Agri Business

Tatas pad up for genetic research play

Vishwanath Kulkarni Bengaluru | Updated on September 26, 2019

Group’s philanthropic venture to focus on health and agriculture

As uncertainty continues over the adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops in the country, the Tatas plan to establish a presence in the area of genetic research with a focus on human health and agriculture.

The Tata Institute for Genetics and Society (TIGS), funded by a grant from the Tata Trust, has started operations in Bengaluru, where it is building research laboratories. Conceived as a philanthropic project, a chapter of TIGS has been set up at the University of California San Diego (UCSD).

“We have started building the laboratory and are in the initial stages. Anything that comes out of this will be philanthropic in nature. It is for the people of India and, more importantly, the research will be done by the Indians,” said Shaibal Kumar Dasgupta, Group Leader, TIGS.

TIGS has already set up a team of 35 scientists and is recruiting more. “We have also started capacity-building programmes, recruited some 12 scientists and sent them to the University of California to do post doctoral research and develop their expertise. They will be trained in the area of human ethics. They will come back to India to develop new technologies here,” Dasgupta said.



TIGS has identified four areas of focus (see chart). “The idea is to have an advanced genetic solution for all these, but not through a transgenic approach,” he said. “We are trying to understand the vector profile and will be carrying out a lot of studies including DNA sequencing before we find a true approach. We are collaborating with the Central University of Tamil Nadu for mosquito vector surveillance.”

In the area of antibiotic resistance, TIGS is collaborating with Amrita University. In stem cell research, where TIGS is hoping to come out with genetic interventions for diseases such as thalassemia and sickle cell anaemia, it is collaborating with Jawaharalal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research.

In agriculture, rice has been identified as the main focus area for research at TIGS. “Rice being the principal food crop of India, needs a lot of intervention to improve its quality in terms of pest resistance, stress tolerance and all those areas. We will be using technologies such as gene editing and CRISPR Cas9 to develop newer traits of rice that will be resistant to drought and rice blast (a fungal disease),” Dasgupta said, adding that the institute may look at other crops for research going forward.

The Tatas investment in genetic research in agriculture assumes significance amid both domestic and multinationals scaling down investments in recent years due to the stalemate over the commercialisation of GM crops. “The fact that Tata Trust is supporting genetic research is good news, especially in agriculture research where the industry morale is down,” an ag-biotech player said.

Published on September 26, 2019

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