India had a head start in the field in the 1950’s and the 1960’s thanks to the efforts of G.N. Ramachandran and his colleagues. At that time all the massive calculations were done manually. This was an era of individual excellence. The 1990s was the era of developing basic infrastructure and trained human resources with basic skills in the field of bioinformatics, in which DBT played a prominent role. Data bases and web based software also began to be developed. The first decade of this century has seen some quality research being done in the field as evident from publications. With the infrastructure now in place through BTISnet, India is now geared to do some landmark research in the field. Future challenge for the country is to develop major bioinformatics support required to handle the massive datasets now being generated by the new generation high-throughput technologies. Bringing the expertise together through interdisciplinary projects and breeding a newer generation of scientists who are well trained in both fields is essential to bridge the gap between bioinformaticians and experimental biologists.
Biotechnology information system network (BTISnet)
The Biotechnology Information System Network (BTISnet) of the Department of biotechnology is spread across the country with 168 centres. The network centres are in various levels and include centres of excellence (CoE), distributed information centres (DIC), distributed information sub centres (Sub DIC) and bioinformatics infrastructure facilities (BIF). The network houses the Supercomputer Facility for Bioinformatics and Interactive Graphics Facility. Large numbers of R&D projects in bioinformatics are also being supported through this programme. The network supports teaching program in M.Sc, M.Tech and PhD in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology to generate skilled manpower in Bioinformatics. Further, the BTISnet centres are conducting short term trainings/ workshops for the benefit of research community including experimental biologists. These centres also provide services to the scientific community. These activities are being coordinated by the Apex BTIC which is located in the DBT head quarter. A map showing the location of these centres is as follows.
Distributed Information Centre (DIC):
Eleven Distributed Information Centre (DIC) in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology have been established as part of BTISnet. The focus of these centres, like CoEs is high quality research, education and services. The DICS at IARI, New Delhi and Kerala agricultural University, Thrissur are mainly focused on Agri-informatics. At IARI web based tool like Wheat Informatics, MiRule (Rule based micro RNA prediction Tool), a plant Transmembrane Kinase prediction tool have been developed. The centre is offering PG course in areas of ‘Simulation and Informatics’. The centre provides training for agricultural scientist staff and students. The recent research focus of NII, New Delhi centre is on prediction of micoRNAs and their protein interaction partners, and bioinformatics analysis of enzymes involved in biosynthesis of lantibiotics and cycodipeptides. Some of the database and software package developed at NII include prediction of PDZ binding peptides, Analysis of PKS/NRPS, Motif Discovery. The thrust area for the centre at University of Calcutta, Kolkata is human resource development for the east and north east region of the country. For this purpose the centre is offering two courses viz. MSc in Bioinformatics and Biophysics and advance PG diploma in Bioinformatics. The centre at Anna University is mainly focusing research in the area of Molecular Dynamics, Cluster computing, Enzyme structure function studies, protein interactions, comparative Genomics and system Biology. A project on setting up of mirror site on electronic database and biological software in public was funded under Jai Vigyan National Science and Technology Mission to IMTECH, Chandigarh. The centre has mirrored number of sites including Public Domain Software in Biology like software at EBI and Indiana University; and General Purpose Software Packages such as GNU Project web server and PostgreSQL Site. The major activity now days at IMTECH is to create the electronic database of biological resources in public domain and to distribute these resources on-line as well as off-line and these will be searchable through email. The public domain resources in biology has been divided in three categories i) Public Domain Software in Biology (PDSB); ii) Public Domain Web Servers in Biology (PDWSB); iii) Public Domain Web Pages Biology (PDWPB).
Sub-Distributed Information Centre (DISCs):
Fifty Sub-DICs have been established at various Institutions/ Universities. These centres were mainly established with the aim to provide service to the research community. However these centres are now also imparting training in bioinformatics through workshops. Many centres have now ventured in bioinformatics related R&D activities and have also developed information resources in the form of Databases.
Bioinformatics Infrastructure Facilities (BIFs):
The aim of these centres is biology and biotechnology teaching through bioinformatics. The scheme is designed to expose teachers, scientists and students to the use of bioinformatics in solving hard core biological problems. The centres use lecture materials, video clippings, demonstrations, tutorials and online facilities for teaching. Hundred and one educational institutions have so far been supported under this scheme and some more are in pipeline.
The BTISnet website with URL http://www.btisnet.gov.in provides a central resource to all the bioinformatics centres in respect of the work done by each one of them in the area of bioinformatics. Through this site, the BTIC provides all information such as budget release, status of submission of accounts and progress report by the BTISnet Centres. The site provides a list of open access journals, details of the fellowships provided through the bioinformatics division like BINC, studentship and traineeship, access to online lecture portals and their links, announcements of the national bioinformatics coordinators meetings and its proceedings, bioinformatics publications from India and the bioinformatics resources like software and databases.
Human resource development in bioinformatics, computational and systems biology
Bioinformatics is an emerging interdisciplinary area of biotechnology and encompasses systematic development and application of IT solutions to handle biological research problems. Areas such as proteomics, genomics, combinatorial chemistry, statistics, nanotechnology, spectroscopy and structural and computational biology will have increasing applications of Bioinformatics in days to come. To handle all these biological research problems, it requires highly trained manpower to deal molecular biology and application of software tools. The department had accorded this area high priority and has introduced several innovative educational activities to meet the present requirements including several long-term and short-term educational programs to address this gap.