An Interview with Scientist Dr. S.K. Singla

Dr. S. K. Singla is one of the leading scientists in the field of embryo biotechnology today. He was most recently in news for his buffalo cloning project which has taken India a step ahead in the race for cloning. Dr. S.K. Singla was born in 1955 at Patiala (Punjab). He graduated in Dairy Husbandry in 1975 and completed Master of Dairying (Animal Physiology) in 1979 from NDRI, Karnal. He Joined ARS in 1986. Working as Principal Scientist at NDRI, Karnal and contributed to research and teaching at Postgraduate levels. The areas of research of his interest are in-vivo embryo production & transfer, IVF & related studies, Buffalo cloning & related aspects, Stem cell lines in buffaloes, Oocyte aspiration & IVF in cattle & buffaloes and production of sexed semen. He has visited France, USA, Canada & Russia for embryo related studies and researches.  Dr S.K. Singla and his associates (Dr. M.L. Madan and Dr B.S. Prakash) were awarded Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Award 1990-1992 by the ICAR for their outstanding research in Animal Sciences, Prof. Nils Lagerlof Memorial Award for best research paper for year 1997 by ISSAR, Awarded Dr. D. Sudresan Memorial Award along with other three colleagues for the biennium 1987-88. At present he is working on Buffalo cloning & related aspects, Stem cell lines in buffaloes, Oocyte aspiration & IVF in cattle. Excerpts from the interview:

VP: You just had a great success in cloning the world’s first buffalo calf. To whom or what does the credit go to?

Dr. Singla: We had a success in developing a simpler method of buffalo cloning, which is likely to be practiced and utilizable worldwide, thus enabling us to use it profitably and effectively. Research is a painfully slow process. It takes years to solve even a small problem. We had been working in this field for more than 10 years. In the meanwhile technology had been changing colours quite fast and we have been able to catch up with the same just recently. The success of this project can be accredited to the team work of many scientists and students in NDRI Karnal, who worked long hours for the successful completion of the same.

VP: You just mentioned about developing a simpler technique for cloning that has simplified the whole process. Could you explain a bit about this technique?

Dr. Singla: In earlier days embryos were used to produce new embryos and there was no other option for it back then. We started working on buffalo embryo cloning, using embryo blastomeyers and produced a few embryos. But the technique was so complicated and demanding in terms of equipment, expertise, resources and time and we were not able to cope up with it. With Dolly’s birth science got a new direction that even somatic cells( any body cells) could be used for producing cloned embryos, and thus we also started trying to produce buffalo cloned embryos using complicated traditional technique of embryo cloning. Still we found the traditional technique too demanding in terms of micromanipulators and other sophisticated equipment, and the embryo production also was still very low. Then we started to think about simplifying the technique by avoiding the use of micromanipulators and using hand held blades instead for microsurgeries. Now we feel that we can produce buffalo calf embryos in reasonable numbers to be able to produce more animals. We have received a grant through national agriculture innovation project(NAIP), an ICAR activity for converting this technique into a more useful and reliable one. The research is still on.

VP: How did you get involved with cloning?

Dr. Singla: Animal cloning has always fascinated me. It is like a Xerox copying technique in which we can create as many copies of an outstanding bull or buffalo as we want. We in India are all short of highly productive buffaloes. It was a cherished dream to be able to copy such animals in big numbers so they cn be profitably used by our farmers and developing agencies in the country. We had been working on the embryo transfer technique in cows and buffaloes. We had the basic infrastructure and the will to be working on such a sophisticated and more useful technique of cloning. Of course it is still just a technique and we need to work on it for next 3-4 years to remove all the problems that could ever arise with it.

VP: How did you get involved with embryo or animal science in particular?

Dr. Singla: I graduated in Dairying (Dairy husbandry7) in 1975 and have been working on animal reproduction ever since. I have been working on artificial insemination and other related areas of reproduction, and that prompted me to learn the useful technique of embryo transfer. In 1985, embryo cloning being an ultimate high in embryo technology fascinated me and we have been struggling to standardize this technique in our laboratories. Now we are hopeful that we will be able to make headway and produce more cloned animals.

VP: You also had an earlier successful experiment about test tube baby transplant called pratham which got you into the limca book of world records. Does that have anything to do with this cloning project? Are they connected in any way?

Dr. Singla: Our team had produced the first test tube buffalo baby of the world in the same lab at NDRI about 15 years back. We had developed an infrastructure in terms of equipment and manpower and competence in terms of test tube baby production (In Vitro Fertilization) in buffaloes and its related techniques. It is not directly related to cloning project but its knowledge and experience have certainly been helpful. The IVF experiments led us to work on stem cell, i.e. the buffalo embryonic stem cell production research at NDRI. We are trying to combine stem cells with our buffalo cloning efforts and studying if we can increase the efficiency of production of cloned buffaloes.

VP: What do you think cloning has to offer to the general public or humanity?

Dr. Singla: Cloning is unethical and not accepted in humans. But in case of animals, there are no ethical issues and the technology of cloning is being researched and used without any problems from any quarters in the world. It is an extremely useful tool for multiplying the desired quality animals and of the desired sex. So, we in India can hope to increase the milk production potential of our buffaloes by multiplying very high milk yielding buffaloes and high quality bulls.

VP: First embryos, then test tube babies and now calf clones, what next should we expect from your laboratory?

Dr. Singla: Till now we have many projects including one on buffalo cloning in hand. We will be busy with it for at least next 3-4 years, solving its complicacies. And maybe in future we start working on trying to control the sex ratio at birth through processing of semen in such a way that we eliminate the y chromosome carrying sperms and thus produce female buffalo calves only through artificial insemination process.

VP: As one of the leading scientists in the field of embryo biotechnology, what message would you like to convey to the youth?

Dr. Singla: We need to strengthen the research and development aspects concerning agriculture and animal husbandry, so that we can have desirable growth rates in the field of agriculture. Unless we make progress in productivity in agriculture, our country cannot think of being a developed country. We need to involve the youth in agriculture and research and development aspects of the same to enable our country to move ahead.

Compiled by:

Rachayeta Singla

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