The KGDC’s large genomic collection can attract researchers and startups into the latest fields of gene editing and bio-manufacturing

A first-of-its-kind data initiative in India is all set to take shape, focusing on health protection and critical research into genetic problems.

The Kerala Genome Data Centre (KGDC) will run a high-capacity data center to harness the power of genomic data and the rich biodiversity of Kerala.

The center will curate and publish genomic data by following models existing at the international level — a critical step in medical research and healthcare. In addition, the KGDC will develop standards and ethics guidelines for data collection and analysis to ensure the responsible use of sensitive data.

According to Sam Santhosh, the architect of the center: “Kerala has over 125 life sciences institutions which have been mostly working in silos. We are hoping that KGDC can be the data backbone that will bring all these institutions together. Kerala also has a large number of educational institutions that can supply the core human resources needed.”

A hub for genomic research

With the advent of technology, the power of editing genes and even creating new genomes (synthetic biology) is triggering a new wave of innovation. Santhosh noted: “Gene editing will enable us to cure many diseases permanently. It will also empower us to breed better crops that are more pest resistant, require less fertilizer, and produce higher yields. Through synthetic biology, we can create microbes that can reduce global warming, consume plastics, and wastes, and clean up oil spills.”

The center will serve as a hub for researchers, healthcare professionals and public health officials to access and share genomic data collected from a variety of sources including humans, animals, plants and environmental samples. The research can be used to improve the understanding of disease transmission, to support the identification of new treatments and therapies, and to monitor the emergence of new diseases.

Other revolutionary bio tech

The mining of genomic data is also revolutionizing fields like synthetic biology and bio-manufacturing. By understanding the genetic basis of the biological processes researchers are able to engineer cells to produce desired products, or optimize production of existing products.

In synthetic biology, genomic data is used to design new biological systems with novel functions, while in bio-manufacturing, it is used to optimize production of biological products.

With the KGDC leading the way, large firms and start-ups will be attracted to set up a presence in Kerala. The development’s data center, whose operations which will begin operation in the next two months, is set to improve the healthcare of the people of the state through better predictive and personalized medicine.

As well, the center will be available to support research organizations in the state to create better agricultural crops and farming methods suitable to local climatic conditions. The center will also assist in animal husbandry by facilitating the breeding of better varieties and developing adequate diagnostics and vaccines.

Finally, the KGDC is expected to set international standards by introducing a set of practices that are designed to prevent the introduction and spread of harmful organisms, including viruses, bacteria and other pathogens that can affect human, animal and plant health.

Said Dr Padmanabha Shenoy, Immunologist and the founder, Dr Shenoy’s Care Hospital: “Basically the KGDC is a facility that everyone can use, and it is indeed a right step forward. In fact, human genetic data can give us the most value. However, there are many issues to consider when collecting, storing and sharing human genetic data with regard to privacy, ethics and our rights. So, we will have to carefully consider all this and draw the necessary guidelines to include human genetic data also in KGDC.”

Added Dr Aravind Reghukumar, HOD, Infectious diseases, Trivandrum Medical College: “Once the center is fully materialized, it will serve as a repository for institutes, hospitals and private health care centers. It is expected to be one of the largest information gene sequence repositories in the country.