Context: The Department of Biotechnology has said that the exercise to sequence 10,000 Indian human genomes and create a database under the Centre-backed Genome India Project is about two-thirds complete. About 7,000 Indian genomes have already been sequenced of which 3,000 are available for public access to researchers.
- Human genome is the entire set of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) residing in the nucleus of every cell of the human body. It carries the complete genetic information responsible for the development and functioning of an organism.
- The DNA consists of a double-stranded molecule built up by four bases [adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T)].
- While the sequence of base pairs is identical in all humans, there are differences in the genome of every human being that make them unique.
- Genome sequencing is the process of determining the complete DNA sequence of an organism’s genome. It involves identifying the order of base pairs [adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T)] that make up the DNA molecule in each of the chromosomes of an organism’s DNA, to decode the genetic fingerprint of a human.
Human Genome Project
- In 1990, a group of scientists began working on the Human Genome Project which was an international programme that led to the decoding of the entire human genome. 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.
Applications of genome sequencing
- Disease Diagnosis and Treatment: Genome sequencing can identify genetic mutations and variations that contribute to the development of diseases. It has been used to evaluate rare disorders, preconditions for disorders and even cancer from the viewpoint of genetics.
- Nearly 10,000 diseases — including cystic fibrosis and thalassemia — are known to be the result of a single gene malfunctioning.
- Genome sequencing has been used to read the codes of viruses. In 2014, a group of scientists from M.I.T and Harvard sequenced samples of Ebola from infected African patients to show how genomic data of viruses could reveal hidden pathways of transmission.
- In January 2020, at the start of the CoVID-19 pandemic, scientists sequenced the genome of a novel pathogen causing infections in the city of Wuhan. Then virologists evaluated the genomic sequence to understand how to combat the virus, track the mutating variants, and develop a vaccine.
- Drug Development: Can identify genetic targets for drug development and testing, leading to the development of more effective and personalized drugs.
- Prenatal screening: Can be used as a tool for prenatal screening to investigate whether the foetus has genetic disorders/anomalies.
- Agriculture: Can help identify genes that contribute to desirable traits in plants and animals, allowing for the selective breeding of crops and livestock.
- Evolutionary Biology: Can help trace the evolutionary history of species and understand the mechanisms underlying evolution.
- Forensics: Genome sequencing can be used to identify suspects in criminal investigations and to establish paternity in cases of disputed parentage.
Genome India Project (GIP)
- The Genome India Project (GIP) is a government initiative launched by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in 2019 to execute whole genome sequencing and subsequent data analysis of 10,000 individuals representing the country’s diverse population by the end of 2023.
- The goal of the project is to create a comprehensive reference database of genetic variations in the Indian population and identify genetic variations that are associated with common and rare diseases prevalent in the Indian population.
- The project is being carried out in collaboration with several institutions, including the National Centre for Biological Sciences, the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, and the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology.
Need & Significance of GIP
- India has around 1.3 billion population consisting of over 4,600 population groups, many of which are endogamous (disease-causing mutations often amplified within some of these groups). But despite being a large population with diverse ethnic groups, India lacks a comprehensive catalogue of genetic variations.
- Creating a database of Indian genomes allows researchers to learn about genetic variants unique to India’s population groups and use that to customise drugs.