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Sunday, 23 February 2014

BIOINFORMATICS & ITS APPLICATIONS


Bioinformatics is an interdisciplinary area of Science & Technology encompassing a systematic development and application of IT solutions to biological data. Bioinformatics addresses biological data collection and warehousing, data base searches, analyses and interpretation, modeling and product design. Computational Biology involves discovery, development and implementation of computational algorithms and software tools that facilitate an understanding of the biological processes with the goal to serve primarily agriculture and healthcare sectors with several spin-offs.

Bioinformatics is setting a new pace for biotechnology research by reducing the lead time for various processes involved in the chain of biotechnology developments like assignment of the gene/protein function, locating of the similar gene sequences in different organisms, selection of the drug targets, online testing of the potential drug targets and so on. The growth of Bioinformatics has accelerated due to path breaking advancements in biology and new technologies that produce huge data sets like high throughput genome sequencing projects. The data mining and analysis of such large data and extraction of knowledge from this data is being made possible only with the help of new algorithms and computation intensive techniques. Thus biologists need to use almost every new technical development, which is taking place in Bioinformatics and intelligent application to solve complex biological problems leading to advancement in health care and crop improvement systems to facilitate overall growth and improvement in economic development. 


APPLICATIONS
Applications of bioinformatics are wide ranging spread almost all fields, which touch human life. Following are few examples in which bioinformatics are being used.

MOLECULAR MEDICINE
The human genome has profound effect on the fields of biomedical research and clinical medicine. Every disease has a genetic component. This may be inherited (as is the case with an estimated 3000-4000 hereditary disease including Cystic Fibrosis and Huntingtons disease) or a result of the body's response to an environmental stress which causes alterations in the genome (eg. cancers, heart disease, diabetes.).

From Human Genome Project Data Base we can search for the genes directly associated with different diseases and understand the molecular basis of these diseases more clearly. This new knowledge of the molecular mechanisms of disease will enable better treatments, cures and even preventative tests to be developed.
 
PERSONALIZED MEDICINE
Clinical medicine will become more personalized with the development of the field of pharma-co-genomics. This is the study of how an individual's genetic inheritance affects the body's response to drugs.

At present, some drugs fail to make it to the market because a small percentage of the clinical patient population show adverse affects to a drug due to sequence variants in their DNA. As a result, potentially lifesaving drugs never makes it to the marketplace. Today, doctors have to use trial and error to find the best drug to treat a particular patient as those with the same clinical symptoms can show a wide range of responses to the same treatment. In future, doctors will be able to analyse a patient's genetic profile and prescribe the best available drug therapy and dosage from the beginning.

PREVENTATIVE MEDICINE
With the specific details of the genetic mechanisms of diseases being unraveled, the development of diagnostic tests to measure a person’s susceptibility to different diseases may become a distinct reality. Preventative actions such as change of lifestyle or having treatment at the earliest possible stages when they are more likely to be successful, could result in huge advances in our struggle to conquer disease.

GENE THERAPY
In the not too distant future, the potential for using genes themselves to treat disease may become a reality. Gene therapy is the approach used to treat, cure or even prevent disease by changing the expression of a person’s genes. Currently, this field is in its infantile stage with clinical trials for many different types of cancer and other diseases ongoing.

DRUG DEVELOPMENT
At present all drugs on the market target only about 500 proteins. With an improved understanding of disease mechanisms and using computational tools to identify and validate new drug targets, more specific medicines that act on the cause, not merely the symptoms, of the disease can be developed. These highly specific drugs promise to have fewer side effects than many of today's medicines.

MICROBIAL GENOME APPLICATIONS
Microorganisms are ubiquitous, that is they are found everywhere. They   have been found surviving and thriving in extremes of heat, cold, radiation, salt, acidity and pressure. They are present in the environment, our bodies, the air, food and water. Traditionally, use has been made of a variety of microbial properties in the baking, brewing and food industries. The arrival of the complete genome sequences and their potential to provide a greater insight into the microbial world and its capacities could have broad and far reaching implications for environment, health, energy and industrial applications. By studying the genetic material of these organisms, scientists can begin to understand these microbes at a very fundamental level and isolate the genes that give them their unique abilities to survive under extreme conditions.

WASTE CLEANUP
Deinococcus radiodurans is known as the world's toughest bacteria and it is the most radiation resistant organism known. Scientists are interested in this organism because of its potential usefulness in cleaning up waste sites that contain radiation and toxic chemicals.

CLIMATE CHANGE STUDIES
Increasing levels of carbon dioxide emission, mainly through the expanding use of fossil fuels for energy, are thought to contribute to global climate change. One method of doing so is to study the genomes of microbes that use carbon dioxide as their sole carbon source.

ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCES
Scientists are studying the genome of the microbe Chlorobium tepidum which has an unusual capacity for generating energy from light.

BIO-TECHNOLOGY
The archaeon Archaeoglobus fulgidus and the bacterium Thermotoga maritima have potential for practical applications in industry and environmental remediation. These microorganisms thrive in water temperatures above the boiling point and therefore may provide knowledge of heat-stable enzymes suitable for use in industrial processes.

Other industrially useful microbes include, Corynebacterium glutamicum which is of high industrial interest as a research object because it is used by the chemical industry for the biotechnological production of the amino acid lysine.   The substance is employed as a source of protein in animal nutrition. Lysine is one of the essential amino acids in animal nutrition. Biotechnologically produced lysine is added to feed concentrates as a source of protein, and is an alternative to soybeans or meat and bonemeal.

Xanthomonas campestris pv. is grown commercially to produce the exopolysaccharide xanthan gum, which is used as a viscosifying and stabilising agent in many industries. Lactococcus lactis is one of the most important micro-organisms involved in the dairy industry, it is a non-pathogenic rod-shaped bacterium that is critical for manufacturing dairy products like buttermilk, yogurt and cheese. This bacterium, Lactococcus lactis ssp., is also used to prepare pickled vegetables, beer, wine, some breads and sausages and other fermented foods. Researchers anticipate that understanding the physiology and genetic make-up of this bacterium will prove invaluable for food manufacturers as well as the pharmaceutical industry, which is exploring the capacity of L. lactis to serve as a vehicle for delivering drugs.

ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE
Scientists have been examining the genome of Enterococcus faecalis - a leading cause of bacterial infection among hospital patients. They have discovered a virulence region made up of a number of antibiotic-resistant genes that may contribute to the bacterium's transformation from a harmless gut bacteria to a menacing invader. The discovery of the region, known as a pathogenicity island, could provide useful markers for detecting pathogenic strains and help to establish controls to prevent the spread of infection in wards.

THE REALITY OF BIO-WEAPON CREATION
Scientists have recently built the virus poliomyelitis using entirely artificial means. They did this using genomic data available on the Internet and materials from a mail-order chemical supply. The research was financed by the US Department of Defense as part of a bio-warfare response program to prove to the world the reality of bio-weapons. The researchers also hope their work will discourage officials from ever relaxing programs of immunization. This project has been met with very mixed feelings The reality of bio-weapon creation. Scientists have recently built the virus poliomyelitis using entirely artificial means. They did this using genomic data available on the Internet and materials from a mail-order chemical supply.

EVOLUTIONARY STUDIES
The sequencing of genomes from all three domains of life, eukaryota, bacteria and archaea means that evolutionary studies can be performed in a quest to determine the tree of life and the last universal common ancestor.

CROP IMPROVEMENT
Comparative genetics of the plant genomes has shown that the organisation of their genes has remained more conserved over evolutionary time than was previously believed. These findings suggest that information obtained from the model crop systems can be used to suggest improvements to other food crops. At present the complete genomes of Arabidopsis thaliana (water cress) and Oryza sativa (rice) are available.

INSECT RESISTANCE
Genes from Bacillus thuringiensis that can control a number of serious pests have been successfully transferred to cotton, maize and potatoes. This new ability of the plants to resist insect attack means that the amount of insecticides being used can be reduced and hence the nutritional quality of the crops is increased.

IMPROVE NUTRITIONAL QUALITY
Scientists have recently succeeded in transferring genes into rice to increase levels of Vitamin A, iron and other micronutrients. This work could have a profound impact in reducing occurrences of blindness and anaemia caused by deficiencies in Vitamin A and iron respectively. Scientists have inserted a gene from yeast into the tomato, and the result is a plant whose fruit stays longer on the vine and has an extended shelf life.

DEVELOPMENT OF DROUGHT RESISTANCE VARIETIES
Progress has been made in developing cereal varieties that have a greater tolerance for soil alkalinity, free aluminum and iron toxicities. These varieties will allow agriculture to succeed in poorer soil areas, thus adding more land to the global production base. Research is also in progress to produce crop varieties capable of tolerating reduced water conditions.

VETERINARY SCIENCE
Sequencing projects of many farm animals including cows, pigs and sheep are now well under way in the hope that a better understanding of the biology of these organisms will have huge impacts for improving the production and health of livestock and ultimately have benefits for human nutrition.

COMPARATIVE STUDIES

Analyzing and comparing the genetic material of different species is an important method for studying the functions of genes, the mechanisms of inherited diseases and species evolution. Bioinformatics tools can be used to make comparisons between the numbers, locations and biochemical functions of genes in different organisms. Organisms that are suitable for use in experimental research are termed model organisms. They have a number of properties that make them ideal for research purposes including short life spans, rapid reproduction, being easy to handle, inexpensive and they can be manipulated at the genetic level. An example of a human model organism is the mouse. Mouse and human are very closely related (>98%) and for the most part we see a one to one correspondence between genes in the two species. 

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Social Insects & School Children

Life existed on earth for about 2,500 millions years. Primitive man arrived on the earth perhaps a couple of million years ago. Modern man emerged as the dominating species on the earth only about forty thousand years ago. His existence as a farmer and settler is just about ten thousand years alone. In this short span of time and largely in the last two hundred years; which is just a fraction of a second on the evolutionary time scale, he has caused a considerable damage to the rest of the living world.

Nature has existed for millions of years without man.  And probably it can also exist without man. But man cannot exist without nature. He depends on nature for all his needs – food, clothing, and shelter and sustenance. Inter relationships between plants; animals and the environment are there. It is called symbiosis relationship. It maintains the ecological balance.

Towards the progress man has affected the earth several ways – through deforestation, destruction of wildlife and pollution. It leads to ecological imbalance. The present day concerns through for environmental conservation and the problems that we face through depletion of resources and polluting the environment are dramatically exhibited in this section bring to light how these affect the delicate network of nature.

India is very rich in biological diversity with about 75,000 species of animals and 45,000 species of plants. Our country is blessed with vast varied and diverse soil and climatic conditions, which are suitable for the growth of almost every plant & animal species. Presently biology is being taught in schools as subject and emphasis has been given on the only theoretical aspects so that students can understand the basic principle. Very less attention has been given in the practical aspects. Students know the different animals or plants are differentiated with their shape, feature & size. They understand these things from their picture book. Students who live in city, they have no practical knowledge about the nature. If students have got a chance to see the natural habitats of social Insects, their breeding pattern and overall life cycle, then their interest in Nature will be increased and it will be helpful for their further study. Also they will know Nature has given a specific type of creature for a particular geographical location, which on over exploitation gives way to some other creature, which have a low position from the ecological point of view. The threat to this biological diversity due to over exploitation and habitat destruction is a major challenge. So to sensitize the students about the importance of nature and value of biodiversity of our day to day life and grow interest about the nature their active involvement in action programmes is important.

Conservation of natural resources does not mean just preserving wild life and plant at the expense of man. It is a matter of own survival. The four pillars on which conservation stands are

  1. Ethical: - We have the freedom of choice to destroy or preserve –to wipe out a species or to prevent its extinction. It is our moral duty to hold in trust and conserve our natural heritage and pass it on intact to succeeding generations.

  1. Aesthetic: - We enjoy seeing animals and plants. They are beautiful and interesting. Nature is a continuous source of inspiration and infinite pleasure.

  1. Scientific:- Man’s own survival depends upon the nature. He is part of the intricate relationship between living things.

  1. Economic: wild life is a natural resource. It is a source of continuing supply of raw materials.

Society for Environment and Development (SED) is a voluntary organization is committed to protect, preserve, and conserve the environment. Environmental awareness is the basic tool for protection of the environment. Children are the future citizens of the country. Hence, involvement of school children in environmental activity is necessary. So, SED is organising series of Teachers Training Programme on Social Insects & Environment across the northern states of India to motivate them to teach students about conservation of natural resources, which will be helpful for students. So far programmes are organized in Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and Delhi. Many more programmes are in pipeline in other states.

The three day module includes presentation, fieldwork, development of teaching aid, demonstration of natural habitats of Ants, Bees, Termites and Wasps. There are three main objectives:

- - Inculcation of scientific temperament among students through small experimentation on life and behavior of Social Insects

    - Induce social values among children, which is being decreasing in our society, through these small insects


-  - Conservation of Environment in general and biodiversity in particular with developing interest about small creatures of nature.