The Gist of Science Reporter Magazine: May + June 2013

The Gist of
Science Reporter: May + June 2013

Contents

  • 100th Indian Science Congress at Kolkata
  • Recommendations of the Congress
  • Plants Behave a Lot Like Humans!

100th Indian Science Congress at Kolkata

On 3 January 2013, the Prime Minister announced the new
Science, technology and Innovations (STI) policy to a packed audience at the
100th session of the Indian Science Congress held in Kolkata.
The policy seeks to increase applications of research and development through
new methods of public private participation, increase participation of youth in
scientific development of the country and promote the spread of scientific
temper among various sections of the society.

The fourth science policy of the country that is expected to
change the way science education, research and innovation is done in the country
received its fair share of limelight given that it was announced at the
centenary celebrations of the oldest science event in the country, The limelight
gives the public an opportunity of scrutinizing the policy,

Focal Theme Panel Discussion

Announcing the aspirations of the policy to position India
among the top five global scientific powers by the year 2020, the Prime Minister
threw open the panel discussion on what should be done to ensure that science
plays a crucial role in shaping the future of India.

John Beddington, the Chief Scientific advisor of the
Government of UK emphasized that India needs to take steps to deal with climate
change that is likely to affect India severely in the long run, He said that for
doing so, energy security and disaster management were two of the most crucial
Issues that need to be addressed. Elaborating on the steps that need to be taken
to tackle problems like food security in the climate change era, Prof, M.S,
Swaminathan, Emeritus Chairman of MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, pointed
out that new technology is necessary to cope up with the change and robust and
transparent regulatory mechanisms should be set up to evaluate such technologies
and monitor their evolution.

Dr R, Chidambaram, chief scientific advisor to the government
of India, elaborated on the relevance of developing alternative energy sources
to tackle these changes while Dr K, Kasturirangan, member of the planning
commission, highlighted the ambitious nature of the 12th five year plan in this
context, Prof, Samir Brahmachari, Director-General, Council of Scientific and
Industrial Research, stressed that encouraging young leaders in science would
help in generating new ideas that are necessary to solve the complex nature of
problems science Is expected to solve today. While summing up the session MS
Jaipal Reddy, the minister for science and technology, however, pointed out that
given India’s track record in teh 11th plan, it was not very difficult for India
to try and reach the target. He stressed on focusing on development of
innovative ecosystems.
It is with the objective of attracting ryoung talents to develop innovative
ecosystems that the congress deliberated on ways of reforming universities to
shape such talents.

Recommendations of the Congress

The five-day deliberations each year lead to a set of recommendations on that
should be done to improve the role of science in shaping the future of the
country. The list released this year included:

(1) Special efforts to attract talent and develop human resource, encourage
youthful leadership in the science sector,
(2) Readjust governance system of universities to rejuvenate research in the
academic sector,
(3) Link discovery processes to problem solving responsibilities,
(4) New models for international collaborations,
(5) Suitable strategy and roadmap for meeting the challenging needs of food
nutrition, energy, environment, water and sanitation.

The recommendations also included enhancing the public
outreach of science through effective communication with a focus on political
and public understanding of science and the ramifications of new and emerging
technologies of relevance to social problems. The recommendations were discussed
in detail in a session on networking and governance. It emerged that human
resource development and encouraging young leadership in science were the key
areas of concern.

The panel consisting of Dr. T. Ramasami, Secretary,
Department of Science and Technology, Prof. Samir Brahmachari, Director General
of CSIR, Dr. M. Rajeevan, head of India’s monsoon mission, Dr. R.R. Navalgund,
Honourary Vikram Sarabhai Professor at the Indian Space Research Centre at
Bangalore and directors of some of the laboratories of CSIR, discussed steps
like stepping up the national geospatial governance, and more involvement of
interested youth in research at an early stage.

Dr. R.R. Navalgund emphasized that we should not stop only at recommendations
but also prioritize them and design a roadmap of how to materialize such
recommendations.

In 1980, the Department of Science and Technology set up a
task force to take the recommendations of each year’s science congress forward.
It was to involve representatives of the Indian Science Congress Association (ISCA)
and chiefs of different agencies and voluntary organizations chaired by
Secretary, DST, for following up the recommendations on the Focal Theme
introduced by the congress in 1976. However, according to sources the task force
was discontinued later. This year, however, the recommendations indicated an
attempt to resurrect the task force. “A small committee of five may be
constituted to capture the major recommendations emanating from the 100th
session of the Indian science congress in a time bound manner,” it said.

Despite the fact that several eminent scientists have time
and again pointed at certain lacunae in the conduct of the annual sessions of
the Indian Science Congress, yet it still remains the science conference that
the media takes interest in, reflecting that the interest of the common people
in the conference remains undiminished even after 100 years. The congress can
take advantage of this and reorient itself to improve the quality of
deliberations and make it interesting and relevant to the practicing scientist
also. Only then will the initial objective of promoting science with which it
was set up be served.

Plants Behave a Lot Like Humans!

Does the title sound storage to you? Well, let us be clear, it humans carry
their intelligence on their sleeves, plant carry them on the plants has unfolded
a wider spectrum of possibilities.

Rescinding the myth of a passive plant world, the secret
world of plants reveals a landscape pulsing with sex, movement. Communication
and social interaction. This is a world where plants talk. Forage, wage war and
protect their kin; a world where plants behave a lot like us.

Recently, scientists observed how Dandelions reacted to the
passing of a lawn mower. The closer it gets, the more the blossom heads seem to
hunker down closer to the ground. Yet an hour or so later. the stems are again
at full height. Two researchers at the University of Alberta found plants with
similar foraging strategies. These plants get their nutrients from their root
tips and roots produce more tips when they hit a patch of nutrient-rich soil!

Plants engage in activities such as eavesdropping on each
other and can detect chemical compounds released by their neighbours when under
attack from hungry caterpillars so they can marshal their own defences.
While humans are enthralled into amassing money and smothering the fire of their
bellies. plants are dynamic and highly sensitive organisms that actively and
competitively forage for limited resources both above and below the ground. They
accurately compute inputs from the environment, use sophisticated cost-benefit
analysis, and take action to mitigate diverse environmental insults, which
involves the acquisition and processing of information. Informational
terminology assists in the concepts of learning, memory and intelligence in
plants, capabilities that they are rarely credited with.

Plants are also capable of refined recognition of self and
non-self, and are territorial in behaviour. This view portrays plants as
information processing organisms with complex, long-distance communication
systems within their body, which extends into the surrounding ecosystem. Plants
display all the necessary “components” of intelligent behaviour (assuming that
their plastic, flexible development is behaviour). In particular, they surely do
exhibit individual variability and adaptations. Moreover, they continuously
record and evaluate a complex field of external stimuli, forming thereby
something which could be described as an “inner representation” or a “cognitive
map” of the environment, including information about qualitative and
quantitative aspects of light conditions, humidity, temperature and other biotic
and abiotic environmental inputs.

Plants store a wealth of data about their history in the
structure of their bodies. Given the permanent character of cell walls, every
branch and twig holds information about the past. The “memory of winter”
involved in seasonally dependent acquisition of flowering competence (vernalization)
has been traced down to complex epigenetic regulation of the gene encoding a
specific transcription factor (FLC) in Arabidopsis.

Registration for new indian Cattle Breeds

The National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources, Karnal (NBAGR)
is the nodal agency for the registration of newly identified germplasm of the
livestock and poultry of the country. For the first time, indigenous pig and
donkey breeds have been registered by NBAGR. The Breed Registration Committee
has approved registration of nine new breeds of livestock species.

Newly identified breeds are custom-made for the local climate and thrive
better in adverse environmental conditions and food shortage. Indigenous breeds
also have exclusive characters like disease resistance, better quality of milk
and meat etc. The newly registered breeds are:

Malnad Gidda: Malnad Gidda cattle breed is native of Western Ghats in
Karnataka.

The word gidda denotes dwarf and Malnad denotes a place
receiving high rainfall. This breed is distributed predominantly in Malnad areas
of Shimoga, Hassan, Chikmangalur and adjacent coastal districts of Mangalore,
Udupi, North Kanara and parts of Kodagu district of Karnataka. The animals are
small in size with a compact body frame weighing 80-120 kg. The animals are
active and resistant to major diseases such as foot and mouth disease. This
breed yields 0.5 to 4 litres of milk per day with a fat content of 5.5 to 8
percent. The animals remain in milking for about 250 days in a year. The average
lifespan of an adult animal is 9-12 years.
Kalahandi buffaloes: Medium sized, very hardy, dual type breed, well known for
longevity, these buffaloes are seen in the Gajapati district and parts of Ganjam
and Rayagada district in Orissa, and also the adjoining hilly regions of Andhra
Pradesh. Besides the use of this buffalo for milk and draft purpose, the horns
are used in making handicrafts and household items. These buffaloes are known
for their working ability and disease resistance in the native tract. Male
buffaloes weigh up to 380 kg and females 350 kg.

Puliculam cattle: The Pulikulam breed or Jallikkattu breed of
cattle is found in Madurai, Sivaganga, Virudhunagar, Theni and also the Cum bum
valley and the Periyar River. Compact with stout legs and hard feet, the animals
have powerful loins, shoulders and neck, useful for doing hard work. This breed
is more resistant to communicable and parasitic diseases as compared to
crossbreds under hot and wet conditions. Famous for their high endurance levels,
they are commonly used in the hugely popular Jallikattu (bull taming) sport in
South Madurai during Pongal. About 45,000 of the animals exist now and are
maintained as migrating herds. Kosali cattle: Kosali is small sized, draft
purpose cattle breed of Chhattisgarh. Farmers prefer bullocks of this breed for
cleaning of weeds from paddy field. Animals are known for their efficient
working ability and high resistance to disease.

Konkan Kanyal goat: Konkal Kanyal goat is meat type breed
adapted to high rainfall and the hot and humid climate of Konkan region in
Maharashtra. Animals have typical white bands on black face and black ear with
white margin. Adult males weigh 40-45 kg and adult females weigh 32-35 kg.

Konkan Kanyal goat

Berari goat: Found in Nagpur and Wardha district of
Maharashtra and Ninar district of Madhya Pradesh. Berari goat is also reared
mainly for meat purpose in Vidarbh region of Maharashtra. These are tall and
dark coloured breeds. A unique feature is that animals have light to dark strips
on lateral sides from horn base to nostrils of face. Doe yields about 0.6 litres
of milk per day.

Ghungroo pig: Ghungroo an indigenous strain of pig first
reported from North Bengal. It is popular among the local people because of its
ability to sustain in low input system. Faster growth rate, consumers preference
and adaptability to low management are some of the excellent characteristics
exhibited by this breed. This breed produces high quality pork utilizing
agricultural by-products and kitchen wastes. Ghungroo pigs are mostly black
coloured with typical bulldog face appearance, with a litter size of six to
twelve. Both sexes are very much docile and easy to handle.

Niang megha: Niang Megha is a pig breed from Garo, Khasi and
Jaintia hills of Meghalaya, reared for its pork and hair. The animals have
typical wild look with erect hairs on dorsal midline and small erect ears
extended vertically.

Spiti donkey: Spiti donkey is found in Lahaul and Spiti
region of Himachal Pradesh. The breed is utilized for transportation at high
altitude area with low levels of environmental oxygen. These animals can survive
well in scarcity of feed and fodder during harsh winter months when the area is
completely snow-bound.

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