An Rs 20 crore project has been commissioned by the Union Ministry of Science and Technology to establish a state-of-the-art genomics facility at Allahabad University.
Professor Rizvi of the Department of Biochemistry has been named as the principal investigator of the facility. The professor elaborated on the potential for the facility, stating “the technology is now being increasingly used to find answers to many human diseases, increasing crop output, pharmacogenetics and targeted therapy, prenatal diagnosis and testing, personalized medicine, etc,”
Genomics has a huge potential to improve medical capacities in India, although it suffers the drawback of being considerably expensive in its current state. Genome analysis, for example, can uncover genetic risks of a number of conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. The costs of the analysis, however, can be in excess of a thousand USD, and so is priced out of reach of many within India.
Work has already begun at Allahabad University for site preparation in the Department of Biochemistry. The National Genomics Core at Allahabad University is expected to start its work within three months. The core will also cater to the needs of institutions from other parts of northern India, added Professor Rizvi.
Collaboration between multiple universities at the new genomics facility could greatly enhance the research capabilities of the region. Of particular note is the capacity to perform genome-wide association studies (GWAS).
GWAS involve studying the genomes of vast swathes of the population — the greater the number the higher the power of the study — in order to find genes associated with specific conditions. Successes have been made in this regard in uncovering several genes common among the Indian population that genetically predispose individuals to developing diabetes.
The unique, diabetes-related genes demonstrate the potential for GWAS. However, India is currently highly underrepresented in GWAS studies. Of the global gene sequence databanks, Indian genomes only represent 0.2 percent. The current majority of genomes — around 96 percent — are of European ancestry.
By ignoring Indian genomes and the considerable range of diversity across the Indian population, many genes – both positive and negative – are being left out of these studies. The new genomics facility opens up the possibility to discover more about the genetic makeup of the Indian population. Potentially, if relevant risks are discovered, this could guide future health policy.