Thursday, 28 January 2010

Bt brinjal: India does not have Bt testing facility and yet supports genetically modified egg plant

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Jan 24: Even as the Centre is gathering public opinion on the introduction of Bt brinjal for human consumption, strangely enough the country does not have the facility to test the toxicity or otherwise of
bacillus thuringiensis or Bt gene.

India does not have a Bt laboratory and the Central government's support for introduction of Bt brinjal in the market is based more on political considerations rather than scientific studies. In the absence of credible tests, public consultations will not help much.
"How can the Central government vouchsafe for the long term health safety of the people, who consume Bt brinjal, when it does not have a Bt testing lab, in the first place? Brinjal is not a staple food and I suspect that Bt brinjal is being pushed with ulterior motives for introduction of new genetically modified food crops in the country," argues eminent geneticist Dr Krishna Rao Dronamraju, who heads the Foundation for Genetic Research, Houstan, USA.
The Centre is banking on the results of animal studies, which cannot always be extrapolated on human beings. The physiology of human beings is complex as compared to that of animals. Several studies on
animal models have failed when extrapolated on man. Moreover, there's no guarantee that the nutritional value or taste will be enhanced by producing Bt brinjal.
According to Dr Krishna Rao, Bt brinjal has about 15 per cent less calories and different alkaloid content compared to non-GM brinjal. "Bt brinjal produces a protein in the vegetable cells that induce antibiotic resistance," he said demanding a two-year moratorium on commercial release of Bt brinjal.
Brinjal, although an important part of human diet, will hardly solve the problem of poverty in India. There are other major crops such as wheat and rice, which require urgent attention. The green revolution that was
introduced by Prof MS Swaminathan long ago, is now fading and it is time to look for other methods for increasing food productivity and quality, he said.
The risk of contamination of neighbouring non-GM crops is a major problem. The Convention on Biological Diversity and Cartagena protocol require that any GM food should be pre-tested carefully before
their release for commerical production.

Women's health: Health Quiz For All

By Syed Akbar
This simple quiz will help you know how well informed you are about women's health. Each right answer fetches you 10 points. Excellent, if your score is 80 and above, good if it is between 60 and 80, average if it is 40 and 60, and bad if the points earned are below 40. Get ready to take the test.

1) What is osteoporosis?
a) bones losing calcium b) bones gaining calcium c) a disease of strong bones d) high fluoride content in body
2) What type of food women should take to prevent osteoporosis?
a) Food rich in fluoride b) food rich in chloride c) food rich in calcium d) food rich in magnesium
3) Doctors generally prescribe hormone replacement therapy for some of the women, who undergo hysterectomy, or menopausal women. What is the primary use of this therapy?
a) intake of hormones from external sources to reduce the risk of bones turning brittle b) stopping of hormone injections c) increase the life span d) increase beauty
4) Health experts suggest that women must exercise vigorously for at least half an hour once in two days. This will keep the following organs fit:
a) heart and lungs and improves blood circulation b) brain c) eyes d) ears
5. Cardiovascular disease kills women more than any other health problem. Is it true?
a) Yes b) No
6) What commonly causes bleeding between periods?
a) miscarriage b) hormonal fluctuations c) malignant cancers d) all the above
7) What are simple tips to good health?
a) exercise regularly b) eat healthy food c) avoid smoking and undergo regular health check-ups d) all the above
8) Cancer of cervix is a type of sexually transmitted infection
a) yes b) no
9) Women, who are obese or overweight, present poor reproductive health and are relatively more prone to cancers. This statement is
a) true b) false
10) Which hormone is called the "fountain of youth hormone"?
a) DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) b) adrenaline c) progesterone d) insulin


1) a 2) c 3) a 4) a 5) a 6) d 7) d a 9) a 10) a

Herbal Cure: Pudina relieves stomach-ache Take mint to keep stomach healthy

By Syed Akbar
Pudina (mint) leaves are not only refreshingly aromatic, but also protect us from digestive problems including stomach-ache. This common herb, a must in many kitchens in all countries, has found its way in several traditional systems of medicine including Ayurveda and Unani. Pudina tea is popular in many cultures and societies.
Apart from its several medicinal properties, Pudina is capable of killing house pests like cockroaches, ants and mosquitoes. In agriculture, Pudina is grown along with other major crops as it drives away harmful
insects from fields, while attracting those beneficial to farmers in the form of pollination.
Pudina has a little over two dozen species. The peppermint species is quite popular in Indian kitchens. It is a good breath freshener and antiseptic natural mouth rinser.
Apart from stomach-ache, Pudina gives relief from chest pain, decongests nose in case of common cold and whitens teeth. Pudina also prevents pus formation in wounds and thus helps in fast healing. It is a
natural diuretic (promotes urine formation and removes excess water from body).
Mint contains several trace elements and vitamins good for health. They include chromium, magnesium, manganese, copper and sulphur and carotene, vitamin C, folic acid and vitamins B1, B2 and B3.

Quick remedies

For quick relief from morning sickness take freshly prepared pudina juice mixed with lemon, ginger and honey.
For those suffering from acidic stomach, pudina juice is the best natural remedy.
To remove facial blemishes left behind by purulent pimples, gently massage mint oil on the affected area.

Republic Day special: Freedom to Discover - Open Source Drug Discovery gives a new direction to Indian Republic

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Jan 25: Have an idea? No matter who you are. Contribute your idea and get credit points from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. Your idea could bring down the cost of medicine by at least 50 per cent.
As India celebrates its 60th year of Republic, every person, irrespective of his social and professional background, gets the freedom to discover. Discovery of novel drugs and scientific research is no longer the prerogative of laboratories and universities. Those who could not become scientists or researchers can now realise their dreams, sitting at home or office.
Thanks to the Open Source Drug Discovery project launched by the CSIR, even those who are not connected to science and technology can contribute their ideas and research on select projects. The project could be drug discovery or improvement, decoding the secrets of genes, unravelling the mysteries hidden behind diseases or study of pathogens.
"Universities, students, scientists - almost anyone, who wants to solve challenging problems in drug discovery or are ready to share their time/resources are welcome to participate in this initiative," says the CSIR

OSDD is a CSIR Team India Consortium with global partnership to provide affordable healthcare. According to eminent biotechnologist from the USA, Dr DR Krishna, "it is really a novel initiative where the best minds can collaborate and collectively endeavour to solve the complex problems associated with discovering novel therapies for neglected tropical diseases including malaria and TB".
The CSIR initiative is indeed a gateway to discovery as it provides a unique opportunity for scientists, doctors, technocrats, students and the general public with diverse expertise to work for a common cause.
The Central government has allotted Rs 150 crore for the project. "An idea, software, data, an article or molecule(s) that help in expediting the process of drug discovery will be treated as a contribution under OSDD," said senior scientist Dr M Khwaja.
The CSIR has fixed certain credit points for certain tasks. Based on the contribution one makes, he or she will get credit points and they continue to add up to the score. The participants will get blue, silver, gold or platinum cards and the points they earn are added to their unique account.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

And now the blind can see with the tooth

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Jan 19: The blind can now see with tooth. Sounds strange, but city eye surgeons have gained expertise in this radical medical technique that makes tooth function like an eye.

Eye sight is normally restored in the blind through corneal implant. But in about 10 per cent of blind cases, corneal implant will not help in providing vision. Such persons can now go in for a procedure medically called osteo-odonto keratoprosthesis or OOKP for short. This procedure involves removing a tooth of the blind person, drilling a hole into it and implanting an artificial lens into the hole. Then the tooth is implanted into the eye, providing vision to the blind.

It is recommended for people who have corneal opacification due to chemical burns, severe allergy or dry eyes.

"In OOKP we use a sliver of dental tissue to support a telescopic lens. The technique is meant for patients who are otherwise not suited to undergoing conventional corneal transplants due to extreme ocular surface damage. Such patients now have hope of regaining some vision," said Dr GN Rao, head of LV Prasad Eye Institute and Dr Veran Sangwan, associate director and head of corneal services, LVPEI.

The cornea services at LVPEI has already been offering a similar treatment with the Boston Keratoprosthesis, in which an artificial telescopic device is implanted in the cornea. Several patients, some of whom suffered vision loss due to chemical or fire accidents, have benefited from Boston KPro implants. The OOKP technique goes a step further in using the patient’s own dental tissue to provide the supporting framework for the telescopic lens, which decreases the risk of rejection.

Professor Giancarlo Falcinelli from Italy, along with Dr Anthony Aldave from the University of California, Los Angeles, are at LVPEI, to work with doctors here on perfecting this and other prosthetic techniques.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

TVs take yellow journalism to new heights

By Syed Akbar
Television news channels, hit hard by funds crunch, are now increasingly turning to sensationalism to stay in the race. In a bid to improve their TRP ratings and thus their revenue, some of them have gone to the extent of virtual blackmail, often holding the State to ransom. In their mad rush for cheap popularity, they have made the truth a casualty.
The so-called expose on the death of late chief minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy, telecast by some TV news channels, is nothing short of yellow journalism, to say the least. They simply picked up an unverified report published four months ago in a Russian tabloid, known for its sensationalism, and telecast it as if the investigating agencies back home
in India had unraveled the mystery behind the crash of the helicopter carrying Rajasekhar Reddy and his aides.
Worse. There was no disclaimer either. The TV channels added credence to their “exclusive reports” and “breaking news” by showing select portions of the Russian tabloid, while hiding the portions not convenient to them.
They also spread the word that someone had either blocked or hacked the website of the tabloid soon after they “broke the story” on their channels. A TV channel even started accusing the State government of “inaction” and wondered whether one should know the truth from a Russian tabloid. “Shame, shame,” it exclaimed.
The selective wording of the news reports created an impression among viewers and followers of YSR that what these TV channels had been telecasting was an “expose” and not replicating what had appeared in a Russian magazine, a couple of days after the death of YSR.
While these TV channels were improving their TRP ratings through their so-called breaking news, another TV channel, which had been in the field for quite long, started its own special bulletins to “rubbish” the Russian report.
It asked its district correspondents, who had apparently not read the Russian report, to speak on the issue. Its correspondents acted like expert commentators forgetting that they are basically reporters and not analysts. This particular TV channel quoted the Russian report out of context to tell its viewers that it was nothing but “sensation”.
As the sensationalism hotted up, the TV channels brought their own panel of experts to speak for or against the Russian report. But what these channels had forgotten was that their mindless telecast had already set the State on fire.
Yet another TV channel brought in the “regional angle” to the whole episode, wondering why attacks had been taking place against the outlets of a private company, only in Andhra and Rayalaseema regions and not in Telangana. In support of its argument, it took the bytes of some pro-Telangana activists.
This is not the first time that TV news channels have resorted to sensationalism and yellow journalism. Every small incident is blown out of proportion and clippings of violence are repeatedly telecast till they get the fresh ones. People tend to believe that these are separate incidents and not repeat of the same incident.
The classic example was the telecast of police lathicharge on unruly “students” in Osmania University. Repeated telecast of the same scene put the State government under pressure, so much so that it had to transfer a senior police official.
In fact, unhealthy competition in the Telugu electronic media started with the mushrooming of TV channels in Andhra Pradesh. The real estate boom in Hyderabad and surrounding Ranga Reddy district made several people billionaires overnight.
A few of them with questionable background invested in the electronic media to cover up their past and continue with their dubious activities. The current slump in the real estate sector has forced them to find alternative means of revenue: sensationalism and yellow journalism.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Momentous Moments: 2000-2009 - Looking back at the first decade of the third millennium

By Syed Akbar
The first decade of the new millennium has left behind a mixture of woes and hopes: Woes ranging from the mad cow disease in Europe in 2000 to human madness in the form of terrorism, sectarian violence, communal carnage and wars. And hopes ranging from finding solutions to the problem of global warming and climate change to discovering water on Mars and the moon, and sequencing human genome to find cure to a myriad diseases and health issues.

The decade 2000-2009 gave a new direction to almost all spheres of human life — politics, science and technology, medicine, entertainment, music and films, economics and space exploration. If politics saw Barak Hussein Obama, a black, taking over the reins of the world’s most powerful nation, the USA, medical research unravelled the genetic secrets of man, with the sequencing of the human genome, while economics gave a new currency — Euro — to Europe, the most advanced continent on the earth. The music and entertainment industry in India finally received world recognition when music maestro A.R. Rahman won two Oscars for his musical score for Slumdog Millionnaire, which won eight Oscars in all.
India achieved the “space superpower” tag, when it successfully sent the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft to the moon in 2008 and discovered the presence of water there, although the mission ended abruptly a year later. The decade is witness to hundreds of important events that had triggered an array of woes and hopes.
Some important events during 2000-2009 are: spread of dangerous epidemics like anthrax in 2001, severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003 and swine flu (human influenza H1N1) in 2009; completion of the human genome project in 2003, cloning of Dolly the sheep in 2003, first successful partial face transplant in 2005 in France, vaccine for cancer of cervix in 2006, creation of artificial DNA in Japan in 2008, Cerns Large Hadron collider test in 2008, tsunami in 2004, attack on world trade centre in the USA and the Indian Parliament in 2001, Israeli attack on Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008, invasion of Iraq in 2003 and Afghanistan in 2001 by the USA and its allied nations, Godhra and Gujarat riots in 2002, Mumbai terror in 2008, and killing of Saddam Hussein in 2006 and LTTE chief V Prabhakaran in 2009.

Fall of Twin Towers

The world saw the rise of a new brand of international terrorism following the attack on world trade centre and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. About 3,000 lives were lost in the attack involving three hijacked commercial planes. A new outfit Al-Qaeda surfaced on the world terror horizon, giving the superpower a bitter taste of terrorism in the post cold war era.
The US and Nato invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001 and overthrew the Taliban government there. The US war on terror that began with the attack on twin towers continued through the decade with little success. Though the US has shielded itself from further terror attacks on its soil, many countries including India have become easy targets of terrorists. Pakistan, where Al-Qaeda and other terror groups took birth and operate from, is now feeling the pinch of terrorism, with the Taliban, which it once supported, turning against it.
Terrorism has turned into a major global threat since 9/11 leaving no country safe from terror attacks. There have been several incidents of terror bombings post 9/11 — in India, the UK, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Spain, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The prime culprit, Osama Bin Laden, however continues to elude the US agencies on his hunt.

Attack on Indian Parliament

India suffered from the first well-organised terror attack of the decade when a group of Pakistan-backed LeT terrorists entered Parliament building complex on December 13, 2001, killing nine security guards and parliament staff. All the terrorists were Pakistani nationals. They disguised themselves as commandos to enter Parliament in a car. That the security at Parliament can be breached easily was evident when none manning the premises bothered to verify the “security stickers” pasted on the vehicle carrying the group on mission terror. The terror operatives had deliberately chosen the Indian parliament as their target as it is the bastion of democracy and secularism. India, however, did not learn lessons after the Parliament attack. Though the USA and the UK had secured themselves by high profile security measures after 9/11 and 7/7, India continues to be the soft target of cross-border terrorism thanks to several chinks in the Indian security system. There have been several bomb blasts in the country post Parliament attack.

Completion of Human Genome Project

What makes human beings human, and different from the rest of the animal kingdom? What makes man an intelligent creature? Modern man has been roaming the earth for more than 50,000 years, exploring the things around him. But he hardly thought of what lies inside him. The search that began 13 years ago to demystify the human genes and their constitution concluded in April 2003. The Human Genome Project turned out to be one of the great achievements of man. The project rediscovered human beings or Homo sapiens (the wise man in technical parlance). Man for the first time could understand the complete genetic blueprint that Mother Nature had designed to make human beings perfect in all aspects and respects. The project revealed that there are probably about 20,500 human genes. It was a massive project involving sequencing of three billion base pairs of human genome. It laid the path for finding out the root cause of diseases and solutions. The human genome project enabled man for the first time to understand what he is and what constitutes his being a human being.

Tsunami in Indian Ocean

The earthquake that struck underneath the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004 left behind a trail of death, destruction and human suffering. About 2.30 lakh people were killed in 11 countries, including 10,000 in India. It was the first major natural calamity of the millennium. About three lakh people were rendered homeless as sea waves rose to a height of 100 ft, inundating whatever came their way. The earthquake that triggered the tsunami measured between 9.1 and 9.3 on the richter scale. Nature’s fury was so strong that the earth shook for about 10 minutes, making the human planet vibrate 1 cm, creating a series of earthquakes thousands of kilometres away in Alaska.

Indian mission to the moon

The idea that what lies on the moon has always fascinated Indian astronomers and astrologers since the Indus Valley Civilisation, 5000 years ago. The Indian Space Research Organisation took up the challenging task of finding answers to this riddle. ISRO’s moon mission, Chandrayaan-1, launched on October 22, 2008, successfully found answers to some of these questions. But unfortunately the mission had to be abandoned mid-course after the lunarcraft developed technical glitches beyond repair. The Chandrayaan-1 gave a major thrust to India’s space programme and raised the hopes of space scientists and astrophysicists all over the world on the future manned mission to the moon and the red planet, Mars, in the next two decades. The Indian moon mission discovered traces of water on the lunar terrain, which will pave the way for further research and future human colonisation on the Earth’s only natural satellite.

Invasion of Iraq by US-led coalition

The United States had thrown Iraq into utter chaos and civil war resulting in the death of about two lakh people in the last six years after it invaded theArab nation on the pretext of controlling the “weapons of mass destruction”. The American invasion on March 20, 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein boomeranged and the US and its allies are still fighting it out to install a democratic and stable government and free Iraq of civil violence. The US theory of weapons of mass destruction proved hollow with no chemical or biological weapons found with the Iraqi forces.
The execution of Saddam Hussein on December 30, 2006 further fuelled the civil war in Iraq, but a troop surge in 2007 brought down the violence to a certain extent. Hopes of return of peace to Iraq strengthened after Barak Obama became the US President with a promise of complete pullout of American forces.

Godhra and Gujarat riots

The burning of a bogie of Sabarmati Express, carrying karsevaks from Ayodhya, at Godhra railway station on February 27, 2002 and the subsequent communal riots all over Gujarat, left an indelible black spot on the secular and democratic image of India. The Godhra tragedy claimed 59 karsevaks and 1,500 people lost their lives in the communal carnage. About a lakh people were rendered homeless and hundreds of places of worship razed to the ground.
The Modi government in Gujarat received international condemnation for the communal violence, which human rights groups described as“pre-planned and well-organised”. The US government cancelled the visa of Narendra Modi to address a business meet there. Eight years later, the political blame game is still on, even as justice eludes the victims and their kin.

Explosion of space shuttle Columbia

The explosion of space shuttle Columbia, as it was re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere on February 1, 2003 killing all the seven astronauts on board, came as a rude shock to National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States and space scientists around the world. India-origin astronaut and mission specialist Kalpana Chawla, who was on her second mission in the space shuttle, died along with six other crew members. The space disaster temporarily halted other space missions for at least two years. The mishap also came as a setback to other future manned space missions. The NASA, in its “Columbia Crew Survival Investigation Report”, came out with a set of recommendations on making future space manned missions safe. The NASA suggestions gain significance in the backdrop of Indian Space Research Organisation’s plans to send man to the moon in the next 10 years. Further, NASA too is planning space vehicles for its manned mission to the moon, Orion.

Mumbai under terror siege

Cross border terrorism struck on November 26, 2008 when a group of well-trained terrorists from Pakistan virtually held Mumbai, the commercial capital of India, to ransom for three days. As many as 195 people died in the terror attack, 308 were injured. The Mumbai attack exposed the severe security lapses along the Indian coast. The terrorists entered Mumbai by sea in fishing trawlers without being stopped by the National Coast Guard. The Taj and the Oberoi hotels bore the brunt of the attack and it was only after the Central government pressed into service the elite National Security Guard commandos, that the terrorists were contained and killed. International condemnation forced the Pakistan government to finally accept that the terrorists were its nationals and that the lone surviving terrorist Ajmal Kasab was trained in terror operations on its soil.

End of LTTE in Sri Lanka

Twenty-six years after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, one of the most dreaded terrorist organisations in the world, took full control of north and east Sri Lanka, the tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean declared on May 16, 2009 that it had defeated the Tamil Tigers. The LTTE began its separatist movement in May 1976 and when the Sri Lankan government refused to concede its demand for separate nation for Tamils, it took to arms, attacking public and private properties and killing thousands of civilians and security personnel. The Indian government first felt the heat of the LTTE when its operatives assassinated former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. LTTE is also credited with inventing suicidebelt and use of women in suicide attacks. LTTE founder Velupillai Prabhakaran was killed in a military operation by Sri Lankan government on May 19, 2009, bringing an end to an era of terror regime in the island nation.

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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