The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics and the Indian Connection

 

Newsroom24x7 Network

New Delhi: The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics has been conferred to three scientists namely Rainer Weiss, Barry C Barish & Kip S Thorne under the LIGO Project for their discovery of gravitational waves, 100 years after Einstein’s General Relativity predicted it.

Weiss and Thorne are two of the founders of the LIGO project. Barish was the Principal Investigator of LIGO from 1994 to 2005, during the period of its construction and initial operation.

The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics 2017 celebrates the direct detection of Gravitational waves arriving from the merger two large Black holes in a distant galaxy a Billion of light years away. Gravitational waves carry information about their dramatic origins and about the nature of gravity that cannot otherwise be obtained. This opens a new window to Astronomy since Gravitational Waves are an entirely new way of observing the most violent events in space.

This is a proud moment for India also, since the discovery paper has 39 Indian authors/scientists from nine institutions-, CMI Chennai, ICTS-TIFR Bengaluru, IISER-Kolkata, IISER-Trivandrum, IIT Gandhinagar, IPR Gandhinagar, IUCAA Pune, RRCAT Indore and TIFR Mumbai. primarily funded through individual/ institutional grants by Department of Atomic Energy, Department of Science & Technology and Ministry of Human Resource Development AE, DST and MHRD, who are co-authors of this discovery paper.

Late Professor CV Vishveshvara of RRI, Bengaluru (DST AI) and Professor SV Dhurandhar of IUCAA, Pune and some other Indian scientists made seminal contributions to this field which contributed towards the principles behind the LIGO Detector.

The group led by Bala Iyer (currently at ICTS-TIFR) at the Raman Research Institute in collaboration with scientists in France had pioneered the mathematical calculations used to model Gravitational Wave signals from orbiting black holes and neutron stars. Theoretical work that combined black holes and gravitational waves was published by C. V. Vishveshwara in 1970. These contributions are prominently cited in the discovery paper.

An opportunity for India taking leadership in this field has opened up with the LIGO-India mega-science project that was granted ‘in principle’ approval by the Union Cabinet on 17 February 2016. LIGO-India brings forth a real possibility of Indian scientists and technologists stepping forward, with strong international cooperation, into the frontier of an emergent area of high visibility and promise presented by the recent GW detections and the high promise of a new window of gravitational-wave astronomy to probe the universe.

The global science community is unanimous that the future of Gravitational wave astronomy and astrophysics, beyond the first discovery, lies with the planned global array of GW detectors, including the LIGO-India observatory. Inclusion of LIGO-India greatly improves the angular resolution in the location of the gravitational-wave source by the LIGO global network. For the discovery event observed by the two advanced LIGO detectors in the US, with a hypothetical LIGO-India in operation, there would have been 100 times improvement in the angular resolution.

The LIGO-India proposal is for the construction and operation of an Advanced LIGO Detector in India in collaboration with the LIGO Laboratories, USA. The objective is to set up the Indian node of the three node global Advanced LIGO detector network by 2024 and operate it for 10 years. The task for LIGO-India includes the challenge of constructing the very large vaccum infrastructure that would hold a space of volume 10 million litres that can accommodate the entire 4 km scale laser interferometer in ultra high vacuum environment at nano-torrs. Indian team is also responsible for installation and commissioning the complex instrument and attaining the ultimate design sensitivity.

The LIGO-India project is being jointly executed by lead institutions: the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune of the University Grants commission, and DAE organisations, Institute for Plasma Research (IPR), Gandhinagar, the Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology (RRCAT), Indore and the Directorate of Construction & Estate Management (DCSEM) of DAE.

LIGO-India is being jointly funded by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST). A LIGO-India Apex committee, together with the LIGO-India Project Management Board (LI-PMB) and LIGO-India Scientific Management Board (LI-SMB), were constituted in August 2016 to oversee the project execution, and there has been rapid pace of progress since then. LIGO-India is on track for commencing operations by 2024.

Banks provide vital information about post-demonetization transactions of 5800 suspicious companies

Newsroom24x7 Network

New Delhi: Vital information has been received by the Government of India from 13 banks regarding the bank account operations and post-demonetization transactions of some of the 2,09,032 suspicious companies that had been struck off the Register of Companies earlier this year.

Investigative agencies have been asked to complete necessary investigation regarding these transactions in a time bound manner.

After being struck off the Register of Companies, operation of the bank accounts of these 2,09,032 suspicious companies were restricted for discharge of their liabilities only.

The First Instalment of data has been submitted by 13 banks and more is to follow. The data received from the banks pertains to merely about 5,800 companies (out of more than 200,000 that were struck off) involving 13,140 accounts. Few of the companies have been operating more than 100 accounts in their names. Among these is a company having 2134 accounts, followed by others having accounts in the range of 300 to 900.

The data pertaining to the pre demonetization account balances and transactions conducted from the accounts of these companies during the demonetization period is even more startling.

It is learnt that, after separating the loan accounts, these companies were having a meagre balance of Rs 22.05 crore to their credit on 8 November, 2016. But from 9 November, 2016 i.e. after the announcement of demonetization, till the date of their being struck off, these companies have altogether deposited a huge amount of Rs. 4,573.87 crore in their accounts and withdrawn an equally large amount of Rs 4,552 crore. With loan accounts, there was a negative opening balance of Rs 80.79 crore.

Companies having multiple accounts with miniscule or negative balance on 8 November, 2016 have deposited and withdrawn amounts running into several crore from these accounts. The accounts were thereafter again left as dormant accounts with paltry balance. As mentioned earlier, this exercise of swindling the authorities was carried-out post demonetization till the companies were struck off. In some cases, certain companies have even made deposits and withdrawals after being struck off.

For example, in one of the Banks, 429 companies having zero balance each as on 8 November, 2016 have deposited and withdrawn over Rs 11 crore and left again with a cumulative balance of just Rs 42,000 on the date of freezing.

Similarly in the case of another Bank, more than 3000 such companies, most having multiple accounts, have been located. From having a cumulative balance of about Rs. 13 crore as on 8 November, 2016, these companies have deposited and withdrawn about Rs 3800 crore, leaving a negative cumulative balance of almost Rs 200 crore at the time of freezing of their accounts.

It needs to be re-emphasized that this data is only about 2.5% of the total number of suspected companies that have been struck off by the Government. The huge money game played by these companies may well be the tip of an iceberg of corruption and black money.

New method to tinker cell surface proteins can help design new drugs

Ratneshwar Thakur

New Delhi: A group of Indian scientists have found a new way to modulate specific cellular functions by tinkering with proteins that play a role in cells’ response to external chemicals like drugs.

The new finding, described in a paper published this week in journal Nature Nanotechnology, makes it convenient for researchers to study the workings of a large family of sensor proteins called G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) and to develop potential synthetic antibody-based drugs.

Research teams led by Dr. Arun K. Shukla at IIT Kanpur have engineered synthetic antibody fragments that target beta-arrestin (a class of proteins inside the cell). GPCRs are mobile proteins that sit in the cell membranes and support cells to respond to chemical signals from body parts or external world. GPCRs are the most sought-after drug targets in modern medical research. Drug companies are investing heavily to identify new drug molecule that can target key GPCRs involved in several pathophysiological
conditions. Beta-arrestin regulates actions of GPCRs by attenuating its signaling.

Dr. Shukla and members of the research team.

“There are more than 800 GPCRs and only limited beta-arrestin which controls its functioning, therefore, targeting beta-arrestin will enable us with a greater handle over the desired signaling across all GPCR types. So, we developed synthetic Fabs (fragment antigen-binding) that targets beta -arrestin and have potential to modulate their functioning,” explained Dr Shukla.

According to the study, small molecule-based drugs, which either bind to stimulate or inhibit GPCR, remains a traditional way of tweaking the GPCRs. Dr. Shukla says that beta-arrestin functions are usually studied by either knocking the gene out or turning their expression down by silencing of protein coding genes). But synthetic Fab molecules can specifically target a particular part of the protein and selectively offset its function without interfering with its any other function, attributed to its other domains. “Our finding is the first demonstration of targeting a specific function of beta-arrestins without altering its other functions,” said Eshan Ghosh, first author of this paper.

This study was an ambitious project to design a generic tool to study GPCRs. “Initially, in vitro studies, we found very encouraging results but the real deal was to replicate the study in cellular systems, where we can really see the molecule in action by monitoring its cellular readouts,” said Dr. Shukla.

Interestingly, during microscopic experiments, Dr. Shukla’s team members could observe that this fab in form of an intrabody (an antibody that works within the cell) was clearly blocking the endocytosis (pulling in of a GPCR from the surface to inside of a living cell).

“Synthetic intrabody we have identified has the potential to treat many diseases implicating GPCRs if its delivery vehicle is well devised,” said Mithu Baidya, one of the authors of this study.

“Our approach has the potential to take antibody-based drug discovery to the next level, where we can dissect to compartmentalize the functioning of a protein and thereby modulate it. This study will flag off a new direction for future drug discovery,” said the study leader.

Research team included Eshan Ghosh, Ashish Srivastava, Mithu Baidya, Punita Kumari, Hemlata Dwivedi, Kumari Nidhi, Ravi Ranjan and Arun K. Shukla (Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur), Shalini Dogra Prem N. Yadav (CSIR-Central Drug Research Institute, Lucknow), Akiko Koide, Shohei Koide (Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center, USA), Sachdev S. Sidhu (University of Toronto, Canada).


Twitter Handle: @ratnesh_thakur