The government has recently cleared an ambitious project to map India’s genetic diversity. 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 are contained in all cells that have a nucleus.
- It essentially means figuring out the location of a specific gene on a particular region of the chromosome and also determining the location of and relative distances between other genes on that chromosome.
- It enables scientists to gather evidence if a disease transmitted from the parent to the child is linked to one or more genes. It also helps in determining the particular chromosome which contains that gene and the location of that gene in the chromosome.
- Genome maps have been used to find out genes that are responsible for relatively rare, single-gene inherited disorders such as cystic fibrosis and Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
- Genetic maps may also point out scientists to the genes that play a role in more common disorders and diseases such as asthma, cancer and heart disease among others. Eg scientists have mapped the handful of genes whose mutation causes several different kinds of cancers.
- Genome maps are one-dimensional, much like the DNA molecules that make up the genome.
- Every organism’s genetic code is contained in its Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid (DNA), the building blocks of life. 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.
- In humans, each cell consists of 23 pairs of chromosomes for a total of 46 chromosomes, which means that for 23 pairs of chromosomes in each cell, there are roughly 20,500 genes located on them.
- Some of the genes are lined up in a row on each chromosome, while others are lined up quite close to one another and this arrangement might affect the way they are inherited.
The Human Genome Project (HGP)
- It was an international program that led to the decoding of the entire human genome. It has been described as one of the great feats of exploration in history.
- It was coordinated by the National Institutes of Health and the US Department of Energy and was undertaken with the aim of sequencing the human genome and identifying the genes that contain it.
- The project was able to identify the locations of many human genes and provide information about their structure and organization.
- The project lasted from 1990 to 2003. It gave us the ability to read nature’s complete genetic blueprint for building a human being.
- According to the Human Genome Project, there are estimated to be over 20,500 human genes.
Genome India Project
- This is being spearheaded by the Centre for Brain Research at Bengaluru based Indian Institute of Science as the nodal point of about 20 institutions.
- Its aim is to ultimately build a grid of the Indian reference genome, to fully understand 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.
- The project holds importance as over 95% of the genome samples available, which are the basis of research in medicine and pharmacology, use the white, Caucasian genome as the base.
- These samples have been sourced from urban middle-class persons and are not really seen as representative.
- The Indian subcontinent has been the site of huge migrations. The intermingling of almost all races and types can be seen as horizontal diversity. Endogamy or inter-marriage practiced among distinct groups has also resulted in vertical diversity.
- The project hopes to form a grid after collecting 10,000 samples in the first phase from across India, to arrive at a representative Indian genome.
- Most genomes 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.
- Medical Ethics: In a project that aims only to create a database of genetic information, gene modification is not among the stated objectives. It is important to note, however, that this has been a very fraught subject globally. The risk of doctors privately running away with the idea of fixing genetic issues came to light most recently
- The Shenzhen-based scientist created the world’s first gene-edited HIV-resistant babies using the gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 before their birth.
- Data and Storage: After collection of the sample, the anonymity of the data and questions of its possible use and misuse would need to be addressed. India is yet to pass a Data Privacy Bill with adequate safeguards. Launching a Genome India Project before the privacy question is settled could give rise to another set of problems.
- Social Issues: The question of heredity and racial purity has obsessed civilizations, and more scientific studies of genes and classifying them could reinforce stereotypes and allow for politics and history to acquire a racial twist.
- To identify indigenous population: In India, a lot of politics is now on the lines of who are indigenous people and who are not. A Genome India Project could add a genetic dimension to the problem
- Selective breeding: It has been a controversial issue even before the DNA was discovered. The dangerous use was seen by Nazis deliberating on the theme and its mention came up in the Nuremberg trials.
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