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Saturday, April 17, 2010

WHAT I SAW IN 2009 - From animals, the SCIENCE OF LIFE


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Author : Prof. K.Vijay Raghavan


Several teams of Indian scientists had made impressive strides in stem cell research in 2009 while in other institutes their comrades had mapped the genome of the zebrafish and had reached climactic stages in the development of a malarial vaccine. It looks as if life science research will get a fillip in the coming year. Rather than list 10 important discoveries in 2009, I will highlight one and then focus on a few advances in the life sciences in India which are of the highest international standards.

There were major global advances in 2009 in stem cell research. These discoveries have their roots in the work of John Gurdon, who "cloned" frogs in 1962. This was the forerunner of the cloning of the famous sheep Dolly in 1996 by Ian Wilmut and colleagues. In 2006, Shinya Yamanaka's team transformed "skin" cells into cells that could make an entire animal: these cells are called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS). Thus they accomplished, using molecular and genetic tricks, what Gurdon did by transplanting genetic material. Certainly NOT the top ten advances in the Life Sciences in 2010. Accurate astrology is an oxymoron. People fantasise about what they would like to see happen: perpetual youth, cures for all diseases and so on. All these are, at least for some time to come, just that: fantasies. So, if one were asked to predict what will happen in 2010 by way of science, the best is not to answer the question. The second best, if insisted upon, in to frame another question to answer: How is research in the life sciences growing in India and what are we likely to see by way of establishment of new institutions in this area? Here, then, are the 10 (not in any order) changes we will see in 2010. This is just a flavour of the many new things that are happening in the country. WHAT I SAW IN 2009 Studying stem cells 1 Iwhich n 2009, there was a major breakthrough allowed the very facile generation of iPS cells from most adult tissues. This prom ises to be of major value in the study of many diseases and in regenerative medicine.

2 From discarded embryos IJawaharlal n India, groups led by investigators at the Nehru Centre for Advanced Sci entific Research, Bengaluru, and at the Insti tute of Research in Reproduction, Mumbai, have generated embryonic stem cells from unusable and discarded human embryos at fertility clinics. Many such groups are active ly working on stem cell research in India and a new institute, inStem, led by Dr Jyotsna Dhawan and Dr S. Ramaswamy, in Bengalu ru is leaping ahead. 3 How bacteria work A t the National Institute of Immunology, teams led by Gokhale and Mohanty have taken forward our understanding of how bac teria make metabolites and, in particular, how the genome of the bug that causes Tuberculosis is regulated.

4 Search for malarial vaccine H eroic attempts at a malarial vaccine by teams led by Chetan Chitnis and Varinder Chauhan at the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biology have gone to the advanced stages.Genome of zebrafish 5 T he Institute for Integrative Biology has studied the genome of the wild zebrafish and compared this to laboratory strains. This will help in mapping disease-susceptible genes.

6 Brainworks study A t the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research a group led by Shubha Tole has made major advances in understanding how specific parts of the brain are made. This work has been widely recognised.7 Mutations in TB bacteria A t the Indian Institute of Science a group led by Umesh Varshney has shown how mutations in the tuberculosis-causing bacte ria are regulated.
Nano sensor made 8 Y amuna Krishnan's group at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, TIFR, has devised a DNA nano-sensor that reveals the state of sub-cellular compartments.Rice pathogen breakthrough 9 A t the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, a team led by Sankaranarayanan and Sonti has made a breakthrough in the study of a rice pathogen.

10 Switching genes on and off G alande and collaborators at the National Centre for Cell Science have made advances in studying how genes are switched on and off. All these examples are but a small selection of the many important studies being undertaken in labs all over India. They point to the fact that investment in reserach over the past decade is paying off and continued investment over the coming decade will take Indian biology ahead. WHAT I WANT TO SEE IN 2010 Researchers march on 1 T he several new Indian Institutes of Sci ence Education and Research will mature in their already growing life science research.They will be a major force in science research and in life sciences too. They will attract even more bright young people to science. New health science body 2 T he new institute for translational research in Health Sciences being set up by the Department of Biotechnology in Faridabad, near Delhi, will be established and will take off.

TIFR as research hub 3 TResearch he Tata Institute of Fundamental will kick-off in 2010 a major new initiative in Hyderabad: The 300-acre campus will become a major hub for research.IIS to open labs 4 T he Indian Institute of Science will open its refurbished laboratories for life science research and this will make the research powerhouse even stronger.

Stem cells, again 5 T he Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine in Bengaluru should rapidly grow its scientific programme.Mohali to move ahead 6 T he Agri-Biotech cluster at Mohali is likely to venture into new areas of research.

New life science research 7 M any of the new IITs and the older ones will develop and enhance active life sciences research programmes.Revamp of medical research 8 T he Indian Council of Medical Research just may get around to revamping medical research in the country.

More cash for varsity R&D 9 T he National Science and Engineering Research Council will inject resources into the university research system.Real clinical research 10 T he Ministry for human resources devel opment and the Medical Council of India will, hopefully, rationalise medical education so that research gets its due and truly begins in India.

Source : Deccan Chronicle

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