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Tuesday, 7 November, 2017 - 13:51

We live in a world where day to day objects seems to be getting smaller and better. The advent of nanotechnology is a major contributing factor to this phenomenon. Defined as the “engineered construction of matter at the molecular level”, nanotechnology has applications and uses in a multitude of fields. From medicine, electronics, food, clothing, batteries and environment, nanotechnology seems to be pushing the limits of all these fields. Now, scientist have discovered yet another novel application of nanotechnology – facilitating soil microbial growth.

Scientists from the G. B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnangar, Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Izatnagar, and State Council for Science & Technology, Dehradun, studied the impact of three nanocompounds on soil microbial activity and the health of plants being cultivated. 

The scientists found that supplementing agricultural soils with nanocompounds like nanoclay, nanochitosan and nanozeolite led to a higher growth of microbial populations in the soil. And such an increased microbial population further led to increased levels of phosphorus, organic carbon and nitrogen in the soils, all of which are known to improve the health of crops being cultivated. Additionally, the scientists also observed increased levels of microbial enzyme activity in the soil, as well as a 50% rise in the total protein content of the soil. 

Although nanoclay had the least effect on the soil’s pH, nanozeolite was found to best facilitate the growth of soil microbes. An increase in soil microbial activity along with all the other downstream benefits, caused by these nanocompounds, are all an indicator of enhanced soil health. Therefore, supplementing soils with such nanocompounds could go a long way in improving the agricultural soils, plant health and ultimately, the crop yields of our country.

Section: General, Science, Technology, Ecology Source: Link
Monday, 6 November, 2017 - 13:09

Plants belonging to the genus Parthenium are native to the North American tropics. These hardy plants have moved out of their native range and colonized far off countries like Australia, parts of Africa and even India. The species hysterophorus belonging to this genus has earned common names like famine weed as spreads it into farm lands, uses up the nutrients in the soil and causes devastating loss in yield of crops.

In a recent study an international team of scientists from Department of Biotechnology, Jamia Millia Islamia (Central University), New Delhi, Science College, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and Alexandria University, Egypt have studied how this plant copes with drought and increased salinity of the soil. The genetic makeup of a plant governs how it can adapt to the environment outside by modulation and adaptation at the levels of morphological features, antioxidant system and osmoregulation. Since Parthenium hysterophorus is spread far and wide in all kinds of environments, it was considered to be an ideal organism to study the changes a plant makes to adapt to its external surroundings.

From their experiments the researchers found that conditions of drought cause change in abundance of 31 proteins, while highly saline conditions cause changes in the abundance of 18 proteins. The study suggests that Parthenium hysterophorus adopts a diverse range of strategies to combat drought and salinity stress. Proline was accumulated in the plant under stress along with an upregulation in antioxidants. In drought conditions the proton pump interactor was thought to play a crucial role. Other notable findings included increased length of fatty acid chains, higher accumulation of calmodulin like protein 7 and suppression of early auxin response. The increase in abundance of some proteins and the decrease in the abundance of others shed light on how plants use proteins in stressful conditions. 

Section: General, Science, Ecology Source: Link
Thursday, 2 November, 2017 - 15:54

Rapid Industrialization and technology development have placed a high demand on fossil fuels and other energy sources. While fossil fuels are still the most efficient of the energy sources, their adverse effects on the climate along with diminishing oil reserves, has prompted scientists to look for other, environmentally friendly options of fuels. While renewable energy alternatives like solar and wind, can be quite expensive, cheaper alternatives have been the quest for many scientists. One of the promising candidates has been Biofuels.

Biofuels are generally produced through biological processes, like agriculture and anaerobic digestion. Plants, algae and even industrial waste can be turned into biofuels. Bioethanol, biodiesels and other bio-alcohols are the usual products, which are either used directly as a fuel source or as an additive to conventional fuel sources, like ethanol and diesel, to decrease vehicle emissions. But, creating biofuels come with their own drawbacks. Unavailability of resources and enzymes (for catalysis) and low efficiency of the known biofuels are the common obstacles when compared to fossil fuels. To overcome the obstacles, scientists have been trying to develop new technologies, processes or new combinations, that could help improve the shortcomings of biofuels. To advance research in the field, access to information is a key challenge.

Now, scientists from Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, have addresses this challenge by developing a database for biofuels. They have collected all the information available about the different enzymes used at the different stages of biofuel production. Using an indigenously developed search and prediction tool named ‘Benz’, the scientists identified and classified 131 enzymes with a role in biofuel production. The enzymes were classified on the final product they helped make, identifying four broad application categories – Biodiesel production, Fuel Cells, Alcohol Production and Alternative Biofuels. The Benz tool scanned many abstracts in the popular journal PubMed and other open access information to identify keywords, and then select the enzymes. The tool also identified 153,754 novel homologues of biofuel enzymes, which are similar enzymes performing different functions. The study promises to become a guide book for other researchers to advance the field of biofuels.

Section: General, Science, Technology Source: Link
Wednesday, 1 November, 2017 - 15:56

The Himalayan range is home to around 15,000 glaciers, holding around 3000 cubic miles of freshwater. Some of the well-known ones in the region include Gangotri, Yamunotri and Khumbu glaciers. Recently, owing to effects of climate change and global warming, the glaciers around the world have been receding at an alarming pace. The Earth however has gone through multiple cycles of warming and cooling periods, causing glaciers to recede and form.
A new study has now shown that, in one such cooling phases, called the little ice age (LIA), a significant amount of mass was lost by the Himalayan glaciers. Although not a true Ice age due to the short duration for which it existed, the little ice age was a period between the 16th and 17th centuries when the temperature of the earth fell significantly.  Particularly three short intervals of cooling occurred in 1650s, 1770s and 1850s. It was during the later stages of the LIA that the glaciers are said to have lost their mass, mainly due to the warming weather melting the glaciers.

The scientists used tree ring sampling method to reconstruct the mass balance record for the Western Himalayan glaciers starting from all the way back in 1615. Mass balance approach allows the scientists to estimate how much mass a system has gained or lost, in a given period. The study revealed that the later phase of the LIA was brief and weak in the Himalayas compared to the Arctic. It also showed that glaciers receded much faster, with considerably less glaciation or new glaciers forming. Scientists believe a combination of the El-Nino Southern Oscillation, a phenomenon known to cause variations in winds and sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, combined with Total Solar Irradiance -  the amount of sunlight received at a region, could be the reasons for the decreasing glacial cover in the region. Today, many of these factors are still in play, with the El-Nino phenomenon still in effect and the glaciers still receding, the study can provide us clues to help us make better predictions to overcome global warming.

Section: General, Science Source: Link
Tuesday, 31 October, 2017 - 15:39

In 2015, the well-known social media platform Facebook partnered with other companies, like Samsung, Ericsson, and Nokia to introduce It was introduced to provide limited internet access to areas with otherwise no connectivity. In many rural and economically weak parts of the country, mobile users could, using, connect to Facebook and few websites chosen by the social media giant at a minimal cost. On February 11, Facebook withdrew, which later came to be known as free basics, from India.

But what made the country, with a large rural population, decline this offer for a free internet? On the face of it, the initiative promised to make internet ubiquitous in the country and provide access to those left behind in the internet revolution. However, on closer inspection the initiative gave rise to a larger debate on Net Neutrality – the idea that those who regulate the internet, like service providers and governments, should treat all content on the internet equally, regardless of who is creating, hosting or consuming the content.

One of the main points of discussion was the idea of ‘differential pricing’ of the content, which would allow internet service providers (ISP’s), like AT&T and Airtel, to charge different prices for different content providers, based on sponsorship.

A new study by Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay and University of Avignon, France has now studied the proposed differential pricing schemes and tested its effect on the quality of service of a content provider.  For the study, the researchers considered a model with a single ISP and multiple content providers. Content providers (CP) are chosen by the consumers, based on the quality of service they provide. The study revealed that, in a differential pricing regime, the quality of service (QoS) of the content providers could degrade. It showed that a CP providing a poor QoS could make more revenue than a CP offering high QoS, through sponsorships. It also showed the mean delay for end users or the time taken for a page to load on a computer could also degrade if differential pricing is introduced.

While the net neutrality debate still rages on, the study gives us an idea of the possible consequence of changing the free market nature of the internet.

Section: General, Science, Technology, Society Source: Link
Monday, 30 October, 2017 - 13:52

Information and communication technologies (ICT) has been revolutionized with the arrival of smart devices and applications. Whether it is taking a video call, working from home, ordering food or arranging transportation, a smart device like our smart phones and computers, along with smart applications like Uber and Swiggy has made many of our daily chores much more efficient and simple.

But can these advancements in ICT technologies transform our activities and travel plans enough, to cause less damage to the environment and save us more time. A new research from the National Institute of Technology, Calicut looking at the change in telework or remote working capabilities seems to suggest it will. Telework or Remote work is the ability to carry out ones work from a remote location, without going to an office. This means an employee can carry out the work from anywhere, whether they are staying home, travelling or on a vacation.

For the study, researchers collected telework data from workers in the Information Technology capital of India, Bengaluru. Using mathematical techniques like factor analysis and structural equation modelling and using an urban transport model, the researchers then analyzed the effects of ICT technologies on the activity and travel patterns, the network wide impact of telework in urban areas and environmental parameters. The analysis revealed a reduction in the distance covered in a vehicle or vehicle kilometer travelled(VKT) by 1.9%, and the time spent in a vehicle or vehicle hours travelled (VHT) by 3.6%. It further showed a reduction of the same parameters by 3.2% and 6.1% respectively, in the next five years. The study also revealed that transport network delay also reduced by 6%, while it is projected to be reduced by 9% in the next 5 years. This means spending less time stuck in traffic jams. Apart from the saving time and reducing transport woes, the study also revealed and reduction in peak hour emissions, due to a reduced number of vehicles on the road. The study highlights some of the unintended benefits of ICT technologies, allowing us to travel less and work more.

Section: General, Science, Technology, Society Source: Link
Friday, 27 October, 2017 - 13:50

The rhythmic contraction and relaxation of muscles of the food-pipe or the oesophagus, called peristalsis, pushes the food to the stomach. Researchers from Indian Institute of Technology, Varanasi have developed a mathematical model of the human oesophagus that could explain the pressure variation in the oesophagus. A detailed understanding of how food is pushed to the stomach can help develop an artificial food-pipe or prosthetic oesophagus, a lifesaving treatment for oesophageal cancer and certain oesophageal disorders.

The new research indicates that when food is swallowed, pressure distribution along the axis of the oesophagus is not uniform as was believed earlier. The peristalsis becomes stronger as food moves from the mouth towards the stomach, resulting in increased pressure at the far end of the oesophagus. The researchers observed that this increased pressure ensures the delivery of food to the stomach, located on the other side of the diaphragm. Experimental observations of a healthy oesophagus revealed the far end of the oesophagus, closer to the stomach, contracted more than the near end, closer to the mouth. The researchers modeled the wall movement of the oesophagus as an increasing amplitude sinusoidal wave, instead of a constant amplitude wave and verified if this model indeed results into an increased pressure at the far end of the oesophagus. The oesophagus undergoes a wave like motion on its wall whose amplitude slightly increases as food moves from the mouth to the stomach. Because of this, the pressure along the length of the oesophagus increases as food moves from the mouth towards the stomach. The pressure is largest when the food needs to be pushed inside the stomach, i.e. at the end of the oesophagus. This improved, realistic model that matches experimental observations, could be a big step in the creation of a prosthetic oesophagus.

Section: General, Science, Technology, Health Source: Link
Wednesday, 25 October, 2017 - 11:52

We live in an era of medical advancements where sequencing of the human genome and its subsequent applications in personalised medicine, offer to completely revolutionise the diagnosis, treatment and even prevention of various diseases. Personalised or precision medicine is an approach that strives to move away from the ‘one-size-fits-all’ philosophy of Western medicine. It tries to cater to an individual’s disease condition, genetic predispositions as well as local environmental factors. Surprisingly, the concept of personalised medicine isn’t a brand new one. The ancient system of Ayurveda, well over five thousand years old, has always advocated the classification of patients into broad constitution types based on their physiological and behavioural traits.

In Ayurveda, there are seven constitution types are called “Prakriti” (Sanskrit: ‘nature’), which comprises of three distinct constitutions called “Vata” (V), “Pitta” (P) and “Kapha” (K), and 4 non-distinct or intermediate constitutions which are a combination of the above three, namely VP, VK, PK and VPK. Practitioners of Ayurveda have been relying on this system of classification of patients for ages. Interestingly enough, previous research has confirmed that there are molecular differences and phenotypic diversity among people belonging to different Prakriti types, even when they belong to a genetically homogenous population. A modern framework for standardizing the detection of different Prakriti types, however was still largely missing, until recently.

Now, researchers from the CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, New Delhi, KEM Hospital Research Centre, Pune and Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, have come up with a computational framework for predicting Prakriti classes from phenotypic attributes of patients, using machine learning approaches. They were able to train a computer program to identify and classify patient records into the three distinct Prakriti types, and by extension, also predict the patients belonging to the non-distinct Prakritis, when they showed characteristics of multiple distinct Prakritis. Such a standardization of the clinical methods of Prakriti evaluation could help in bringing the benefits of personalised medicine to more and more people. 

Section: General, Science, Technology, Health Source: Link
Tuesday, 24 October, 2017 - 12:41

Snakehead fishes are predatory ray-finned fishes belonging to the family Channidae. Found across Asia and Africa, snakehead fishes are important sources of food, and are widely cultivated by humans. Snakehead fishes are known survive on wet land for up to 4 days, and are considered to be a highly invasive species, with a single snakehead female capable of laying up to 150,000 eggs in just a span of two years. So far, 38 valid species of snakeheads had been recognised. Most of these snakehead species demarcations are based on genetic barcodes, which are specific regions or loci within the snakehead genome that uniquely differ for each of the known snakehead species. However, the scientific literature on snakehead taxonomy is filled with a lot of confusing and contradictory information. Further, the fact that snakeheads are known to exhibit striking changes in colour pattern throughout their growth stages, from larval to juvenile to adult stages, makes their correct identification and classification even more difficult. Now, a recent international collaboration, scientists from India, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, have conducted an in-depth analysis of existing snakehead fish species, to try and clarify this taxonomic confusion. The scientists used various different species classification approaches to rectify various misidentifications and incorrect classification of these snakehead fishes. Their study found that the total number of snakehead species was much higher (at least 53) than what was previously believed (38). The team also discovered six previously undescribed species of snakeheads, all within the Eastern Himalayan regions of India and Myanmar, and another additional one in Congo. Further, they classified eight more putative species that had been previously observed, but were mistakenly grouped under other existing snakehead species. Given the importance of the fish species as large-scale sources of food, as well as the ecological implications of introducing them in non-native environments, a good understanding of snakehead taxonomy and classification is crucial. This study is an important step in that direction, as it helps clarify existing taxonomic confusions, and can serve as a fresh reference point for all future snakehead studies.

Section: General, Science, Ecology Source: Link
Monday, 23 October, 2017 - 11:20

Have you ever been away from the city, away from the bustling activities and clattering? If you have, then, without all the noises of the city to distract you, you might have noticed how loud a seemingly empty field is! Birds, frogs and insects all join in on this chorus. The animals making these calls need to invest time and energy into making them, and hence are made for specific reasons, where every call counts.  Often, in the animal kingdom these vocalisations are used to attract potential mating partners. To be heard by a female frog, the male of the species must not only compete with other members of the same species, but also ensure that his song stands out in the surrounding uproar. How an individual of one species positions itself, changes the timing or the nature of its call are all factors that have been studied by scientists. In a recent study from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore researchers have explored how the timing of the calls of two species of tree cricket has ensured their reproductive isolation. Studying the tree crickets Oecanthus henryi and Oecanthus indicus, the researchers used a statistical model to study how an individual respond to calls made in its surroundings. Their findings from the field showed that individuals belonging to the same species responded more strongly to call of their own species than the statistical model predicted. Similarly, individuals belonging to different species responded poorly to the call of the other species than predicted by the model. This research indicates the crucial role acoustic signals play in the reproductive isolation species in the wild. It also shows that animals may be better at recognizing members of their own species, than we predicted.

Section: General, Science, Ecology Source: Link