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A curious contagious cancer in dogs, wolves

A curious contagious cancer, found in dogs, wolves and coyotes, can repair its own genetic mutations by adopting genes from its host animal, according to a new study in the journal Science.

A novel route to battle dengue carrying mosquitoes

Nearly 50 million people get infected with dengue fever every year in more than 100 countries, India included. And the severity of the outbreaks is showing an upward trend. All conventional methods have so far failed to prevent people from getting infected. Humans get infected with dengue when Aedes aegypti mosquitoes carrying the dengue virus bite them. It is against this backdrop that two groups of scientists have taken a totally different route to fight the battle. They have made the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes completely resistant to dengue virus infection. The result: the manipulated A. aegypti mosquitoes are no longer the carriers of the dengue virus. Thus the transmission of the virus to humans is blocked. Their work is reported in two papers published today (August 25) in Nature . The mechanism So how did they make the A. aegypti mosquitoes resistant to dengue infection? They introduced Wolbachia bacterium, a common bacterium which even in nature infects insects and mosquitoes, into A. aegypti . Since the bacterium lives inside the host's cells, it makes the mosquitoes resistant to dengue virus. Incidentally, studies done already have shown that mosquitoes become resistant to West Nile virus when an avirulant strain of Wolbachia bacterium is introduced into them. These papers come at a time when earlier studies had shown that the ability of the Wolbachia -infected mosquitoes to block dengue transmission came at the cost of fitness of the mosquitoes.

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The highlight is that the bacterium is maternally inherited and hence the offspring carry the bacterium. That is, the embryos die when Wolbachia -infected males mate with uninfected females. On the other hand, the embryos are not destroyed when Wolbachia -infected females mate with either infected or uninfected males. Thus in principle, the bacterium can spread through the A. aegypti population in the field. While the first team led by T. Walker of The University of Queensland, Brisbane, restricted itself to laboratory and caged studies, the second team led by A.A. Hoffmann of The University of Melbourne, Victoria, went a step further. They released the genetically modified mosquitoes in the field in two locations near Cairns in north-eastern Australia in January this year. Laboratory studies Walker's team compared the various important attributes of mosquitoes with both virulent (wMelPop-CLA) and avirulent (wMel) strains of the bacterium. Hoffmann's team used only mosquitoes with avirulant (wMel) strains for the field study. The avirulent wMel mosquito strains outclassed the virulent wMelPop-CLA on most counts. The wMel strains could successfully invade a small wild-type population of mosquitoes much more effectively than the other strain. The other most important parameter is the survival ability of embryos. wMel strains showed a very strong ability to destroy embryos produced by uninfected females mated with infected males. A 90 per cent embryo survival rate was seen in the case of infected female mosquitoes. The viability of eggs was better in the case of the avirulent wMel mosquito strains. While the lifespan of the avirulent strains was reduced by only 10 per cent, there was a 40 per cent drop in the case of the virulent strains. The wMelPop-CLA strains showed greater ability to suppress dengue virus transmission. But such high transmission disruption comes at the cost of survival of the infected mosquitoes. The ability of wMel to provide protection against dengue virus in A. aegypti is unlikely to be transient, the authors conclude. They also state that dengue can be controlled by releasing a relatively small number of Wolbachia -infected mosquitoes. Field studies The first release happened in January this year and continued for 9-10 weeks in both locations. The number of mosquitoes released per week varied between 10,000 and 22,000. Cairns in north-eastern Australia was hit by a severe cyclone during the trial period, and the effects of that is not completely known. But despite the cyclone, after the seventh release the mosquitoes carrying the Wolbachia increased and reached near fixation 5 weeks after releases stopped. The proof The field studies showed that wild mosquito populations' ability to act as carriers of the dengue virus can be reduced by releasing Wolbachia -infected mosquitoes.
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Nature news notes the advantage of such population-replacement approach. Once established, they are self-propagating. And since the mosquito population is simply changed rather than eliminated, effects on the ecosystem should be minimal, it states.

A part of the immune sytem protects teeth

Teeth can protect themselves, to some extent, from attack by bacteria but inflammation within a tooth can be damaging. Odontoblast cells are part of the immune system and fight to protect teeth from decay.

A promising service in 3G mobile network

With the mobile teledensity crossing an all time high of 71 per cent with India having total telephones a little over 841 million as on May 31, 2011 and registering an average growth of 26 per cent p.a. the market is now poised for great utility mainly focusing on entertainment and advertising. Introduction of 3G has enhanced the capabilities of wireless mobile network with higher bit rate transmission for data transfer minimizing the cost and time. Internet access and data download including video and high quality music have increased in recent times. Mobile Broadband is expected to fuel the growth in India. As per the recent survey by GSM Association (GSMA),a ten per cent increase in broadband penetration will lead to 42 per cent revenue growth in healthcare sector,36.8 per cent in education and 18.8 per cent in transport sector. The 1.7 per cent broadband connections in India are likely to rise to 12.5 per cent by the end of 2015. The convergence or more specifically integration of broadcasting with the mobile broadband enabling multimedia multicast service to be made available on the 3G wireless network which eliminates the allocation of separate range of spectrum for radio and TV services, enhances the scope of fast growth in wireless connectivity. The Third Generation (3G) wireless network, known as UMTS, provides broadband / high bit rate wireless Internet access, making it possible to offer a wide variety of multimedia services, such as multimedia messaging, video streaming and access to TV channels. Collaboration with third-party service providers to deliver new value added services and content to mobile subscribers is on the increase. High bit rate multimedia applications, such as local news, travel information, advertisements based on location, online broadcasting of movie clips, and sports events/ highlights, are among the services of interest to service providers and consumers.
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Offering multimedia services to mobile users places high demands on both the radio and core network resources in UMTS. With the increasing use of high bandwidth applications in 3G mobile systems, especially with a large number of users receiving the same high data rate services, efficient information distribution becomes essential. Transmitting the same data to more than one user allows network resources to be shared. The major break through here is that no separate frequency allocation is required to be done for TV broadcast/radio services (which are being followed now) as the mobile network with the allocated spectrum takes care of these as additional value added service. The Universal Mobile Telecommunication System (UMTS) network was conceived and designed to transport information efficiently as multimedia multicast and broadcast applications through the wireless network since the send once charge many times' philosophy of those types of services is especially attractive. 3 GPP defines MBMS as a point to multipoint (PTMP) down link bearer service for IP data in PS domain The main objective being to offer high speed data rates and to enhance the capability of UMTS for efficient Multicast and Broadcast mode. Broadcast, multicast The broadcast mode is a unidirectional point-to-multipoint transmission of multimedia data (e.g. text, audio, picture, video) from a single source entity to all users in a broadcast service area. In the multicast mode there is the possibility for the network to selectively transmit to cells within the multicast service area which contain members of a multicast group. For some of the services using the multicast mode payment of subscription is required. MBMS architecture shall enable the efficient usage of radio-network and corenetwork resources, with the main focus on the radio interface efficiency. Specifically, multiple users should be able to share common resources when receiving identical traffic. It enables re-use, to the extent possible, of existing 3GPP network components and protocol elements. It supports different quality of service levels, charging data shall be provided per subscriber for MBMS multicast mode, provide services to users when roaming outside their home network also and interworking possibilities between MBMS capable network elements and non-MBMS capable network elements Broadcast and Multicast Service Centre (BM-SC) takes care of content provider charging and MBMS transport, GPRS Gateway Support Node (GGSN) is meant for service QoS negotiation and traffic routing, and Serving GPRS Support Node (SGSN) is used for user authentication, service authorization. Radio Access Network RAN functions include delivery of MBMS data to designated service area, support initiation/termination of MBMS transmissions by the CN and support intra-RNC, inter-RNC mobility of MBMS receivers. MBMS is a very promising technology for the future because of many great
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advantages. The merits are decreases data in the network, uses radio resources more efficiently, offers new service categories like Mobile Broadcast Services and Multipoint-to-Multipoint Services in two modes Broadcast (stimulate subscription to other services) and Multicast (subscribed services, generate revenue). A. GANESAN Former Deputy General Manager, BSNL Chennai

A vaccine neutralizes all malaria parasite strains in animals

A new candidate malaria vaccine with the potential to neutralise all strains of the most deadly species of malaria parasite has been developed by a team led by scientists at the University of Oxford. Results confirmed The results of this new vaccine independently confirm the utility of a key discovery reported last month from scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute who had identified this target within the parasite as a potential Achilles' heel' that could hold significant promise for vaccine development. The most deadly form of mosquito, Plasmodium falciparum , is responsible for nine out of ten deaths from malaria. Vaccinating against malaria is likely to be the most cost-effective way of protecting populations against disease; however, no licensed vaccine is currently available. Another vaccine for malaria is also achieving promising but incomplete levels of protection in clinical trials in Africa; scientists believe a new and more effective vaccine will be required to eradicate the disease. Tested in animal models In a paper in the journal Nature Communications , a team of scientists from the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford led by Dr Simon Draper, working with colleagues from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the Kenyan Medical Research Institute-Wellcome Trust Programme in Kilifi, Kenya, demonstrate that a vaccine they have developed induces an antibody response in animal models capable of neutralising all the tested strains of the P. falciparum parasite. Our initial finding, reported last month, was unexpected and completely changed the way in which we view how the malaria parasite invades red blood cells, Welcome Trust press release quoted Dr Gavin Wright, a co-author as saying. Achilles' heel attacked He is from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. It revealed what we think is the parasite's Achilles' heel in the way it invades our cells and provided a target for potential new vaccines.
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Dr Sandy Douglas, a Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Training Fellow from the University of Oxford and first author on the new study, adds: We have created a vaccine that confirms the recent discovery relating to the biology of RH5 antigen, given it can generate an immune response in animal models capable of neutralising many and potentially all strains of the P. falciparum parasite, the deadliest species of malaria parasite. Our next step will be to begin safety tests of this vaccine. If these prove successful, clinical trials in patients may begin within the next two to three years. Our Bureau

Abundance of winged dinosaurs explained

During part of the Early Cretaceous, north-east China had a temperate climate with harsh winters, explaining the abundance of feathered dinosaurs in fossil deposits of that period.

How does an accelerator of a motor vehicle work? PATRICK TENET JACOBI Kochi, Kerala Actually two types of fuel supplies work in a motor vehicle. One uses carburettor in petrol engines and the other is fuel injection pump in diesel engines. Carburettor gives air and petrol mixture and fuel injection pump gives a spray form of diesel using a nozzle to the engine input side. The carburettor of the two wheeler consists of a small fuel opening port at the place where the atmospheric air flow pipe has a smaller cross section area . When we press the accelerator, a small plate like opening allows the carburettor to draw more air from atmosphere, and also this action draws more fuel(petrol) from the fuel tank by venturi action (venturi action means a fluid or gas flowing through a constricted section of a tube undergoes a decrease in pressure, so due to pressure difference fuel comes from the tank ). Finally this will give more air fuel mixture to the engine input. So due to higher combustion inside the engine the vehicle gets more power and goes in a faster manner. It is the same in diesel engine cars, but in the diesel cars the fuel injection pump (which runs by taking some output of the rotational movement of the engine) gives more fuel to the ignition chamber of the engine in the spray form. So finally, we are quantitatively changing the volume of the fuel to the engine
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by pressing the accelerator. When we use the choke option in the vehicle during starting problem, it is qualitatively changing the ratio of air and fuel for easy starting during winter or cold condition of the engine. S.DINESHRAJ Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, ISRO Thiruvananthapuram

Addressing rural power shortage problems innovatively

Power shortage is nothing new to India. Though our country claims to have developed in terms of science and technology, erratic power supply or complete breakdown for hours together has almost become routine today, says Mr. Chandrakant Pathak, inventor and manufacturer of non conventional energy equipment in Pune. Almost all States face electricity shortage in terms of a low voltage or complete breakdown and calls to the local EB office rarely fetch a proper response. Helpless situation If this be the case for urban dwellers, think about the farmers living in remote villages. They need power for irrigating their crops, or lighting their cattle sheds. What can they do? he asks. To address such signifant problems, Mr. Pathak developed a method for generating electricity using an old bicycle and bullock cart. By using these 'devices' the innovator says farmers can overcome the power shortage problems they face. Explanation Explaining how to generate power from a bicycle, Mr. Pathak says: Take any bicycle and remove the mudguard and tyre-tube from the rear wheel. Attach a double stand to the cycle so that it remains stable in one place. Fix a V shaped belt (commonly available in automobile shops) from the rear rim and connect it to the dynamo or alternator kept on the carrier of the bicycle. A 12 volt dynamo, alternator or brushless D.C. generator are easily available in the market. An hour of pedalling generates about 36 watts (12 volt X 3 amp) that can power three C.F.L. lamps (4 watts) approximately for three hours or three L.E.D. lamps (two watts) for five to six hours. Called Vanarai This portable device named Vanarai can be easily carried to the field or placed near any water body (5 to 7 mts from ground level) and the pump can discharge 30 to 40 litres of water per minute. Regarding power generation from bullocks the innovator says, for a moment,
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bullocks can provide approximately 15 horse-power energy. The power generating machine from two bullocks consists of differential gear box and pulleys and is kept at the centre. The bullocks are made to rotate around the machine in the same way as the earth rotates around the sun. They complete two rounds in approximately one minute. Any bullock cart having wooden, iron or rubber tyre wheels is useful for this purpose, he explains. A brushless D.C. generator of 12 Volt capacity can be fitted on the backside of the cart and helps in charging batteries. A pulley fitted on the inner side of the wheel is connected to another one on the generator. A V belt speed is attached to the pulley generating a voltage of 12 volt D.C. and 4-5 amp current. Suitable A centrifugal water pump of 3 hp can be run by using this energy machine, says Mr. Pathak. This mechanism is especially useful in irrigation or for supplying water to a village. Besides this a small flour mill or grass chopping machine can be run using this energy. Similarly we can float a small wooden platform in the canals for irrigation purpose with a rope tied to it. Using bearing and shaft, a small turbine wheel can be put on the floating platform. It will run on flowing water. If a pulley or small gear box is fixed to the shaft of turbine wheel, 200 watts of power can be generated, he says. Best innovator Prof Anil Gupta and the National Innovation Foundation, Ahmedabad are encouraging us till date in terms of referring enquiries, documenting our work and also honouring us during their annual award ceremony as as the best innovator award, says Mr. Pathak. For more details contact Mr. Chandrakant Pathak can be reached at No. 144, Narayan Peth, Pune:411030, email :, phone:02024452620, mobile: 9890907920.

Aggressive plan mooted for nutritional cactus

A more aggressive plan is needed to grow cactus crop in India, said Dr. S Ayyappan, Director General, ICAR, New Delhi. While addressing the Inaugural session of two day International Workshop on Cactus crop to improve the rural livelihoods and to adapt to climate change in the arid and semi-arid regions of India' the Director General said, The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) will start focusing on this crop with 10,000 ha area in the country to spread and show amazing uses of cactus crop in India with Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI) as nodal centre.
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Joint meet The meet was jointly organized by ICAR, International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), FAO and National Rainfed Area Authority. He elaborated on the crucial role of cactus in food and nutritional security of the country. While highlighting the characteristics of cactus, he suggested that the wide network of Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) can be employed to spread the cactus in different parts of India. Dr. Ayyappan offered to organize a national meet on cactus to bring experts from all over the world, farmers and entrepreneurs to deliberate on emerging market of cactus products. Mr. Mukesh Khullar, Joint secretary (crops) and Mission Director, National Food Security Mission, Department of Agriculture and Co-operation stressed the need to promote cactus as an important crop among farmers and its products among consumers. Full assistance He assured full assistance and co-operation for knowledge-backed cactus network programme in India. Cactus can solve many problems of arid and semi arid areas of India. We can use it as non-conventional food with less calories and more nutritional quality. It can play an important role in food security of the country, he added. Cactus is getting attention in every continent as vital crop for increasing plant cover, carbon sequestration, livestock feeding, conserving wildlife, medicinal and cosmetic uses. Its estimated cultivation area is 18, 91000 ha, according to the press release from ICAR. More than 1,600 species are found on the planet and used as soil-water conservator. Nearly 50 products including juice, nectars, candies, frozen pulp, flowers are marketed around the world. National and international experts participated in the workshop.

Aging of adult stem cells reversed

It is now possible to reverse the aging process for human adult stem cells, which are responsible for helping old or damaged tissues regenerate.

Air Laser' may sniff bombs from far

Princeton University engineers have developed a new laser sensing technology that may allow soldiers to detect hidden bombs from a distance.

Airlines oppose levy on baggage handling

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The levy of a service fee on international baggage handling by Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL) continues to be an issue even after a year of the company taking over the work from Air India. CIAL took up screening of registered baggage on January 15 last following the installation of an in-line baggage screening system at its international terminal. It had been charging a fee from airline companies based on their seat capacity.' Though the operation provided CIAL an additional revenue source, airline companies had been opposing the additional cost right from start. The Airlines Operating Committee (AOC), an association of all operating airline companies here, had been arguing that the levy is in violation of an order of the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation, (April 18, 2010). It stipulates that the cost of security screening equipment be met out of the passenger service fee (PSF), the association said. It had been stated that the entire expenditure on security infrastructure should form part of the project cost of new airports, a press release issued by the association said. Our view is that it should be a part of the PSF as done by other airports including Delhi International Airport Limited, a senior airline functionary said. CIAL had reportedly approached the ministry seeking to revoke the order. Many airline companies operate on a thin margin and such levies can have a significant impact on the methodology of ticket pricing as the burden is often passed on to the passengers, airline sources said. The levy will put CIAL among the costly airports. It will affect the service augmentation plans of international carriers, they added. CIAL commissioned the in-line system in September last following a directive by the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security to replace conventional X-ray machines. The system had expedited the pre-departure procedures through a fully automated transition of the baggage to the aircraft, apart from enabling passengers to go straight to the check-in counters for receiving their boarding pass while the bags get cleared automatically in less than 20 seconds. CIAL took up baggage handling in January last Service augmentation of airlines to be hit'

Algae biomass boosted by 50 to 80 per cent

By expressing certain genes in algae that increased the amount of photosynthesis in the plant, 50 to 80 per cent more biomass can be obtained. The research was done at Iowa State University.

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All-season crops may now be a step closer

A key genetic gear that keeps the circadian clock of plants ticking has been identified, that controls basic functions, possibly paving way for engineering plants that can grow in different seasons and places than is currently possible.

Alzheimer's will be on the rise in India'

With the number of elderly people in the country expected to be 9 crore in the Census 2011 report, the government has to recognise that diseases of the elderly is going to be a very important public health problem in India, said Dr. K. Jacob Roy, who was recently elected chairman of Alzheimer's Disease International (ADI)l. In an exclusive interview with Shyama Rajagopal, Dr. Roy, who founded the Alzheimer's and Related Disorders Society of India (ARDSI), spoke about conditions of the elderly in the country and specifically about Alzheimer's disease, a complex and frightening disease that is affecting a lot of elderly. He will take on the mantle of ADI chairman for three years in 2012 at the organisation's London meeting. What is this public health problem? In 20 years, the number of elderly is going to double which would make India the country with the largest number of elderly in the world. In that context, the medical problems of a large group would create a public health problem in the country. Since age is the single most risk factor of the disease, and when we have segment of people over 80 growing because of better health care and nutrition, conditions like Alzheimer's will also be on the rise. What is the extent of the disease? The prevalence of the disease [in India] is said to be one in 20 for people over 60 years, and one in 5 for people over 80 years. There are about 3.7 crore people affected by the disease, and the cost of treating the disease is pegged at Rs. 14,700 crore. This is going to treble in the next 20 years as the number of affected is going to double and become 7.6 crore. So unless we plan now there is going to be a catastrophe. Families are becoming nuclear and if someone in our family gets dementia, who's going to take care of the person? How is ARDSI tackling this problem? ARDSI has come out with a Dementia India report last year an effort of two years by experts.
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When we have to convince the medical community, you need to have scientific data. The developed countries were using their country-specific report to make the Government device policies for supporting the elderly. It is a scientific authoritative report on dementia and it contains all the statistics you need, like what the disease is all about, the number of people affected, types of dementia, cost of care per person and many more. This report will be used to influence the Governments, both the Centre and State to recognize dementia as a health priority and include it in the national agenda. If any significant change has to happen, the Government has to accept it and make it a health priority. As the national chairman of ARDSI, the campaign is for the support. What are the measures adopted in creating facilities for Alzheimer's disease patients? The facilities that ARDSI is providing in taking care of patients with dementia are on par with what is happening elsewhere in the developed world. Because we are a developing country, we should not dilute standards. Ideas were taken from the West, but are implemented taking care of our cultural ethos. So far 14 chapters of ARDSI have been started across India. Ten new places have also been identified. We have already started one in Pune. Nagpur, Varanasi, Lucknow, Manipur and Srinagar are among those we will be starting soon. We are going to raise this issue in Parliament and to get Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to fund the programmes. We need to provide more services for which Governmental support and recognition is necessary. Help to set up memory clinics in all districts, to improve diagnosis, more services like day care, home care, 24-hour residential care, information centre, training programme for doctors and more research programmes are the kind of things for which we want support from the Government. What kind of work does ADI do? ADI is not a medical organization, but it has individuals from medical fraternity as well as social organisations. It is an umbrella organisation for societies formed by care givers of patients. I have been part of the ADI for a long time as it was a personal experience of my father being affected by it that led me to search for what could be done. As the chairman, the agenda will be to extend the reach of ADI where there is hardly anything happening like in Asian and African countries. The first step will be to engage world governments to recognise dementia and to encourage societies to bring out country-specific reports. What kind of work has ARDSI done? We started the first ARDSI chapter in Kerala as a result of the Kochi conference in 1998, the first such meeting of ADI that was held outside a developed country. It resulted in forming a group dedicated to research primarily to developing research and epidemiological studies where hardly any work was done. ADI helped improve the scenario in research in the country from where very little data was coming in. It also led to the formation of the Asia-specific regional group of ADI and India
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was the first to join in. I had been associated with ADI as the vice chairman and was also working in the elected board of ADI. The headquarters of ARDSI was shifted from Kunnamkulam (where I'm working in a hospital) in Kerala to New Delhi for better interaction with the governments. Though awareness programmes on dementia were on for a long time, don't you think films based on the issue helped in reaching out to more people? The impact of a commercially successful film can never be matched. Obviously it had a profound impact. One Thanmatra (in Malayalam) and one Black (Hindi) is not sufficient. One needs to continue the efforts. More films and more activities are required to reach out to the people. [Movies should convey] information about what needs to be done for the people affected with dementia, guidelines for caregivers, what should be done and what should not be done. There should be a change in attitude towards handling the patient.

An Indian veteran recalls his Antarctic experiences

The first Indian expedition to the South Pole successfully reached the Pole last year, almost a century (99 years to be precise) after the Norwegian Roald Amundsen became the first human to reach the southernmost point of the Earth. The eight-member team left the Indian base station Maitri situated in an icefree area known as the Schirmacher Oasis on November 13, 2010 and reached the South Pole in nine days on November 22, 2010. No comparison We travelled the entire distance of nearly 2,500 km in special vehicles got from Iceland, said Dr. Rasik Ravindra, who was the Leader of the team. We can't compare our journey with Roald Amundsen's and Robert Scott's. Theirs was a heroic effort. They did a hundred years ago something that we can't even dream of. Dr. Ravindra is the Director of the Goa-based National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR). Coming from a veteran like Dr. Ravindra, these words have greater significance and meaning. He has almost lost count of the number of trips made to the icy continent. I think it is 7 or 8 times, he said to this Correspondent over phone. There have been 30 Indian expeditions to Antarctica since the first one in 1981. The journey Even in the comfort of the special vehicle, the 2,500-long journey was not a joy ride. The terrain makes it difficult to travel, he said. After all, the base station is almost at sea level and the South Pole is at an elevation of nearly 2,500 metres. And on the way, one has to cross a plateau that is 3,600 metres above MSL.
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But it is not the terrain alone that makes the journey or staying in the continent difficult. Temperatures can dip to a minimum of -55 degree C in summer and to -89 degree C in winter. Add to this the wind factor. If normal wind speed is 22-30 km per hour, it can go beyond 200 kmph as well. And the result is a blizzard or snow storm, just like sand storms in deserts. It's due to surface drift, he stated. A combination of both high wind speed and increase in temperature (warmer temperature) is needed for blizzards. Blizzards Extra-tropical low-pressure systems always move from west to east in the coastal region. The warm and moist air from lower latitudes mixes with dry, cold wind in the higher latitudes. When this happens the temperature increases gradually. When the wind speed goes beyond 40 kmph loose snow gets lifted. The end result is a blizzard. Blizzards are restricted to coastal regions in the lower latitudes (60 to 70 degree South) and are not seen in higher latitudes (near the Pole). It's dangerous and people can get lost in the blizzard, he said. We are either in the camp or inside the vehicle [during blizzards], or else Sometimes yes, we do get trapped we can't always predict. When the temperature increases they know a storm is building up, but are not always lucky to have a good shelter. Being geologists, they are out in the field conducting experiments, collecting data and samples. Mountains are where they work and since these places are 80 km away from the base camps, they are air dropped by helicopters. Dr. Ravindra can never forget his experience in January 1987. The 5-member team had camped on Humboldt Mountain for field work. And then suddenly the blizzard set in and sustained for seven long days. The four-layered tent was their only shelter. But three layers of the tent soon got ripped off. And they were left with a single-layered tent! Though the sleeping bags came to their rescue to keep them warm, they could not sleep for 3 to 4 days. There was so much noise, he recalled. We kept Campa Cola bottles inside our sleeping bags to prevent them from freezing. The Cola and biscuits were our only food, he said. But we survived. The helicopter returned when the blizzard stopped, and to everyone's surprise found them in good health. Things have changed. We can now predict blizzards with high levels of certainty, said E. Kulandaivelu, Director of the Regional Meteorological Centre, Chennai. We use satellite images, satellite wind data, real-time observation from different observatories located in Antarctica to predict blizzards. Mr. Kulandaivelu has been to the Antarctic twice (December 1989 to March 1991, and December 1999 to March 2001). But not every trip ends on a happy note, though. The November 1989-April 1991 expedition was very different. The Indian team lost a couple of lives due to carbon monoxide poisoning in the shelter tent. Other challenges But you don't need blizzards to make your trip to Antarctica unique and
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unforgettable. When temperatures drop below -50 degree C a facemask is used. It has an opening for the eyes and two small holes for the nose. While goggles protect the eyes, there is no such protection for the nostrils. The air they breathe out is warmer and moisture tends to come out of the nose. Must wipe the moisture constantly, he warned. Else you would have ice crystals hanging from the nose! When it is not so cold, and when the facemask is not worn, snow and ice can settle on the nose and even eyelids! If conducting experiments and collecting data are part of a daily routine, can taking notes be far behind? Unfortunately, taking notes or drawing some features is not possible with a gloved hand. You have to remove the gloves for a few minutesand your fingers get numb. You soon wear the gloves and keep your palm under the armpit to warm them, said Dr. Ravindra. How does it feel when there is just white all around? It's like seeing blue all around when you in open sea, he says. But his memory quickly rewinds and he says, you can't see any bird, tree or building... you see nothing. There is vastness and emptiness all time around you. The vastness makes you realise how small you are a speck of dust on Earth. The feeling of emptiness is particularly heightened during winter when it is dark 24 hours a day for six months at a stretch. Little wonder that it is mandatory for all participants staying back for the winter session to undergo psychological tests which check for ability to withstand isolation.

Ancestor of land plants was green algae

It was previously thought that land plants evolved from stonewort-like algae. Now, new research shows that the closest relatives to land plants are green algae such as Spirogyra.

Ancient lunar dynamo may explain magnetised moon rocks

The geodynamo that generates Earth's magnetic field is powered by heat from the inner core, which drives complex fluid motions in the molten iron of the outer core. But the Moon is too small to support that type of dynamo, according to Christina Dwyer, a graduate student in Earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Since Apollo program The presence of magnetized rocks on the surface of the Moon, which has no global magnetic field, has been a mystery since the days of the Apollo program. Now a team of scientists has proposed a novel mechanism that could
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have generated a magnetic field on the Moon early in its history. The geodynamo that generates Earth's magnetic field is powered by heat from the inner core, which drives complex fluid motions in the molten iron of the outer core. But the Moon is too small to support that type of dynamo, according to Christina Dwyer, a graduate student in Earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In the November 10 issue of Nature , Dwyer and her coauthors planetary scientists Francis Nimmo at UC Santa Cruz and David Stevenson at the California Institute of Technology describe how an ancient lunar dynamo could have arisen from stirring of the Moon's liquid core driven by the motion of the solid mantle above it. This is a very different way of powering a dynamo that involves physical stirring, like stirring a bowl with a giant spoon, Dwyer said. Dwyer and her coauthors calculated the effects of differential motion between the Moon's core and mantle. Early in its history, the Moon orbited the Earth at a much closer distance than it does today, and it continues to gradually recede from the Earth. Tidal interactions At close distances, tidal interactions between the Earth and the Moon caused the Moon's mantle to rotate slightly differently than the core. This differential motion of the mantle relative to the core stirred the liquid core, creating fluid motions that, in theory, could give rise to a magnetic dynamo. The Moon wobbles a bit as it spins that's called precession but the core is liquid, and it doesn't do exactly the same precession. So the mantle is moving back and forth across the core, and that stirs up the core, explained Nimmo, a professor of Earth and planetary sciences at UCSC. The researchers found that a lunar dynamo could have operated in this way for at least a billion years. Eventually, however, it would have stopped working as the Moon got farther away from the Earth. The further out the Moon moves, the slower the stirring, and at a certain point the lunar dynamo shuts off, Dwyer said. Rocks can become magnetized from the shock of an impact, a mechanism some scientists have proposed to explain the magnetization of lunar samples. But recent paleomagnetic analyses of Moon rocks, as well as orbital measurements of the magnetization of the lunar crust, suggest that there was a strong, long-lived magnetic field on the Moon early in its history, says a University of California, Santa Cruz press release. One of the nice things about our model is that it explains how a lunar dynamo could have lasted for a billion years, Nimmo said. It also makes predictions about how the strength of the field should have changed over the years, and that's potentially testable with enough paleomagnetic observations. More detailed analysis is needed, however, to show that stirring of the core by the mantle would create the right kind of fluid motions to generate a magnetic field. Our Bureau

Ant power
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How are ants able to move/pull objects that are heavier than the insect? PRASHANT SONI Sehore, Madhya Pradesh Can we imagine carrying ten-time heavier objects than our body weight? It may be possible for the super-man', but not for an ordinary man. However, ants could carry or pull objects weighing several folds heavier than their own body weights. Do ants possess stronger muscles that enable them to produce more strength than humans? The answer is NO', according to Sir Vincent Brian Wigglesworth, the Father of Insect Physiology' who compared and found no differences between the muscle force (per unit area) of insects and vertebrates. Then what enables the ants to carry heavier objects is their relatively smaller body size. According to the square cube law, when an object undergoes a proportional increase in size, its new volume is proportional to the cube of the multiplier and its new surface area is proportional to the square of the multiplier. When an animal grows in length (or height), the volume increases in cube but the cross sectional area of its muscles increases only in square. Mass is the amount of matter in an object, and hence the (cubic) increase in volume tends to increase the body mass significantly, whereas the crosssectional area of the muscles increases in a much slower rate (only in square). Hence, these cross sectional areas of muscles have to support relatively more mass and thus larger animals like humans need to put most of the muscles in use to carry their own mass. In other words, larger animals have to carry their own weight, besides the heavier objects; so they are able to carry only slightly heavier objects. However, because of the smaller body size, the body mass of ants is much lower and hence they put fewer muscles into use to carry this body mass. Thus, ants could use more muscles to carry bigger loads than their own mass, which not only applies to ants, but also holds good for most of the insects. However, since ants are quite abundant in human habitats, we frequently seeing them carrying bigger cuisines or pulling heavier objects. R. SRINIVASAN Entomologist and Head of Entomology Group AVRDC-The World Vegetable Center Tainan, Taiwan

Antarctica's recent climatic variations

The Antarctic Peninsula has warmed rapidly for the last half-century. Rising sea surface heat along the equator drove atmospheric circulation causing the large shifts in Antarctic climate in recent decades.

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Antibiotic resistance is ancient in origin

When did bacteria develop antibiotic resistance for the very first time? Of course, it was after the discovery and widespread use, and more often misuse, of antibiotics. This is the cornerstone of antibiotic resistance science. The premise Since the discovery of antibiotics has being recent, no more than 70 years ago, antibiotic resistance seen in microbes should be a modern phenomenon. By extension, any microbes older than 70 years should be highly susceptible to antibiotics, and hence should never have shown antibiotic resistance. But a study published today (September 1) in Nature , rocks the very foundation of our understanding of antibiotic resistance. It provides sufficient evidence to prove that antibiotic resistance is a natural phenomenon, and existed in microbes predating antibiotic discovery by man. Earlier studies had estimated that origin of natural antibiotics dates back from 2 billion years to 40 million years ago. If natural antibiotics were that old, can antibiotic resistance be far behind? Antibiotic resistance seen in microbes (bacteria and fungi) should not be a surprise as they produce antibiotics naturally. Roughly 80 per cent of antibiotics currently in the market are derived either directly or indirectly (e.g. by modification of naturally occurring structures) from bacteria that are found in the environment, mostly the soil, stated Gerard D. Wright from McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada in an email to this Correspondent. Dr. Wright is the senior author of this study. Shocking What makes the findings all the more surprising is that all the genes extracted from nearly 30,000-year-old microbes reveal the presence of resistance to many commonly used antibiotics tetracycline, beta-lactam, glycopeptides and even vancomycin. In clinical settings, vancomycin resistance was first seen in pathogenic bacteria (enterococci) only in the late 1980s! Structure and function studies on the complete vancomycin resistance element VanA confirmed its similarity to modern variants, the authors write. If bacteria already had antibiotic resistance towards drugs like tetracycline, Vancomycin, beta-lactum etc used today, why did it take some time for antibiotic resistance to show up in clinical settings? We need to differentiate resistance in pathogenic bacteria here from [benign] environmental bacteria that do not usually cause disease, replied Dr. Wright. Pathogens are generally quite antibiotic sensitive unless they acquire resistance genes from other sources. The evidence suggests that environmental bacteria are the reservoir for
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these genes. Our study demonstrates that these benign bacteria have expressed these genes for millennia. The widespread prevalence of antibiotic resistance seen today is inconsistent with a hypothesis of contemporary emergence, they write in the paper, instead it suggests a richer natural history of resistance. So what is the role of clinically formed resistance? The clinical (and other use) of antibiotics provides the selective pressure to select for resistance genes that may be mobilised from environmental bacteria, emphasised Dr. Wright in his email. What needs to be done If this is indeed true and correct, then there is an overwhelming need to have in place a more responsible planning and management mechanism of existing antibiotics and newer ones. According to Dr. Wright, we need two things: 1) more drug candidates, and 2) better use of existing antibiotics e.g. reduced use in agriculture, and tight controls in medicine. Study area The microbes used for the study were collected from Dawson City, Yukon, Beringia (east of Alaska) permafrost sediments. Rigorously authenticated ancient bacterial DNA samples were used for the study. The ancient DNA was collected from the permafrost that had not thawed since its deposition, and had never been leached by a river.

Antimatter mystery solution closer

Scientists in a lab with Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station in southern Guangdong Province have found neutrino through two detecting instruments, which is likely to provide clues to solving the mystery of why there is more matter than antimatter in the universe. The announcement The Institute of High Energy Physics with the Chinese Academy of Sciences on Monday announced the breakthrough that was achieved by more than 250 researchers from six countries and regions. The two neutrino detectors are installed underground 360 meters away from the nuclear plant at a depth of 100 meters. Scientists believe that matter and antimatter were created in equal amounts during the Big Bang, but the disappearance of antimatter remains a mystery. Neutrino is an elementary particle that is able to pass through ordinary matter almost unaffected, which makes it extremely difficult to detect. Located in Shenzhen, a city neighbouring Hong Kong, the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station commenced operation in 1993. Scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the U.S.-based Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory started the underground neutrino experiment in 2006. After the Big Bang
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Kam-Biu Luk, spokesman for the laboratory, said that the results of the experiment would further shed light on the evolution of basic matter after the Big Bang. The neutrino experiment in the Daya Bay is one of the largest cooperation projects with regards to basic research between China and the United States. Among the participants of the experiment are Russia, Czech Republic, and China's Hong Kong and Taiwan regions. Xinhua

Ants aggressive toward other colonies' nests

Ants are regarded as prototypes of social beings that are prepared to sacrifice their lives for their community, but they can also display extremely aggressive behavior towards other nests.

Ants, termites boost dryland wheat yields

Ants and termites perform the same ecosystem service functions in dryland agriculture that earthworms perform in cooler and wetter areas and have a significant positive impact on crop yields in dryland agriculture.

Archaeopteryx is not an early bird, study says

The discovery of Archaeopteryx , considered the basal bird, became central to our understanding of avialan (a group that includes all birds and some dinosaurian relatives) origin. In fact, it became central to our understanding of the evolutionary process how the dinosaurs slowly evolved to become today's birds. Found 150 years ago More importantly, the discovery was made in 1861 from Bavaria, Germany, just two years after Darwin had come out with his famous work Origin of Species . Such has been the importance given to Archaeopteryx that a great body of scientific work on bird evolution has always centred on this basal bird. Indeed, virtually all our notions about early avian evolution have been viewed through the lens of Archaeopteryx , notes a news piece published today (July 28) in Nature journal. Not a basal bird
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But a paper published in the same issue of Nature today (July 28) has not just dethroned Archaeopteryx from its high pedestal but also gone to the extent of clubbing the iconic basal bird along with other non-avian dinosaurs. In other words, Archaeopteryx does not belong to the avian group, leave alone being a basal bird. Indeed, the last ten years have seen the discovery of many dinosaur fossils that share some unique characteristics of basal birds that are not seen in Archaeopteryx. The latest find The Xiaotingia zhengi specimen discovered and described in the Nature paper only strengthens the argument against the basal bird status conferred on Archaeopteryx, and in turn its position in the avialan group. Earlier studies found some unexpected and striking similarities between Archaeopteryx and other deinonychosaurs (bird-like dinosaurs but not belonging to avialan group of dinosaurs), and proposed a close relationship between the two. But the authors of the paper have gone a step further. They have presented a numerical morphological (phylogenetic) analysis supporting deinonychosaurian affinities for the Archaeopterygidae [to which Archaeopteryx belongs]. Two main conclusions The authors have drawn two main conclusions. First, there are striking morphological similarities between Archaeopteryx, the latest find ( Xiaotingia ) and other deinonychosaurs (bird-like dinosaurs). Second, these similarities in turn highlight the real differences between the basal bird' discovered 150 years ago and other widely accepted basal avialans discovered in recent times. There are few derived features shared by Archaeopteryx and basal avialans thus documented morphological support for the avialan affinities of Archaeopteryx is fairly weak, they write. There is a word of caution by the authors. Our phylogenetic hypothesis is only weakly supported by the available data, they warn. Previously thought The latest discovery also sets the record straight regarding the many morphological features that were once considered as distinctly avialan that they are in fact characteristic of the Paraves group (to which the avialans and the deinonychosaurs belong). They cite the instance of lengthening and strengthening of the forelimbs. Such forelimbs indicate a dramatic shift in their function, and maybe related to the appearance of a degree of aerodynamic capability. The forelimb example is akin to the presence of flight features seen in both basal avialans and basal deinonychosaurs.

Arctic climate changes during late Cretaceous

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Tiny organisms preserved in marine sediments hold clues about Arctic climate variation during an ancient episode of greenhouse warming (late Cretaceous), reconstructions of Arctic climate variability reveal.

Arctic coast retreating half a metre per year

The coastline in Arctic regions reacts to climate change with increased erosion and retreats by half a metre per year on average. This means substantial changes for Arctic ecosystems near the coast and the populations there.

Arctic environment in ancient warming event

Scientists are unravelling the environmental changes that took place around the Arctic during an exceptional episode of ancient global warming, the 1,70,000-year Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) event.

Arctic fisheries catch grossly understated

Fisheries catches in the Arctic during 1950-2006 (950,000 tonnes) is almost 75 times the amount reported to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization during this period.

Arctic heading towards record ozone depletion

Unusually low temperatures in the Arctic ozone layer have recently initiated massive ozone depletion. The Arctic appears to be heading for a record loss of this trace gas that protects Earth's surface against Sun's ultraviolet radiation.

Arctic region's warming

Experts have warned that the Arctic region is warming at the fastest pace on earth because of rising air temperatures, more rainfall and decreasing snowfall, consequently melting sea ice.
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James Screen, who led the study with Ian Simmonds, at the Melbourne University's School of Earth Sciences, said that due to warming temperatures on more days and in more parts of the polar region temperatures are becoming too warm for protective snow to form. As a result of this temperature shift, we estimate that there has been a 40 per cent decrease in summer snowfall over the last 20 years. The reductions in snowfall in the summer months (when there is still typically significant snow in Arctic regions) have knock-on effects for the sea ice, the ice floating on top of the Arctic Ocean, the journalClimate Dynamics quoted him as saying. Snow is highly reflective and bounces up to 85 percent of the incoming sunlight back into space. Snow on top of ice effectively acts as a sunscreen protecting the ice from the power of the sun rays, said Screen. IANS

Arctic, Antarctic
Are there any differences in the atmosphere like temperature, wind speed etc. between Arctic and Antarctic regions? D. ANANTHAPADMANABAN Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu The two regions, the Arctic and the Antarctica, are located around the north and the south poles of the earth, respectively. The atmosphere at both these places is very cold and they experience extreme solar exposure periods. Therefore, there are several similarities in the weather patterns. However, there are quite a few differences too. The rotation at the (Antarctic) south pole is opposite to that at (Arctic) north pole. This is manifest in the nature of wind circulation and in the water whirlpools. Also, being in the two opposite hemispheres, there exists a complementarity in the seasonal changes. The winter period at the Arctic happens to be the summer in the Antarctica and vice versa. On top of that, there is seasonal variation in the climatic conditions in both the regions. The other main difference arises from the fact that the Arctic is an ocean with frozen ice cover. It is surrounded and partly contributed by the edges of land masses, while the Antarctica is an ice covered land mass (continent) surrounded by oceans. This leads to differences in the temperature patterns in the two regions. The temperature in Arctic zone drops below -50 degree Celsius in the winter and summer temperature ranges between +10 and -10 degree C. Much of arctic zone is surrounded by relatively warmer ocean water with minimum temperature above -2 degree Celsius. In the Antarctica the interior regions do not benefit from the moderating influence of the ocean waters. In fact, during the winter, the snow and ice covered Antarctica nearly doubles in size, rendering any influence of the surrounding ocean unreachable into the interiors of the continent. And the temperature is normally much lower
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compared to the Arctic region. The lowest temperature can be as low as -90 degree C in the winter and the summer time sees an average temperature in the range of -5 to -35 degrees. Also due to such low temperatures, the atmosphere is very dry. Also in the Antarctica, the wind is very strong with the speed as high as 325km/h while in the arctic the wind is mild with speed in the range of about 20km/h. In the Antarctic, about 98 per cent of the area is covered with snow and ice all throughout the year. Thus, the sunlight is almost totally gets reflected back rather than getting absorbed. Further, the atmosphere being so dry as to have the average humidity in the range of only 0.03 per cent, is devoid of water vapour and so the sunlight escapes completely instead of getting absorbed by the atmosphere too. This also contributes to the low temperature in the region. Blizzards are a typical Antarctic phenomenon in which very little, if any, snow actually falls. Instead the loose top layer of the snow is picked up and blown along the surface by the wind. Such phenomena are not experienced in the Arctic zone. PROF. H. K. SAHU Chennai Mathematical Institute, Chennai

Are dormant volcanoes really dormant?

A volcano's magma chamber that has cooled down need not remain dormant for centuries before it is remobilized by fresh magma. Reawakening of a chamber can happen in just a few months.

Asian phoenix' a giant bird that lived with the dinosaurs

Palaeontologists said on recently they had found the fossilised remains of a giant bird that lived in Central Asia more than 65 million years ago, a finding which challenges theories about the diversity of early birds. The creature may have been taller than an ostrich if it had been flightless and, if it flew, had a greater wingspan than that of the albatross, they reported in the British journal Biology Letters . The scientists have named the bird Samrukia nessovi , after a mythological Kazakh phoenix known as the samruk, and after Lev Nessov, a celebrated Russian palaeontologist who died in 1995. The estimate is based on a pair of mandibular rami, or the upright part of an Lshaped lower jawbone, that were found in Late Cretaceous sediment in Kyzylorda, southern Kazakhstan. The bones measure 275 millimetres (10.8 inches), indicating a skull that would
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have been a whopping 30 centimetres (a foot) long. Whether the bird flew and what it ate are unclear because the evidence is so sketchy. But if the two bones are a guide, the beast would have stood up to three metres (10 feet) high and weighed more than 50 kilos (110 pounds) if it had been flightless. If it flew, the bird would have weighed at least 12 kilos (26 pounds), with a wingspan of at least four metres (13 feet). The avian was an undisputed giant, says the study. Birds are believed to have evolved from tiny two-footed dinosaurs called theropods at the start of the Cretaceous era, around 150 million years ago. The prevailing theory, based on usually-incomplete fossils, is that they remained extremely small for tens of millions of years. Of more than 100 types of early birds that have come to light, only one Gargantua philoinos , which lived around 70 million years ago was largebodied. The others were crow-sized or smaller. And even the claim for G. philoinos is under attack. Some scientists argue the fossil was really that of a pterosaur, or flying reptile, rather than a bird. AFP

Asteroid's clues about Earth's formation

A half-km wide asteroid which streaks past the Earth next week could provide clues about how the planet was formed. The space rock, known as 2005 YU55, will pass earth within 320,000 km on Nov 8. The asteroid, in orbit around the Sun, has not been this close to the Earth in 200 years and will come closer to the planet than any other asteroid of its size in the past 35 years, The Telegraph reports. The last time a similarly large rock passed by at such a short distance was in 1976, and went largely unnoticed. It will not be visible to the naked eye but amateur astronomers stand a good chance of catching a glimpse of it provided they have a telescope at least six inches in diameter. NASA scientists, who have officially classified the asteroid as a near-earth object, will use a radar telescope to analyse exactly what it is made of and get a better idea where it comes from. A spokesman said: We hope to obtain images that should reveal a wealth of detail about the asteroid's surface features, shape, dimensions and other physical properties. IANS

Australia's first adult stem cells from skin

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Scientists of University of Melbourne and Monash University have developed Australia's first adult induced pluripotent stem cell lines using skin biopsies from patients with the rare genetic disease Friedreich's ataxia (FA).

Authorities must experience problems to solve them

There is a lot of difference between seeing and experiencing. Unless one experiences a headache he will never know how it feels. Mere words or a visual can never convey it, says Mr. Deepak Nanaji Barde a progressive farmer from Wardha. In Israel or Cuba, farmers in possession of even two acres live in luxury. But in India a 10 acre farmer wallows in poverty. Why? he asks. Mr. Deepak practices organic farming in his 2.5 acres and has developed 52 varieties of crop. It took him nearly seven years to establish a seed bank. Helping many Today the bank helps many local farmers to go beyond the much hyped cotton and soybean. In addition honeybee keeping also increased Mr. Deepak's seed production. Sticking to common crops such as cotton and soybean, aggravated by chemical fertilizers, paves the way for farmers' suicide. Chemical fertilizer gives you a high yield, but is not a solution. Production gradually tapers off and a stage is reached when it is abysmal, he says. Moving process According to the farmer, natural farming is a practice from bottom to top, and using chemical fertilizers or insecticides is a process from top to bottom both in terms of production and prosperity. Authorities are unaware of real problems of farmers. Ground realities are different. The Prime Minister's relief package to farmers or similar big schemes cannot solve our problem. Imposing some scheme without going to the root cause of problems does not fulfil the goal of development, he says. Small and marginal farmers rarely approach any bank for money, according to him. No bank account Many of them do not even have a bank account, he says, adding the Agriculture Minister and officials must become sensitive to our needs, problems, and requirements, if they want to do something worthwhile for us. Today in our country many foreign educated officials speak on ways to end farmers' debts, cause of production problems, and strategies to overcome them. In reality many of them do not interact with us to know things personally. They simply read some books, journals, and talk. But the real issue is far from what these people think or say, says Mr. Deepak. An Agriculture minister who has never been hungry in his lifetime speaks
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about ending poverty. A foreign educated Finance minister speaks of making agriculture and farmers debt free. Do they think we are all fools? These people have not even once stepped into our villages nor spoken to farmers and yet come out with these theories, he contends angrily. Debt humiliation Does the Union Agriculture minister or at least the State minister know a farmer's mental condition when he silently bears the taunts and abuses thrown at him and his family by private moneylenders for a delay in repayment of interest for the loan taken? he enquires. And banks will come chasing the poor farmer who availed a Rs. 10,000 cattle loan if he does not repay on time. The same bank officials will stand outside the gate of a local influential man who owes the bank several lakhs without saying anything. In some cases they even write off the dues. But, for farmers it is a different treatment altogether, according to Mr. Deepak. How many officials are ready to step into the fields and talk to us? he asks. Attend function At the most, they come for some ribbon cutting function, pose for photos and leave immediately in AC cars surrounded by their coterie of people. In India after 67 years of independence, today, can a small farmer contact the Agriculture Minister to voice his grievance? Even Vice Chancellors of some Universities are far removed from the ground reality, remaining in the comfort of their rooms. They too are often inaccessible to us, is his view. For more details readers can contact Mr. Deepak Nanaji Barde, Bawapur taluka, Wardha , Phone : 9272610252 and Mr. Manish Kawade Project Associate MSSRF, emails: and, Phone: 07152-285043, Mobile : 09890795456.

Autistics' strengths can be useful in research Babies do wake up taller after a sleep
Scientists have finally confirmed what our grandmas have been preaching over the years babies do really wake up taller right after their sleep. Findings from the first study of its kind measuring the link between daily growth and sleep confirm that infants gain height during sleep, depending on the total hours slept and number of sleep bouts. Little is known about the biology of growth spurts. Our data opens the window to further scientific study of the mechanisms and pathways that
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underlie saltatory growth, said lead author Michelle Lampl, from the department of anthropology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Researchers have found that longer sleep bouts in both girls and boys predicted an increase in weight and body-fat composition tied to an increase in length. This means that not only does sleep predict a growth spurt in length, but it also predicts an increase in weight and abdominal fat, implying an anabolic growth process. The findings are based on data of 23 infants recorded in real time over a four to 17-month span. During this time, mothers kept daily diaries of sleep onset and awakening. The study appears in the current issue of Sleep. ANI

Background radiation and radioactivity in India

We live in a sea of radiation. In any city, an unsuspecting owner of a 0.1 acre backyard garden may not know that the top one metre of soil from his garden contains 11,200 kg of potassium, 1.28 kg which is of potassium- 40 (K-40, a radioactive isotope of potassium), 3.6 kg of thorium and one kg of uranium. These values may be higher or lower depending on the soil. Uranium and thorium decay through several radio-nuclides to lead, a stable element. The presence of radioactive nuclides does not pose any significant risk. Total dose The total annual external dose from sources in soil and cosmic rays in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Delhi and Bengaluru is 0.484, 0.81, 0.79, 0.70 and 0.825 milligray respectively. Gray is a unit for absorbed dose; when the radiation energy imparted to a kg of material is one joule, it is called a gray. Since gray is very large, milligray (one thousandth of a gray), and microgray (one millionth of a gray), are commonly used. Cosmic rays come from outer space. Their intensity at a place depends on the altitude. Cosmic rays alone contribute 0.28 milligray at the first three cities as they are at sea level; the column of air helps to reduce their intensity. At high altitudes, the protection from the column of air is less. The cosmic ray contributions are higher at 0.31 milligray and 0.44 milligray respectively at Delhi and Bengaluru as these cities are at altitudes of 216 metre and 921 metre. Air passengers receive 5 microgray per hour from cosmic rays. Parts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu are high background radiation areas (HBRA) because of the presence of large quantities of monazite in the soil. Thorium content in monazite ranges from 8-10.5 per cent. Researchers found that the radiation levels in 12 Panchayats in Karunagappally varied between 0.32 to 76 milligrays per year; the levels in 90 per cent of over 71,000 houses were more than one milligray per year.
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The average value of population dose in HBRA is 3.8 milligray per year. One milligray is the average value for areas of normal background radiation. The units milligray and millisievert are the same in these instances. Study at the HBRA during 1990-99 by the researchers from the Regional Cancer Centre and Bhabha Atomic Research Centre did not show any health effect attributable to radiation. Radon, which occurs in uranium series present in soil seeps into homes. In temperate areas radon decay products build up in air due to poor ventilation and deliver high doses to the lungs of millions of people. In tropics ventilation is adequate to disperse radon .In the United Kingdom persons in 5 per cent of the homes are exposed to doses above 23.7 mSv/year. One per cent of the population receives doses above 55.8 mSv/year. The highest estimated dose was 320 mSv/year in Cornwall. All foodstuffs contain potassium-40 (K-40). We need potassium for sustenance. K-40 is 0.012 per cent of potassium. Once ingested, most of the potassium enters the blood stream directly and gets distributed to all tissues and organs. Homeostatic control The potassium content in the human body is strictly under homeostatic control. The body retains only the amounts in the normal range essential for its functioning; it is independent of the variations in the environmental levels. The body excretes excess amounts with a biological half life of 30 days. K-40 delivers a constant annual radiation dose of 0.18 mSv to soft tissue. This dose is unavoidable as potassium is an essential element. Every time we eat a banana, we are introducing 14 Bq of K-40 in to our body. Trucks containing bananas have triggered radiation alarms at border posts in the U.S. Brazil nut Brazil nut is probably the most radioactive food. Scientists have measured 700Bq of radium per kg of Brazil nut. The roots of the Brazil nut tree pass through acres of land; They have a tendency to concentrate barium; along with barium, the roots collect radium as well. Radium appears in the nuts. Many vegetables like brinjal, carrot etc. also contain the radioactive isotope. Indian researchers have measured polonium-210 in fish and other marine organisms. Our whole body is hit by particles coming from all sides. Radiation is a part of our life. We cannot avoid eating food just because it contains radioactivity K.S. PARTHASARATHY ( Raja Ramanna fellow, Department of Atomic Energy)

Bacteria on trees may help forests grow

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Baltic Sea emits more CO {-2} than it can bind

The Baltic Sea emits more carbon dioxide than it can bind. Local variations have increased the exposure of the Bay of Bothnia. These are the results of a study of how CO {-2} flows between the Baltic Sea water and the atmosphere.

Bats adjust their field-of-view'

The way fruit bats use biosonar to see' their surroundings is significantly more advanced than first thought of according to a new study. Their high-frequency clicks form a sonar beam that spreads across a fanshaped area, and the returning echoes allow them to locate and identify objects in that region. As these bats were considered to have little control over their vocalizations, scientists have puzzled over how they are able to navigate through complex environments. The study, published September 13 in the online, open access journal PLoS Biology , examines Egyptian fruit bats (Rousettus aegyptiacus), which use echolocation to orient inside their caves and to find fruit hidden in the branches of trees. The research team, led by Nachum Ulanovsky of the Weizmann Institute in Israel and Cynthia Moss of the University of Maryland, reports that these bats adapt to environmental complexity using two tactics, according to a Weizmann Institute press release. First, they alter the width of their sonar beam, similar to the way humans can adjust their spotlight of attention in order to spot, for example, a friend in a crowded room. Second, they modify the intensity of their emissions. The work presented here reveals a new parameter under adaptive control in bat echolocation, says Ulanovsky. Ulanovsky and his team trained five Egyptian fruit bats to locate and land on a mango-sized plastic sphere placed in various locations in a large, dark room equipped with an array of 20 microphones that recorded vocalizations. In one set of experiments, the researchers simulated an obstacle-filled forest by surrounding the sphere with two nets spread between four poles. To reach the target, the bats flew through a narrow corridor whose width and orientation varied from trial to trial. In the obstacle-filled environment, the bats covered three times as much area with each pair of clicks as they did when the obstacles weren't there. The angle separating each two beams was also wider and the volume of the clicks louder, and these differences became more pronounced as they drew further into the corridor and therefore closer to their obstacles. This larger field of view' allowed the bats to track the sphere and the poles simultaneously, and avoid collisions while landing. This is the first report, in any sensory system, of an active increase in field-ofFor More Visit or

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view in response to changes in environmental complexity, says Ulanovsky. Although these new findings may be unique to Egyptian fruit bats because of their rapid tongue movements, Ulanovsky explains that their results suggest that active sensing of space by animals can be much more sophisticated than previously thought and they call for a re-examination of current theories of spatial orientation and perception. Our Bureau

Bats change ear shapes to hear better

Within just one tenth of a second, certain bats are able to change the shape of their outer ear from one extreme configuration to another in order to change their hearing, researchers have discovered.

Bats do not like getting wet

Wet weather puts bats off flying as they don't like getting wet, according to the findings of a study published in the scientific journalBiology Letters. A wet bat needs more energy to fly because damp fur provides less protection than when dry. Wet fur also affects the bat's aerodynamics, which in turn also costs energy. Until now scientists thought bats avoided rain because there was less prey to catch and because raindrops affected the bat's echo-finding capability. The study observed 10 Sowell's short tailed fruit bats (Carollia sowelli) in Costa Rica. The bats weigh just 18 grams, live from eating fruit rather than hunting insects and frequently encounter rainfall in their natural environment. The researchers exposed the bats to three treatments in outdoor enclosures including dry conditions, moist fur without rain and moist fur with rain. Energy usage was calculated by measuring the content of the non-radioactive isotope C13 in the air exhaled by the bats. The findings indicate that rain as such does not force the bats to use extra energy. However, wet fur led to the bats using twice as much energy compared to dry conditions. The researchers conclude the reason is probably because wet fur provides less protection from cooling. Bats with moist fur lose so much heat that they need to burn more energy to maintain a steady body temperature, says Christian Voigt, one of the study's authors. Wet bats are also less aerodynamic and must use more energy to compensate. In dry conditions a bat's smooth fur covers the animal, making it aerodynamically efficient. That changes when the fur becomes damp. Taking flight in the rain is only worthwhile for a bat when the energy it can ingest replaces that expended by flight. DPA

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Bats use their neurons to home in on target

Using their neurons, bats can separate the cavalcade of echoes returning from their sonar pulses by distinguishing changes in amplitude between different parts of an echo to decide if the object is a target or just clutter.

Batteries that charge quickly, retain energy

A 3-dimensional nanostructure for battery cathodes that allows for dramatically faster charging and discharging without sacrificing energy storage capacity has been developed.

Bees could reveal key to dementia

Norwegian researcher Gro Amdam has succeeded in reversing the aging process in the bee brain, which may bring hope to people with dementia.

Bees, flowering plants adjust to earlier spring

An analysis of bee collection data over the past 130 years shows that spring arrives about 10 days earlier than in the 1880s, and bees and flowering plants have kept pace by arriving earlier.

Besides the wellknown benefits, honeybees provide manure

Growing food is not the job of just farmers. The earthworms and millions of small microscopic creatures under the soil lend a helping hand in making the soil fertile. Above the ground, the climate, birds, and bees play their part of collecting and transferring pollen from one flower to another. Especially for vegetable and fruit crops, pollination is very essential. An experienced farmer knows the value of pollination, and that growing fruits and vegetables are all about reproduction bees being an essential part of the
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food chain, says Mr. N. Swaminathan, an avid apiculturist from Chennai. Two varieties Mr. Swaminathan's passion for rearing honey bees started early from childhood. Today he rears two different bee species - the Indian and Italian ones in different boxes specifically bought from different parts of the country. Getting the boxes made is a daunting task as many of the local carpenters refuse to make it. For them, it is commercially not viable and the Government supplied boxes are so sub standard. They don't last for even one season. Especially after a heavy rain, the boxes become somewhat brittle and start breaking, he says. Many bee keepers face this problem, according to him, and he also underwent the same. So he worked on an alternative. I built a box using cuddapah stones (the ones used in the kitchen). The boxes are heavy and cannot be moved from one place to another but they last a lifetime, he says. Is it practical and commercially feasible to rear bees in metros? The few trees and plant species inside the cities don't contain pesticides or toxic residues unlike crops in the fields. The atmosphere might be polluted, but this does not affect the insects unlike the toxic residues from chemical sprayed crops. Not for personal income On the personal front I don't rear bees for money only to study them. I find that the insects thrive well in cities, especially in the second floor of any multistoreyed building. Usually people fear the sting of the bees. But the insects after some years become very friendly, like any other pet, he says. They crawl on the hands but seldom sting. In fact some western studies also suggest that bees can be very good in reciprocating certain feelings, he adds. In India, many people think of the bees as just insects producing honey. But without them decline in food supply is certain in the near future. Not just humans, farm animals will also suffer as some of the feed like alfa alfa grass they feed on is pollinated by the bees, seems to be his conviction. Global ranking India ranks second to China in the global map in vegetable production and researchers say that abundance of pollinators and good productivity are interlinked. A decline in the pollinators results in reduced yields. Apart from some birds and animals, bees are the nature's way of increasing crop productivity and acreage. The loss of natural service can create a long term impact on the farming sector, according to Mr. Swaminathan. If you go through the website of the United Nations Food and Agricultural organisation (FAO) you can read a report that mentions that in more than 100 crops that provide 90 per cent of food supplies for 140 countries, 71 are bee pollinated (others being pollinated by different sources), he adds.. Honeybees can fly 3-5 kilometres from their hives in the morning and return in the evening at the same time. The insects visit flowers and collect pollen and nectar. This pollen and nectar is then processed in the hive into food.
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Excretion The digested pollen needs to be excreted. Bee excretion means releasing a few drops of pale yellow coloured fluid resembling a water drop. It is referred to as bee dung The bees normally use an area within a radius of 10-30 meters of the beehive as a toilet zone. It is estimated that an average beehive produces as much as 45-50 kg of bee dung a year, neatly deposited around the beehive as high nitrogenous manure. When it rains, this pollen dung gets washed into the soil, breaks down and provides an excellent natural fertilizer. Hence, to a farmer rearing bees in a field to pollinate the crop, he gets an additional bonus in the form of manure, he explains. Renting out the hives Already I am getting calls from several farmers to rent out my beehives to them. In fact, across the country hiring beehives is fast becoming a practice for those desirous of increasing their yield. My suggestion to farmers is they must come forward and set up at least 3-4 boxes in their fields and backyard, and personally experience the gain the insects deliver to them, he adds. For more details contact Mr. Swaminathan at email:, mobile: 9487887800.

Big breakfast does not help in shedding weight

In a study, a big breakfast (400kcal more than a small one) resulted in a total increase over the day of about 400kcal. Skipping a mid- morning snack after the breakfast did not offset the extra calories.

Big city holds empty promise for bats

In the treeless prairie, you'd think a city would provide a good home for bats who like to snuggle up in trees and buildings. But a study found that the urban landscape is far from ideal for these animals.

Bio fertilizers for tree cultivation Bio-electrical signals' role in head formation
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New research shows that bioelectrical signals are necessary for normal head and facial formation in an organism like frog, and have captured that process in a time-lapse video of an embryonic tadpole.

Bioengineering to generate healthy skin

The potential for auto regeneration of stem cells from skin may lead to the creation of a patient's entire cutaneous surface in the lab. This prospect is under study by using a combination of biological and tissue engineering.

Bio-input good substitute for FYM in pulses

Pulses constitute a group of crops of the legume family which, with the help of Rhizoblum, symbiotic bacteria in their root nodules, fix atmospheric nitrogen and improve soil fertility. These crops are generally included in rotation in most of the areas in the country and have helped to keep the soil alive and productive. They also cultivated as pure crops, mixture crops, inter crops, bund crops and border crops. They are also excellent forage and cattle feed. Key role Inspite of the key role played by these pulses in dietary and soil life, the area and production remains the same. The productivity fluctuates at low profile, compared to other countries. Due to poor organic fertilizers in the soil enrichment of soil with organic matter is an uphill task for the farmers due to non availability of organic fertilizers especially farm yard manures (FYM). Suitable substitute A research was carried out at National Pulses Research Centre, Vamban, Pudukottai district (NPRC), to find out suitable substitute for FYM with biofertilizers in order to sustain the productivity, with organic, inorganic and in combination of both. The study reveals that seed treatment with Rhizobium in combination with phosphorus solubilising bacteria (PSB) at 500g/20 Kg seeds for one hectare along with application of 12.5:25:12.5:10Kg NPKS/ha recorded equal yield as compared to application of FYM at 5 tonnes/ha. Application The application of Rhizobium fixes atmospheric nitrogen to the tune of 25 per cent and phospho bacterium releases the unavailable form of phosphorus to available form thereby, the crop absorbs the above nutrients easily from the soil.
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Therefore it is advocated to farmers that in the event of non availability of FYM, Rhizobium and PSB can be applied along with the recommended dose of NPKS/ha under rainfed situation without reduction in yield. However application of farmyard manure should be done in the next year (one year biofertilizer followed by FYM in the next year) for soil fertility build up. K. Vairavan Dean, Agricultural College and Research Institute Madurai, Tamil Nadu

Biological control a safe component of IPM Bionic arm works on mind power
In a chapter straight out of sci-fi, scientists have fashioned a bionic arm by connecting nerves from an amputee's stump to his chest muscles to make it work seemingly on mind power. When the amputee wishes to move his chest muscles, the signals are picked up by the nerves previously connected to the amputated arm and interpreted by a computer that relays the information to the prosthesis. Jesse Sullivan was the first to undergo the surgery eight years ago. The new limb was based on research that found nerves in a stump, following an amputation, remain healthy for a short time. Scientists at Northwestern University in the U.S. are now looking at how different patterns of brain activity can be used to control prosthetic limbs, the Daily Mail reports. Nate Bunderson, who led the research, said: If you transfer the nerves (from the stump) to healthy muscles, then you can amplify the brain signals used to control the arm. We can use those signals to control the device. The team has fine-tuned the system that interprets the brain signals, giving the patients control over a wider range of movements. Whereas most amputees lose control of the nerves over time because they are no longer being used to control muscles, Sullivan's signals appear to become stronger. Bunderson said this effect could be due to the brain getting used to the re-wired pathways. IANS

Bionic eye restores sight

Limited trials of a bionic eye that could restore sight to the blind have produced astonishing results, says a new study. The tiny implantable microchip permitted patients, who had given up on seeing again, read a clock and identify daily objects. The wafer-thin device is to be implanted for the first time in Oxford and
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London, with surgery scheduled within weeks, the Daily Mail reported. Most of the middle-aged patients were to be treated for retinitis pigmentosa. A microchip packed with 1,500 light sensors is implanted to the back of the eye. The sensors convert light to electrical signals, which stimulate nerves in the retina to pass down signals to optic nerve which would gap into the brain to form an image. IANS

Bionic specs for the blind to see

Scientists are developing smart and sleek bionic spectacles. The spectacles, they say could soon be on sale and help hundreds of thousands of blind people in the world experience the gift of sight. The smart spectacles, being developed by a scientific team at the Oxford University in the United Kingdom, uses minuscule cameras and a pocket computer to alert wearers to objects and people ahead. Cheap, lightweight The cheap and lightweight glasses, which could be on sale by 2014 following successful trials, would make it easier for the blind to navigate roads in busy neighborhoods and even read bus numbers, the researchers said. Elderly people with age-related macular degeneration are likely to be the biggest beneficiaries, theDaily Mail reported. Past technological endeavours to create such a device have resulted in large dark spectacles accompanied by clunky cameras and bulky computers. But advances in technology mean it should be possible to create bionic spectacles that look almost indistinguishable from standard glasses. Importantly, a price tag of less than a thousand pounds should make them affordable, the researchers told the Royal Society's Summer Science Exhibition. It is satisfying to think that we will be able to produce this at a cost that is going make it available to the people who will benefit the most, according to Dr Stephen Hicks, who has completed the basic research and is now working on prototype spectacles. He envisages transparent glasses with lenses studded with small light-emitting diodes and cameras the size of a pinhead at the outside top corners of the frame. The cameras will photograph the information the eyes should see and send the images through a cable to a mobile phone-sized computer which could be placed in the wearer's pocket. Pattern of dots The computer will process the information and simplify it into a pattern of dots. The Light Emitting Diodes in the lenses then light up in that pattern, giving the wearer vital information about what lies ahead. PTI

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Birds evolved upright due to skeletal muscles

A new theory of the origin of birds, traditionally thought to be driven by the evolution of flight, credits the emergence of enlarged skeletal muscles as the basis for their upright two-leggedness.

Blue Brain Project: modelling the human brain in the lab

Science has advanced in the Second Millennium in ways that we now challenge ourselves into doing what we could not have earlier. We have embarked on an experiment to determine the ultimate particle of which all nuclei, atoms, molecules and materials are made anywhere on earth or in the vast sky. We look for the God particle. We have sent man-made crafts to other planets, and have made machines and tools that enquire whether life exists elsewhere in the sky, and whether there are other planets similar to ours that may supports life- second earths. We have read the book of human life, the 3.2 billion- letter-long code of DNA that makes us what we are. But the book of life tells us how our body works. DNA determines the physiology and biochemistry. What about the brain? Can we model' the human brain in the laboratory? How do the trillions of cells in our brain connect with one another so that it can do all that it does pick up information from the outside world, make sense out of it and act, learn things and control our thoughts? There are two ways to approach this grand challenge. One is to try and understand the neurons (nerve cells) of lower organisms worms, flies, fish, rats and such, and build on this knowledge. This involves experiments on the normal organism and on its mutants its cousins who are born (or tampered with in the lab) with one or more neural problem. Many biologists are involved in such experiments, and several more directly study humans with neurological problems and try to make sense out of the basis behind such errors in the brain. This field is busy; every year as many as 60,000 papers are published in this area of neuroscience. But we need to learn from them, bring the pieces together and make sense out of them. This approach is incremental, building from what we have learnt and plan new experiments there from. With advent of computers, another approach called in silico (since computers use silica chips) has emerged. This exploits the fact that information is collected and collated in the brain via connections between neurons; based on the results of such neural interactions, the brain processes the information and acts on it. So
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then, why not model this using the computer? By the mid-1970s, information technology had advanced to such a level that companies, notably IBM, had thought of modelling the thought behind chess games that we humans play. The advanced computers programming that they did at that time was christened Deep Thought (a term coined by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, including Dr. Thomas Anantharaman). By the 1990s, IBM had put together a then gigantic computer system that was named Blue Gene' (blue being the nickname for IBM, and gene referring to the kind of biologically realistic model of DNA-based and protein- based information processing). One of the noteworthy programming done using the capabilities of Blue Gene was to play chess. Real chess involves calculating the consequences of moving pieces from place to place, each step determined by the possible consequences of what the opponent does in response, with the ultimate aim of winning. Having done this, Blue Gene challenged a human champion, Gary Kasparov, to a series of chess games. (Comfortingly for us, the human won over the machine then, but who knows what tomorrow has to offer). It is these advances in computers that led Dr. Henry Markram of Ecole Polytechnique Federal de Lausanne, Switzerland, to think of creating supercomputer models of the brain that would be accurate to the last biological details. To this end, he has put together what he calls the Blue Brain Project (the blue here symbolizing supercomputers). The approach of Blue Brain is binary. It uses the information available from the hundreds of thousands of publications of neuroscientists on one hand, and ability of computer programmers to create connectivities between the millions of neurons in silico on the other. Combining the two, he expects to build a facility that would aim at data integration and help build brain models. What has been achieved so far? His group was able to incorporate data collected from genetics, cell signalling pathways and electrophysiology, and program them on a supercomputer. And by 2006, they were able to simulate one of the neocortical columns of the brain of a rat. The neocortex is that part of the brain responsible for higher functions such as thought and consciousness. The neocortex of the rate consists of many columns, each 2 mm tall and 0.5 mm thick and has 10,000 neurons, which are interconnected through synapses (connecting junctions or solders'). The number of such synapses in one such rat column is 100 million. The task is thus not trivial and Markram believes that by the next a few months, a cellular circuit of 100 neocortical columns and a million cells will have been built. And given enough money, it should be possible in about 10 years hence, to get the first to the first draft of a unified model of the human brain. It will not be a complete model, but one that will account for what we know. Believable Boast by the Builder of the Blue Brain! Hope the Bursaries Buy it! (An interview of Dr Markram by Greg miller appears in the 11 November 2011 issue of Science ). D. Balasubramanian
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Blueberries may inhibit development of obesity

Now, a researcher has examined if blueberries could play a role in reducing one of today's greatest health challenges: obesity. Blueberry polyphenols inhibited obesity at a molecular stage.

Blueberries protected in American gene-bank

Familiar blueberries and their wild relatives are safeguarded by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) at America's official blueberry gene-bank to ensure their protection for future generations.

Blueberry diet guards against high BP

Eating blueberries can guard against high blood pressure. Compared with those who do not eat blueberries, those eating at least one serving a week reduce their risk by 10 per cent.

Body armour hindered medieval warriors

The French may have had a better chance at the Battle of Agincourt had they not been weighed down by heavy body armour, say researchers.

Body language modulates the accompanying spoken word

People use gestures and body movements as they talk. Some use more body language than others. The Italians are famous for this, as are we Indians. It is often said that if you stop a Tamilian from shaking his head as he speaks, he turns speechless. And that if you stop an Italian (or a young American now) from moving his hands, he turns dumb. How then does a gesture add to (or subtract from) to the words you utter? Non-verbal behaviour of this kind modulates the accompanying spoken word. It can supplement and enhance the meaning of the spoken word, and
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contribute nuances. Positive nuances These nuances may be positive (as the way our heads shake as we say yes. Check yourself next time), or can be such that the alternate meaning is clear from the way they are expressed nonverbally, with the tone of voice, facial expression or shrug of shoulders. An outstanding example that today's kids us is the word whatever which is said in a bored way, along with an accompanied gesture. How much then do gestures contribute to the spoken word and vocabulary? This has been a topic of research among cognitive scientists. Interest comes from diverse angles. One is the value of gestures in teaching a child in learning words and increasing vocabulary. And the other is related to group discussions and conference calls using the telephones, Skype and related technologies. Some of these are in virtual environment, lacking body gestures or face-to-face communications. Newer development A newer development here is the introduction of what are known as selfanimated avatars. In these, the participants are asked to wear virtual reality suits (which can track and reproduce body motion) and interact with others. (The word Avatar here needs no explanation!) The question raised is: Is self-animated avatars contribute better to interpersonal communications than before? Do they perform better than avatars that are deliberately kept static (body motions or gestures blinded out)? This was the question that a group in the Max Planck Institute for biological cybernetics at Tubingen, Germany set out to answer (in collaboration with a group in Korea University, Seoul), in their paper that has appeared in PLoS One (Oct 2011, e 25 759). Their experiments involved pairs of participants, each wearing a headmounted virtual environment display unit, and where one player had to describe the meanings of words to the other. They could interact only through avatars (not direct face to face). In one experiment, both could use animated avatars, while in the second experiment, they remained static (or used pre-recorded gestures). The best performances were obtained only when both avatars could move in correspondence with the movements of the player. This meant that body language was important for understanding. When the avatars were static, results were poorer. The researchers also noted that communications using virtual environments was not as effective as in real (face to face) situations. Virtual environment helps but does not replace reality. It can however be used for medical training, urban planning and telecommunications. Body gestures are thus vital to communications, whether virtual or real avatars. Note that the body is biology while animated avatar is artifice. When body language becomes an important component of inter-personal communication, it should then have a biological, evolutionary basis. That it is so is clear when we look at a human baby. She/he starts gesturing for
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communication at around the age of 9 months. Not only does she gesture for her needs but also to communicate what interests her. And there is a positive relation between parent gesture and child gesture. Even more importantly early child gesture predicts later child vocabulary. A child who gestures early and is gestured to early, learns to speak and increase her vocabulary sooner than one who is not gestured too often (this was shown by Susan Goldin Meadow and others in Dev. Sci.12, 182, 2009 ). When a child points to a doll, and the mother says yes, it is a doll, a word has been provided for the object gestured at. This is of course why pre-school and kindergarten teachers gesture along with the words when they teach the kids rhymes and songs. Common in primates Gesture-based communications are quite common in other primates such as orangutans and chimpanzees, which cannot speak but use a variety of hand, feet and limb gestures to communicate among themselves and also with their human care-takers. Dr. Amy Follick of Emory University, Atlanta has been able to distinguish 31 manual gestures and is 18 facial/vocal gestures. Several meanings She further notes that while a vocal phrase or syllable is limited in meaning, the same hand gesture can have several context-based meanings. (Interestingly, the open-handed begging for food gesture is one that the chimpanzee has handed over to us as an ancestral legacy). Gesturing thus has an evolutionary history. The most recent instance is that of ravens (which are cousins of the common crow) gesturing to each other through their beaks to point out objects the raven expression of look at that! This study of raven communications Simone Pika and Thomas Bugnyan of Vienna appears naturally enough in Nature Communications (2011:2:560). What next? Crabs? Fish? Bacteria gesturing to each other through their flagella? D. BALASUBRAMANIAN

Body's adaptive response to low-dose irradiation

A growing number of specialists think that low dose radiation exposure is not as harmful as was thought of so far. Recently, Italian researchers claimed that low dose radiation exposure at levels considered safe by regulatory bodies can induce biological and cellular changes that might offset the hazards of radiation. Probably, at low doses there may be protective mechanisms at work. They studied interventional cardiologists a group most exposed to ionizing radiation among health professionals.
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Per capita exposure They have a per capita exposure 2 to 3 times higher than that of radiologists; their exposure has increased steadily in the past 20 years. The researchers led by Dr Gian Luigi Russo, Institute of Food Sciences, National Research Council, Rome, reported their study on-line, in the August 23, 2011 issue of the European Heart Journal. The study groups included ten healthy interventional cardiologists with an average age of 38 years, with a median radiation exposure of 4.7 mSv per year and lifetime exposure ranging between 20 to 100 mSv, working in the cardiac catheterization unit and 10 matched unexposed controls recruited from among the hospital and laboratory workers who did not have radiation exposure. (The annual dose limit to radiation workers recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection is 20 mSv averaged over five years with the exposure not to exceed 50 mSv in any one year) The researchers measured many markers of oxidative metabolism in plasma, and in other blood constituents such as red blood cells (erythrocytes) and white blood cells (lymphocytes) in the two groups. In the exposed group, there was a threefold increase in hydrogen peroxide, a biochemical marker indicative of oxidative stress. Not surprising, as water is a major constituent of human body. Antioxidant level The researchers expected that the antioxidant level in the exposed group will be different compared with that in the unexposed controls. However, they did not observe any significant change in the level in the two groups. May be because the bodies of the exposed groups generated adaptive response by activating antioxidant defence mechanisms to counteract the increase in hydrogen peroxide levels. The study demonstrated that in interventional cardiologists, chronic exposure to low dose radiation induces two specific types of cellular defences against oxidative stress. Firstly, the oxidative stress was found to be counterbalanced by a 1.7 fold increase in glutathione, a measure of antioxidant response in the exposed group. Secondly, the cardiologists exposed to radiation had significantly higher levels of caspase-3 activity in their white blood cells. Programmed cell deaths Capase-3 is a biochemical which is implicated in programmed cell deaths. Capase-3 helps to eliminate damaged cells. Both mechanisms may compensate for the unbalanced reactive oxygen species and contribute to maintain relatively stable equilibrium in the cell. Though the researchers saw adaptive responses at low dose radiation, they did not go overboard. The unprecedented radiation exposure of the interventional cardiologists and the staff in the cardiac catheterization laboratory represents a challenge and an opportunity for the cardiology community, the researchers clarified. They urged the physicians to minimize radiation injury hazard to their patients, to
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their professional staff and to themselves. It is also an opportunity, since highly exposed interventional cardiologists are a suitable, perhaps unique, model to understand the still elusive mechanisms to biological adaptation to chronic exposure to low dose radiation, the researchers suggested. The emphasis The findings of the present study emphasize that a level of radiation exposure considered safe' by regulatory standards can induce profound biochemical and cellular adaptation. We do not know whether these are adaptive modifications or hint at other relevant pathologies. Their clinical meaning remains uncertain. If cellular damage, if any, due to irradiation is repaired, are we sure that the repair is perfect? This preliminary study, if extended suitably, has the potential to provide answers to many vexing questions in the field of prolonged, low level radiation exposure. K.S. PARTHASARATHY (Raja Ramanna Fellow in the Department of Atomic Energy) Chronic exposure to low doses induces two types of cellular defences against oxidative stress It is not certain that repair of cellular damage due to irradiation is perfect

Boiling and evaporation

Usually evaporation is caused by boiling. To form a cloud, water in the ocean, lake etc evaporates without boiling. How? VIJETH J. SHETTY Udipi, Karnataka Evaporation is the physical process by which molecules of a liquid leave the liquid surface into the vapour phase. This takes place at all temperatures with temperature dependant rate of evaporation and leads the liquid-vapour system towards equilibrium when the local atmosphere attains saturation. The partial pressure at this stage is called the saturation vapour pressure. Evaporation stops after this stage is attained unless the vapour is removed from the interface, at least locally. Boiling, on the other hand, is the process by which evaporation of liquid is thermally forced into the vapour phase even beyond saturation, a condition known as supersaturation. At the interface, that is the surface of boiling liquid, the temperature is high and the equilibrium vapour concentration is very high, at regions away from the surface, the temperature is low, thus the available amount of the water vapour is beyond the saturation concentration for that temperature or the condition of super saturation is attained.

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In the water-air system, applicable to evaporation of water into the atmosphere, the water molecules leave the water surface at a rate commensurate with the existing temperature. Also, evaporation being a surface phenomenon, the evaporation rate is proportional to the area of the exposed surface. Hence, in large water bodies like ponds, lakes and oceans, the amount of water transforming into vapour phase is considerably large even at ambient temperatures, far below the boiling point which is 100 degrees Celsius. Further, this water vapour which saturates the air just above the water body, gets swept away by wind which replaces the saturated air by fresh air containing less of water vapour. And, water vapour is lighter than the air and so, the water vapour floats up. Both the above processes make the air in contact with the water surface, under saturated. This leads to further evaporation of water from the water body. The vapour which floats up in the atmosphere until the density of air and the density of water vapour match. In this region of the atmosphere, the accumulation of water vapour forms the cloud mass. PROF. H. K. SAHU Chennai Mathematical Institute, Chennai

Bone loss prevention experiment on Atlantis

An experiment has been painstakingly prepared aboard the space-shuttle Atlantis aimed at revealing strategies to protect future astronauts from bone loss during extended exposure to micro-gravity. Researchers in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill/North Carolina State University Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering will be at the Kennedy Space Center for the last space shuttle launch of the NASA program as Atlantis departs for its final mission into Earth's orbit. With July 8, 2011 as the target launch date, the experiment team is led by Ted Bateman, associate professor. In addition to the human crew Atlantis will be host to thirty of its smallest passengers mice that might help humans one day travel far beyond the moon. These mice are integral to Bateman's research on bone and muscle health in microgravity, according to a University of North Carolina School of Medicine press release. Rapid bone loss, an accelerated osteoporosis, results from removing gravitational loading. Such exposure will be unavoidable for interplanetary missions such as a round-trip to Mars, explains Bateman. We know that this will cause a decline in bone strength of approximately three per cent per month. When astronauts return, the recovery is incomplete. On extended missions, beyond six months up to three years, such as on a Mars mission, this loss is going to be substantial. The study will explore how weightlessness in space affects mouse bone tissue
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at the molecular level, studying the changes in protein expression by loadsensing bone cells called osteocytes. Osteocytes are the bone cells primarily responsible for communicating changes in forces and loads to other cells that affect bone mass and strength. Normally, these cells send a signal in the form of a protein called sclerostin to control bone formation. Though it has never been tested, we expect that during spaceflight, with the removal of gravitational loading, sclerostin levels will increase significantly, Bateman said. We believe this increase in sclerostin signal may be a primary reason why bone formation is reduced in astronauts and mice when they are in microgravity. The study may offer a potential treatment for Earth-based osteoporosis as a novel way to increase bone formation and prevent fractures. Our Bureau

Bone-like material from 3-D printer

It looks like bone. It feels like bone. For the most part, it acts like bone. And it came off a three- dimensional inkjet printer.

Born cataract blind: how the brain rewires as sight is regained

Can a child, blind for several years since birth, benefit from optical correction of the eye? Is the brain plastic enough to make use of the information from the eyes later on in life? These are the questions that had interested Professor Pawan Sinha of the Cognitive Sciences department of MIT in Cambridge, MA, U.S. Starting with these, he had gone ahead and discovered a variety of surprising (and happy) results on how the human brain adapts to experiences and challenges. Why human? I have specified the term human' above for a reason. All experiments to answer the above questions had so far been done on animals, with depressing results. They had suggested that there exists a critical (presumably short) period for visual learning after sight is restored. But these are a boon for animals, invariably on dark-reared cats. Sinha set to research on humans. To this end, he has combined service with science. Through a scheme that he funds, called Project Prakash, he has helped many Indian children in Delhi, Rajasthan and UP, who were born cataract blind, regain sight through cataract surgery. He then studies them in an effort to answer the above question. Several novel things
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His studies on these people have revealed several novel things hereto unknown. The first is that there may not be a critical time period at all. Be it 10 years or even 22 years after birth, when sight is given, the individual is able to learn a variety of functions using vision. Some of these are shape matching, colour matching, face recognition and so forth. Where and how do these functions occur in the brain? Sinha answers these by doing functional magnetic resonance imaging or FMRI on these individuals. FMRI is an admirable, clever tool that monitors the flow and use of blood as it passes through cells and tissues, giving them oxygen for metabolism. The iron in the haemoglobin in blood is magnetic and its property changes as it takes up and releases oxygen. You thus place the individual in the FMRI machine that looks like a bed with a tunnel-like cover (containing the magnetic field) in which you place his head. You now ask the person to do a task, and monitor which part of his brain (one of the hemispheres, occipital lobe, cortex, etc) is active and lights up as he performs the function. Using FMRI on several volunteers who benefited from Project Prakash, Sinha finds a novel result. That not only do these subjects look and learn, but their responses are registered (hard -wired, if you will) in specific regions of the brain. The brain is indeed plastic, making new and location-specific neural connections within its parts, and this happens regardless of when sight was restored after birth. How does such a person (or for that matter, we as growing infants) match the various sensations? The question In this connection, note the question which the scientist William Molyneux posed three centuries ago to the British philosopher John Locke. He asked Suppose a man born blind and targets by his touch to distinguish between a cube and a globe. Suppose the blind man be made to see; query, whether by his sight , before he touched them he could now distinguish and tell which is the globe, and which the cube? When Sinha posed this question to the audience, a majority of them said he would. Wrong! He cannot, at first sight. The tactile sense is not necessarily transferred into the visual sense. A correlation between the two needs to be learnt which, of course, is easily done. Integrating patterns Sinha's work has further shown that as vision is acquired in the early stages, there appear to be some difficulties in integrating patterns. Motion or movement of the object appears necessary for such integration. A subject shown two squares on the computer screen calls them (rightly) two. When they partly overlap, he calls them three (two original ones, plus the overlap region counted as the third). But when the two squares are shown moving, and overlapping, the subject recognizes them as two moving objects. Motion cues
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Motion cues thus provide critical information for object integration and segregation. It is this dynamic information processing that allows us to integrate various cues such as face perception, perceiving causality, touch to vision mapping and so on. With time and learning, these become normal or second nature. We thus see in these newly sighted people an image of what all we ourselves went through to integrate the various cues, and incorporate them in our brains, as we developed visual perception and acuity in all its dimensions, as we grew from birth to childhood. It is never too late to learn and master. Lastly, what was Locke's answer to Molyneux? For though he has obtain'd the experience of, how, a globe, how a cube, affects his touch; yet he has not attained the experience, that what affects his touch so or so, must affect his sight so or so.; Or that a protuberant angle in the cube, that pressed his hand unequally, shall appear to his eye as it does in the cube. This was the style of English prose of 1694. Simply said, he meant no. D. BALASUBRAMANIAN

Brain growth in chimps unlike that of humans

Baby chimpanzees don't show the same dramatic increase in the volume of prefrontal white matter in the brain that human infants do, according to a study that is the first to track the development of the chimpanzee brain over time.

Brain hardwired to like simple music patterns

The brain simplifies complex patterns, the way that lossless' music compression formats reduce audio files, by removing redundant data and identifying patterns. We are hardwired to find simple patterns pleasurable.

Brain regions only for language

There are parts of our brain dedicated only to language, a finding that marks a major advance in the search for specialised brain regions.

Brain's radio stations' reveal a lot

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Like adjusting a high-tech radio, scientists have tuned into precise frequencies of brain activity for new insights into how the brain works.

Brains of small spiders overflow into their legs

Smithsonian researchers report that the brains of tiny spiders are so large that they fill their body cavities and overflow into their legs. As the spiders get smaller, their brains get proportionally bigger.

Break the barriers between researchers and ryots

For a farmer, the field is office and a good crop means a rewarding salary. If he manages to get a little extra then he considers it as a bonus. In a country, where agriculture is supposed to be thousands of years old, isnt it an irony that a majority of its farmers are not happy financially, says Mr. P. Jayaram, a progressive farmer in Bangalore growing grapes, tomato, vegetables and mulberry in 15 acres. Who is to be blamed for the present crises? Accountability is a must There is no use in passing the buck. Accountability is a must, Of what use are all the financial schemes and bank loans, all claiming to be in the farmers interest? Most of these are only on paper. Do you know the difficulty in getting a Rs.10,000 small-crop loan from a bank? Ask a farmer and he will tell you. And today we are able to buy a Rs. 5 lakh car in a few hours over the phone. Is this a healthy economy? he asks. I am not disputing the fact that the facilities and comforts are today a necessity, but in the name of new luxuries, farmers and agriculture should not be bartered, he contends. Role of media India being an agrarian country, it is the duty of journalists to identify and suggest solutions to burning problems of villages, instead of only reporting on deaths and suicides, Mr. Jayaram argues, calling on the media to be proactive in this. A journalists report must be like a platform to record, show, inform the society about farming experiences in villages, and their traditional methods of conserving land, water etc. According to him, though farmers are true scholars in their area, in reality they are not treated so. Often the brick compound wall and wire fences erected around agriculture research centres keep them away from approaching these places.
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Being shy and reserved by nature, a farmer naturally gets flabbergasted by the security at the gate and the protocols involved in such centres, he says. Till date I have never heard or seen any instance where a farmer treats his guests anything but cordially. But the same farmer seldom receives the same courtesy in agricultural offices or research centres he visits. Not be a barrier Such a treatment of the farmers is not acceptable. The high walls of the research centres should be limited to safeguard the privacy of research, and must not become a barrier between the minds of the researchers and the farmers, explains Mr. Jayaram. In fact it is their knowledge and skills that should be sought after by those in agricultural varsities. Scientific farming should evolve involving true scholars the farmers, according to him. The fact to be noted here is that though the famine or flood does not seem to affect a politician a beauraucrat or businessman - it is only the farmer who endures the loss and suffers. Needs money Have you ever heard about a person from any other profession committing suicide due to crop failure, he asks. Seeds, fertilizers, insecticides etc. do not come free of cost. Even such a basic profession as farming needs money. And the farmer needs financial assistance. Drawn by the several advertisements, that endorse these financial institutions, a farmer buys the seeds and sows it with hopes of high yields. When he fails to get a good yield the company that supplied the seeds does not take any reponsibility, and the agriculture experts keep tight lipped. This is the case prevailing in many villages, asserts Mr. Jayaram. Indirect support By lowering the rate of interests time and again, the government too indirectly encourages them to take such financial assistance, making them lifelong debtors. The hope of a getting a good yield remains just a dream for a poor farmer. For more details readers can contact Mr. P. Jayaram, Byrdhenahalli, Devanahalli taluk, Bangalore rural, mobile: 09740963352 and 09591527526.

Breakthrough in hydrogen fuel cells

Hydrogen makes a great fuel because of it can easily be converted to electricity in a fuel cell and because it is carbon free. The downside of hydrogen is that, because it is a gas, it can only be stored in high pressure or cryogenic tanks. A team of University of Southern California scientists has developed a robust, efficient method of using hydrogen as a fuel source. In a vehicle with a tank full of hydrogen, if you got into a wreck, you'd have a problem, said Travis Williams, assistant professor of chemistry at the
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University of Southern California Dornsife College. A possible solution is to store hydrogen in a safe chemical form. Earlier this year, Williams and his team figured out a way to release hydrogen from an innocuous chemical material a nitrogen-boron complex, ammonia borane that can be stored as a stable solid, says a University of Southern California press release. Now the team has developed a catalyst system that releases enough hydrogen from its storage in ammonia borane to make it usable as a fuel source. Moreover, the system is air-stable and re-usable, unlike other systems for hydrogen storage on boron and metal hydrides. The research was published this month in the Journal of the American Chemical Society . The system is sufficiently lightweight and efficient to have potential fuel applications ranging from motor-driven cycles to small aircraft, he said. Our Bureau

Breathing new life into Earth

Very early in Earth's history, O {-2} was a rare if not completely absent player in the turbulent mix of primordial gases. It wasn't until the Great Oxidation Event' (GOE), nearly 2.3 billion years ago, when oxygen made any measurable dent in the atmosphere, stimulating the evolution of air-breathing organisms and, ultimately, complex life as we know it today. Today, oxygen takes up a hefty portion of Earth's atmosphere: Life-sustaining O {-2} molecules make up 21 per cent of the air we breathe. Now, new research from MIT suggests O {-2} may have been made on Earth hundreds of millions of years before its debut in the atmosphere, keeping a low profile in oxygen oases' in the oceans. Tiny aerobic organisms The MIT researchers found evidence that tiny aerobic organisms may have evolved to survive on extremely low levels of the gas in these undersea oases. In laboratory experiments, former MIT graduate student Jacob Waldbauer, working with Professor of Geobiology Roger Summons and Dianne Newman, at the California Institute of Technology, found that yeast an organism that can survive with or without oxygen is able to produce key oxygendependent compounds, even with only minuscule puffs of the gas, according to an MIT press release. Similarly resourceful The findings suggest that early ancestors of yeast could have been similarly resourceful, working with whatever small amounts of O{-2}may have been circulating in the oceans before the gas was detectable in the atmosphere. The team published its findings last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences . The time at which oxygen became an integral factor in cellular metabolism was a pivotal point in Earth history, Summons says. The
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fact that you could have oxygen-dependent biosynthesis very early on in the Earth's history has significant implications. Waldbauer and colleagues suggest that perhaps O{-2}was in fact present on Earth 300 million years before it spiked in the atmosphere. Our Bureau

Brighter future for solar energy

The efficiency of conventional solar cells can be increased up to 66 per cent by using an organic plastic semiconductor material. It is based on harvesting double the number of electrons from one photon.

Bubble formation
Why do air bubbles form when we pour water from a height? V. SRIRAMKUMAR Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh When we pour water from a height, several other physical processes accompany the flow of the water stream. And many of these processes contribute to the observation of bubble formation at the base. It is simpler to analyze the phenomenon for a case with regular and ideal geometry; let us take that the pouring is done from a circular opening and at a constant flow rate. However, the discussion holds good for any other geometry and flow rate. The water stream starts from this opening as a right circular cylinder at the beginning, but as it descends down, the velocity of the stream increases and because the flow rate is constant, its cross section must decrease; the stream tapers to a narrower cross section. As the velocity increases continuously till it hits the bottom, turbulence in the molecular motion of the water molecules within the stream starts and the stream develops irregular cross section exhibiting the tendency to branch. Eventually, the stream degenerates to a dropping assembly of water drops. Thus the pouring of water from a height results in downward travel of a mass of water in different forms at different heights. While this happens, the air mass surrounding the stream, either as continuous stream or as assembly of drops, gets dragged to travel along with the water stream. Each branch in the stream and each falling drop carry air along with it. Often the stream with irregular geometry traps some amount of air inside the stream itself. Thus, the visible poured water stream is a combination of both water and air traveling down together. When this falls into the container at the bottom, where some amount of water would already have got collected, the small amount of air also dips into the water. While the water part of the stream or drop joins seamlessly with the existing
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water, the air part appears as the bubbles and floats up because of the difference in density. In case the surrounding space is filled with some other gas, instead of air, the bubbles will contain that gas. Formation of bubbles is not specific to water, it can be seen while pouring other liquids, such as oil or honey, as well. However, if the liquid is viscous, the bubbles will take more time to float up to the surface. If the pouring is done in a closed envelope with near vacuum condition, there would not be enough air available to travel with the liquid stream and no bubbles will be observed. Similarly, if the enclosure has some gas that can be readily absorbed by the liquid, the gas would get absorbed partly by the liquid of the stream and rest by the liquid in the container, resulting in absence of observable bubbles. PROF. H. K. SAHU Chennai Mathematical Institute, Chennai

Butterflies copy their neighbours to fool birds

The butterfly's wing-pattern variation is due to genes controlling different elements of the pattern. By changing just one gene, the butterfly fools its predators by mimicking different butterflies that taste bad.

Butterfly legs taste' plants for egg laying study

A species of butterfly uses its legs to taste plants to see which leaves offer its eggs the best chance of survival, Japanese scientists said Wednesday. A group of researchers say they have shown for the first time that swallowtail butterflies have an array of sensors on their forelegs that allow them to get a flavour of the leaves they land on. The team, led by scientists at Osaka-based JT Biohistory Research Hall, said the larvae of plant-eating insects need specific types of plants to feed on. They said the female's ability to select the right plant on which to lay her eggs is key to the survival of the larvae when they hatch. Scientists said they found that swallowtails lay eggs only when they detect the presence of specific chemicals in the leaf as they drum their forelegs on the surface. New light The study casts new light on how different species use chemical detection to boost their chances of survival, the researchers said. Our findings open the way to identifying other receptors (used in the egg laying process) and to gaining a better understanding of the evolution of host
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plant selection by the butterfly, they said in the study, published in Nature Communications . Our Bureau

Call for more awareness on millet byproducts

Though our country is the largest producer of many kinds of millets, they are not as popular as it should be, given their health benefits. The major constraints being the drudgery involved in domestic processing. Value addition The value addition through processing technology received little attention restricting the utility range and consumption patterns of small millet grains. There is a need to revive and add value to the foods prepared from such grains to promote large scale production and consumption for wider health benefits, says Dr. B. Ranganna, Emeritus Scientist (ICAR), University of agricultural sciences, Bangalore. A study was undertaken to study the innumerable value added products made from millets and their popularization at the University. ICAR has been focusing on increasing the production and productivity of all small millets that are grown in the country, through its All India Co-ordinated Research Project on Small Millets (Headquarter is at UAS, Bangalore). We are presently engaged in collection, compilation and documentation of indigenous technical knowledge (ITK) on processing and utilization of small millets in India. In our research on making by products from millets we noticed that traditionally, the milled rice from the selected five small millets are used for the preparation of rice, he says. In some regions the rice is further size reduced and used as soji for upma preparation, and also rice is converted into flour and used for vermicilli preparation. Beyond this no product worth mentioning has been developed which could reach the urban population, says Dr. Ranganna. According to him the vision of the scientists is that malts from small millets should replace one day the commercial brands in the market, since nutritionally these are on par with them and can be made available to public at half the price. Malt drinks Malt drinks have been developed out of little millet, foxtail millet, kodo millet, proso millet and barnyard millet. These products are diabetic friendly (except the butter biscuit) due to low glycemic index. The major vision of this research study is to develop consumer friendly nutririch value added products that could be well accepted by all category of people of the society, he adds. For more details contact Dr. B. Ranganna, Emeritus Scientist (ICAR), PHT Scheme, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore 560 065, email:, mobile: 97400 10564
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Call to raise dwarf varieties of coconut palms

Director of State Horticulture Mission K. Prathapan has highlighted the need for growing dwarf varieties of coconut palms in Kerala. High cost of labour for harvesting the crop has been a handicap to coconut farmers. The situation may turn acute in future, he said. He was addressing a workshop organised by the All India Coconut Growers' Federation here recently. High yield Mr. Prathapan urged the federation to initiate a project for raising high-yielding dwarf varieties in Kerala. He said the scheme for cutting off senile trees and undertaking replanting operations be undertaken extensively. He said farmers should form clusters and take up activities of value addition. Scientific approach Earlier, inaugurating the workshop, Charles Dias, MP, said coconut farming needed a scientific approach. More research into methods of farming and appropriate marketing efforts would be required to make the cultivation viable, he said. High cost of labour for harvesting the crop has been a handicap to coconut farmers

Calorie labelling in the U.S. leads to more awareness

A study published in the British Medical Journal says around a sixth of fast food customers used calorie information and, on average, bought food with lower calories since the introduction of a labelling system in the U.S. Obesity rates in the US are at an all time high in both adults and children and currently a third of adults and 17 per cent of children and teenagers are obese. Customers often underestimate the number of calories in restaurant meals and before 2007, nutrition information was seldom available at the point of purchase. The U.S. researchers found there has been a small but positive impact from a law introduced in 2008 in New York requiring chain restaurants with 15 or more branches nationally to provide calorie information on menus and menu boards in the city. The team of researchers decided to assess the impact of the calorie labelling regulation on the energy content of individual purchases at fast food restaurants in New York City. Surveys were carried out during lunchtime hours
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in spring 2007 (one year before the regulation) and in spring 2009 (nine months after its implementation) at 168 randomly selected locations of the top 11 fast food chains in the city. Adult customers provided register receipts and answered survey questions. Data from 7,309 customers in 2007 and 8,489 customers in 2009 were analysed. Overall, there was no decline in calories purchased across the full sample. However, three major chains saw significant reductions. For example, at McDonalds, average energy per purchase fell by 5.3 per cent, at Au Bon Pain, it fell by 14.4 per cent and at KFC, it dropped by 6.4 per cent. Together, these three chains represented 42 per cent of all customers in the study. However, average energy content increased at one chain Subway by 17.8 per cent where large portions were heavily promoted. Analysis also showed that 15 per cent of customers reported using the calorie information and, on average, these customers purchased 106 fewer kilocalories than customers who did not see or use the calorie information. Our Bureau

Camera that is better than the human eye

A curvilinear camera, much like the human eye, with the significant feature of a zoom capability, unlike the human eye has been developed by researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign. The tuneable camera once optimized should be useful in many applications, including night-vision surveillance, robotic vision, endoscopic imaging and consumer electronics. The eyeball camera has a 3.5x optical zoom, takes sharp images, is inexpensive to make and is only the size of a nickel. (A higher zoom is possible with the technology.) We were inspired by the human eye, but we wanted to go beyond the human eye, said Yonggang Huang of Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, and co-author of the paper. Our goal was to develop something simple that can zoom and capture good images, and we've achieved that. The tiny camera combines the human eye and an expensive single-lens reflex (SLR) camera with a zoom lens. It has the simple lens of the human eye, allowing the device to be small, and the zoom capability of the SLR camera without the bulk and weight of a complex lens. The key is that both the simple lens and photodetectors are on flexible substrates, and a hydraulic system can change the shape of the substrates appropriately, enabling a variable zoom. Eyeball cameras developed earlier had rigid detectors.
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The research was published recently in the reputed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Our Bureau

Can ants forecast earthquakes?

It can't be a coincidence! thought Ulrich Schreiber, a geologist at the University of Duisburg-Essen, when he was bitten by an ant for the umpteenth time. Why did ants build their nests at the very spot of countryside where he did research on tectonics? Thus was born Schreiber's unusual and controversial hypothesis, namely that ants can forecast earthquakes. Not all ants, mind you, but hill-building red wood ants. Schreiber surmised that the ants liked to settle on fault systems, which is what geologists call the earthquake-prone areas of friction between tectonic plates. According to Schreiber, gases rising from the deep crust warm the ants' home. In addition, cavities within the faults may provide humidity near the surface that the ants can use. For two years Schreiber and his university colleagues have been monitoring two anthills in the upland Eifel region of western Germany with ant cams around the clock. Peculiar behaviour They found that the ants behaved in a peculiar way when minor subterranean earthquakes occurred nearby. The ants then displayed unusual nocturnal activity and appeared more frequently than normal on the surface, noted Schreiber, who said he suspected they were reacting to an increase in ascending gases. Quakerelated electromagnetic signals may also play a role, he said. Schreiber travelled to the Abruzzo region of central Italy after the devastating earthquake in L'Aquila two years ago and said he had found ant nests on geological fault lines there, too. He also wants to do research in Istanbul, where scientists expect a powerful earthquake in the near future. Although he concedes his research is still preliminary, Schreiber said he firmly believes that someday ants would save human lives by serving as an early warning system for earthquakes. DPA

Can chimps see sounds?

Can people be trained to associate colour with sound? A unique experiment involving six chimps and 33 humans showed that some kind of an association can be built between the two. Vera Ludwig, a cognitive neuroscientist at Charit Medical University in Berlin, Germany and colleagues from the Kyoto University first showed the chimps
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white or black boxes. They were then trained to select squares of the same colour on a screen. But each colour was accompanied by sound high tones for white and low tones for black. During the test, the scientists found that the animals correctly picked the colour 93 per cent of the time when the tone and colour were matched. The success rate fell sharply when they were reversed. Though humans made very few mistakes while choosing the correct colour, the decisions were made more quickly when colour and sound matched! Ludwig suggests that the synaesthesia or associations must have been present in the common ancestor of both species. But a few scientists doubt if such associations are indeed true synaesthesia. The results were published recently in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences .

Canada OKs assisted dying?

As per a report, assisted suicide should be legally permitted for competent individuals who make a free and informed decision.

Canola oil protects against colon cancer

Canola oil reduces the incidence of colon tumours in lab animals, suggesting its use in cooking may protect against colon cancer development.

Carbon cycling much smaller in last ice age

A reconstruction of plants' productivity and the amount of carbon stored in the ocean and terrestrial biosphere at the last ice age by scientists greatly increases our understanding of natural carbon cycle dynamics.

Carbon release rate 10 times that in the past

The rate of release of carbon into the atmosphere today is nearly 10 times that during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, 55.9 million years ago, the best analogue for current global warming, says a geological study.

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Cassava can address Vitamin A deficiency

There has been considerable effort aimed at biofortification; that is, increasing the amounts of available micronutrients in staple crops such as cassava, eaten in many of the world's arid regions, to address Vitamin A deficiency.

Cassini chronicles life of Saturn's giant storm

New images and animated movies from NASA's Cassini spacecraft chronicle the birth and evolution of the storm on the northern face of Saturn, for a year, from its emergence as a tiny spot, to its total encirclement of the planet.

Cassini delivers holiday treats from Saturn

Radio signals flying clear across the solar system from NASA's Cassini spacecraft have delivered a holiday package of glorious images , including those of Saturn's moon Titan and other icy baubles orbiting Saturn.

Ceiling fan
Why do the blades of a rotating ceiling fan gather more dust than the blades of a stationary fan (logically a rotating fan blade should disperse the dust)? V. JAGANNATHAN Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh Yes, logically, a rotating fan blade should disperse the dust. But dispersal of dust by fan blades does not preclude the latter from gathering some of the dust. Dispersal and gathering of dust by the fan blades are due to different independent mechanisms. In the present case, they act concurrently and each one has its own success. Take a small amount of ice cream and throw it gently unto a wall. It would slip down by its weight leaving a little only on the wall on a small area. Next, take the same amount of ice cream again and throw it, this time, with a faster throw. You can see most of the ice cream stuck to the wall and widely spread.
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A little amount only would slip. Larger the area of contact, larger is the amount a sticky matter adheres on another surface. When fan blades rotate, the fan blades make a hit' on the dust matter they come in contact. It implies a relative throw' of the dust unto the fan blades. By this impact, the otherwise-granular each sticky dust speck spreads out like a mat over the fan blades holding a larger contact area and thus each particle has enough grip on the fan blade to overcome the gravitational pull down and areal wipe off. In addition, this extra momentum allows the sticky matter to sink into the fine groves on the surface of the blades. In the case of stationary fan blades such impact does not originate and hence the dust particles which may come in contact to the blades by convectional Brownian motion alone would not get smeared on the surface and they soon either fall down by gravity or are swept away by the areal currents. Further, a moving blade harvests more dust particles than a stationary one by hunting a larger catchment area and also by drawing fresh air (along with dust) from behind, continuously. Thus, the chance of encountering sticky dust particles is better for the rotating ceiling fan blades than for the stationary blades. A. RAMACHANDRAIAH Editor, Vidyarthi Chekumuki Jana Vignana Vedika Andhra Pradesh

Cell phone
Why are we asked to switch off our mobile or keep in flight mode when we are travelling in a flight? K.V. SANDEEP Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh Airplanes, soon after takeoff and much before landing, fly at an altitude of higher than a kilometre during their flight. They have to ascend to these high altitudes for the aerial flight to avoid turbulence due to clouds and the clear air turbulence (CAT) present at low and normal altitudes. At such high altitudes, the pilots have to largely depend on the avionics and computer-assisted coded signal communications. The pilots know the flight location and destination besides other geographical details by guided commands from the Global Positioning System (GPS) which links the control tower, airplane cockpit and geostationary satellites. Further, they can know the weather and other meteorological conditions and directions of landing and takeoff at the airports, only through wireless communications from the control towers at the airports. In poor weather, the pilots use instrument landing system (ILS) to find the runway. Most of these avionics are remote operations and all the communications are in wireless radio and microwave semionics.
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All the wireless signal trafficking is accomplished by modulated radio and microwave transmissions which type the cell phones also owe their functioning to. If there are any mobile phones on board in the cabin of the flight in on' mode during takeoff, flight and landing, the microwave transmission between the mobile phone towers and the mobile phones might interfere with the communications the flights are busily engaged in (between the cockpit and the control towers). It is mainly on this risk of interference of the mobile phone microwave signals with the crucial and vital avionics and semionics of the flight operations, that the air passengers are instructed to keep their cell phones switched off or in flight mode. In the flight mode (also known as Airplane mode), all wireless radio and microwave communication features are disabled leaving only the entertainment functions such as music player, organizer, games, camera and other aspects that do not require the radio transceiver hardware activity. Some airline operators do not permit even the flight mode and the use of any kind of electronic devices on board. Anyway, the cell phones cannot serve as phones on board the flights because the cell phone towers on the ground cannot connect themselves to the phones at such high altitudes and such high flight speeds. PROF. A. RAMACHANDRAIAH Editor, Vidyarthi Chekumuki Jana Vignana Vedika, Andhra Pradesh

Cell phones: precautionary approach needed

In December 2010, Matt Parker, a British mathematician, tabulated the number of mobile phone masts in each county across the United Kingdom and then matched it with the number of live births in the same counties. He discovered that the correlation was so strong that in areas above normal numbers of mobile phones, he could predict how many more births above the national average occurred. Parker concluded that for every additional mobile phone base station in an area, the number of births goes up by an average of 17.6 babies! In reality, mobile phone masts have absolutely no bearing on the number of births. Masts do not make people more fertile. There is no causal link between the masts and the births despite the strong correlation. The number of mobile phone transmitters and the number of live births are linked to a third factor, the local population size. As the population of an area goes up, so do both the number of mobile phone users and the number of people giving birth. Instinctively we tend to assume that correlation means that one factor causes the other!
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Parker published a phoney press release highlighting his finding to see whether media outlets would jump to the incorrect conclusion that mobile phone radiation causes pregnancies. Main-stream media ignored the hoax release after checking out the facts. Some readers reacted differently. There were the expected people who clearly did not actually read what I wrote before seeing the headline and getting excited about this apparent scare story, but there were also seemingly endless comments from people who understood my correlation-causality project but could not help putting forward a possible causal link anyway Parker said. His headline to The Guardian article Mobile phone radiation linked to people jumping to conclusions was apt. Over the years, there has been differing news on the risks of radiation from mobile phones. A WHO booklet published in May 2010, stated that no adverse health effects have been established for mobile phone use. Studies are ongoing to assess potential long-term effects. WHO noted that there is an increased risk of road traffic injuries when drivers use mobile phones (either handheld or "hands-free") while driving. According to HPA (HPA, May 17,2010), there are thousands of published scientific papers covering research about the effects of various types of radio waves on cells, tissues, animals and people. HPA's views derived from them were identical to those of the WHO. Widespread use Given the uncertainties and the widespread use of mobile phone technology, HPA recommended a precautionary approach. This included a recommendation that excessive use of mobile phones by children should be discouraged. Every country must enforce international guidelines on mobile phone technology. Some possible effect In 2009, members of the ICNIRP (International Commission on Non Ionizing Radiation Protection; most countries have accepted the Commission's guidelines) Standing Committee on Biology noted that there is some evidence of an effect of exposure to a Global System for Mobile Telecommunication (GSM)-type signal on the spontaneous electroencephalogram (EEG). This may be of little functional significance since they did not observe significant effects on cognitive performance in adults. They noted that the effect is small and exposure seems to improve performance. The authors noted that symptoms such as headaches and migraine had been attributed to various radiofrequency sources both at home and at work. However, in provocation studies a causal relation between EMF exposure and symptoms has never been demonstrated. Psychological factors such as the conscious expectation of effect may play an important role in this condition (HPA, May 2010). There were suggestions that radiofrequency energy may cause brain tumours such as glioma In May 2010, the Interphone Study the largest of its kind in which thirteen countries including UK, Sweden, France and Germany collaborated concluded
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that overall, no increase in risk of brain tumours was observed with the use of mobile phones. There were suggestions of an increased risk of glioma at the highest exposure levels, but biases and error prevent a causal interpretation. The possible effects of long-term heavy use of mobile phones require further investigation"( International J. Epidemiology, 2010) Over all, we need not lose sleep on the potential harm of mobile phone radiation. Let us minimize mobile phone use as a precautionary measure and discourage children from using them. K.S. PARTHASARATHY Raja Ramanna Fellow, Department of Atomic Energy (

Changes in policy can curb price rise to some extent

Historian W H Moreland wrote on the agrarian system of Mughal India: The peasant is the last person to benefit from price rise while he is the first to suffer from a fall. It holds true even today. In spite of government initiatives, the prices for the consumers continue to rise and the farmers' share in the consumer price keeps falling. Sometime back in April last year when the price of onion cost Rs.4 a kg, no political party raised concern for the farmers. When the price suddently shot up to Rs.70 a kg, the media and political parties went berserk cancelling exports and import duty, conveniently forgetting the farmers, says Mr. Ajay Vir Jakhar, Chairman, Bharat Krishak Samaj, New Delhi. Members Nearly one lakh famers are members of the Samaj spread across the country and maintain regular contact through meetings, conventions, seminars, training camps, fairs, farmers exchange programmes, and exhibitions. A monthly journal called Krishak samachar' in English and Hindi and a monthly magazine called Farmers forum on subscription, are also published for the benefit of farmers. Government should not import onions, stresses Mr. Ajay. Abolition of duty and symbolic gestures of imports may suffice for now as the new crop, delayed by the unseasonal rains, is starting to arrive, he adds. Historically, governments always overreact to crises. An abrupt rise in commodity prices leads to banning of exports. This happens for rice, wheat, sugarcane and now onions in a bid to reduce food prices. But it does not help in reducing the rate of inflation. The farmer is always subsidizing the urban consumer. Nobody seems to consider that being the largest section of the country, farmers are naturally also the largest consumers themselves.
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Decreasing yields Decreasing yields increases the production cost of any crop. The price of the commodity is bound to rise, but beyond reasonable limits, it is unacceptable to society. It is possible through correct interventions that both consumer and farmer benefits. Various changes in policy can reduce the volatility to acceptable limits. Why is the volatility in food prices so high? It is a fact that volatility of price is inversely proportional to the market size. At the world market, the volatility is minimum and maximum at smaller markets. One market Allow one country to maintain one market; remove artificial boundaries restricting movement of food across states boundaries; stop taxing fruits and vegetables at the Mandi and elsewhere; compensate the States for loss of revenue - the meagre share of revenue to the States from the mandi tax is approximately six per cent of total produce, he explains. The difference in selling price on the farm and the purchase price of the same by a consumer in the city in India, is the highest in the world. It is difficult to judge as to who is the greater beneficiary - the wholesale trader or the street vendor? In my opinion both work in tandem to deny the farmer his fair share and the consumer his or her savings. Why should traders in sabzimandis be allowed to control the destiny of farmers, consumers, and even governments? he asks. Their power stems from the fact that access to new players is controlled by obsolete regulations. There is opposition to futures market, but we need to understand that even though beliefs are important, so is science. Standing up for scientific evidence is crucial. Redressal system The Government must set up a redressal system, sort of a single window registration and compulsorily use information technology for transparency and efficiency to benefit both the farmers and consumers. For more details contact Mr. Ajay Vir Jakhar, Chairman, Bharat Krishak Samaj, A-1 Nizamuddin West, New Delhi-110013,, phones: 0 11 46121708 and 65650384.

Cheap, painless, needle-free vaccination device developed

Good news for the needle-phobic. Australian scientists have developed a cheap and painless needle-free' vaccination device that can be self-administered. A team of 20 researchers led by Professor Mark Kendall, from the Australian
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Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology at The University of Queensland, have developed the Nanopatch, a stamp-sized vaccine delivery device, that could make vaccination programmes globally simpler and cheaper. The Nanopatch, having 20,000 micro projections per square centimetre, is designed to directly place vaccine into the human skin, which is rich in immune cells. And unlike the needle and syringe, which places vaccine into the muscle which has very few immune cells the Nanopatch puts it to our immune sweet spot. And by doing that we make vaccines work a lot better, Kendall told PTI. The Nanopatch potential lies in it being cheap, painless, very effective being transported without refrigeration and can be given without the need for extensive training, Kendall said. The removal of the need for refrigeration is achieved by dry-coating vaccine to the Nanopatch, which could have huge potential for developing countries like India, and many within Africa, he said. The World Health Organisation estimates 50 per cent of vaccines in Africa do not work properly because the cold chain' has been broken. In a pandemic, the reduced dose would also make it easier for governments to supply sufficient vaccine to the public, he added. The new device is simple as it does not need a trained practitioner to administer the vaccine. The Nanopatch has to be worn to just 2 minutes or even less, thus giving a pain-free immunisation, he said. The vaccine could hit markets in next 10 years, Kendall said. The Nanopatch, described as a vaccine utopia has recently won Prof Kendall and his team the 2011 Eureka Prize for Excellence in Research by an Interdisciplinary Team. The prize is part of the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes. PTI

Cheaper, more efficient solar panels possible?

Stanford researchers have found that adding a single layer of organic molecules to a solar cell can increase its efficiency three-fold and could lead to cheaper, more efficient solar panels.

Chemical defences of plants to save pollen

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Many flowering plants have evolved flower structures that prevent pollinators such as bees from taking too much pollen. Now it is found that plants also use chemical defences to protect their pollen from some bees.

Chemical in crude oil linked to heart disease

A new study of the health effects of the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico shows that foetal exposure to a chemical in crude oil is associated with an increased risk of congenital heart disease.

Chemical makeup of Gulf oil plume explained

At 70 mg/L, the oil component of the Gulf oil spill's plume sampled in June 2010 essentially comprised benzene, toluene, ethybenzene, and total xylenes. The exact adverse effects to undersea life are not known yet.

Chernobyl: more light on health effects needed

The 25th anniversary of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power station was on April 26, this year. The accident caused large scale releases of radioactive materials into the environment. Design deficiencies and operator errors caused the accident. The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) confirmed that 134 plant staff suffered acute radiation syndrome (ARS). Many of them had skin injuries caused by intense beta radiation ( UNSCEAR 2008, April 2011). Twenty eight of these staff died. Among the persons who suffered ARS, 19 died before 2006. They died because of various reasons, not related to radiation exposure. New findings Among the ARS survivors, there is clear evidence of skin injuries and radiation induced cataracts. Among several hundred thousand persons who participated in recovery operations, there are indications that those who received higher doses had increases in the incidence of leukaemia and cataracts. There is no evidence of other radiation exposure related health effects. UNSCEAR found that the threshold dose of induction of cataract is lower than previously thought. There are indications of an increase in the incidence of cardiovascular and cerebro-vascular diseases among the recovery operation
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workers that correlate with the estimated doses; the Committee conceded that the influence of confounding factors and potential study biases remain. The thyroid doses to some members of the public were high. By 2006, the number of thyroid cancers rose to 6000. This was avoidable if the authorities initiated prompt measures against consumption of milk contaminated with iodine-131. Substantial fraction of thyroid cancers was found among those who were children or adolescents in 1986. Thyroid cancers are curable. However, by 2005, 15 of them died. No other effects UNSCEAR 2008 confirmed its earlier assertion that to date, there has been no persuasive evidence of any other health effect in the general population. Most of the workers and members of the public were exposed to low level radiation comparable to or, at most, a few times higher than the annual natural background levels; these exposures will continue to decrease as the deposited radioactivity decays or is further dispersed in the environment. Since UNSCEAR published the last report, researchers estimated the thyroid doses to an additional 150,000 emergency and recovery operation workers. Researchers also extended the data on the estimated thyroid doses and effective doses from five million to about 100 million inhabitants of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine; they updated similar data on 500 million residents of most other European countries. UNSCEAR noted that several studies have now been conducted that provide rather consistent estimates of the radiation risk factors for thyroid cancer. Controversies Quantitative estimates of the health effects due the Chernobyl accident are mired in controversy. Different interest groups have arrived at different estimates. Virtually none but the most scientific groups cautioned against estimating the projected health consequences such as deaths from very low doses to large sections of the populations. Such estimates are not scientifically supportable. The total number of deaths due to the accident is 62 47 plant staff and 15 persons due to thyroid cancer. Except in areas very close to the stricken Chernobyl reactor, increases in doses were low, often within the changes in the natural background radiation present every where. In April 2006, Greenpeace International estimated that from 1986 to 2056, over 93,000 persons will die due to cancer arising out of radiation exposure from the accident. According to another compilation Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and Environment published in December 2009, 985,000 persons worldwide died due to Chernobyl fallout from 1984 to 2004! Since the authors used the publication services of the New York Academy of Sciences, the estimate got wide publicity. Soon after its publication, the Academy distanced itself from the book stating that the expressed views are those of the authors or by advocacy groups or individuals with specific opinions about the Chernobyl volume. The Academy asserted that it is not a work commissioned by it.
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Interestingly, Rod Adams who is himself an atomic energy activist listed several reasons to argue that the book is not a legitimate academy report. ( Atomic Insights, Sept 13, 2010).He noted that the preface of the report states that the writing of the report was undertaken with the initiative of Greenpeace International! Let us hope that UNSCEAR will be able to throw more light on the health effects of radiation in its future reports. K.S. PARTHASARATHY ( Raja Ramanna Fellow, Department of Atomic Energy)

Chimps are self-aware: study

Chimpanzees are self-aware and can anticipate the impact of their actions on the environment around them, an ability once thought to be uniquely human, according to a study released Wednesday. The findings, reported in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, challenge assumptions about the boundary between human and non-human, and shed light on the evolutionary origins of consciousness, the researchers said. Takaaki Kaneko and Masaki Tomonaga of the Primate Research Institute in Kyoto designed a series of three experiments to see if chimps, our closest cousins genetically, to some extent think' like humans when they perform certain tasks. The first experiment In the first, three females initiated a video game by placing a finger on a touch-sensitive screen and then used a trackball, similar to a computer mouse, to move one of two cursors. The movement of the second cursor, designed to distract or confuse the chimps, was a recording of gestures made earlier by the same animal and set in motion by the computer. The game' ended when the animal hit a target, or after a certain lapse of time. At this point, the chimp had to identify with his finger which of the two cursors he had been manipulating, and received a reward if she chose correctly. All three animals scored above 90 percent. This indicates that the chimpanzees were able to distinguish the cursor actions controlled by themselves from those caused by other factors, even when the physical properties of those actions were almost identical, the researchers said. Still not clear But it was still not clear whether the good performance was truly due to the ability to discern self-agency, or to observing visual cues and clues, so the researchers devised another set of conditions. This time they compared two tests. The first was the same as in the previous experiment. In the second, however, both cursors moved independently of efforts to control them, one a repeat of movements the chimp had generated in an earlier exercise, and the other a repeat of an decoy' cursor. The trackball, in
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essence, was unplugged, and had no connection to the screen. If the animals performed well on the first test but poorly on the second, the scientists reasoned, it would suggest that they were not simply responding to visual properties but knew they were in charge. The final experiment The final experiment used only for the most talented of the chimps introduced a time delay between trackball and cursor, as if the two were out of sync, and a distortion in the direction the cursor moved on the screen. All the results suggested that chimpanzees and humans share fundamental cognitive processes underlying the sense of being an independent agent, the researchers concluded. We provide the first behavioural evidence that chimpanzees can perform distinctions between self and other for external events on the basis of a selfmonitoring process. AFP

Chimps spontaneously generous, after all

Chimps have a significant bias for prosocial behaviour, says a study. This contrasts previous studies that showed chimps as reluctant altruists, and led to the belief that human altruism evolved after humans split from apes.

China's ambitious space program

This year, a rocket will carry a boxcar-sized module into orbit, the first building block for a Chinese space station. Around 2013, China plans to launch a lunar probe that will set a rover loose on the moon. It wants to put a man on the moon, sometime after 2020. While the United States is still working out its next move after the space shuttle program, China is forging ahead. Some experts worry the U.S. could slip behind China in human spaceflight the realm of space science with the most prestige. China is still far behind the U.S. in space technology and experience, but what it doesn't lack is a plan or financial resources. While U.S. programs can fall victim to budgetary worries or a change of government, rapidly growing China appears to have no such constraints. One of the biggest advantages of their system is that they have five-year plans so they can develop well ahead, said Peter Bond, consultant editor for Jane's Space Systems and Industry. They are taking a step-by-step approach, taking their time and gradually improving their capabilities. They are putting all the pieces together for a very capable, advanced space industry. In 2003, China became the third country to send an astronaut into space on its own, four decades after the United States and Russia. In 2006, it sent its first
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probe to the moon. In 2008, China carried out its first spacewalk. China's space station is slated to open around 2020, the same year the International Space Station is scheduled to close. If the U.S. and its partners don't come up with a replacement, China could have the only permanent human presence in the sky. Its space laboratory module, due to be launched later this year, will test docking techniques for the space station. China's version will be smaller than the International Space Station. Some elements of China's program, notably the firing of a ground-based missile into one of its dead satellites four years ago, have alarmed American officials and others who say such moves could set off a race to militarize space. China, having orbited the moon and starting collecting data on it, is moving toward sending a man there and beyond. It hopes to launch the rover-releasing moon probe in about two years. Chinese experts believe a moon landing will happen in 2025 at the earliest. The lunar probe is the starting point for deep space exploration, said Wu Weiren, chief designer of China's moon-exploring program, in a 2010 interview posted on the national space agency's website. We first need to do a good job of exploring the moon and work out the rocket, transportation and detection technology that can then be used for a future exploration of Mars or Venus. AP

China's lunar probe to bring back rocks

China plans to send a drilling machine on board its fifth lunar probe, Chang'e5, in 2017 to drill the moon surface deep and bring back rock samples to the earth, a top Chinese space scientist said today. Chang'e-5 will carry a lunar landing probe, lunar surface patrol device and other equipment, said Ye Peijian, chief designer of Chang'e-1, the country's first moon probe, and chief commander of the Chang'e-2 and Chang'e-3 missions. Chang'e-5 will also carry a drilling machine to get moon rock from a depth of two meters underground, he told official media here. China launched its first lunar probe, Chang'e-1, named after the country's mythical Moon Goddess, on Oct 24, 2007. The probe ended its 16-month mission on March 1, 2009, when it crashed into the moon's surface. The second lunar probe, Chang'e-2, was launched on Oct 1 last year. China plans to its third unmanned probe to the moon, Chang'e-3, in 2013. A soft-landing on moon will be a main aim for Chang'e-3, Ye said, adding a China-designed moon rover would land with Chang'e-3. The moon rover is a robot that can move and accomplish complicated tasks of detecting, collecting and analysing samples.
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According to China's three-phase moon exploration plan, the first phase was the launch of Chang'e-2. The second will be when Chang'e-3 lands on the moon in 2013. Then, in 2017, a moon rock sample will be returned to earth.

Cholera pandemic has origins in Bay of Bengal

Whole genome sequencing reveals that the particular cholera type responsible for the current pandemic can be traced back to an ancestor that first appeared 40 years ago in the Bay of Bengal and then spread in multiple waves.

Cholera vaccination post-outbreak beneficial

Mass cholera vaccinations can be beneficial in affected areas even after outbreaks of the bacterial disease, according to two studies by researchers from the Seoul-based International Vaccine Institute (IVI). Results of the studies recently appeared in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases. Experts say the findings are especially significant in light of the outbreak of cholera, known as the poor man's disease, in Haiti, which was hit by a massive earthquake in January 2010. Clean water and adequate sanitation are very essential. But they are yet to become a reality in many countries even after many decades. Role less clear According to an Editorial published in the same issue of the journal, the role played by cholera vaccine once an outbreak has started is less clear. Every year, three to five million people are infected with the Vibrio cholerae bacterium, the causative agent of cholera. In one of the studies, an oral vaccine containing killed cholera pathogens that was administered during a cholera outbreak in Hanoi three years ago had protective efficacy of 76 per cent. Reactive use of killed oral cholera vaccines provides protection against the disease and may be a potential tool in times of outbreaks. Further studies must be conducted to confirm these, the study's authors wrote. Another study evaluated the potential benefit of reactive cholera vaccination campaigns using existing data from cholera outbreaks to simulate the number of preventable cholera cases. Even a delayed response can save a substantial number of cases and deaths in long, drawn-out outbreaks, the authors of the study wrote. DPA

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Clay pellet method of rice cultivation maximises yield

In our culture, innovation is dubbed as craziness, but our success lies in identifying more 'crazy' people so that the innovation revolution can spread across the country. The present generation is fast losing out on scientific knowledge. In the last several years we are losing many such affordable scientific knowledge due to sheer neglect, says Prof K. Anil Gupta, Vice Chairman, National Innovation Foundation, Ahmedabad. Lack of support Funds crunch, lack of adequate assistance from government officials and private sector firms, and lack of awareness among people are the main deterrents in identifying such rural innovations as a national movement, adds Prof Anil, who calls for considerable more interest from science and technology institutions in validating, value adding in people-driven knowledge and innovations. Besides being cost-effective and eco-friendly, these potential scientific discoveries need to be commercialised and even exported, adds Prof Anil. Source of idea Take the example of a simple farmer Ram Abhilash Patel from Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. Mr. Ram developed a concept of sowing paddy seeds inserted in clay pellets. The farmer claims that he got this idea from within the household. I noticed that children made clay pellets for playing and used to throw them away. Suddenly during monsoon, I used to notice a small seedling growing from the wet pellet. This inspired me to try using the same method for growing paddy, he explains. Finding the right kind of clay soil posed a problem. Other soil types tend to break under pressure while pushing the paddy seeds into them. Germinate well The seeds can be easily inserted inside clay and remain safe during sowing and later germinate well. Pond or river soil is mixed thoroughly with 3-4 paddy seeds to make small balls of pellets. The pellets are made during April - May and dry within 2-3 hours. Pond soil is very fertile and helps in minimizing weeds, explains Mr. Patel. The farmer is practising this method for the last 15 years and impressed by it, many others in the region are doing the same. The pellets can be sown manually or by using a seed drill. Rows are made facing east to west or vice-versa so that the germinating plant gets ample air and sunlight. This method saves both time and money and the need to prepare a nursery for paddy plants does not arise, he says. By adopting the conventional nursery method, paddy crops take approximately 160 days to mature while using this technique it takes only
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about 145 days. Waiting time reduced Farmers need not wait for monsoon to start sowing under this method. As pond/ river soil, is fertile, the dependence on fertilizers is reduced and as the seeds are in a mud shell they are protected from birds etc. The process also saves water as no standing water is needed in the field. Better output Most importantly, the output gets maximized by this method. Mr. Ram Abhilash proved experimentally by cultivating paddy in a field by all three methods namely pellet, nursery, and direct sowing. The paddy production using these methods was 1.7, 1.5 and 1.4 tonnes respectively, says Prof Anil. Though some products are being commercially manufactured and exported, there are millions of ideas such as Mr. Ram's, waiting for assistance in terms of funds, technical and design support. For more details contact Mr. Ram Abhilash Patel, Vill. Tikari, Po. Kanti, Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh 212107, Mobile: 08127199855.

Climate change cutting ocean's CO {2} uptake

Rising temperatures are slowing carbon absorption across a large portion of the subtropical North Atlantic. Warmer water cannot hold as much carbon dioxide, so the ocean's carbon capacity is decreasing as it warms.

Climate change, human factors will hit fisheries

Climate change and other human-led factors will drive many fish species further towards the poles and into deeper waters. While fisheries in a few regions, such as the far north, may benefit, many other regions will lose revenues.

Clown fish fall prey to predators in acidic seas

Baby clownfish use hearing to detect and avoid predator-rich coral reefs during the daytime, but new research demonstrates that ocean acidification could threaten this crucial behaviour by affecting their hearing ability.

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27 club' hypothesis is incorrect

The list of well known musicians who have died at age 27 may look like more than a coincidence Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, and Brian Jones to name a few but their age is unlikely to have been the cause of their demise, according to research published in the British Medical Journal. While fame may increase the risk of death for musicians, probably due to their rock and roll lifestyle, this risk is not limited to age 27, say the authors led by Adrian Barnett from Queensland University of Technology in Australia. To test the 27 club hypothesis, the authors compared the mortality of famous musicians with that of the UK population. They included 1,046 musicians (solo artists and band members) who had a number one album in the UK charts between 1956 and 2007. During this period (1956-2007) it was found that 71 (7 per cent) of the musicians died. The sample included crooners, death metal stars, rock 'n' rollers and even Muppets (the actors, not the puppets). The total follow-up time was 21,750 musician years. The authors used mathematical analysis to determine the significance of age 27. They found no peak in the risk of death at this age, however musicians in their 20s and 30s were two to three times more likely to die prematurely than the general UK population. The research team found some evidence of a cluster of deaths in those aged 20 to 40 in the 1970s and early 1980s. But there were no deaths in this age group in the late 80s. The authors speculate that this could be due to better treatments for heroin overdose, or the change in the music scene from the hard rock 1970s to the pop dominated 1980s. The authors conclude that the 27 club is based on myth, but warn that musicians have a generally increased risk of dying throughout their 20s and 30s. They say: This finding should be of international concern, as musicians contribute greatly to populations' quality of life, so there is immense value in keeping them alive (and working) as long as possible. Our Bureau

Clustered hurricanes' lower impact on reefs

For a given long term rate of hurricanes (e.g., once per decade), clustered events are less damaging than random ones as they give reefs time to recover. Considering this helps predict the future of coral reefs accurately.

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Clutch operation
Why do we have to release the clutch slowly for the first gear while driving vehicles, whereas for the subsequent gears we can release the clutch with ease? SHAHASAN NOUSHAD Hubli, Karanataka The primary function of the clutch is to disconnect the engine from the remaining parts of the power transmission system at the will of the driver by the use of a suitable lever thereby permitting the engine to run without driving the vehicle. A clutch usually consists of two members that are positively driven by the engine and the third which connects the transmission to the wheel. The first two members are the clutch and the pressure plates which are present in the vicinity of the engine to transfer the power to third component which is the final drive unit (chain or a shaft). The clutch plates are friction surfaces and are designed so that the driven member (the wheel) is gradually brought to speed by the driving member (the engine). These two components slip on each other until all the components come to an equal speed after which there is a firm contact of the frictional components. The drive is made possible by the friction between these components and is kept maintained by spring pressure present in the clutch which prevents slipping during normal running. When we start the vehicle from a stand-still position, the force that the engine has to overcome to get the vehicle moving is the friction between the tyres and the road surface and it is proportional to the weight of the vehicle and the contact surface area of the tyres. To get the vehicle moving, the driver engages the clutch and then shifts to the primary gear whose gear ratio is such that when engaged, the final drive moves at a considerably lesser speed when compared to the engine. Once the vehicle is moving, the clutch is used only to disengage the engine to shift across the gears based upon necessity. When in a higher speed, the gradual release of the clutch may not be necessary because of the gear ratios and the type of clutch used. In a wet type clutch the oil along with the spring pressure provides enough damping to counter the sudden slip thereby reducing the jerk. Whereas in a dry type clutch, the sudden release creates a jerk at all speeds till a complete contact is established. It can be finally said that the operation of the clutch is governed by the vehicle class, type of clutch and the experience of the driver. PRABHAKAR JONNALAGADDA Hyderabad

CO {-2} makes life difficult for algae

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New research shows that coccoliths, which are an important part of the marine environment, dissolve when seawater acidifies.

Coconut: origin and east-west spread from Asia

That over 12 million hectares of coconut are grown across 89 tropical countries is proof enough of their geographical spread. But whether the coconuts (Cocos nucifera L.), belonged to the same genetic type or were admixtures was not known till recently. That question has been finally answered. Two populations According to a paper published recently in thePLoS ONEjournal, coconuts have just two well defined and differentiated populations representing two separate locations where they were cultivated the Pacific basin and the Indo-Atlantic Ocean basin. This pattern suggests independent origins of coconut cultivation in these two world regions, the authors state. Earlier attempts to find their place of origin were constrained as they were based on morphology and not DNA studies. However, the current study used DNA analysis. About 1,300 coconuts from different parts of the world were collected for the study. The authors found that coconuts of the Pacific basin (Group A) occur primarily in the region spanning Southeast Asia to the Pacific coast of America. The other group (Group B), which represents the Indo-Atlantic Ocean basin, spans from South Asia to the Caribbean (via West Africa and the New World Atlantic). Those that contain genetic evidence of admixture occur primarily in the southwestern Indian Ocean. The differences In the case of the Pacific basin group, the coconuts were very likely to have been first cultivated in Southeast Asia Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia. In the case of the Indo-Atlantic Ocean basin group, the likely centre of first cultivation was the southern periphery of India, including Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and the Laccadives. This shows that the first cultivation occurred in Asia and spread in both eastward and westward directions across the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans respectively. Of the two groups, the one that spans from SE Asia to the Pacific Ocean has greater number of subgroups. And this reflects the group's greater phenotypic diversity (observable characteristics or traits such as morphology or physiology). The group that moved westward from India is represented by a single genetic subpopulation. Genetic diversity The two groups represent about a third of the genetic diversity. According to
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Kenneth Olsen of the Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, the one-third diversity within a single species provides conclusive evidence of the two-origin theory. Two types Coconuts can be broadly divided into two types based on their morphology. Those which have oblong, triangular shape with plenty of fibrous husk are calledniu kafa. The second type (niu vai) has a more rounded shape and is brightly coloured with a greater proportion of liquid endosperm. Coconuts that spread westward are theniu kafa type, while those that spread eastward and till the Pacific Ocean are the more roundedniu vai type. Trade routes But the study gains importance as the study of the genetic material is in line with the well known prehistoric trade routes. The eastward movement is more likely to have happened around 2,250 years ago. The group that moved westward from India to reach the Atlantic was after Vasco da Gama's 1498 expedition to the Indian Ocean, the authors note. These coconuts moved from India to Africa and to Brazil before finally reaching the Caribbean. It was primarily due to European introductions, they note.

Collective farming by women in Kerala

Kerala women's collective farming initiative, billed as the largest livelihood venture of the kind in the country by transforming women labourers into master cultivators, is all set to emerge as a role model for the entire country under the 12 {+t} {+h} Five Year Plan. After group farming, another revolutionary initiative by Kudumbashree, an innovative community based women-oriented initiative, Government of Kerala to fight poverty caught the attention of many. Planning commission A team of the working group on disadvantaged farmer including women, under the Planning Commission, was in Kerala to get a first-hand experience of it before finalizing its report for the next Plan period. The team also visited different areas and noted the best practices and successful models to be incorporated in its report to be submitted by September end. First project This is the first project sanctioned by the Mahila Kisan Sasahthikaran Pariyojana (MKSP) by the Centre and was launched to ensure food security both at household and community levels. Says Kudumbashree executive director Smt. Sarada Muraleedharan: .This is basically a livelihood initiative to enhance the quality of life in the society, especially among the weaker sections. It could bring about an all-round improvement in the lives of women who were merely workers and now they are successful cultivators,
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Different crops The women are into cultivation of paddy, tuber crops, food crops, vegetables, spreading a silent revolution in State by earning extra to help themselves and families. Some of the groups have literally turned barren tracts of lands into highly fertile fields. At Perambra in Kozhikode district, the members cultivated at a place which was fallow land for 30 years. A canal, infected with snakes and water hyacinths and waste materials was cleaned by 1004 workers including 879 women to irrigate this land where 59 groups cultivated 107 acres for paddy, while four groups went for banana cultivation in five acres. This time, we will not go to market to buy rice as we have stocked enough for the family for the first time in my life,'' says Omana, from Idukki district. One of key achievements of the project is to make the families self-sufficient in the case of food crops. For more details visit

Comet Lovejoy snapped at observatory in Chile

The recently discovered Comet Lovejoy has been captured in stunning photos and time-lapse video taken from the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile.

Common algae removes nuclear waste

An enhanced understanding of a common freshwater algae's ability to remove strontium from water could help treat nuclear waste.

Community based organisations will solve many problems

The Governments claim about agricultural production achieving a record of 241 million tonnes raises a pertinent question as to how far this can translate into alleviating poverty and reducing hunger index in the country, says Dr.V. Rajagopal, President, Society for Hunger Elimination (SHE), Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh. The Society works with a missionary approach to care for farmers, those below poverty, and starving Indians. Fooling the public
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While data on farmers suicides is available in the country, there is harldy any projection on starvation deaths occurring in many tribal and rural areas. Does the Government want the public to believe that everything is fine with food security? he wonders. Why does the Government want to provide subsidised grains to the general (above poverty line) category, who are already benefited mostly by the price index based dearness allowances twice every year to meet food inflation?, is his next question. More holistic Food security should be made more holistic than just providing only cereal based food an incomplete food basket to the poor who need health and nutrition security more than the families above the poverty line. Is not the mismatch between the food production and chronic hunger among over 400 million Indians visible to the Government? Why are they turning a blind eye to this stark and ugly reality? he asks angrily. Dr. Rajagopal urges the Government to work on a strategy to substantially the reduce hunger index to meet the target of the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations. Whatever steps the Government has taken so far are not enough and only lacklustre, seems to be his view. New initiatives with innovative ideas alone can solve the problem to some extent backed by strong political will to make our country hunger free; otherwise the number of hungry people will mount further, according to him. National shame Is it not a national shame that India is being placed alongside countries like Ethiopia and Rwanda on the hunger index. Where has all the money sanctioned for rural development and poverty alleviation disappeared? he queries. Although the government boasts of record food production, the farming community responsible for achieving the same is left in the lurch. Bad reflection This reflects badly on the policies and schemes like loan waiver announced by the government for the distressed farmers. Obviously the Government could not implement some of the important recommendations of the National Commission on Farmers to combat the problem of farm suicides. The problem still exists with the minimum support price for crops that does not satisfy the farmers who have to deal with high costs of cultivation. The small farmers, who account for large scale suicides, are the worst affected. The concept of community based organisations (CBOs) for small farmers will be the best solution to minimize the risk of price fluctuations. Technologies Technologies like zero tillage, good agriculture practices, multi crop system instead of depending on a single crop, product diversification, and value addition and crop insurance are some of the opportunities for the farmers to generate income and ensure sustainable livelihood. The Government needs to declare farmers as national assets and restore
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agriculture to a prime position, he says. Dr. Rajagopal recently presented a paper on this issue at the John Hopkins University, Rockville Maryland U.S. For more details readers can contact Dr.V.Rajagopal President SHE, Flat 102 Sri Kataaksham, 18-4-60 Railway colony, Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh -517 501 A.P. Phone number 0877-2287083, mobile number 094412 00217 and e mail id

Computer learns language by playing games

Researchers have created a system that allows a computer to learn to play a computer game by learning the language required to read the manual.

Computer system cuts travel time in trains

A tool that makes passenger train journeys shorter, especially when transfers are involved a computer-based system to shave precious travel minutes off a passenger's journey has been developed by Israeli scientists.

Computers that fit on a pen tip

A prototype implantable eye pressure monitor for glaucoma patients contains the first complete millimetre-scale computing system.

Computing building blocks from bacteria, DNA

Scientists have successfully demonstrated that they can build some of the basic components for digital devices out of bacteria and DNA.

Conserving Kadaknath poultry breed

An Indian poultry breed, called Kadaknath is native to Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh. The breed is famous for its black meat known for its quality, texture and flavour. This poultry reared mainly by some tribal communities in Madhya
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Pradesh. Scientists from the Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Jhabua, observed that the population of this bird is declining rapidly and is under threat of extinction and genetic erosion. Project An attempt was therefore made for conservation and promotion of this high value Indian poultry race under National Agriculture Innovation Project (NAIP) called Integrated farming system for sustainable rural lively in undulating and rainfed areas in Jhabua and Dhar districts of Madhya Pradesh. Major factors During interaction with farmers it was observed that high market demand, existence of backyard poultry system of its rearing, slow growth on natural feeding (186 days sexual maturity) and more than 50 per cent mortality before maturity are major factors which affect the survival, growth and productivity of this breed. Accordingly, the intervention made in the NAIP project to construct low cost poultry shed, give training on advanced technologies of poultry production, optimum feed and balance diet, vaccination for protection from diseases and explore the marketing avenues. Beneficiaries Ten tribal farmers were selected and one hundred ten day old chicks were made available to each beneficiary. The farmers were advocated on technologies for scientific poultry production, balance feeding, handling of feeder and drinkers, health management and marketing. This new technology reduced the mortality rate from 50 per cent to 10-12 per cent The bird attains saleable weight of 1.10 kg in 105-120 days and the growers are selling poultry at Rs 300 to 350/kg. In this way, an individual beneficiary is getting a good income. For more information contact the Directorate of Research Services, Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia Krishi Vishwa Vidyalaya, Gwalior, email:

Control of fear in the brain decoded

A study has found that emotional balance is regulated by molecular factors behind stress response.

Controlling vascular streak dieback in Cocoa

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Controlling whitegrub menace in turmeric Co-operation between ants and host trees
New research has found that ants use chemical signals on their host tree to distinguish them from competing plant species. Once a competing plant is recognised the ants prune them to defend their host.

Coral reef network key to preserving fish stock

A scientific team has shown that strong links between the coral reefs of the south China sea, west Pacific and Coral Triangle hold the key to preserving fish and marine resources in the Asia-Pacific.

Corporal punishment has detrimental effects on child

Findings of a new study, published in the journal Social Development , suggest that a harshly punitive environment may have long-term detrimental effects on children's verbal intelligence and their executive-functioning ability. As a result, children exposed to a harshly punitive environment may be at risk for behavioural problems related to deficits in executive-functioning, the study indicates. Children in a school that uses corporal punishment performed significantly worse in tasks involving executive functioning' psychological processes such as planning, abstract thinking, and delaying gratification than those in a school relying on milder disciplinary measures such as time-outs, according to the study involving two private schools in a West African country. The study by Prof. Victoria Talwar of McGill University, Prof. Stephanie M. Carlson of the University of Minnesota, and Prof. Kang Lee of the University of Toronto, involved 63 children in kindergarten or first grade at two West African private schools. Their families lived in the same urban neighbourhood. The parents were largely civil servants, professionals and merchants. In one school, discipline in the form of beating with a stick, slapping of the head, and pinching was administered publicly and routinely for offences
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ranging from forgetting a pencil to being disruptive in class. In the other school, children were disciplined for similar offences with the use of time-outs and verbal reprimands, according to a University of Toronto press release. While overall performance on the executive-functioning tasks was similar in the younger children from both schools, the Grade 1 children in the nonpunitive school scored significantly higher than those in the punitive school. These results are consistent with research findings that punitive discipline may make children immediately compliant but may reduce the likelihood that they will internalize rules and standards. That, in turn, may result in lower selfcontrol as children get older. Our Bureau

Countering malaria by fungal intervention

The fungi, M. anisopliae and B. bassiana cause muscardine disease in mosquito larvae, leading to their death. A synthetic oil-spore preparation dispersed over a breeding site reduced pupation levels drastically.

Cradle to grave plan a must for nuclear plants

Coming up with storage solutions for nuclear waste continues to be a lastminute decision in a number of countries besides Japan. It is now imperative to redefine what makes a successful nuclear power program from cradle to grave.

Crop science innovation meeting CT scans best to uncover body packed drugs
During 1924, Captain T W Barnard, Director, Erstwhile Institute of Radiology at the General Hospital, Madras, helped the police to locate a gold chain in the stomach of a thief by x-raying him. A few years later, Barnard found precious stones secreted in small cavities inside the cheeks of the women of a band of criminals by x-raying them; police suspected that they stole a large quantity of jewels. Identifying drugs in place of gold will be difficult. Body packing
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The US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) seize over a million pounds of drugs (mainly marijuana, cocaine and heroin) annually. Eighty percent of the smugglers caught by CBP practice body packing' of these illegal narcotics. The May 2008 issue of the Applied Radiology describes the practice of body packing as the trafficking of illicit drugs within the gastrointestinal tract or vagina. According to the journal, body packers are also known as swallowers,' internal carriers,' couriers' or mules.' Detects cocaine A study presented recently at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) identified computed tomography (CT) as the best way to detect cocaine in the body of a mule.' Dr Patricia Flach, a radiologist at University Hospital of Berne and Institute of Forensic Medicine of Berne in Switzerland and colleagues analyzed images from 89 exams using various imaging methods (CT:27; Digital X-ray: 50 and low-dose linear slit digital radiography (LSDR):12) and performed on 50 suspected drug mules' over a three-year period at University Hospital. The study group included 45 men and five women aged between 16 and 45. Researchers identified forty-three of the suspects as drug mules. They compared the radiologic findings with a written record of the drug containers recovered from the faeces of suspects. CT imaging the best CT imaging allowed the physicians to see all the drug containers, especially when they knew what to look for. Thus the sensitivity of CT is 100 per cent. LSDR had a sensitivity rate of 85 per cent; digital x-ray was able to identify the presence of cocaine containers only 70 per cent of the time. Intestinal contents are messy and non-uniform in consistency. According to Dr Flach, there were positive findings on CT that were clearly not detectable on conventional x-rays due to overlap of intestinal air, faeces or other dense structures. The coating and manufacture of the containers changed their appearance, especially on CT images. Rubber-coated condoms filled with cocaine appeared hyper-dense, or white, on CT, while other containers of similar size with plastic foil wrapping appeared iso- to hypo-dense or grey to black. Dr. Stephen J. Taub, Division of Toxicology, Department of Emergency Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, Boston, USA and colleagues stated that body packers usually carry about one kg of drug, divided into 50 to 100 packets of 8 to 10 g each. Smugglers have devised automatic processes to pack drugs densely into latex sheaths or condoms. False negatives Writing in The New England Journal of Medicine, they noted instances in which physicians interpreted two plain abdominal radiographs as negative. The suspects subsequently passed 106 and 135 packets. Plain abdominal radiographs may be useless to identify drugs in the mules.' When the law enforcing authorities suspect an individual of being a drug mule,' they often seek the help of radiologists to detect quickly the presence of drugs concealed in the body.
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According to the researchers, cocaine containers, which may be swallowed or inserted in the vagina or rectum, can be as large as a banana or as small as a blueberry. In these cases it is important for us to know that we have identified all the drug containers in a body, both for legal purposes and for the health of the patient, Dr. Flach said. However, there was no research telling us which imaging modality was best in detecting cocaine containers in the stomach, intestines or other body orifices. Higher dosage CT exposes the suspects to higher doses of ionizing radiation. It is obviously of concern while imaging healthy people. CT is the way to go," Dr. Flach said. "But low-dose protocols need to be implemented to ensure the safety of the people undergoing the procedure, she cautioned. K.S. PARTHASARATHY Raja Ramanna Fellow, Department of Atomic Energy

CT used to recreate Stradivarius violin

Using computed tomography imaging and advanced manufacturing techniques, a team of experts has created a reproduction of a 1704 Stradivarius violin

Curd, buttermilk and the Nobel Prize of 1908

When our daughter Katyayani was but a 7 day-old infant, she had a bout of non-stop diarrhoea and became dehydrated. Her paediatrician, Dr Chikarmane, not only put her on intravenous feed but also had her stools examined and found her stomach infected ( in utero ) with the pathogen E. hist . After getting rid of it using antibiotics, he re-colonized her stomach with lactobacillus, the microbe that helps in digesting milk. Presence of mind Thanks to his expertise and presence of mind, Katya was saved and in a few weeks became (and continues to be) a healthy and cheerful girl. This episode brought home the point that the gut of a newborn baby is sterile at birth, and becomes colonized with microbes, some good and needed and some harmful and pathogenic. What Dr. Chikarmane did was to get rid of the pathogen and colonize the baby's gut with the helpful one. In doing so, he was repeating what the Russian Scientist Ilya Mechnikov did in 1905. Mechnikov showed that eating curd is very healthy, since it introduces helpful
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bacteria like lactobacillus , and bifidia . He called fermented milk as a probiotic, a food that contains organisms which help the host body digest food, gain immunity and lengthen life. For this path- breaking discovery, Mechnikov shared the Nobel Prize in 1908. We have since come to realize that the human gut (gastro-intestinal or GI tract) is teeming with microbes. Current estimates put the number as 10 {+1} {+4} or 100 trillion. This number is at least 10 times more than the total number of cells that our own body has! In other words, 90 per cent of the total cells contained in each of us are actually bacterial cells 500 different varieties of them living in a stable, nutrient- rich medium. While the GI tract of the new born is pretty much sterile, it gradually acquires these microbial populations postnatally, through contact with the environment, type of feeding, hygiene levels and so on. The human gut is thus an ecosystem, containing the genomes of all these gut microbes or microbiome . Why are they there? Are they helpful, harmful or freeloaders? We are getting answers to these questions only during the last decade or so. These extra genes from the microbiome endow us with functional features that we have not had to evolve ourselves. In other words, we humans have been co-evolving with them. Consider this in another way, in the language of computers. Recall the situation twenty years ago what our computer scientists did when the US refused to sell India supercomputers. We put together a network of several computers, each doing what it was designed to do job, interacting and collaborating with others in the network, and processing in parallel such that the entire system became a supercomputer called PARAM. Hardwired in genome Many functions that we are not hardwired in our genome to perform we get sharing from a member of the neighbouring microbiome, each doing its job in parallel and contributing to the whole ecosystem. Or is it the other way around? Each species which has colonized our gut downloads programs from our genome? Either way, the relationship is mutual; each party benefits from the other. Molecules that we produce through digestion of our food turn out to be useful for the growth and sustenance of the gut bacteria, and molecules that they produce through their metabolism are helpful for us. Curd is one such example. Molecules in it, produced by microbial digestion of milk, such as lactic and other related ones help us in our growth, even as these microbes feed on the products that we make. Dietary fibres are another outstanding example. When we eat cereals and lentils (rice, wheat, barley, various grams and lentils), we do not digest all their contents. Some indigestible starch remains. It is these that our gut microbes feast and forage on. And what they produce upon metabolizing this resistant starch is useful for us. Probiotics, prebiotics We call these organisms, and/or their molecules, as probiotics and prebiotics.
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The microbes are called probiotics, and the indigestible (to us) material that they feed on is the prebiotic. Prebiotics are nonliving material such as starch or husk, while probiotics are live organisms. (And biotic means relating to, produced by, or caused by living organisms). Without them, we cannot make some essential nutrients such as vitamin K, or metabolize bile acids, cholesterol and some short chain fatty acids. They also help us in fighting pathogenic bacteria and viruses a case of internal colonizers acting as defending soldiers against alien invaders. Readable article What diet you eat thus becomes important. Indian food, from the Indus Valley days, always had millets, grams and lentils. A readable article on prebiotics in ancient Indian diets, written by Drs. A.K Sarmanta, A.P. Kolte, S. Senani, M. Sridhar and N. Jayapal, appears in the 10 July issue of Current Science . As they write, prebiotics have been with us for long and their beneficial effects are not only limited to the gastrointestinal ecology, but also in physiological processes like immune modulation, blood cholesterol regulation and bone mineralization. And this is exactly what Dr Chikarmane did to Katya. Hence too the wisdom in the exhortation eat more fibre. You not only help your gut microbiome but yourself. D. BALASUBRAMANIAN

Customised treatment for cancer

In what could soon improve cancer survival rates, scientists claim to have achieved huge success in whole-genome sequencing, a high-tech process which has opened the way for personalised treatments for patients. According to two new studies, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the first clinical applications of whole-genome sequencing in cancer patients showed that customised treatments can help the suffers fight the disease significantly, compared to the standard therapies used for all. Whole-genome sequencing, which maps a person's DNA and analyses it for mutations, enables us to screen a much larger number of tumours and correlate them with the outcome of the patient, said Boris Pasche, deputy director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). So it is very likely that our targeted therapy is going to be exploding in the next decade, Pasche said. In patients with breast cancer, colon cancer and gastric cancer, we now have specific approaches for tumours that exhibit certain genetic abnormalities. In one study, Pasche said, a patient with leukaemia had a poor prognosis, but through sequencing, this patient was found to have a gene that showed they would react favourably with a different therapy than originally recommended. If patients have certain genes, they may not respond to certain treatments. But wholegenome sequencing gives a full picture of the genetic make-up of
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the tumour and the patient, and it may allow the physician to target a new treatment. Pasche said the unbiased picture of the sequenced DNA enables physicians to look at tumours in a way not possible previously. PTI

Cutting Scotland's emissions to half

Cutting Scotland's greenhouse gas emissions by a half within 20 years is achievable by greener transport and cleaner power generation.

Damaged heart patched with engineered tissue

Researchers have pioneered a method to patch a damaged heart with an engineered tissue, in a major step forward in combating cardiovascular disease, one of the most serious health problems of our day. Led by Gordana VunjakNovakovic, professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University, researchers developed a novel cell therapy to treat myocardial infarction (damage that follows a heart attack), reports the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They were able, for the first time, to use lab engineered repair cells to maximize their ability to revascularize and improve blood flow to the damaged heart tissue, according to a Columbia statement. With this platform, they could both keep the cells within the affected tissue and enhance cell survival and function, where most of the cells would have died because of the obstruction of their blood supply. We are very excited about this new technique, said VunjakNovakovic. This platform is very adaptable and we believe it could be readily extended to the delivery of other types of human stem cells we are interested in to rebuild the heart muscle. IANS

Dandy zebra finches have more grand-kids

A study of zebra finches has shown that males' attractiveness influences the number and size of eggs of their daughters through the effect of their attractiveness on their mate's behaviour.

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Dangers of growing antibiotic resistance

After suffering severe abdominal pain for about a week, 40-year-old Santosh, who ekes out a living through farming and working as a labourer in a village in north-eastern Madhya Pradesh, at last decided to seek medical treatment. That meant a 200-km journey to a small rural hospital in Bilaspur district in the neighbouring state of Chhattisgarh. A bacterial infection had turned a part of his intestines gangrenous, said Yogesh Jain of the Jan Swasthya Sahyog that runs the 35-bed referral health centre near the village of Ganiyari. The organisation is a voluntary, nonprofit one run by health professionals, which seeks to reach effective low-cost care to village and tribal people in an underdeveloped part of the country. The pus collected from Santosh's abdomen during surgery revealed that the bacterium was resistant to most antibiotics, he told this correspondent. Apart from surgery, Santosh had to be treated with an intravenous antibiotic that cost more than Rs. 33,000 for a 15-day course. If the bacterium had not been drug-resistant, the antibiotics for it would have cost just Rs. 780. Big issue Antibiotic resistance was, he said, a big issue that the health centre was coming up against in many sorts of infections. Right from the time that the world's very first antibiotic, penicillin, became available in the 1940s, resistance has been a problem. Hitherto, as bacteria evolved ways to evade one drug, a newer one became available. But with the rising tide of drug-resistance in bacteria, 'super-bugs' have emerged that are barely treatable. Few new antibiotics are being developed and many worry that the world is running out of ways to keep these organisms in check. There is particular concern over what are known as Gram negative bacteria, a classification based on whether the germ can be stained in the laboratory using a specific technique for examination under a microscope. Escherichia coli, a bacterium that is found in the gut, falls in this category. It spreads easily through faecal contamination of food and water. It is a common cause of urinary infections, and can also produce pneumonia and lifethreatening bloodstream infections in hospitalised patients. Klebsiella pneumoniae, which is responsible for many dangerous hospital infections, too comes in this group. Swapping genes Fewer antibiotics are effective against Gram negative pathogens. In addition, with their ability to readily swap genes, these germs have become alarmingly resistant to many of those drugs. Disease-causing strains of E. coli, K. pneumoniae and other Gram-negative bacteria have emerged with genes for extended spectrum beta-lactamases' (ESBLs).
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These genes produce enzymes that make the bacteria immune to the effects of a wide range of antibiotics. India has significantly higher levels of ESBL infections compared to other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, observed Balaji Veeraraghavan of the Department of Clinical Microbiology at the Christian Medical College in Vellore. Elsewhere, such drug-resistant infections were typically picked up in hospitalised patients. But, in this country, community-acquired ESBL infections, particularly of E. coli, were at levels similar to that of hospital acquired ones. The high level of ESBL-producing E. coli reflects poor standards of hygiene as well as inappropriate use of antibiotics, he added. Even when the right antibiotic was used, it was often given at too low a dose. ESBL positive By last year, at least a quarter of the E. coli isolated from patients who came to the Ganiyari health centre with community-acquired urinary tract infections were ESBL positive, remarked Biswaroop Chatterjee, a medical microbiologist who worked with the Jan Swasthya Sahyog for several years and left in 2010. With hospital-acquired infections, the proportion could be over 50 per cent. Antibiotics known as carbapenems are needed to treat many ESBL infections. The result has been that bacteria have evolved ways to evade these drugs too. The first Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase was reported in the U.S. in 1996. Such highly drug-resistant forms of Klebsiella have now reached countries across the globe. Creating an uproar Last year, the spread of another form of carbapenem resistance created an uproar. Several countries found that people who returned after medical treatment in India and other South Asian countries were carrying bacteria that had the New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase-1 (NDM-1) gene. A signficant number of cases of NDM-1-producing E. coli had been identified, which suggests this resistance was being disseminated in the environment as well as in hospitals, observed Patrice Nordmann and others in a journal paper published earlier this year. As of now, NDM-1-producing bacteria appeared to be a hospital-acquired infection, said Dr. Balaji. Carbapenem-resistant bacteria like those with the NDM-1 gene could be treated only with a new drug called tigecycline and an old one known as colistin. The latter had to be administered only with close supervision of the patient, watching for any signs that it might be damaging the kidneys. If such highly resistant bacteria started spreading in the community, as was happening with ESBL producing ones, it will create a very dangerous situation, he remarked.

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3-D towers' double data storage areal density

A team of researchers in France has figured out a way to double the areal density of information by using well-known patterned media. They essentially cut the magnetic media into small pieces and built a 3D tower' out of it. This greatly enhances the amount of data that can be stored in a magnetic storage device. The team presents their findings in the American Institute of Physics' Journal of Applied Physics. Over the past 50 years, the areal density of information in magnetic hard disk drives has exponentially increased by 7 orders of magnitude, says Jerome Moritz, a researcher at SPINTEC, in Grenoble. This areal density is now about 500Gbit/in2, and the technology presently used involves writing the information on a granular magnetic material. This technology is now reaching some physical limits because the grains are becoming so small that their magnetization becomes unstable and the information written on them is gradually lost. Therefore, new approaches are needed for magnetic data storage densities exceeding 1Tbit/in2. Our new approach involves using bit-patterned media, which are made of arrays of physically separated magnetic nanodots, with each nanodot carrying one bit of information. To further extend the storage density, it's possible to increase the number of bits per dots by stacking several magnetic layers to obtain a multilevel magnetic recording device, explains Moritz. Our Bureau

Data travelling by light

Regular LEDs can be turned into optical WLAN with only a few additional components thanks to visible light communication (in short, VLC).

Dawn spacecraft enters asteroid Vesta's orbit

NASA's Dawn spacecraft on July 16 this year became the first probe ever to enter the orbit around an object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter the asteroid Vesta.

Dawn spacecraft on course to asteroid

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NASA's Dawn spacecraft has reached its official approach phase to the asteroid Vesta on its way for a milestone encounter, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said on Tuesday. The spacecraft will begin using cameras for the first time to aid navigation for an expected July 16 orbital encounter with Vesta, a large asteroid known as a protoplanet a celestial body that almost formed into a planet, according to JPL in Pasadena, Los Angeles. At the start of this three-month final approach to this massive body in the asteroid belt, Dawn is 1.21 million kilometers from Vesta Using its ion engine to match Vesta's orbit around the sun, the spacecraft will spiral gently into orbit around the asteroid. When Dawn gets approximately 16,000 kilometers from Vesta, the asteroid's gravity will capture the spacecraft in orbit. Scientists will search the framing camera images for possible moons around Vesta. None of the images from ground-based and Earth- orbiting telescopes have seen any moons, but Dawn will give scientists much more detailed images to determine whether small objects have gone undiscovered, according to JPL. Dawn's odyssey began on Sept. 27, 2007, with its launch from Florida. Xinhua

Dealing with negative emotions

People choose to respond differently depending on how intense an emotion is. A big part of coping with life is having a flexible reaction to the ups and downs. When confronted with high-intensity negative emotions, they tend to choose to turn their attention away, but with something lower-intensity, they tend to think it over and neutralize the feeling that way. This is the finding of a study which will be published in an upcoming issue ofPsychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. Two main ways The study author Gal Sheppes of Stanford University and colleagues studied two main ways that people modulate their emotions; by distracting themselves or by reappraising the situation. For example, if you're in the waiting room at the dentist, you might distract yourself from the upcoming unpleasantness by reading about celebrity breakups Maybe that's why the magazines are there in the first place, Sheppes says or you might talk yourself through it: I say, ok, I have to undergo this root canal, but it will make my health better, and it will pass, and I've done worse things, and I can remind myself that I'm ok. In one experiment, participants chose how to regulate negative emotions induced by pictures that produce a low-intensity emotion and some that produce highintensity emotion according to an Association for Psychological Science press release. Electric shocks In another experiment, participants chose how to regulate their anxiety while
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anticipating unpredictable electric shocks, but they were told before each shock whether it would be of low intensity or more painful shock. Before the experiments, the participants were trained on the two strategies, distraction and reappraisal, and during the experiments, they talked about which strategy they were using at which time. In both experiments, when the negative emotion was low-intensity, participants preferred to reappraise, telling themselves why it was'nt so bad. But when high-intensity emotions arose, they preferred to distract themselves. Our Bureau

Debt increases with dependence on fertilizers, pesticides

Farmers first becomes an ideal motto for any nation to progress. Unless farmers are empowered the economy of the country can collapse. India boasts of development, scientific advancements, and achieving self sufficiency in food grain production. But malnourishment, suicides, and health problems are stark realities that still exist in many rural areas. Unfortunate It is a well known fact that farmers in our country are considered unfortunate as there seems to be no great future for them in their profession, says farmer Mr. Vishwasrao from Washim, Maharashtra. For Mr. Vishwasrao, both his profession and health did not prove to be conducive. Born with a single kidney, blind in one eye, and surrounded by abject poverty, he worked as a farm labourer for many years. Though life proved frustrating, the desire to live made me invest the small amount of money I saved from my hard labour in buying a thorny and weedinfested fallow land deemed unfit for cultivation in my village. Some consolation I worked hard on the land, and the presence of a river near the land proved beneficial for irrigation. Within a year, I harvested a good yield of jowar, cotton and wheat. But after some time I realised that growing crops is not all only about irrigation as the outputs started declining. A local agriculture official explained to me about chemical and organic fertilizers, insecticides, and water management. I followed his advice and the yield increased but even this lasted only for a few years, he says. According to the farmer, overuse of chemical fertilizers and neglecting organic manures could be the reason for the declining yield, and he again started looking for the cause. Search for a guide Mr. Vishwasrao's search brought him in contact with several farmers practising organic farming.
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They impressed on him the need for making one's own input for the crops and that it drastically saves money for the farmer and helps get a good yield. Own inputs The farmer started dumping all the cut weeds, refuse and other wastes he could find in a three foot pit he dug and added urea and superphospate to the waste to accelerate the process of decomposition. It proved economical. I got nearly 30 cartloads of manure for my fields and it cost me about Rs. 600, he says. He is now using his well decomposed manure, vermicompost, and neem extract as spray for the crops. He is getting a very good yield of soyabean, greengram, bengalgram, tur and wheat. Recently, I harvested a record yield of 16 quintals from 2 kg of tur dhal seed. I sold the seeds at Rs. 200/ kg and got a gross income of Rs. 3,20,000. Farmers also benefited as they got it at a much cheaper rate, at Rs. 200/ kg instead of original price of Rs. 500/ kg, he says. Advance booking In fact Mr. Vishwasrao's tur dhal became so famous in the region that many farmers started booking the seeds in advance for the next sowing. The farmer also gets good yield of 35-40 quintals of chilli from an acre and gets an additional amount of Rs. 52,000 from selling them. As a farmer, I am able to realise that many of us incur debt mainly because we buy fertilizers and pesticides. If this dependence can be reduced, it can in turn reduce indebtedness and distress. Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day but teach him how to fish, he will eat for a lifetime, goes the popular saying. The same is the case for farmers, he says. Need today What we need today is a means to sustain throughout our lives. If our country needs to grow faster, empower the farmers. Only then true growth and development can take place. Without agricultural improvement all technological progress is like mirage in the desert, he says prophetically. For more details contact Mr. Vishwasrao Narayanrao Bunde at Pedgaon taluka, Risod district, Washim, mobile: 9765815472 and M. S Swaminathan Research Foundation village resource centre, Karda district, phone: 07251-226544.

Deciding to stay or go is a deep brain function

It was found in primates that an area of the brain known to operate while weighing conflicts, steadily increases its activity during foraging until a threshold level is reached and the individual decides it's time to move on.

Dedicated lab for HIV vaccine design

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After conducting a couple of AIDS vaccine trials in India, the New York based International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) is shifting its focus to research that will help in finding more efficacious vaccines. The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) along with IAVI will soon establish and operate a laboratory in Gurgaon, near New Delhi, to meet one of the biggest challenges of designing and developing an efficacious AIDS vaccine elicitation of antibodies that are capable of neutralising a broad spectrum of HIV variants found in humans. If the AIDS vaccine trials conducted at the National AIDS Research Institute (NARI), Pune, and the Tuberculosis Research Centre (TRC), Chennai, equipped the researchers and the institutions to take up clinical trials of international standards, the new laboratory may similarly equip our scientists to conduct HIV research and development on par with any developed country. Location of the lab According to Dr. Rajat Goyal, Country Director of IAVI, India, the laboratory will come up on the campus of the Translational Health Sciences and Technology Institute (THSTI), an autonomous institute of DBT. The investment over the next five years is about Rs.51 crores, with investments coming from both IAVI and India. IAVI will be investing about Rs.19 crores and the balance by India. Apart from the director, the laboratory will have three principal investigators, 15 key scientists and several support staff. Neutralising antibodies Neutralising antibodies are those that are capable of neutralising the virus causing HIV at the very point of its entry into the cells. An effective HIV vaccine containing neutralising antibodies can thus prevent cells from getting infected by the virus. Though vaccines were initially designed to kill the cells that are already infected by the virus, researchers are now focussing on finding vaccines that can both neutralise the virus before it infects the cells as well as kill those cells that have been infected. Starting of the laboratory gains importance as it comes close on the heels of IAVI and few other institutions around the world identifying and isolating 14 broadly neutralising antibodies. Identifying such antibodies became possible by studying adults in 12 countries who have been infected by the virus for at least three years but have not progressed to a diseased state (becoming AIDS patients) even in the absence of any antiretroviral therapy (ART). These people apparently have the much sought after broadly neutralising antibodies. Having identified the antibodies in these people, many organisations are in hot pursuit to find immunogens (substances like proteins that provoke immune response in humans) that will ultimately be used in the vaccines. Different approach Different groups have different approaches to finding the immunogens. We have come up with a different approach. Most research laboratories have a low throughput screening process. Ours will be a high-throughput screening of
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immunogens, said Dr. Sudhanshu Vrati, Dean, Translational Health Science and Technology Institute and Senior Scientist at the National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi. According to Dr. Vrati, the new laboratory will be a dedicated facility to find the best immunogen at a faster pace. The new laboratory will be responsible for isolation, selection and prioritisation of the immunogens, said Dr. Goyal. Identifying the antibodies is the first step. What follows is the designing of the immunogens and finally the isolation and selection of the immunogens. Vaccines containing the immunogens will be ready for pre-clinical evaluation once the process of isolation, selection and prioritisation of the imunogens is completed. The crucial stage While the first part identification of the antibodies has been completed, the designing of the immunogens is being done in India as well. The new laboratory, along with other centres in other parts of the world, will play a crucial role in the final stage of the vaccine design process. Designing the immunogens is done through a partnership IAVI has with the Indian Medicinal Chemistry Program (IMCP), where scientists from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and the New Delhi-based International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology are involved. IMCP was established in 2007.

Deep-reef coral hates light, prefers shade

While normally corals depend on light for their energy requirements, the deep corals, in a study, appeared to have adapted to low light conditions by having an increased capacity to exploit nutrients and plankton.

Delhi High Court to pass orders on Amar Singh's bail pleas on Monday
The Delhi High Court will pass orders on October 24 on the interim as well as regular bail applications of the former Samajwadi Party leader and Rajya Sabha member, Amar Singh. He is facing prosecution in the cash-for-vote scam of 2008. Justice Suresh Kait fixed the date on Wednesday while reserving the orders with counsel for the Delhi Police leaving it to the Court to decide the fate of the two bail applications on the basis of the medical report submitted by the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences on the health condition of the accused. The prosecution also submitted that the investigation of the case was over and the statement of Mr. Singh had already been recorded.
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In its medical report submitted to the Court on October 12, the Institute said that Mr. Singh required constant monitoring. It had submitted the report on a direction by the Court. Mr. Singh, under judicial custody, is at present admitted to AIIMS. He has sought bail on medical grounds submitting that he was required to visit Singapore urgently for further medical advice and treatment on September 9. He is suffering from various ailments following the post-kidney transplant done in Singapore in 2009. Subverting Parliament Last month, a special court for CBI cases had dismissed Mr. Singh's plea for regular application, saying the cash-for-vote scandal was an attempt to subvert the functioning of Parliament and mock the Republic of India. While dismissing his bail application, Special Judge Sangita Dhingra Sehgal had said: The incident which is the basis of the present case has far-reaching consequences, which are beyond imagination, and has a very deep impact on society at large, as an attempt to subvert the functioning of Parliament and mock the Republic of India has been made. The nature and gravity of the accusations against the accused/applicant cannot be lost sight of and for the foregoing reasons I decline the grant of regular bail to accused Amar Singh. From the material available on record, it appears prima facie that there are fingers which point that the accused/applicant [Mr. Amar Singh] played a major role in the entire episode which came to light on July 22, 2008, during the debate on the motion of confidence in the Lok Sabha, the Judge added.

Dengue vaccine developed

Thai scientists have successfully produced the world's first dengue hemorrhagic fever vaccine and will let the private sector improve it for the effective treatment of patients. The Thailand Ministry of Science and Technology has introduced the world's first live attenuated dengue hemorrhagic fever vaccine developed by Thailand researchers. Thai Science and Technology Minister Virachai Virameteekul said that the number of dengue hemorrhagic fever patients in Thailand has risen, exceeding 100,000 last year and adding some 1,200 cases in January 2011. Dr Suthee Yoksarn, a lecturer of Mahidol University, together with his team and Chiang Mai University have jointly developed four stereotypes of the live attenuated vaccine. This was achieved by combining attenuated DNA with a protein structure that stimulates immunity against the dengue hemorrhagic fever caused by the present strain of the dengue virus. The newly developed vaccine is expected to better protect people from the dengue hemorrhagic fever. PTI

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Designing automobile interiors goes hi-tech

To design car interiors, researchers have now developed high-resolution scanners which copy objects and fabric samples in a few minutes, converting them into virtual models. The light effects are startlingly realistic.

Detailed map of gene activity in mouse brain

A new atlas of gene expression in the mouse brain provides insight into how genes work in the outer part of the brain, the cerebral cortex. In humans, the cerebral cortex is responsible for memory, sensory perception and language.

Diamond-studded planets
Recent findings have revealed that some stars in the Milky Way could be harbouring carbon super earths gigantic planets completely bereft of life but potentially holding billions of tonnes of diamond. The finding comes from a lab experiment at Ohio State University, where scientists recreated the temperatures and pressures of earth's lower mantle to study how diamonds form there. The goal was to understand what happens to carbon inside planets in other solar systems, and whether solar systems that are rich in carbon could produce planets that are mostly made of diamond. Wendy Panero, researcher in the School of Earth Sciences at Ohio State along with doctoral student Cayman Unterborn used what they learned from the experiments to construct computer models of the minerals that form in planets composed with more carbon than earth. It is possible for planets that are as big as 15 times the mass of the Earth to be half made of diamond, said Unterborn, according to a university statement. Our results suggest carbon-rich planets can form with a core and a mantle, just as Earth did, said Panero. However, the cores would likely be very carbon-rich much like steel and the mantle would also be dominated by carbon, much in the form of diamond, he added. IANS

Did humans and Neanderthals coexist in Europe?

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How long back did the last of the Neanderthals walk in some parts of Europe, and for how long did they live after the arrival of modern humans into Europe? Data gathered till date based on carbon dating techniques of Neanderthal remains found in different parts of Europe suggest that they lived till the time the first wave of modern humans reached Europe 40,000 to 30,000 years ago. Co-existence Evidence also suggests that modern humans and Neanderthals coexisted in parts of Europe before our close relatives vanished from the fossil records, implying the end of their presence on Earth. That the genomes of most modern humans contain 1-4 per cent of Neanderthal genes is proof of the coexistence. The bones from which the Neanderthal DNA material was removed came from the Vindija Cave in Croatia, and were dated as between 38,300 and 44,400 years old. But a new study published recently in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) provides evidence that questions the very basis of our understanding of Neanderthals and human coexistence with our cousins. According to a report in Nature, modern humans must have found Europe a ghost land with no trace of Neanderthals. Studying Neanderthal remains recovered from the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains, the authors found that our cousins had died some 10,000 years before modern humans arrived in Europe. The bones were recovered from a cave in western Russia called Mezmaiskaya. According to the paper, the new thinking has less to do with the Neanderthal bones and more to do with the technique used to date them. They had used a more precise technique to date the fossils. It is a well known fact that though carbon dating is robust, and is of little use while dating bones older than 30,000 years. The limitation arises as all of the radioactive carbon gets decayed by then. Yet, it cannot be absolutely denied that humans and Neanderthals lived as neighbours in Europe. For instance, Neanderthal remains found in Gorham's cave in Gibraltor were dated as 24,000 years old, and are well within the upper limit of carbon dating usefulness. So did any interbreeding between humans and their cousins take place in such places as Gibraltor, though not widespread in Europe? For that matter, how and when did the interbreeding ever take place? Middle East The implication of the PNAS study is that the genome admixture never took place in Europe. If at all, it could have and should have taken place well before humans arrived in Europe probably in the Middle East. My gut feeling would be that probably the latest Neanderthals and the earliest modern humans may have overlapped for a bit, but not for too much, Thomas Higham, a palaeoanthropologist at the University of Oxford, UK., and co-author of the PNAS study was quoted as saying in Nature. Dr. Higham and other co-authors have taken upon themselves the task of
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accurately dating more Neanderthal remains. This is to arrive at a timeline of their disappearance from Europe, and probably pinpoint the closer approximation of the time when we lived together with our relatives and the location where such coexistence happened.

Diesel engine
Why do diesel internal combustion engines require no spark plug to ignite the fuel unlike petrol engines? JAYAKRISHNAN V. Kochi, Kerala Spark plugs are used in the petrol engines to ignite the air fuel mixture whereas in diesel engines the presence of spark plugs is not necessary. Technically petrol engines are called as spark ignition engines ( SI ) and diesel engines are called as compression ignition engines (CI ) . In SI engines air and fuel (petrol) get mixed in the carburettor and then it is supplied to the engine through inlet manifold, then the air fuel mixture is compressed inside the cylinder. At the end of compression the spark is ignited and then combustion takes place from where the power stroke is obtained. Normally the compression ratio of SI engines will in the range 6 - 8 .This proves that in petrol engines the compression alone doesn't makes the fuel to burn. Technically speaking this process is governed by constant volume process or Otto cycle. But in case of diesel engines spark plugs are not needed. The air from the atmosphere is sucked into the cylinder of the engine and then the air is compressed to high pressure which eventually leads to the increase of temperature, so when the diesel is supplied at end of compression stroke, the temperature developed is more enough to ignite the diesel, this makes the fuel to burn and then expansion of gases takes place from where the power stroke is obtained. This eliminates the usage of spark plug as the temperature required to ignite the fuel is obtained on compression itself, so always the compression of diesel engines will be in the range 12 -14.This type of process is governed by constant pressure process. This makes one identify the engines. In petrol engines spark plugs will be present but in the case of diesel engines fuel pump will be present. A.L. AMARNATH Sivakasi, Tamil Nadu

Diet change for gorillas in North American zoos

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Heart disease is the number one killer of male Western lowland gorillas the only species of gorillas in North American zoos. To counter this, the primates are being returned to a diet more akin to what they'd eat in the wild.

Discovering how best to excite brain cells

A neuron prefers one signal within a certain group of signals, and a different signal within another group even when the two signals aren't alike. This finding may lead to the design of brain implants for neurological disorders.

Dish TV reception
During rains, the TV programs telecast by dish TV providers are disrupted or blocked. Why? C.V. RAMALINGAM Palakkad, Kerala Rain can have an adverse effect on dish TV signal reception making the digital picture freeze or go out altogether. Loss or weakening of satellite signal during bad weather is called rain fade' or rain attenuation.' Rain fade occurs due to the presence of moisture in the air between the transmitting satellite and the receiver site. Moisture interferes with the satellite signal. The raindrops weaken the transmission by absorbing and scattering the electromagnetic signals. The more the moisture, the more the interference. Several frequencies are used to carry satellite transmissions. Earlier satellite television was broadcast in C-band - radio in the 3.4-gigahertz (GHz) to 7-GHz frequency range. Currently, digital satellite TV is transmitted in the Ku frequency range (10 GHz to 14 GHz ). Lower frequencies (longer wavelengths) move through the moisture in the air better than higher frequencies (shorter wavelengths).The longer wavelengths of C-band are less susceptible to rain attenuation than the shorter Ku and Ka wavelengths. Higher frequencies experience most deterioration in their signals due to rain fade. This interference cannot be avoided completely, but its effects can be minimised and the reception of signals can be improved. One way is to increase the antennae size. But under heavy rain conditions increase in antennae size will not have any impact. Another technique that is used to minimise the loss of signal and the interference of satellite signal is to establish extra communication links. KALYANI DESIKAN Chennai

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Divers find prehistoric wood in lake

Under the cold clear waters of Lake Huron, researchers have found a five-anda-half-foot-long, pole-shaped piece of wood that is 8,900 years old.

DNA for counting endangered species

How reliable are the traditional method of counting wildlife animals to know their numbers for purposes of conservation? Scientists have shown that they are quite unreliable, and can lead to significantly incorrect totals that they believe could adversely affect conservation efforts. They found genetic methods to be far superior. Andrew DeWoody, a professor of genetics at Purdue University; Jamie Ivy, population manager at the San Diego Zoo; and Todd Katzner, a research assistant professor at the University of West Virginia, found that visual counts of imperial and white-tailed sea eagles in the Narzum National Nature Reserve of Kazakhstan significantly underestimated the imperial eagle population there. Using DNA from eagle feathers gathered in the area, the researchers were able to identify individual DNA fingerprints for each bird. The proof The technique showed that there were 414 eagles, more than three times as many as had been visually observed, and more than two and a half times more than modelling suggested would be there. A biologist doesn't always see them coming and going, said DeWoody, whose findings were published in the early online version of the journal Animal Conservation. Eagles are difficult to capture, mark and resight. Biologists in the field can't differentiate individuals, whereas by a genetic fingerprint geneticists can differentiate among individuals that have visited a site. They collected thousands of eagle feathers around roosts and nesting sites. They extracted DNA from those feathers and determined that there were hundreds of eagles that had recently visited the site. Our Bureau

DNA found in meteorites

Scientists have found components of DNA, the building blocks of life on Earth, in meteorites, a discovery they say confirms the theory that at least some of the materials needed to make early life forms came to our planet from space. Eleven meteorites In the NASA-funded study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , scientists used advanced mass spectrometry instruments to scan 11 organic-rich meteorites called carbonaceous chondrites and one ureilite, a very rare meteorite with a different chemical composition.
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They found three nucleobases:purine, 6,8-diaminopurine and 2,6diaminopurine that are widely distributed in carbonaceous chondrites and which are rare or absent in terrestrial biology, said the researchers. The scientists found no significant concentrations of the trio in soil and ice samples near where the meteorites landed, LiveScience reported. Past research had revealed a range of building blocks of life in meteorites, such as the amino acids that make up proteins. This was the first time all but two of these meteorites had been analysed for nucleobases, the researchers said. Finding nucleobase compounds not typically found in Earth's biochemistry strongly supports an extraterrestrial origin. This shows us that meteorites may have been molecular tool kits, which provided the essential building blocks for life on Earth, study co-author Jim Cleaves, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington was quoted as saying to The analytical techniques probed the mass and other features of the molecules to identify the presence of extraterrestrial nucleobases and see that they apparently did not come from the surrounding area. Two of the carbonaceous chondrites contained a diverse array of nucleobases and structurally similar compounds known as nucleobase analogs. Not found in soil, ice Intriguingly, three of these nucleobase analogs are very rare in Earth biology, and were not found in soil and ice samples from the areas near where the meteorites were collected at the parts per billion limits of their detection techniques, the researchers said. At the start of this project, it looked like the nucleobases in these meteorites were terrestrial contamination these results were a very big surprise for me, said study co-author Michael Callahan, an astrobiologist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Laboratory experiments showed that chemical reactions of ammonia and cyanide, compounds that are common in space, could generate nucleobases and nucleobase analogs very similar to those found in the carbonaceous chondrites. However, the relative abundances of these molecules between the experiments and the meteorites differed, which might be due to further chemical and thermal influences from space. PTI

DNA of cancer-resistant rat sequenced

Scientists have generated the first whole-genome sequencing data of the naked mole-rat, a rodent that is resistant to cancer and lives for more than 30 years.

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Do doctors recommend same therapy for patients as selves?

It appears that physicians recommend different treatments for patients than they would choose for themselves. Before you conclude that this is somewhat selfish, please read on. A recent study by a team of sociologists and doctors ( Archives in Internal Medicine, April 2011 ) points to an interesting dichotomy. The study involved two different scenarios, both hypothetical. In scenario one, the researchers interviewed 500 doctors and asked them to imagine that either they or one of their patients had colon cancer, and they had to choose one of two surgical treatment options. Both surgeries shared the possibility of 80 per cent success, without any complications. Of the remaining 20 per cent involving side effects, surgery one had the danger of four different kinds of troubles, such as removal of the colon, or chronic diarrhea, or bowel obstruction, or wound infection. These accounted for a total of 4 per cent complications. The rest 16 per cent was chances of death or mortality. In surgery 2, there were no complications at all, but the failure rate was 20 per cent, that is, for every 100 people operated for colon cancer, 20 die. Now, which option is better: surgery with 16 per cent death and 4 per cent complications, or surgery with no complications but 20 per cent chances of death? In other words, should we risk a higher chance of death but if successful, there will be no additional trouble: a true doctor's dilemma. The results of the study were interesting. Of the 500 doctors interviewed, 242 responded. Out of these, a significant number of them chose surgery 2 (no side effects but higher chances of mortality) for themselves. In contrast, when asked for recommendation to a patient who comes to them, many of them (60 of the 242) recommended surgery 1 (with lower death chances, but side effects) to their patients. Scenario 2 involved a flu epidemic. Here the team of researchers interviewed 1,600 primary care physicians and gave them two treatment options for recommendation. One group was asked to imagine that they themselves had been infected with the newly emergent flu virus. The second group was asked to imagine that his or her patient was infected. Here again, there were two treatment modes. The participants (doctors and patients) were also informed that a new immunoglobulin treatment was available to treat this flu virus. In mode one, the treatment was simple hospitalization and bed rest for a week, no immunoglobulin or any other form of treatment. The hospitalization rate was 30 per cent. But the risk with such a no intervention at all' option was that 10 out of every 100 afflicted would die (10 per cent mortality). The second treatment option involved using the newly introduced
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immunoglobulin, and 15 per cent hospitalization rate. Here, the chance of adverse events from the virus is cut in half (so we would expect a 5 per cent death rate from the flu), but there are complications such as paralysis of the leg (4 per cent) and death due to others 1 per cent. Notice that the immunoglobulin treatment cuts the mortality rate but creates complications such as paralysis, an option that a vast majority of people think better than death. What did the doctors choose? Of the 1600 doctors, only 698 responded to the questionnaire. When they were themselves patients, 440 doctors chose to forego the lifesaving benefits of immunoglobulin treatment, so as to avoid its side effects, even if it carried a higher chance of death (and the rest 258 preferred immunoglobulin). But, when it came to the patients, a larger number of doctors (386) suggested that their patients (customers) take the immunoglobulin treatment, even with side effects, but lower mortality. In both instances (colon cancer and flu virus), the doctors chose the option with a higher mortality rate for themselves, presumably to avoid adverse reactions affecting their everyday activities. Some complications But, to their patients, they suggested the option with lower mortality rate but some complications. And it did not matter whether the doctor was male or female, relatively young or old, white or black, private practitioners or government-based. They recommend the lower mortality option to their patients. Why this difference? Not just because of lawsuits or other worries. There appears a psychological basis, called cognitive biases, behind this. Psychologists point out: when people make recommendations for others, they tend to focus on a single dimension of alternatives, typically one that is easiest to defend. But when they have to make personal choices, several biases come into play. One is the feeling that the intervention intended to prevent harm is worse than the harm caused by the illness itself. Psychologists call this betrayal aversion. Then again is omission bias- harm resulting from an act is worse than not doing it at all (omission better than commission). These cognitive biases come into play in personal decisions, but in recommending to others, the easiest to defend option is safer. Hippocrates has guided the doctor all the while- do no harm to the patient'. But if the side effects and complications come in quantifiable numbers, the doctor's dilemma becomes more pronounced. And he wants the least loss of life, with the hope that complications can perhaps be treated with other methods or in time. D. BALASUBRAMANIAN

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Dogs can sniff out early stage bowel cancer

Dogs can sniff out bowel cancer in breath and stool samples, with a very high degree of accuracy even in the early stages of the disease says research published online in the journal Gut.

Dolphins show way to care for human injuries

A dolphin's ability to heal quickly from a shark bite with apparent indifference to pain, resistance to infection, hemorrhage protection, and near-restoration of normal body contour may provide insights into the care of human injuries.

Double destruction due to double tsunami'

The destructive tsunami generated by the March 2011 Japan earthquake was a merging tsunami' that doubled in intensity over rugged ocean ridges, amplifying its destructive power before reaching shore.

Dramatically improving solar panel efficiency

A new technology that could dramatically improve solar energy panels merges the optics of nanoscale antennas with the electronics of semiconductors for infrared-light detection and for higher-efficiency solar cells.

Driptech launches new low-cost drip irrigation systems Drought has hit species in desert ecosystems
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A study says that increasingly frequent and severe drought, dropping water tables and dried-up springs have pushed some aquatic desert ecosystems into a state from which many species will not recover.

Dusty disc of spiral galaxy NGC 247

The spiral galaxy NGC 247's component stars are clearly resolved and many glowing pink clouds of hydrogen, marking regions of active star formation can be made out in the loose and ragged spiral arms.

Dying with dignity through assisted suicide'

I think suffering is much more than a medical situation. There's this notion that suffering can be controlled by medicine and healthcare practice. I think that's a very spurious notion, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) quoted Pauline Smith, West Midlands NHS Strategic Health Authority as telling the unofficial commission, hosted by the independent think tank Demos. Mrs Smith is an end of life care lead for West Midlands region. Our view is that the current law doesn't match the requirements of the 21st Century, BMJ quoted her as telling the commission chaired by former Lord Chancellor and Labour peer Charles Falconer. The commission has been set up as England and Wales are taking the first steps to facilitate assisted dying providing assistance to someone to die. The commission plans to produce proposals on whether the current law should be changed and, if so, in what way, notes BMJ. There are many who share Mrs. Smith's views. Many doctors in U.K. are for assisted dying. A new group for health professionals called the Dignity in Dying: Healthcare Professionals for Change has taken on itself the task of challenging the British Medical Association and a number of royal colleges in their stance against assisted dying of terminally ill people. Dignity in Dying: Healthcare Professionals for Change was set up by Ann McPherson, a fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners. Public support Even the public supports the idea of assisted dying. British social attitudes survey undertaken last year found that 82 per cent people support assisted dying, according to a BMJ News item published on October 5, 2010. Assisted dying is different from euthanasia; it is not a doctor but the patient himself who administers the lethal dose to kill himself in the case of assisted dying. The doctor's role is limited to prescribing a life-ending dose of medication to a mentally competent, terminally ill adult at his request. Assisted dying is currently illegal in England, and doctors who help patients to die are committing an offence. The 12-member commission will be submitting
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its report by the end of the year. Even as it is illegal in England, many patients travel from U.K to Switzerland for assisted dying. While assisted dying or assisted suicide is not illegal in Switzerland, people in U.K who have helped the patient to travel to Switerland can be punished. According to the New York Times, as on September 23, 2009, more than 100 terminally ill or severely disabled Britons have travelled to Switzerland in recent years for assisted dying. But it is not Switzerland alone that has legalised assisted dying. Even in the U.S. where destroying embryos for harvesting embryonic stem cells is not permitted using Federal money, the State of Oregon legalised it in 1997. Washington State followed Oregon's footsteps and legalised assisted dying in November 2008. Number of deaths About 460 patients have taken advantage of the Oregon's Death with Dignity Act and ended their lives between 1998 and 2009. In the case of Washington State, 11 people have ended their lives within six months of the law coming into force. According to a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), there were 23 who got legal prescriptions for lethal medications in Oregon in 1998, the first year when doctors could legally assist people to die; 15 of the 23 actually used the lethal medications and ended their lives. A News item in BMJ states that in 2009, 55 physicians wrote 95 lethal prescriptions. Only 59 people actually took the lethal prescription to its logical end by ending their lives. Three other countries excluding Switzerland have legalised assisted dying Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Dyslexics find it harder to recognise voices

Pick up the phone and hear, Hey, what's up? Chances are, those few words are enough to recognize who's speaking perhaps unless you have dyslexia. In a surprise discovery, researchers found adults with that reading disorder also have a hard time recognizing voices. The work isn't just a curiosity. It fits with research to uncover the building blocks of literacy and how they can go wrong. The eventual goal to spot atrisk youngsters even before they open a book in kindergarten instead of diagnosing dyslexia in a struggling second-grader. Everybody is interested in understanding the root cause of dyslexia, so we can intervene early and do something about it, says Massachusetts Institute of Technology cognitive neuroscientist John Gabrieli, senior author of the study published recently in the journal Science . Dyslexia is thought to affect thousands of people who can have great difficulty
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reading and writing. It is not a problem with intelligence or vision. Instead, it is language-based. The brain struggles with what's called phonological processing being able to distinguish and manipulate sounds, like bah and pah, that eventually have to be linked to written letters and words. A graduate student in Gabrieli's lab wondered if dyslexia would impair voice recognition as well. After all, subtle differences in pronunciation help distinguish people. How to test that? Previous studies have shown it is easier to recognize voices if they are speaking your own language. So the researchers recruited Englishspeaking college students and young adults, half with dyslexia, half without. They watched animated characters like a clown, a mechanic, a soccer player speaking either English or Chinese, to get familiar with how they sounded. Then came the test, to match a voice to its character. The volunteers correctly identified the Chinese speakers only about half the time, regardless of whether they had dyslexia. But when they heard English speakers, people with dyslexia still were right only half the time while the non-dyslexics did far better, identifying 70 percent of the voices correctly. That provides further evidence of dyslexia's strong link to phonological impairment. Voice-recognition study has broader implications for brain science. It shows that for split-second recognition, the brain's social-oriented right side works together with the speech - perception region of the left brain. People with dyslexia apparently are missing out on some of that interaction. AP

Earliest evidence of tooth decay

Missing teeth and the decayed jawbone of a 275-million year old reptile have pushed back the earliest evidence of tooth decay some 200 million years, according to a study published Tuesday. The downside The new find also highlights the downside of the evolutionary shift from loosely-fitted teeth that fall out but grow back to having a single set of permanent chompers, a drawback shared by adult humans, the researchers said. Labidosaurus hamatus a fat-headed, omnivorous reptile about 75 centimetres (30 inches) long adapted over millions of years to life on land rather than the watery marshes of its amphibious forebear. Its stouter legs and armour-like skin were better adapted to running and warding off predators. And its non-replaceable teeth, deeply anchored in its jaw, were better suited for eating fibrous plants and stems, alongside its more ancient diet of flying and crawling insects. But having fixed-for-lifetime dentition made hamatus vulnerable to the same type of bacterial decay that plague humans and keep approximately two million dentists around the world employed.
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Our findings allow us to speculate that our own human system of having just two sets of teeth, baby and permanent although of obvious advantage because if its ability to chew and process many different food stuffs is more susceptible to infection, the authors concluded. Researchers led by Robert Reisz, a professor at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, analysed an exquisitely preserved jaw found near Coffee Creek, Texas using CT-scan technology. Massive infection They found evidence of massive infection, likely resulting in the loss of several teeth and bone destruction in the jaw in the form of an abscess. The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal The Nature of Science. AFP Earliest evidence pushed back some 200 million years Bacterial decay same as that which plagues humans

Early flowering partly due to climate change

According to recent research, native plants in southwestern Ohio, U.S. are flowering significantly earlier, a finding attributed, at least in part, to global warming.

Earthquake: unpredictability is its middle name

How safe are nuclear plants located in countries that have faults cutting across them or located close to tectonically active regions? How reliable and helpful is seismology (the science of earthquakes) in forecasting the probability of occurrence of damaging quakes? The 6.3 quake that struck Christchurch in New Zealand on February 22 killed nearly 65 people and caused widespread damage to property. Were scientists expecting a killer quake to strike the city? The simple answer is, no. Blind fault The Christchurch quake occurred along a blind fault. Blind faults have no surface expression, and scientists are plainly ignorant of their existence. Christchurch is not an isolated case. The 7 magnitude quake of January 2010 that hit Haiti is another example. Blind faults have played a role in the not so recent past as well. The 7 magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake that struck the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989, and the 6.7 magnitude Northridge quake of 1994 which hit
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southern California were caused by release of energy from blind faults. May 2003 saw a 6.7 magnitude tremor from a blind fault striking northern Algeria. Japan had also witnessed a blind fault ripping apart structures way back in 1995. Kobe city that was struck by a quake will be most remembered for the damages caused (running to hundreds of billions of dollars) and thousands of fatalities. As scientists continue to discover new blind faults, as in the case of the Puente Hills Fault that runs right under downtown Los Angeles, they have come to realise that the earth's crust, just a few kilometres below the surface, has an innumerable number of such weak zones. Far away places hit If blind faults are a great cause for concern, high magnitude quakes striking one part of the globe can result in smaller intensity quakes in places located as far as a few thousand kilometres away. Luckily, till date, tremors, triggered by high magnitude quakes, striking places hundreds of kilometres away have been low-intensity ones. Scientists never believed these tremors were possible till the 7.9 quake that rocked Alaska in November 2002, and the 7.3 magnitude earthquake of June 1992 that struck the town of Landers in California, set off jolts thousands of kilometres away. If the Alaskan quake triggered tremors as far as 3,200 km away in the Yellowstone National Park in the U.S., the Landers quake led to smaller ones, again, in the Yellowstone National Park. Scientists found that the 2004 Sumatra earthquake triggered quakes even on the opposite side of the earth in Ecuador. In fact, according to a study published in May 2008 in the Nature Geoscience journal, 12 of the 15 major tremors (between 1992 and 2006) greater than 7 magnitude caused quakes even thousands of kilometres away. Quake clustering If places far away from major quakes are jolted, there is plenty of evidence to show that quakes come in clusters following a giant tremor. For instance, the 9.1 magnitude Sumatra quake of 2004 set off a series of nearby quakes, including one five years later. These are distinctly different from aftershocks. But do giant quakes come in clusters? Though statistically significant evidence of a number of giant quakes occurring in clusters is not available, it is a fact that within a time interval of less than seven years there have been three giant quakes December 2004 Sumatra quake of 9.1 magnitude, February 2010 Chile quake of 8.8 magnitude, and now the 9 magnitude quake off Sendai. Similarly, six of the 16 greatest quakes have occurred between 1950 and 1965. Another instance of comparably large quakes originating from the same or neighbouring faults is the 8.3 magnitude Kuril Islands event (north of Japan) of November 2006 followed by another one of 8.1 magnitude within two months (January 2007). Stress loading
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It is well known that release of stress during an earthquake can in turn load up the same fault or adjacent faults with stress. So was that the case even with the Sumatra and Kuril Islands events? Clustering has been seen even when the initial quake has not been a giant one. A 2009 paper in Nature cites how a series of quakes in 1992 shook California's Mojave Desert in quick succession. It started with the 6.2 magnitude Joshua Tree quake of April 1992 followed by two quakes in June 1992 the 7.3 magnitude Landers quake and the 6.5 magnitude Big Bear quake, and finally the 7.1 magnitude Hector Mine earthquake in 1999. Are cratons safer? Cratons, the old and stable parts of the continental crust, which are far away from the plate margins, are generally considered to be free from big quakes. But the late 1811 and early 1812 quakes of more than 8 magnitude that jolted the New Madrid region in Mississippi, U.S. defied that assumption. So will the 9 magnitude quake that rocked Japan on March 11 lead to minor jolts in far away places, big quakes in the neighbouring regions, and giant quakes in other regions of the world in the coming years? Kobe city was ripped apart by a blind fault that had no surface expression The 2004 Sumatra quake triggered quakes even on the opposite side of the earth in Ecuador

Earth's orbit
Why does earth follow an elliptical orbit? Why not a circular orbit? K. SARAVANAN Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu Planetary motion is governed by the gravitational force and is understood through the classical physics of Newton. Further, according to the Newton's Law of Gravitation the force between the planets like the Earth and the Sun depends on the distance between them and is isotropic i. e. it is felt to the same extent in all directions. Although the force on the Earth due to the Sun is exactly of same magnitude as that on the Sun due to the Earth, the Sun can still be considered to be at rest because of its enormous mass, about one third million times that of the Earth. The Newtonian physics of the motion of the earth in the gravitational field of the Sun leads to the fact that the trajectory of the Earth is a closed orbit and is limited to a plane known as the ecliptic plane. Further, the force law of the gravitation phenomenon is very specific; the magnitude of the force between two masses decreases as the square of the distance between them and involves certain universal constants like the Gravitational constant G, the mass M of the Sun and that of the earth m.
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There are several ways to understand and describe the geometric nature of the orbit; the simplest among them uses the force law where the force is given by the ratio of the product G . M .m and the square of the distance r between the Sun and the Earth. Because the orbit is limited to a plane it is possible and is useful to analyze it using the coordinates along two perpendicular directions. These quantities can be transformed, according to definite rules, into another pair of independent quantities called the polar coordinates which, in this case, yields a equality relation between them. This relation is called the equation of the orbit. The given force law, as stated above, gives the equation of the orbit to be an ellipse with The Sun located at one of the two foci of the ellipse. This focus also happens to be the origin of the polar coordinates used above. The point on the orbit, nearest to the Sun is called the perihelion and the one farthest is known as the aphelion. The straight line joining these two points is the major axis of the ellipse. The elongated shape of the ellipse is described by a geometric parameter, the eccentricity the value of which for the Earth's orbit is just 0.0167. This means that the orbit is very nearly circular. A detailed analysis of the different components of energies shows that the origin of this small eccentricity is the small ratio of the gravitational potential energy to its kinetic energy at any point on the orbit. The force experienced by the Earth is maximum at the perihelion and its speed there is maximum. These physical quantities decrease continuously to their lowest values at the aphelion. This happens in such a concerted manner that the line joining the Sun and the Earth sweeps the same area in the same length of time. PROF. H.K. SAHU Chennai Mathematical Institute, Chennai

Earth-Sun distance
How do you measure the distance between Earth and Sun? INDRAJIT K. Palakkad, Kerala Let us ask first a related question, namely, How is the distance between Earth and any planet, measured? Take for example the planet nearest to the Sun, namely, Venus. This distance to Venus can be obtained at any time during its travel by radar measurements. For this, a pulse of radio wave is transmitted from Earth and is received when it bounces off Venus and comes back to Earth. Since radio waves travel at the speed of light, by measuring the total time taken for the pulse to come back, the distance can be calculated as: Distance = 0.5 X (time taken by radar pulse to travel both ways)X (speed of light) Now we come to the other question, namely, the measurement of distance between earth and sun. Obviously we cannot use the earlier radar
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measurements since the sun itself is a source of intense electromagnetic waves and in addition it is too far away from the earth. But our measurement of distance between planet and earth will become useful for this important measurement. Let us assume that the distance between Earth and the Sun is R.' To first approximation, the orbits of Earth and Venus are perfect circles around the Sun. Now, let us consider the orbit of Venus. There are two places where the Sun-Venus-Earth angle is 90 degrees. At these points, the line joining Earth and Venus will be a tangent to the orbit of Venus. These two points indicate the greatest elongation of Venus and is the farthest that Venus will get away from the Sun in the sky with respect to an earth observer. Now, by making observations of Venus in the sky, one can determine the point of greatest elongation. One can also measure the angle between the Sun and Venus in the sky at the point of greatest elongation. In the diagram, this angle will be the Sun-Earth-Venus angle marked as in the right angled triangle. Now, using the trigonometry, one can determine the distance between Earth and Sun R, in terms of the Earth-Venus distance at this time: R= (EarthVenus distance at point of greatest elongation)/ Cos . We get the distance between the Sun and Earth to be 1.496x10{+1}{+1}metres (nearly 150million kilometers or 93 million miles!). Prof. T.S. NATARAJAN Dept of Physics, IIT Madras

East Asian, Denisovan genetic link found

Our ancestors mated with Neanderthals, but also with other related hominids. New research shows that East Asians share genetic material with Denisovans, named after the cave in Siberia where they were first found.

Eating berries lowers risk of Parkinson's

Eating berries lowers risk of developing Parkinson's disease. Men may also further lower their risk by regularly eating oranges, apples and other sources rich in flavonoids.

Effect of human-made noise on cetaceans

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A system equipped with hydrophones detects the presence of cetaceans and makes it possible to analyze how noise caused by human activity affects their natural habitat and the natural balance of oceans.

Effective management of papaya mealy bug Effects of data 'deluge' on new supercomputers
The exponentially increasing digital information and new challenges in storing massive datasets, are changing the architecture of newest supercomputers and how researchers will use them.

Elderly as fast as young in some brain tasks

Healthy older people can be trained to respond faster in some decision-making tasks without hurting their accuracy meaning their cognitive skills in this area aren't so different from younger adults.

Electric conduction
Why does water conduct electricity while air does not? K. ANANTHANARAYANAN Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu Conduction of electricity is a physical phenomenon where electric charges do move in the medium as a response to an applied electric field which, in turn, arises from a difference in electric potential. Thus, in the medium there has to be sufficient electric charges available for movement. Based on this consideration, there are three types of electric conduction; electron conduction which happens predominantly in metals, hole conduction taking place in semiconductors and a few metals like zinc and ionic conduction which is caused by movement of ions in the medium under the influence of an applied electric field. Electric conduction in water is due to ionic conduction. Water, H {-2}O, being a polar molecule in the liquid state, gets dissociated into positively charged H {++} and negatively charged OH {+-} ions. These ions are available even in absence of any externally applied electric field.
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On application of an electric field, these ions experience a force given by the product of the ionic charge and the field. While they get into directed movement in the medium, they encounter other similar ions and get scattered at random. This leads to a steady flow of the charges resulting in an electric current. This current is the indicator of electric conduction in water. Such ions are not readily available in all materials like air. Air consists mostly of nitrogen molecules, N {-2}, and oxygen molecules, O {-2}, apart from trace amount of other gases. The atoms in these molecules are very strongly bound and do not dissociate into ions on their own as it happens in water. Hence on application of ordinary electric fields there is no charge to move and there is no electric conduction. However, there are specific conditions in which the air medium also supports electric conduction. If a fairly high electric field is applied across air medium maintained at suitable pressure and temperature conditions, the constituent oxygen and nitrogen molecules also dissociate into the corresponding ions and electrons, and set the electric conduction. Often this type of conduction is in the form of short lived sparks as in the lightning phenomenon. Also, if the air is damp and contains sufficient amount of polar water molecules, electric conduction is possible in such air medium due to the movement of the H {++} and OH {+-} ions. Of course, because the charge carriers are less in number, the conduction is poor. PROF. H. K. SAHU Chennai Mathematical Institute, Chennai

Electric train
Over electrified railway tracks, there is only one electric line. How is just one line able to supply power to the locomotives? Do they not require a minimum of two lines to make a circuit? PRABHAKAR JONNALAGADDA Hyderabad For feeding the Over Head Equipment (OHE) with 25KV, AC, 50Hz supply the Railway's Traction Sub-station, each situated at a distance of about 40-60 Km avail 220/132/110KV from the State Electricity Boards. The voltage is then stepped down to 25KV from 220/132/110KV with the help of traction power transformer I phase, 21.6 / 30MVA provided in the Railway's traction substation. Generally two phases are obtained from the State Electricity Boards and the same is applied to the HV side (Primary) of the Transformer and in the LV side (Secondary) the output is maintained at 27KV. Out of the two LV terminals of the Transformer (Secondary) one is permanently and solidly earthed and then connected to the Rails (running tracks) through bonds. The supply of 27KV from the other terminal of the LV side is fed to the over head equipment (Conductors). For any electrical circuit to complete a return path is required. In the electric locomotive the supply is collected with the help of pantograph at 25KV, AC, I phase , 50Hz and further stepped down to feed
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the traction motors (DC motors) after they are converted from AC to DC with the help of rectifiers. In the main transformer of the loco, one terminal of the primary is connected to the pantograph to receive the 25KV AC supply, the other terminal connected to a grounding transformer and connected to the body of the loco. The grounding transformer ensures that the current going through the car body finally finds its way through the wheels and is then earthed via the rails. The electrical circuit is completed through the body of the locomotive to the rails and then to the traction sub-station where the secondary (one terminal) of the traction power transformer is connected solidly to earth then connected to the rails. Thus the load current flows through the OHE (Over Head Conductors) to the locomotive and returns through the rails and earth to the traction sub-station (from where the supply is fed to the Over head Conductors thereby completing the return path). P. SURESH Deputy Chief Electrical Engineer Railways, Secunderabad

Electricity from hot geothermal fluids

New Zealand scientists are planning to drill a geothermal borehole 4 km or more deep by 2014 to test the feasibility of extracting super hot geothermal fluids to generate electricity, said a statement released by GNS Science recently. Researchers from the state-run geothermal and nuclear sciences institute, GNS Science, reckon the energy from the fluids below the Taupo volcanic zone in the central North Island could generate enough energy to meet the entire country's electricity demand. Scientists and researchers from New Zealand and 10 other nations gathered in the town of Taupo Wednesday to discuss proposals for the project, the statement said. Conventional geothermal energy in New Zealand derived from boreholes up to 3 km deep, tapping fluids up to 300 degrees Celsius, said the statement. However, scientists believed that by drilling to depths of about 5 km and tapping even hotter fluids, the energy output could increase dramatically. Conventional geothermal technologies currently provided about 13 per cent of New Zealand's total electricity generation from an installed capacity of about 730 megawatts. Scientists conservatively estimate that deep geothermal resources in the central North Island could provide 10,000 megawatts for over 100 years for New Zealand, said GNS Science senior geothermal scientist Dr Greg Bignall, a convener of the Taupo workshop. This would satisfy all of New Zealand's current electricity demand, which is generated from a capacity of 9,000 megawatts, Bignall said.
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But to achieve this there are a number of engineering and scientific challenges to overcome as conventional technologies would be pushed beyond their limits to extract fluids from such depths. Currently there is no satisfactory way of handling geothermal fluids that are 400 degrees Celsius. Groundbreaking science, innovation and engineering would be needed for successfully drilling into the deep, very hot environments. The workshop in Taupo, called HADES: Hotter and Deeper Exploration Science, would help in build partnerships needed to achieve this, said the statement. Xinhua

Electron speed
At what speed does the electron move around the nucleus? VIJETH J. SHETTY Udupi, Karnataka The physics of subatomic particles like the electrons is governed by laws and rules of quantum mechanics rather than those of the classical physics applicable to relatively large or macroscopic bodies such as a cricket ball, a bus or a planet. However, the transition from the classical physics to the then new realm took place in a somewhat gradual manner. Though today it is well established that the electrons do not have definite trajectories, in the beginning of the twentieth century, Prof. Neils Bohr made revolutionary postulates of definite stationary circular orbits for the electron in a hydrogen atom and demonstrated the success of this new approach though the theoretical derivation of the experimentally observed line spectrum of hydrogen atom. This gave the necessary credence to the model though its inadequacy was very soon discovered and rectified. Within the Bohr's model, one can talk of electrons moving on a circular orbit where the centrifugal force it experiences by virtue of the circular motion is exactly balanced by the electrostatic attraction towards the centrally placed positively charged nucleus. The radius of this circle in the hydrogen atom is called the Bohr radius and has a value of 0.529 angstrom units (1 angstrom = 10{+-}{+1}{+0}m). The mass of an electron is 9.109 x 10{+-}{+3}{+1}kg. The electric charge on the electron and the hydrogen nucleus (which is just a proton) is -/+ 1.602 x 10{+-}{+1}{+9}Coulomb. Using these values along with the dielectric constant of free space to be 8.854 x 10{+-}{+1}{+2}Farad per meter, it is possible to make an estimate of the speed of the electron in the circular orbit of the hydrogen atom to be about 2.188 x 10{+6}meters per second or 2188 km/sec. This speed is about 150 times smaller than the speed of light in free space. However, even within this early quantum description, the above estimate must be used with care because the circular orbit model does not hold good for all other atoms where the electron orbits are in general elliptical which take circular shape only in a limit.
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And in an elliptic orbit, the centrifugal force keeps varying at every point, so does the distance of the electron from the nucleus whose charge is different from that of just one proton as we used for hydrogen nucleus. So, the electron speed at every point on the orbit can be different. The more complete and modern quantum theory does not admit such definite and precise orbits but rather describes the existence of the electron through a probabilistic description. Here, under any given circumstance, there is a probability of finding the electron at a point in space and at any instant of time. This keeps on changing from place to place and from time to time. In a sense, one can picturise the atomic electron to be a negative charge cloud around the nucleus, different electrons in any atom having different spatial shape of its charge distribution. Therefore, in this picture we cannot talk of speed of an electron around the nucleus. Prof. H. K. SAHU Chennai Mathematical Institute, Chennai

Electronic weighing machine

How does an electronic weighing machine work? P.S. MATHEW Alappuzha, Kerala The operation of an electronic weighing scale can be split into two parts for understanding. The first being the sensing part and the second, the processing part. The sensing part essentially contains a collection of sensors which measure the weight and convert it into electrical form for processing. The processing part then takes this signal and displays it on the LCD for a readout. The sensors used for measurement are known as load-cells. A load cell is basically a transducer (a device which converts one form of energy into other form) that converts a force (the weight in this case) into an electrical signal. The load-cell consists of a set of strain gauges which get deformed upon application of a pressure (strain) on them. This deformation is measured as an electrical signal so that it is suitable for processing. Because of the fact that the applied strain changes the electrical resistance of the wire, a load cell normally consists of 4 strain gauges that are connected as a wheatstone bridge. A collective output of the 4 strain gauges is obtained that is in a order of a few millivolts. The arrangement in a weighing scale is such that, the object that is placed on the platform exerts the force onto carefully placed load-cells beneath it. These transducers generate an electrical signal which is then amplified by the use of a high quality signal amplifier for it to be suitable in the subsequent sections of electronics in the device. This signal after amplification is taken by the processing part which converts the analog voltage into a digital form with the help of a precision analog to digital converter which is then displayed on to the digital read out.
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This part of the processing and the digital read out is handled by the use of a Micro processor Control Unit (MCU) which can perform other necessary operations based upon the design necessity. These operations can be maintenance of some statistical data, zero adjustment, interface to a PC system etc. Care is taken to calibrate these devices before they are used. This is done because of the uniqueness of the components that are used in them. This is an important step without which the device provides a wrong reading. PRABHAKAR JONNALAGADDA Hyderabad

Email source
Is it possible to locate the place of origin of an email? If yes, how? S.P.S. JAIN New Delhi Yes, it is possible. On Internet, each message that is sent out contains the unique identification number called I.P. Address of the source computer from where the message is sent. Though normally not visible to the receiver, it can be extracted by using a suitable option of the email software like Yahoo!, Hotmail, gmail etc. (e.g., in an email received on Yahoo mail, there is an option Full View Header to expand and show the details of the path taken. The IP address marked X-Originating-IP is the IP Address of the source computer). Using this IP Address and one of the worldwide Internet Registries or some software applications, one can find the details of the Internet Service Provider (ISP) like the ISP name, address, person responsible etc. Some software show the full path taken by the message from source computer to the destination. ISP may be a public ISP like BSNL, Reliance, AOL or a closed organisation like Indian Railways, Boeing, TCS etc. In a closed organisation it will be easier for the network administrators to identify the person depending on the internal IP Address, time of the mail etc. PRABHAKAR JONNALAGADDA Hyderabad

E-mails not all that green' Enabling India to shine in the world of science
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Any discussion on the state of science in India must begin with discussing how our children learn science in schools. Most of them are forced to learn by rote in schools and colleges. We have to help them become adept at analytical thinking and problem solving. The urgent need is to train them to translate what they learn in the classroom into an understanding of the natural and physical phenomena of science in the real world, and thinking of solving problems in the society around them. Independent thinking and a healthy scepticism of widely-accepted theories should be placed above students' mastery of school notes. Let me cite just two books that can enhance thinking power and problem solving capability of our high school children. Thinking Physics: Understandable Practical Reality by Lewis Carroll Epstein is known to help them appreciate the role of physics in understanding daily-life phenomena, and, therefore, improve their curiosity and critical thinking. For high school economics, I would recommend The Economic Naturalist: Why Economics explains almost everything by Robert Frank, which will help students think critically about fundamental concepts of economics. We would have succeeded in helping the next generation to think critically and to analyse deeply if our children start using such books. Shifting focus There is an great need to shift our focus from passing examinations to understanding the concepts. In my conversations with several students of computer science at Infosys, I am sad that most of them had forgotten even the fundamental concepts like semaphores within three months of their examinations! We should also create platforms for competition in scientific and mathematical thinking in every small town in the country so that children are encouraged to think critically. The best among them should be sent to State, regional, and national level competitions. The winners at the national level should be sent to international competitions so that they can compete with the best in the world. We should also submit our school system to global comparisons and benchmarks to measure where we stand. I was told by a very enlightened bureaucrat that we used to do it in the past but stopped it when we found we were consistently rated low! These suggestions aimed at reforming our school-level teaching may seem very ambitious but several countries have indeed succeeded in changing their educational systems using some of these well-known ideas. Singapore and South Korea are two good examples to emulate. The reforms Let me now come to some reforms at the college level. The universities that have created the most impact in the world have excelled both in research and in teaching. Therefore, our higher educational institutions must focus not just on teaching but on research as well. Currently, our research output measured by papers published in internationally-acclaimed conferences and peer-reviewed journals, and patent filings lags behind China, the U.S., and
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several developed countries. The best way to improve our performance in this area is to work on developing a research-oriented mindset among undergraduate students by focusing on independent and critical thinking. The ways For instance, expecting students to read the material to be discussed in a class, devoting a small part of the class time to just teaching critical issues in the material that the students have studied at home, and allotting most of the class time to questions and answers can be the first steps in improving curiosity and analytical thinking. A classical example of such a method would be the well-known course on Justice by Prof. Michael Sandel at Harvard University. This is a very popular undergraduate course in Philosophy and is held at the Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to accommodate around 1,500 students who take this class every year. The course video is available free for downloading at ITunes University. It may be a good idea to encourage our undergraduates to spend a semester doing independent research on a topic chosen by them in consultation with their teachers. The outcome of research is less important compared with a change in students' mindset. At the least, this scheme will help our youngsters gain confidence in independent and critical thinking. Thanks to such a scheme, I have seen several bright students excel in research at Cornell, Stanford and Tokyo Universities. In fact, professors at many well-known universities in the U.S., have told me about the effectiveness of this scheme in attracting young minds to research careers. Such a focus on analytical thinking and problem solving is extremely important in a country like India that is riddled with socio-economic and developmental challenges. These challenges to our inclusive growth actually represent a significant opportunity and act as a source of inspiration for our young researchers. The need In a country where 350 million-plus people lack access to decent primary education, health care, shelter, safe drinking water and basic sanitation, a research-and-problem-solving orientation among the young will play a seminal role in improving the overall quality of life for the poorest of the poor. We have to encourage such efforts with awards and recognition. This is where the Infosys Prizes from Infosys will, hopefully, play a role in saluting the efforts of our young researchers. The only way we can ignite the minds of our children and youngsters is by making them proud of the impact of our educational institutions on our society. The world will recognise our institutions and salute them if these institutions help transform the lives of every Indian like many of the universities in the developed countries have done. We would have arrived when we have 10 Indian high schools among the global 50, and 10 Indian universities among the global 50. This will happen when our universities and institutes compare favourably with universities like MIT, Harvard, Oxford, Ecole
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Polytechnique, Cornell, and Cambridge in their research output, citation index and patents. I am optimistic and confident we can achieve this. We can do it as long as we supplement our desire to get there with a single-minded focus on speed and execution. We have an abundance of scientific talent. That has never been in doubt. It is now up to us to unleash the full potential of our young minds. N.R. Narayana Murthy Trustee - Infosys Science Foundation, and Chairman Emeritus,Infosys Limited,Bangalore

Endosulfan entangle: when pesticide turns pest

The Random House Dictionary of English Language defines the word cynic' as a person who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and who disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view; and cynical' as showing contempt for accepted standards of honesty or morality. The arguments These definitions come to mind when one reads the arguments that the Central government has made before the Supreme Court of India on the issue of banning of the pesticide endosulfan. This is in response to a petition filed by the Democratic Youth Federation of India on the ill effects of endosulfan on the environment and human life, and that it should be banned. Reporting on the proceedings in the court, J.Venkatesan of The Hindu writes on August 3{+r}{+d}: The Centre has said that long-term use of the pesticide was unlikely to present public health concern. The Centre made it clear that endosulfan was not the reason behind health problem in Kasargod in Kerala. The court asked the government to appoint a committee to look into the health issue and report. This was done and The Hindu reports on August 6{+t}{+h}: The committee's interim report said public health concern or hazard associated with the pesticide was not reported from any state barring Kerala and Karnataka. And the Centre maintained that except in Kerala and Karnataka, no negative impact of this pesticide on crops, human and animal health or environment was reported anywhere and the ban should not be imposed in other states. What is the truth? Is the government correct? Are Kerala and Karnataka so different environmentally and genetically that they are the only areas where life forms were affected? Or is the argument based on the fact that banning endosulfan will affect the market, where the annual value is Rs 270 crores? Three manufacturers (Hindustan Insecticides Ltd, Coromandel Fertilizers and Excel Crop Care) together produce about 8500 tones of endosulfan every year, amounting to 70 per cent of the world production. In science, we look at and analyze all data available on a given issue, look for
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cogency and consistency between them and decide whether the information culled out of them makes sense, or whether more research is needed in order to arrive at a rigorous conclusion. And on issues concerning health and public welfare, society generally adopts the cautionary principle. Hence, let us look at what science has suggested so far or the effects of endosulfan on the environment and on life. Several comprehensive summaries are available free online, and are highly recommended. One is in Wikipedia, on the topic of endosulfan, with 94 references and licensed by Creative Commons. The other is an equally comprehensive summary, available at These reports not only describe the chronology of the endosulfan effects and the international efforts (WHO, Environmental Justice Foundation, Parties to the Rotterdam Convention) as well as reports from Indian government centres and industry groups. Early report The CSIR lab Industrial Toxicology Research Centre (ITRC), based in Lucknow came out with a report as early as 1989 (Toxicity Data Handbook. Vol III, Pesticide A) classifying endosulfan as extremely hazardous. The Final Report of The Investigation of Unusual Illnesses Allegedly Produced by Endosulfan Exposure in Padre Village of Kasargod District, N. Kerala : NIOH Study states that endosulfan exposure in early life may result in adverse health effects in later life. What does current scientific literature say? A quick search in PubMed revealed that (a) organochlorine pesticide residues (endosulfan, DDT, aldrin etc. were found in fresh and Pasteurized cow's milk from Kampala market in Uganda ( Chemosphere , August 2011): (b) endosulfan provokes systemic toxicity in the brains of rats (study from Greece in The Journal of Toxicological Sciences , April 2011), and (c) one from an ICAR lab in our own Andaman Islands, which reports in the June 2011 issue of Fish Physiology and Biochemistry that endosulfan exposure severely altered liver histology in fish. The government's argument in the court thus appears weak in science and perhaps strong in commerce, of more on wealth than on health. Why else would the Agriculture Minister Pawar declare six months ago that India will not ban endosulfan? The entire saga is eerily reminiscent of DDT, which was hailed as a wonder pesticide, and used effectively and successfully a generation ago. Its ill effects and health hazards come to light only later, and it is now banned the world over. Recall that DDT was first synthesized in 1874, but its insecticidal properties came to light only in 1939, thanks to the German scientist Paul Mueller. Its successful use during the II World War against mosquitoes was a huge success, and Mueller was awarded the 1948 Nobel Prize in Medicine. Environmental havoc Companies like Ciba, Olin, Monsanto and Montrose manufactured DDT in tons and tons. Then came Rachel Carson who, in her Silent Spring, catalogued the environmental havoc that DDT causes.
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This triggered the Environmental Movement, and thanks to their efforts, DDT was banned for widespread use in 1972. With endosulfan, the results have hit us in the face well ahead of time. (It was first manufactured in 1954, and its ill effects came to light by the 1990s. Its ban was imposed already by 2000, a full decade before today). Let us use the cautionary principle and not commercial priority, stop endosulfan and pursue research on safer alternatives. That would be the way of science. D. BALASUBRAMANIAN

Engineered fungus to fight malaria

Scientists have genetically engineered a fungus to be a potent, specific and eco-friendly tool against malaria. Our transgenic fungal approach is a very flexible one that allows design and delivery of gene products targeted to almost any disease-carrying arthropod, said Raymond St. Leger, professor of entomology at the University of Maryland, the journal Science reports. Leger, Weiguo Fang and colleagues at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and the University of Westminster, London, created their transgenic anti-malarial fungus by starting with Metarhizium anisopliae. They inserted anisopliae, a fungus that naturally attacks mosquitoes, into genes for a human antibody or a scorpion toxin, a Hopkins School statement said. Specific target Both the antibody and the toxin specifically target the malaria-causing parasite P. falciparum. The team then compared three groups of mosquitoes all heavily infected with the malaria parasite. In the first group were mosquitoes sprayed with the transgenic fungus, in the second were those sprayed with an unaltered or natural strain of the fungus, and in the third group were mosquitoes not sprayed with any fungus. The research team found that compared to the other treatments, spraying mosquitoes with the transgenic fungus significantly reduced parasite development. Even in the 25 per cent of mosquitoes that still had parasites after being sprayed with the transgenic fungi, parasite numbers were reduced by over 95 per cent compared to the mosquitoes sprayed with the wild-type fungus. IANS

Engineering ice to its advantage

Sea-ice algae the important first rung of the food web each spring in places like the Arctic Ocean can engineer ice to its advantage.
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Enzyme that drives cancer under study

Researchers are helping unlock the cellular-level function of the telomerase enzyme which drives cancer growth, thus paving the way for improved cancerfighting therapies. The number of times a cell divides is determined by telomeres, protective caps on the ends of chromosomes (genes) that indicate cell age. Every time a cell divides, the telomeres shorten, the journal Molecular Cell reports. When telomeres shrink to a certain length, the cell either dies or stops dividing. In cancer cells, the enzyme telomerase keeps rebuilding the telomeres, so the cell never receives the cue to stop dividing. It's a significant advance in our understanding of how telomerase works, said Woodring Wright, professor of cell biology and senior study author at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre, according to a Texas statement. Although telomerase was discovered in 1985, exactly how this enzyme repairs telomeres was largely unknown. One drug that blocks telomerase, Imetelstat or GRN163L, was developed by the biotechnology company Geron with help from Wright and Jerry Shay, professor of cell biology. That drug, tested at Southwestern, is currently in clinical trials for treatment of several types of cancer. IANS

Epic journeys of turtles revealed

For the first time thanks to groundbreaking research using satellite tracking, the epic ocean-spanning journeys of the gigantic leatherback turtle in the South Atlantic have been revealed. A five-year study was led by experts at the Centre for Ecology and Conservation (Cornwall) at the University of Exeter to find out more about these increasingly rare creatures and inform conservation efforts. The research, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, has shed new light on the little-known migration behaviour of these animals following their movement from the world's largest breeding colony in Gabon, Central Africa, as they returned to feeding grounds across the South Atlantic. Out of 25 females studied in the new research, three migratory routes were identified including one 7,563km journey straight across the South Atlantic from Africa to South America , according to a University of Exeter press release. Other routes still involved large distances, as they moved from Gabon to foodrich habitats in the southwest and southeast Atlantic and off the coast of Central Africa. They will stay in these areas for 2-5 years to build up the
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reserves to reproduce, when they will return to Gabon once again. Dr Matthew Witt, a researcher involved in the study said: Despite extensive research carried out on leatherbacks, no one has really been sure about the journeys they take in the South Atlantic until now. What we've shown is that there are three clear migration routes as they head back to feeding grounds after breeding in Gabon, although the numbers adopting each strategy varied each year. We don't know what influences that choice yet, but we do know these are truly remarkable journeys. Our Bureau

'Epigenetic memory' key to timing flowering

A phenomenon, 'epigenetic memory' enables plants to remember' the length of the cold winter period in order to time flowering so that pollination, seed dispersal and germination can all happen at the appropriate time.

Eruption of volcano predicted

U.S. scientists said recently they have for the first time successfully predicted the eruption of one of the world's most active undersea volcanoes off the coast of the western state of Oregon. Scientists from Oregon and New York have been monitoring Axial Seamount, 250 miles out to sea, since it last erupted in 1998, and predicted it would again before 2014. On an expedition to the area on July 29, researchers using a remotely operated robot discovered a lava flow that was not there the year before, and began noticing that the entire area looked unfamiliar. When we first arrived on the seafloor, we thought we were in the wrong place, because it looked so completely different, said Bill Chadwick, an Oregon State University geologist who co-authored a 2006 study that forecast another eruption by 2014. We couldn't find our markers or monitoring instruments or other distinctive features on the bottom. The team was using bottom pressure sensors, the same tools used to monitor the sea floor for potential tsunamis after an earthquake. A couple of their recording instruments soon turned up, and scientists determined that the eruption happened on April 6. The team cautioned that most volcanoes remain highly volatile. We now know that Axial Seamount behaves in a more predictable way than many other volcanoes. AFP

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EU to help radiation victims

A European bone marrow transplant group on Wednesday offered to treat Japanese emergency workers who may be exposed to dangerous radiation from the crippled nuclear reactors. Japan is more competent than any European country when it comes to radiation treatment, said Ray Powles, chair of the nuclear accident committee for the European Group for Blood and Marrow Transplantation. But they are dealing with an awful lot right now and so we made this offer and are ready to help if they blow the whistle. Short window period Doctors say there is a short window of opportunity after people are exposed to radiation when they can assess whether patients will need extensive treatment or a bone marrow transplant. After a person has been radiated, you have three to four days before they're on the cusp of severe complications, Powles said. At that point, they could be put on a flight to Europe if Japanese facilities are overwhelmed. Powles said 500 bone marrow transplant centres across 27 European countries have been put on alert and could treat 200 to 300 patients if necessary. He said the group made their offer to Japanese officials and the WHO. The European group based in Maastricht, the Netherlands, initially drew up its emergency plans to respond to a radiation threat in the aftermath of terrorist attacks and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Effect on bone marrow Radiation typically kills many bone marrow cells, which can lead to a compromised immune system in patients, leaving them vulnerable to infections and other health problems. Powles said European doctors were not offering to perform bone marrow transplants, but to treat Japanese patients with supportive care like antibiotics until a transplant was possible. He said it was important to find out how much radiation nuclear plant workers are being exposed to as they attempt to cool reactors. People exposed to a lethal dose as was the case with some workers in the aftermath of Chernobyl will likely die within days. But those who only get a moderate dose could survive much longer even if they ultimately need a bone marrow transplant. We do have the luxury of time if workers are not getting increasing doses of radiation as they go into the plants, Powles said. He said doctors could accurately predict which people would be in trouble 12 to 48 hours after being exposed to radiation and that emergency care could be provided in Europe to keep them alive. Jim Smith, a physics expert at the University of Portsmouth said the radiation risk to the general public is low, even for people in the immediate vicinity of the problematic nuclear plants. AP

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Every policy and decision is grey, not black or white Evidence of black holes destroying stars
Astrophysicists have found evidence of black holes destroying stars, a longsought phenomenon that provides a new window into general relativity.

Evolution and skull shape

Skull shape did not occur independently through separate evolutionary events, but by actually precipitating each other.

Evolution of flowering plants earlier: study

The evolution and diversification of the more than 300,000 living species of flowering plants may have been jump started' much earlier than previously calculated, nearly 200 million years earlier, a new study indicates.

Evolutionary history of flies mapped for study

Calling it the new periodic table for flies,' researchers have mapped the evolutionary history of flies, a framework for further comparative studies on the insects that comprise more than 10 per cent of all life on Earth.

Excess fat
When we take excess water or proteins our body eliminates them, but when we take in excess fat it is stored in our body. Why? PATEL NIHARIKA Bellary, Karnataka Nearly 15-20 per cent of the body weight in humans is constituted by lipids. Among the lipids the most abundant are triglycerides (neutral fats), which
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form 85-90 per cent of the total body lipids. They are stored in the adipose tissue made of lipocytes (fat storing cells) and serve as most predominant energy reserve of the body. The fat cells store the lipid as small droplets of fat molecules. These fat molecules are formed as the concentrations of fatty acids in the blood rises, such as after a big meal. An increase in concentrations within the blood triggers lipase enzymes located in fat tissue, to grab the fatty acids and convert them into a fat molecule (triacylglycerols) for storage. There are two main reasons for fat being the fuel reserve of the body; (1) Triacylglycerols (TG) are highly concentrated form of energy, yielding 9 kilocalories (9 Cal/g), in contrast to carbohydrates and proteins that produce only 4 Cal/g. This is because fatty acids found in TG are in the reduced form. (2) The TGs are non-polar and hydrophobic in nature, hence stored in pure form without any association with water (anhydrous form). On the other hand, glycogen (a polysaccharide called human starch) and proteins are polar molecules. One gram of glycogen combines with two grams of water for storage. For the two reasons stated above, one gram of anhydrous fat stored in the body yields, nearly six times as much energy as one gram of glycogen (hydrated). In a healthy adult about 10-4-11 kg of fat is stored in adipose tissue, which corresponds to a fuel reserve of 100, 000 Cals. If this much of energy were to be stored as glycogen (instead of fat), then the weight of the person would increase by at least 55kg! This clearly explains why fat has been chosen as a fuel reserve during evolution. Fats can also support the body's energy needs for long periods of food deprivation. In extreme case, humans can fast and survive for 60-90 days, and the obese persons can survive even longer periods than this. Hibernating animals provide good example for utilizing fat reserve as fuel. For instance, polar bears go on hibernation for about seven months and, during this entire period, the energy is derived from the degradation of stored fat. The rubythroated humming birds fly non-stop between New England and West Indies (2,400 km) at a speed of 40 km/h for 60 hours. This is possible only due to the stored fat. S. PALANIAPPAN Pudukottai, Tamil Nadu

Excess fat
When all the other elements are excreted why fat alone has to be stored? Patel Niharika Bellary, Karanataka In the kidney there is an apparatus called Glomerular capsule and renal tubules, which act as a natural filter to the body elements whose natural jobs is selective filtration and selective absorption respectively. If you consume excess water, excess sugar, and if there are abnormal proteins in the blood, it will be naturally excreted. But, all the other essential nutrients, even if they
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are high, (those which are necessary for the body function) are reabsorbed. But fat molecules will not get excreted normally, unless the tubule or Glomerular capsule is damaged. In conditions like fat embolism to the blood during fractures of long bones, there is damage to the kidney filtering units, and fats appear in the urine as fat globules. The free fatty acids and apoproteins, to which the fat molecules are attached, cannot be excreted. This is so as the size of the fat molecules is relatively bigger than the pore of glomerular capsule. On the contrary, they may get excreted in the faecal matter, if any drug prevents absorption of these fatty acids (anti obesity drugs action). Whatever fat has been absorbed cannot circulate in the blood as the blood viscosity has to be maintained. Hence they are trapped normally as fat globules underneath the skin, mammary glands of women, peritoneum, to name a few. The only way to mobilize these fat molecules is by using them for the energy purposes. For instance, when we exercise, the energy for the muscle is obtained by metabolizing or burning this fat. The simple fact, that as fats cannot be excreted they are trapped inside the body as fat globules only. This is basic physiology. There are no complicated issues in this process at all. Prof. Dr. V. NAGARAAJAN Senior consultant NeurologistProfessor Emeritus in Neuro sceicnce, Tamil Nadu Dr MGR MEDICAL UNIVERSITY

Exercise beneficial in preventing migraine

Although exercise is often prescribed as a treatment for migraine, there has not been sufficient evidence that it really works. Now, new research shows that exercise is just as good as drugs at preventing migraines.

Exercise lowers risk of colon cancer death

Consistent exercise is linked to a lower risk of colon cancer death, according to a new study, among the first to show that physical activity can make the disease less deadly and even help after a cancer diagnosis has been made.

Experience guides birds while building nests

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In contrast to the commonly-held assumption among scientists that nestbuilding is an innate ability, researchers found that individual birds varied their technique from one nest to the next as they learned from experience.

Farm to home delivery system launched

A meet on awareness of organic farm practices was organised recently in Chennai. A large number of organic farmers, retailers and consumers participated in the meeting. Organic farmers spoke about their experiences and how they have been able to succeed in today's critical agriculture phase. Many of those who spoke gave their own experiences as to how costs can be drastically cut down by using natural inputs and how the bio pesticides helped their crop to become resistant to pests and infestation attacks. Discussion In a panel discussion regarding the benefits of organic products, their cost and the present problems farmers face were hotly debated Mr. Pamayan, a farmer from Adisil in his speech said that farmers should become more aware on organic farming methods. He stressed that if only they took up natural farming can they get a good yield and profit. Need more subsidies The government should come forward to grant more subsidies to organic farmers. Last year the subsidies given to those practising chemical based agriculture totalled nearly Rs. one lakh crores, he said. Another leading farmer Mrs. Rajareega, president of women farmers association from Muthupatti village in Sivaganga taluk said, farmers are now struggling with labour, transport and storage problems. Even in small roadside eateries they fix the price of the product they are selling, but farmers are denied their right to fix the price for their produce. The government must bring in the system of price fixing by farmers, she stressed. Mr. Murali, a retailer handling organic products said that the consumers' awareness level on consuming organic food is quite low. Consumers are ready to buy any luxury or fashion product for any cost but when it comes to organic foodstuffs they are not ready to spend, he said. Motivated Mr. Ruso, Managing Director, Raasi organic Pvt Ltd in his address said that his company is soon going to start a free home delivery system. We have motivated a number of farmers in the outskirts of Chennai to take up organic cultivation and have assured them that we will buy their produce at a competitive price. There seems to be a shortage in the availability of organic products today in the market. Compared to other chemically grown food grains, organic food is not available in all the shops. Those interested in

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buying it have to search for suppliers, he said. To contact Mr. Ruso email and mobile: 09626471727.

Farmers cannot solve the crises in agriculture on their own

Farmers cannot solve the crises in agriculture on their own. If one does an Internet search on how to solve the present crises in Indian agriculture, there are surprises in store several hundred answers to effectively tackle the problems on hand. But the present crisis cannot be solved by the farmers alone. The initiative must come from the government, according to Dr. P. Murugesa Boopathi, Vice Chancellor, Tamil Nadu Agriculture University, (TNAU), Coimbatore. The government should view agriculture as a national requirement. Till then, the livelihood of farmers and sustainability cannot improve, he says. Fast economy Everybody today lives in a fast economy. Money alone can buy food, clothing and shelter. Absence of cash means loss of purchasing power and for a cashstrapped farmer it means the end of life. A small farmer's first need today is to make money from the meagre land holding. To help such small farmers, technologies available today must be affordable and easy to locate, he adds. The primary factor for success in any business is the consumer orientation model that fulfils the needs of the consumer and the demand of the growing nation. Market orientation Market orientation must be in terms of what to produce, when to produce, and how much to produce. Losses are incurred due to excess production (storage loss and price reduction) and price rise during deficit production. Market oriented agricultural production planning, with a medium and short term horizon, needs to be done at the national, State, and farm level. This can lead to effective and efficient allocation of resources, he stresses. Urgent need There is an urgent need to attract private sector investment in agriculture, especially for storage and transport infrastructure if things are to improve, he argues. There are presently nearly eight million farmers in Tamil Nadu. But extension functionaries such as scientists and agricultural officers, are less than 10,000. This creates a gap in efficient transfer of technology. Most are small and marginal farmers, and many are not interested in adopting important technologies such as seed replacement rate, bio-fertilizer application, integrated plant protection, etc., he explains. Although we take efforts to disseminate the information through several
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media, only a few farmers show interest in adopting them. Progressive farmers following these developments approach the nearest college campus, research stations or KVKs and get required directions. Such farmers show marvellous development. Hard working Our farmers are extremely hard working and entrepreneurial. What they need is a platform, to utilize it to improve their life market orientation and market linkages with a greater share for them in the consumer's rupee, he says. To help the farmers, TNAU has uploaded complete details of all the technologies in its Agri Portal website A farmer can get almost any information he is looking for regarding field preparation, seeds, machinery, expert advice and marketing. Market prices Another website also disseminates technologies and suggests remedies for maladies affecting crops. In addition the University also provides market prices of agri-horti produces through DEMIC (Domestic and Export Marketing Information Centre). New technologies According to Dr. Boopathi, the University is making a lot of headway in technology development and transfer. Marketing, price, and export policies that improve the profitability of small farms are essential at the moment. It is the duty of our scientists to develop relevant need based technologies to augment productivity. It becomes the task of State extension functionaries to facilitate market orientation of the farmers and provide all the required technologies to improve. There is profitability in agriculture. Those interested can directly contact my office on any working day and we will be glad to guide them, says Dr. Boopathi. For any queries or guidance contact Dr. Murugesa Boopathi at email: and, phone: 0422- 2431788.

Farmers' choice: Vamban 6 blackgram variety

A new variety blackgram called Vamban 6 has been developed at the National Pulses Research Centre, Vambam, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University. According to Dr. P. Murugesa Boopathi, Vice Chancellor, the new blackgram variety comes to harvest in 65 to 70 days and is suitable for growing in all seasons. Better yield It is heartening to note that Vamban 6 gives high yield, about 890 kg/ha in irrigated condition and as high as 850 kg/ha in rainfed. The variety is preferred by farmers because it yields higher and is resistant to yellow mosaic virus disease and the possible damage due to pod borer is less, he said.
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Dr. M. Paramathma, Director of Research urged farmers who prefered to take up this new variety for cultivation, to treat the seeds with two grams Carbendazim or Thiram per kg of seed. Recommendation Rhizobium should be mixed with seeds after 24 hours of Carbendazim treatment. For an hectare 20 kg seeds are sufficient. Three packets of Rhizobium mixture with rice gruel shade dried for 15 minutes is recommended. Reiterating the urgent need for increasing the pulses production, Dr. Murugesa Boopathi suggested two critical technologies to double the pulses yield, namely the seed drill to maintain proper plant population and using mobile sprinkler for irrigation during 35 to 45 days after sowing. Pulse wonder He also said that the University has developed TNAU pulse wonder, a micro nutrient mixture to boost pulse yield. This, if popularized widely, will have great impact on increasing the yield up to 20 per cent, he added. Apart from these benefits, the pulse wonder also decreases flower shedding and increases drought tolerance. Mechanisation of pulse cultivation is a priority area according to Dr. Boopathi who stressed that it is planned to create a model farm at the National Pulses Research Centre which would be under 100 per cent mechanization as a demonstration plot to educate farmers. For further details, readers can contact : Dr. M. Paramathma, Director of Research , Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore 641 003, Phone : 0422- 6611547 or Mobile : 094435 05843

Farmers demand terms within FDI in multi-brand retail Farmers go to college to brush up their knowledge
Students going to school or college is routine, but a 60 year old senior citizen running to a class, books in hand, does kindle some curiosity among onlookers. Like him there are nearly 200 and odd students from 27 years to 75 years who have enlisted for a three year open and distance education course called Bachelor of Farm Technology (BFT) at the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University, Coimbatore. The course, a six semester schedule, is the brainwave of the Vice Chancellor, Dr. Murugesa Boopathi.
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Personal experience Even 10th class school dropouts doing farming in Israel are brilliant. They speak on issues that our PhD scholars are working on. My personal experience during travel made me think of introducing a new course that benefits both the farmer and those desirous of entering farming as a vocation. Days of planning and discussion among our people resulted in introducing this course that seems to be very popular, says Dr. Boopathi. This unique course is the first of its kind for any State agricultural university and was introduced in November 2010. Popular course After nearly six months, it turned out to be a much sought after study among retired officials, young entrepreneurs, sales persons, and businessmen, according to Dr. V. Valluvaparidasan, Director, Open and Distance Learning (ODL). Today, our course draws students from different age groups and from diverse backgrounds. All share one common dream - to make a difference as a farmer in agriculture, he says. An 80-year-old farmer, Mr. Anbu Sundaranand from Thirumalayampalayam near Coimbatore, is the oldest student. Better informed I chose to join this course even after 70 years of farming experience. There seems to be a lot of difference between what I did in the past and what I should do now. I am now able to do farming more precisely as I am equipped with scientific knowledge and guidelines from an expert. I firmly believe that farmers must become aware about the new technologies, he says. There is a lot of difference between teaching students and farmers. The older and experienced students, the more pre-determined is the mindset and it takes some time for them to agree on certain things. But we enjoy teaching them because they are eager to learn, adds Dr. Valluvaparidasan. Dr. K. Singaravelu a retired income tax, official says that before he joined this course he did not know anything about farming. Why the losses I am now in the second semester and already I am able to understand certain details about why farmers face losses. Though many of us may be employed in private jobs, our parents, and brothers are still into agriculture. Given a choice we do not want to move away from farming. Being a student of this curriculum now, I am able to ask questions to my labourers about the seeds, inputs and more importantly about the marketing facilities. I no longer simply nod my head for everything they say, says R. Saravanakumar, a business executive who joined the course recently. According to Dr. Boopathi, there is no age limit for those desirous of joining this study. A minimum pass percentage in the 10th standard is the eligibility for applying. The course aims to create awareness among people about the many new
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technologies, crop growing, inputs and subsidies that the Government offers to farmers. In fact there is one paper in the last semester that deals with effective management of labour. Lot of enquiries This year our University is being flooded with number of enquires about the course. Friends of present students also want to join. We feel immensely happy that we are able to bridge the communication and knowledge gap that existed between farmers and those interested in the sector by this new course, says Dr. Boopathi. For more details contact Dr. V. Valluvaparidasan, Director, Open and Distance Learning, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University Coimbatore, Phone 0422 6611229, Mobile: 09442111046, e-mail: and Dr. Boopathi at pmboopathitnau@

Farmers' organisations can play a more constructive role

On trying to compile an endless suffering that farmers need to bear, one is left wondering if there exists a magic pill that can solve their problems, says Mr. Ajay Vir Jakhar, Chairman, Bharat Krishak Samaj, New Delhi. The biggest bane of the farmers according to him, is that they vote on caste or religious lines, nudged by political leaders and later expect the government to deliver their needs as a community of farmers. Unfortunately, today, dearth of farmer leaders exists in all-political parties. Leaders represent their own individual communities and castes to win their elections, he says. Need for awareness Surprisingly, more than a farmer, it is the policy makers who need to be educated - especially on marketing - because their decisions determine a farmer's future. Over the years, a number of farmers' organizations are becoming either offshoots of political parties or politically aligned. As a consequence, these become mouthpieces of political groups, adds Mr. Ajay. Being dependent on one party or the other, (as is usually the case), an organisation becomes more active during opposition rule. Because of this, several groups are becoming inherently seasonal, agitating, channelising pent up frustration and anger against the government of the day, he says and adds at no point should this be mistaken to represent absence of good organisations. There are several organisations doing a good job, but are less known, as they work for the welfare of farmers and are not in the business of publicity. These groups are nearly lost in the vast ocean of namesake farmers' welfare organisations, according to Mr. Ajay. Self propagation Everyone criticises aloud to get noticed, he stresses. No doubt, criticism
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being valuable, gets public attention in the society, increases TV ratings, garners support, and eventually money and position. At most seminars, farmer meets, and debates on agriculture, we find people projecting themselves, highlighting faults in sight. Positive discussions are a rarity, seems to be his view. More influence Even though most agitations that hold up the roads and block traffic are for a farmer related cause, they do not achieve much. The farmers in the U.S. wield more influence on the government policy because they are better organised to look after their own interests, he says. Though 70 per cent of the farmers in India are women, very few admit women members, and even fewer shoulder constitutional responsibilities in their respective setups. Farmers' organisations can play a vital role on two fronts: First enlighten the farmers' about wrong policies affecting them; and two, dissect information of best available agriculture practices so that the farmer can make an informed decision for adoption. Communication value The value of good communication, pressurising policymakers, awareness and information access to farmers cannot be underestimated, according to Mr. Ajay. It becomes difficult to evaluate resultant gains or quantify the benefits. Funding obviously remains a major hurdle for those doing good work, he adds. The Panchayati Raj today acts like a double edged sword providing much needed empowerment and benefits to the rural community on the one hand, and on the other destroying the social harmony in the villages . It acts to divide farmers on political lines by pitting one against the other in every street, to the point that farmer solidarity may be lost for ever, regrets Mr. Ajay Several possibilities The possibilities of various positive roles that an organisation can play today to ease the farmers' suffering are endless if we vote on issues that benefit us irrespective of political affiliations, rather than on our vested ideologies, local and sectarian interests, according to him. For more details contact Mr. Ajay Vir Jakhar, Chairman, Bharat Krishak Samaj, A-1 Nizamuddin West, New Delhi-110013,, phones: 011 46121708 and 65650384.

Farmers would quit agriculture if they had an alternative

Some years ago the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) reported after its study on agriculture that roughly half the farmers in the country did
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not wish to continue farming. They would rather quit if they had an alternative. This shameful reality reflects the despair farmers feel and is based on the fact that agriculture is a loss making enterprise and the farmers are unable to either feed themselves or turn a profit, says Dr. Suman Sahai, Convener, Gene campaign, New Delhi in her blog ( on Why farmers don't farm. Provides training Dr. Sahai, a genetic scientist, served as faculty member at Universities of Chicago and Heidelberg, is convenor of the Gene Campaign, an organization dedicated to protecting farmers' rights and food and livelihood security. It also provides training to farmers in adapting the fragile agriculture of the dryland to the growing uncertainty of global warming and climate change. Dr. Sahai has been honoured with a number of international and national awards and including the Padmashri recently. Rural India is looked down upon by the well to do urban population, including the policy makers, who are seen as part of the urban elite. This discrimination strips farming and the farmer of his dignity and provides an incentive to the younger generation to move away from farming, she says. Raised on a diet of unreal aspirations beamed on television soap operas and Bollywood films, rural youth sees neither glamour, money nor dignity in farming. Why would they want to adopt it if there is nothing there for them? she asks. Electoral politics plays with rice and wheat as gimmicks to get votes. The poor must certainly get the help of the state to overcome hunger and poverty but the way to do this should be empowerment and fostering self reliance not creating dependency through doles, she mentions in her blog. Only one crop Uncertain rainfall and drought in the last three years has made farming even more risky than before. In Jharkhand, farmers can harvest only one crop in the year during the monsoon. Because there is no irrigation, they are unable to plant a second crop in the winter as farmers in the irrigated regions of Punjab and U.P can. Farm losses become even higher if the single crop too fails, creating a crisis of hunger for farm families. The coping mechanism for such a situation is to abandon farming and seek work as manual labour since that brings assured income, which farming does not. Abandoning farming now makes economic sense to the farmer. In Jharkhand, in a family with five members, if four go out to seek manual work in mines or at construction sites, they collectively earn about Rs.300 per day at an average wage rate of Rs.75 per person which is below the minimum wage. And it is money that comes into their hands at the end of the day. This makes the average monthly income of the family Rs. 9,000 per month, or Rs. 1.8.000 per year, explains Dr. Sahai. This is several times that they can ever dream of earning from farming . Expensive
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According to her, in the farmer's calculation, agriculture is expensive, risky and requires back breaking work which does not even bring enough to eat, let alone any surplus. On top of all this, it carries the near certain burden of debt since in order to coax his single crop out of the ground, the farmer needs to take credit to procure inputs like seed and fertilizer, sometimes even water. In another scenario, the BPL card holder gets 35 kg of rice at Rs 1 per kg and 3 litres of kerosene oil per month for cooking. This subsidized grain lasts for fifteen days in the month, for the other fifteen days he purchases food from the market with the money the family has earned from manual labour. On the other hand, here is what many farmers recounted about their experience with hybrid rice cultivation. Hybrid rice is promoted aggressively by government agencies although all the hybrid rice seed is being sold by private companies and there is not a single public sector hybrid rice variety available on the market. No investment Farmers bought hybrid rice seed at about Rs 250 per kg, planted the nursery and at the time of transplantation, the rains failed. Since there is no investment in rainwater conservation, there are no water bodies and life saving irrigation is not available to save the crop. So, after investing between 3,000 to 4,000 rupees, the farmers got about 50 to 60 kg of rice from the entire kharif crop. Compare this with the 35 kg rice that they get for Rs 35, every month. Why would the farmer farm? she asks. Many in the younger generation are forgetting how to farm. Two more generations of this kind of youth and we may not have enough people who can grow food in this country and then? she asks. Readers can contact Dr. Suman Sahai at, J-235/A, Lane W-15C, Sainik farms, New Delhi- 110-062, phone:011- 29556248 and 29555961.

Fighting iron deficiency

Someone with an iron deficiency should substantially reduce consumption of coffee and black tea. This is according to Petra Renner-Weber, a member of Germany's Home Economics and Nutrition Science Association. She says that tannin in the drinks inhibits the absorption of iron. About two hours should pass after a meal before drinking coffee or tea, she added. Renner-Weber said the body absorbed iron from animal products such as meat and sausage best. When its iron stores are depleted, the body absorbs a lot of iron from food. When stores are well supplied, it takes in little of the mineral. She advises vegetarians to eat iron-rich vegetables such as beets as well as legumes and whole grains. She said that vitamin C and organic acids enhanced the absorption of iron from plant foods and so she recommends drinking a glass of orange juice at
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meals or having fruit salad for dessert. Iron deficiency, which a doctor can detect with a blood test, is caused by an unbalanced diet or, in women, heavy menstrual periods, Renner-Weber said. Symptoms included tiredness, weakness, increased susceptibility to infections, problems with hair and nail growth, and dry, chapped skin. Men require about 10 mg of iron daily, and women 15. DPA

Filter neurons in brain tackle clutter'

The key to normal functioning of the brain is filter neurons' which selectively inhibit unimportant information, giving the brain access to what is relevant.

Financing small farmers through an innovative scheme

Farmers know the difficulty in obtaining loans for their farming activities in the country. Though many financing institutions promise all necessary help to farmers, sadly most of it remains only on paper. The Kshethra Dhamasthala Rural Development Project (SKDRDP), an NGO in Dharmasthala effectively makes use of the self help group approach called pragathibandhu for promoting union among small farmers and to access loans for its members. Charitable organization Started as an charitable organization some two decades ago to provide subsidy to small farmers in villages around Dharmasthala, the NGO today is one of the biggest in the country. Today, active in nine districts of Karnataka the NGO has so far promoted 1,16,500 self help groups (SHGs) and a cumulative membership of 12,85,000 families. These SHGs maintain a cumulative savings of Rs. 258.00 crores as on September 2010. Till date we have provided credit to the extent of Rs. 1919.00 crores. The interest rate charged at 15 per cent (reducing balance) is considered as the best in the sector. Besides loans we also provide training and capacity building, technology, community development, marketing support to the farmers, says Dr. Veerendra Heggade, Dharmadhikari. According to Dr. L.H. Manjunath, Executive Director, the loan helps in realizing the dream farm plan to the pragathibandhu members. Each member saves Rs. 10 every week. We provide financial assistance of up to 40 times their savings. This saving is called as fund and not loan as we expect the farmers to treat this money with respect. Normally, we borrow bulk funds from commercial banks at interest rates of around 10 per cent for lending to the group. Repayment time
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The members get a repayment period of 3 to 5 years however, the money must be repaid in weekly instalments. No member can say that he pays back the loan from the returns of the crop for which he has invested, he explains. For example a farmer borrowing Rs. 20,000 for cultivating arecanut has a gestation period of 5 years, after which he needs to repay the money in 156 weeks at Rs. 156 every week. For this purpose the member will have to resort to subsidiary occupations like dairy, floriculture, betel leaf or labour work to repay the loan. So far lending by commercial banks to farms has been activity specific expecting repayment to come from the incomes from that activity. For instance the bank finances sugarcane cultivation and wait for 18 months for the sugarcane yield to come before demanding recovery of the loan. If sugarcane crop fails, yields less or there is market crisis the farmer is totally unprepared and faces balance sheet crisis. Where as in the pragathi bandhu innovation looks at daily income of the farmer and encourages him to take up mixed farming that increases his income source. Small revenues For example a farmer takes up plantation crop, cash crop, vegetable cultivation floriculture fruit crops, dairy farming, poultry, apiary, etc all of which bring in small revenues to the farmer and reduces the risk on any one crop. The farmer also manages his cash flow daily to pay small amounts from his net surplus to the loans borrowed by him. For instance the farmer pays back the sugarcane loan in weekly instalments from his other incomes without waiting for sugar cane yield. When his sugarcane starts yielding he has already paid back his dues and his dependence on sugarcane actually comes down. He is able to manage the risks on sugarcane production and marketing confidently. In short SKDRDP has redefined the lending to small farmers, says Dr. Heggade. The application for the loan is generated by the group after discussion with the members and based on the farm plans of each member. The applications are then vetted by the village level federation of the SHGs who constitute a subcommittee for recommending the loan. Loan sanction The applications are then submitted to the field worker after the recommendation of the subcommittee, who then submits it to the appropriate authority for sanction. Normally, the time taken from generating the application at the group level till the release of the cheque is 15 days. If there is emergency, loans are released immediately. At the same time bigger loans are appraised before release and therefore may take a little more time, says Dr. Manjunath. For more details contact Dr. L H Manjunath, Executive Director, SKDRDP, Dharmashri Building, Dharmasthala, Blethangady Taluk, Dakshin Kannada District, Karnataka 574216, email:, mobile: 09448469009, phone: 08256-277215.
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Finland far ahead in nuclear waste management

Finland consumes nearly 17,000 units of electric power per capita annually; its share of nuclear electricity is about 28 per cent. Though its nuclear power programme is very modest compared to that of U.S. or U.K. it is far ahead in its universally applauded plans for nuclear waste management. The general refrain of lay public (often reinforced by antinuclear rhetoric) is that there is no ultimate solution for managing high level nuclear waste. Finland demonstrates that it has in place a popularly accepted technological solution. Finnish programme Currently, Finland operates four nuclear power reactors with a total installed capacity of 2716 MWe. It produces about 70 tonnes of spent fuel annually. Finland has no plans to reprocess the spent fuel. Finland started its preliminary preparations for its nuclear waste management shortly before the first reactors started operation 1n 1977-1978. In 1978, the first lot of spent fuel entered the facility for interim storage at Loviisa. The Nuclear Energy Act 990/1987 passed by its parliament stated that nuclear waste generated in connection with or as a result of the use of nuclear energy in Finland shall be handled, stored and permanently disposed of in Finland. In 1983, Finland started screening of potential sites for spent fuel disposal. Within the next four years, Finnish scientists started field research in five municipalities for selecting the final disposal site. Final repository In 2000, they chose Olkiluoto. They plan to dispose of spent fuel in an underground geological repository. Posiva, a Finnish company which is entrusted with the job has drilled a 6.5 metre high, 5 m- wide and 5000m long Okalo tunnel. It has removed over 100,000 cubic metre of rock. The company successfully located the place where no one would ever be likely to dig a deep hole later for exploiting minerals because the place is not mineral-rich. The idea is to abandon forever, the mostly natural, and partly engineered underground repository after filling it. Canister design After a few decades of interim storage, the levels radioactivity and heat of spent fuel reduce to about 0.1 per cent of the original values. It is then encapsulated in a cast iron insert which in turn is covered by a 5 cm thick copper canister. Each insert may carry up to 12 fuel bundles. They will be placed in neatly bored holes a few metre apart in the underground repository. The gaps between each canister and the hole will be filled with bentonite clay, which swells by absorbing water. This clay provides cushioning to the canister in case of geological movements and ensures that there are no voids through which water can enter and corrode the container.
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Finland hopes to start filling the repository by 2012 and completing it by 2120. They can cover the mouth of the tunnel and forget about it. Canister integrity Most of the radioactivity in the spent fuel is due to fission products. They have a half life of about 30y. In 100,000 years, the radioactivity remaining in the fuel will be negligible. Finnish scientists proved that 1.5 cm of copper cladding would last over 100,000 years. Evidently, 5 cm of copper cladding will be more than adequate. During the period, an ice age may come and cover the area under 2-3 km of ice. The pressure on the canister due to ice, tightly gripping bentonite clay and ground water may equal that experienced by it at an ocean depth of 4.5 km. Finns proved that their copper cylinders will withstand a pressure three times that before failing. Waste management cost is manageable. Finland collects a few percentage of the electricity cost per unit of power to manage the waste and deposits it in an independent National Nuclear Waste Management Fund, controlled and administered by the Ministry of Trade and Industry. The agency estimates and assesses the liability annually. Finland's nuclear waste management programme was accepted by people because the Government took them into confidence at every stage. Finland demonstrates that nuclear waste can be managed safely. This issue need not come in the way of harnessing nuclear power. K.S.PARTHASARATHY Raja Ramannna Fellow, Department of Atomic Energy (

Fire and wind

Wind blows out fire, at the same time it spreads fire. Why this phenomenon? K.V.SANDEEP Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh Answer 1: Firstly, consider the presence of a low velocity wind. ( say, virtually, still air). At any moment of time, this wind is just sufficient to sustain the fire. That is, it functions just as an element.' Obviously, it cannot provide any motive force (kinetic energy) for the fire (flame). Hence, the fire cannot spread. Ultimately, it blows out. Secondly, consider the presence of a high velocity wind. At any moment of time, there is not only sufficient supply of air to sustain the fire but also there is adequate air to provide motive force. Thus, its function is two-fold: as an element and as a motive force. Hence, the fire spreads. K.N. KRISHNA PRASAD Guest faculty, Building Fire Research Centre

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National Engineering Institute (Autonomous) Mysore, Karnataka

Fire ants form life raft from their bodies

Fire ants can create a life raft out of their own bodies to survive a flood and save the colony, according to a study. The research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) studied the fire ants ( Solenopsis invicta) of South America where they regularly have to deal with flooding. Ants are well known for their group intelligence and that mentality of the collective works in the construction of the floating raft. They clutch onto each other with their jaws and claws according to David Hu of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. The researchers threw between 500 and 8,000 ants into water at a time and they quickly gathered and formed a tortilla-shaped structure within minutes. According to the authors, about half of the colony went underwater to build a platform to carry the rest of the ants. Thousands to millions of passengers can be transported without one of them dying. The formation of air trapped under the rafts is likely to increase buoyancy and prevent the ants in the bottom layer from drowning. The fire ants can spend long periods in this swimming formation before colonizing other areas. DPA

Fire, flame
What constitutes a flame or fire? VIVEK NAVEEN Thrissur, Kerala Fire is the rapid, but persistent, chemical reaction, in the presence of heat, accompanied by the emission of heat, light and various products. This complex chemical process is known as combustion or burning. It is a sequence of exothermic (heat evolving) reactions between the fuel and the oxidant. Flame is the visible manifestation of fire. Fire requires four things (elements). They are: (i) a fuel (an oxidisable material), (ii) Oxygen (usually, air), (iii) a certain (minimum) temperature (heat), and (iv) free radical reactions (a chemical chain reaction to continue the combustion). These four things (elements) graphically create a pyramid structure that is called the fire tetrahedron. Carbon, in the form of charcoal, burns in air. But, it has to be heated to a temperature of about 500 degrees C in order to start the reaction. However, once lit, burning continues as long as charcoal and oxygen are present.
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Substances like charcoal are known as fuels. The most common flame producing reaction is combustion a reaction between a fuel and an oxidiser, usually oxygen, in theform of air. But, a variety of substances can play the same role in combination with the right fuel. For example, chlorine (oxidant) can combine with hydrogen (fuel) by burning. However, such reactions are only special cases. But, all substances cannot burn. Suppose, mercury is heated in air, it cannot burn. However, if its temperature is raised suitably, it will combine with the oxygen of the air forming mercuric oxide. We can, therefore, conclude that all fuels get oxidised by burning; but, all oxidation reactions do not constitute burning. Flame is quite an accidental feature. Thus, iron burning in oxygen gives no perceptible flame. The intense light is due to the incandescent solid. On the other hand, phosphorus, sulphur, wax, etc., burn with a flame because these solids are volatilized at the temperature of combustion. The colour of the flame depends upon the material undergoing the reaction and the temperature. Actually, it is an exothermic reaction front or wave in a gaseous medium. K.N. KRISHNA PRASAD Guest faculty, Building Fire Research Centre National Institute of Engineering, Mysore Karnataka

Firing lasers to make rain?

Researchers have used a powerful laser to produce water droplets in the air, a step that could ultimately help trigger rainfall. While nothing can produce a downpour from dry air, the technique, called laser-assisted water condensation, might allow some control over where and when rain falls if the atmosphere is sufficiently humid. Records from 133 hours of firings revealed that intense pulses of laser light created nitric acid particles in the air that behaved like atmospheric glue, binding water molecules together into droplets and preventing them from reevaporating. Within seconds, these grew into stable drops a few thousandths of a millimetre in diameter: too small to fall as rain, but large enough to encourage the scientists to press on with the work. We have not yet generated raindrops they are too small and too light to fall as rain. To get rain, we will need particles a hundred times the size, so they are heavy enough to fall, said Jerome Kasparian, a physicist at the University of Geneva. A report on the tests appears in the journal Nature Communications . With improvements, shooting lasers into the sky could either help trigger or prevent showers. One possibility might be to create water droplets in air masses drifting towards mountains. The air would cool as it rose over these, causing the water droplets to grow and eventually fall. An alternative might be
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to stave off an immediate downpour by creating so many tiny droplets in the air that none grew large enough to fall. Maybe one day this could be a way to attenuate the monsoon or reduce flooding in certain areas, Kasparian said. Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

First stars in universe were not alone: study

The first stars in the universe could have formed alongside numerous companions when the gas disks that surrounded them broke up during formation, giving birth to sibling stars in the fragments.

First stem cells from endangered species

The first stem cells from endangered species have been produced and could eventually improve reproduction and genetic diversity for some species, saving them from extinction, or boosting their health while in captivity.

First true view of global erosion

Two Vermont geologists have created the first-ever standardized view of prehuman erosion rates for the whole planet.

21st Century fish live fast and die young

Fish in the 21st century live fast and die young. That's the finding of a recent study that compared fish recently caught in coastal Kenya with the bones of fish in ancient Swahili refuse heaps.

Fish species identified with help of Facebook

How could a handful of people identify 5,000 fish in just a few days? Using the Internet's Facebook, on which the photos of each species were uploaded, the network, of many with PhDs in ichthyology succeeded in the task.
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Fisheries management makes coral reefs grow faster

Overfished reef systems have more sea urchins organisms that in turn eat coral algae that build tropical reef systems. By contrast, reef systems closed to fishing have fewer sea urchins the result of predatory fish keeping urchins under control and higher coral growth rates and more structure. These were the findings of an 18-year study of Kenya's coral reefs by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of California at Santa Cruz. The destroyer The paper appeared in the December 2010 issue of the scientific journal Ecology. The authors found that reefs with large numbers of grazing sea urchins reduced the abundance of crustose coralline algae, a species of algae that produce calcium carbonate. Coralline algae contribute to reef growth, specifically the kind of massive flat reefs that fringe most of the tropical reef systems of the world. The study focused on two areas one a fishery closure near the coastal city of Mombasa and another site with fished reefs. The researchers found that sea urchins were the dominant grazer in the fished reefs, where the predators of sea urchins triggerfish and wrasses were largely absent. The absence of predators caused the sea urchins to proliferate and coralline algae to become rare. These under-appreciated coralline algae are known to bind and stabilize reef skeletons and sand as well as enhance the recruitment of small corals by providing a place for their larvae to settle, said Dr. Tim McClanahan, WCS Senior Conservationist and head of the society's coral reef research and conservation program. This study illustrates the cascading effects of predator loss on a reef system and the importance of maintaining fish populations for coral health. The study also focused on the effects of herbivorous fish surgeonfish and parrotfish on coral reefs. While these grazing' fish did measurably impact the growth rates of coralline algae in reef systems, they also removed fleshy algae that compete with coralline algae. Reefs with more sea urchins grew significantly slower than ones with more complete fish communities, according to a Wildlife Conservation Society press release. Greater effect The authors also found that the grazing effect was stronger and more persistent than the strong El Nio that devastated coral reefs throughout the tropics in 1998 (the study extended from 1987 until 2005). The study shows that managing coral reef fisheries can affect coral reef growth and improving the management of tropical fisheries can help these reefs to grow and persist in a changing climate. Our Bureau
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Fitness trumps body weight, cuts death risk

If you maintain or improve your fitness level even if your body weight has not changed or increased you can cut your risk of death, according to research reported in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Five Satyam case accused get bail as trial deadline lapses

The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted bail to five accused persons in the multicrore Satyam accounting fraud case as trial could not be completed by July 31 as it directed in October last. A Bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Dipak Misra granted bail to the former employees G. Ramakrishna, D. Venkatapathi Raju and Ch Srisailam, the former chief internal auditor V. S. Prabhakar Gupta, and PWC's former auditor Subramani Gopalakrishnan. The Bench said: On the totality of the circumstances, we deem it appropriate to release them on bail on a personal bond of Rs.2 lakh each and a surety for a like amount. The petitioners challenged the August 30 Andhra Pradesh High Court's order denying bail. The other main accused, the former Satyam chief, Ramalinga Raju, and his brother and former managing director, B. Rama Raju, are also in judicial custody. The petitioners said they had been in custody for more than two years and since trial could not be completed by July 31 they were entitled to be freed on bail. They said 211 witnesses had been examined and CBI examination of seven of the 15 officers was over. The petitioners contended that there was no question of their influencing witnesses.

Flexible organic LEDs created on plastic

The world's most efficient organic light-emitting diodes on plastic have been developed, enabling a flexible form factor and a cheaper alternative to traditional OLEDs which currently rely on glass.

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Floating pumpset: an innovation well suited for all seasons Flower colour
Why are flowers not black in colour? R.M. MAMDHA Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu In addition to the answer published last week (December 30) in this column, there are other factors determining the colour of flowers. There is a lot of physics and chemistry involved in flowering and colouration of flowers. Visual and chemical stimuli are provided by the flowers to the pollinators like bees. Flowers have to be essentially in colours other than black. Black objects absorb and retain heat. Hence, flowers, if black, will wither soon after sunrise. Essentially the pollen will have to be kept cool during daytime, atleast for 8 hours for viable pollination. Since most of the flowers directly face the sun at least for a few hours, stresses like rise in temperature, photosynthetic oxygen surge and fluid rise due to capillary pressure will adversely affect the texture, composition and longevity of flowers. That is why flowers are not black in colour. It is a natural adaptation. Dr. S. KRISHNAN Member, Commission on Ecosystems Management, IUCN

For a brief period, antimatter trapped

At the Cern particle collider in Geneva, physicists have created and trapped atoms of antihydrogen for more than a thousand seconds, it was announced recently. It might not sound like long, but it is enough time for experiments that could help answer some of the most fundamental questions in physics. The same scientists were the first to trap antihydrogen last year when they created and held on to 38 atoms of the stuff for 172 milliseconds in a strong magnetic field. In their latest work, published in this month's edition ofNature Physics, they trapped 309 antihydrogen atoms for varying amounts of just over 16 minutes. Jeffrey Hangst of the University of Aarhus in Denmark, who led the experiments, said that the purpose of the study was to compare antimatter with atoms of normal matter. We've studied what's going on with these atoms while they're in the trap, how they're moving, what energy or velocity they have. With 38, that was difficult, but with 300 it starts to look like something you can make averages out of. We're getting information about how they're behaving in the trap. Antimatter was first postulated by the
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British physicist Paul Dirac in 1930 while working on a way to reconcile the ideas of quantum mechanics with Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. The question scientists want to answer is why antimatter seems to be missing from the universe. The laws of physics do not differentiate between matter and antimatter so, at the creation of the universe during the big bang, equal amounts of both should have been made. For every particle of matter in the universe, there should be a particle of antimatter. In practice, though, we do not see them. Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

For more accurate BP readings

Hypertensive patients, why, even normal people, sensing their blood pressure rising as the doctor prepares to measure their blood pressure is not unusual. It is called the White coat effect.' Studies have shown that a subset of about 25 per cent of hypertensive patients experience an elevation in their blood pressure when readings are taken in treatment settings, especially by physicians. This can lead to overtreatment. Many studies have shown that this phenomenon is widespread. There are also concerns about the quality and accuracy of BP measurement in clinical settings. Many studies done in the past have found that automated BP measuring instruments operated by patients themselves can overcome this white coat fear. Lower systolic values A study published recently online in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has once again established that the effect is real. On an average the systolic blood pressure was 5.4 mm HG lower in people who had their BP measured using an automated device compared with the manual mercury instrument. The difference was not significant in the case of diastolic blood pressure. Another study found the difference was as much as 9 mm HG between routine manual and automated measurement. And greater reductions have been shown by other studies. But immaterial of the amount of reduction, it is becoming increasingly clear that using automated measuring devices show a lower systolic pressure. The study included a total of 572 hypertensive patients, who were randomly split into two groups. One group continued to be tested manually with the conventional mercury instrument (sphygmomanometers). The other group had their BP measured using an automated monitor (BpTRU device). Blood pressure levels of patients in both the groups were also measured with an ambulatory blood pressure monitor. The study was undertaken in a clinical setting, and not in a research environment. Many readings needed Unlike one reading taken with the conventional device, the automated one required five readings. These were taken at two-minute intervals between
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each reading. Other studies have also insisted on more than one reading and have used different timings between each reading. More studies are needed to know the interval between readings and the number of readings to be taken. The latest study, however, found that the use of an automated device only reduced the white coat effect; it did not totally eliminate it. The simple presence of an observer seems to increase blood pressure, the authors note. The authors also attribute the increase to disturbance of patients by doctors when the readings were taken. The authors therefore note that a reduction would be seen if patients using automated devices follow/are made to follow the three basic tenets the patient rests alone in a quiet room, the patient is alone when the readings are taken, and multiple readings are taken. The need for rest before readings are taken appears to be of great importance. An increase, as seen in white coat effect, can be noticed if the patient does not rest prior to readings being taken, and only one or two readings are taken. The need for rest can be done away with if five readings are taken with only one minute interval between readings, they note. An alternative Finally the authors conclude that automated devices are an alternative to manual readings as they can overcome the white coat fear if the patient is left alone. This and other studies are supported by the recommendation of several associations. For instance, the American Heart Association and the European Society of Hypertension have recommended the widespread use of home blood pressure monitoring. Even if conventional manual blood pressure measuring devices are not abandoned, these studies have shown that they provide suboptimal measures of an individual patient's blood pressure status, the study notes. An Editorial published in the same issue of the journal notes that automated blood pressure measurement provides an alternative to manual and out of clinic monitoring. But its precise role depends on further evidence.

For more solar energy

Using minute graphite particles 1,000 times smaller than the width of human hair, mechanical engineers hope to boost the efficiency and profitability of solar power plants. An alternative that can make use of all of the sunlight, including light photovoltaics can't use, is the solar thermal collector, reports the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy. The purpose of these collectors, is to collect heat that can then be used. To further increase the efficiency of solar collectors, nanoparticles, a billionth of a metre in size, were mixed into the heat-transfer oils normally used in solar thermal power plants, according to an Arizona State University (where the
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research took place) statement. The researchers chose graphite nanoparticles, in part because they are black and therefore absorb light very well, making them efficient heat collectors. In lab tests, lead researcher Robert Taylor and his colleagues found that nanoparticles increased heat-collection efficiency by up to 10 per cent. IANS

Fossil moths show their true colours

The brightest hues in nature are produced by tiny patterns in, say, feathers or scales rather than pigments. These so-called structural colours are widespread, giving people their blue eyes, and peacocks their brilliant feathers. For communication Many animals use this type of colour for communication, notably butterflies and moths ( Lepidoptera ), which display the biggest range of structural colours and put them to uses from advertising their toxicity to choosing the best mates. But despite the importance of structural colours in their lives, little is known about how lepidopterans developed these key social signals. According to a paper in PLoS Biology , palaeobiologist Maria McNamara of Yale University and colleagues bring us closer to the origins of structural colours by reconstructing them in fossil moths that are 47 million years old. This is the first evidence of structurally coloured scales in fossil lepidopterans . The fossil moths came from the Messel oil shale in Germany, a site famous for exquisite fossil preservation. Our Bureau

Freebies and subsidies only destroy agriculture and production

It is a well known fact that the rural agricultural economy is in dire crisis today. Whether the government is aware of this or is deliberately ignoring farmers issues is a million dollar guess, says Mr. R. Kulandaisamy a leading farmer and owner of Tari Bio-Tech, Thanjavur. Prices plummet soon after harvest and traders refuse to buy the produce due to high stocks and volatile price fluctuations. Price fluctuation The fluctuation in price or absence of buyers is mainly due to excess production of a single commodity. For main cereals such as paddy and wheat the government fixed a minimum price but today they are not able to purchase the entire quantity from farmers at that price, says Mr. Kulandaisamy. If the farmer cannot sell the produce how can he get back his investment? A sugar factory is aware of its cane requirement and plans planting only for that
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requirement. Similarly Government must decide on its annual food grain requirement and decide to what extent crops need to be cultivated. But sadly that never happens, he says. The State agriculture department must select the most suited districts or taluks in terms of soil, water availability, and climate. Based on this, each area must be provided a target area of cultivation and season of cultivation. If this can be adopted then our resources will be saved for instance Tiruvarur district, Tamil Nadu is suited only for paddy. But we find Ramnad farmers also growing paddy in spite of severe water shortage. Instead, these farmers can try to cultivate pulse or ground nut and get two harvests in a year, explains Mr. Kulandaisamy. Pay attention to price While fixing the price, the Government should pay attention to the extent crops need to be grown. If they do this, there will not be excess production and consequently any marketing problem, he reasons. Similarly each and every cropping pattern needs to be planned by the government before permitting farmers to cultivate. Even today a general belief exists that there is a shortage of cultivable lands. If the cultivable land availability is more, then the government needs to look at export market and fix a rate at least close to the international rate for the produce as well as the cultivation cost involved for a reasonable profit, asserts the farmer. One of the main reasons for declining produce is the freebies and subsidies. They are destroying agriculture and our lives, according to Mr. K. Tharsius his son. Since power and water are provided free, a farmer does not feel the need to plan nor devise any improvised method to minimize their usage. Abolish free power If farmers are charged for electricity it will help improve their efficiency in minimizing this scare resource, says Mr. Tharsius. Another impediment is the availability of fertilizers and chemicals. India is dependent on other countries and hence rates are increasing day by day. There are chances of these chemical fertilizers getting exhausted. The permanent solution is only through some renewable sources such as biofertilizers and organic manures, according to Mr. Kulandaisamy. Act pro- actively It is high time the Government seriously starts thinking in proactive measures to revamp our agriculture system. The negative trend in agriculture today is bound to create adverse impact on the overall health of our nations economy. We need to find new avenues to keep farmers on the farm, attract new people to take up farming, and make agriculture profitable since it is the backbone of our country, says Mr. Tharsius. Mr. R. Kulandaisamy and Tharsius can be reached at, website:, mobiles: 9843059117 and 98434-39909.
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Frog skin for treating cancer?

Proteins in frog skins which could be used to treat cancer, diabetes, stroke and transplant patients by regulating the growth of blood vessels have been discovered by Scientists at Queen's University Belfast. Led by Professor Chris Shaw at Queen's School of Pharmacy, the scientific team has identified two proteins, or peptides', which can be used in a controlled and targeted way to regulate angiogenesis' the process by which blood vessels grow in the body. According to a Queen's University press release, the discovery holds the potential to develop new treatments for more than seventy major diseases and conditions that affect more than one billion people worldwide. The proteins are found in secretions on the skins of the Waxy Monkey Frog and the Giant Firebellied Toad. Professor Shaw said: The proteins that we have discovered have the ability to either stimulate or inhibit the growth of blood vessels. By switching off' angiogenesis and inhibiting blood vessel growth, a protein from the Waxy Monkey Frog has the potential to kill cancer tumours. Most cancer tumours can only grow to a certain size before they need blood vessels to grow into the tumour. Stopping the blood vessels from growing will make the tumour less likely to spread and may eventually kill it. This has the potential to transform cancer from a terminal illness into a chronic condition. On the other hand, a protein from the Giant Firebellied Toad has been found to switch on' angiogenesis and stimulate blood vessel growth. This has the potential to treat an array of diseases and conditions that require blood vessels to repair quickly, such as wound healing, organ transplants, diabetic ulcers, and damage caused by strokes or heart conditions. Our Bureau

Frogs find mates with matching chromosomes

When it comes to love songs, female tree frogs are pretty picky. Certain female tree frogs may be remarkably attuned to the songs of mates who share the same number of chromosomes as they do, says a new study.

Fukushima: Japan sets new radiation safety level for seafood

The government set its first radiation safety standards for fish Tuesday after Japan's tsunami-ravaged nuclear plant reported radioactive contamination in
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nearby seawater measuring at several million times the legal limit. The plant operator insisted that the radiation will rapidly disperse and that it poses no immediate danger, but an expert said exposure to the highly concentrated levels near the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant could cause immediate injury and that the leaks could result in residual contamination of the sea in the area. The new levels coupled with reports that radiation was building up in fish led the government to create an acceptable radiation standard for fish for the first time. Some fish caught Friday off Japan's coastal waters would have exceeded the new provisional limit. Tuesday, TEPCO announced that samples taken from seawater near one of the reactors contained 7.5 million times the legal limit for radioactive iodine on April 2. Two days later, that figure dropped to 5 million. Experts agree that radiation dissipates quickly in the vast Pacific, but direct exposure to the most contaminated water measured would lead to immediate injury, said Yoichi Enokida, a professor of materials science at Nagoya University's graduate school of engineering. He added that seawater may be diluting the iodine, which decays quickly, but the leak also contains long-lasting caesium-137. Both can build up in fish, though iodine's short half-life means it does not stay there for very long. The long-term effects of caesium, however, will need to be studied, he said. The move came after the health ministry reported that fish caught off Ibaraki prefecture, which is about halfway between the plant and Tokyo, contained levels of radioactive iodine that would have exceeded the new provisional limit. Caesium also was found, at just below the limit. The fish were caught Friday, before the new provisional safety limits were announced. Such limits are usually very conservative. After spinach and milk tested at levels far exceeding the safety standard, health experts said you would have to eat enormous quantities of tainted produce or dairy before getting even the amount of radiation contained in a CT scan. AP

Full-spectrum solar cell developed

A solar cell that responds to the entire solar spectrum, and can be made using one of the most common manufacturing techniques has been developed.

Fungi and bacteria help one another travel

Fungal spores can attach themselves to bacteria, hitching a ride' wherever the bacteria travel. When faced with a gap, the bacteria can drop the fungal spores to form a bridge, and continue across the chasm.
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