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'India must prepare itself for outsourcing in genetic engineering'

By Our Staff Reporter



Hameed Khan

CHENNAI, APRIL 9. India must prepare itself for outsourcing opportunities from the United States in genetic engineering by developing its own code of ethics to be followed in experiments and trials, Hameed Khan, collaborator on the Human Genome Project, said here today.

Prof. Khan, who has worked on the project at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, hinted that outsourcing was likely even in genetic research and India must be ready to face the challenge: "You will have a tidal wave of knowledge flowing in this direction. You must prepare yourself for this." Indians must not let the West impose its codes and laws when outsourcing begins. Instead, the country, delving into its ancient knowledge systems, must fashion for itself moral and ethical guidelines before it plunges headlong into what he called, "the greatest biological experiment ever conceived by the human mind."

Speaking at the Madras Medical College on the invitation of the Department of Plastic, Reconstructive and Facio-maxillary Surgery, he outlined the past and the future of gene technology and the impact it would have on society.

"In the dawn of the new millennium, man embarked on three great revolutions: Quantum research, which unleashed tremendous energy; computers, which tapped mind potential and genetic engineering, which unlocked the secrets of life." The last had allowed man to speculate about how life could have begun over three billion years ago and analyse the instructions that were superimposed on the genes that had helped them evolve. It was because genetic engineering held the key to this ancient riddle that it had captured attention and funds like nothing else so far, Prof. Khan said.

With the first phase of the $3 billion Human Genome Project being completed two years ahead of target, in April 2003, and the total mapping of the human genome sequence, work on the second phase has already commenced. "In the second phase, we have actually created the smallest life form — Phi X. It was announced in November last. With this, we can create a generation of biological machines which will make life more comfortable for the common man," he said. These biological machines could be used to clean up the environment, produce new kinds of food, help create cleaner fuels and produce new forms of medicines. Prof. Khan said: "We have learnt to switch on and switch off genes. With 30,000 genes, a lot more remains to be done."

C.V. Bhirmanandam, Vice-Chancellor, Dr. MGR Medical University, M. Krishnamoorthy, Head, Department of Plastic Surgery, Madras Medical College, and V. Sethu, plastic surgeon also spoke on the occasion.

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