“Genome India Project”
Science & Technology
20th Feb, 2020
The government has cleared an ambitious gene-mapping project that is being described by those involved as the “first scratching of the surface of the vast genetic diversity of India”.
What is a genome?
- Every organism’s genetic code is contained in its Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid (DNA), the building blocks of life.
- A genome, simply put, is all the genetic matter in an organism. It is defined as “an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes.
- Each genome 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 discovery that DNA is structured as a “double helix” by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953, for which they won a Nobel Prize in 1962, was the spark in the long, continuing quest for understanding how genes dictate life, its traits, and what causes diseases.
About the Project:
- The first stage of the project will look at samples of “10,000 persons from all over the country” to form a “grid” that will enable the development of a “reference genome”.
- Nodal agency: The IISc’s Centre for Brain Research, an autonomous institute, will serve as the nodal point of the project.
- Aim: Its 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.
Benefits of the Project:
The Genome India Project, a collaboration of 20 institutions will enable new efficiencies in medicine, agriculture and the life sciences. The major benefits are as given below:
- Improving health: Several diseases develop through metabolic polymorphisms. If such propensities to disease can be mapped to variations across genomes, it is believed public health interventions can be targeted better, and diseases anticipated before they develop.
- Agriculture: A better understanding of the genetic basis of susceptibility to blights, rusts and pests can make it possible to deter them genetically, and reduce dependence on chemicals.
- Mapping the diverse gene pools: Global science would also benefit from a mapping project in one of the world’s most diverse gene pools, which would provide data useful for the mapping of the spread and migration of a range of life forms in the Old World, from plants to humans.
- Deep information on evolution: Traversing from the world’s tallest mountain range to warm seas through multiple bio-zones demarcated by climate and terrain, India could provide much information on the interplay of species and genetic groups within them.
- A deeper understanding of ecology: Eventually, a deeper understanding of ecology could emerge from the material thrown up.
- However, some caution must be exercised in the field of human genetics, because the life sciences sometimes stray into unscientific terrain and heighten political bias.
- The mapping of brain regions to mental functions spun off the utterly unscientific and racist field of phrenology.
- In India, a nation driven by identity politics and obsessed with the myths of pristine origins and authenticity, scientific work in mapping genetic groups may become grist to the political mill of the unscientific notion of race.
Hasn’t the human genome been mapped before?
- The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international programme that led to the decoding of the entire human genome.
- The HGP was an inward voyage of discovery, led by an international team of researchers looking to sequence and map all of the genes of members of our species.
- Beginning on October 1, 1990, and completed in April 2003, the HGP gave the ability, for the first time, to read nature’s complete genetic blueprint for building a human being.
In today’s era, mapping of India’s genetic landscape is essential for next-generation medicine, agriculture and biodiversity management. This move must be supported at all levels to map the diversity of India’s genetic pool and put it on the global map.