You are here

Science News

Indore Friday, 13 April, 2018 - 16:09

Scientists at Indian Institute of Technology Indore, Indore have developed L-lyso—a novel water soluble, fluorescent dye which can permeate the membranes of lysosomes, marking them for future tracking and imaging.

Lysosomes are organelles found in almost every animal cell, and helps with the digestion of various biomolecules, macromolecules, old cell parts and microorganisms. The interiors of a lysosome is an acidic environment, with a variety of hydrolytic enzymes, which break down biomolecules, like nucleic acids, proteins and polysaccharides. Lysosomes are also considered as powerful indicators of various pathological disorders. The disorder could either affect the acid hydrolases within the lysosomes or cause genetic mutations, affecting the functioning of a lysosome. Such disorders, however, can be tracked by monitoring the lysosomes.

Conventionally, tools and dyes like LysoTracker are used as a marker. However these are often either expensive or are not efficient at tracking a lysosome for longer periods without losing their fluorescent properties. To overcome the limitations of conventional dyes, the team at IIT Indore developed L-lyso.

L-lyso is, according to the authors, “a new water soluble fluorescent Schiff-base ligand (L-lyso) containing two hydroxyl groups”. Here Schiff base refers to a class of compounds with a pre-defines structure and a sub-class of imines. Ligands are ions or molecules which are bound to a biomolecule to serve a biological purpose.

L-lyso is also said to display excellent two-photon properties. Two-photon excitation microscopy is a technique where, a subject is first marked with a fluorescent dye, and then illuminated with a source of light, generally in the near infra-red wavelength. The dye absorbs two photons of the incident IR light and begins to fluoresce, acting as a marker for the subject. The light also penetrates deep in to the subject, providing clear a image with deeper penetration. According to the authors “ L-lyso exhibits excellent two-photon properties with tracking of lysosomes in live cells as well as in 3D tumor spheroids”. L-lyso also remains active for 3 days, enabling tracking for longer periods.

The authors claim “L-lyso has an edge over the commercially available expensive LysoTracker probes and also over other reported probes in terms of its long-term imaging, water solubility and facile synthesis” talking about the superiority of L-lyso compared to conventional Lysosome trackers.

Section: General, Science, Health, News Source: Link
Bengaluru Friday, 13 April, 2018 - 08:00

In 2008, a person was hospitalized in Sweden for a urinary tract infection--a common infection caused by bacteria that results in a burning sensation during urination. Often, a course of antibiotics should make the patient better. But what was remarkable in this case was that the infection persisted in spite of it being treated with a range of existing antibiotics! Baffled, the doctors examined the bacteria responsible for the infection.

What they found was a new gene in the bacteria that was making it survive despite the antibiotics. The bacteria, aptly named ‘superbugs’, had grown immune to the effects of antibiotics. Such superbugs infect roughly 2 million people every year, of which 23000 people fail to survive, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The culprit gene, in the bacteria causing the infection, was named the ‘New Delhi-metallo-beta-lactamase’, after New Delhi - the city that the Swedish person visited before he contracted the infection. Since then, NDM-1 has been identified in multiple bacterial infections across the country, causing havoc and rendering well-known antibiotics ineffective.

Antibiotics -- the double-edged sword

In the past century, our understanding of bacteria has helped us design the most effective drugs against them. Bacterial infections such as typhoid, tuberculosis, cholera, and pneumonia, which used to be the leading cause of mortality in the pre-antibiotic era, are today effectively cured with antibiotics. As a result, a person born today will live for an average of about 71 years, as compared to the lifespan of 47 years of those born before the 1950s. This astounding increase in 50% of one’s life expectancy is possible, thanks to the magic pills called antibiotics.

Sir Alexander Fleming's Nobel Prize-winning discovery of penicillin heralded the start of the ‘antibiotics era’. Since then, we have developed close to 100 different antibiotics that cure a range of bacterial infections. Thanks to their effectiveness, they were ubiquitous and widely used and became more accessible and affordable.

Antibiotics are not just used for tackling diseases caused in humans, but also animals. Cows, buffaloes, poultry, pigs, and fish are regularly treated with antibiotics to fight diseases or prevent them. While this step helps improve our yields and keep our animals healthy, the drugs creep into the food chain and enter our bodies when we eat any of these products.

There exists yet another tragic epilogue to the use, or ‘abuse’, of antibiotics. Statistics show that the efficiency of cure is decreasing as more and more bacteria become resistant to antibiotics of all types. In summary, the bacteria are getting stronger and antibiotics are losing the plot. But how do bacteria develop resistance to drugs that once used to kill them? The answer lies in evolution.

Evolving from a ‘bug’ to a ‘superbug’

Before delving into the evolution of superbugs, here is a brief summary of how antibiotics work, or used to work, against the bacteria. Some antibiotics restrict the growth of bacteria by preventing them from dividing; others kill them by interfering with the production of proteins essential for their survival. Many bacteria, fungi, and other micro-organisms naturally produce antibiotics. In fact, penicillin, the first antibiotic, was discovered in a liquid secreted by the mold Penicillium notatum.   

If antibiotics are so strong to kill the bacteria completely, how then do bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics? Turns out, some bacteria are naturally resistant to antibiotics, while others acquire resistance over time. According to the theory of natural selection, organisms evolve naturally over time to develop traits that make it easy for them to survive in their environment. Antibiotics provide such an environment to the bacteria and enforce the survival of those bacteria that are either resistant to antibiotics or develop resistance over time.

The ‘selection pressure’ on the bacteria works very well. Every time a bacterium divides, it is likely to undergo a spontaneous genetic mutation, i.e. a random change in its DNA sequence. If you throw in an antibiotic on such bacterium, it will undergo a genetic mutation that enables it to make a substance that renders the antibiotics ineffective or eliminates it from the cell. Those bacteria that are successful in acquiring these mutations will grow, whereas the others will die. Over time, these bacteria will outcompete the non-resistant bacteria and render antibiotics ineffective. These antibiotics resistant bacteria are commonly called ‘superbugs’.

To make things further complicated and interesting, unlike humans who only transfer their genetic material to their offspring, bacteria can transfer their genetic material to any other unrelated bacteria. In a community of bugs, if you have one superbug to start with, over time, through gene-transfer, many more unrelated bugs will become superbugs.

To quantify and standardize the degree of antibiotics resistance, a group of international experts from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA categorized superbugs as multi-drug resistant (MDR), extensively drug-resistant (XDR) and pan-drug resistant (PDR). MDRs are superbugs resistant to more than one class of antibiotics, XDRs are resistant to most antibiotics and PDRs – the most lethal of all, are resistant to all antibiotics.

India’s battle against ‘superbugs’

India has one of the world’s highest number of bacterial infections; tuberculosis, cholera, typhoid, pneumonia and a host of them. In fact, the country has the highest number of tuberculosis patients in the world, accounting for one-fourth of all TB patients in the world. Multi-drug resistant (MDR) and extensively drug-resistant (XDR) tuberculosis cases are increasingly reported. 

Unlike the usual TB infection, treating MDR and XDR TB infections involve special diagnostic tests and combinations of rare antibiotics for longer durations. This makes the diagnoses difficult and treatment expensive. In a country like India, where 22% of the population still lives below poverty line, increased cost reduces the probability of people getting proper treatment, which leaves the infection uncured. With TB being an airborne disease, one infection left uncured could propagate to many such infections and lead to an epidemic. This becomes more concerning in case of MDR and XDR TB, resulting in an incurable TB epidemic.

TB is not the only disease plagued by superbugs. Pneumonia, another common bacterial infection, also features in the list. A 2017 study, that examined the bacteria S. pneumoniae present in blood samples of children infected with pneumonia in multiple hospitals across 11 states found that most of these bacteria were resistant to first-line antibiotics – 66% were resistant to co-trimoxazole, 37% to erythromycin and 8% to penicillin. Another 2017 study that examined a more severe form of pneumonia found that 69% patients infected with the superbug K. pneumoniae did not survive. These superbugs were found to be resistant to both carbapenems – antibiotics used to treat MDR infections, and colistin – the last resort antibiotics which are used when no other antibiotics work. Similar rates of antibiotic-resistance have been detected in other bacterial infections like typhoid, cholera, and gonorrhea.

In summary, the threat is real and calls for immediate attention and action. What are some of those actions? What can we do about it? What are some hotspots of these bacterial infections? These are some of the questions that need immediate answers. The first step, however, is to understand the implications of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and spread awareness about the callous use of antibiotics.
 

Section: General, Science, Health, Deep-dive Source:
Bengaluru Thursday, 12 April, 2018 - 16:17

Scientists from Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR) have demonstrated a new type of 3 dimensional imaging platform, called iLIFE, that provide detailed images of biological specimen flowing in a fluid.

iLIFE stands for integrated light-sheet imaging and flow based enquiry. Light-sheet microscopy is a technique used to image fast moving or imaging-sensitive biological samples. Here the biological sample is made to pass through a light-sheet—a literal sheet made of light, while a detector or a camera placed perpendicular to the sheet, records the cross sections of the biological sample as it moves through the light-sheet. The detector can then provide a complete 3D image of the sample by merging the cross sections together. This method also avoids any affects of the light on the specimen, by illuminating only a single plane of the specimen at a time.

For iLIFE, the scientists used a “diffraction-limited light-sheet, with a large field-of-view, to optically section the specimens flowing through the microfluidic channel”. They then optimized the parameters of set-up; like the intensity of the light used, width and thickness of the light-sheet, the width and flow rate of the microfluidic channel, and the exposure time and frame rate of the camera. Once the parameters were optimized, the setup could then be used to cross sectional imaging of the biological specimen as the moved through the optimized microfluidic channel, illuminated by a light-sheet. The cross sectional images are then used to create a complete 3D image reconstruction of the biological specimen. Next, a maximum likelihood technique was developed and optimized to the iLIFE imaging system, making it an efficient system at recording the samples as it flowed fast through the light sheet.

The system has already been used to screen and image biological specimen of varying sizes, including single cell organisms (like HeLa) and multi cellular organisms, like Caenorhabditis elegans, commonly called roundworm which can grow to a size of around 1 millimeter.

The authors foresee a range of 3D imaging applications for the iLIFE system in the future, in fields like structural biology and biophysics, with their demonstration being the first step.

Section: General, Science, News Source: Link
Mumbai Thursday, 12 April, 2018 - 07:48

How basic academic research in the country can help in realizing the dream of designing a reusable hypersonic aircraft.

What if you could fly from Mumbai to New York in just 2.5 hours? If manned hypersonic flights were a reality, you wouldn’t have to spend about 18 long hours in a cramped aeroplane! Research works led by Prof. Shripad P. Mahulikar from the Aerospace Department, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB) are contributing to setting up a foundation to make hypersonic aeroplane design a reality. The researchers have proposed changes to the aircraft geometry to address the problem of heating of the body at the extremely high speed.

Hypersonic aeroplanes, meaning aeroplanes that fly several times faster than sound,  are the ‘next-big-thing’ in space and military aerospace research across the globe. For example, the company Space-X has announced its plans for building hypersonic reusable launch vehicles and China has successfully tested hypersonic missiles. Russia and USA have full-fledged hypersonic research programs underway.

“Reusable Hypersonic Vehicles (RHVs) are promising low-cost candidates for future space missions”, remarks Prof. Mahulikar. “The future of space missions will be based on the cost reduction for a kilogram of payload (satellite) launched”, he says, adding that this can be achieved by the Single-Stage-to-Orbit (SSTO) RHVs. These vehicles are ‘fully-reusable’ as they reach the intended orbit without expending their hardware. “The future of military missions will also get a boost with hypersonic attack vehicles that can achieve their offensive mission with an unprecedented surprise element due to the high speed”, says Prof. Mahulikar.

The RHVs fly at enormous speeds (more than 6000 kmph) which is greater than five times (known as Mach 5) the speed of sound and at a typical cruise altitude exceeding 35-km! In comparison, currently operational long-distance commercial aeroplanes such as the Boeing-747 are subsonic, and cruise at about Mach 0.8 (less than 1000 kmph) at a cruise altitude of about 11-km.

There are unprecedented challenges in designing such RHVs due to the high speeds. To achieve hypersonic speeds, these planes need specialized engines, efficient management of the heating due to the air resistance, and changes to the configuration design of the aircraft. Prof. Mahulikar’s basic research findings on, “Aerothermal Considerations in Configuration Design of RHVs”, provides clues and insights into cracking some of these challenges.

Hurdles to flight at hypersonic speeds

The air-flow over an aircraft creates an aerodynamic drag force which resists the aircraft’s forward motion. Aircraft wings are designed to minimise the air-drag which reduces the fuel consumed. Aircraft designers modify the aircraft geometry to achieve this with insignificant repercussions to its weight.

The aerodynamic drag also heats the aircraft’s body and is known as aerodynamic heating. At hypersonic speeds, the aerodynamic heating can increase  the vehicle temperatures to higher than 1600°C. The designer’s focus then shifts from designing just for aerodynamic drag reduction to designing for managing the harsh aerothermal environment. Studying and understanding the aerothermal environment for RHVs enables designing a reliable Thermal Protection System (TPS) – the lifeline of hypersonic aircraft.

Solving the hypersonic vehicle’s aerodynamic heating challenge

At speeds greater than sound a different drag comes into play (caused by the shock waves) and designers address this drag by incorporating a ‘sweepback’ to the wings, i.e. a wing that angles backwards from where it is joined to the aircraft’s body (fuselage). The angle at which the wing is ‘sweptback’ varies from 0° (no sweep) for straight-winged low-speed aircraft to about 45° and beyond for supersonic aircraft such as the fighter jets (e.g. F-16). The sweepback angle is designed to minimize aerodynamic drag and its value for minimum drag is the ‘drag-minimized sweepback’.

 Figure 1: Concept of Sweepback Angle

Prof. Mahulikar proposed that due to aerothermal considerations, the sweepback angle of the lifting-body of hypersonic aircraft should be more than the drag-minimized value.  He also proposed a modification to the geometry of the leading edge.

In a theoretical study published in the journal, “Aerospace Science & Technology” in Nov’2005, Prof. Mahulikar proposed a configuration design modification to the hypersonic aircraft’s lifting-body (integrated wings and fuselage). He demonstrated based on mathematical derivations as well as through numerical simulations that due to aerothermal considerations, the sweepback angle of the lifting-body of hypersonic aircraft should be more than the drag-minimized value. For RHV cruising at a Mach number of 7 at an altitude of 35-km, this sweepback angle was calculated to be 79°-80°, i.e. higher than the drag-minimized value of about 73°.  Further, the incremental aerodynamic drag for this newly proposed sweepback angle was found to be insignificant.

The geometry of hypersonic aircrafts dramatically differs from commonly seen aircrafts. The lifting-body of RHV that provides the lift (a force that keeps the aircraft in air) is shaped like a surf-board to reduce the wave-drag. In the configuration of RHV shown in Figure 2, the nose-cap has a smaller radius in the side view and a much larger radius in the top view (a non-axisymmetric bi-curvature nose-cap).

Figure 2: Configuration of Lifting-Body of RHV 

In studies published in 2017, in Acta Astronautica and Journal of Aerospace Engineering, Prof. Mahulikar and his team computationally validated the earlier proposed theoretical concepts. They studied the aerothermal characteristics of the nose-cap of RHV and Swept-Back Leading Edges (SBLEs) of the lifting-body (front part of lifting-body that first faces the flow).  Researchers found that the bi-curvature nose cap heats up lesser than an axisymmetric one (same radii in all directions, i.e. a cap of a sphere).

The numerical simulations were run at a cruise Mach number of 7 and flight altitude of 35-km for different sweepback angles. They indicated that the surface temperature of RHV was high at 1335°C for a design with a sweepback angle of 40° and decreased to 914°C until a sweepback angle of about 79°. Increase in the sweepback angle beyond 79° was found to increase the surface temperatures. The sweepback at which the surface temperatures are the least is the ‘heat-transfer-minimized-sweepback’, which differs in concept and value from the ‘drag-minimized-sweepback’ of about 73°. This ‘drag-minimized sweepback angle’ has so far been the consideration for the aerodynamic configuration design of RHVs.

“The temperatures of the SBLE surface, as well as the upper and lower surfaces of the lifting-body, are significantly lower for the ‘heat-transfer-minimized-sweepback’ than for the ‘drag-minimized sweepback’”, says Prof. Mahulikar. These results have immediate practical implications in the selection of lightweight TPS-materials for RHV. “Therefore, for RHVs, the heat-transfer-minimized sweepback angle of about 80° must be used and not the drag-minimized sweepback angle of about 73°”, he adds.

Researchers also studied how varying the radius of leading edge of RHV’s lifting body can also reduce the temperatures. Conventionally, the leading edge is blunted to reduce the in-flight temperatures. Researchers computationally observed that for 80° sweepback, the leading edge with a smaller radius (i.e. ‘sharper’ leading edge) is at a lower temperature. For sweepback angles greater than about 60°, sharpening the leading edge reduces the temperatures along the SBLE surface. This non-intuitive observation is termed as the “Thermally Benign Sharp SBLE Effect”.

These new findings have important implications for the configuration design of RHVs. But how far are we from actually realizing a hypersonic flight? Quite far, perhaps a few decades, feel the researchers. The next active area of research is the development of an engine that can sustain combustion at supersonic engine air flows and can sustain the high temperatures on its inside and outside. Also, to have a full-fledged operational hypersonic vehicle, it is necessary that bulk manufacturing facilities for its parts, sub-systems, and their assemblage are in place. Until then, we might still have to cramp ourselves for about 18 long hours to fly to the USA from India, hoping to soon fly at hypersonic speeds!

Research papers the article is based on:

1. Theoretical aerothermal concepts for configuration design of hypersonic vehicles

2. Transient aero-thermal mapping of passive Thermal Protection system for nose-cap of Reusable Hypersonic Vehicle

3. Aerothermal Analysis for Configuration Design of Swept Leading Edge Hypersonic Vehicle

4. Aero-thermal analysis of lifting body configurations in hypersonic flow

Section: General, Science, Engineering, Deep-dive, Featured Source:
Chennai Wednesday, 11 April, 2018 - 16:19

A team of scientists from Academy of Scientific and Innovative Research (AcSIR), Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-National Chemical Laboratory (CSIR-NCL) and Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research Kolkata (IISER Kolkata) have studied the formation of 2 Dimensional Covalent Organic Frameworks (COF)- organic solids bound together by covalent bonding, to understand the science behind the underlying structure.

COFs are porous and crystalline solid structures made of light, organic solids like Hydrogen, Boron, Nitrogen and Oxygen. Due to their lightweight nature, COFs are employed in engineering lightweight materials and their porous nature makes them useful in applications like gas storage. With wide ranging applications, economical and bulk synthesis of COFs is a challenge for material science. Several process like solvothermal synthesis have given rise to several variations of COFs, enriching the COF library.  However, to manufacture on a large scale, scientist have to first, understand the processes that lead to the formation of such a structure.

According to the authors “the fundamental understanding of the integral processes of 2D COF assembly, including their growth from nucleating sites and the origin of periodicity, is an intriguing chemical question that needs to be answered”

To answer this question, the scientists, in their study, came up with a “green and easy to perform” approach of COF formation using an acid-diamine (organic compound with two amino groups) mixture. Using the new approach, the scientist were able to explore the role of hydrogen bonding in improving the crystallinity and porosity of the COFs that were formed. They did this by studying the average distance of the Hydrogen atom in the amines to the Oxygen atom in the acid. Thorough crystallographic analyses of the salt molecules provided accurate measurement of the role of hydrogen bonding.

Further, the scientists used their knowledge of hydrogen bonding distance in the acid-diamine salts and the relationship between product quality and reactant-structure to synthesize highly porous and crystalline COF, which, according to the authors “are unattainable by other synthetic means”.

Section: General, Science, News Source:
Bengaluru Wednesday, 11 April, 2018 - 07:47

From guarding your house and livestock to being your best friend playing with you on the couch, dogs have come a long way in the past 33,000 years. But, there is another disturbing aspect to this saga of furry friends; Canis lupus familiaris (dog, for short) is also an ‘invasive’ species in many ecosystems! Like the Japanese kudzu vine or the infamous Lantana, dogs are a non-native introduced species that are wreaking havoc on the ecological balance of many sensitive ecosystems. Now, a study by researchers from the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment explores the effect of free-ranging dogs, or strays, on their surroundings in India.

How bad are dogs really to our ecosystems, you ask? Previous studies have shown that domesticated dogs have imperilled 188 threatened species of animals and caused 11 mass extinctions, globally! “Domestic dogs have been considered as invasive mammalian predators. After cats and rodents, they are the third most damaging invasive predators”, says Ms. Chandrima Home, one of the researchers of the study, in an interview to Research Matters.

In countries like India, where the population of stray dogs are surging by the day without checks and bounds by a governing body, these dogs turn feral—a state in which they are neither truly wild not truly domesticated. “Unlike cats and rats which perhaps target smaller sized animals, feral dogs can target a larger range of prey size as predators as they can hunt in packs. Their impacts are as detrimental as cats and rats, though cats and rats have reported higher extinction for biodiversity”, adds Ms. Home referring to previous studies and their own findings.

The present study is the first ever assessment of the impact dogs have on the biodiversity in India. The researchers used a two-pronged approach to collect data for the study—an online survey and print media. They conducted an online survey where they asked the respondents to give details about any attacks on wildlife carried out by dogs. In the print media, they looked for keywords like ‘stray dog’, ‘dog attack’, ‘dogs attack wildlife’ and related terms in newspaper reports published between the 1st of January 2015 to the 30th of June 2016.

Among the 249 respondents who took the online survey, a whopping 73% said they had seen stray dogs attack wildlife. The researchers recorded 403 incidents of attacks by dogs on wildlife from the online survey, and 57 incidents from print media! They found that 80 species were under attack by dogs, including four ‘critically endangered’ species, twelve ‘endangered’ species, eight ‘vulnerable’ species and seven ‘near threatened’ species. From the survey results it would seem that no prey is too big for the dogs! They were recorded hunting sambar deer, blackbucks and on one occasion, they were chasing a leopard.

The study shows that the threat from dogs on wildlife is real and could come in the way of conservational efforts. So, what can we do to curb this conflict? Managing dog population is the key, say the researchers. The survey respondents also seem to agree on this as 87% of the respondents felt the need to control dog population near wilderness areas. The researchers opine that in order to protect local wildlife and ensure a good quality of life for dogs, carefully planned population control programs should be implemented near protected forest areas.

“When it comes to dog population management, nobody actually wants to look at one of the most important problem in India—dog ownership policies. People like to feed dogs (an easy way to show compassion) but do not want to be responsible pet owners. Also, sterilization is considered the only way to curb population. No one talks about reducing garbage or food for dogs. The general idea prevalent is that dogs are born to feed on garbage. I think the basic attitude in India needs a change”, explains Ms. Home.

Domesticated dogs are adding a new dimension to the threats many species of wildlife are already facing due to habitat loss, deforestation, encroachment, etc. Man’s best friend is turning out to be biodiversity’s biggest enemy, as this research shows.
 

Section: General, Science, Ecology, Deep-dive Source:
New Delhi Tuesday, 10 April, 2018 - 23:04

Dr. Renu Swarup, Senior Advisor and Scientist H at the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India took over as Secretary, DBT on 10th of April 2018. She takes over the role from Prof. Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, Department of Science and Technology, who served as the interim Secretary, DBT. Dr. Renu Swarup’s appointment which is approved by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet was formally notified today for a period of two years or until attainment of 60 years or until further orders. 

Dr. Swarup, who holds a PhD degree in Genetics and Plant Engineering, completed her Post Doctoral studies at The John Innes Centre, Norwich, UK. Her career at DBT started in 1989 when she joined the department as a Science Manager. Currently, Dr. Swarup is also a Managing Director of Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), a public company that promotes innovative research in biotechnology with a special focus on startups and small and medium enterprises.    

At DBT, Dr. Swarup was part of several initiatives. As a Science Manager, she worked on policy planning and implementation. She also heads the National Bioresource Development Board and is involved in development, funding and monitoring of programmes in the area of energy biosciences, bioresource development and utilisation and plant biotechnology, tissue culture and other biomass associated programmes. She was also instrumental in the formation of the first Biotechnology Vision in 2001, the National Biotechnology Development Strategy in 2007, and the second strategy in the year 2015, where she served as the Member Secretary of the Expert Committee.

Dr. Swarup has been a fervent supporter of women scientists and has been closely involved in several initiatives related to women and science. She is credited with initiating the Biotechnology Career Advancement for Women Scientists (BioCARe), a DBT scheme.  She was also a member of the task force on Women in Science, constituted by the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Prime Minister. Over the years, she has been the winner of several awards and honours including, the ‘Bio-Spectrum Person of the Year Award’ in 2012 and National Entrepreneurship Award in 2017.

Here is wishing Dr. Swarup all the best in her new leadership role. 

Section: General, Science, Society, Policy Source:
Haryana Tuesday, 10 April, 2018 - 15:53

In a first comprehensive study, researchers from the Lala Lajpat Rai University of Veterinary Sciences and Animal Sciences and G. B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology have explored the reasons behind the prevalence of Bluetongue Virus (BTV) in the state of Haryana. BTV is responsible for causing the bluetongue disease—a non-contagious, insect-borne, viral disease caused mainly in sheep and less frequently in cattle, goats, buffalo, deer and antelopes.

The bluetongue disease spreads through a small flying insect called midge. The disease causes the animals to develop a fever, along with excess salivation, swelling and cyanosis of the tongue. Cyanosis refers to the tongue appearing blue due to a lack of oxygen reaching the tongue’s tissue.

Although the disease causes mortality in sheep, it is usually not fatal to other cattle. Nevertheless, the recovery after the disease is contracted is slow and painful. This makes it important to understand how far the disease has spread within a population of cattle in a given area, as it affects their productivity.

To check for the prevalence of the virus, the researchers collected blood samples from 408 cattle and 395 buffalo from 80 different villages in 21 different districts of Haryana. They then separated the blood serum, which was then used in c-ELISA (Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay) tests—an immunological technique that indicate if the virus is present in the serum.

The researchers found that the virus was present in 75.49% of the samples in cattle and 92.91% of the buffalo samples. In districts like Gurgaon and Rohtak, the virus was found in each of the cattle and buffalo sampled. Though previous studies have shown that the occurrence of the infection in cattle increases with the arrival of the monsoon, the researchers attribute the high prevalence in the state of Haryana to two main factors. First is the free movement of animals from neighbouring states for grazing, and the second being the increase in the number of adult midges (Culicoides oxystoma) during the monsoon.

The study provides some important data points that could help in containing the spread of the disease, against which there is no vaccine yet. Continuous monitoring of blood samples among cattle needs to be carried out to prevent future outbreaks, say the researchers. “Recent developments of inactivated or subunit vaccines may in the future help to control the disease in the state”, they add.
 

Section: General, Science, Health, News Source: Link
Kharagpur Tuesday, 10 April, 2018 - 07:39

Researchers from National Institute of Technology, Durgapur and Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur in West Bengal, with support from Department of Biotechnology, Government of India,have shown that the one way to efficiently deal with oil sludge, is to cultivate suitable microbes using nutrients, which then disintegrate the contaminants in the sludge.

Our world today is powered by fossil fuels, the source of which is the crude oil pumped out of the ground. India, which imports all its oil, alone imported around 4.5 Billion gallons per day of crude oil last year. Once petrol and other fuels like diesel, kerosene are removed, the remaining sludge is still ripe with chemicals like hexane, benzene, fluorine and naphthalene. Petroleum Industries worldwide generate about a billion ton of petroleum sludge each year. If left untreated, the sludge could cause severe environmental hazards, like pollution and poisoning of ecosystems.

Some microorganisms like Bacillus, Coprothermobacter, Rhodobacter, Pseudomonas, Achromobacter etc are known to degrade hydrocarbons. Bioremediation involves employing such microorganisms to degrade hydrocarbons in our petroleum sludge. The researchers suggest two ways of achieving efficiency with bio remediation: biostimulation and bioaugmentation.

Biostimulation involves stimulating the bacteria by suitably altering the environment in which they grow. In this case, the researchers used nutrients like nitrates, phosphates, or a mixture of the two to stimulate the growth of microorganisms which then degrades the waste sludge. However this process depends on the ability of the native and endemic microorganisms to degrade the sludge quickly, which often isn’t the case.

To aid the native microorganisms, the researchers suggest using bioaugmentation- a process of introducing other microorganisms that can do the job faster. The petroleum sludge can be home to millions of colonies of bacteria and other microorganisms. Of these, to successfully degrade the contaminants, fermentative, hydrocarbon degrading, sulfate-reducing, CO2-assimilating and methanogenic (methane producing) microorganisms are required. Although native microorganism already present in the sludge can have these properties, to accelerate the degradation, biosurfactant producing and hydrocarbon utilizing indigenous Bacillus strains were introduced along with the native organisms.

The study showed a 46-55% higher rate of degradation was observed with the addition of nutrients or after biostimulation and and 57-75% reduction of contaminants with the addition of the bacillus strains. The researchers believe “nutrients induced community dynamics and metabolic interplay” could be the reasons for the accelerated bioremediation. According to the researchers, “This study recommends the addition of nutrients along with potential endogenous hydrocarbon degraders in the sludge for the bioremediation of otherwise recalcitrant petroleum refinery waste”

Section: General, Science, News Source: Link
Mumbai Monday, 9 April, 2018 - 15:32

Researchers from Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Mumbai have observed a new phenomenon in a semiconductor quantum dot-- particles of nanometre (a billionth of a meter) size which are also called artificial atoms) made of Cu2ZnSnS4  (CZTS). By shining Ultra Violet (UV) light, on the quantum dots immersed in an electrolyte, they noticed an increase in its capacitance. The effect could be engineered to serve as photocapacitors- capacitors that are charged using light.

A capacitor can be thought of as a tiny battery. It can store charges between two plates of metals, which then discharge to provide a burst of electricity. It is then charged again, using a source of electricity, just like batteries. A Photocapacitor, much the same way stores charges, when shone with light, which can then discharge to provide a small charge.

When particles or objects are immersed in a fluid, especially an electrolyte- an electrically conducting solution, double layers of separate positive and negative ions are formed on the surface of the immersed object. In the case of CZTS quantum dots too, when immersed in an electrolyte, such a charge separation and double layer formation was observed. But when the CZTS particles were bombarded with UV radiation, the researchers observed a 26% increase in integral capacitance of the particle, meaning it could now hold more separated ions on its surface than before. This in turn leads to a higher flow of current.

The researchers believe that the increased charge separation occurs due to additional carriers like electrons or positive ions that are generated by excitation due to the UV light, which leads to larger electrostatic forces between the quantum dots and the electrolyte it is immersed in. This in turn leads to an enhanced double layer, and hence a higher capacitance. Their theory was supported by another observation- a decrease in the differential capacitance which according to the researchers could be happening due to an enhanced double layer.

The researchers claim “This (study and results) illustrates the utility of a colloidal quantum dot-electrolyte interface as a non-linear photocapacitor”

Section: General, Science, Engineering, News Source: Link

Pages