Evolution: Bacteria gain advantageous mutations under simulated microgravity



Bacteria grown for an extended period of time under simulated microgravity adopt growth advantages. George Fox and colleagues from the University of Houston, Texas, USA, cultured Escherichia coli bacteria for 1000 generations in a high aspect rotating vessel to simulate the low fluid shear microgravity environment encountered during spaceflight. They then performed growth competition assays and found that the 1000-generation adapted bacteria outcompeted control bacteria grown without simulated microgravity. Genomic sequencing of the adapted bacteria revealed 16 mutations, five of which altered protein sequences. These DNA changes likely explain the growth advantage of the bacteria grown for multiple generations in simulated microgravity. Similar adaptations during prolonged space missions could result in nastier pathogens that might threaten the health of astronauts. Fortunately, the microbes did not appear to acquire antibiotic resistance over the 1000 generation in the modeled microgravity culture.

Human Trafficking= Modern Day Slavery==PLEASE SHARE!!!!

Rachel Dawn

traff2I want to shed some light on an issue that most are unaware of. In some cases we just don’t want to see it. Today over 27,000,000 women and children are being enslaved and sold on the black market for sex. This happens all over the world…including your backyard. it happens in the most obvious of places and the girls are taken from open locations such as malls and the sidewalks when they are walking alone.

Definition= Sex trafficking is the exploitation of a person for commercial sexual activity through force, fraud or coercion. Victims of sex trafficking are often forced to engage in prostitution, exotic dancing, or pornography. Children who are exploited for sex are also considered a trafficking victim, even if there is no evident force or coercion. They don’t know better and they are not given a choice.

~~~~~~There are a few different ways this begins. If…

View original post 518 more words

Mark Waugh – the Peter Pan of modern cricket heroes !!


Mark Waugh !

The most elegant, graceful cricketer I have had the honor of watching play.

His laidback nonchalantly charming strokeplay, combined with his stunning reflexes as a fielder, made it worthwhile to wake up 3AM to watch games on Channel 9 beamed from Australia.

Believe me watching Mark Waugh’s game was love at first sight!

A tribute –  Sublime artistry inspired me to write this article !

Random reflections: Mark Waugh – the Peter Pan of modern batting heroes

“It is the mark of an instructed mind to rest easy with the degree of precision, which the nature of the subject permits, and not to seek exactness where only an approximation of the truth is possible.” – Aristotle, 384-322 BC.

Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’, composer Maurice Jarre’s ‘Laras Theme’ for ‘Dr.Zhivago’, John Williams’s ‘Love across the stars’ theme for ‘Star Wars’, and then there is Mark Waugh’s one hundred and ten runs, scored against New Zealand, at Chennai, India on the 11th of March 1996.

If the fictitious TIME MACHINE were to have jumped straight out of the timeless classic (going by the same title) written by H.G. Wells, and were to have been used by Aristotle to travel forth to his futuristic Chennai, India, circa March, 1996, and having done so, if Aristotle had witnessed the one day cricket game between Australia and New Zealand, at the M.A.Chinnaswamy Stadium, Chepauk, he would have probably patted himself in glee.

An artist by the name of Mark Waugh weaved a masterpiece on the green canvas, with the 22 yards of the cricket pitch serving as his centrestage, and by doing so, perhaps echoed the above words of Aristotle.

For someone like yours truly, whose interests in cricket were being slowly drubbed by the mindless slogs, slaughters, swishes and bludgeoning, that epitomised modern one day cricket batsmen, watching that innings live, rekindled that light, spirit, which in its minimalistic form, is often referred to as interest, love, and passion, not essentially in that order.

And Mark Waugh’s approach to batting, making it look so breathtakingly simple yet make it look equally attractive, was a classic example of minimalism of that art called batting, carrying with it a generous dose of aesthetics that should be seen to be believed.

The stage was set when New Zealand amassed 268 runs on a wicket which was playing true – during that innings, one Mr.Chris Harris played a knock of 125 plus, a feat which was to become the one lonely peak in his batting career.

The tall, younger twin of the other Waugh (whose batting style from Mark ‘Magician’ Waugh is as different as chalk is from cheese), walked in with a gait that was a cross between that of a Russian ballet dancer, and that of Clint Eastwood’s “The man with no name” from the Spaghetti Western movies, to open the innings with Mark Taylor.

 Australia lost wickets at regular intervals, and in between, Shane Warne promoted up the order played a cameo, thumping a couple of sixers off the spinners.

 To say that Mark Waugh at the other end, was holding fort would be inappropriate – inappropriate for the simple reason that ‘holding fort’ is a phrase often used to define the grit, tenacity, pugnacity of an Allan Border, a Steve Waugh or a Graham Thorpe, or their likes. Here, the younger Waugh might have as well been taking a stroll on the Marina Beach just a few kms away from the stadium!

 With an almost inconspicuous batting presence at the other end, without the aura of a flamboyant, swashbuckling one day batsman, Mark Waugh was landing one stroke after another with the finesse of an artiste from Renaissance Europe.

One particular square cut (No, other batsmen play the square cut, when Mark plays it, it is a Square-kiss of the ball!) off Shane Thompson, dissected the gap between point and gully and perhaps it was because the shot making was so seductively charming, the fielders decided to watch the ball cross the boundary ropes, rather than chase it!

 Such was the laid back nature of his innings that we were all witness to, that no one noticed Mark crossing his 50, and his reaching his hundred was applauded by a 40,000 plus capacity crowd with the muted ring of those hypnotised by a magician’s snap of the fingers!  

Fewer people even applauded when Australia scored the winning run – for, that evening, as the stars shined down on Chepauk, a sublime artist conjured up an innings, the end of which brought sighs of yearning for more of that beauty, from a capacity Chennai crowd, which was perhaps what Adonis must have felt for Aphrodite! And as the crowd dissipated from the stadium, a pleasant evening breeze from the Marina settled in.

And yes, that night, we all slept peacefully, contentedly, with dreams of angels, mermaids and dancing auroras on the horizons!


Alistair Maclean – taking one classic at a time “PUPPET ON A CHAIN”

“Puppet on a chain” – Paul Sherman, an Interpol Narcotics Bureau agent, visits Amsterdam / Netherlands to bust a heroin smuggling ring – he is accompanied by two assistants Maggie and Belinda.

Let us see how Maclean describes Paul’s working relationship with Maggie: “Maggie and I were fond of each other and had been for years, an almost essential qualification where a momentary loss of mutual faith and interdependence could have consequences of an unpleasant and permanent nature: but we weren’t, so far as I knew, too fond of each other, for that could have been equally disastrous” !

Or take this about the way a doorman is described : “..recrossing the street, Paul nodded to the doorman: with the masonic legerdemain known only to doormen, the doorman materialized a taxi out of nowhere…”
and describes Amsterdam thus : “The broad highway directly beneath me — and about seventy feet beneath me — appeared to be inextricably jammed with clanging tram-cars, hooting vehicles and hundreds upon hundreds of motor-scooters and bicycles, all of whose drivers appeared to be bent on instant suicide. It appeared inconceivable that any of those two-wheeled gladiators could reasonably expect any insurance policy covering a life expectancy of more than five minutes, but they appeared to regard their imminent demise with an insouciant bravado which never fails to astonish the newcomer to Amsterdam. As an afterthought, I hoped that if anyone was going to fall or be pushed from the balcony it wasn’t going to be me.”

It is thus Maclean sets the tone so elegantly, smoothly and inimitably as only he can !


A nostalgic ODE to the writing prowess of Alistair Maclean

While wondering where my passion for the English language became complete, I happened to recall two of my favorite books “Puppet on a chain” and “The way to dusty death” by Alistair Maclean.

His other books were all equally delightful – Ice Station Zebra and Night Without End are two books that send shivers down my spine, with their breathtakingly detailed vivid portrayal of valor in the harshest conditions of the Arctic/Greenland.

I grew up reading / gobbling up the books of Alistair Maclean – by far, the BEST / GREATEST EVER writer of wartime / espionage fiction, period, hands down, no arguments.

His central characters were almost always, rugged, unimpressive – ordinary looking guys, with a delightful self-deprecatory humor – mind you these are not the (James) Bond type caricatures from the 1980s (alas, epitomized by Sir. Roger Moore) – they almost always get beaten/bashed up, often barely hanging to life by a thin thread, and then come back to just barely manage to survive in the end.

And his protagonists were ruggedly chivalrous with even the chivalry tinged with self-deprecatory humor!

I recall a classic ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’ penned by Baroness Emma Orczy that was centered around the French Revolution, in which a secret dark hero who is known as the Scarlet Pimpernel plays a major role in helping the poor and downtrodden of the French society during the Revolution – during the daytime, he is the moronic husband of an aristocratic lady who hates him to the core!

I suspect Maclean’s protagonists were loosely / obliquely based on the Scarlet Pimpernel persona! (as were Bruce Wayne and Zorro!)

In any event, such a rich, diverse spectrum of thriller novels are a must for anyone who loves espionage thrillers.

Tall tail tale – it happens only in New Orleans !

Only in New Orleans!

Sometime late November, 2012 – in front of a famous bar/pub with live jazz music, on Bourbon street, around 10PM or so.

A huge horse (some kind of a thoroughbred) with a huge cop on it, trotting along, suddenly stopped and with the slightest spread of its hind legs, began to empty its bladder !

The effect was nothing as dramatic as what would happen if a B-52, or Godzilla was sighted in the sky – but, it was still something that would perhaps fit in perfectly in a movie like Borat, or any of Mel Brooks or Mike Myers’ films.

The prospect of the embrace of the horse’s bladder contents on all those in the immediate vicinity of the horse was imminent!

Love-lorn couples sauntering along the sidewalks totally lost in themselves, shabby old men talking to either themselves or to the lamp posts on the street, or visitors gawking around at anything and everything such as yours truely  – everyone ran helter-skelter to take cover from the urea laden fountain pouring forth from the horse’s rear, splashing on the ashpalt with relentless ease and mercilessly splattering on everyone in the radius of 5-8 feet ! boy what a sight! 

Only in New Orleans!

An unusually inspiring person !

Yesterday, I met up with a very inspiring person – someone from another era, another time – 85 year old Mr. Harry Lee Mc Ginnis !!

Why inspiring ? :

1. Mr. Mc Ginnis served in the American army during the Second World War, busting up the Nazis and Mussolini’s army and actually took part in the liberation of Dachau, the first concentration camp established in Germany !

2. He continued to serve in the Army in missions to Okinawa and later Korea.

3. He was nicknamed the HAWK, after his unique ability to spot camouflages during an attack

4. After his stint with the Army, he led an adventurous life doing all kinds of jobs , before realizing his twin dreams of walking the continental United States as well as the whole world, when he was well past 60 years of age!!

5. The man is strong and fit for his age – and his knowledge deep and varied!

6. For well over 25-30 years, his home was nothing more than a tent, sleeping and living under the stars!

It was so inspiring to meet him – and my love of the outdoors has intensified to a great extent!

Here is his website : http://hawkwalk.com/index.html

from his website : “If you do not have a dream in your pocket, run, don’t walk, and find yourself a dream to become and be.”

ah! powerful words!

“I would suggest for all those who are feeling sorry for themselves. Please visit a Veterans’ or a Chiderns’ ward and see the incurables. Enough said.” 

“Remember every ending holds within a new beginning. The marriage of these two can connect all the dots.”

“Life is a ‘walk’ down many unknown roads. Some smooth others a little bumpy. A few are under construction with detour signs ahead. If we are fortunate enough, we will walk many roads leading to many destinations. Learning along the way that the journey in most cases is more important than the destinations. And just maybe there will be a very long, long, long road winding its’ way homeward bound. And we will arrive warm and well in the winter months of our lives. And hopefully look forward to the wonders of a new spring, a new beginning, a new journey.” !!

What an unusually inspiring way to end the day !

Zimmerman trial – few random thoughts.

By all means, the closest I would consider myself in terms of ideological leanings, particularly when it comes to certain issues, I guess I can be bracketed as a non-interventionist libertarian.

How could this situation have turned out/shaped up, if Zimmerman made a set of choices vastly different than what he actually did ?

1. instead of getting out of his car, if he had honked his car horn a few times – long enough to attract attention from the neighborhood, even as he called the cops again ?

2. could he have called up his neighbors to warn about a suspicious looking kid in the neighborhood ?

3. could such a line of action have prevented a situation wherein he had to confront the kid, and instead allowed the cops to intervene ?

4. why did he have to resort to approaching the kid himself? of course he was legally entitled to do so, but in (painful) hindsight, could not he have simply avoided getting out of his car ?

Perhaps, then, the situation would have panned out much differently than how it actually happened.

Zimmerman’s acquittal has brought out the ugly contours of the deeply polarized American mindset of recent times – liberals and conservatives throwing muck at each other – when everyone ought to be sitting down and deeply contemplating the situation and probable solution – its sad and tragic.

This issue IMHO goes way beyond class, race, etc. Its about choices people make – even in the most direst circumstances – how could Zimmerman have avoided this ?

He has been acquitted – beyond all the cries and noises from all quarters, years down the line, can he make peace with himself ? there cannot be a worser punishment for a person than being weighed down by guilt – the scores of people back from Vietnam and Iraq suffering from PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) bear testimony to this.

This is not about black, or white, or brown, or whatever; this is not about gun laws or legalities surrounding a person’s right to follow a suspicious person in a neighborhood – this is about sensibility.

Maybe am far from knowing exactly what happened, but more than outrage, only a profound sense of sadness remains

My own “The Way back” – survival at high altitude !

A story of survival at 11000 feet in the Rocky Mountain National Park

27th May 2013 – a memorable unforgettable day for me – a day of intense struggle and survival against all odds!

It began with me and a friend beginning the hike from 9000 plus feet at the Longs Peak Trailhead in the Rocky Mountains National Park, with the destination being Chasm Lake (11,760) – half way through, my hiking partners decided to return to the base, since they had work to do @ Estes Park – and I chose to continue on with other hikers headed to either Chasm Lake or further up to Longs Peak (the tallest peak in the Rocky Mountain National Park and the 15th highest Fourteener in Colorado).

Having reached Chasm Lake and spending an hour there it was time to turn around by 4PM – further up to Longs Peak would have required crampons, and overnight camping for an early morning start.

On the way back, the trail was easily discernible up to a certain point – a mile from the Chasm Lake, just above the tree line, there were several large patches of trail completely covered up by the snow, and only the tracks made by other hikers guided me.  Just above the tree line were two particularly large patches of snow, which had tracks all over them and eventually led to a dead end – the trail could not be found beyond the second large patch of snow. 

As if that were not enough, a quick snow shower lasting 20 minutes compounded my problem further.

Having already done some very strenuous hiking of 4 plus miles above 10,000 feet with much less oxygen than at lower elevations, I had no choice but to go back to the T-junction (where the trail goes towards Chasm lake on the left, and to the Battle mountain on the right) – from this point the trail downhill towards the Longs peak trailhead was clear up to half a mile or so, before the snow patches begin covering up the trail completely.

Absolutely desolate landscape, with heavy winds, and the prospect of another storm, forced me to keep moving in search of the trail, even as the Sun was going down.

After going back up and down the trail trying to locate where it was, and failing to do so, under the gathering dusk and the temperature rapidly plummeting down, legs craving for a rest, eyes drooping for sleep and the water and extra clothing in the backpack on the shoulders a burden, I was exhausted beyond words.

The only thing that kept me going was sheer will power plus the gathering thunderclouds forcing occasional adrenalin surges.

There were a few occasions where I had to give in to 5 min of sleep on rocks not covered by the snow, before moving on.

Once the trail was not be found, the risk of going down using only my compass was too high, since off-trail routes often end up in steep cliffs and the snow below the tree line can be deceptively powdery – plus the bears and mountain lions that are not the vegetarian type!

I do like them, mountain lions and bears – make no mistake about it – but I was not entirely sure if their likes prowling the mountainside that day thought the same of me and I must confess am not skilled enough in lion-bear linguistics to find out from them either.

My only options at that point of time were to hike back up to Chasm Lake (2.5 miles from where I was at that point of time) and take refuge with a few who have camped there, or, hunker down in a portable restroom a mile before the Chasm Lake – I know portable restrooms may not smell much like lavender or jasmine, but at least it would have given me some protection from the wind.

The Sun went down quickly, and a 200 yard treacherous winding and steep part of the trail loomed ahead – my legs by then had gone past exhaustion and I was thinking with a clarity that even surprised me!

Not wishing to risk the 1 mile to the portable restroom either (its hazardous going up the snow covered path even in the daylight), I was forced to resort to another option.

I began looking for a rock formation that gave shelter from above in case there was a thunderstorm for protection from lightning, which is the main killer above the tree line. Eventually found a few of those, and chose the one closest to the visible part of the trail. By then, the initial sense of isolation, or the apprehension about the bears/mountain lions went away to be replaced by a profound need for sleep/rest – the temperature was then below 30 deg F.

The next concern was to avoid hypothermia – my feet were wet thanks to soggy socks from the snow – huddled inside the makeshift stone cave, I replaced the soggy socks with a fresh pair, the few minutes of exposure numbingly painful to the feet.

I then used up every bit of cloth I had in my backpack to cover myself, and then adding chunks of snow to my camelbak hydration reservoir – more than food, water is a primary need, since dehydration at those elevations often is more dangerous than hunger.

Using a piece of rock as a pillow, I forced myself into a fetal position – temperature by now was going down even further and before I knew it, I was asleep  – the mini rock shelter was not exactly a Holiday Inn suite but not bad at 11500 ft. on a mountain side –  the body just could not take the 6 hours of hike at that elevation and temperature.

The towering peaks of Mt. Washington, and the Longs and Meeker peaks and the brilliantly star-lit sky (the sky had cleared by then) – nothing romantic about any of that – they might look that way in movies/books, but not when you are looking at them from under a rock at 22 deg F and 11500 ft. !

Close to two hrs. of sleep interspersed with wakefulness when I hear first telltale sounds of tiny creatures (most likely marmots and pikas) scurrying around me and then drifting back to sleep – and then faint sounds of human voices in the remote distance – dismissing them as hallucination/imagination, or just a frozen cold-induced dream.  Another 30 minutes pass and I hear the sound again that sounded like my name from the distance!

Fully awake now with a rush of adrenalin, ignoring the biting wind/cold, I get up, cup my hands around my eyes to look into the distance and notice a pair of tiniest lights bobbing up and down in the far distance somewhere down below in the trees – from my vantage point high above the tree line, it was as eerie and ethereal as it was thrilling.

My hiking partner, who had returned back to Estes Park earlier and with whom I had planned to have met with later on, had decided to come looking for me (along with her brother) hiking up the mountain at half past 10PM in that heavily snow clad trail !

The next hour or so was spent with me guiding them (my cellphone battery had died) based on the location of their lights, towards me – me cupping my hands to shout out to them and vice-versa. In an hour or so, they were with me.

We trudged back to the Longs Peak trailhead with only sheer will pushing me on – and by the time I hit the bed, I was so tired that I was fully awake and the deep slumber would come the next evening.

I might have most likely survived that night all by myself – maybe thoroughly starved by next morning, or, might have lost a few fingers to hypothermia (it wasn’t cold enough to get frostbite) – or in some remote way, I might have died – that’s a different thing altogether.

But, besides having learnt the hard way not to risk hiking after noon, there were other more important lessons I learnt :

1. It was truly a humbling experience !

2. What mattered to me is the fact that I found within me, an incredible amount of strength to not give up even when faced with obstacles – temperatures plummeting down by the hour and the chances of finding a safe place to sleep for the night totally gone – there were times, I was walking half asleep from total exhaustion and yet as if an automatic switch was on inside me, I kept pushing myself on and on.

 3.     There were many instances, where I had to think like how I would at my workplace / lab, or, on the cricket field, when faced with limited options and backup plans, or, in the swimming pool, when the body tries to trick you into getting out when only half the targeted no of laps have been done for the day – these I think and realize are very important – to think out of the box, and on your feet and to believe in yourselves.

 4.  Never panic or at least do your best NOT to panic – panicking takes away the ability to focus and think out a solution – even if it means some little bit of extra time is consumed, it helps to breath, focus and move on – there was one stretch of 10-15 min, when I almost panicked – panic leads to a sense of despair and self-defeat and loss of self-worth – the moment I got rid of the panicking, my thinking got clearer.

 5.    Never ever give up! there is immense strength deep within us that just has not been tested or tapped  – all my years of playing  cricket, swimming, biking, problem-solving at work, helped me that day.

And of course, the thought/gesture from my friends (Stephane and Sean) who came looking for me – something I will never forget the rest of my life – they are the newest additions to my family.

Perhaps what makes this experience so significant is that the same year, at least a dozen people died on the same route, and the year before and after several people died as well. My luck was definitely more than just random.

Slam dunk !

Within a span of a month, two of our papers were accepted and published as well! some cause to celebrate even as more work looms ahead!

the genome analysis of the extremely radiation-resistant spore producing Bacillus species, isolated from spacecraft assembly facility – with implications to planetary protection as well as defining the limits of ‘earth’ life.

For those interested in some science, here are the links for the same – the first one is open access, while the next one might become open access a few months down the line:

1. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0066012 (PMID:23799069)

2. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00792-013-0559-z (PMID:23812891)

Within two weeks of the publications’ release/availability, I received an email from a magazine focusing on Space research suggesting a potential collaboration for a series of up to 4 articles, that introduces our research and its potential ramifications – directed towards a general audience, without deep technical knowledge.

Received the green signal from our collaborators and now to work on the same – one article every month, beginning August, 2013.

The challenge is up – to hone my science communication / writing skills further – how to push creativity in writing to get as many people interested as possible ?! especially given that there are tons of writers/bloggers everywhere ? 

I will know over the next few months.