Genome mapping is a powerful tool, particularly in the field of preventative medicine. The impacts this field has had on India has, however, been limited.
India represents almost twenty percent of the world’s population — and is on track to become the world’s most populous nation in the coming decades. Despite this only 0.2 percent of fully mapped genomes in global databanks are of Indian origin.
A government-funded initiative may aid in increasing the availability of Indian genetic data. IndiGen — a project started in April this year — has already analysed the whole genome sequences of 1,008 individuals from 25 states. The initiative has attracted private companies that are planning on using the knowledge to assist in providing commercial diagnostic services.
The scientists involved note the underrepresentation of India in genome databases as a driving factor of the research. “India-specific genetic variations may not be adequately represented in available global human genome databases,” said Sridhar Sivasubbu, principal scientist at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research’s Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi.
The findings are hoped to be able to improve the reliability of genetic testing in the context of both diseases and family planning. By gaining a greater insight into the genetic issues unique to the Indian population, tests and potential therapies can be tailored to have a greater effect.
A previous example of this was the finding that the Indian population has a high prevalence of a number of genes that are implicated as risk factors for diabetes. Some of these genes were found to be unique to the Indian subcontinent, indicating a unique risk factor to the Indian population. Knowledge of such genetic traits can allow for the healthcare system to adapt and focus on prevention in a way that is more effective among the targeted population.
The IndiGen database could take advantage of all previous studies — as well as those planned for the future — to establish a genome database unique to India. Such a project could have a number of potential outcomes.
Preventative healthcare would no doubt improve, as knowledge of unique risk factors can allow for better prediction of disease epidemiology and therefore resource allocation. In addition, the precedent set by the discovery of diabetes-related genes among the Indian population implicates other genes among the population that pose unique disease risks in India. Within a population as diverse as India’s, genomic variation is likewise going to be diverse. As such, discovery of genetic risks among India’s numerous ethnic groups could allow targeted healthcare that could drastically improve the lives of many across the country.