The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has identified Pune as a key centre in Maharashtra under the landmark ‘GenomeIndia’ project.
What is Genome
- Every organism’s genetic code is contained in its Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid (DNA), the building blocks of life.
- A genome is defined as an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes. It contains all of the information needed to build and maintain that organism.
- In humans, a copy of the entire genome — more than 3 billion DNA base pairs — is contained in all cells that have a nucleus.
- The Human Genome Project (HGP) – from 1990 to 2003 – was an international programme that led to the decoding of the entire human genome. India was also a collaborator in this programme
Need for India
- 95% of the genome samples available use the white, Caucasian genome as the base. Most genomes have been sourced from urban middle-class persons and are not really seen as representative and useful for India-specific needs.
- India’s project aim is to ultimately build a grid of the Indian reference genome, to understand fully the type and nature of diseases and traits that comprise the diverse Indian population
- For example, if the Northeast sees a tendency towards a specific disease, interventions can be made in the region, assisting public health, which makes it easier to battle the illness.
- A total of 10,000 genetic samples have to be collected across India in the next two years and, in Pune, scientists are looking at four major Maharashtrian sub-groups to be recruited for the research project.
- The DBT has chosen the Centre for Translational Cancer Research (CTCR, an initiative of IISER Pune and Prashanti Cancer Care Mission) as a clinical sample collection site from the state.
- The first phase of the ambitious project was underway and approximately 1,200 healthy participants from four major Maharashtrian sub-groups (Maratha, Deshastha Brahmins, Koknastha Brahmins and Koli) would be recruited in the research project from Pune regions as well as other parts of the state.
- The participants should be healthy and aged between 18 and 70. After taking informed written consent and 30 to 45 minutes for data and blood sample collection, they will also receive a complete health check-up for free with signed laboratory reports.
- CTCR team now conducting multiple study camps across Pune city to avoid commuting amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and for study volunteer participation, they were reaching out to several individuals and organisations from the city, ranging from public to private sectors representing all professions. An appeal to the younger generations to take part in this “national mission” project has been made.
Genome India Project
- Officially launched in January, The Genome India Project, is a collaboration of 22 institutions including the Indian Institute of Science and some IITs, whereby in the first phase the genomic data of 10,000 Indians will be catalogued.
- This is the first large effort in the country to catalogue genetic diversity by doing whole genome sequencing of representative communities across India.
- In a country of 1.3 billion people, there are approximately 4,500 well-defined ethnic groups, and this diversity also implies that biomedical research from other populations of the world cannot be merely extrapolated for Indians.
- Experts from various scientific domains such as medicine, clinical research, anthropology, genomics, genetics, data sciences and information technology are contributing to the design and implementation of project plans.
- IISc Bangalore, CSIR-CCMB Hyderabad, DBT-NIBMG Kolkata and CSIR-IGIB are undertaking whole genome sequencing and bio-banking of 10,000 healthy individuals from all over India.
- By sequencing the genome, researchers can discover the functions of genes and identify which of them are critical for life.
- Whole genome sequencing and subsequent data analysis will help aid our understanding of the nature of diseases affecting the Indian population and open up new vistas for advancing next-generation personalised medicine in the country.
- Personalised Medicine/Healthcare: It will help in the development of personalised medicine, anticipating diseases and modulating treatment according to the genome of patients and as a result, public health interventions can be targeted better.
- Deeper Understanding of Ecology: Traversing from the world’s tallest mountain range to warm seas through multiple bio-zones, this project could provide much information on the interplay of species and genetic groups within them.
- Sustainable Agriculture: Similar benefits would come to agriculture if there is a better understanding of the genetic basis of the susceptibility of plants to pests, and insects reducing dependence on chemicals and other issues hampering productivity.
- International Cooperation: The Indian project will aim to vastly add to the available information on the human species and advance the cause, both because of the scale of the Indian population and the diversity here.
- The project is said to be among the most significant of its kind in the world because of its scale and the diversity it would bring to genetic studies
- Medical Ethics: The project aims only to create a database of genetic information and gene modification is not a stated objective. However, the presence of such wide knowledge enhances the risk of doctors privately performing gene modification.
- Data & Storage: After collection of the sample, the anonymity of the data and questions of its possible use and misuse needs to be addressed especially since India has not passed the data privacy bill
- Fear of Scientific Racism: scientific studies of genes and classifying them could reinforce racial/caste stereotypes and allow for politics and history to acquire a racial twist.
|About Genome India Project (GIP)||Description|
|Ministry||Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ministry of Science and Technology|
|Origin||DBT initiated GIP in 2020 (inspired by Human Genome Project) to sequence 10,000 Indian human genomes and create a database|
|Purpose||Creating a database of Indian genomes means that researchers from anywhere can learn about genetic variants that are unique to India’s population groups and use that to customise drugs and therapies|
|Collaboration||Collaboration of 20 institutions, including IISc and IITs|
|Goal||To build a grid of the Indian “reference genome”|
|Benefits||Advancements in healthcare, medicine, agriculture, Development of personalized medicine based on genome mapping|
|Challenges||Fear of scientific racism, data storage, and medical ethics; Concerns about reinforcing stereotypes based on genetic groups; Anonymity of data and questions of possible misuse; Risk of doctors privately performing gene modification|
|Other countries||United Kingdom, China, and the United States have programmes to sequence at least 1 lakh of their genomes|