[Prelims Spotlight] Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

1.Why India wants to study human microbiome

Background

  1. From November 19 to 22, Pune hosted an international conference on microbiome research- a field of study that is still in its infancy in India.
  2. That could be set to change, with a proposed project that would study and map the human microbiome across the country.

What is human microbiome?

  1. The human body carries diverse communities of microorganisms, which are mainly bacterial. These are referred to as “human microbiome”.
  2. These organisms play a key role in many aspects of host physiology, ranging from metabolism of otherwise complex indigestible carbohydrates and fats to producing essential vitamins.
  3. Not all microbiomes are harmful. They help maintaining immune systems and acts as a first line of defense against pathogens.

Scope for Research

  1. Research on the human microbiome has thrown light on various aspects how different parts of the human body are occupied by characteristic microbial communities.
  2. It throws light on how various factors contribute in shaping the composition of the microbiome, including the genetics, dietary habits, age, geographic location and ethnicity.
  3. These studies laid a strong foundation to decipher the microbiome’s implications on health and a wide range of diseases.

Indian Microbiomes are Unique

  1. Scientists at NCSS have conducted a meta-analysis on intestinal microbiota (community of commensal, symbiotic and pathogenic microorganisms) of healthy Indian individuals and compared it with that of individuals from other parts of the world.
  2. It shows that the Indian population harbours a distinct gut microbial community, which, scientists calls for an in-depth investigation of the Indian microbiome.

2.A universal flu vaccine identified

Potential vaccine for flu

  1. Scientists have identified a potential universal influenza vaccine that could protect people against most strains of the virus
  2. The candidate vaccine elicited a strong antibody response to a structure on the surface of flu viruses, called the hemagglutinin (HA) stalk
  3. It has the potential to be developed into a universal flu vaccine, which — unlike the current seasonal flu vaccines — could be given a few times over a lifetime to provide protection potentially similar to a tetanus vaccine.

3.Hybrid pixel detector technology (Medipix3)

The next wave in medical imaging

  1. The hybrid pixel detector technology which the Large Hadron Collider used to track accelerated particles has been used to produce the first three-dimensional colour images of the human body
  2. A chip of the Medipix family developed by CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, has been used to take colour see-through images of body parts which are a generation ahead of the currently available technology

Current technologies and their shortcomings

  1. The traditional radiological practices are complementary
  2. Techniques based on X-rays suffer from the deficit that they can sharply visualise only hard tissues
  3. The shadows of soft tissues are less precise
  4. Blood vessels and other conduits are imaged with invasive dyes
  5. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides a slightly different picture, based on the difference in water and fat content in tissues
  6. Positron emission tomography (PET) finds widest use in oncology

New Technology and its advantages

  1. The Medipix3 promises a single solution superior to its predecessors
  2. Using algorithms to model very accurate spectroscopic data in three dimensions, it shows all tissues with equal clarity, in colour
  3. In the case of a fracture, for instance, not only would it show physical damage to a bone — which is what an X-ray depicts — but it would also reveal trauma to surrounding tissue and reveal if blood and nerve supply is compromised
  4. Also, it would depict structures exactly as they are, and not all of us are built exactly the same
  5. In the near future, when medical care will be customised to the individual, this exactitude would make a difference to the efficacy of care
  6. If a complete image of a human were taken by a future iteration of this technology, it might even be possible to 3D print a lost limb or a malfunctioning organ
  7. Researchers have already used Medipix to image cancerous tissue, bones and joints and the blood supply to the heart.

 

4.Rajasthan institute comes up with new sheep insemination technique

New insemination technique for sheep

  1. Scientists at the Central Sheep and Wool Research Institute (CSWRI), Avikanagar, have come up with a new laparascope-assisted insemination technique for sheep

Why important?

  1. The new technique has resolved the difficulties involved in freezing of semen and inability to transit the tortuous reproductive tract of the ruminant mammals kept as livestock
  2. The success with frozen semen in the sheep was earlier very low because of its poor freezability

How can the new technique help?

  1. The new technique would help achieve up to 60% survival in the birth of lambs and would have an immense potential for rapid multiplication of elite germplasm
  2. As many as 40 females can be inseminated from a single ejaculate using the technique
  3. The new technique’s invention would be of great help in the breed improvement programmes.

5.IIT-Roorkee scientists develop app to monitor patients at risk of heart failure

Mobile app for monitoring Heart Failure

  1. IIT Roorkee have developed a mobile app that can remotely monitor patients at risk of heart failure and provide them with medical assistance
  2. Name of the app: ‘Dhadkan’ 

Particulars of the app

  1. It can automatically send notifications to both the doctor and the patient, in case of any drastic changes in patient’s data indicating possibility of imminent heart failure
  2. The mobile app has been designed to be ‘easy-to-use’ so that people in rural areas can also benefit
  3. The app also provides for two-way communication between doctors and patient
  4. In addition, patients have the freedom to send ECG reports to the doctor if needed

Working

  1. It collects patient’s data (at any desired interval) on blood pressure, heart rate, and weight, and transmits it to the authorized caregiver (a doctor, nurse or paramedic) who is linked to the patient during the initial registration

6.Scientists report previously-unrecognised anatomical structure in the human body

 

Connective tissue proteins discovered

  1. Researchers have reported a previously unrecognised structure in the human body which may have implications in the mechanisms of major diseases
  2. The study reveals that layers below the skin’s surface, which were long thought to be dense, connective tissues are instead interconnected, fluid-filled compartments
  3. This series of spaces, supported by a meshwork of strong (collagen) and flexible (elastin) connective tissue proteins, may act like shock absorbers that keep tissues from tearing as organs, muscles, and vessels squeeze, pump, and pulse as part of daily function

How is this new find helpful?

  1. These anatomic structures may be important in cancer metastasis, oedema, fibrosis, and mechanical functioning of many or all tissues and organs
  2. This finding has potential to drive dramatic advances in medicine, including the possibility that the direct sampling of interstitial fluid may become a powerful diagnostic tool.

7.In Haryana, the making of an Indian brain template

Database of brain images

  1. A group of scientists is preparing a one-of-its-kind database of brain images that, when compiled together, could result in a so-called Indian Brain Template (IBT)
  2. The research is being carried out at National Brain Research Centre (NBRC)

Usefulness of IBT

  1. It will serve as a guide to neuroscientists and surgeons, who have so far based their knowledge of intricate brain anatomy on Caucasian models
  2. Scientists will be looking out for the quantity of a molecule called glutathione, an antioxidant known to help repair cell damage
  3. Reduced glutathione concentrations in the parietal cortical region — near the back of the brain near where the skull bulges — may help predict Alzheimer’s disease.

8.Electricity from soil bacteria and reading lights from plants

Generating electricity from plants and microbes

  1. A group of researchers at the Wageningen University in the Netherlands has hit upon a method that generates electricity from living plants and the microbes
  2. These microbes live beneath plants in the soil, where the plants drop their roots

Plant microbial fuel cells

  1. The plant does photosynthesis, using sunlight, water, and atmospheric carbon dioxide, generating food in the form of carbohydrates and oxygen for our breathing
  2. The microbes in the soil use some of this organic material coming out of the plants into the ground, metabolize them and, in the process, generate carbon dioxide and hydrogen ions and electrons
  3. While the plant above the ground does photochemistry, the bacteria beneath do electrochemistry, generating positive and negative ions
  4. Scientists have placed positive and negative electrodes in appropriate positions and obtained an electric current, just as we do with batteries
  5. This method of producing electricity is through what is termed as plant microbial fuel cells (PMFC)

Advantages

  1. The method is completely natural and environment-friendly
  2. It needs no externally added material and is part of a cyclic process in nature

Making plants glow

  1. A firefly glows because it has an enzyme that converts a molecule called luciferin into oxyluciferin, and the energy released in this reaction comes out in the form of visible light
  2. The enzyme is called luciferase
  3. Plants do not have luciferin or luciferase
  4. If we can somehow inject into a plant luciferin and luciferase, perhaps the plant too will emit light
  5. The technology of nanoparticles is being experimented to do this

 

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