Speaker: Dr. Jai Rup Singh, Founder Vice Chancellor of Central University of Punjab and GNDU, Honorary Professor, Panjab University

Date and Time: February 9, Saturday; 10:30 AM

Venue: Seminar Room, Department of Botany, Panjab University, Sector 14 Campus, Chandigarh

Abstract: 4,000 years before Mendel fiddled with pea plants in 1865 to “discover” the basic principles of genetics, man had effectively utilized these principles for animal and plant breeding. A 6000-year-old Babylonian tablet depicting five-generation pedigree of transmission of head-appearance and mane for horses; same era tablets showing cross-pollination in date palm, the presence of superior varieties of rice during 4000 BCE and documentation of genetic diseases in 2500 BCE, are all testimony to the deep observation power of man.
Being gifted with a brain having over 16.3 billion neurons with a capacity of one petabyte, which is equivalent to 4.7 billion books, the analytical power of man has grown exponentially over generations, through his ability to exploit the discoveries of diverse fields in a synergistic way. His understanding of inheritance principles, coupled with discoveries involving hereditary material, advancements in related technologies and medical sciences led to in-depth studies on birth defects and genetic diseases and it resulted in the launch of Human Genome Project (HGP) in 1990. Its aim was to identify and map all genes of human genome and was formally declared completed on 14th April 2003 with an accuracy of 99.99%. It revealed that human beings have 99.9% similarity of their DNA with each other. This similarity is 99.01% with Chimpanzee, 96.66% with African monkey, 85% with mouse and even 60% with banana.

In spite of all advancements, we still do not know the exact number of genes in humans. First estimate was 6.7 million protein-coding genes by Vogel in 1964. Gradually the number estimates got reduced to 30,000-40,000 in 2001, ~20,500 in 2007, 19,000 in 2014, 20,054 in 2017 and in March 2018 it was 18,894 but revised to 21,306 on 28thMay 2018 and now on 13th October 2018 it stands at 46,381. These protein coding sequences account for only ~ 1.5% of the total genome, the remaining ~ 98.5% of genome being associated with non-coding RNA molecules, introns, regulatory DNA sequences, LINEs, SINEs and the sequences about whom no function has yet been described. We need new tools, technologies and novel thoughts to decipher the role and function of this major component.

The advances in cell biology coupled with molecular manipulation of DNA have provided strong tools at the hands of geneticists to cure the previously incurable genetic diseases. On 3rd May 2018, scientists from The Netherlands reported for the first time, self-organization of mouse stem cells into a very early embryo in a laboratory dish. On 11th October 2018, researchers from Chinese Academy of Sciences, who had earlier reported producing mice with two mothers only, announced birth of mice with two fathers only. Brazilian scientists, on 4th December 2018 announced a live birth after uterus transplantation from a dead donor.Recent developments in molecular genetics, like CRISPR-Cas9, have empowered the scientists to intervene into the living embryo, before implantation, alter specific genes and implant it to get a genetically modified individual. On 25th November 2018, a Chinese scientist, He Jiankui, announced his unprecedented experiment that edited human embryos by altering a gene in human fertilized eggs and healthy twin girls have been born from the gene-edited egg.

Newer technologies like CRISPR-Cas9, do not require highly sophisticated laboratories so there is great vulnerability of our genome being hacked by amateur or villain biologists for grave misuse. These also open a Pandora’s box for bio-terrorism, biological warfare with very explicit defence implications. Apart from ethical issues, the real ingenuity lies in the application of technical advancements of genetics to meet local needs, solving local problems and also in development of new technologies matching our resources and problems.

About the Speaker: Prof. Dr. Jai Rup Singh was the founder Vice Chancellor of the Central University of Punjab and prior to it, he was Vice Chancellor of Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar. Presently he is Honorary Professor of Panjab University; member of Punjab Chief Minister’s Advisory Committee on Higher Education. He is also member of Chandigarh UT Committee on Higher Education and member of Punjab Chief Minister’s Advisory Committeee on Higher Education. He has been President of Indian Society of Human Genetics. He is Chairman of Indian Genetic Alliance for Prevention of Genetic Disorders & Care of the Families; Vice-President of International Genetic Alliance and World Eye Foundation; Scientific Advisor of GENDIA International Foundation, USA; Fellow of International Medical Sciences Academy, Fellow of National Academy of Medical Sciences, Fellow of Punjab Academy of Sciences, and is recipient of many awards including the Mendel Medal awarded by Czech Society of Medical Genetics and ‘Dr. V.R. Khanolkar Oration Award’ awarded by National Academy of Medical Sciences.