Tuesday, December 2, 2008

‘Genes-the little genii at work’ published in “BioQuest”, Kerala University Publication

A magic lamp, deep inside a dark chamber, the path leading to the mysterious lamp studded with costly fascinations and at the same time danger. Yes, Aladdin was lurking with danger. But he hardly knew that all these cascade of experiences and distractions whilst his lead towards the lamp would be negligible once the magic lamp is in his hands, atleast that was on the course of changing his life forever. Setting aside all the meshwork of cobwebs on his way, neglecting all the shiny distractions he finally reached the destination where he wanted to. AN OLD RUSTY LAMP! "What it would do to me?" such a thought may have twinkled in his mind. But his destiny from that moment onwards became a part and parcel of our modern folklores. A rub to the lamp' and lo a huge genie would appear to perform anything under the sun for his master. What a life? Everything done in seconds! Well this may be an extract from the fascinating Arabian nights which we as children used to read it with eyes wide open and adrenalin pumping out of excitement and interest. But have we ever thought that somewhere, something is indeed serving as a genie for mankind. Yes, a true genie, a genie which is mortal enough to stay till the concept called life is prevalent on this blue globe, a genie which is expected to do many, many wonders for the human race ahead. Well, in other words its high time that we honored the genie of life, the real genie at work-"A GENE"-the biological unit of hereditary and of course, the modern genetics.

Its indeed hard to believe that such an ultra-tiny unit embedded in the chromosome, is capable of carrying out or infact can be modified to carry out many amazing deeds for the welfare of homosapiens. But as we say it's always appropriate to believe what one see; for the marvels of gene the genie have already mesmerized the people around the world. Lavish exhibitions of genetic wonders are indeed in store for us; in the future too!

Yesteryears dreams are reality today. The tool of gene manipulation have opened up the avenue, the freedom, the capability to modify, splice, insert or even remove genes for the desirable virtues, mankind crave for. Today gene manipulation is like the rub on the magic lamp and our ultra tiny-gen(i)e would work wonders for us. The dramatic changes in the field of gene therapy, last few decades have successfully paved path for treating some of the genetic disorders, which otherwise would have granted miserable life to some. Gene therapy has moved from theoretical fantasy to potential applications. Presently gene therapy has been successful in treating single gene disorders, while still scientists are struggling like our good old Aladdin, to bring in more wonders from the genie. One of the first examples wherein gene performed its role amazingly as a genie was in the case of four year old girl Ashanthi Desilva in 1990. This little girl had severe combined immunodeficiency, a rare genetic disorder which made her lack healthy immune system. Scientists removed her white blood cells and with the magic tool of gene manipulation, inserted the missing gene into white blood cells. In due course our gen(i)e played its part and help her strengthen her immune system. Though it sounds lucid and fast, scientists are still struggling to introduce genes straight into human cells, focusing on diseases caused by single gene defects, such as cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, sickle cell anemia etc.

When life maroon on a lonely island, for a cancer patient, he must have felt many times, to have at least another chance to relish the existence on this wonderful planet. He must have fantasized the magic lamp and the genie, which can fulfill his wish. The modern day genie, our gene has successfully worked as T-killer cells to destroy the cancerous cells of metastatic melanoma at National Institute of Health, US, thus illuminating hopes in the soul of such patients. At another place, the power of gene technology, the magic lamp- proved successful in treating patients with myeloid system. With multidisciplinary approach and advances in technology and understanding; the field of gene therapy is progressing in leaps and bounds, turning hardcore fantasies to reality. Today gene therapy have effectively treated pulmonary hypertensions and reduced organ transplant rejections. Against neurological damage, gene therapy can work to replace lost cells, reduce damage, or strengthen the brain's natural defenses, say by "overexpressing" neurotrophins, which inhibit programmed cell death. In future "antisense" technology, in which a strand of RNA is programmed to attach to and neutralize a strand of messenger RNA responsible for switching on disease-causing proteins, will be true. Therapeutic cloning (embryo cloning) is the production of human embryos for use in research. The goal of this process is not to create cloned human beings, but rather to harvest stem cells that can be used to study human development and to treat disease. Stem cells are important to biomedical researchers because they can be used to generate virtually any type of specialized cell in the human body. Many researchers hope that one day stem cells can be used to serve as replacement cells to treat heart disease, Alzheimer's, cancer, and other diseases. A long way to go with the magic lamp, yet the hopes are high in air!
The successful completion of the Human Genome Project was one of the great moments in science. By revealing the genetic program code of many organisms, biomedical science has been transformed, endowing biologists with the ability to analyze whole genomes and giving hope of comprehending the complexity of entire organisms. Tomorrow's moms and dads, needless to say, will be seeking to produce perfect children. A recent article in the British Medical Journal discusses the prospect of designer babies as if it were inevitability. In this brave new world of genetically-engineered humans, concerned parents would ensure their offspring were free of such diseases as cancer and cystic fibrosis, and for good measure had blue eyes and could sing like Yesudas! Thanks to our genie we can today order for drugs, tailor-made to a person's genetic specifications. If we believe in the power of genie, routine gene scans will successfully predict patients' responses to any given number of biochemical interactions. The hit-and-miss technique of trying medication after medication - often with heartbreaking results - will be a thing of the past. The magic lamp, gene technology is eliminating the suffering and elevating the standards of living

Though gene therapy is at its infancy due to human ethical interventions, gene manipulation technology has revolutionized the field of biotechnology, harnessing the qualities we wanted, producing the products we require. Already the complete genome sequence of Arabidopsis is available and it is likely that the complete genome sequence of many more species would be revealed. Microarray technology allows the simultaneous monitoring of thousands of expressed genes and in this way specific genes, which are likely to be of value in a given environmental or biotic challenge situation, can be identified and then a process of screening can be mounted in a germplasm collection. The seed banks of the world contain lines that have many unique characteristics needed for successful crop production, resistance to stresses, resistance to diseases, to toxic minerals and so on, and already breeding efforts have used these resources in crop thanks to the power of genes-the genie. Any desirable character we wish to derive from plants and animals; today is possible, through the efforts of this technology. Enormous increase in agricultural yield, reduction in usage of pesticides, constructing plants that harbor all the qualities it should encompass, increasing herbicide tolerance, slow the ripening of fruit or alter the timing and duration of flower production. Studies on the molecular biology and genetics of B. thuringiensis and B. sphaericus over the past 10-15 years has led to attempts, and undoubtedly will lead to future attempts, at providing more effective insect pest control agents based on B. thuringiensis and B. sphaericus The exhaustive lists of these real fantasies are the handiworks of the genie.

The ever expanding population on earth coupled with non-availability of agricultural land is now taken care by our genie. In food production, gene technology offers a range of potential benefits, some of which are close to market and others that still require further development. The genie has worked on giving better tasting and more flavorsome foods that are produced all year round, such as tomatoes, avocados, bananas, mangoes and many other seasonal fruits. Foods that stays fresh for longer. Healthier cooking oils, such as soy, canola and corn oils, those are lower in 'bad' fats and higher in 'good' cholesterol-reducing fats. Higher levels of nutrients in fruits and vegetables, like vitamins necessary for good health and antioxidants for fighting diseases and cancer. Rice with improved nutritional qualities like increased levels of vitamin A, protein and iron may help reduce childhood blindness and anemia that are major complications from poor third world diets. Elimination of food allergies by removing specific genes is also possible.

The gene manipulation technology imprinted its excellence in increasing the productivity and efficiency of livestock. Clones of sheep, goat, and cow are now moving from the laboratory to the pastures. Genetic modification for better productivity of livestock, transgenic animals that are resistant to diseases and increasing the nutritional value of meat are possible now. One such example is of the first genetically modified cloned calves from Australia genetically engineered in 2002, which harbored an additional gene for increased milk production. Scientists are ordering the genie, with efficient and advanced tools of gene technology, to bring back to the present, animals that disappeared in the shadows of past. Indian cheetahs to huge dinosaurs are all planning a come back. Here combinations and permutations have no limitations. There are no boundaries or hurdles in experimenting fantasies that we want to see through our eyes. Yes our gene, the genie; today is making our dreams come true.

We share this earth with millions and millions of tiny life forms, the bacteria, fungus, yeasts, viruses and so on. These spectral multitudes of microscopic living forms are today the industrial units that day and night churn essential and expensive bioproducts for welfare of the society. Cloning human genes into bacteria today is a trivial, yet ever demanding field of science. Among the most powerful of those tools is the capacity to synthesize DNA molecules of any desired sequence and to put these sequences to use in microbes. This offers the exciting prospect of assembling the best "parts" from the vast diversity of
life to create organisms with new capabilities for many different purposes. Production of insulin, vitamins, hormones, vaccines from these microorganisms are possible today, thanks again to our, tiny genie- gene; placing itself anywhere, anyhow and laboring day and night to bring into light; the orders we give. Fruits and other edible sources of plants are constructed to harbor vaccines for deadly diseases. Microorganisms that are capable of degrading plastics to deadly toxic wastes have been created by gene technology, assisting human dream of clean and healthy planet. Microorganisms are now in the process of producing fuels to meet the demands of vanishing natural resources. Microbes fitted with sensors and cameras are at guard inside our body, regulating and monitoring our systems, for having a better way of life. The power our gen(i)e holds is unfathomable.

The story of Aladdin takes a twist when the magic lamp falls in the hands of the villain. The genie had no choice, but to take commands from the master, who holds the magic lamp. The same good old genie; now stalled the peaceful life for Aladdin. Likewise the masters who control the modern day genie, the gene, should utilize the magic lamp for the benefits of peaceful co-existence one earth. The same gene technology can be used to construct bacteria's harboring genes which can cause deadly infections and obliterate the harmony of nature. Biological warfare or bioterrorism emerged, leading to chaos and total collapse of merits that gene technology acquired till then. There have been reports that the United States Army has been developing weapons-grade anthrax spores at Dugway Proving Ground, a chemical and biological defense testing facility in Utah, since at least as early as 1992. Today, several countries have or are developing biological warfare programmes. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, more than ten countries are suspected to have continuing biological warfare programs, including Russia, Israel, China, Iran, Libya, Syria and North Korea. Biological warfare can also specifically target plants to destroy crops or defoliate vegetation. Negative implications of gene technology- the magic lamp, to command our genes- the genie, can create mayhem to the sheer existence on earth. Hence a serious thought on such possibilities should be made before it becomes too late.

Like the transformed life of Aladdin, who flourished under the all begetting shade of magic lamp and genie, we are basking under the glory of modern day magic lamp- gene technology and the power of our genie- the gene. While information technology revolutionizes only the manner in which, and the speed with which, we communicate with one another. Wait until we have seen the full results of the gene technology, for that would revolutionize our very being, our very existence, how we look, how we think, how we relate to one another. Gene technology is something that can change what is internal to us.It has really emasculated the long list of our scientific dreams!

This magic lamp; the gene technology is challenging God's work.

It can create life, which, we have hitherto come to believe, is the exclusive preserve of God Himself.

Hey, our gen(i)e is really great!

Who knows what Frankenstein might wish from the magic lamp of gene technology in the wake of manipulating our little genie-the gene?

The future is with the gene technology- the magic lamp of present and the answers are with the gene - our modern day genie!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Its ‘Bomb’ay again

Visit blogadda.com to discover Indian blogsThe clattering of the local trains changing tracks, the thudding sounds of millions fleeing to catch them, the desperate and deafening horns and clanks of vehicles in the traffic jams all have become indispensable for someone like me whose association with this vibrant and effulgent city boasts of 23 long years. My ears have become immune to these noisy affairs. It is as if, for me, amidst all these, this is what a peaceful life means, a dream life. Yes, a life in Mumbai is akin to living a dream. People across the other parts of the country bid their natives a farewell, pack their bags in search of fortunes and throng in this city which has an uncanny knack of offering everybody something or the other, which gives everyone a glimmer of hope that no other place on earth can provide, a hope to win one’s own bread, to succeed and shine and of course to live a dream- small or big.

Wednesday, 26th Nov ’08. It was a day when my eyes preferred permanent blackout, my same ears, for a moment, yearned for a lifelong breakdown. For a moment I felt the ‘dreamy’ life has transcribed into sort of a nightmarish one. These feelings went on till the next three days, still continuing as a dreadful aftermath of witnessing gallons of blood, stocks of innocent fleshes with bones popping out disdainfully forming an array, of listening to helpless screams and wails to the clonking of grenades and guns. A day when the great city tarnished its image of being a great host to many people far and wide by turning up this time as a hostage instead, to a battery of religious fanatics whom we call- TERRORISTS. Once again terrorism had unveiled its gorgonsque face to rock the city of Mumbai. The pain was excruciating and very deep within me to see my city burning, to live for more than 50 hours with fear and dread of seeing the iconic landmarks like Taj, Oberoi and all in rubbles and ashes, a thing which I cant imagine even in the slightest of my wildest whims.

A layman would compare Mumbai to an old countryside healthy mango tree teeming with ripe riches which lures children to hurl stones at it. Whatever it is, I can see a quite sequestered yet an apparent justice in this comparison for time and time again Mumbai, being the country’s financial hub, has always been a target of all these cowardly under-developed urchins burning with jealousy, after all on being citizens to economically down sliding nations frustrated of being victims of a failure in their efforts of emulating an almost completely developed nation like ours and primarily, who have often ruthlessly crossed the threshold parameters of so called loyalties towards their religion which is the outcome of their rather ugly and pathetic upbringing and hereditary which hates humanity by light years’ distance! Its hard to believe and digest the horrendous fact that the city was a victim of a youth unit with its members belonging to an age group of mid and early-twenties. The real shadows behind them are the real master evil-minded and grey-haired lunatics who conduct religious preaches and ill direct these young minds and program their brains in the process to bring out mass destruction of everything they feel are halting their ‘progress’. Their minds are totally obsessed with their religionist ill-philosophies, lost in its deep wilderness. Once in, these mislead and confused youths wouldn’t be able to come back out of this mazy mentality. All they want is to create panic and fear among other communities and they do this with no mercy and limits. After all they are a group of young rustics who foolishly get mislead to even embrace death which is better in one sense that their bodies would at least get relieved of such an already dead and aimless souls. Its quite shocking to know that they have a diploma like and full time courses to choose between for aspiring militants provided with a syllabi including principles of handling grenades, sophisticated guns, weapons, AK-47s and its latest versions, of course with hands-on training sessions as well! Why such meticulous preparations? Why are they actually wasting their needful resources of money, energy and time for their largely undefined missions and futile attempts? Instead they could have used all these for the development of their nation as a citizen which in turn would definitely help in fulfilling their relevant religious demands as well if any.

These are their problems, which a human being with little humanity wont sympathetically draw an insight into, which we should actually just care-a-damn. These youths may be a misguided and confused lot by their predecessors. But their deeds are too heinous to spare even a nano-iota of a thought for them, even less than that. When the entire India and other countries as well laud NSG commandos, Indian army and all for their rather unbelievably courageous operations and heartfelt involvement, I wonder how would the slain terrorists’ mentors and counterparts be taking the total outcome as. Back in their land they may hail them as ‘religious martyrs’, tributes may flow for these people who ‘sacrificed’ (aimlessly and shamelessly) their lives which also I deeply doubt since tribute and honour are words associated with humans and humanity and not with cannibals and cannibalism . These parasitic, ugly and egregious beings are undignified intruders into otherwise rather peaceful human life and a country’s strategised developmental visions and constructive missions.

But was it a victorious outing for terrorists this time around? The blasts of 1993, which left more than 200 dead had become an international affair. The hangover of the financial, political and infrastructural loses it accounted lasted very long. Inspite of the hard blow, the main accused are still either enjoying the luxurial shades provided by another country, absconding and some even relaxing in the limelight arena. This signifies the backboneless Indian legal and judiciary systems. This laid back spineless attitude have backlashed us with frequent blasts after that dreadful Friday, again in Mumbai, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Jaipur, Assam etc until the latest one which traumatized our nation and once again Mumbai being at the receiving end. Perhaps this was more lethal and fatal of the both outrageous of terrorist attacks in Mumbai or by all means in our country. This certainly had all the dreadful ingredients along with 9/11 of USA to go down as the worst ever militant attacks. This was more of a war between the whole of India and terrorists certainly first of its kind, ever, in the world history which lasted for around 60 long and highly petrified hours, face to face battle between our security units and the militants and that too aired on TV live! Question still remains- who won ultimately? Its difficult to answer. Our NSG commandos did what they could, what mortal but superior human beings could do, what they had been assigned of in shortest possible time. But hasn’t the terrorists too done what they were assigned of? They rattled the country’s most luxurious hotels, a world heritage railway station, an old Israeli stronghold building and wrecked havoc with lives of 14 policemen, some great NSG commandos and more than 180 innocents with their spraying guns and thundering grenades apart from blowing up 2 cabs. They didn’t spare women, elderly lot, even infants. They attacked and killed everything that moved before them even the dumb stray dogs! But for these bravadoes, there were no further casualties. People were literally caught unawares, a truly unprecedented and unexpected of gruesome attacks. The soothing and twinkling jingles of the beer glasses and the carousals were suddenly replaced by loud explosions and helpless yells. How could hotels which boast of such top class security and a strictly Jewish residential set-up let terrorists in? I would say our city was caught napping which exposed the fragile porosity of its security forces. The CST attacks and the taxi explosions were surely a part of their dirty distraction tactics where in the common unarmed people could do very much nothing. But these iconic areas which were actually their prime targets are often the hangout centers for some of the world’s dignified and privileged lot. So a highly alert security forces is an obvious and logical expectation.

Its easier said than done. But as every Indian felt as the gun battle waged across our city, I also have a strong feeling within that enough is enough. The demon some head of terrorism in our country has to be severed forever on a permanent basis. But how? I would like to say this is perhaps the best opportunity and the benchmark required to end this evil and anti-social element. This is the only and the golden chance. The world is with us as some of them lost their hapless victims in the bloodshed add to a new rule in the world’s super power, all set to arrive, which hates atrocities, which really promises a lot to me. It is time to unite with the world to fight this evil before it strikes again. Not once or twice in fact many times Mumbai had to face the atrocities totally uncalled for. Nationwide people speak about Mumbai’s unflagging and the undaunting spirit. Our never say die attitude has won hearts globally. True. But its this spirited attitude of the common people keeping hopes of Mumbai afloat and alive. Politicians are proving themselves though unknowingly, to be absolute weeds doing nothing. Its their casual attitude which is more problematic and a headache issue for us. They love their own backyards, their comfort zones to which they are always confined to. Listening to certain politicians of Mumbai after this dramatic turnarounds was a heartbreaking experience for me. The casualness with which they played down the entire incident were shocking and truly aghastful. Thanks to the media before whom nobody can remain unexposed in today’s times, a strong noose of wrath and frustrations are lying quite treacherously around the necks of these politicians. Their fates would now be decided by people but with more frankness and bluntness never seen before. The ignominy the people of our country had to face is very much attributed substantially, to these ‘page 3’ politicians of Mumbai. Some of them should realize that this isn’t just Maharashtra’s issue, this is every Indian’s problem. these people are truly the Hindu counterparts of these terrorists but in a very small scale. They bring about vandalisms in the name of developing Mumbai which they believe is the land only to Maharashtrians or to some extend Hindus. Mumbai is today what it is because of the cosmopolite life it has. Tatas, Birlas and Godrejs are the ones who made Mumbai what it is today. Their contributions are vast and still unsurpassed. So why then have such a unjustified bias when one is completely dependent on someone? Mumbai was snatched back from the cults of the terrorists by a group of fearless patriotic individuals which had everyone from North, South, East and West, not just Maharashtrians. After all where was that guy responsible for triggering all those communal riots whom I would call a modern day ‘Godse’ during these attacks? Perhaps cooling heels at home……Its not about Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis or Jains. Its about our country India, about humanity. Its about living in harmony with no mutual discrimination in the name of caste, creed, sect or even colour. These communal disharmonies may be what is encouraging for these chancy terrorizing predators always on a look out, to prey on us. We all should take these attacks as an insult and a total annihilation of our image, prestige and our country’s secularism. Criticisms apart this is the time when our country needs to see the back of these faulty leaderships and bring out in unison with other nations, an effective campaign to stop these set of individuals who go on a rampage in the name of religion. Apart from religious fanaticism, I feel even unemployment too has a role in discouraging youth who easily give up, to go for all this. This is another problem to be tackled with which I feel is quite difficult now at these wee hours of global recessions. But the most important thing now , as Mr. Sashi Tharoor had mentioned in one of his articles on the same issue, is not to lose Mumbai’s characteristic knack of keeping the spirits high as ever. This spirit within all of us has always been the impetus and the driving force to carry this great city’s history and legacy unscathed. This is the city which is always on the move and indefatigable ever, which never gives up and would never surely not to these cowardly extremists.
This week was all about crashes and thrashes, bones and bloods, screeches and shrieks. A week when violence and inhumanity were at its very dominant best. Each and every Indian was glued to their TV sets with their fingers crossed for all those who were suffering, for the commandoes who were relentlessly risking their own lives, for our own India. We were held hostages by waves of tensions which gave us anxious, chagrined and quivering moments till the last bullet was fired by our commandoes that found its way through the callous flesh of the last militant which terminated the pumps of his heartless heart and alleviated him of such a cursed life. Perhaps he would be blessed with a human life in the next birth or already might have been. The dust got settled. To mark the end of the war, to everyone’s surprise rains crashed onto the earth. The pure waters from heaven experienced a taste of impurity and adulteration when it merged with the pools of blood below. Perhaps somebody above forget to blow his conches.
A topographic view of the city would give the gravity with which the battle was fought. In the end humanity prevailed. Smiles returned back but even those were halfhearted ones. Time and time again the flashes of those wailing and craving for their near and dear ones fill the hearts with so much agony and pain never experienced before. Amidst all this one still stood gazing at the endless end of the Arabian sea, still with its lustrous head held high, still basking in its past glory of being ultra-royal. It would be repaired and restored but it has to stand there with irreparable tarnishes and chinks to its royal ego. But still its grace, grandeur and greatness would always remain unmatched, for that is what Mumbai’s Taj is known for whilst Iam waiting for a return back to my dreamy life, the Mumbai life as early as possible but subject to the longevity of my appalling hangover!!!!