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DBT comes up with human body mapping project

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The project aims at creating a database network of all tissues in the human body from the available scientific literature

The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has recently launched MANAV: Human Atlas Initiative to improve knowledge on human physiology. With this, for the first time, Indian scientists will be mapping every single tissue of the human body to have deeper understanding of the roles of tissues and cells linked to various diseases.

A project funded by DBT, MANAV aims at creating a database network of all tissues in the human body from the available scientific literature. The student community, who will be the backbone on assimilating the information, will be trained and imparted with skills to perform annotation and curation of information that will ultimately form the online network. DBT has invested Rs 13 crore shared between two institutions in Pune – National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS) and Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research (IISER), Pune. Besides, Persistent Systems has co-funded the project and is developing the platform, and has contributed Rs 7 crore. It is a project that involves scientific skill development for annotation, science outreach along with handling big data. The programme will involve gaining better biological insights through physiological and molecular mapping, develop disease models through predictive computing and have a wholistic analysis and finally drug discovery.

The project can be signed up by students who are in their final year of graduation and above. Students from the fields of biochemistry, biotechnology, microbiology, botany, zoology, bioinformatics, health sciences, systems biologists, pharmacologists and data sciences can associate with this project. Even participants having a science background but not necessarily involved in active scientific research can be part of this network. The MANAV team has encouraged colleges and universities to register as teams and work in this project. Initially, DBT will accommodate colleges that operate the DBT Star College scheme to register for this Human Atlas programme. There is no restriction on the time period set for student participation.

Once registered, the student groups will be assigned research papers or literature to be read in a time-bound manner. They will be given training to perform annotation and curation activities using the specialised tools developed for this project. Student groups, led either by the head of the department or any senior researcher at the colleges, will be evaluated from time to time and their annotations will be reviewed by the trainer scientists, hailing from either NCCS, IISER and other senior scientists from the team. Presently, there are workshops organised to impart training to the teacher community who can then lead the student groups for this project. Students will be issued certificates for their contributions based on the levels of expertise attained in annotation and for their acquired skills. Initially, the project will focus on curating information revolving skin tissues.

So far, researchers and students have had little or no expertise in reading scientific literature and develop or build further information on the same. This platform will impart key skills to the student community to read classified scientific literature, in this case, on individual tissue-basis, and perform annotation and curation. Since all the information generated will pass through multiple levels of reviews, it will be an Atlas or a reliable collection on human body tissues. This collated data can be useful for both future researchers and parallelly, to the clinicians and drug developers, who finally handle human bodies in disease conditions.

The aim of the project remains to understand and capture the human physiology in two stages – in a normal stage and while in a disease stage. Such a database on individual tissues, once ready, can come handy in tracing the causes of a disease, understanding specific pathways and ultimately decode the body’s disease stage linked to tissues and cells. The teams will also study any potent elements or molecules that have never been used in the form of drugs, to target the specific cells or tissues.

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