Morgan Professor awarded a $100,000 Maryland Innovation Initiative (MIII) Award

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 18, 2013  Bookmark and Share

Dr. Viji Sitther, an Assistant Professor of Biology at Morgan State University, has developed a method to produce biofuel in brackish ('salt') waters using a photosynthetic cyanobacterium.  Her aim is to engineer a halotolerance gene into the wild type strain to produce biofuel using naturally available seawater and the sun's energy.  This method will be a sustainable, efficient, environmentally conscious, and cost-effective alternative to fossil fuels.

Based on the commercial promise of the technology, Dr. Sitther was awarded a $100,000 Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII) Award in November 2013.  Dr. Sitther and her research team will develop a new halotolerant strain of Fremyella diplosiphon.  After lipid analysis and optimization of biofuel production, commercial testing of the improved halotolerant strain will be carried out using large-scale bioreactors.  

According to Navigant Research, a marketing and consulting firm, the biofuel industry is expanding and expected to double over the next 10 years into a $185 billion industry. Dr. Sitther's product will target two main segments: Federal agencies and biofuel companies.  Various government entities including the U.S. Navy and Air Force are particularly interested in developing new sources of biofuels. A secondary segment will be research institutions that will apply the methods developed in the process. Beyond the MII funding, Dr. Sitther will seek additional funding from Federal agencies and other translational research economic development grants to develop this strain for commercial applications.  

Created by the General Assembly and administered by the Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO), the Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII) promotes the commercialization of research conducted in five qualifying Maryland universities. The initiative encourages universities to partner on commercialization proposals, strategies, and funding sources. The MII program facilitates technology transfer from university labs to start-up companies and boosts economic development in Maryland.  

Dr. Viji Sitther obtained a B.S. in Plant Science and M.S., M. Phil Degree, and Ph.D. degrees in Botany from University of Madras (India) and B.Ed. in Botany from Annamalai University (India), respectively.  She moved to the U.S. in 1998 to pursue her postdoctoral research at The Pennsylvania State University.  Dr. Sitther served as a research professional/graduate faculty at the Fort Valley State University before joining Morgan as an Assistant Professor in 2012. She has published 19 peer-reviewed journal articles and has presented her work at numerous national and international scientific conferences. Her research interests also include elucidating the genetic diversity in Camelina sativa, a biofuel crop, using DNA fingerprinting techniques.  

Morgan State University, founded in 1867, is a Carnegie classified Doctoral Research Institution offering more than 70 academic programs leading to bachelors degrees as well as programs at the masters and doctoral levels. As Maryland's Public Urban Research University, Morgan serves a multi-ethnic and multi-racial student body and seeks to ensure that the doors of higher education are opened as wide as possible to as many as possible. For more information on Morgan State University, visit

Dr. Victor R. McCrary
VP for Research & Economic Development


Mr. Clinton R. Coleman
Director, Public Relations & Communications