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After human genome sequence,scientist duo looks ahead

They have taken India to the elite club of countries that have successfully sequenced the human genome.

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi |
December 10, 2009 1:49:38 am

They have taken India to the elite club of countries that have successfully sequenced the human genome. But for Vinod Scaria and Sridhar Sivasubbu — the two young scientists from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR),who have achieved the historic feat — work has just begun.

They believe sequencing of one human genome is only the first step — the challenge is to look at varied genomes and apply the knowledge for clinical application of various complex diseases. So,while congratulatory messages kept pouring in,it was business as usual for the two masterminds.

Success is not new to Scaria and Sivasubbu — one a 28-year-old doctor-turned-scientist,the other a molecular biologist in his late 30s. Together,they decoded the genome of a zebrafish in April this year. The positive result,they say,prompted them to go for a similar experiment with human genome.

“The genome of a zebrafish is approximately half the size of a human genome but it was a very good model,” Sivasubbu told Newsline,“and that gave us the confidence. But it was a high-risk game and not many at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (or IGIB,where the two work) knew about the project. We deliberately kept a low profile.”

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Working together for nearly two years now,the two say they have a penchant for taking up high-risk projects and believe CSIR allows them to do so by ensuring a large amount of funding and providing the right scientific ambience. Scaria was also part of the IGIB team that had,in 2005,discovered that microRNA,the tiny segments of genetic material found in humans,have an anti-viral effect on HIV.

While they belong to different fields — Sivasubbu is an experimental molecular biologist,while Scaria’s expertise in bio-informatics — they complement each other well. Both come from small towns and consider Craig Venter,the pioneer in human-genome sequencing,their idol. Scaria comes from Kozhikode,Kerala,and Sivasubbu is from Tirunalveli,a small town in Tamil Nadu,where he completed his Masters and a PhD in Genetics.

An MBBS,Scaria finds the world of genetics challenging and interesting. “After completing MBBS from Calicut Medical College,I joined CSIR for PhD,” he says. “I realised during my MBBS days that doctors have no clue about DNA or genomes.

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