Sunday, January 26, 2014

Psychotherapy for Plankton

Psychotherapy for Plankton

The scene: A diatom is out of its oceanic habitat and on a couch, talking to a therapist. The diatom is stressed. It can’t ever seem to get enough nutrients. And it’s feeling underappreciated ... 

Diatom: People just don’t seem to understand. Without me and all the other phytoplankton producing oxygen via photosynthesis, people wouldn’t have half the oxygen they need to breathe!  We’re also the base of the ocean food chain that supports the fish they eat, and all the carbon dioxide I take up from the air to make into my body would still be in the atmosphere, making the earth heat up. Why can’t they see how important I am?
Therapist: I’m hearing that you feel undervalued. Why do you think it is that people don’t understand?
Diatom: I suppose it’s because I’m so small. They can’t see me without a microscope, so I might as well not exist! But that’s not my main problem. I can go on fine without humans knowing how much they depend on me. The thing that’s really getting me down is all this stress I’m under. 
Therapist: Tell me what you mean. What’s causing this stress?
Diatom: Well, it’s a bit of a long story. I’ll start from the beginning. Since I do photosynthesis for a living, sunlight is my energy, and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is my sustenance. But in order to grow, I need other ingredients, too, like nitrogen, iron, and vitamins. I use these ingredients in a specific ratio, just like a recipe. So, for example, even if there is plenty of nitrogen around in the ocean, unless there is also enough iron, I can’t grow. Whatever runs out first— that’s called a "limiting nutrient."
Therapist: I see. Why this is causing you such stress right now?
Diatom: So, I live in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica. The waters there have plenty of nitrogen for me to use, but there is almost never enough iron to go around. I have to compete with other phytoplankton for my iron, and I also have to compete with bacteria. It’s particularly annoying that I have to share this scarce resource with the bacteria, because the way theyget by in life is only through exploiting the carbon that we phytoplanktonmake for them. It just seems unfair!
Therapist: Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds to me like there’s more to this story.
Diatom: Uh, I suppose. My relationship with those bacteria—well, it’s complicated. Even though they take that scarce iron from me when I need it most, I just can’t live without them. When the bacteria grow and die, they release vitamin B12 into the water. I need that B12 to grow. And just like iron, it’s in short supply relative to the other ingredients I need. Without enough of those bacteria growing, I can’t get enough vitamin B12. Without enough iron or B12, I get really stressed! It’s just a bad cycle.
Therapist: It seems almost like sibling rivalry. You and the bacteria are dependent on each other, but at the same time, you’re also competing with each other for iron. That’s quite a delicately balanced relationship you have to negotiate there in the Southern Ocean. What are some strategies you use to try to cope with this stress?
Diatom: Life really gets difficult for me when I start to get starved for iron or vitamin B12. First, I try harder to get these missing nutrients. I make more of proteins that I use to find and transport the iron or vitamin from the seawater into my cell. I also make more of the proteins that I need to move the iron or vitamin around inside my cell. This way, as soon as I find the nutrients I need, I’m ready to use them. 
Therapist:  These seem like good strategies. But what happens if they don’t work?
Diatom: Well, I try to get by with less of whatever I’m feeling starved for. Sometimes I can substitute some other nutrient for the scarce ones, but this doesn’t always work very well. I just can’t work as efficiently when I’m starved, but I can make do and grow more slowly for a while. If supplies of these nutrients are too low, I just won’t survive. You can see why this is causing me such anxiety.
Therapist: Yes, your reaction seems perfectly natural. Let’s try to think of ways to manage this stress.  Are there any ways you could predict what nutrients you are going to be starved for?
Diatom:  Well, I’m not sure. I know that oceanographers are looking into this, too. They want to know what nutrients starve me and the other phytoplankton. But they don’t seem much better than me at predicting which nutrients are limiting how much we can grow. Until a couple of years ago, the scientists weren’t even sure we could be limited by the lack of vitamin B12!
Therapist: That’s interesting. Go on.
Diatom: One way scientists find out about what controls our growth is to take some of us out of the ocean, put us in bottles, add different nutrients, and watch to see which make us grow faster. This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, because I know that being in a bottle can make us plankton respond to nutrients differently than we do growing in the ocean. There just has to be a better way.
Therapist: Yes, yes. But I’m afraid we are out of time; let’s pick this up again next session.
The following week.
Therapist: I did some research after last week’s session and found something that may help. It seems that some scientists are actually finding new ways to learn about what starves you phytoplankton. Really. The way they are doing this is by looking closely at changes in the way you grow when you are starved for specific nutrients, particularly vitamin B12. They are just learning how to measure those coping strategies you told me about last week. They have developed new technologies that allow them to detect and measure the proteins that organisms make when they are grown under different conditions. 
Diatom: Are you saying that ocean scientists think they can tell when we phytoplankton feel starved for B12 just by watching what kinds of proteins we make? They actually are interested enough in phytoplankton to make new methods to do this?
Therapist: That’s right. When the scientists grew some of you in the laboratory, they noticed that there were a few proteins that you make moreof when you are starved for the vitamin, but not when you are starved for other nutrients. They call these proteins “B12-starvation indicator proteins.” 
Diatom: They come up with fancy names, those scientists. If only they could learn how to measure those—what did they call them, B12 … starvation indicator proteins?—if only they could measure them in the ocean instead of just in the lab! If they did, they could figure out what controls all the patterns and processes that lead to us getting starved for vitamin B12. I’d sure love to know that. Then I could be prepared for the stress.  That would make life so much easier!
Therapist: I know that they are doing their best. In order to use these measurements to learn about what stresses you, the scientists will need to measure these proteins from within a very complex mixture of many thousands or even millions of other proteins in the ocean, and they must also be sure they understand why you make this protein. They are getting closer!
Diatom: Wow, that’s great news. I feel a little better already. It’s comforting to think that those scientists aren’t overlooking me and care so much about me and my stress!
This research was supported by National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship and an Environmental Protection Agency STAR Fellowship, the WHOI Ocean Ventures Fund, the NSF Ocean Sciences Division and Office of Polar Programs, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
About the author: Erin Bertrand has worked to measure nutrient stress in diatoms in Mak Saito’s lab in the WHOI Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry Department, as part of her research for her Ph.D. from the MIT/ WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography. She  has been interested in how the availability of metals in the environment affects microscopic organisms ever since she started conducting research as an undergraduate at Bates College. When she is not growing diatoms, extracting proteins, taking samples of phytoplankton in Antarctica, or running the mass spectrometer, she likes to hike or run in the woods, listen to live music, or cook something new for her friends and family. Her mentor on this article was Heather Goldstone, a science journalist for WCAI radio (and a graduate of the MIT/WHOI Joint Program).
By Erin Bertrand
MIT/WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography
Marine Chemistry & Geochemistry Dept.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sampath Kumar wins award for Rechargeable Alkaline Zinc Battery

Sampath Kumar wins award for Rechargeable Alkaline Zinc Battery

Technology Refinement and Marketing Programme (TREMAP)
List of Final Stage Selection of Patents for
National Award to Commercializable Patents 2013-14

Sl. No.Patent Title
Name of Patent Holder
Patent Title No.
A nanosized electrochemical dispersion for rechargeable alkaline zinc batteries Sh. Thothathri Sampath Kumar 246506 

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Massive Algal Blooms In The Gulf Of Oman Are Stunningly Beautiful From Spac e

The Massive Algal Blooms In The Gulf Of Oman Are Stunningly Beautiful From Space

Several of the world's largest desalination plants sit along the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Every year, they deliver 115 billion gallons of potable water to more than 550,000 people in Dubai alone. But the plants have had to slow or shut down production more frequently over the past decade because of an unexpected disturbance: massive algal blooms in the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf.
The algae, known as red tide, clog pipes and filters at the plants. For warning of an approaching bloom, local authorities now consult data from a European Space Agency project, which began in 2012. When a passing satellite captures an image of an algal bloom (and software scans for the algae's chlorophyll, represented by the intensity of redness), officials alert plant managers, who then have a few days to decide how to adjust water production.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Power of Shunya - Times Now, India

Nualgi is featured on The Power of Shunya program on Times Now channel, a promo is available on Youtube - 

The program will be aired on Times Now on November 16th, Saturday at 5.30 pm and November 17th, Sunday at 9.30 am and 6.30 pm.

We will post the link to the full video when it becomes available on Times Now website - 

How can diatom technology clean up our water bodies and provide a lifeline for marine life?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Toxic algae out break in 2013 fooled U.S. experts

Toxic algae out break in 2013 fooled U.S. experts

Western Lake Erie’s 2013 toxic algae outbreak was worse than expected, fooling the most advanced scientific prediction model the federal government has developed and covering more of the lake’s open water than any of the recent outbreaks except the 2011 record.
The University of Toledo’s top algae researcher, Tom Bridgeman, an associate professor of environmental science and a researcher at UT’s Lake Erie Center, presented a graphic that reflected that information at the UT College of Law’s 13th annual Great Lakes water-law conference on Friday.
The graphic showed this year’s bloom — while not a record-setter — went well beyond the Lake Erie islands and fanned out across more of the lake than expected. It didn’t get past Cleveland and penetrate the lake’s central basin as did the 2011 outbreak.
“The 2013 bloom was second only to 2011 in the open water,” Mr. Bridgeman told nearly 300 people who attended the seminar.
Another noteworthy feature of this year’s bloom: It was so dense along Lake Erie’s southern shoreline that a lot of it spent extended time underneath the water instead of on its surface.
High winds mixed it deep into the water. The lake’s predominant form of toxic algae, microcystis, tends to bubble up and float to the surface as it releases gases. But the mat was so thick that the weight of it kept a lot of the algae deep under water, Mr. Bridgeman said.
That helps explain why the water-treatment plant in Ottawa County’s Carroll Township, which serves 2,000 people, became so overwhelmed by the algae’s toxin, microcystin, that superintendent Henry Biggert took the unprecedented action of shutting it down. Mr. Biggert had service switched over temporarily in September to the system that serves the Port Clinton area.
That was the first time in Ohio history that a Lake Erie water-treatment plant was taken offline because of algae.
The Toledo water-treatment plant, northwest Ohio’s largest and most sophisticated, was able to neutralize the algae. But plant operators there also noticed higher-than-normal spikes and ended up getting $1 million more in emergency funds from Toledo City Council to ward off the threat.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, using a newly developed scientific model, accurately predicted the 2013 bloom would be “significant,” but did not anticipate it being as bad as it was.
“They got close, but they underestimated what the bloom actually was,” Mr. Bridgeman said.
In a 110-page report planned for release later this month, a state task force trying to reduce western Lake Erie’s toxic algae will call for a 40 percent reduction in all forms of phosphorus entering northwest Ohio waterways.
The Ohio Phosphorus Task Force’s report, an update to its initial 2010 study, could affect farmers, sewage plant operators, large land-based businesses such as golf courses, and homeowners — anyone who uses or manages large amounts of fertilizers.
State and federal legislators are expected to use the task force recommendations when deciding whether to expand existing laws or adopt new ones.
Efforts could include a stronger focus on mixing nutrients in farm soil to reduce agricultural runoff into waterways, tighter controls on animal manure — including a ban on winter application — and an effort to fix sewage overflows faster.
The recommendations have been anticipated for months. They were made public by Mr. Bridgeman at the conference.
Mr. Bridgeman said the state task force chairman, Ohio Lake Erie Commission Executive Director Gail Hesse, gave him permission to release an excerpt of the report.
The seminar included discussions of similar algae problems in other parts of America, such as Florida, the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Cheasapeake Bay.
“In Florida, we focus on the public-health threat,” said Monica Reimer, a Tallahassee lawyer employed by Earthjustice, one of the nation’s largest environmental law groups. “It’s not good enough to say fish are dead. Algae’s a public health threat.”
She said dozens of manatees died in the state in 2013 because they ingested toxic algae.
Emily Collins, an Ohio native who teaches at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, likened the Cheasapeake Bay’s ecology to that of the Great Lakes.
She said people don’t realize how long it can take a system to recover once it’s been fouled: The full benefit of a 2009 executive order to clean the Cheasapeake, signed by President Obama shortly after he entered the White House, could take 20 to 40 years beyond the target date of 2025 for many of the pollution controls, Ms. Collins said.
Former Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Chris Korleski, who leads the U.S. EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office in Chicago, was the keynote speaker. He said the task of restoring the Great Lakes will take decades, even with $1.3 billion allocated under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative since 2010 to address issues such as algae and other forms of pollution, as well as invasive species.
Climate change complicates restoration efforts, Mr. Korleski said, noting that scientists now believe the greatest factor for algae is the amount of rain that falls between March 1 and June 30.
“Storms don’t feel like they did when I was a kid. They just don’t. And I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon,” Mr. Korleski said.
“My prediction,” he added, “is we will continue to wrestle with this [algae] issue, we will continue to talk, and — over time — we will make progress.”

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Skeletal chains could help algae deliver drugs

Skeletal chains could help algae deliver drugs

Skeletons of single-celled algae have been modified while they are still alive to incorporate molecular chains that can harness chemical cargo. The algal bodies are then dissolved away so that their remains can be used to deliver drugs or clean up contaminated water.
The microscopic algae known as diatoms are supported by skeletons made of silica that are about 10 micrometres across. Each species grows intricate innards that yield a range of shapes, from barrels to stars and doughnuts. Tiny folds and crevices give diatom skeletons a much larger surface area than simple spheres or other nanoscale capsules, making them an ideal choice for drug delivery.
Previous work created artificial casts of the skeletons, usually made from biodegradable polymers, by coating the skeleton and then washing away the biological components. But modifying these casts to reliably carry drugs and other molecules has been a challenge, because the method requires harsh organic solvents applied in completely dry conditions that can be costly and time consuming to use. Now Abhay Pandit of the National University of Ireland, Galway, and his colleagues have found a way to make living diatoms incorporate thiols – sulphur-bearing molecular chains – directly into their skeletons as they grow, meaning their casts can carry drugs without having to be treated first.
"This is the first piece of a big puzzle to functionalise diatoms without disturbing the design of their intricate architecture in a substantial way," says Pandit.

Purifying algae

The team grew the diatom species Thalassiosira weissflogii in a nutrient-rich solution at room temperature and exposed it to a light-dark cycle that mimicked a natural day. They added thiol compounds to the growth solution multiple times over eight days, which allowed the algae to take up the molecules as they grew. Thiol-rich diatoms were then treated to make polymer casts. The chains remained attached to the casts even after the rest of the diatom's structure was dissolved away.
Molecular cargo such as drugs could be attached to the chains hanging from the cast's inner wall or outer surface. This would help deliver substances to parts of the body in medical treatments, says Pandit. Thiol chains can also bind with heavy metals so, in future, diatoms with more porous structures could be used for nanoscale water purification, he says.
Nils Kröger at the Dresden University of Technology in Germany is not convinced that modifying live diatoms will prove to be more efficient than growing thiols on casts of their skeletons. But he thinks figuring out the best approach will lead to myriad applications for chain-wielding diatoms.
"Having thiols exposed on the surface of diatoms opens the doors for introducing a host of biomolecules including enzymes, receptors and drugs," he says.
Journal reference: Nature CommunicationsDOI: 10.1038/ncomms3683

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A crash course in septic systems and how they’re damaging the environment

A crash course in septic systems and how they’re damaging the environment


Even if you have a septic system in your backyard, your waste ends up in the same place as everybody else’s.  The key difference is that waste flowing to a wastewater treatment plant is more likely to be treated using biological nutrient removal (BNR) technology that dramatically reduces the amount of nitrogen before discharging into a receiving waterbody (source).  Your local wastewater treatment plant is also more likely to be routinely inspected and maintained than your neighbor’s septic system because there are laws that require it.
As for Governor O’Malley’s proposed ban on septic systems in new large housing developments, he’s facing some stern opposition from rural counties and building associations.  Prospectors who have been holding on to agricultural land in the hope of one day selling it to a developer for big bucks are waking up to find their ship may have already sailed.  New residential developments in the middle of nowhere aren’t possible without septic systems.  New growth may actually be focused in existing service districts, otherwise known as Maryland’s Smart Growth areas.  I thought it was funny today when a woman on WYPR (local NPR affiliate) referred to Smart Growth as something the state tried 15 years ago.  Actually, we’ve been trying it every year since; it’s just experienced very marginal success.  A septic system ban would be a huge step in the right direction.