Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Mutagenic brinjal pitted against transgenic brinjal: Safety debate goes on

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: With the Indian agriculture needing a fresh
infusion of biotechnology to improve the yields to meet the demand of
ever-growing population, farm experts find fault with the Central
government over its alleged double standards on “mutagenic” and
“transgenic” food crops.

The Central government has been promoting over two dozen food crops
developed by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre through “mutation
breeding” using radiation to alter the genetic make-up of plants.
While harmful radioisotopes like cobalt-60 is used to trigger genetic
changes in plants to provide them traits like high yield or resistance
to pests, a gene from a bacterium is used in case of “transgenic”
crops to achieve the same qualities.

“Mutagenic brinjal, whose genetic make-up has been changed using
cobalt-60, has been in use in Indian markets for about three decades
without any protests from any quarters”, said Dr David Spielman from
the International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, USA.

Dr David is one of the many experts currently in the city to
participate in a two-day seminar on biotechnology in Indian
agriculture, being organised by the Centre for Economic and Social
Studies (CESS) from January 18. Prof Ronald J Herring of Cornell
University, New York, said “the experts at the seminar will look at
strong evidence on the impact of biotechnology on farming, crop
production, and income of farmers and the welfare of their families.
We will not simply debate whether the technology is good or bad, but
will come out with strong evidence to support the claims”.

Though the Centre allowed Bt cotton a decade ago, it withheld the
permission to release Bt brinjal for commercial consumption. This has
brought criticism from experts like Dr David and Prof Gregory Graf of
Colorado State University, USA. They argue that genetically engineered
food crops are as safe as any other foodstuff. About a dozen other
food crops including rice, maize and okra are under lab studies in the

Using induced mutations and cross breeding, the department of
biotechnology has released 23 crop varieties for commercial
cultivation. They include nine groundnut, 10 pulses, two mustard
varieties, and one variety each of jute and rice. The mutagenic
groundnut variety (TAG-24) is cultivated in Andhra Pradesh and seven
other States.

Dr David disapproved of the “story of catastrophe” of Bt cotton
growers, arguing that today over 1000 bt cotton hybrids are available
in India and a majority of farmers have been using them, leading to a
reduction of 50 per cent in use of chemical pesticides

Centre prepares micro-zone maps for earthquake in Vijayawada urban agglomeration

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: The Geological Survey of India is now busy preparing seismic hazard microzonation maps of Vijayawada to prevent loss to life and property in case an earthquake hits the city. Vijayawada is the only major place in Andhra Pradesh that falls under earthquake zone III. The rest of the State falls under seismic zone II, which is relatively safer.

Once the microzonation maps are ready, the Earthquake Geology Division of GSI will advise the municipal corporation about the areas in the city vulnerable to earthquake hazard, particularly high-rise buildings. The Vijayawada urban agglomeration has a population of over 17 lakh and as many as 22 seismic sources, mainly faults, in and around the city have been identified. The Gundlakamma fault is the major active fault in the vicinity.

The city has four types of soil with black cotton soils making up 58 per cent, sandy clay loams 23 per cent, red loamy soils 17 per cent and sandy soils 2 per cent. The microzonation maps to be prepared on a scale of 1: 10,000 to 5,000 metres will be useful for disaster management. Similar studies are proposed for other seismic areas like Ongole and Bhadrachalam.

As part of the seismic microzonation, the city is divided into subregions in which different safeguards must be utilised to reduce, and / or prevent damage, loss of life and societal disruptions during future earthquakes. The maps will also help to mitigate the effects of an earthquake by quickly determining source parameters and acquiring information about local geology and soil profile, topography, depth of
water table, characteristics of strong ground motions and their interaction with man-made structures.

According to senior geologist Prof SK Nath, earthquake disasters are inevitable but it is possible to minimise the aftermath of an earthquake if the zones that are more susceptible to undergo maximum ground motion are identified. Seismic microzonation helps in case of seismic hazards as it gives a realistic answer in terms of ground motion at a higher resolution.

Based on the earthquake maps, the city civic body may come out with specific design of buildings and structures, assess seismic risk to the existing structures and constructions, and guidelines on management of land use.

Nuclear power plant at Kudankulam village will not alter the marine ecology

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: The proposed Kudankulam nuclear power plant will
not affect the marine animals and human beings, who consume them.

Zoologists, who conducted studies on naturally occurring and man-made
radionuclides in the south Bay of Bengal for over five years, have now
concluded that the nuclear power plant at Kudankulam village will not
alter the marine ecology. It will also not influence the
bioaccumulation of radionuclides in sea animals including commercial
fish and molluscs.

The sea animals present near the site already contain natural
radionuclides through bioaccumulation, and thus the radionuclides even
if released from the Kudankulam plant cannot compete with and replace
the natural ones.

Researchers from the department of advanced zoology and biotechnology,
Sadakathullah Appa College, Tirunelveli, and the department of zoology
and research centre, Scott Christian College, Nagercoil, conducted the
study on the radioisotopes of lead (Pb210) and polonium (Po210) in
marine waters, commercial fish and other sea animals in and around the
Kudankulam region.

“We selected the radioisotopes of lead and polonium because they are
the two most dominant contributors to radiation dose both in animals
and human beings through seafood intake. The bioaccumulation in marine
plants and animals was found to be within the permitted range fixed by
international agencies like IAEA and ICRP,” Dr M Feroz Khan of
Sadakathullah Appa College told this correspondent.

He clarified that even if there is a release of radionuclides into the
marine environment, the continuous dilution process will make the
levels low. The fallout (man-made) radionuclides cannot compete with
and replace the natural ones already bioaccumulated in the
animal/plant tissues.

“A comparative study of fallout cesium and natural polonium in fishes
and their dose to human beings shows that there is a huge difference
in the accumulation of both radionuclides. There is no harmful impact
now and there cannot be any in the future,” Dr Feroz pointed out.

The researchers also calculated the effective dose and carcinogenic
risk to humans consuming these species, but found that the “estimated
risk exerted no significant health hazard to humans.” The marine
organisms can also considered safe within international guidelines.

“Our study revealed that natural radiation level is higher, whereas
the fallout (human sources) radiation level is markedly less than
values reported internationally. Our data would be a baseline
pre-operational input, fulfilling the radio-ecological database and
will also be useful in the future impact assessment of the Kudankulam
nuclear power project after it becomes operational,” Dr Feroz added.

Fish in Nagarjunasagar dam are contaminated with radionuclides and heavy metals

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: In a major health concern for people, teams of
scientists funded by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (Barc) have
noticed that the fish, caught from Nagarjunasagar dam and downstream
in the river Krishna, contain harmful radionuclides and heavy metals.

Nagarjunasagar reservoir produces as much as 90 tonnes of fish every
year and the catch is sold in Guntur, Nalgonda, Mahbubnagar, Ranga
Reddy, Hyderabad and Krishna districts. The area abutting the
reservoir contains long-lived radionuclides like uranium (U-238),
thorium (Th-232) and Potassium (K-40), and heavy metals including
zinc, cadmium and cobalt. The researchers found that the radionuclides
and heavy metals present in the reservoir sediment and water have made
their way into the fish meat.

Two different teams from the Centre for Environmental Nuclear
Research, SRM University, Chennai, Environmental Assessment Division,
Barc, Mumbai, and
Environmental Survey Laboratory, Health Physics Division, Barc,
Kalpakkam, collected samples of fish sold in the markets around the
reservoir, and analysed them for presence of radionuclides and heavy

As part of the research, they selected commercially popular fish
species like Anguilla rostrata (eel), Cirrhinus mrigala (Indian carp),
Labeo rohita (rohu), and Labeo calbasu (a carp variety). “The
concentration of zinc in all the fish species was above the
permissible levels, while cadmium and cobalt were below detectable
level,” the researchers pointed out in their presentation at the just
concluded 99th session of the Indian Science Congress in Bhubaneswar.

Labeo rohita and Anguilla rostrata showed higher accumulation of
cadmium than cobalt, while Labeo calbasu showed more quantities of
cobalt than cadmium. The results showed that the heavy metal
concentration was higher in the reservoir sediment, followed by fish
and reservoir water.

Anguilla rostrata and Cirrhinus mrigala showed the presence of
radionuclides, which made their way into the reservoir from the
adjoining uranium deposits-enriched areas of Lambapur and Peddagattu.

The researchers evaluated the distribution pattern of environmental
pollution of uranium and thorium by determining their concentrations
in Nagarjunasagar sediment and water and from the two commercial
species of fish. The average uranium concentrations found in the
sediment sample was 281 Bq/Kg, whereas the concentration of the
uranium found in the water sample is of 2-3 micrograms per litre.
Based on them, they arrived at the bio-concentration factor and
distribution coefficient of the fishes in the dam.

Women with high Body Mass Index are prone to breast cancer

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Doctors have now found a new link between obesity
and breast cancer. Women, who are obese, are at a higher risk of
getting breast cancer, and as the weight goes up, the risk increases.

Cancer of breast is one of the common cancers in women and thus far,
there has been no medical study in India linking the cancer of breast
to higher body mass index. The doctors, who examined about 400 breast
cancer patients, noticed that even mid upper arm circumference is
associated with breast cancer.

Overweight and obese women have odds ratio of 1.06 as against 2.27 in
women with normal weight. This in other words means obese women are
twice at risk of breast cancer than women with normal weight.

A team of doctors from All India Institute of Medical Sciences found
that breast cancer patients had a “statistically higher mean weight,
body mass index, and mid upper arm circumference as compared to the
normal women, who were part of the research study.”
There is a strong association of overweight and obesity with breast
cancer in the Indian population.

”Obesity causes increase in the levels of fat tissue in the body that
can store toxins. These toxins may serve as a continuous source of
cancer. Since body fat is linked to endogenous estrogen production and
storage, it could increase the risk of breast cancer. Free estrogen
levels are in higher levels in obese women, particularly if the weight
is around the abdomen,” one of the researchers Dr Umesh Kapil pointed
out. The other members of the research team are Dr SN Dwivedi, Dr P
Singh, Dr SVS Deo and Dr NK Shukla.

Obese women also show increased levels of bioavailable estrogen
fraction and this may cause the cancerous tumours to grow. Women with
a body mass index of 25 to 29.0 are overweight and those above 30 BMI
are obese.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Childhood lead poisoning is totally preventable. Lead poisoning reduces IQ of children during growth and development and harms a child's brain, kidneys and other organs

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Lead poisoning in children has assumed alarming
proportions in the absence of a national policy fixing the maximum
level of this heavy metal in the blood.

In India, about 18 per cent of children show unacceptable level of
lead in their blood. Though the World Health Organisation has
prescribed the upper limit of blood lead level as 10 micrograms per
decilitre as “level of concern”, the Indian government seems to be
ignorant about this, Dr Venkatesh Thuppil, principal adviser, National
Referral Centre for Lead Poisoning in India, told this correspondent.

“Multiple studies establish the link between blood lead levels less
than 10 micrograms per decilitre in children and adverse health
effects, including cognitive impairment, and decreased cardiovascular
and renal function. There is innumerable scientific evidence of
adverse consequences for children with level of lead in the blood well
below the level of 10 microgram per decilitre,” Dr Venkatesh said
demanding that the Central government should immediately come out with
a national policy on lead levels in the blood of children.

He said the National Referral Centre for Lead Poisoning in India
conducted a study in which it was found that “over 18 per cent of
children had unacceptable level of lead in their blood causing
concern.” Neither the Health Ministry nor the Environmental Ministry
appears to be concerned about this, he regretted.

Stating that the effects of lead (childhood lead poisoning) appear to
be irreversible, he demanded that the Central and the State
governments should adopt a primary prevention strategy to emphasize
the prevention of lead exposure, rather than just respond to exposures
after they have already taken place.

Referring to the US decision to reduce the upper limit of lead level
in blood of children from 10 microgram per decilitre to 5 microgram
per decilitre, Dr Venkatesh said India should follow suit and regulate
lead in paints and other consumer products, and reduce lead emissions
from industries including lead battery manufacturing and recycling.

“Childhood lead poisoning is totally preventable. Lead poisoning
reduces IQ of children during growth and development and harms a
child's brain, kidneys and other organs,” he said.

Mind wave consultant GNK Ramesh has perfected the art of analyzing the brain energy through what he calls the hidden “third eye” in him

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: It needs the “third eye” to read the minds of people, delve
into the past and predict their future. Mind wave consultant GNK
Ramesh has perfected the art of analyzing the brain energy through
what he calls the hidden “third eye” in him.

All one has to do to know his or her future is to tell Ramesh the full
name, running age, place of residence, and profession. Ramesh closes
his eyes and goes into a meditation mode with his “third eye”
activated. Within a minute, he tells you, your past, present status,
what lies in store ahead, and what is good or bad for you.

He answers questions ranging from investment to medical treatment,
from buying a car to importing goods or machinery, and from the
children’s education to professional growth or otherwise. And every
time, he does this, Ramesh goes into deep thinking with a bulge
appearing on his forehead. He calls this bulge as the hidden third
eye. One can get information about prospective business partners too
from him. The person need not be physically present before him. A few
personal details about any person anywhere in the world are suffice to
elicit information from this mind wave consultant.

“The “third eye” envisions what one cannot see with the normal eyes or
grasp what is hidden in the minds of others. I analyse the mind waves
and scan through the brain. In fact, I get into the minds of people
and everything related to the person concerned is flashed before me
within seconds. All I do is to just read it out,” says Ramesh.

His clients include film personalities, politicians, senior officials
and businesspersons. Since analyzing the minds of others needs huge
expenditure of energy, Ramesh says he gets easily tired. “I
concentrate all the energy into the invisible third eye. In the
process, I lose lot of my personal energy. This happens after every
consultation”, he observes explaining why he sees a limited number of
people daily.

Ramesh, however, desists from giving information about politics,
gambling, shares and speculative investments. “I started reading minds
more than two decades ago. Initially, my friends and acquaintances
approached me with issues like their resignations not accepted by
their bosses. I dictated them the content that should go in the
resignation letters and they were accepted,” he points out.

Analysis of the mind energy gives the accurate prediction in a number
of cases including a person’s suitability for surgery, improvement in
business, changes in vastu at office and house, compatibility of boy
and girl in case of marriage proposals, and change or otherwise in

Those visiting high radiation areas in case of nuclear material leak can safely take the Tulasi preparation as a preventive measure against radiation risks

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: The ancient Indian wisdom of growing Tulasi (Ocimum
sanctum) in the backyard is not without a scientific backing.
Researchers now reveal that the Indian holy basil wards off the ill
effects of radiation, whether background or nuclear. Tulasi also
protects the body cells in patients undergoing radiation therapy for
cancer cure.

Scientists at the DRDO’s Institute of Nuclear Medicines and Allied
Sciences, and the Department of Radiobiology, Kasturba Medical
College, Manipal, have successfully tested extract from Tulasi on
mouse models for its anti-radiation and anti-cancer properties. The
DRDO has gone a step further. It is busy preparing an herbal dose from
Tulasi to serve as both preventive and curative medicine.
Incidentally, the mouse models survived the radiation dose given to
them after they were fed with the Tulasi extract.

Those visiting high radiation areas in case of nuclear material leak
can safely take the Tulasi preparation as a preventive measure against
radiation risks. Even those exposed to high doses of radiation can
take the Tulasi medicine to minimize the damage to the body organs. In
the mouse model there was no impact on bone marrow. It is the bone
marrow, which is hit in case of radiation exposure, and this brings
down the immunity level.

DRDO proposes to take up human trials after the mouse model has given
wonderful results, points out Dr W Selvamurthy, chief controller
(research and development), DRDO. He presented a research paper on the
anti-radiation impact of Tulasi extract at the 99th Indian Science
Congress, which concluded in Bhubaneswar on Saturday.

“We need to conduct a few more tests and take up phase II trials
before it is released for general use,” said Dr Selvamurthy. The DRDO
is spending Rs 7 crore on the Tulasi project.

Research on animals on the anti-radiation effect of Tulasi has been
going on in India for the last four decades. Doctors at Kasturba
Medical College have earlier found that Tulasi contains special
chemicals called glutathione, which gives it the anti-cancer and
anti-radiation properties. According to eminent radiobiologist Prof P
Uma Devi, “the enzymes present in Ocimum herb including glutathione
transferase, glutathione reductase and glutathione peroxidase,
superoxidase dismutate and lipid peroxide help in bringing down the
radiation influence the body.

Indian researchers in several animal models have noticed that Tulasi
protects mutations and chromosomal aberrations in persons exposed to
nuclear radiation. The free radicals present in the Ocimum extract eat
away (scavenge) the radio nuclei and thus prevent genetic damage.

And now patients suffer from dengue and chikungunya at the same time

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad:  Cases of dengue-chikungunya co-infection are on the
rise causing concern to health planners and doctors. About three per
cent of dengue-chikungunya cases fall under the co-infection category
i.e. patient suffering from both the diseases at the same time.

Incidentally, mosquito, Aedes aegypti, transmits dengue and
chikungunya and the chances of co-infection are higher if the mosquito
carries the viruses of both the diseases. A detailed analysis of
dengue and chikungunya cases by the department of microbiology, Sri
Venkateswara Institute of Medical Sciences, Tirupati, has revealed
that the problem of co-infection is more pronounced in areas where
both viruses co-circulate.

In case of co-infection, doctors find it hard to diagnose the problem.
Though symptoms of these diseases are common, their outcome differs.
Tests for both dengue and chikungunya will help in finding whether a
patient is suffering from one disease or two.

Chikungunya is nonfatal while dengue may lead to severe health
complications including death. The common symptoms of both the
diseases include fever, joint and bone pain, nausea, vomiting,
headache, and fatigue.

A team of researchers comprising Usha Kalawat, Krishna K Sharma and G
Satishkumar Reddy analysed 331 samples for dengue and 170 samples for
chikungunya. About 12 per cent of dengue samples and 20 per cent of
chikungunya samples were positive. Only 72 samples were tested for the
presence of both dengue and chikungunya antibodies. About three per
cent of the samples tested positive for both the diseases.

“The chikungunya virus affected areas overlap with dengue
fever-endemic areas and provide opportunities for mosquitoes to become
infected with both the viruses,” they pointed out, adding that missing
of one is always plausible if diagnostic tests for both are not
performed and the presence of one does not rule out the other.