Tag Archives: CSIR

Rewind 2019: Vikram made headlines but the year saw many significant developments in Indian science

Dinesh C Sharma

New Delhi: Chandryaan-2 may have dominated popular imagination during 2019 despite the lander Vikram failing to soft land on the lunar surface, but the year was marked by several significant developments by Indian scientists in fields ranging from nanotechnology to climate change.

The runup to the lunar mission with planned landing of the lander-cum-rover, the launch campaign, the journey to the lunar orbit and the landing sequence all attracted national and international attention. The year ended in triumph for citizen science when Chennai-based software engineer, Shanmuga Subramanian, discovered debris of Vikram on the lunar surface using publicly available high resolution images of the landing site. This development comes close to a rise in citizen science initiatives in the country.

Staying with space and astronomy, star of an exoplanet was named after Indian physicist, Bibha Chowdhury, and preparations are on to watch the annular solar eclipse in parts of south India on December 26. During the year, Indian software engineers got ready software that will run the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) which is slated to be the world’s largest ground-based telescope operating at optical and infrared wavelengths. Details about TMT and other international Big Science projects in which India is participating were on display in a roving exhibition called Vigyan Samagam which attracted huge crowds.

Climate change: Responding to climate change impacts being seen in the Himalayan region, Indian scientists developed a common framework for assessment of climate change vulnerability in all the states in the region, using an index based on socio-economic factors, demographic and health status, sensitivity of agricultural production, forest-dependent livelihoods and access to information, services and infrastructure. This knowledge will now be applied to develop a countrywide map of climate vulnerability.

Scientists from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) found a link between warming of the Indo-Pacific Ocean and changing rainfall patterns in many parts of the globe, including India. The warming pools of the Indo-Pacific Ocean are expanding and this, in turn, is altering a major weather phenomenon known as the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO). The warming of Indo-Pacific Ocean is occurring due to man-made emissions. Another group from the Indian Institute of Science warned that as many as 55 percent of glaciers in the Satluj basin may disappear by 2050 and 97 percent by 2090 under extreme climate change scenario. Using ice thickness of glaciers as the basis, scientists also estimated that glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalayas might contain 27% less ice than previously suggested.

Eco-friendly technologies: The year saw progress towards development of less polluting crackers with the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) releasing first set of ‘green crackers’. A national centre to pursue R&D in clean coal technologies was also opened in Bangalore. Eight teams of innovators from different parts of the world were selected for an international competition to develop more efficient and climate-friendly cooling solutions for residential buildings. The team will get seed money to translate their ideas into prototypes. The final winner of the Global Climate Prize will be announced in November 2020.

Indian genomic data: In an important development, Delhi-based Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) and Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) completed whole genome sequencing of 1008 Indian individuals representing diverse ethnic groups in the country. The data will act as baseline information for developing various applications in predictive and preventive medicine.

Scientists from CCMB also found underlying genetic factors for infertility among Indian men. This knowledge could help in developing a genetic test for male infertility in near future. As part of genetic studies to trace the origins of population groups in the Indian sub-continent, it had been seen that sizeable population group of Mundas in central and northeast India shares genetic ancestry with Southeast Asian populations as well. A study revealed how and when this admixture between Mundas and Southeast Asian populations took place.

The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) launched a new human atlas initiative called Manav to develop a unified database of molecular network of all the tissues in the human body and to derive a holistic picture of working of human body. This mega project will collate and integrate molecular information on human tissues and organs that currently lies hidden in research articles in an unstructured and disorganized form.

Developments in gene editing: Indian scientists developed a new variant of currently popular gene editing tool, CRISPR-Cas9, and showed that it can increase precision in editing genome while avoiding unintended changes in DNA. The researchers showed that this type of gene editing can be used to correct sickle cell anemia, a genetic blood disorder. The experiments were done in human-derived cells from patients of sickle cell anemia, according to findings published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

New nano materials: Continuing their work in nano science and technology in 2019, scientists at the Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) used gold nanoparticles and by rearranging size and gaps between them to develop a new material with unique properties like capacity to absorb light and carbon dioxide. Gold does not have these properties, therefore ‘black gold’ has been called a new material. In appearance it is black, hence the name ‘black gold.’

Boosting rice productivity:  Scientists at the National Institute of Plant Genome Research (NIPGR) identified a gene involved in regulating the size of rice grain. The new development represents a new approach towards developing rice varieties that produce bigger and consequently heavier grains. Scientists from the Bose Institute came up with a new salt-tolerant transgenic rice plant by over-expressing a gene from a wild rice called Porteresia coarctata into the commonly used IR 64 indica rice variety.

Other important developments during the year included a new plan to establish a museum for marine archaeology at Lothal, a new satellite-based weather information service for deep sea fishers, grand challenge for cancer research to develop affordable cancer diagnostics and treatment, a white paper on e-cigarettes that led to its ban in India and new initiative to boost malaria research in the country. (India Science Wire)

Twitter handle: @dineshcsharma

India’s first maritime museum coming up at Lothal

Dinesh C Sharma

New Delhi: Underwater or marine archaeology in India is all set to get a boost with the government deciding to establish a National Maritime Heritage Museum at Lothal, a Harappan site on the Saurashtra coast in Gujarat.

The museum will also be an independent research centre of underwater archaeology for reconstruction of maritime history, archaeology of boat building and materials traded. It will have on display salvaged material from shipwreck sites in the Indian Ocean waters. The museum is being set up with technical help from the Portuguese Maritime Heritage Museum.

The central government has appointed the first Director General for the museum which will be attached to the Maritime Board of the Gujarat
government. Lothal is the site of one of the oldest ports in India dating to the Bronze Age.

Underwater archaeology is a specialized branch of archaeology that involves recovering submerged remains such as ports, shipwrecks and studying proxy records of maritime activity from archaeological
excavations as well as archival and historical records. There are an estimated three million undiscovered shipwrecks lying on the ocean floor, according to the Unesco. Between 1824 and 1962, over 12,000 sailing ships and war vessels were lost at sea. Many of them got wrecked in Indian coastal waters.

In India, shipwreck studies were initiated in 1989 off Sunchi Reef in Goa waters. Later on, shipwreck were excavated and studied off St George’s Reef, Amee Shoals of Goa as well as in Poompuhar, Konark and Lakshadweep waters by the marine archaeology centre at the Goa-based CSIR-National Institute of Oceanography (NIO).

These studies have vast potential, given the fact that India has a rich maritime history. Archaeological evidence from the Persian Gulf and Southeast Asia shows that Indian maritime voyagers ventured into
western and eastern seas of the Indian Ocean some 4000 years ago, according to researchers Sila Tripati (NIO) and Ravi Korisettar (UGC Emeritus Fellow, Karnataka University).

The Indian marine studies have covered wooden and steel hulled shipwrecks off Sunchi Reef dating back to the 17th century Indo-Portuguese trade and commerce network. The St George’s Reef shipwreck dates to the 19th century. The Amee shoals shipwreck was probably of British origin, dating to the 1880s or later. Steam engine shipwrecks have been explored and documented in the Minicoy waters. An 18th century wooden hulled shipwreck has been explored off Poompuhar in Tamil Nadu. Details of a ship-wreck off Konark coast of Odisha are still being reconstructed, according to a series of research papers published in journal Current Science.

“Archival records have revealed a series of wreckages off the coast of Goa that occurred probably owing to a collision with reefs, sand bars and storm over the sea. The Portuguese records of 1497–1612 mention that 806 ships sailed from Lisbon to India. Out of these 20 ships ran aground, 66 were
shipwrecked, the enemy captured four, six were burnt, 285 remained in India, and the rest returned to Portugal,” researchers said.

Portuguese ships that were wrecked include S. Cristovam which was caught in a storm on 17 August 1594; nau Santo Andre which capsized off Goa coast in May 1608; Nossa Sra Dos and Remedios were hit by a severe storm and sank on 28 January 1616. Another 12 Portuguese ships enroute to Calcutta from Goa, were reported sunk near Aguada Bay due to an unseasonable storm in 1648.

“All the documented shipwrecks belong to the 17 to 20th centuries. This period is the transition phase between wood to iron and sail to steam. The hitherto discovered shipwrecks, namely the Konark, Vizag and Poompuhar, deserve further studies for reconstructing their detailed history,” pointed out Tripati and Korisettar.

Experts have called for greater collaboration among marine archaeologists in India. “I would like to see collaboration between marine archaeologists based in NIO and those from NIOT in Chennai and the department of marine Archaeology at Tamil University in Thanjavur. The artefacts collected through underwater survey at Dwarka, Poompuhar- Kaveripattinam, Mahabalipuram, Tranquebar, Lakshadweep, Konark and in the Goa waters are with the NIO, but only a few of them such as stone anchors are on display due to lack of facilities and preservation conditions,” Korisettar told India Science Wire.

Studying sunken ships could also fill the gaps in India’s maritime history and trade links with other countries. Some shipwrecks are of great of historical importance, researchers said. The Dart Mouth belonging to the East India Company, for instance, was carrying treasure when it is said to have sunk off Masulipatnam in 1719. Governor Keating, carrying King’s Stores sank in a storm in 1812 near Nellore, Andhra Pradesh. Some Indian ships are also lying in foreign waters, such as P&O Liner Indus which
carried the Buddhist sculptures of Bharhut stupa and is known to have sunk in 1882 to the seabed of Sri Lankan waters. (India Science Wire)

No more slaughtering of animals for meat

Chand Ahmed

Hyderabad: The traditional way of producing meat by slaughtering animals may be a matter of past in a few years as Indian scientists begin work on ‘cultured meat’ – meat made by cells extracted from animals.

Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), in collaboration with the National Research Centre on Meat (NRCM), has initiated research aimed at producing meat through cellular agriculture or cells sourced from animals and later cultivated into meat. It can also be called cell-based meat or ‘clean meat’ which will be nutritionally equivalent to conventional animal meat.

The taste, looks and smell of cell-based meat will be exactly like real meat, scientists said. This new method of producing meat could revolutionize food system, and can address concerns relating to food security, environmental sustainability and animal welfare.

CCMB Director Dr Rakesh Mishra announcing the new project in Hyderabad

CCMB director Dr Rakesh Mishra said “the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has agreed to fund the project to develop technology to take ‘laboratory cell culture processes’ to ‘cell based meat production’.” An initial funding of Rs 4.6 crore has been received for the project. CCMB will collaborate with organizations like Good Food Institute (GFI) and Humane Society International India.

“The advantage of cell-based meat is that animals won’t be slaughtered. It is already happening across the world as governments have realized that protecting biodiversity is very important for coming generations,” said AlokparnaSengupta, deputy director of Humane Society International India.
Cell-based meat companies in Netherlands, Israel and Japan are receiving support from their governments, while regulatory authorities in America USA are in the process of developing a framework for cell-based meet. “This system is better for both people and planet. Our aim is to feed people by creating a platform for tasty and affordable protein,” said Varun Deshpande of GFI.

CCMB has also signed an agreement with HSI to launch a ‘Centre for Predictive Human Model Systems’.The centre will help enable shift in scientific research by focusing on new methodologies instead of animal models.This centre aims to stop use animals in research purposes. The alternative testing method would be to test the human cells and convert them into organoids (a miniature and simplified version or an organ produced in vitro in three dimensions that shows realistic micro anatomy).(India Science Wire)

Scientists identify genetic factors responsible for infertility among Indian men

Dinesh C Sharma

New Delhi: Male infertility in India is very high. It is generally due to low production and motility of sperm, abnormal shape of sperm or complete absence of it. Now a group of Indian scientists have found underlying genetic factors for infertility among Indian men. They hope this knowledge could help them develop a genetic test for male infertility in near future.

It is known that Y chromosome has several genes that play a role in production of sperms. Any deletion of genes on Y chromosome causes diseases of testes and impairs sperm production, leading to infertility. The exact locations of these deletions on Y chromosomes among population groups in Europe and elsewhere are known.

In the new study, Indian scientists have found location of such micro-deletions in Y chromosome of Indian population groups. It has emerged that the deletions on Y chromosome of infertile Indian men are vastly different from such deletions seen among men in other population groups. Scientists at the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) have been studying micro and macro deletions on the Y chromosome for almost two decades.

“The infertility problem in India is huge, and whatever genetic studies have been reported from Europe and elsewhere do not match with observations in Indian population. We did extensive analysis using additional markers and other methods and have found there is unique combination of deletions in Y chromosome of infertile Indian men and also they occur with high frequency. This is different from what has been found elsewhere,” Dr Kumarasamy Thangaraj, who led the study, told India Science Wire. This study has been published in journal Scientific Reports.

In Y chromosome, researchers looked at AZoospermia Factor (AZF) region which consists of three genetic domains in its long arm – AZFa, AZFb and AZFc. These domains carry genes required for sperm production. Scientists screened 973 infertile men along with 587 fertile men with normal sperm count and motility for AZF regions deletions. “We could detect a total of 29.4% of infertile Indian men carrying deletions, and we also found also a few unique combinations of deletions exclusively in Indian infertile men,” pointed out Dr Deepa Selvi Rani, a member of the team.

“Among infertile men AZF deletion alone represents 29.4% individuals, which is quite remarkable, and is, in fact, the highest among world populations,” added Gyaneshwer Chaubey, a member of the team from Banaras Hindu University (BHU).

Though the study did not specifically focus on the link between endogamy (the custom of marrying within one’s clan or social group) and male infertility, researchers said such a link could not be ruled out since endogamy and genetic isolation were associated with a number of genetic mutations related to certain diseases, as shown in previous studies .

“If you take one group of people, and if genetically they are from the same set of parents and been marrying within the same group, then we expect that males in that particular population will have the same Y chromosome. Because of endogamy there will be homogenous Y chromosome in that particular population. If it is prone to such microdeletions, then it will affect all the males,” explained Dr Thangaraj.

The new findings could potentially help in infertility treatment. “If somebody has low sperm motility or sperm count, the couple opts for assisted reproduction. But in the case of individuals with Y chromosome microdeletions (which we have found) assisted reproduction may also fail.

Multiple failures means a lot of money is spent. If we can check for the deletion to screen infertile men prior to adapting any assisted reproductive methods, people can go directly for options like donor sperm,” said Dr Thangaraj.

The group at CCMB is working on developing such a genetic test for male infertility. It is also working on genetic factors underlying female infertility.

The study team included Deepa Selva Rani, Kadupu Pavani, Avinash A Rasalkar and Kumarasamy Thangaraj (CCMB); Rajinder Singh (Central Drug Research Institute, Lucknow); Gyaneshwer Chaubey (BHU); Nalini J Gupta and Baidyanath Chakravarthy (Institute of Reproductive Medicine, Kolkata); and Mamta Deendayal (Infertility Institute and Research
Centre, Hyderabad). (India Science Wire)