Saturday, 28 February 2009

Islamic viewpoint on euthanasia

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Euthanasia is unIslamic but medical treatment involving the use of stem cells is OK. Assisted reproductive technology like surrogate mother and test tube baby is Islamic as long as the sperm and the ovum is from the legally wedded couples. It is better not to discuss human cloning as it is not "appropriate" as of now.
These are some of the decisions a group of Muslim doctors from across the country took on Sunday during a national conference on "legal and ethical issues" involved in medical practice vis-à-vis Islamic jurisprudence or Shariat. The conference was organised by the Islamic Fiqh Academy, New Delhi, and the Muslim Educational Social and Cultural Organisation, Hyderabad.
Dr Umar Hassan Kasule, internationally renowned professor of epidemiology and Islamic Medicine from Brunei, set the agenda on medical practice for Muslim physicians and clinicians in India. During the day-long session, Dr Umar Hassan dwelt at length various aspects of Islamic medicine, a terminology which is fast becoming popular in the Muslim world, and how Muslim doctors should adapt themselves to the fast changing world of medicine.
Doctors evinced keen interest in legal, medical, ethical and spiritual issues like euthanasia, assisted reproduction technology, stem cell research, organ donation and transplantation as also the Islamic code of conduct for Muslim doctors. Dr Umar Hassan explained in detail these medical issues with appropriate quotes from the Holy Quran and the Hadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad) and backed by expert fatwas by Islamic scholars of repute, both present and the past.
"Use of stem cell technology to treat Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, heart and other crippling diseases is halal. Muslim jurists have ruled that the use of cultured human nerve cells obtained from abortions, spontaneous or medically induced, are permissible," Dr Umar Hassan observes.
But with regard to assisted reproduction technology like the use of donor eggs or donor sperm is unIslamic when the donor and the recipient are not legally wedded. "Lineage is a very protected aspect in Islam. Donor eggs and/or sperm upsets the foundations of lineage. This also goes for renting the womb, i.e. surrogacy. Sperm, eggs, and the womb are all a part of the process which determines lineage. Not only is the lineage of the child confused, such a child is illegitimate under Islamic shariah," he points out.
With regard to euthanasia or mercy-killing, the Muslim doctors agreed that the purpose of preserving life makes any form of active or passive euthanasia illegal. Life and good health must be protected and promoted in all circumstances. Euthanasia violates the purpose of preserving religion because it involves a human attempt to violate the divine prerogative of giving and taking away life.
However, they are of the view that a distinction in Islamic law exists between withholding life support and withdrawing it. The issue is legally easier if life support is not started at all according to a pre-set policy and criteria. Once it is started, discontinuation raises legal or ethical issues.
When a doctor sought an answer on Islamic position on human cloning, Dr Umar Hassan preferred not to dwell on the issue saying that the Islamic tradition discourages speculative thinking about hypothetical events. But the Islamic expert was of the view that cloning is not creation of new life from basic organic and non-organic matter.
Cloning as a concept goes far beyond the natural method of human sexual reproduction. If human cloning is ever achieved in practice, it will not be the first exception to human sexual reproduction. The Prophet Adam had neither a father nor a mother. The Prophet Jesus (Hazrat Isa) had a mother but no father. Asexual reproduction is common in the animal and plant kingdoms. Bacteria, viruses, and other micro-organisms reproduce asexually.
"The issue of quality of life arises in the case of cloning. The product of cloning will not have the same quality as we know it in humans today. This is because a human is both matter and spirit. During the first trimester of intra-uterine development the soul (Ruh or spirit) is inserted into the body by God. There is one "Ruh" for each being. Thus the cloned product can not have a "Ruh" and will therefore not be human being as we know," he said.
Muslim medical experts were of the view that the product of cloning will have all the biological properties of the ordinary human being but will not have the spiritual qualities. Thus the life of the cloned product will be of little or no quality.

Be cautious about OTC drugs

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Suffering from headache, loose motions or common cold? Just don't rush to a chemist for an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine. Chances are that you may develop nausea, severe allergic reactions, kidney failure or even cancer.
More often than not the blame does not lie with the chemist but with the type of drug he gives you. As many as a dozen generic or basic drugs, which have been banned world-wide, are freely available in twin cities. Strangely enough, these drugs enjoy the legal status as they are yet to be banned by the Indian government.
"For a drug to be banned the Central government needs concrete evidence supported by research studies on its bad side-effects. Unfortunately, in India we do not have post-drug follow-up records. Pharmaceutical companies take advantage of this", argues R Uday Bhaskar, secretary-general of All-India Drug Control Officers' Confederation.
He, however, wants these drugs to be banned as "what is bad for people in the USA and Europe is equally bad for Indians, whether we have post-drug follow-up studies or not".
The Central government has banned 76 categories of Fixed Dose Combination or individual drugs. Ironically, the government banned these drugs only after the manufacturers voluntarily withdrew them. Rofecoxid is one such drug. It was found to be dangerous to heart patients. However, many irrational combination drugs are still sold freely.
Some of the drugs banned in the USA, European Union, Australia and developed countries but still available in India are:
Analgin (pain-killer), Cisapride (acidity, constipation), Droperidol (anti-depressant), Furazolidone (anti-diarrhoea), Nimesulide (pain-killer, fever), Nitrofurazone (anti-bacterial cream), Phenolphthalein (laxative), Phenylpropanolamine (cold and cough), Oxyphenbutazone (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory), Piperazine (anti-worms) and Quiniodochlor (anti-diarrhoeal).
Nimelsulide, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, has been banned in many countries for its reported liver toxicity. The Central government approved Nimelsulide in 1994 for treatment of painful inflammatory musculo-skeletal disorders but many doctors prescribe it for ordinary pain and fever. Nimelsulide and Cyproflaxin (100 mg) have been banned for paediatric use but doctors continue to prescribe them for children.
Dr SV Chandrasekhar, consultant surgeon of Apollo Hospitals, says drugs like analgin should not be used for children while furazolidone is equally bad for adults and children. "Combination drugs are not advisable. When a patient suffers from one problem why should he or she be given a combination of drugs? Vitamins are always sold in combination. A person does not suffer from deficiency of several vitamins or minerals at a time. Overdose may cause severe problems", he points out.

The side-effects:
1. Analgin (it is used in dozens of drugs including Novalgin): Causes bone marrow depression, ulcers and reflex action.
2. Cisapride (available under brand names Ciza and Syspride): Causes irregular heartbeat and palpitation.
3. Droperidol (brand name Droperol): Affects the heart and blood circulation.
4. Furazolidone (Furaxone, Lomofen): Nausea, severe headache, cancer and damage to intestines.
5. Nimesulide (Nise, Nimulid): Causes liver failure.
6. Nitrofurazone (Furacin): Causes cancer.
7. Phenolphthalein (Agarol): Found to be carcinogenic.
8. Phenylpropanolamine (D'Cold, Vicks Action-500): May lead to stroke.
9. Oxyphenbutazone (Sioril): Bone marrow depression.
10. Piperazine (Piperazine): Causes damage to nerves.
11. Quiniodochlor (Enteroquinol): Damages eyesight.

Indian children capable of registering high growth rate

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Indian children are capable of registering a high growth rate provided they get a well-balanced nutritional diet during the schooling years.
A study conducted by the city-based National Institute of Nutrition showed micronutrient-rich supplement would increase tissue growth and skeletal shell in apparently normal children. School-children who received micronutrient-rich food recorded growths up to three cm in height and four kgs in weight during the 14 months of study as compared with children fed with regular normal diet.
The NIN carried out the study among residential school-children, between six and 16 years of age, in Hyderabad. As many as 268 children were selected randomly from two classes of each grade (1 to 9) and were provided a micronutrient-enriched beverage. While 146 got the micronutrient-rich beverage, 122 children received a placebo drink.
Bone parametres and bone area at various sites and the entire body were measured with dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry at the beginning and end of the study.
After 14 months, increments for height, weight, fat-free mass, percentage of fat, whole-body bone mineral content, whole-body bone area and bone mass density at the neck of the femur were significantly greater in the supplemented group than in the placebo group.
NIN deputy director Veena Shatrugna, who conducted the research study, told this correspondent that diets in the boarding school provided 745 mg/d of calcium, including the calcium from milk used to reconstitute the respective supplements.
This is the first time that data on bone parametres in children between the ages six and 16 years is reported from India. The baseline values appear to correspond to reported values from the West. In addition, the beneficial effects of an additional calcium intake of 224 mg with other micronutrients in the supplemented group compared with the placebo group have been demonstrated, she pointed out.
The children in this study belonged to middle-income group from the semi-urban areas of Hyderabad with apparent adequate intake of energy and protein, but intakes of vitamin A, iron, folate, thiamin, and niacin were less than 60 per cent of recommended dietary allowance and calcium intakes were only 700 mg/d which is much below the Western RDAs.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Asteroid 2009 BD81: Potential hazardous asteroid makes closest approach to human planet

If the current projections of the asteroid's next visit in 2042 are to be believed, it will fly past the Earth as close as 31,800 km. It will come
even closer in 2046. Robert Holmes discovered the new asteroid while observing a known asteroid on January 31, 2009. This asteroid is potentially hazardous.

February 27, 2009
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Feb 26: A celestial visitor will make a flypast of the human
planet tomorrow giving a glimpse to astrophysicists of the secrets
buried deep in the asteroidal belt that occupies the space between the
Earth and the Mars.

Asteroid 2009 BD81 will make its first-ever recorded trip to the Earth
after it was discovered accidentally 26 days ago. This is the newest
asteroid to have been discovered, but astrophysicists attach importance
to its study as it is one of the 1000 and odd asteroids that are declared
"potentially hazardous".

The asteroid, in this visit, will fly at an astronomically safe distance of
70 lakh km away from the Earth's orbit. But when it comes again in
2042, Asteroid 2009 BD81 may pose severe threat to the human planet
as astrophysicists fear a possible collision then.

"If the current projections of the asteroid's next visit in 2042 are to be
believed, it will fly past the Earth as close as 31,800 km. It will come
even closer in 2046," Planetary Society of India secretary N Sri
Raghunandan Kumar told this correspondent.

The new asteroid is quite small about 1000 ft in diametre and thus is
not visible to the naked eye. It has to be observed through high aperture
telescopes or observatories.

He said in the next nine months as many as 400 asteroids are predicted
to have a "Near Earth Flyby" or closest approach to human planet. At
least 10 per cent of them are hazardous asteroids with a potential threat
of passing too close to the Earth.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The story of "criminal" genes: Criminal activity has genetic basis, says CCMB

Several studies have reported either higher levels of testosterone among rapists or the correlation of shorter CAG repeats with criminal activities. However, to date, no study has analyzed AR gene in rapists worldwide.

February 24, 2009
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Feb 23: Criminal activity has genetic basis too. Though
most of the crimes recorded in the world are influenced by
environmental factors, genes too play a crucial role in pushing people
to commit crimes.

Scientists at the city-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology
have found that the androgen receptors (AR) gene containing Cytosine,
Adenosine and Guanine (CAG) repeat, plays an important role in
shaping the criminal mentality or otherwise of an individual. Those
with shorter repeat of CAG in their AR gene develop antisocial
personality disorders. On an average the CAG repeats 21 times in
normal people and 18 or less number of times in those with criminal
bent of mind.

In the first-ever study conducted on criminals from Indian
subcontinent, the CCMB team analysed the AR-CAG repeat length in
645 men, of which 241 were convicted for rape, 107 for murder, 26 for
both murder and rape, and 271 were control males.

"We found significantly shorter CAG repeats in the rapists (18.44
repeats) and murderers (17.59 repeats) compared to the control men
(21.19 repeats). The criminals who committed murder after rape had a
far shorter mean repeat length (17.31 repeats) in comparison to the
controls or those convicted of rape or murder alone. Our study
suggests that the reduced CAG repeats in the AR gene are associated
with criminal behaviour. This, along with other studies, would help in
understanding the biological factors associated with the antisocial or
criminal activities," CCMB senior scientist Dr K Thangaraj told this

AR gene has strong effect on the function of the central as well as
peripheral nervous system and plays a crucial role in maintaining
masculine reproductive behaviour. Shorter CAG repeats are related to
personality scales characterised by dominance, high verbal aggression,
high monotony avoidance, and low lack of assertiveness in
normal populations.

"Antisocial activities like aggression and tendency to rape or murder,
once thought to be personality specific and influenced by environment
rather than by genes, are gaining more attention among geneticists. Our
present study on AR-CAG repeat length in individuals convicted for
rape or murder revealed a significant difference in the mean length and
distribution of the AR alleles between criminals and the control men.
The association of increased androgens levels or the shorter CAG
repeat length with antisocial activities may indicate additional factors
associated with the criminal activities," Dr Thangaraj said.

A genetic study on criminals may help in understanding if there is some
biological factor, which may affect psychological state of an individual,
and also in proper management and reducing the social burden due to
these offences, if the biological basis of such offenses is established, he

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Wakf land: Andhra Pradesh government cheats Muslims before elections

Andhra Pradesh State government lays claim on more than 2000 acres of prime Wakf property belonging to the Pahadishariff dargah in Hyderabad. But hands over only 50 acres of land as a "goodwill gesture". Congress says it is a gift to Muslims, but Muslims want it to return the entire stretch of land. Read on for details

February 13, 2009
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Feb 12: The State government's handing over of 50 acres
of revenue land in Mamidipalli village in the city outskirts to the State
Wakf Board has raked up a major controversy.
The State government issued orders on February 10 allotting the
revenue land to the State Wakf Board, as against its claim of over 2000
acres of prime land. The government and the Wakf Board have been
locked in a legal battle over 2131.28 acres of land belonging to the
dargah of Hazrat Syed Baba Sharfuddin in Pahadishariff.
While the case is pending in a court, the government allotted 50 acres
of revenue land to the Board to paucify the Muslim community before
the State Assembly and the Lok Sabha polls. The Board claims that
2131.28 acres of land in Mamidipally village belongs to the dargah of
Hazrat Baba Sharfuddin while the State government argues that it is a
revenue land.
"The Wakf Board issued a notification on February 9, 1989 laying
claim on 2131.28 acres of land of the Baba Sharfuddin dargah. As per
Rules, a Wakf notification published in the State Gazette can be
challenged within a year. The government did not challenge the
notification. In fact on September 3, 1996 the State government in the
Assembly declared the land as a Wakf property. But now it claims that
the land belongs to the revenue department," said Mr Muhammad
Saleem, former chairman of the State Wakf Board.
While allotting 50 acres to the Wakf Board, the government made it
clear that it would not withdraw the case against the Board on 2131.28
acres Wakf land.
"The government claims that it is returning 50 acres of Wakf land to
the board. If it is so, it should return the entire stretch of the land which
the board has notified in a gazette more than 20 years ago. The
government has only allotted revenue land to the board with ulterior
political motives," said Muslim religious leader Hafiz Syed Shujath

Langerhan's cells histiocytosis: Phase IV trials begin in India

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Hundreds of medical experts and researchers from across the country will collaborate with their counterparts in the USA to finalise a safe drug for a strange and rare disease that afflicts mainly children below two years of age.

Called the Langerhan's cells histiocytosis or simply LCH, the disease
mimics cancer but it is not carcinogenic in nature. It affects several
parts of the body and is a complicated disease, which for decades was
thought to be a form of cancer.

The Histiocyte Society of the United States has sought the help of
medical colleges, hospitals and experts for a network to carryout the
LCH trial in the Indian sub-continent. The trials will begin later this
month. The reference centre will be Vienna, Austria. Drugs that have
been developed to fight this rare disease have already undergone three
phases and the participation of Indians in the fourth phase trials
assumes significance since there are several LCH patients in the sub-

According to Dr T Vasantha, who is coordinating the trials in the
country, histiocytosis is a very difficult disease to explain and
understand. The disease affects bones, pituitary gland, eyes, liver,
spleen, bone marrow and skin.

This is a randomised trial and randomisation takes place at Indian
Council of Medical Research. The All-India Institute of Medical
Sciences is coordinating the study. Treatment for this rare disease has
been approved and is being marketed. The present study is to evaluate
side effects that were not apparent in the phase III trial. Thousands of
people will be involved in the present phase.

"Medical colleges and hospitals will send samples to AIIMS which in
turn will forward them to the Histiocyte Society," Dr Vasantha said.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Book Review: The Cosmic Detective - Exploring the mysteries of our universe

The Cosmic Detective – Exploring the mysteries of our universe
Author: Dr Mani Bhaumik
Published by Penguin Group
Pages: 92
Price: Rs 199

The universe is a mystery, an enigma. The more one tries to explore this mystery the more one gets confounded. It’s a never-ending mystery woven in stellar glaze, the brightest and biggest shining objects and the darkest unknown realms of the so-called black or white holes. The universe is expanding by the second and so is its mystery.

This mystery needs to be solved. After all, we are part of this universe. And who will solve this mystery? Of course, we ourselves. But we need a band of young, trained Cosmic Detectives to take up this challenging task, the unfinished task of our grandfathers and great grandfathers.

International best-selling author and world-renowned scientist Dr Mani Bhaumik makes a beginning in this direction. To train our Cosmic Detectives to unravel the mystery,
rather mysteries of our immediate universe, if not all that lies in the vast expanse
called Space.

In his book, “The Cosmic Detective”, Dr Mani Bhaumik takes young readers on a whirlwind tour into space. Addressing his readers as cosmic detectives, he actively enlists his young sleuths in finding solutions to questions that have puzzled space scientists and the common people for ages.

The author poses a number of questions, rather challenges before the cosmic detectives and he himself provides the answer, of course, leaving the great mystery to cosmic detectives themselves to unravel.

In layman’s language he explains answers to these and many other questions. How and when did the universe begin? What are stars made of? How far away are the most distant galaxies? What is a quasar? Explore these fundamental cosmic riddles and more in this fascinating journey of discovery and wonder.

He tells you about nebulae and black holes, navigates you through the galaxies and the enormous expanses beyond, takes you into the heart of neutron stars and provides an insight on distant planets as you join him in investigating the most bizarre aspects of the cosmos.

As Dr Bhaumik reveals “when we explore the cosmos, we also explore ourselves.”
Discussing how important light is to know the stars, he says, if there were no light we would not have known the stars. “Light travels through space at a speed which is the same everywhere in the universe. The speed is 1,86,282.4 miles per second. When we look out at distant objects in space, we are also looking back in time. We see them not as they are, but as they were when their light began its journey to us.”

For example, it takes approximately 1.3 seconds for the light of the moon to make its way to earth, which means that when we look up at the moon, we see it as
it was 1.3 seconds ago. The sun's light takes nearly 8.34 minutes to reach us, so we see the sun 8.34 minutes ago. Things get very strange, however, when we consider objects that are much further away. The light we observe today from the little star cluster known as the Pleiades (the Seven Sisters) left 440 years ago, so we see the Pleiades as they were in the mid sixteenth century, Dr Bhaumik says.

Describing in a lucid manner how the stars originated, he says, “you might think of stars as solid objects, like the earth, but this not really the case. Our star, the sun, began its life about 4.6 billion years ago as a huge, swirling cloud of gas and dust, made mostly of the element of hydrogen.”

Our galaxy has produced at least two hundred billion stars this way, and it is still
making them. As we shall see, it has also made planets like our earth.

Dr Bhaumik teaches Comic Detectives on how to continue their investigation of the cosmos and uncover clue after clue about its origin. “We will begin to see that we are made of “fairy dust” spun out by the stars, Stardust. In the truest sense, we are all princes and princesses because we are the sons and daughters of the stars.”

Concluding the cosmic search, Dr Bhaumik says, “if we do indeed come from the same source that brought the universe into being, how do we describe this source? What is it made of? Where is it come from? Investigating these questions is your ultimate assignment, and I expect it will keep you on the trail for some time. It is hard work, but I can assure you that once you take this case, you will never give up.”

Thursday, 5 February 2009

HIV-HCV coinfection highest in South India

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Feb 3: HIV patients from South India are two times more
prone to Hepatitis C virus coinfection than their counterparts living in
the North.

Researchers at the city-based Centre for Liver Research and
Diagnostics and the department of biotechnology, Jawaharlal Nehru
Technology University, found that the incidence of HIV and hepatitis C
virus coinfection is 3.02 per cent among HIV patients living down the
Vindhyas. The average coinfection rate for all-India is about 1.5 per

This in other words means South Indians are more susceptible to
coinfection of HIV and HCV as compared to North Indians. The study
was conducted among others by Dr CM Habibullah, Dr MN Khaja and
Dr M Chandra.

A greater proportion of HIV/HCV coinfected people may progress to
cirrhosis (serious liver scarring) and liver disease than those with HCV
alone. HIV-infected individuals have a high probability of getting
coinfected with HCV.

The team took the samples of 1487 confirmed HIV-positive patients
and tested them for anti-HCV antibodies. Of this, 1443 (97.04 per cent)
were negative and 45 (3.02 per cent) were coinfected. HIV-HCV
coinfection was predominant in the age group 41-50 years (51.1 per

"The results showed that HIV and HCV seroprevalence is higher in
South India, and the most prevalent genotype in coinfection was
genotype 1b," Dr Khaja told this correspondent.

"Prolonged survival of HIV-infected patients coinfected with HCV
may become an important clinical problem. HIV and HCV show some
common biological features like both are RNA viruses and both show a
large heterogenicity of their viral genomes producing various
genotypes," Dr Khaja said.

Globally, a total of 39.5 million are living with HIV, of whom 5.7
million are from India. Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome has
grown more rapidly than the scientific progress of understanding how
to control the main causative agent.

Globally, hepatitis C virus has infected more than 170 million people
and thus represents a viral pandemic seven times more widespread than
infection with the HIV.
It is estimated that in India about 1.8-2.5 per cent of the population is
presently infected by HCV and about 20 million people are already
having HCV infection.

"The objective is determine the prevalence of HCV antibodies in the
HIV-infected Indian population. This is aimed at providing the baseline
data on HIV/HCV coinfection and gaining better understanding of the
public health issues," he pointed out.

The male predominance was more with 61.5 per cent compared to
females by 38.4 per cent and the median age was 37 years, ranging
from 20 to 55 years. Of them 1183 (79.5 per cent) were heterosexual,
69 (4.64 per cent) were intravenous drug users (IVDs), 45 (3.02 per
cent) were blood transfusion recipients, 115 (7.73 per cent) were
haemophiliacs and 75 (5.04 per cent) were unnoticed.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Tuberculosis Breakthrough: New molecule developed to fight Mycobacterium

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Feb 2: Indian scientists have developed a novel compound that would hit the killer tuberculosis bacteria and cure the disease, which claims about 1000 people everyday in the country.

The novel compound has been successfully tested in laboratory and if it works on human beings, a single drug will be sufficient to deal with the menace of tuberculosis. At present, those suffering from TB are made to take a daily
dose of four drugs. The new development will help in fighting the disease through a single drug. This will save money on medication and prevent side-effects related to multi-drug therapy.

Scientists at the city-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology and the Delhi-based National Institute of Immunology have jointly created the compound. Multi-drug therapy is administered in TB cases as different drugs target different metabolic pathways in Mycobacterium, the causative pathogen, killing it. But the new compound has multiple functions and hits the select metabolic pathways in the bacteria to destroy it.

CCMB scientist Dr Rajan Shankarnarayanan, one of the team members, told this correspondent that the compound stops tuberculosis by hitting four of
the bacterium's crucial metabolic pathways at the same time. "The compound weakens the pathogen before finally destroying it. We have demonstrated it in laboratory tests. However, it takes time before it becomes practical in human beings," he said.

According to Dr Rajan, if everything goes on well, a single drug will help tackle the disease. "A single drug that targets multiple pathways could save time and money by eliminating the need to take so many drugs over a period of say six to nine months," he added.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the organism that causes tuberculosis, contains a layer of complex lipids on its outer membrane. The CCMB-NII team found out how the bacterium builds up this complex layer that acts as drug resistant. Once they have solved the mystery, they developed a compound that would hit the metabolic pathways of the causative agent.

Although TB bacteria has been known for centuries, tuberculosis still accounts for more than two million deaths every year. The causative agent has a complex arsenal of virulence factors and has evolved elaborate strategies to escape host surveillance. The cell envelope of the bacteria is endowed with complex lipids, many of which play an important role in its pathogenesis.

"The complex lipids displayed by Mycobacterium tuberculosis are a big factor in its pathogenicity and virulence. Since this single molecule could potentially grind the assembly line to a halt at different stages of infection, this approach provides tremendous opportunity to develop unique antituberculosis drugs," he said.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Sorghum genome to help improve dryland crops

February 2, 2009
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Unraveling of the sorghum genome will help improve dryland crops
The announcement of the unraveling of the genome of sorghum, one of the mandate crops of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), will strengthen the Institute’s research for the improvement of sorghum and other food crops.

The sequencing of the sorghum genome was announced in a scientific article published on 29 January 2009 in the journal Nature. The global team of scientists that reported the genome sequencing was led by Prof Andrew Paterson of the University of Georgia, USA, and included ICRISAT’s Cereal Breeder, Dr C Tom Hash.

Sorghum is the second food crop from the grass family to have its genome fully sequenced. The first one was rice. Sorghum is the first crop with the more efficient C4 photosynthesis system to be sequenced. Sugarcane, maize and pearl millet are other grasses with the C4 photosynthesis system that should benefit from this.

Plants that have a C4 photosynthesis system have a competitive advantage over plants possessing the more common C3 carbon fixation pathway under conditions of drought and high temperatures. While a significant portion of the water taken up by C3 plants is lost through transpiration, this loss is much lower for C4 plants, demonstrating their advantage in a dry environment.

According to Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, the unraveling of the sorghum genome is the first such breakthrough for a dryland agricultural crop that is adapted to drought. “The sequence of sorghum genome will provide us a better understanding on genes that make sorghum, as compared to other cereals, more drought tolerant.”

ICRISAT will combine the new knowledge on the sorghum genome sequence with its expertise on molecular-marker assisted crop selection and breeding to develop improved sorghum varieties and hybrids for desirable traits, say with improved drought tolerance or improved disease resistance.

Candidate genes identified for drought tolerance or pest resistance can be used to understand natural variation in ICRISAT’s sorghum germplasm collection comprising of more than 36,000 accessions with a final objective to identify superior variants for using in breeding crops.

The genome sequence is already contributing to development of additional molecular markers for economically important sorghum traits, and for identification of specific genes that control them. This in turn is leading to more efficient crop breeding methods – particularly those based on marker-assisted selection for naturally occurring genetic variation – which will reduce the time required to develop grain, forage, and sweet sorghum varieties and hybrids having improved agronomic performance, stress tolerance, pest resistance and product quality.

The availability of genome sequence data should enhance genomics-assisted breeding in sorghum. For instance, a few hundred molecular markers, genomics tools that are used in marker-assisted selection, were available in sorghum until 2 to 3 years ago; genome sequence data has now provided more than 71,000 microsatellite marker candidates.

“We believe that availability of genome sequence combined with modern genomics approaches should boost our breeding activities to develop the desirable breeding lines. Genes identified in sorghum would not be useful only for sorghum but other cereal/plant species as well, especially for enhancing drought tolerance,” Dr Dar said.

The paper published in Nature shows that different cereals such as rice, wheat, barley, maize, sorghum and pearl millet show similarities in gene number and gene order, since they derived from a common ancestor. This allows the use of genomic resources from one cereal species to improve another species. For instance, based on the sequence data of sorghum and rice, molecular markers have been developed and are being used in pearl millet, another mandate crop for ICRISAT.

Sorghum, a mandate crop of ICRISAT, is the fifth most important and relatively drought tolerant cereal crop that is the dietary staple of more than 500 million people in more than 30 countries of semi-arid tropics. It is grown on 42 m ha in 98 countries of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas.

ICRISAT has been working for more than three decades for improving sorghum for food and feed proposes. Furthermore, sweet sorghum has emerged as a feedstock for ethanol production. It gives food/feed, fodder and fuel, without significant trade-offs in any of these uses in a production cycle. ICRISAT has pioneered the sweet sorghum ethanol production technology, and its commercialization.

Having the genome sequence of sorghum is significant landmark of genomics research for sorghum community in particular and biofuel community in general

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This Day In History

Mother's Care

Mother's Care
Minnu The Cat & Her Kittens Brownie, Goldie & Blackie

Someone with Nature

Someone with Nature
Syed Akbar in an island in river Godavari with Papikonda hills in the background

Recognition by World Vegetable Centre

Recognition by World Vegetable Centre

Under the shade of Baobab tree

Under the shade of Baobab tree
At Agha Khan Akademi in Kenya

Gateway to the Southern Hemisphere

Gateway to the Southern Hemisphere

Convention on Biodiversity

Convention on Biodiversity
Syed Akbar at the 11th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity