Formative phase: silent features:

Professor Mahalanobis’s interest towards biology developed and deepened when he met Dr. Nelson Annadale in 1920 at the Indian Science Congress Session in Nagpur. Dr. Annadale had handed him over anthropometric data on the Anglo-Indians in Calcutta for statistical analysis which resulted in his first scientific paper on the ‘Statistical Analysis of Anglo-Indian Stature: Male’, published in the Records of the Indian Museum in 1922. Mahalanobis continued his statistical analysis of anthropological data and he made use of the D2 statistic for the first time. His another contribution was the revision of H.H. Risley’s anthropometric data on Indian population by using statistical methods. Professor D.N. Majumder, the then Head of Anthropology Department of Lucknow University, extended his active support to Professor Mahalanobis by providing him data from anthropometric surveys in U.P. and Bengal, which yielded in a series of landmark publications. The prevailing view that castes were distinguishable by ‘racial criteria’ appeared untenable by this research work of Professor Mahalanobis.

  • In 1924, Professor Mahalanobis published a paper on the probable error of field experiments in agriculture, without even knowing about the revolutionary work of Sir Ronald A. Fisher, which attracted the attention of sir Ronald. Their friendship began to grow and produced a very creative impact on the shaping of research and teaching policies of Indian Statistical Institute in the subsequent decades.

  • Several eminent scientists in the field of Biology, attracted by innovative research work of Professor Mahalanobis, began to visit the Institute from abroad. They included luminaries like Ruggle Gates, Julian Huxley and G.L. Stebbins, while Professor J.B.S. Haldane joined the Institute in 1957.

  • During 1960s, researchers in ISI in the field of human adaptation to environment, more particularly in “Stress Research”, were undertaken in collaboration with Professor H.L. Shapiro, which was popularly known as Shapiro project.

  • At about this time, there had been a spread of research activities in the field of Serology and blood polymorphism. The research work expanded to include new human genetic traits. Later on , an Indo-Soviet collaborative study (with USSR Academy of Sciences) was undertaken on the Indian and Central Asian population, using several anthropological and genetic parameters.

  • Research work was initiated in the field of molecular embryology, embryogenesis, biological clock, and chemical ecology.

  • In 1970, research on leaf protein was introduced with the keen interest and support of Professor N.W. Pirie, FRS, and Professor R.L.M. Synge, Nobel Laureate."

  • Prof. K.C.Malhotra and other senior scientists took a leading role in this period.

Recent Developments:

  • Presently Biological Science Division consists of three research units: (i)Human Genetics Unit, (ii)Biological Anthropology Unit, and (iii) Agricultural and Ecological Research Unit. The Division has tended to focus its research on areas such as, agriculture; ecology and environment; genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics; health systems; and bioethics.

  • The main theme of agricultural research would be to ascertain a stable and sustainable production of crops natural resources. Inter-disciplinary studies in agro-ecologists, and statisticians including GIS specialists. The major interrelationship with statistics will be in area of design of experiments, multivariate analysis and pattern recognition.

  • Ecology and environmental research will exploit different fields like global change regarding climate, human impact, land use, water availability, pollutants, agricultural demands, and changes in biodiversity with special emphasis on ecological monitoring and modelling. Nature of interaction with statistics will include formulation of innovative sampling designs and multivariate measures of ecological status and assessment of temporal changes of these measures, Genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics research will continue, with the focus on (A.)Population-based genetic approaches to the study of common diseases, such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases and (B.) Identification of DNA variations in populations that contribute to differential responses to treatment regimens for common diseases. Basic research would continue on human diversity, inheritance of human morphological traits, genetic structures of population and evolution. Greater emphasis will be placed on development of statistical methods for mapping genes for diseases evolutionary inference, and DNA sequence analysis.

  • Heath system research will be developed to holistic studies of health and related traits in populations at different transitional phases, while will lead to deeper understanding of gene-environment interactions, and result in formation of improved policies for prevention of diseases and health management. Multivariate statistical analysis will be the major statistical aspect of health systems research.

  • Bioethics is an emerging inter-disciplinary field of research and its primary interrelationship with statistics will be in the formulation of sampling schemes and discrete multivariate method.

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