towards the substantial furthering of the profession in microbiology in research, education or technology in developing world. He is the Fellow of National Academy of Sciences, India (FNASc), Fellow of National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (FNAAS) and Fellow of Association of Microbiologists of India (FAMI).