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Indian University Pledges $12M to New School of Bioscience

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In a sign of India’s commitment to genomics and biotechnology, the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, has dedicated $12 million towards the establishment of a new School of Biosciences and Bioengineering.

The school, which was funded in part by the Houston-based Mehta Family Foundation, will allow IITB to boost its existing research programs in computational biology, protein science, and drug design and also enable it to increase its faculty strength in biology, institute researchers said.

“The goal is to build on our current expertise and prepare for cutting edge biology research,” said Anil Lala, head of the IITB’s biotechnology department.

Although the IITB, the third-ranking Asian university, has not yet identified specific projects to be launched once the new school opens in December 2002, there are indications that bioinformatics will get a boost. IITB scientists said that future projects at the new school will likely stem from existing programs.

Currently, a research team at IITB department of mathematics is using computational techniques to model the immune system, developing software to address issues like memory, pattern recognition, and intelligent behavior of the immune system.

In addition, another bioinformatics team is attempting to create relational databases for genomics data. The database would be designed to allow users to ask complex questions about sequence and expression similarity between genomes. The team is also working on a relational database for gene expression data that will be web-enabled and accessible via the internet to the global biology community.

In independent ongoing projects, IITB researchers are already using computational methods to search for potential drug target sites on proteins, simulate the interactions of important biological molecules, and develop tools for genome analysis.

“The target site on a large protein molecule is not always evident,” said Pramod Wangikar, assistant professor of chemical engineering at IITB.

Wangikar heads a team that is trying to compare proteins from different organisms to find special patterns that may shed light on potential target sites.

“Comparing large numbers of 3D protein structures is a computationally-intensive problem,” said Wangikar.

Petety Balaji, another researcher at the biotechnology center, is studying the molecular docking of the cholera toxin — a protein produced by Vibrio cholerae bacilli — with molecules embedded on cell membranes.

“The goal is to study how the membrane modulates the interaction and use that knowledge to extrapolate docking mechanisms in other biological situations,” said Balaji.

Senior IITB officials said they are also hoping to hire more faculty members once the new school building equipped with state of the art research laboratories and equipment is ready.

“More faculty means more time for research,” said Balaji.

— GM in New Delhi

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