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Where are we now ?

 
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Tonu



Joined: 07 Aug 2008
Posts: 630


Location: Delta, British Columbia, Canada

PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 12:19 pm    Post subject: Where are we now ?  Reply with quote

I wrote this piece over lunch breaks this week at office. It was to be an appeal to our younger generation of research scholars and thinkers, about the role of multi disciplinary science and India’s role and contribution in it for the future. I use the word “science” loosely, and will not claim to know the exact definition of the term. In fact, it is my belief that the definition itself has been shifting.

The subject, nevertheless, has been an enduring curiosity for me, and it feels nice to write off the cuff here at lunch breaks, while eating a sandwich and a coffee. It has gotten cold here in Vancouver in the past few days, and walking about at lunch, for window shopping, or looking into book stores, do not appear as appealing as when the sun is shining and the air is less nippy.

So, where are we, as Indians, on the field of science?

Like most issues relating to India, its history comes into play. India got its independence only in 1947, and modern science, if we consider the steam engine and then electricity, started several centuries before that. India had been missing the bus for all that time.

But had it missed the bus? India did produce its share of JC Bose, CV Raman, Satyendranath Bose, and the like, even under the British Raj. India has an even more prominent history of original thinkers going back millennia. So, thining outside the box is not alien to us, historically or culturally speaking. I shall let others debate this issue however, while I move on.

India got independence in an impoverished state. It was the first time the land came under a unified flag, the tricolor, ever. It was a country with a huge population and a fantastic mix of different kinds of people, following different languages, cultures, ethnicities, faiths and living in different geographic and climatic regions.

Also, India was desperately poor and hungry.

The politicians did not have the good fortune of falling back on past history for guidelines, since India was not a free nation in control of its destiny in the past. Everything had to be thought afresh, with no real experience to draw from, except borrowed experience from other nations.

So, while we knew science must be used as a tool for pulling people out of poverty, our policies and goals could have been better, or so the debate goes. Poverty remained the prime mover in our political thinking, and it remains so even today, to a large extent. This is natural, in a democracy where the majority of the electorate is poor.

Nonetheless, India made some noticeable progress. Indian science has lately matured, and has been noticed the world over, in various theatres, from space vehicles to vaccines.

India, on the positive side, stands poised as a surprise powerhouse of various cutting-edge sciences, from biotechnology to nanotechnology and many others.

From the times of her first Prime Minister, Nehru, India started out with some state funded programs to develop indigenous knowledge stressed on self reliance on fields such as space, atomic energy, medicine and even, to some extent – electronics.

On the military and strategic sector, the state sponsored developments brought, with some missteps and some lapses, noticeable gains in the 1970s through 1990s. India became one of only a handful of nations to master the entire nuclear fission fuel cycle from mining to reprocessing of spent fuel to waste disposal.

Having done that, India has failed to capitalize on it, or make any significant improvement on power generation, to cope with increasing demand for energy that is needed to eradicate poverty, increase production and elevate people’s lifestyle.

It is only one of four countries to my knowledge (the others being Japan, France and Russia) to design and produce fast breeder reactors, which enables far more efficient usage of mined Uranium. But, India has very little usable Uranium, and even with this technology, India remains desperately short of fuel.

In a couple of decades, India hopes to crack the two generation old riddle, or finding a commercially viable way to utilize the nuclear power potential of the metal Thorium, and finally break India’s shackle of dependence on Uranium and its derivatives such as Plutonium. Perhaps no other country has put as much effort, or gone as far, to crack the Thorium fuel cycle. India has a lot of it, having perhaps the second largest known reserve in the world (next to Australia). Also, Thorium is a lot more abundant on the planet than Uranium, and, if can be used safely and well enough, has the potential to solve a very large part of our power needs. Good luck to India in this field.

India, similarly, has developed the capability to build satellites for communication, meteorology and remote sensing, as well as the technology to launch such satellites into polar or geostationary orbits using a variety of launch vehicles.

This has produced a few notable trickle down benefits, such as India’s growing missile arsenal for strategic defense as well as a private-public sector joint participation on technology development, not to mention technical joint ventures with various nations, such as Russia, or Israel, for further cooperation in future.

Development of liquid fuel rocket engines and further development on cryogenic engines have enabled India to also successfully penetrate the commercial market of providing launch facilities for foreign customers for placing satellites into orbit. This was capped by India’s first unmanned mission to moon – the Chandrayan-1 project, as well as development of Astrosat, a satellite designed to track x-ray sources from the outer edges of the Universe.

While long range ballistic missiles have been noted internationally, a less well known achievement, but of no less importance, is the Light Combat Aircarft (LCA) for the air force and the navy, built after a thirty year history of hit and miss, and also the Main Battle Tank (MBT) called Arjun.

The single engine LCA is touted as the world’s smallest and lightest weight multi-combat aircraft, not to mention the cheapest. The development cost of Arjun is reported to be a tenth of the cost for the Main Battle Tank of the US army, the M1 Abrams. These provide India with a technology base on which she can design and devlop future generations of more advanced products.

So, defense research and development has come on its own for India, including development of various smart technology and smart material that will help the private sector on a global field, such as Micro-Electric Mechanical Systems devices, or MEMS. As a result of national program launched nearly ten years ago on MEMS, India has made significant inroads on items such as silicon based pressure sensors, electronic chemical sensors, piezoelectric actuators, biochips and micro-systems for molecular amplification biology.

There has also been development in the field of nano-science, which deals with items thousands of time thinner than a human hair. Scientists of Bangalore showed a few years ago, that fluids passing through carbon nano-tubes, can generate electricity, a fact that can be used for building microscopic flow sensors. One could imagine, for instance, a future generation of heart pacemaker that has no battery and no need to replace them, and is powered as well as controlled by the heart itself, using the blood flow of blood through such nano devices. Equally important could be in the medical field of targeted drug delivery. These are some of the intriguing examples.

India has been working on diagnostic tools for treatment of HIV, hepatitis and some forms of cancer with commercialization of the technology underway. Some of these might not be strictly new design, while others in the pipeline, such as live recombinant cholera vaccine or a rabies DNA vaccine or a malaria vaccine, could be path breaking on their own right.

IN agriculture, Monsanto notwithstanding, India has done some very interesting work for decades in developing higher yield crop and is now doing so on genetically engineered potato and tomato, for example. Whether genetically engineered crop is at all a good idea, or is ethically correct, is a separate debate and I am not going there right now.

India is a participant in the global rice genome program which has the potential to be a global milestone event. India also did some original work on the genome program on silk worms, for example.

I would have liked more specific input from our scientist and research friends, such as Tanaya who has been posting here already, or Sujoy Dhara who specializes on human stem cell research, to throw more light on subjects which are all very exciting and enlightening.

I will, with my lot less in depth knowledge, however, get the ball rolling here with what little I know.

Instead of working on gene by gene study, genomics might have helped scientists to use a broader systemic approach were groups of genes or gene sequences are analyzed in decease development process or to understand metabolic pathways, and use that knowledge to create more focused drugs. Along with that, knowledge on DNA micro-arrays, bioinformatics and other means to provide an interface between biology and the information technology, are areas where India is poised to emerge as a technology leader.

These are all new technologies, and as such, past history does not give anyone any specific advantage, or a handicap. The playing field is, comparatively, more even here.

But, at the end of the day, India is still largely poor. What might have changed, is that there is perhaps less gloom, and some people see a silver lining in the clouds. The charts seem to indicate that the center of the population is finally beginning to inch towards higher earning, higher gdp and possibly a better lifestyle, with a corresponding reduction of poverty.

Is this happening fast enough? If it takes India a further two generations to eradicate poverty and elevate itself at a comparable level as that of the west, is that too long a time? If you ask a poor man today, the answer is an empatic yes. It is not as reassuring for him to hear that his grandson might be relatively at par with others. Two generation is a very long time.

But then, if you consider it statistically, a nation as large as India, starting from where it did, back in 1947, managed to come as far as it might, in a hundred years, you might consider it a miracle.

However, this is assuming that the distance between the cup and the lip is a straight path with no uncertainties. This, however, is patently a false assumption. India’s population is expected to increase by another 500 million people by then. No one know how India would find the power, the water, the food and many other basic needs of life for 1,500 million people within the boundaries of the nation. No one know how much of the forests, the wildlife or the marine habitation would survive. No one knows if we shall be able to handle the dual task of eradicating poverty and preserving nature, with seasoned wisdom. No one can even predict what form of a democracy we shall have two generations down the line.

But, meanwhile, I would love to have the research scholars and scientists among us, to add to this uneducated rumbles coming from me, during lunch breaks in Vancouver.

Cheers

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barsanjit



Joined: 18 Aug 2008
Posts: 10


Location: Cleveland, Ohio, USA

PostPosted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 10:42 am    Post subject: Barsanjit Mazumder Reply with quote

Tonuda

You have done a great job summarizing the recent achievements of Indian Science. Although we are not living in the era of Sir, J.C. Bose, Acharya P.C. Ray  S.N. Bose or CV Raman, however we should not forget that we are still making significant contribution in fundamental science.

I am just summarizing few recent achievements of Indian Scientists in Fundamental Biological Research.

Satyajit Mayor (NCBS, Bangalore): Made original discovery about the dynamics of movement of small molecules and proteins across the cell. This work has gain extremely high recognition and published in Recent Nature, Cell, EMBO journal.

Shamit Addya (Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, Kolkata): Discovered very fundamental mechanism of tRNA import in mitochondria. Mitochondria can synthesize tRNA, a molecule essential for protein synthesis and rely on tRNA import. Shamit's work uncovered a crucial step of this mechanism. This work has direct impact on development of targeted therapy against mitochondrial malfunction. Shamit is still actively working on this and earning international recognition on a continuos basis. This work has published in several High Impact Journal such as "Science", Molecular & Cellular Biology, EMBO J etc.

Suvendra Bhattacharyya (Friedrich Miescher Institute (FMI), Novartis Research Foundation, Switzerland)):Worked with Shamit on the mechanism of tRNA import mechanism. He got the young scientist award from the Journal "Science" a very rare achievement of a young scientist from Kolkata. Later he joined the laboratory of Witold Filopowitch at Switzerland. Published a very original work on the mechanism of gene silencing by RNA interference. Published several publication in very high impact journal such as "Cell" "Science" and Nature. His work has significant impact on therapeutic silencing of human gene to control disease. I heard that he went back to India.

Shankar Ghosh (Yale University): Worked with David Baltimore and discovered a crucial mechanism of NF-kB, a transcription factor and regulate a plethora of gene. His work has significant impact on inflammation biology. Shankar published in very high impact journal such as "Science", Cell, Nature etc.

Recent development on how to control Inflammation:  Current issue of Nature (Nature 457, 915-919 (12 February 2009)), Published an important discovery on the crosstalk between Angiogenesis and Inflammation by Parthosarathi Ray and Paul Fox showing the regulation of a crucial angiogenic factor VEGF both by hypoxia (low oxygen environment) and inflammation. This work has emerged from my work showing a crucial mechanism of a cellular signal that can silence inflammatory gene at the level of protein synthesis (Cell 2003, Cell 2004). Recently we have published a novel mechanism of the silencing of plethora of inflammatory proteins in the Cell (Molecular Cell 2007, Molecular & Cellular Biology 2009). We strongly believe that this discovery will certainly develop novel anti-inflammatory molecules that can efficiently treat inflammatory disease such as heart disease.

There are many other significant work that is being recently published from many Indian Scientists across the world and have potential to make a strong impact on fundamental knowledge of Biology.
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barsanjit



Joined: 18 Aug 2008
Posts: 10


Location: Cleveland, Ohio, USA

PostPosted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 10:42 am    Post subject: Barsanjit Mazumder Reply with quote

Tonuda

You have done a great job summarizing the recent achievements of Indian Science. Although we are not living in the era of Sir, J.C. Bose, Acharya P.C. Ray  S.N. Bose or CV Raman, however we should not forget that we are still making significant contribution in fundamental science.

I am just summarizing few recent achievements of Indian Scientists in Fundamental Biological Research.

Satyajit Mayor (NCBS, Bangalore): Made original discovery about the dynamics of movement of small molecules and proteins across the cell. This work has gain extremely high recognition and published in Recent Nature, Cell, EMBO journal.

Shamit Addya (Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, Kolkata): Discovered very fundamental mechanism of tRNA import in mitochondria. Mitochondria can synthesize tRNA, a molecule essential for protein synthesis and rely on tRNA import. Shamit's work uncovered a crucial step of this mechanism. This work has direct impact on development of targeted therapy against mitochondrial malfunction. Shamit is still actively working on this and earning international recognition on a continuos basis. This work has published in several High Impact Journal such as "Science", Molecular & Cellular Biology, EMBO J etc.

Suvendra Bhattacharyya (Friedrich Miescher Institute (FMI), Novartis Research Foundation, Switzerland)):Worked with Shamit on the mechanism of tRNA import mechanism. He got the young scientist award from the Journal "Science" a very rare achievement of a young scientist from Kolkata. Later he joined the laboratory of Witold Filopowitch at Switzerland. Published a very original work on the mechanism of gene silencing by RNA interference. Published several publication in very high impact journal such as "Cell" "Science" and Nature. His work has significant impact on therapeutic silencing of human gene to control disease. I heard that he went back to India.

Shankar Ghosh (Yale University): Worked with David Baltimore and discovered a crucial mechanism of NF-kB, a transcription factor and regulate a plethora of gene. His work has significant impact on inflammation biology. Shankar published in very high impact journal such as "Science", Cell, Nature etc.

Recent development on how to control Inflammation:  Current issue of Nature (Nature 457, 915-919 (12 February 2009)), Published an important discovery on the crosstalk between Angiogenesis and Inflammation by Parthosarathi Ray and Paul Fox showing the regulation of a crucial angiogenic factor VEGF both by hypoxia (low oxygen environment) and inflammation. This work has emerged from my work showing a crucial mechanism of a cellular signal that can silence inflammatory gene at the level of protein synthesis (Cell 2003, Cell 2004). Recently we have published a novel mechanism of the silencing of plethora of inflammatory proteins in the Cell (Molecular Cell 2007, Molecular & Cellular Biology 2009). We strongly believe that this discovery will certainly develop novel anti-inflammatory molecules that can efficiently treat inflammatory disease such as heart disease.

There are many other significant work that is being recently published from many Indian Scientists across the world and have potential to make a strong impact on fundamental knowledge of Biology.
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tanaya



Joined: 01 Feb 2009
Posts: 10


Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada

PostPosted: Wed Feb 18, 2009 6:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am very happy to know about these recent developments in India. Thank you for all the information.
I would like to add a few interesting ones:

In ISI, Kolkata, researchers have developed a system to automatically recognize handwritten bengali characters (they are also working on devnagari).

A massive database of Indian traditional remedies has been created to ensure that patent is not granted for the medicines that are already in use in Indian systems of medicine (Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Yoga). This has been done to avoid bio-piracy, as earlier, an anti-fungal product derived from "Neem" received an Europian patent.

A few weeks ago, in Times of India, I came to know about an young Indian' achievement. He has built an engine, which is fuel-less. amazing!! However, as he is not a researcher (owner of an engine company), I could not find any documentation.

Talking about  computer/electronics engineering, though we are making significant developments in theoretical, analytical or software fields, we still lack proper infrastructure for developing hardware components, say, fabricating chip. Otherwise, our technology can not be matured and self-sufficient.
We also need to focus on medical research as that is almost non-existent in India (as far as I know).

thanks
Tanaya
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barsanjit



Joined: 18 Aug 2008
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Location: Cleveland, Ohio, USA

PostPosted: Wed Feb 18, 2009 7:15 pm    Post subject: Barsanjit Reply with quote

Hi Tanya
In todays issue of Nature (Feb 18th, 2009) there is an article on the National Data Base of Indian traditional Medicine and how this data base will help to treat disease. I have read this article with immense interest and glad to see that Indian Government is trying to protect this knowledge. However this article is also telling that some critics are skeptical that this activity might backfire. An extremely interesting debate has already emerged, you may see that in the following comments. I am giving the links below.  

http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090218/full/news.2009.107.html

Cheers

Barsan

Barsanjit Mazumder Ph.D
Associate Professor
Center for Gene Regulation in Health and Disease
Dept. of Biological Science
Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio

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tanaya



Joined: 01 Feb 2009
Posts: 10


Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada

PostPosted: Sun Feb 22, 2009 3:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Oh yes, I have gone through this article; very interesting. I'll read the comments as well. Thank you for posting the link.

thanks
Tanaya


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