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Indian Software Giant Strikes Bioinformatics Deal With Government

NEW DELHI, Aug. 27 - India's Tata Consultancy Services, the largest software company in Asia, launched its foray into bioinformatics on Monday by entering a research and development collaboration with a government lab.

TCS will fund research at India's Center for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, in Hyderabad, and raise its own bioinformatics workforce to pursue contract research and generate intellectual property with the CDFD.

The company declined to say how much it would invest in its new venture, but sources told GenomeWeb that the TCS had pledged at least $1.5 million over the next three years. A senior TCS official also confirmed that there will be no real cap on funding if opportunities in bioinformatics live up to their promise.

“We hope to combine our strengths in machine learning and pattern recognition with their expertise in biology,” M. Vidyasagar, executive vice president of advanced technology at TCS, said in an interview.

Vidyasagar, who is an expert in artificial intelligence and robotics, said the first bioinformatics product from the TCS-CDFD joint research program may be out within the next six months.

TCS, with headquarters in Bombay, earned $689 million in revenues in fiscal 2000 and has earmarked roughly 4 percent of that for research and development in software technology, the company said.

The software company plans to recruit 75 engineers and scientists over the next three years to create an in-house team of bioinformaticists. These scientists will undergo a nine-month training program at the CDFD that will prepare them for contract research assignments for Indian and international industry.

"Another major goal would be to find more efficient ways of biological data mining," J. Gowarishankar, a senior scientist at the CDFD, told GenomeWeb . "We're currently being inundated with biological data and there is still plenty of room to improve existing software tools to analyze this data."

Gowarishankar said the CDFD, a unit of the European Molecular Biology Network, might also seek funding from TCS for certain long-gestation projects such as the development of more efficient tools to identify genes and predict protein structures from primary sequences.

In addition to providing routine DNA fingerprinting services across India, research groups at the CDFD have also been performing functional genomic research into infectious diseases and several projects in computational biology linked to protein structure determination.

The group’s functional genomics projects, for example, have covered Mycobacterium tuberculosis , a deadly organism in India and other developing nations. "A near-term future goal is to generate single nucleotide polymorphism maps for tuberculosis and malaria," said CDFD director Seyed E. Hasnain.

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