Genome India Project


  • On 7th February, 2020, the government gave clearance to an ambitious gene-mapping project- Genome India Project (GIP), which has been described as the “first scratching of the surface of the vast genetic diversity of India”.

Need            

  • Indian ethnicity is under-represented in genomic datasets currently according to experts and the diverse population of the country interest’s genome-mining researchers across the globe.
  • This has been found necessary as over 95% of the genome samples available, which are the basis of new, cutting-edge research in medicine and pharmacology, use the white, Caucasian genome as the base.
  • Mapping of India's genetic landscape is critical for next generation medicine, agriculture and for biodiversity management.

About Genome India Project

  • The GIP will be spearheaded by the Centre for Brain Research at Bengaluru-based Indian Institute of Science as the nodal point of about 20 institutions, each doing its bit in collecting samples, doing the computations, and then the research.
  • 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.
  • To support this development, government will initiate two new national level Science Schemes, to create a comprehensive database.

Genome

  • A genome is an organism’s complete set of Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid (DNA), including all 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.

Impact of GIP

Building Indian Reference Genome

  • The GIP will help vastly to add to the available information on the human species and advance the cause, both because of the scale and the diversity of the Indian population.
  • 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. For example, if the Northeast sees a tendency towards a specific disease, interventions can be made in the region, assisting public health, which make it easier to battle the illness.

Healthcare Genomics

  • The most obvious use would be in personalized medicine, anticipating diseases and modulating treatment according to the genome of patients.
  • For instance, cardiovascular disease generally leads to heart attacks in South Asians, but to strokes in most parts of Africa.
  • 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 Genomics

  • It would help to develop a better understanding of the genetic basis of susceptibility to blights, rusts and pests and to improve and design crops with enhanced resistance.
  • Further, it may become possible to deter them genetically, and reduce dependence on chemicals.

Contribution to Global Science

  • 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.

Issues Involved

Medical Ethics: In a project that aims only to create a database of genetic information, gene modification is not among the stated objectives. Recently China-based scientist, who helped create the world’s first gene-edited babies, was sentenced to three years in prison exposes the risk of doctors privately running away with the idea of fixing genetic issues.

Data & Storage Issue: Anonymity of the data and questions of its possible use and misuse is another challenge which would need to be addressed. Keeping the data on a cloud is fraught with problems and would raise questions of ownership of the data.

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: India has been plagued with the question of heredity and racial purity and more scientific studies of genes and classifying them could reinforce stereotypes and allow for politics and history to acquire a racial twist. A Genome India Project would further add a genetic dimension to the ongoing debate of being indigenous and non-indigenous.


Genome Mapping
 

  • Genome mapping 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.
  • The first ever genetic map was created by Alfred Strutevant while he worked on Drosophila melanogaster with Thomas Hunt Morgan.
  • Genome mapping provided a critical starting point for the Human Genome Project.
  • A Centimorgan is a unit used to measure genetic linkage. One centimorgan equals a one percent chance that a marker on a chromosome will become separated from a second marker on the same chromosome due to crossing over in a single generation.

Types

  • Genetic Mapping: It looks at how genetic information is shuffled between chromosomes or between different regions in the same chromosome during meiosis (a type of cell division).
  • Physical Mapping: It looks at the physical distance between known DNA sequences (including genes) by working out the number of base pairs (A-T, C-G) between them.

Human Genome Project (HGP)

HGP was an international programme that led to the decoding of the entire human genome.

Beginning on October 1, 1990 and completed in April 2003, the HGP gave us the ability, for the first time, to read nature’s complete genetic blueprint for building a human being.

The project was able to identify the locations of many human genes and provide information about their structure and organisation.

ELSI Program

The Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) program was founded in 1990 as an integral part of the HGP.

The mission of the ELSI program was to identify and address issues raised by genomic research that would affect individuals, families, and society.

Four Focus Areas

  • Privacy and fairness in the use of genetic information, including the potential for genetic discrimination in employment and insurance.
  • The integration of new genetic technologies, such as genetic testing, into the practice of clinical medicine.
  • Ethical issues surrounding the design and conduct of genetic research with people, including the process of informed consent.
  • The education of healthcare professionals, policy makers, students, and the public about genetics and the complex issues that result from genomic research.


Difference between Genome Mapping and Genome Sequencing

  • The main difference between gene mapping and gene sequencing is that the gene mapping identifies the locus of genes and their relative distance within the genome whereas the gene sequencing spells out the order of the nucleotides, which makes up the genes in the genome.
  • Furthermore, gene mapping results in a less-detailed outcome while gene sequencing results in a fully-detailed outcome.