Prof. Lalji Singh: Father of Indian DNA Fingerprinting technology

History, 06 Feb - 2018 ,

Prof Lalji Singh Father Of Indian DNA Fingerprinting Technology
Credit: DNA India

The present article is dedicated to one of the greatest scientist Prof. Lalji Singh who is behind the revolutionary birth of DNA Fingerprinting in India. He was a dreamer and had the courage to turn his dream into reality

The present article is dedicated to one of the greatest scientist Prof. Lalji Singh who is behind the revolutionary birth of DNA Fingerprinting in India. He was a dreamer and had the courage to turn his dream into reality. From his childhood he was fond of scientific studies and always curious to know about its unknown facts. This great soul was born on 9th of july, 1947, just a month before our independence. In Bethlaham just before the birth of christ a new shining star appeared in the sky. Similarly just before the Independence of India this shining star had already started cuddling  in the lap of our nation within whom the seed was still persistent to bloom in the coming time so to inspire and guide the future generation too. The native place of this extraordinary man was a small village Kalwari in Jaunpur District of Uttar Pradesh, India (earlier, United Province British India). He travelled a long distance from a simple village boy to a renowned scientist, who in true sense was the pride of India.

After the completion of 12th standard in the science group from the school in his nearby village, he went to Banaras Hindu University (BHU) to pursue his graduation in Zoology and Cytogenetics and then Master’s in 1966. His career was not less than a genius one, as he got Gold medal and received UGC fellowship for his further research. He completed his PhD in 1971 on "Evolution of karyotypes in snakes" in the area of Cytogenetics under the guidance of Professor S.P. Ray Chaudhuri. For his work and intelligence in the field of Cytogenetics, he was awarded with Indian National Science Academy (INSA) in 1974 and in the same year he received Commonwealth Fellowship to pursue his postdoctoral research in molecular biology at the Edinburg University, U.K. He worked there as Research Associate from 1974 to 1987 and between this period he served at other universities in different capacities. The world as well as we the Indians recognized and consider Sir Alec John Jeffreys, a British geneticist, pioneer behind introducing the world about DNA fingerprinting and its applications in forensic science and judiciary system. But the founder Director of CCMB, Dr. Pushpa Mittra Bhargava, identified the gem whom we today bestow the title “The Father of Indian DNA Fingerprinting”. This man is none other than Prof. Lalji Singh, whose work fetched him the very earnestly deserved title. In June 1987 he joined Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad as Senior Scientist. In July 1998, he became the Director of CCMB and served the premier R&D institute as Head for almost 15 years. During this period, the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India requested him to establish the Center for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD) to apply and further develop the DNA fingerprinting technology for the benefit of the country. The Centre is already providing DNA diagnostic services for many genetic disorders such as Thalassemia, Sickle Cell Anemia, Mental Retardation, Fragile-X Syndrome, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, Huntington's Disease, Azoospermia etc. along with the forensic DNA typing facility. CDFD later trained many scientists from forensic facilities for starting DNA fingerprinting facility in their respective states. The ultimate aim of the Centre was to develop, acquire and standardize the protocols for carrier detection, prenatal diagnosis and genetic counseling for all the genetic disorders prevalent in our country. CDFD does not need any introduction today and is engaged in catering the need of our country by generating good research with prepared minds as well. This is an important achievement for CCMB and CSIR. In recognition of this contribution, Dr Singh and his group have been awarded the CSIR Technology Award for the year 1992.

In 2011, he became the Vice-chancellor of BHU, the university which sowed the seed of a man whom the world today regards as ‘The Father of Indian DNA Fingerprinting”. He has shown his research expertise in the fields like, molecular basis of sex determination, DNA fingerprinting, wildlife conservation (LACONES), silkworm genome analysis, human genome and ancient DNA studies. He has many awards and credentials in his name during his 43 years of excellent scientific career. Government of India awarded him with Padma Shri in 2004 in recognition of his contributions to Indian science and technology. Through his research work he accelerated the monotonous pace of scientific development. The fatal diseases or complex strata related to DNA fingerprinting and hormones related research which was still breathing under the garb of ambiguity and uncertainty had been brought under the light of transparency. He engaged the world to understand science better.

DNA fingerprinting in India forensic and Judiciary perspectives

There are many scientific discoveries of Prof. Lalji Singh, but the one which distinguished him from his fellow colleagues is the discovery of DNA fingerprinting In India. He and his colleagues in the CCMB developed a probe called banded krait minor-satellite (Bkm-derived) probe for DNA fingerprinting, as a fall out of their earlier internationally well known work on the mechanisms of determination of sex. Their probe is being extensively used for forensic investigation, paternity determination and seed stock verification. His contribution of DNA fingerprinting first came into the limelight in the field of forensic science and judiciary system when he took the paternity dispute case of Kunhiraman V. Manoj in 1991. This is the first case where the evidence by DNA test has been accepted by the Honorable Court. This case is from Kerela and the case was of paternity dispute. As DNA test was developed in 1985 in England and it has been started accepting as an accurate piece of evidence all over the world. India particularly regarding the evidence of DNA test is accepted under S.45 of Indian Evidence Act 1872. The fact of the case was, there was promise of marriage between Kunhiraman and his girlfriend Vilashini but when she became pregnant he refused to marry her, and subsequently she gave birth to a male child and thereafter she claimed maintenance for the child. The man refused to acknowledge that the baby was his son and case went to Court. The Court ordered for DNA test (First DNA test of India) and Dr. Lalji Singh appeared as a Forensic Expert and it was proved by the DNA test result that the baby son was fathered by the defendant. This was for the first time that in Case No. MC 17 of 1988 the Court agreed to admit evidence of Forensic Expert as an expert opinion under Section 45, Indian Evidence Act. Dr. Lalji Singh stated that for DNA testing indigenously developed Bkm 2 probe was adopted for multilocus probe and it was successful. The lower Courts judgment dated 24-4-1990 was challenged in Kerala High Court but the judgment was upheld and court observed that DNA testing could by itself may be deciding factor for paternity dispute. The Court also held that it is admissible just like Ballistic and fingerprints expert’s opinion (well accepted forensic testings of that time). DNA test gained legal recognition with this case and DNA evidence was accepted as an expert opinion and the trend of accepting DNA evidence for the first time in the annals of the history of Indian Judiciary was initiated as infallible evidence in the court of law.

 Another sensational case where Dr. lalji Singh DNA fingerprinting expertise helped the Court in judgement was the rape and murder of Priyadarshni Mattoo, a law student, on January 23, 1996 by Delhi lawyer Santosh Kumar Singh. This was the landmark judgement as the post-mortem conducted by the surgeon at the Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi, ruled out the possibility of rape. Here again Dr. Lalji Singh came to the rescue and the DNA test was conducted at CCMB, Hyderabad with the Exhibits preserved from the source of victim, (Vaginal swab/Vaginal slide, victims garments) and suspect's blood sample. The DNA test conducted clearly established the truth, rape which post-mortem surgeon had ruled out. The Delhi High Court went by the CCMB findings, which were based on rigorous tests and sentencing the Delhi lawyer Santosh Kumar Singh to death for the rape and murder of Priyadarshni Mattoo. Since then, this indigenous technique have been used in  many cases such as paternity disputes, identification of missing children, identification of mutilated bodies, exchange of babies in maternity wards and cases of rape and murder, etc. DNA fingerprinting helped in bringing swami Premananda in Tamil Nadu behind bars, for impregnating a disciple and murdering her brother. But DNA fingerprinting is not just for catching criminals, it can also be used against implicating innocents. In 1989, eight persons who had been languishing in US jails for seven years were exonerated after DNA evidence proved their innocence. Dr Lalji Singh pointed that the future of DNA fingerprinting in forensic and Judiciary systems is bright which is now in it's fourth generation of technological advance which takes just 24 hours, that too with lesser and lesser amount of DNA matter to generate the DNA profile from even many problematic samples. These were the few cases which helped the technology to become the most believed and powerful technology in forensic investigation. After successful admission of DNA evidence in the Court DNA fingerprinting test as a forensic testing method, was used in many cases naming a few, the late Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi Assassination case, Assassination of Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh, the tandoor case of Naina Sahni and others.

 Dr. Lalji Singh was a man of few words, but was always full of commitment and action. He was very energetic and instilled the enthusiasm and excitement in everyone who come in contact with him. He never demanded nor gravitated to anyone for anything. His credibility in scientific fraternity has reached such a height that he got the best opportunities in life to work both as Director of an institution and Vice Chancellor of a University whose functioning are dramatically opposite but he excelled in both and leave no stone unturned in shaping the organization for future generations.

 As the world is grateful to Sir Alec John Jeffreys, to introduce the DNA fingerprinting technology in forensic science and Judiciary process to the world, we must be equally thankful to Prof. Lalji Singh who took the challenge of performing DNA fingerprinting in India and successfully countered the results in Court and made the Judiciary system to accept DNA fingerprinting as a conclusive evidence either to convict or exonerate the concerned person when our advanced biological scientific knowledge and skills were far behind the USA and other European countries. He was really not an ordinary man, he was a man of conviction, determination and most importantly the man with golden vision and he truly owns the title “The Father of Indian DNA Fingerprinting”. DNA fingerprinting is the most believed technology of today because of the fact that this is the technology with regular advancements. It has passed with many changes and the technology as was incepted is no longer in use. But the credential of the technology and the developers remain.

Science which was still a show of laboratories and files. It was not a part of society. This man let it enter into the social life of human beings. He made it a part of their life by introducing it before the court of law. His introduction of DNA fingerprinting gave justice to many remorseful lifes. His discovery of DNA fingerprinting became an eye opener for the present generation. It helps in curbing the wings of heinous criminals like rapists and murderers. Through DNA testing the criminals could be easily caught. Thus ultimately this has put a control on the happening crimes. Now it has become an integral part of Indian Judiciary system. It provides reliability and authenticity to the witnesses inside the court. Thus make the cases transparent with least or no doubt. All this could become possible because of the effort of this undifiable man Prof. Lalji Singh. He is a real savior of mankind. His contribution will remain a breakthrough in the history of genetic science and will keep aiding us in all walks of life.

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