M. Sai Gopal

Indian researchers proved that gene silencing occurs in animal systems in 1997

HYDERABAD: The 2006 Nobel prize for Medicine proved to be a `near miss' for a team of Indian scientists, whose work was seen to be on a par with the ultimate winners---Andrew Z. Fire and Craig C. Mello.

The two American scientists won the coveted prize for finding the utility of RNAi (Ribonucleac acid interference) in gene silencing. A landmark work, which was published in the prestigious journal Nature in 1998.

Interestingly, the Indian researchers--Dr Utpal Bhadra and Manika Pal Bhadra--a husband and wife duo from Hyderabad and Dr Jim Birchler of University of Missouri, in US had proved that gene silencing occurs in animal systems in 1997.

Terming it as a `narrow miss' Mr. Bhadra, who is with the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) said "Mr. Andrew is a very close friend of mine and I am very happy for him. Somehow, the Nobel committee deemed it fit to bestow the award to researchers who have done their research based on our work. The work of Andrew and Craig is based on the research of my team from University of Missouri ," he told The Hindu from Kolkata.

The Nobel winner Andrew Fire sent him an e-mail on Tuesday in which he said, "Though I and Craig Mello won the prize, there were many more who worked in this field with us. You are also a part of that research work."

Dr Bhadra and his wife Monika Pal Bhadra, who works with the Hyderabad-based Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT), have published major research findings in journals like Cell and Science on the role of RNAi in animal systems, with potential medical applications.

Immense potential

Describing the decision as a mixed feeling for him, Dr Bhadra said the recognition should give a big boost to the potential of RNAi applications. In the Indian context, it can further motivate researchers. "I understand that the work done by our team on gene silencing was reportedly discussed in the Nobel prize committee before deciding on eventual winners Mr. Andrew and Mr. Craig for their pioneering work in RNA Interference," Dr Bhadra said.

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