Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

[op-ed snap] Why India wants to study human microbiome


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Everything about human microbiome

Mains level: Read the attached story



  1. From November 19 to 22, Pune hosted an international conference on microbiome research- a field of study that is still in its infancy in India.
  2. That could be set to change, with a proposed project that would study and map the human microbiome across the country.

What is human microbiome?

  1. The human body carries diverse communities of microorganisms, which are mainly bacterial. These are referred to as “human microbiome”.
  2. These organisms play a key role in many aspects of host physiology, ranging from metabolism of otherwise complex indigestible carbohydrates and fats to producing essential vitamins.
  3. Not all microbiomes are harmful. They help maintaining immune systems and acts as a first line of defense against pathogens.

Scope for Research

  1. Research on the human microbiome has thrown light on various aspects how different parts of the human body are occupied by characteristic microbial communities.
  2. It throws light on how various factors contribute in shaping the composition of the microbiome, including the genetics, dietary habits, age, geographic location and ethnicity.
  3. These studies laid a strong foundation to decipher the microbiome’s implications on health and a wide range of diseases.

Indian Microbiomes are Unique

  1. Scientists at NCSS have conducted a meta-analysis on intestinal microbiota (community of commensal, symbiotic and pathogenic microorganisms) of healthy Indian individuals and compared it with that of individuals from other parts of the world.
  2. It shows that the Indian population harbours a distinct gut microbial community, which, scientists calls for an in-depth investigation of the Indian microbiome.

Need for Research

  1. India has a large number of tribal populations largely unaffected by “modern” diet and lifestyle.
  2. India provides for a wide range of research with more than 4,500 ethnic groups and presence of two global biodiversity hotspots (Himalayan range and Western Ghats).
  3. The prevalence of lifestyle-related disorders such as obesity and diabetes has been known to be significantly lower compared to the non-tribal (urbanized) populations across the globe.
  4. Hence, scientists say, a study on the tribal population would help improve knowledge of evolution of the mutualism between gut microbiota and the host.

A country-wide project in making

  1. Various research groups in the country are working on the human microbiome.
  2. What India lacks is a national microbiome initiative similar to those in other countries.
  3. Now, a high-level committee at the Department of Biotechnology has shown a keen interest in the proposed project.
  4. The project will include collection of saliva, stool and skin swabs of 20,000 Indians across various ethnic groups from different geographical regions.
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