Dr. Lalji Singh

Widely regarded as the “Father of DNA fingerprinting in India”, Dr. Lalji Singh passed away in December, 2017. He died of a massive heart attack at the BHU Trauma Centre on 10th December.

The 25th Vice Chancellor of the Banaras Hindu University, the fourth Director of the Hyderabad-based CSIR-Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology (CSIR-CCMB), and a Padma Shri recipient, Dr. Lalji Singh was a simple human being with great original ideas and a greater commitment to the cause of science.

Son of a farmer in Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh, Dr. Singh completed his BSc, MSc and PhD degrees from BHU – a university he went back to lead as the Vice Chancellor. He pioneered the use of the DNA Fingerprinting technique in forensic investigation of crime and civil disputes. In an effort to convince the government to set up a dedicated centre for DNA Fingerprinting, he set up a DNA testing infrastructure at the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CSIR-CCMB), Hyderabad which he was later to head as Director for 11 years.

Dr. Lalji Singh volunteered to help law enforcement agencies in investigating cases using DNA fingerprinting techniques. He was a frequent visitor to courtrooms appearing as witness and expert and even educating investigators, lawyers and judges. His first success was a paternity dispute and his first major assignment was the assassination of the former Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. He pieced together the body parts and identified it as the body of the former PM using DNA tests.

This was followed by many other high-profile cases including the Beant Singh assassination case, the Naina Sahni murder case and the Priyadarshini Mattoo rape and murder case.

Eventually, the Department of Biotechnology set up the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD) in Hyderabad in 1995.

Dr. Lalji Singh’s persistence and painstaking efforts had finally paid off. The DNA Fingerprinting technique has found utility in innumerable cases since then. Even as Director of CSIR-CCMB, Dr. Lalji Singh set up the Laboratory for the Conservation of Endangered Species (LaCONES) for conservation of endangered wildlife in India. LaCONES notched up several successes including development of universal DNA based marker for identification of wild animals from parts and remains, rehabilitation of smuggled star tortoises, detection of certain parasitic, bacterial and viral diseases in endangered animals from different zoological parks and wildlife sanctuaries in India using DNA-based methods, DNA banking of more than 250 species of mammals, birds and reptiles in India, and cryopreservation of gonads from endangered species and their effective revival for production of functional gametes.

The facility also produced for the first time in India ‘Spotty’ a spotted deer fawn and ‘Blacky’ a black buck calf using artificial insemination. In 2004, he fl oated the not-for-profit Genome Foundation for diagnosis and treatment of genetic disorders especially those affecting underprivileged, rural people. His aim was to establish a pan-India network of centers to deliver diagnostic services at affordable costs to the masses.

Dr. Lalji Singh also did pioneering research on Indian population genomics and showed that the tribes in Andaman Islands were some of the first human beings to migrate out of Africa. His 2009 work reconstructing Indian population history even made it to the cover of Nature. The pioneering contributions of this great scientist and humanist will always be remembered by the country.

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