Lalji Singh, a pioneer in DNA fingerprinting, dead

M Somasekhar Hyderabad | Updated on January 09, 2018

Lalji Singh, a pioneer of DNA fingerprinting technology in India.

Lalji Singh, a pioneer of DNA fingerprinting technology in India and former Vice-Chancellor of Benares Hindu University (BHU), passed away at the age of 70.

DNA fingerprinting finds wide application today in several areas. Lalji Singh and his team developed the indigenous probe that was first applied to settle paternity disputes in the late 1980s at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) Hyderabad.

After returning to India from UK, Lalji Singh joined CCMB, rose to become its Director, and served there for nearly a decade. He has made seminal contributions in population genetics and DNA-based research in a career spanning over four-and-half decades.

Lalji suffered a massive heart attack in Varanasi on Sunday while he was returning from his village Jaunpur, where he had gone for a family visit. He was rushed to a hospital, but breathed his last late in the night. He is survived by wife and two sons.

Interestingly Lalji fought his last battle in a hospital and place which he helped develop and was born and studied. He rose to become the VC of BHU (2011 to 2014) where he did his higher studies, again a rare achievement.

DNA (deoxyribose nuclear acid) fingerprinting technique finds utility in establishing the molecular basis of sex determination, wildlife conservation, forensics and evolution and migration of humans.

Known for his forthright views and commitment to indigenous science, Lalji founded various institutes and laboratories in India, including the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics in 1995 and the Laboratory for the Conservation of Endangered Species (LaCONES) in 1998.

Post retirement, Lalji had founded the Genome Foundation in 2004, through which he wanted to work on developing and popularising technologies to diagnose and treat genetic disorders affecting the Indian population groups.

Started by Lalji and continued by researchers like Thangaraj Kumaraswamy at the CCMB, the group has published a large body of research on population genetics, migration of humans out of Africa and tribes of Andaman and Nicobar and various caste groups within India. In this effort, a global consortia of reputed Institutes are also working.

Lalji will be counted among the important leaders who significantly contributed to the growth of genomics, biotechnology and capacity building in these areas in India. He was a smiling person, sported a can do attitude and motivated young scientists to work hard and do solid research work.

In the efforts to get DNA fingerprinting accepted by courts, Lalji personally appeared in court cases and argued to convince judges for years. He received complete support from then Director PM Bhargava. Hyderabad turned out as his home town as he spent over three decades and helped raise the image of the city as the Science Capital of India.

Published on December 11, 2017

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