IISc division launches project to map 1,000 genomes

The Centre for Brain Research (CBR) a research arm of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) has embarked on an ambitious programme to map thousands of genomes from the country's many ethnic communities in an initiative aimed at identifying the genetic causes of many diseases.

The initiative, the first of its kind in India, will help identify genes and genetic variations that underlie many diseases, particularly hereditary ailments, for which there is no cure as yet.

Scientists from the Institute of Bioresources and Sustainable Development (IBSD) Imphal, the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (Hyderabad), LV Prasad Eye Hospital (Hyderabad), the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (Thiruvananthapuram) and IIT Jodhpur will participate in the ambitious project.

With promise of funding from the Pratiksha Trust of Infosys co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan and his wife Sudha Gopalakrishnan, top genome scientists of the Centre for Brain Research (CBR) decided to launch the project to map a 1,000 genomes.

Sequencing of each genome is expected to cost about $1,000, sources at the CBR said, meaning that the whole research would need funding of $1 million.

India has a vast ethnic diversity and mapping of genetic variations in individuals are important in health and disease treatment as these are useful tools to study evolution, migration and population history of various groups of individuals.

According to some estimates, India has more than 4,000 well-defined anthropological groups. Many of these groups shunned inter-marriage for centuries due to cultural and societal reasons.

This, in turn, has led to creation of different population groups with their own genetic make-up.

It is estimated that over 1 lakh babies are born in India with congenital diseases, but there is very limited understanding of the genes involved as there is no Indian genome available in the public domain.

The genome project will help address this lacuna. Building such a genetic catalogue would also help unravel genes responsible for genetic disorders.