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Frenemies: Our microbial squatters

On and in our bodies microbes of all sorts have set up squatter camps. They have left nothing. They are there in our skin, mouth, nose, oesophagus, lungs, stomach, intestines, urinary tract, blood and even in the brain. They have pretty much taken over any available real estate in and on the body. This encroachment starts very early in our lives. Some say it is before birth when we are still embryo but that needs to be confirmed through more experiments. It is however very clear that it happens as we are born and the microbiome (sum total of all microbes) is transferred from the mother to the child as it is being born. The nature of birth, caesarean vs normal delivery has an influence on what sort of microbiome the child gets. So there it starts. Once they have established, the microbes outnumber us 1:10 in terms of number of cells. So essentially we are more microbe than human. They also outnumber us in terms of number of different genes by 1:150. The microbiome consists of eubacteria, archaebacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses including bacteriophages.


Pic: Staphylococci

This microbiome which inhabits us for a long time was thought to be commensal in nature and rarely symbiotic. Our traditional microbiologists always thought a good bug was a dead bug and a lot of emphasis on hygiene meant that we would use products to kill as many microbes as possible. Cleansing ourselves of as many bugs as possible was thought to be a good thing. Now, there is a rethink about all this thanks to the revolution in microbiomics, the science of studying the microbiome. Are these resident microbe Friends or Enemies or Frenemies??

Diversity: Advances in sequencing DNA led to Next Gen Sequencing (NGS) technologies which meant very powerful and cheap way to sequence a lot of DNA. By applying NGS to environmental samples and sequencing wholesale the content of the sample without purifying individual bacteria was a step change in knowing who all are present in a sample. When these methods were applied to samples derived from various parts of the human body we were in for a big surprise on the diversity of the different kinds of bacteria that were residing on us. In the US a large scale study call the Human Microbiome Project was launched in 2008 to study the microbiome from across 18 different body sites. It is estimated that the total diversity could be about 15,000 different microbes residing on an average human. This number is simply mind boggling and we have no idea about some of these bacteria as we have never cultured and studied them. For example, the mouth has over 400 kinds of bacteria or more on average. Similarly other sites have a lot of different other bacteria.

Function: So what do these bugs do? It appears they do a lot of different things. We always knew they had a role in digestion. Microbes in the gut are the reason we are able to extract lot more nutrients from food. We would not be able to digest a lot of the complex food material we eat without the enzymes coming from microbes. Importantly microbes extract and/or generate some important molecules such as butyrate from plant fibres which is now shown to play a key role in our health. They synthesise vitamins, degrade xenobiotics that come into the body, regulate metabolism, even regulate hormones such as insulin, synthesize serotonin a brain signaling molecule, regulate terminal differentiation of mucosa, train or educate our immune system, offer colonization resistance to prevent pathogens from entering the body and many others that we are still discovering or yet to. As you can see that was a formidable list. So it can be argued that these squatters are beneficial to us. The most exciting bit in this science is the new findings on the contribution coming from these bugs in all the different areas on the body where they reside. An example of such new finding is that the microbes in the mouth play a role in turning the nitrate that comes in food into nitrite. This nitrite turn in to nitric oxide which can cause vasodilation and lowering of blood pressure. Hmm, could you even imagine such a thing? So the bugs in the mouth do something useful other than causing bad breath and decaying your teeth. That was not a one off thing as more and more such examples are coming to the fore nowadays.

Diseases: The science of microbiomics has created new buzz in the area of disease biology. Many recalcitrant conditions which were poorly understood and difficult to treat and which had no single causative organism are now thought to be driven by the microbiome. The microbiome is an ecosystem in fine balance with the host and any severe perturbation causes a dysbiotic state and this leads to a disease condition. Some diseases where a strong correlation to changes in microbiome have been observed are Crohn`s disease/Irritable bowel disorder (IBD), chronic periodontitis, Tropical Sprue, Bacterial vaginosis, Psoriasis, Reflux oesophagitis, Obesity, Childhood onset Asthma, Colorectal carcinoma, cardiovascular disease and even premature delivery of babies. But it is still not clear if the microbiome is the cause of the effect or if it is initiating or propagating or if it is monofactorial or polyfactorial. These issues make it difficult to devise treatments as we are not sure about the mechanistic basis of the disease. For IBD and Clostridium difficile infections poop or fecal transplants have been shown to have much better success at reducing disease than any other therapy starting a new era in microbiome driven therapeutics. Such novel therapies are being proposed for other diseases as well.

A few other interesting experiments in this area have thrown some mind boggling findings. Such as the microbiome transplant from a pregnant mice to a non-pregnant mice changes the insulin sensitivity and brings weight gain like in pregnant mice. This shows the amount of influence the microbiome has on the host physiology. Similar experiments of transplanting the microbiome have shown that they drive obesity. Bacteria in the gut can also affect distant anatomical sites too such as the brain in autism, depression and skeletal structures such as in arthritis. Antibiotic usage causes big changes to the microbiome and it takes a very long time for the microbiome to return to its original state. What is the consequence of such changes to the host health? We do not know currently and scientists are hard at work trying to understand these issues.

With all this new knowledge we are in the midst of reframing our attitudes towards the bugs on our body. They are undoubtedly useful and worth preserving and sustaining. But there is balance to be maintained and these very friends can invade if the body were to lower guard and cause disease blurring the distinction between friends and enemies. Hence these residents on us are ‘Frenemies’. In the words of David Relman, a top scientist in this area of research ‘One of the most important ecosystems on earth might be the human body’, and we have just started investigating it. Either way we are in a brave new world where microbes so tiny and small, stand so tall.


Author: Dr. Yugandhar B.S. Reddy,

He has a PhD in Molecular biology from Indian Institute of Science Bengluru & postdoctoral experience from University of Pittsburg, Pittsburgh, USA. Currently serving as a Research Scientist at HUL.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed above are the author’s personal beliefs and opinions. They are in no way associated or endorsed by his employer.

Science Trail: How are balloons made?


Be it a birthday party or an outdoor event,it is never complete without colourful balloons.The eyes of little boys and girls light up with joy when they play with the balloons or see them floating up into the sky.This month, we visit a balloon manufacturing factory to see what goes behind the production of these simple by highly entertaining colourful little things.

Extraction of Rubber


It all starts with extraction of the raw material.Rubber, also called Latex, is extracted from rubber trees, which are mainly found in Kerala in India. India is 3rd largest producer of Natural Rubber only behind Malaysia and Thailand. Companies in Kerala process this Rubber in centrifuge machines and turn them into 60% Latex, suitable for production. This latex is then transported to various parts of India for their different types of use.




60% Rubber, which comes in 205 liters packing in drums, is heated up to 50 to 60 degrees and during the process chemicals such as sulfur, zinc chloride and zinc oxide in certain proportions are added to latex in a process called vulcanization.

Vulcanization is a process of converting natural rubber to more durable materials by addition of sulfur or other equivalent curatives. These additives modify the polymer by forming cross-links (bridges) between individual polymer chains. Vulcanized materials are less sticky and have superior mechanical properties.
Then this latex is allowed to cool for the next 2 days. After this, it is poured in separate dipping tanks along with different food grade colours.


Process of making Acid Solution



Pic: Diluted Acetic acid tanks

100% food grade glacial Acidic acid is added in certain proportions to soft water, reducing its strength to 20%. This solution helps put a uniform layer of Rubber on the plastic moulds.


Pic: Plastic moulds in wooden frame

Dipping Process


Pic: Dipped plastic mould in Latex

There are plastic moulds of different Shapes and sizes fitted in wooden frames. These moulds are then dipped in acetic acid and then in Rubber tanks.


Drying Process
Dipped Frames of Rubber Balloons are then dried in the sunlight till such time that the balloons are completely dry.


Pic: Drying under The Sun light

After drying, they are removed from the sunlight. They are now ready to be stripped off the moulds.


Pic: Stripping Balloons from the mould


Testing balloons
Each balloon is blown to check for leakage with the help of an air compressor. Defective balloons are rejected and good ones go to the Packing department.



Packed Balloons are then placed in cartons or jute gunny bags with proper sealing and dispatched to the customers.


Nuclear energy: A clean, reliable and safe energy option


In the universe, energy is available in different forms for our use. We can feel the presence of energy through warmth, light, sound, movement, growth and power. In nature, energy exists in forms of mechanical energy, chemical energy, radiant energy, thermal energy and nuclear energy that can be derived from naturally occurring resources such as the sun, the earth’s heat, the wind, water (rivers, lakes, tides, and oceans), fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas), biomass, and radioactive minerals.

Nuclear Reactor_Jan16

The advent of civilization started only after the discovery of fire and using the thermal energy for various purposes. Initially energy demand was very low and that used to be met mostly by renewable resources only. With industrial growth and the science & technological advancement it became possible to produce electricity that made our life lives more comfortable and convenient. Production of electricity requires the primary energy resources hence comes under the category of secondary energy. Today, largest amount of primary energy is used for electricity generation. When nuclear energy, residing in radioactive elements is used as primary source in harnessing electricity, it is known as Nuclear Energy or Nuclear Power. Today there are about 450 nuclear power reactors that are used to generate electricity in about 30 countries around the world


What is nuclear energy?

Nuclear energy, as the name says, is released from the nucleus of an atom during nuclear reactions, i.e., nuclear fusion and nuclear fission. In nuclear fusion, nuclei of light atoms are fused together to create heavier atom while in case of fission heavy atom splits up to lighter nuclei releasing vast amount of free energy. Fusion process has several advantages over fission, since it requires vastly available hydrogen as fuel and generates nonradioactive waste. But fusion based Nuclear reactor has not yet been commercially developed because it requires very high temperature, upto several million Kelvin as in the stars including Sun. Therefore, at present, we are only using nuclear fission reaction for power generation. Uranium metal, which is present in earth crust and mined all over the world, is commonly used as fuel in fission reactors. In a Nuclear power plant, a controlled chain reaction of uranium is achieved to produce heat energy, which is used for boiling the water to make steam. This steam finally drives turbines to produce electricity.


How it is clean?

From an environment perspective, nuclear plants offer clean energy. In an operational nuclear plant almost no harmful green house gases produce and also the water discharged from a nuclear power plant contains no harmful pollutants and meets regulatory standards for temperature designed to protect aquatic life. Many may argue that carbon dioxide, a strong green house gas, is produced during operations like mining or construction. But statistics indicate that the CO2 produced during all the process of nuclear power generation is about 50 times less that of the coal-based plants and at least 25 times less than natural gas plants. We know that the our energy demand is increasing day by day and we cannot afford to use conventional thermal power plants since they consume fossil fuels and emit green house gases which in turn results in creating environmental imbalance. Nuclear energy is certainly providing a solution in reducing the emission of green house gases to save our precious environment. The nuclear power does not produce significant amount of waste, and moreover one third of the total nuclear waste is reprocessed to recover useful fuel. Rest of the waste is contained and disposed off at the suitable underground geological sites without affecting the ecology.


Reliable energy

Reliability and sustainability are the areas where nuclear energy takes over the renewable alternative source of energies like solar, wind, biomass etc. It is independent of unreliable weather or climate conditions, unpredictable cost fluctuation and has extensive fuel resources. Uranium- the nuclear fuel is fairly abundant about 4 parts per million in the earths’ crust. Besides, thorium, which is 4 times more abundant than that of uranium in earth crust, can also be used as fuel in nuclear reactor. The essence of nuclear power is that it requires very little fuel to produce large amount of energy- 1000 MWe capacity nuclear reactor requiring annually only 27 tonnes of uranium, on the other hand 3.2 million tonnes of coal is consumed per year in the same capacity of Thermal power plant. Further, though theoretically uranium is finite and nonrenewable but in nuclear reactor plutonium is recovered and recycled as new fuel element to produce more energy. All these factors make nuclear resources almost inexhaustible and capable of fulfilling future energy demand.


Is Nuclear Energy is Safe?

In general public there are several myths about nuclear energy. People have fear about radiation, radioactive waste, nuclear accidents and also the fear of nuclear weapons and consider nuclear energy to be unsafe. Contrastingly, nuclear energy is one the safest energy option and let us take a look how it is safe. Radiation through radioactive material may cause serious health risks. But people relate radiation only with nuclear reactors being unaware that the radiation is present everywhere in environment including our body. The fact is that the nuclear power plants account for less than 0.1% of average radiation exposure to the public, in contrast to 55% radon gas, 11% internal, i.e., from human body, 8% cosmic, 8% terrestrial, 11% medical x-rays and 4% nuclear medicines . The myth regarding the nuclear power plant is that they emit radiation which is harmful but nuclear power plants are designed in such a way that no radiation can be emitted. It may be interesting to know that the area near a nuclear power plant are so secure that a person living there for about 2000 years would get radiation exposure equivalent to an exposure from a medical x-rays.

Nuclear energy agencies strictly follow the waste management measures to isolate the radioactive waste from biosphere. To ensure that no significant environmental releases occur over a long period after disposal, a ‘multiple barrier’ disposal concept is used. The overall safety against migration of radioactive waste is achieved by proper selection of waste form, suitable engineered barriers, backfill materials and the characteristics of the geo environment of the repository site. The nuclear energy industry is the only energy industry which takes full responsibility of it all waste.

People concerned that the Nuclear energy can lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The fact is that, nuclear power plants use the low-enriched uranium as nuclear reactor fuel that cannot be used as nuclear weapon material. Nuclear weapons require highly enriched uranium or plutonium and have completely independent technology of nuclear power plants. This is empathized by the fact that the initial development of nuclear technology was military and that time there were no nuclear power plants. If every commercial nuclear energy plant and all the supporting technology around the world were dismantled and none were ever built again, the proliferation of nuclear weapons would still be a threat. However, strict protocols administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are used to control fuel enrichment, fabrication and reprocessing facilities to prevent the diversion of fissile material into weapons.

Fewer fatalities have occurred in the civilian nuclear power industry, they are but sporadic incidents when compared to the rate of accidents which occur in fossil fuel industries, coal mines and gas pipelines which have a history of eruption. Technologies are being develop to make nuclear power plants are more efficient and safer than ever before.



Our energy demand is expected to increase considerably in the coming years as the result of population growth and economic development. All of the various means of generating electricity have their role to play in meeting the rapidly increasing energy demands. But our growing energy demand cannot be fulfilled only by finite resources like fossil fuels, particularly coal and gas. Reports suggest that with the current reserve and rate of consumption will lead the coal to be exhausted in next 125 years. Green house gas emission and global warming are the other problems associated with our conventional energy production and consumption pattern. Renewable energy sources provide clean alternative of the fossil fuels but it is intermittent, costly and difficult to match the demand. Nuclear power plants do not pollute environment, their wastes end up as solids and, though requiring careful handling, are very much and are easily managed. No energy can beat nuclear energy when it comes to energy potentiality of fuel. In current scenario nuclear power provides 13.5% of world electricity (in India it shares only 2.5% of total electricity) which definitely need to increase if we want sustainable development. Nuclear energy is definitely the future energy choice particularly in concerns of clean, reliable, cost effective and large energy outputs. Besides electricity production nuclear energy has extensive uses in medical science ( medical diagnosis and radiotherapy), food and agriculture ( using the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) which involves rearing large numbers of insects then irradiating them with gamma radiation before hatching, to sterilize them), food preservation, sterilization and radioisotope dating of rocks. This cannot be substituted by other means of energy. Hence if we use sensibly and carefully, nuclear energy can prove great gift for mankind and essential for the survival and growth of human civilization.




Author: Ms. Aastha Saxena,

Winner of National Scientific Write-up Contest-2012 held at NASI Allahabad.

TSI Essay Contest winning enrty – How technology has changed our lives

When we talk about technology the first thought which arrives in our mind is a scene of advanced electronic devices with a specific function to perform efficiently. Of course,there is no doubt that technology is everywhere. It has a huge influence in our daily lives. It plays a crucial role as these days we are whole and sole dependent on technology. Technology has become a vital part of our life. The development of a country depends on status of its technology.

When we come to the definition of technology then “Technology is the branch of knowledge that deals with the creation and use of technical means and their interrelation with life.” In simple terms, it’s just a way for one to express its talented thoughts, innovative ideas and abstract imagination through technology. As we all know we all are getting modernized through our technologies only. So, now we can’t even imagine the way our primitive generations used to live. Technology has transformed our lives completely whether we talk in field of Agriculture or in field of Rocket Science. Everywhere we will find technology.

It has made the path of a learner easier to reach her destination swimmingly by means of e-learning. It also aware people of effects of crimes going on and give much more information useful in their lives. We can say that with the help of technology only our today’s mind is far away sharper than a primitive human of our age. Because of technology in defense field today we feel save as an individual in our homes. Development of technology also provided employment to many poor to earn a living. Even with the ever increasing population, advancement of technology in agriculture helped us to fulfill our food production needs. It also help to find out medicines of many fatal diseases.

But technology has many dangerous consequences as well such as many misuse it and try to commit many crimes. It can also diverts the innocent mind of a child from her/his goals and can become a hurdle in reaching the pinnacle of success. As the use of new technology increased many people lost their jobs as it was replaced by machines. It also affects new generation health as most of them prefer to seat at home with their electronic devices instead of going out for outdoor games. In short, it has made us lazy. It also harms our environment in a very negative way which in turn will lead to a dark future for us.

So, by seeing both sides of implications of technology we may conclude that technology affect our lives positively as well as negatively.



Pahulpreet Kaur Suchdeva,

Class- 10th,

School- MNR School of Excellence

Kamothe, Navi Mumbai – 410209.

Mind Mapping

Mind Mapping

Described as the ‘Swiss Army Knife of the brain’, Mind Maps have become a global phenomenon due to its applications in a diverse number of ways.

As Mind Mapping engages the full range of your cortical skills, Mind Mapping is a ‘whole brain thinking tool’ that can organise, prioritise, store information, manage your time, facilitate negotiations and risk control, generate ideas, encourage strategic thinking… the list could go on and on.

The regular use of Mind Maps can make a big impact on your personal and professional life, by unlocking your amazing brain power and unleashing your creativity.

What is Mind Mapping?

A Mind Map is a powerful graphic technique which provides a universal key to unlock the potential of the brain. It harnesses the full range of cortical skills – word, image, number, logic, rhythm, colour and spatial awareness – in a single, uniquely powerful manner, thus giving you the freedom to roam the infinite expanses of your brain. The Mind Map can be applied to every aspect of life where improved learning and clearer thinking will enhance human performance.

Mind mapping is a highly effective way of getting information in and out of your brain. Mind mapping is a creative and logical means of note-taking and note-making that literally “maps out” your ideas.

There are few things in common among all Mind Maps. The natural organizational structure of a Mind Map radiates from the center, and uses lines, words, symbols, images and colour. Mind mapping can be used to convert a long list of monotonous information into a memorable, colorful and well organized diagram that works in accordance with the way your brain functions naturally.

A Mind Map can be compared to a map of a city. The center of the city represents the main idea; the main roads leading from the center represent the main ideas in your thought process; the secondary roads or branches represent your secondary ideas, and so on. Special images or shapes can represent landmarks of interest or particularly relevant ideas.

The Mind Map externally mirrors your own natural or radiant thinking, with the help of a powerful graphic process, which provides the universal key to unlock the dynamic potential of the brain.

Mind Mapping in Business

In the recent years, mind mapping has been recognized by companies as an effective communication tool that improves brainstorming and collaboration sessions. By visualizing concepts and connections in a mind map, people can follow conversations better and contribute more during meetings. Mind mapping is even considered as an alternative to traditional linear presentations such as flip charts or PowerPoint slides.

According to a survey by mind mapping expert Chuck Frey, use of mind mapping for business has resulted in increase in productivity by 25% on average. Few most frequent business uses of mind map include:

  • Optimum project management
  • Increase productivity
  • Effective meetings – agenda, minutes, discussion
  • Simplify documentation
  • Knowledge management
  • Better communication and collaboration

Thanks to mind mapping, professionals can operate more effectively, generate more stimulating ideas and become more effective in their jobs.

Mind Mapping in Education

Since years, educators, teachers and students have been using mind maps on paper. Recetly this process has been automated by the use of visual software applications, making it more efficient to brainstorm ideas. Some mind mapping software applications integrate with MS Office, allowing students to convert their ideas into other documents such as Word or PowerPoint. In education, mind mapping is often used for:

  • Improving reading and writing skills
  • Brainstorming sessions
  • Improving critical thinking
  • Visualizing concepts
  • Decision making
  • Advanced research papers or graduate projects
  • Outlining written documents
  • Project management
  • Storyboarding presentations


Foundation of Mind Maps – Radiant Thinking – a clearer, more natural and more efficient way of using our brains

What happens in your brain when you taste a ripe pear, smell flowers, listen to music, watch a stream, touch a loved one, or simply reminisce? The answer is both simple and amazingly complex. Each bit of information entering your brain, every sensation, memory or thought, which incorporates every word, number, code, food, fragrance, line, color, image, beat, note and texture can be represented as a central sphere from which radiate tens, hundreds, thousands, even millions of hooks. Each hook represents an association, and each association has its own infinite array of links and connections. From this gigantic information processing ability and learning capacity derives the concept of Radiant Thinking of which the Mind Map is a manifestation. Your brain’s Radiant Thinking pattern may thus be seen as a gigantic Branching Association Machine – a super bio computer with lines of thought radiating from a virtually infinite number of data nodes.

The Mind Map is made even more powerful by the use of all the left and right brain-thinking tools, which enhance the clarity, structure and organization of your thinking. And because the Mind Map constructively uses the tools of ImaginationAssociation and Location, as well as the tools of the left and right brain, you can consider the Mind Map the ultimate thinking tool that incorporates all the significant and potent ways of thinking into its own structure.

The Power of Images

While the Radiant Thinking ability of the brain can be applied to the ‘left cortical skill’ of words, the same power can be applied to the ‘right cortical skill’ of imagination and images. “A picture is worth a thousand words”. We associate and remember images because they make use of a massive range of your cortical skills, especially imagination. Images can be more evocative than words, more precise and potent in triggering a wide range of associations, thereby enhancing creative thinking and memory. These findings support the argument that the Mind Map is a uniquely appropriate tool. It not only uses images, it is an image.


Pic 1 Mind Map Dec 2015


Pic 2 Mind Map Dec 2015

Mind Maps of Tony Buzan’s Book “Mind Maps for Business”

Pic 3 Mind Map Dec 2015

Profile of Mehernosh Randeria in Mind Map


Mr. Mehernosh Randeria.

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