dnaAs far as achievements go, this one is huge! Well maybe I am a bit biased towards progress in the life sciences vis-a-vis other fields. Be that as it may, even the severest critics will surely agree that this was probably the most quietly efficient achievements by our researchers. Two thirty-something researchers working with a team of researchers in Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), Delhi, over a period of close to 2 years, have furnished us with India’s first-ever complete Human Genome Sequence. Using a miniscule 10 ml of blood, scientists mapped out 99% of the genome sequence of a healthy man, 55 years old and a resident of Jharkhand in Northern India. The reason he was chosen for this endeavour, was that though healthy, he was very close to the onset age of certain critical diseases.

The complete sequence is expected to be out in the next two weeks. The two young scientists leading this effort were Dr. S Sridhar and Dr. Vinod Scaria. While the actual sequencing took only an unbelievable 45 days, the setting up of all facilities including software and analysis systems took all of two years. I am all the more elated about this achievement because ironically, India was not a part of the global effort of the HGP (Human Genome Sequencing Project) a few years ago. In an eye-opening article in the Hindu, the ex-director of CCMB, Dr. Pushpa Bhargava, holds the apathy of India’s apex Biotechnology body, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), solely responsible for what she calls India’s missed opportunity. Citing hard facts and numbers, she builds a case for how India could have played an active role in the sequencing process and today would have been reaping benefits not only in terms of  the prestige in the scientific community, but also in terms of financial gains by patenting STRs (Short Tandem repeats) in the genome. This is exactly what has been done by Celera Genomics, the company that won the sequencing race.

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