Monday, May 23, 2011

Dirty Soda fountains could cause severe health complications

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad:  Next time you order for a glass of fruit juice or soft drink dispensed  through soda fountains in a multiplex or fast food centre, make it sure you are not compromising on your health. Fountain-dispensed soft drinks and fruit juices mixed with ice could be a potential source of harmful bacteria including coliform responsible for uncontrolled diarrhoea and vomiting.
The microbiology laboratory of the city-based National Geophysical Research Institute collected as many as 16 samples of fruit juices, ice and unbottled fountain-dispensed soft drinks from shopping malls, cinema halls and fast-food centres managed by multinational firms, and analysed them for the presence of coliforms. A majority of the samples had harmful bacteria that could cause severe health complications in people with 
compromised immunity and sensitive digestive system.
Soft drink manufacturers supply concentrate, which is mixed with water and carbondioxide for dispensing through soda fountains in shopping malls, multiplexes and fast food chains. "The purity or otherwise of the unbottled soft drinks served through soda fountains depends on the water mixed. If the water is contaminated, the trouble begins. No one is sure about the purity of the water used. The machine has to be cleaned at 
regular intervals to keep it germ-free," said NGRI-CSIR senior scientist Dr AM Dayal.
Dr Mohammad Abdul Rasheed, incharge of the microbiology lab, said they had adopted different microbiological methods to evaluate the safety level for human consumption of soft drinks and street-vended fruit juices. "Our study has confirmed the presence of pathogenic bacterial counts in significantly high numbers in juices containing ice. Those without ice showed least contamination. Contamination is mainly due to poor quality of water used for preparation of ice, unhygienic conditions and bad sanitation on the premises," Dr Rasheed pointed out.
Besides Dr Dayal and Dr Rasheed, Dr Veena, Ms M Lakshmi and Ms K Deepti are part of the team that analysed the samples. Though the NGRI researchers could not find much contamination in soda fountains in the city, a similar study conducted in the USA last year revealed the presence of E coli in well known brands of beverages.
The US study based on 30 samples collected from soda machines found a possible faecal contamination of soft drinks. E coli lives in the human digestive system and its presence elsewhere signifies mixture of the sample with human faeces. When almost half of the soft drink samples in the USA had coliform bacteria, one can imagine the level of contamination in India, a country known for compromised hygiene.
According to NGRI scientists, bottled aerated soft drinks could be relatively safer than the fountain-dispensed ones as the pressure of carbondioxide and the acidity levels in bottled beverages prevent growth of harmful bacteria. The rubber tubing in the soda fountain if not cleaned properly at regular intervals could turn out to be the breeding ground for infection-causing bacteria.
"The main culprit in most of the cases is the ice, because of the type of water used and the way ice blocks are broken to pieces. "Street vended fruit juices are not recommended for human consumption as they are contaminated by various sources," Dr Rasheed warned.

Petrol and Natural Gas in Kadapa: National Geophysical Research Institute finds hydrocarbon reserves in Kadapa (Cuddapah) basin

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Kadapa, notorious for bombs and bloodshed, will soon become the newest  destination for exploration of oil and natural gas in the country with the National  Geophysical Research Institute discovering hydrocarbons in the Kadapa (Cuddapah) basin.
Joint studies by the city-based NGRI and the Directorate-General of Hydrocarbons, Noida,  have established the hydrocarbon resource potential of the Kadapa basin. Kadapa basin is  an ancient geological structure with rich resources of oil and natural gas, and it could  well become the next destination for hydrocarbon exploration in the State after  Krishna-Godavari basin.
Presence of natural gas and oil is detected by several methods. The NGRI employed "adsorbed soil gas" methods as well as the presence of bacteria to find out hidden hydrocarbon resources. Light hydrocarbons like methane, propane, ethane and butane come out of the soil either in large or minute proportions.
If the leakage is in large quantities it can be identified easily. But in most of the cases the gases coming out are in small quantities which cannot be identified. However, in such cases certain bacterial groups live there eating these gases. The presence of these bacteria in large groups signifies that hydrocarbons are hidden underneath the earth. The NGRI studied the soil samples and took up adsorbed soil gas and microbial studies in Kadapa basin to establish the presence of oil and natural gas.
"The adsorbed soil gas studies and the inferences from geological, geophysical and other geochemical data, suggest that the demarcated areas around Nandyal and Koilakuntla may be potential for future hydrocarbon research and exploration. The Kadapa basin has hydrocarbon resource potential and efforts are on to conduct close sampling in the anomalous hydrocarbon zones," said Dr AM Dayal, head of the department of Stable Isotope and Surface Geochemical Prospecting for Hydrocarbon, NGRI.
Kadapa is an epicratonic Proterozoic basin situated over a length of 440 km and a width ranging from 150 km to 200 km. The Kadapa basin covers an area of 44,500 sq km extending into the districts of Kadapa, Kurnool, Anantapur, Prakasam and even Raichur in Karnataka.
The NGRI-DGHC teams collected 304 soil samples with spacing of four to five km along certain roads in the basin. Analysis showed 87 per cent of soil samples fall in the oil zone and remaining in the gas-condensate zone, Dr Dayal said.
Sample points with higher concentration of methane (more than 35 ppb) are clustered north-northwest and southwest of Nandyal and south-southwest of Koilakuntla with a few scattered anomalies all over the study area. The hydrocarbon anomalies obtained in the soil samples near Nandyal correlate with the good sediment thickness in the range of 6000 to 9000 metres for the Nandyal shale, which is considered as an ideal cap rock and potential target for petroleum exploration.
Frequently occurring carbonaceous shales with strong microbiotic content at different stratigraphic levels like Vempalle, Tadipatri, Cumbum and Pullempet formations also indicate petroleum source rock potential of the basin, Dr Dayal said. The structures like synclines, anticlines, fault closures in the Kadapa basin play an important role in hydrocarbon generation and entrapment.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Cholera outbreaks in Hyderabad: Altered El Tor strain is the culprit

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, May 10: The germ that has been causing regular outbreaks of cholera in Hyderabad is a new mutant of cholera bacterium, and if it is not checked it will further spread in the environment posing severe health threat to people.
A team of researchers from Defence Research and Development Establishment, Gwalior, collected contaminated water samples from Hyderabad and subjected them to bacteriological analysis. The results showed that the regular outbreaks of cholera in twin cities is caused by altered El Tor bacteria.
El Tor bacteria is a new strain that has evolved from the classic cholera bacteria, Vibrio cholerae. This El Tor bacteria has further changed its character to become altered El Tor bacteria. Though altered El Tor bacteria has been isolated in Hyderabad, it is present in other places too.
What causes concern to health planners and medical researchers is that altered El Tor bacteria is adaptive to environment as well as toxigenic in nature. Normal or classic cholera bacteria (Vibrio cholerae) is toxigenic but does not survive in atmosphere for long, while the normal El Tor bacteria is not toxigenic but survives in environment. In contrast, the altered El Tor bacteria - isolated in Hyderabad - has both the properties 
i.e toxic and adaptive to environment.
"Outbreak due to such bacteria should be controlled well in time to prevent further spread in the environment," warns Dr AK Goel of Defence Research and Development Establishment.
"In Hyderabad study, cholera El Tor bacteria with classical strains were reported. This shows that now bacteria are more toxigenic and more adaptive to environment. However, such bacteria have been reported from different parts of country. This shows how bacteria compete in the environment for better evolution," he told this correspondent.
Dr Goel, however, clarified that the altered El Tor biotype has nothing to do with NDM-1 or drug resistance. The world has faced seven cholera pandemics affecting million and millions of people. Initial six pandemics were caused by a Vibrio cholerae strain, which belonged to classical biotype. Classical strains are more toxigenic but less adaptive to environment.
Subsequently, in seventh pandemic, the classical strains were replaced by El Tor biotype strains, which are less toxigenic but more adaptive to environment. In the new millennium, the bacterium again started modifying itself to attain the features of both biotypes. This new germ is responsible for cholera outbreaks in Haiti late last year.

Bholakpur tragedy 2009: It was a deadly cocktail of poisonous heavy metals and dangerous coliform bacteria that led to cholera in Hyderabad

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, May 11: It was a deadly cocktail of poisonous heavy metals and dangerous coliform bacteria that was responsible for the Bholakpur tragedy involving 16 deaths and hospitalisation of over 500 people in May 2009.
Residents consumed water containing coliform bacteria 24,000 times in excess of the permissible limit. The heavy metal toxicity only added to the bacteriological problem, making it further deadly. Thus far, it has been believed that the deaths were only due to biological contamination. But chemical contamination too played its part.
While there's little improvement in the sanitation even two years after the tragedy, water samples collected by the city-based microbiology laboratory of the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI-CSIR) revealed the presence of poisonous heavy metals and dangerous coliform bacteria far beyond the permissible levels fixed by the World Health Organisation.
"There should be no coliform bacteria in potable water. But in samples collected from seven sub-localities of Bholakpur, the bacterial count exceeded 24,000 per litre. In one sub-locality, the count was 11,000 per litre," NGRI-CSIR senior scientist Dr AM Dayal told this correspondent.
The NGRI-CSIR study, conducted by Dr Mohammad Abdul Rasheed, Mutnuri Lakshmi and Patil J Dattatreya, has also found that the bacteria had adapted to the heavy metals. "Normally, bacteria die in the presence of heavy metals due to poisoning. But the presence of high quantity of heavy metals and exceptionally high number of coliform bacteria confirmed that the cholera and gastro-enteritis causing germs have learnt to survive heavy metal poisoning," Dr Rasheed and Lakshmi pointed out.
Heavy metal poisoning coupled with the presence of coliform bacteria further increased the toxic levels leading to the 16 deaths and severe health complications in hundreds of people. Incidentally, some of the toxicities caused by heavy metals and coliform bacteria are similar and this led to a synergetic effect on the health of the residents. The common symptoms are nausea, persistent vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain.
"The drinking water samples were highly contaminated with high numbers of coliforms and in addition increased concentrations of iron, lead, copper, nickel, aluminium and sodium led to diarrhoeal outbreak in Bholakpur," Dr Dayal said, adding that pollution of water is increasing alarmingly creating serious threat to human health.
Samples were collected from municipal taps in Gulshan Nagar - I and II, Tazeer Nagar, Indira Nagar - I and II, Bangladesh market, and Mandigalli -I and II areas of Bholakpur in the city. The samples were compared with the water collected from the residential quarters of NGRI employees. While the Bholakpur samples failed both chemical and biological tests, there was no contamination in the NGRI water samples.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

National Institute of Indian Medicinal History: The next big discovery in medicine may come from tribals in the forests

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, May 9: Illiterate tribes like Chenchus, Yerukulas and Yanadis living deep in the jungles possess a mine of ethno-medicinal knowledge, most of which is not known to traditional Indian systems of
medicine like Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani.
A research study by teams from the city-based National Institute of Indian Medicinal History and Sri Venkateswara University in the Rapur forest division of Nellore district, has revealed that traditional
ethno-medicine is still practised by groups of tribals, who have no access to modern medicine.
The medicinal properties of plants claimed by tribals are quite different from the medicinal properties mentioned in traditional Indian systems of medicine. With forest wealth fast depleting, there's danger of losing
ethno-medicinal wealth of the country.  Proper scientific evaluation of the claims of tribal communities will give a new meaning to the country's medicinal plants.
"Many of the claims revealed by the tribes are new in comparison to Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani. We have documented the herbs being used by the tribes and their medicinal properties as claimed by them. This will help us to study further on individual plants to find out whether they are of real medicinal value, and if so, in what dosage and in what form it should be taken," said GP Prasad, one of the researchers.
The teams, comprising M Neelima, G Sundarsanam, G Penchala Pratap and B Jyothi, found that the tribals living deep in the Rapur forest division have authentic information on medicinal values of the plant parts like leaves, fruits, flowers, seeds, stem bark, tubers and roots. They use as many as 61 species of plants as medicine in the form of paste, powder, juice, decoction and infusion in crude form with additives like ghee, sesame oil, cow urine, infant urine, cow milk and lemon.
The health issues for which these herbs are used include skin troubles, jaundice, rheumatism, burning micturation, fevers, intestinal worms, menstrual problems, cough, diabetes, asthma, dandruff, insomnia,
indigestion, constipation, cuts, wounds, sexual problems, fractures, ear-ache, eye diseases and scorpion and snake bites. Some of the plants are also used as antidote and as fish poison to kill fish in the ponds.
"Tribals have good therapeutically valuable information for different ailments. The study has brought to light of unknown utilisation of 61 species of plants," he added.

Nasa's lunabotics mining competition: American space agency in search of talent for mining technology on the moon

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad:  As many as seven Indian teams are participating in the final round of competition for the prestigious NASA mission aimed at mining precious elements on the moon and bringing them back to the earth.
Of the 12 international teams selected by the National Aeronautical and Space Administration, seven are from India, including one from Visakhapatnam. The Lunabotics mining competition will be held in the USA
from May 23. The team from Visakhapatnam comprising students of GITAM University has prepared a robot that will crawl on the hostile terrain of the moon, picking up regolith (moon dust) and depositing it in a container for shipment back to the earth.
But before selecting the robots for actual assignment on the moon, NASA will test their efficiency and durability in an artificial atmosphere resembling the lunar terrain. The task given to each of the teams is that their robots should collect and deposit a minimum of 10 kgs lunar simulant within 15 minutes
"The regolith of the moon is said to contain previous elements including uranium and thorium of high nuclear grade. About 10 grams of uranium and thorium mined from the moon is equivalent to about a kg of the nuclear material found on the earth. NASA is looking at new technology that works with high precision and great durability," said Raj Kumar, a third-year student of mechanical engineering, GITAM university. Raj Kumar is one of the five-member student team of the university which designed the robot, called lunabot.
NASA will directly benefit from the competition by encouraging the development of innovative lunar excavation concepts from universities which may result in clever ideas and solutions which could be applied to an actual lunar excavation device or payload. The challenge is for students to design and build a remote controlled or autonomous excavator.
"The challenge is quite complex. It is not an easy task. The lunar simulant is highly abrasive. There are also limitations to the weight and size of the lunabot. Also, it is very difficult to control the lunabot from a remote control centre," pointed out another student Sai Suraj.
Utilising the students' talent, particularly from India, which is fast emerging as a space giant, NASA plans to explore the mineral wealth of the moon, which is rich in oxygen, silicon, iron, calcium, aluminium, magnesium,
titanium,  chromium, manganese, sodium, potassium, nitrogen, sulphur, carbon, hydrogen, helium 3, uranium and thorium.
The students said they had to cross many technical hurdles to design their robot as the lunar regolith has unique physical properties. The gravity is one- sixth of the earth's. The environment in the moon is a complete vacuum. Though NASA will immensely benefit from the students' technology and innovative ideas, it will offer just 5000 US dollars as the first prize. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Dangerous bacteria in toothbrush: Sanitize your toothbrush regularly to avoid diseases

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: The toothbrush may clean the teeth and gums, but it can be a potential source of dangerous organisms including those that cause cholera, gastroenteritis, boils, infection of the ear, eye and skin and typhoid, if it is not sterilized regularly.
People, who have bathrooms with attached toilets, should be extra careful with their toothbrush as it can be contaminated by E coli, a bacterium that upsets the stomach leading to vomiting and diarrhoea. Even in bathrooms without attached toilet, several bacteria like Streptococcus mutans, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas, Lactobacillus and Klebsiella, besides Candida can be present in sufficiently large numbers to create major health problems.
Dentists suggest that the toothbrush should not be kept in bathrooms for hygienic reasons. They should be kept separately in a clean place outside the bathroom. The toothbrush should be cleaned regularly with anti-septic lotions to kill the germs. Toothbrush sanitizers can also be used. They recommend change in toothbrush when a hard deposit is noticed on the toothbrush head, between the bristle tufts.
As part of a research study, a team of dentists, collected 40 toothbrushes from bathrooms of various households. Twenty of them were from bathrooms with attached toilets, and the rest from bathrooms without attached toilets. Of the 20 toothbrushes each, 10 were used for a month and the rest for a period of three months.
“Micro-organisms were found in isolated form in toothbrushes used for one month, whereas in toothbrushes used for three months they are found in clumps. Hard deposit on the toothbrush head between bristle tufts is the medium for growth of micro-organisms, which not only affects the oral health but also affects the general health of an individual,” pointed out Dr GN Karibasappa.
The contamination of toothbrush could prove to be dangerous for people who are on immuno-suppressant drugs, heart patients and those with compromised or low immunity.
Lactobacillus causes the progression of the dental caries while Candida causes candidiasis. Pseudomonas is responsible for infections of ear, eye and urinary tract.Klebsiella is capable of producing septicemia, pneumonia, diarrhoea, urinary tract infections.

Now your table salt comes with iron too: Double fortified salt to be available in market

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad:  Nearly two decades after it was conceptualised, common salt containing iron will soon be available in the market for mass consumption.
The technology of fortifying common salt with both iodine and iron, developed by the city-based National Institution of Nutrition, has been successfully tested in tribal areas where the incidence of anaemia and malaria is quite high.
Backed by the successful results, the NIN has transferred the technology to salt manufacturers, who will soon introduce the product in the market. In Andhra Pradesh, AP Foods, a government-owned enterprise, will set up a plant at Visakhapatnam to produce double-fortified salt.
It will cost about Re 1 more. There's no change in taste or colour. As many as 20 dishes, both south and north Indian, have been prepared using double fortified salt to test whether there's any change in their taste.
"Developing salt with both iodine and iron has been a major challenging task before us. When iron is added to salt, the iodine leaves it, defeating the very purpose of double fortification. Lot of research has gone into it and we have developed stabiliser to ensure both iron and iodine stay in the common salt. Our studies have shown that the shelf life of double fortified common salt is more than one year," NIN director Dr B Sesikeran said. Double fortification of salt is possible only if it is 98 to 99 per cent pure. It does not work with crude salt.
Double fortification of common salt has been necessitated to fight iodine and iron deficiency in one go. Though iodised salt has been made mandatory by the Centre, it cleared the proposal of double fortification only last week. Iron deficiency leads to a major health problem called anaemia. Between 70 and 80 per cent of pregnant women, 50 to 70 per cent of children, and 50 per cent of the general public suffer from anaemia. 
Anaemia or low iron content in the blood is responsible for reduced mental attention and learning capacity, and physical weakness.
"Vegetarian food is low in iron. High dietary fibre in food makes iron absorption in the body very low. Since we cannot ask vegetarians to shift to non-vegetarian food, double fortification of common salt will solve the problem. Studies on schoolchildren in Rampachodavaram in East Godavari district have shown that despite high incidence of malaria, the iron content in their blood has increased," Dr Sesikeran pointed out.
He said since NIN has transferred the technology free of cost, salt companies have agreed to supply 20 per cent of their produce to government at subsidised rates for distribution among poor people. Excess intake of iron will not cause any harm, as the body has inbuilt mechanism to throw away excess iron through excretion.