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Monday, September 20, 2010
Finally, an exhilarating ray of hope for the haplessly endangered aboriginal tribes of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands…
But, providence notwithstanding, the colonially inherited Red-tapism is proving to be a damper for a fascinating research project to “immortalize” the cell lines of the endangered tribes of Andaman and Nicobar islands.
A team of scientists from Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), led by Director Dr Lalji Singh, had sent a proposal to the Centre more than two years ago seeking permission to draw the blood samples of primitive tribes for clinical studies of their genome structure and “immortalize” their cell lines. However, the proposal is caught in a bureaucratic maze, still awaiting the nod by multiple ministries.
“The permission from multiple agencies is required for this project. The clearance was not given earlier but I am planning to write to the government again on the need to preserve the genome of these tribes for posterity,” Singh, who retired recently from the CCMB, told The Tribune in an interview.
Surviving for over 70,000 years without any exposure to modern civilization, the tribes such as Onges, Jarawas and Sentinelese are considered the direct descendents of the set of human beings who migrated from Africa. Suresh Dharur of Tribune News Service, says, “These ancient tribes are fast vanishing and their population has come down to less than 250 now.”
“The genetic material of these ancient tribes reflected the “heritage of mankind” and could be of immense help in the search for medical cures for many diseases,” Singh, who continues to work for the CCMB on Bhatnagar Fellowship, said. “These tribes are on the verge of extinction. Our aim is to preserve their genome by immortalizing their cell lines,” the scientist, who pioneered DNA fingerprinting technology in India, said.
The scientists use a procedure called “epstein- barr virus transformation” to develop transformed cells, which will multiply externally.
His team from the CCMB, in association with Harvard Medical School, the Harvard School of Public Health and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT in the US, had recently published extensive studies to trace the genetic history of the Indian population.
“We have ICMR’s (Indian Council for Medical Research) permission for the project. But, we need clearances from the ministries of Home, Tribal Welfare and Environment and Forests, besides the administration of the Union Territory,” he said.
In order to preserve the unique genetic material of these endangered tribes, their blood samples have to be transported within 24 hours of collection to the laboratory where facilities for developing the transformed cell lines exist. “We need to create laboratory facilities in the islands because experiments on blood samples should start within 24 hours,” Singh said.
Those who are opposed to taking up such a project argue that the tribes should not be used as “guinea pigs” for laboratory experiments. India is home to over 500 tribes and 70 of them are classified as primitive. Of them, the tribes of Andaman and Nicobar islands are the most endangered.
Well, a pretty promising innovation about the glorious “immortalization” of the cell-lines of these very rare tribes which does hold water indeed!
Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how well and how honestly we can work towards a much-needed breakthrough in the direction of saving these significant tribes from a hapless extinction further by trying, in an organized manner, to curb their alarming rate of mortality, which is due to multifarious socio-economic and environmental factors.
News Courtesy: The Tribune