Implementation of Biogrid of India
Research in biotechnology, which is highly knowledge and capital intensive, has generated a deluge of information in this decade. To make use of this information effectively there is a need for high speed and large bandwidth network. Towards this end, the Department has successfully established a high-speed and high-bandwidth network in the form of Virtual Public Network (VPN) named as BIOGRID INDIA. Eleven nodes have been established in the first phase, which are actively pursuing bioinformatics activities such as human resource development and R&D in bioinformatics besides, dissemination of biotechnology information to researchers in the country. The nodes are interconnected through 2mbps dedicated leased circuit line at each location and 4Mbps Internet bandwidth shared from the central server by all the nodes. The BIOGRID allows exchange of database & softwares which have been created/acquired by the individual centers/nodes of BTIS. This resource sharing helps in enhancing the value and usefulness of the BTIS, the only true resource sharing network in India.
The Department is also supporting long-term teaching programs on bioinformatics and BIOGRID will be useful in sharing teaching materials, to deliver lectures through video conferencing-virtual classrooms besides synergizing research in biotechnology and bioinformatics. In the second and third phase the remaining centres and DBT institutions are envisaged to be covered under the faster network. The mirror sites of internationally recognized genomic databases such as GDB, Protein Data Bank (PDB), Plant Genome Data Banks, Databases of European Bioinformatics institute (EBI) and public domain bioinformatics software packages are also available on the BIOGRID. The advantage of mirroring these databases in India is to provide unhindered mining of high quality data from well established primary and secondary information sources. Commercial softwares essential to carry out research & training in bioinformatics will also be made available through biogrid. The network will act as a knowledge pathway for discoveries in biotechnology and bioinformatics.
Development of databases/resource directories
More than 100 subject specific databases are currently available on the BTISnet. Each centre is responsible for developing a database in the identified thrust areas. Some of these efforts have received international recognition. For example, a major database on animal viruses developed by the center at University of Pune has been recognized by the Microbial Strain Data Network, CODATA, a Committee of International Council of Sciences on Data for science & technology and other international bodies.
Strengthening of biocomputing facilities
A national facility has been established at IIT Delhi towards the development of In-silico drug development by using bioinformatics applications. The Facility was dedicated to the nation by the Hon’ble Minister for S&T Prof. Murli Manohar Joshi. During this occasion, software of gene to drug developed by IIT Delhi was released by Hon’ble MOS (S&T) Shri Bachi Singh Rawat. The facility is being networked through Biogrid India so as to use the compute power & softwares at IIT Delhi by the Biogrid nodes remotely.
The Bioinformatics Centres are being extensively used for intensive research by the hosts and neighboring institutions. The acknowledgements to BTIS centers in more that 500 research articles published in high quality peer reviewed journals points out the usefulness of this activity. In addition scientists at bioinformatics centres have carried out research in gene analysis, protein structure prediction & engineering, modeling, macromolecular assembly, evolutionary biology developing tools for peptide vaccine, metabolic pathways engineering, new tools for data mining etc.
Cooperation with India has been sought by several countries in this emerging field of Bioinformatics in view of the progress made and expertise developed. Under a UNDP/FAO/UNIDO sponsored initiative, a referral centre has been set up as part of the Apex Bioinformatics centre in DBT to maintain regional information on various aspects of the FARM programme, viz. Farming systems, Watershed Management, Agroforestry, Integrated Pest Management, Safe Pesticides, Biotechnology & Biodiversity and People’s Participation. Through the initiatives of DBT, network connectivity had been established at national focal points in China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. DBT also coordinated a meeting of the SAARC countries in India to develop mechanisms for exchange of scientific information in biotechnology amongst the SAARC member-countries. Another international cooperation with Weizmann institute of science (WIS), Israel has been initiated as part of international cooperation in Bioinformatics sponsored by UNESCO. Under this programme, India will host a regional node in Bioinformatics along with other regional nodes proposed in China, Poland and Turkey. The Central node had been set up at the WIS, Israel; India has been recognized to host the regional node in bioinformatics with particular emphasis to extend the regional cooperation to the SAARC countries. Cooperation on bioinformatics with Govt. of Malaysia has recently been approved and with Maldives is under active consideration.
Training/Workshops/Long term courses in Bioinformatics
A number of workshops and training programmes were conducted on the use of computers and databanks in modern biology and biotechnology. Considering the importance of the subject, some institutions and university Departments have introduced the Bioinformatics course in their existing post – graduate programmes in Biotechnology. DBT has introduced a long-term academic course in Bioinformatics leading to the award of an advanced diploma in Bioinformatics in five Universities viz. Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai, University of Pune, Pune, JNU, New Delhi, Calcutta University, Kolkata and Pondicherry University, Pondicherry. There had been a sudden increase in the demand of such professionals by small size gene-hunting companies. Many of the larger pharmaceutical companies are now seeing real value in gene mapping and sequence data and have started attracting experts from academia. In light of these developments, the efforts started by DBT are likely to be rewarding towards generation of employment opportunities.