SCIENCE TRIBUNE Thursday, May 24, 2001, Chandigarh, India

Wonders of biotechnology
Neelam Vir and Arshia Bhandari
OW nice it would be if your favourite fruit mango were available throughout the year and that too with all the nutrients needed to lead a healthy life. If the diseases we inherit, even the deadly ones like cancer and AIDS which do not have a lasting cure, could be cured simply by removing the defective genes of our system.

  • Forensic potential

  • Industrial potential

  • Dangers too

Worldspace services in India
Radhakrishna Rao
HE Washington based satellite major, WorldSpace, founded in 1990 by Noah Samara with the goal of creating information affluence in the regions of the world that have experienced dearth of information leading to a poor development, is planning to offer Indian corporate houses ownership of the private audio channels transmitted by the Asiastar satellite.

Computers do not help children learn
CHOOLS across Asia are buying computers and connecting to the Internet in a breathless pursuit of technology. In some kindergartens and day care centres, preschoolers are placed in front of computers to learn the basics in school education. Some supermarkets even sell kids’ computers that teach mathematics and language for children.



Wonders of biotechnology
Neelam Vir and Arshia Bhandari

HOW nice it would be if your favourite fruit mango were available throughout the year and that too with all the nutrients needed to lead a healthy life. If the diseases we inherit, even the deadly ones like cancer and AIDS which do not have a lasting cure, could be cured simply by removing the defective genes of our system. You choose your child’s eye colour, height, body build, intelligence, nature etc. say Arnold’s body, Einstein’s brain. M.K. Gandhi’s tolerance etc. Like to become taller even at 25? No problem. Just a change of genes. How about our neighbouring planet Mars to be your favourite holiday spot and your best companion is an independent aneroid with its own thinking and decision power?

Is this a dream ! No, with biotechnology at hand, we are all set to play god. Biotechnology/genetic engineering holds the potential to make this dream a stark reality. It is the scientific manipulation of living organisms for human benefit. Biotechnological advances in agriculture may contribute to emergence of high yielding disease resistant crop plants with superior nutritional value. Genetically modified (GM) plants are specially created for endowing them with useful traits not existing in the natural counterparts. Many GM plants such as herbicide tolerant strain of corn and mildew resistant potato has revolutionalised agriculture sector due to tremendous increase in crop yields. Similarly producing vaccine in bananas or vitamin A in rice is easily feasible thanks to GM crop. Foodstuffs derived from GM plants may in future bring health benefits to its consumers like those with enhanced nutrition or having reduced fat or sugar content.

Plant biotech can help ensure less environment degradation, less corrosion, less chemical use per crop yield, less fuel consumption for machinery and new integrated pest management system. So, biotechnology is an environmentally sound approach. In a farming technology it doesn’t discriminate between small and big farmers, as it provides inbuilt crop protection against insects and pests and increases farmers’ income and reduces risks.

Biotechnology is not limited to agricultural improvement and environmental stability. Rather it stores in its ambit a multi-dimentional potential ranging from forensic system, pharmaceuticals and industrial production to human health. The human genetic code deciphered recently is a monumental achievement that opens a dramatic new frontier in medicine. It is in a way the nature’s genetic instruction manual for making and maintaining human beings. Man has now caught glimpse of an instruction book previously known only to God. Thus future holds great promise. We will move on from genomics to proteomics i.e. analysis of every protein in human body. Each protein is a potential target for drugs, so as many proteins as many drugs. Genes of depression, delinquent behaviour, cancer and limitless other diseases have been identified. It’s not far when these ailments will have a certain and easy cure. Further advances may well usher in a stage when a child’s weight, height, eye colour or disposition, intelligence and nature will become parents choice. Menopause runs the risk of being vanquished. Death too will lose its sting. Just like sperm banking human eggs soon could be farmed, banked and used when required. All those women who are likely to develop ovarian tumours or cancer may opt for egg farming to bypass potential risks. It is not impossible, that in near future women will choose to bank their eggs to preserve their freshness rather than risk pregnancy with an aged egg prone to genetic defects. The advent of DNA vaccines can do wonders in the field of medicine.

Deadly diseases like AIDS, cancer, malaria, leprosy, hepatitis B and C may no longer haunt human beings. DNA vaccines may prove to be much better than the common vaccines as the former carry the least risk of infection. The crux of designing a DNA vaccine is to inject into human body the specific genes of a pathogen. This prompts the defence machinery to attack pathogens if it invades the body. After human genome — mouse genome is being sequenced with final mapping done, our empowerment against tyranny of genes would be that much more. We will not live our tomorrow under the threat of microbes. Mapping of microbial genome, molecular level insights into the host — microbe interaction is not far off.

Forensic potential

Biotechnology has given us a lot of empowerment against criminals too. It is possible to tag products with markers and celebrities already have been using inks with DNA markers to give their autographs to prevent forgery cases.

The applications of biotech are so wide and advantages so forceful, that virtually every industry is using the technology, including pharmaceuticals, textiles, aquaculture, chemicals household products manufacturing, environmental cleanup, food processing and forensics.

Industrial potential

Today microbes are employed to produce chemicals that are currently difficult or too costly to make. A new branch of biotech called bionics is emerging fast. It aims at integrating human living memory cells with non-living computer chips. Bioinformatics is another offshoot which is the process of developing software for studying the human genes.

The myriad prospects of biotechnology are even more far reaching than that of similar microchip.

Dangers too

But in midst of great benefits, there exist some dangers too if the technology is not used judiciously.

People in Europe and America are already expressing fears about genetically modified crops. Too much tinkering with genes could well produce a Frankenstein which the human race may find difficult to control. It is difficult to say how realistic such fears are, but the possibility of research going haywire certainly exists, either through errors or by design of mad dictators. Already scientists are experimenting growing human organs in rats and pigs and even trying to clone headless humans in order to farm them for organs that could be used for transplantation. Certain diseases could break the animal barrier and get embedded in the human system. AIDS is one such disease. It had existed for years among certain monkeys and has broken the barrier to reside in human beings.

The world is already worried about the biological warfare weapons that have allegedly been developed by certain countries. Once human genome is known, it might be possible to re-engineer the pathogens that the human body cannot resist. This kind of warfare may lead to mass destruction at a much larger scale to the extent that it may engulf the whole humanity in one go.

Ethically the fears of the human cloning also loom large. But now scientists are planning to give it a try.



Worldspace services in India
Radhakrishna Rao

THE Washington based satellite major, WorldSpace, founded in 1990 by Noah Samara with the goal of creating information affluence in the regions of the world that have experienced dearth of information leading to a poor development, is planning to offer Indian corporate houses ownership of the private audio channels transmitted by the Asiastar satellite. The strategy is that through these channels, the corporates can relay their programmes or market intelligence reports to their distributors or customers. On another front, WorldSpace has tied up with Catvision, one of the largest cable based players in India to relay audio digital programmes of the satellite major to the individual houses in the country. Further, WorldSpace has also offered to Indian universities and educational institutions a programme to support distance education by making available a variety of educational contents through its satellite channels. As part of its commitment to societal improvement, WorldSpace will relay a weather information to fishermen plying in the Arabian sea along the Gujarat coast of India. As many as 100 fishing boats fitted with the specially made receivers will receive weather information interspersed with Hindi and Gujarati songs.

According to Mathewkutty Sebastian, Director of Business Development for WorldSpace operations in India, the corporate groups or even individuals in India can relay programmes to their closed user groups. This can be carried out through the encryption of the channels. He also revealed that most parts of India are covered by the 35-plus channels service of the WorldSpace. Essentially, the digital audio programmes transmitted through Asiastar satellite positioned over the Indian Ocean are received by the Indian listeners. With the help of receivers featuring flat antennas and using tiny chipsets that consist of two micro integrated circuits that process the satellite transmission. The receivers can be powered by a direct electrical connections or by batteries.

As envisaged now, the digital audio broadcasting service of WorldSpace will cover most parts of Asia, including China, Thailand and Malaysia, over the next two year. The high fidelity, CD quality channels of WorldSpace provide information, entertainment and education. As pointed out by Sebastian, "Over the next two years, we hope to sell half a million receivers across the Asian continent." He says that the L-band frequency of 1452-MHz to 1492 MHz used by WorldSpace Satellites is highly stable and is not susceptible to atmospheric fluctuations. He claims that WorldSpace is the only company with the global reach to provide such a service which deftly combines advances in satellite technology and digital transmission techniques.

"We are delighted with the diversity of broadcasts that we have been able to offer to our listeners" says Samara "this validates our long held belief that a critical need exists for high quality programming that reaches a much wider geographic audience than with today’s conventional analog radio system. Ultimately our programming partners may be able to reach as many as one billion people through the broadcast system."

Significantly, WorldSpace started its digital broadcasting service with the launch of a multilingual service across the African continent in Oct 1999. The range of channel covering Africa are made available through the Afristar satellite launched in 1998. While the Asiastar satellite covering India and most parts of Asia was launched in 2000, the Ameristar satellite designed to cover Caribbean and Latin America is expected to be launched before the end of this year. Each of these satellite has three beams capable of delivering more than 50 channels of crystal-clear audio and multimedia channels. Each of these satellite, built by Alcatel Espace in tieup with Matra Marconi Space, covers an enormous territory of 14-million

Incidentally, WorldSpace had its genesis in the idea of using direct audio broadcasting satellites to promote the campaign against AIDS in Africa. Soon, the idea was expanded towards delivering information-rich programmes that could help end ignorance, despair and hopelessness pervading most parts of the third world.

Sebastian drives home the point that the WorldSpace service in India is directed towards providing Indian listeners a boquet of choices — from pop and rock music to old Hindi songs. For the first time CD quality programmes from across the world are being brought to the Indian listeners. He said that there is a proposal to relay music and songs through handsets. Yet another WorldSpace plan aims to make available "multimedia infotainment" series to the Indian consumers on 128-kpbs digital dataport. The WorldSpace multimedia services to be made available against subscription will provide users the additional capacity to download large, media rich content files which are otherwise difficult and expensive to acquire.

A ground station on the outskirts of the South Indian hill city of Bangalore, set up and managed by Antrix Corp, the commercial arm of the Indian space programme tracks and monitors the health status of Asiastar which is uplinked from Singapore.



Computers do not help children learn

SCHOOLS across Asia are buying computers and connecting to the Internet in a breathless pursuit of technology. In some kindergartens and day care centres, preschoolers are placed in front of computers to learn the basics in school education. Some supermarkets even sell kids’ computers that teach mathematics and language for children. And there is a nationwide push to get computers into our homes. Do computers benefit young children? Do they enhance education for older children? What do children gain and lose with computers in their lives? The answers may well surprise you.

Most parents buy a child a computer because they believe it is both educational and a help in "getting ahead" for a technological future. Unfortunately, neither of these is necessarily true.

Computers do not help young children learn. In fact, too much monitor screen time at a young age may actually undermine the development of the critical skills that children need to become successful in life.

Early computer use may also dampen a child’s creativity and imagination, motivation, attention spans, and the desire to preserve. This is the warning that is being sounded by a growing number of educators, child development experts and doctors worldwide.

Last September, an international child advocacy organisation, the Alliance for Childhood (, issued a statement calling for a moratorium on the further introduction of computers in early childhood and elementary education in the US —except for special cases of students with certain disabilities.

The Alliance — a group of more than 75 educators, child-development and health authorities — also released a groundbreaking 104-page report, "Fool’s Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood". The report documents how computers pose serious risks to young children’s physical, emotional and intellectual development. They have also issued a petition, asking that schools hold off on buying new equipment, and have called on the US Surgeon-General to prepare a comprehensive report on the physical, emotional, and other developmental hazards that computers pose to children. The report warned of social isolation, obesity, eye strain, and repetitive stress injuries among the young (described as "a time bomb waiting to go off").

Are computers that detrimental to children? The evidence is compelling. More and more studies are showing that computers can affect children’s physical, emotional, social, moral and intellectual development.

Here are six ways in which computers affect children:

1. Computers are the most sophisticated thinking tools ever designed. With computers, children don’t need to think so hard. All they have to do is learn to navigate the software by responding to the screen in some way. This may lead them to simply guess at answers, without thinking the questions through, just to manipulate the software.

According to educational experts, much of the educational software for young children is of the rote-learning type. A US report says that "at least 755 (76%) of children’s ‘education’ software shouldn’t go home at any price."

2. Before the advent of IT, students were taught cursive writing skills. Some educators believe the act of writing letters of the alphabet — with its special relationships — may help students learn to spell and understand the meaning of words.

Spelling in turn goes hand in hand with reading. Children who type on a keyboard don’t need to learn how to spell as computer spell checkers take care of that for them. They are thus undermining an important skill in life. Having machines do the thinking for children also limits their intelligence.

3. The time spent with computers may distract children from directly communicating with one another, face to face, weaving together the rich variety of spoken and unspoken cues such interactions encourage. This, literacy experts warn, may place children at risk of language delays.

Too few chances for such communication, if extended throughout childhood, may permanently limit children’s ability to express themselves in speech or in writing, to understand fully what they read, and even to understand themselves and to think logically and analytically.

4. Success in school requires children to pay attention in a focused way and to develop their memories and listening skills.

It is hypothesised that the multiple options of many software programmes and the endless chains of links the Internet provides make it tough for a child to keep her mind focused on a particular subject or task.

5. The speed and seeming ease of use of the computer has led to growing number of children with decreased frustration tolerance (or a lack of patience).

They are children who are unable to cope with the slightest of frustrations, and lash out aggressively. They are demanding impatient, disrespectful of authority, even contemptuous of their peers, unemphatic and easily "wounded".

6. Despite their touted abilities to create virtual communities, computers are physically anti-social. They tell children it’s OK to sit by themselves, rather, than seek out other people for physical interaction and shared play.

Computers users have been noted to be reticent, less inclined to take the small risks that build competence and creativity and more likely to have trouble negotiating the politics of the playground. TWNF




Two-in-one earth mover

It’s machine and comfort put together. The power of a highly efficient earthmover and the fast transit speed of the Land Rover are combined in this new vehicle that puts men and machine on sites cheaper and faster than conventional tractor-based excavators. The Beaver D270 Backhoe has been specially designed for the Land Rover chassis, to provide a tough, go-anywhere unit for public utility, construction, fire brigade, police, military and agricultural operators.

A wide range of attachments — powered from the Land Rover’s own petrol or diesel engine — gives the unit great versatility. These include buckets for trenching and back-filliing, free lifting and ditch clearing and a hole borer for installing telegraph poles and motorway barrier supports. There are also special profile buckets and a boom-mounted road breaker.

The Backhoe has an operating area of 180 degrees, plus a further 90 degrees to stow the digging arm in a secure transit position on the load platform behind the cab. Digging depth is 2.10 metres, loading height is 2.75 metres and reach is 3.20 metres of ground level reducing to 1.50 metres, at maximum depth. The Backhoe weighs 665 kilos, which is approximately half the Land Rover’s payload.

Good visibility and joystick controls contribute to the operator’s safety and comfort. Fully independent hydraulics allow the Backhoe to be retro-fitted on the customer’s own vehicle if required. The system incorporates safety, pressure relief and check valves, full flow filtration and a high capacity reservoir to keep maintenance to the minimum. (NF)

Micro-chips that work faster

A new technology which gives entangled particles or photons a higher resolution than light focused through a lens, has enabled production of micro-chips that work faster.

Called quantum lithography, the technique discovered at Bangor University, Wales in collaboration with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, United States, gives entangled particles or photons a higher resolution than light focused through a lens, making them work as a collective.

Micro-chips are produced by etching with light. Between the chip and light source, a mask prevents illumination on certain areas. The exposed areas are removed with chemicals resulting in a circuit, a report in British Commercial News said.

Since the 19th century it has been known that the size of the smallest features that can be seen with light is about half a wavelength of the illumination used. As a consequence circuits as small as that only can be created.

Quantum lithography changes all that. It dictates that every particle has corresponding wave properties. The more energetic the particle, the shorter its wavelength. By shortening the wavelengths, the photons operate much faster. PTI

Pipe rack inspection system

Scientists have developed new scanners that overcome traditional problems associated with inspecting pipe racks.

Racks of pipes can be difficult to inspect as the pipes are often close together, with as little as 50 mm of space between each one. They are usually inspected manually because of the difficulty in creating automated scanners to fit this space — the disadvantage being that this allows no permanent record of the inspection.

Where automated devices have been produced they have tended to be magnetic scanners, which cannot operate on the non-ferrous pipes used in the nuclear industry, or rely on a ring system, an inflexible metal belt which encircles the pipe racks and is difficult to fit or adjust to racks of different, a report in Insight said.

The two scanners — Beltscan and Beltman — provide permanent and accurate record of pipe rack inspections. Devised by Phoenix Inspection Systems, the scanners are attached to the pipes by an adjustable belt which can jet pipes ranging in diameter from 80 mm to 2000 mm.

They travel around the circumference of the pipe by means of rubber wheels and can operate in confined spaces with a clearance of 50 mm.

Beltscan, the motorised version, and Beltman, the manual version, can carry up to four probes. High temperature versions are being developed. Interchangeable magnetic wheels are also available and make the units adaptable for flat plates. PTI

Cheaper welding on offshore platforms

Researchers have developed a new welding system that allows welding to be carried out safely on an oil/gas production platform while it continues to operate.

The new system, Welhab modular habitat, creates a safe and clean air environment for carrying out all forms of hot work during repair and maintenance in hazardous areas or exposed locations in inclement weather.

The revenue-saving demountable enclosure, which incorporates proprietary fire-resisting insulated panelling using standard profiles, saves operators the expense of shutting down production, a report in British Commercial News has said.

Welhab, originally conceived and developed over a decade ago by James Siken does away with extending the normal maintenance period or bringing in extra maintenance crews to complete on time.

Each component can pass through the smallest of apertures enabling use in otherwise inacessible areas such as inside platform legs or around pipes, and habitats can be erected and in operation in less than two days’ working time. PTI




1. "Physics brought me closer to God", said this Austria-born US physicist. Name this winner of the 1944 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the spectra of atomic nuclei who is also known for his contribution to the peaceful uses of atomic energy.

2. What is the condition called when blood flow to the brain is impaired because of a clot in one or more of the arteries supplying blood to the brain?

3. These three-eyed reptiles resemble lizards. They develop very slowly and attain their full length of about half a metre at the age of 25-30 years. They appeared about 220 million years ago and are often called "living fossils". Which are these animals that live on several off-shore islands?

4. Some Hindus consider this tree as a plant of Lord Shiva and use its leaves and bark in "pooja" and "havan". The palish brown pulp of its spherically shaped ripe fruit is sticky and sweet and has good medicinal value. What is the common name of this tree the scientific name of which is aegle marmelos?

5. The Department of Telecom in India will soon introduce in some big cities a communication network using ATM which involves speeds in Gigabits per second. What does ATM stand for?

6. This compound of lead, a colourless liquid insoluble in water but soluble in petroleum, is used in petrol to reduce knocking in the engines of vehicles. But its use results in the emission of hazardous lead compounds in the atmosphere. Which is this compound that is being decreasingly used now?

7. What is a security device called that places a protective "wall" around a computer or a network of computers?

8. An animal whose body temperature does not change as the temperature of its surrounding changes is called homeothermic or endothermic or warm-blooded. What is an animal called whose body temperature changes with change in the temperature of the surroundings?

9. Which instrument is used for copying and scaling drawings? Who invented it and in which year?

10. Name the first space tourist of the world. By which spacecraft did he go into space and where did he spend about a week?


1. Isidor Isaac Rabi 2. Thrombotic infarction 3. Tautra 4. Bael or bil 5. Asynchronus Transfer Mode 6. Lead tetraethyl 7. Firewall 8. Poinkilothermic or ectothermic or cold-blooded 9.Pantograph; German astronomer Christoph Scheiner in 1615 10. American Dennis Tito; Russian Soyuz TM-32 rocket; in International Space Station.