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A giant step

Last updated: 11 December, 2009

''The present system of treatment will change.''


The success of Indian scientists in decoding the human genome is an important step towards deciphering the biological destiny of individuals. India has joined an exclusive group of five other countries — the US, Britain, Canada and China and South Korea — with this breakthrough which has major implications for public health policy and practical measures to deliver medical assistance to the people. Genetic sequencing will help to throw light on the pre-disposition of individuals to diseases and will help in early diagnosis and administration of preventive and predictive medicine. The present system of treatment and management of diseases, based on investigation of symptoms and the state of the various organs of the body at the moment, can undergo a shift in future to one based on a knowledge of how the body and mind behave. As the old adage goes, prevention is better than cure in terms of effort, costs, the mental energy and stress that go into the treatment of ailments.

What the scientists at the Delhi-based Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology of the CSIR did was to map the genome of an individual in about a few weeks’ time at a cost of $30,000 and discover the diseases that he is susceptible to. When the first mapping of the genome sequence was done by other countries six years ago, it had taken years to complete the project and had cost millions of dollars.

Advancement of knowledge and use of better technology has reduced the cost and time. The trend will only continue and the facility can soon be expected to become a common medical tool, available and affordable for large numbers of people. India has a large diversity of people and an understanding of the genetic profiles of groups based on geography, caste, race and kinship will be of great use because many strengths and vulnerabilities tend to be common to such groups.

Much more research has to go into reading the Book of Life which has 3.1 billion characters in the form of DNA base pairs. India has to step up its efforts and investment in the field. It has the necessary scientific talent for that, as evidenced by the achievements of scientists in genetic studies and related areas. This century is expected to be the century of biology and the country cannot lag behind others in unravelling the mysteries of the human body.

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