Noted scientist and former BHU Vice-Chancellor Prof Lalji Singh passed away on Sunday, after suffering a massive heart attack at the Varanasi airport. The 70-year-old was known for his groundbreaking work in the field of DNA fingerprinting, the most reliable technique to establish the identity of an individual or of the individual’s parentage which is admissible in the court of law.
He is also well known for his contribution in the molecular basis of sex determination, wildlife conservation, forensics and evolution and migration of humans.
A scientist par excellence
An alumnus of Benaras Hindu University, Lalji was decorated with several honours when he was in his late 20s. He was awarded Dr. S. P. Basu Memorial Medal of Zoological Society in 1973 and INSA Medal for Young Scientists for his work in the field of Cytogenetics in 1974. Later, he worked as Research Associate in two stints (1977-79 and 1979-87) at Edinburgh University, U.K.
In 1987, he returned to India and joined Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad as a senior scientist. AT CCMB, DR Lalji led a team of scientists to develop the Bkm-derived probe for DNA fingerprinting. It nearly revolutionised the field of forensic investigation, paternity determination and seed stock verification in India.
First Case of DNA fingerprinting
In 1988, a village girl Vilasini from Kerala’s Telicherry, filed a case against her lover Kunhiraman for the maintenance of her child Manoj. She alleged that her son was born on account of an illicit relationship with Kunhiraman. Vilasini’s then husband had disowned her and was unwilling to take the paternity test. Later, a court ordered both of them to take the paternity test. Later, Lalji and his team performed the DNA test and concluded the disputed child is fathered by none other than her lover. The lower court took the DNA report as an admissible evidence.
It was the first time in Indian history, when DNA fingerprinting evidence was presented in the court of law.The verdict was also upheld by Kerala High Court stating that the result of DNA test could decide paternity.
The DNA fingerprinting technique was later used for many sensational cases such as during the investigation of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. This fetched him and his group CSIR Technology Award for the year 1992 for biological sciences.
During his stint at CCMB Hyderabad, Lalji realised the urgent need for assessment and conservation of the wildlife resources. He founded Laboratory for the Conservation of Endangered Species (LaCONES) in 1998. It was deputed to carry out research for conservation and preservation of wildlife resources using advanced technological interventions.
Singh founded various institutes and laboratories in India, including the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics in 1995 and Genome Foundation in 2004, aiming to diagnose and treat genetic disorders affecting the Indian population.
Singh also served as the 25th Vice Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and Chairman of Board of Governors of Indian Institute of Technology (BHU).
He was awarded Padma Shri award in 2004 in recognition for his contribution in the field of science and technology.