Pending discussions

I wish I didn’t have to write this post, as this post starts just where all fairy tales end or die. I am from India and every morning reading newspaper is shocking and too disturbing, because somewhere in the country at least a child is getting raped. Rape was not an easily uttered word by a regular Indian, but in December 2012 a brutal gang rape of a student in Delhi broke that inhibition overnight. Recently it seems like an epidemic. I must mention, this is the India so severely dangerous since around 2010 and more specifically after the spread of smartphones in India. So what might be the connection between them? If we have not forgotten, in 2013 Indian lawyer Kamlesh Vaswani (and the only person so far) filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court to ban all porn websites in India, as he believes that the ever-increasing sexual crimes on children and women are happening due to easy access to online pornographic contents. But he received least support from the public and eventually government had to revoke the ban on 800 websites, they did in response to his appeal. The case is still pending and Vaswani’s claim is becoming relevant day by day. I want to salute this guy for raising this step just. While many are viewing his case as a threat to open internet, eventually this case will lead to many discussions on how open and uncensored contents of internet can threaten a country’s culture and its most vulnerable population including children and younger ones.

Censorship is a huge issue before releasing films publicly in India to protect communal and religious harmony mainly. Films with sexual content are marked before release to ensure the viewership above 18 years of age. Ironically viewing pornography except child pornography is legal in India like many other countries. And online pornography with explicit and violent sexual contents are mostly open and accessible to all. This reflects our penny wise and pound foolish practice regarding censorship. However, any kind of film or visual stuff could have the same effect on the viewer. One can get an idea about ‘pornography and censorship’ at Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy revised till 2012. The young generation is the major user of internet these days and bound to visit these sites at some point of their internet surfing. Pornography before and after internet has heaven and hell difference. The content of this sites are poorly regulated and I don’t know if there is any regulation at all. But it has become a huge industry worldwide. However, the social effect of  pornographic contents is least discussed because of inhibition, ignorance and indifference I assume. After every horrendous crime people from all walks of life are expressing their concern to punish the culprits without delay.

Today Government of India has approved to give death penalty for raping children below 12 years of age, in response to the huge public demand asking for justice and strict law and order to stop these unbelievable crimes. But we know this is a major step but is not enough at all. Finding the root of this sudden outbreak of sexual offenses is equally important. We will not believe India changed overnight without any reason. Yes, strict prosecution will maintain some control, but punishment alone can’t cure this social problem. The points raised by Vaswani in 2013 has been viewed by many as naive and frivolous but at least he spoke up, standing at shameful 2018 nobody has still started to discuss this serious concern even. I don’t know why we are still silent when hellish contents of virtual world are affecting children and women of real world. This is just as important and urgent as is protecting our environment. We feel great and powerful in presence of almighty internet. But just as they say with great powers come great responsibility, if we don’t use this power carefully, don’t maintain any regulation, we could lose our capital, our culture and people.

I want to end this post with a question that why in a civilized world, the making and sharing of obscene contents, derogatory to men and women will be allowed in the name of pornography. I know there is no straight answer to this but there is always scope for candid conversations. I have started the same with my friends and family who are equally disturbed but don’t know what to do actually. Please get rid off all inhibitions and speak up! We have a lot of discussions pending.

Jacklate

Now what the hell is that?? Imagine something close to chocolate, but made from jackfruit seeds instead of cacao seeds. I thought that, it should be better addressed as ‘Jacklate’! And I am not daydreaming. Recently a team of researchers from Brazil has discovered that, flours made from fermented seeds of local jackfruits can yield flavors resembling caramel, hazelnut or fruity aromas. Not only that, they also have identified specific chemicals associated with chocolaty aroma from the flour. It seems in this world nothing is indispensable. That’s a great relief. Especially when chocolate industry is experiencing growing demand for cacao seeds which can’t bear the load alone. In many parts of the world, jackfruit grows abundantly and even wasted because of that. Along with the large fruit unripe or ripe, the seeds are also eaten roasted following boiling. Have you eaten that? They are tasty like nuts and go well with curries and rice. I like the jackfruit seeds but don’t eat the ripe jackfruit itself, because of its strong sweet smell which is distracting for many like me. Who guessed that the subtle sweet flavor of the seeds could be metamorphosed into such a delicacy. The discovery is awesome. I found this news really shareable.

My post published outside wordpress

Wish you all a happy new year just as you wish!

Don’t be afraid about the not so happy picture below! Everything is fine, just check the clock (which one!) if it is really on time to avoid nightmares. My first post on picturesque Nautilus, the different kind of science magazine, as well as my first jargon free science writing endeavor (outside wordpress) is trying to say something about that. In the process, I learned a lot, both about the topic I wrote about and science writing in real life. I have embedded the tweet from Nautilus for archival reason. Hope you find the story there newsful! Cheers!

The monkey business of banana

Do you like to wear that same scarf everyday? Of course not, you have at least two or three. Variety is a natural inclination of nature. It should be allowed everywhere, otherwise there is trouble. Panama disease epidemic affecting banana cultivation is something similar and is a lesson to learn.

The recurring threat named Panama disease…

Domestication of banana started in prehistoric time about seven thousand years ago, as revealed by multidisciplinary research so far. The center of origin was the islands between south-east Asia and Australia. Breeding between two wild seeded Musa species, M. acuminata and M. balbisiana has produced a collection of edible variety, rich in genetic and visible phenotypic diversity. In this man handled evolution, the domesticated banana differed from their wild relatives significantly. They became seedless and incapable of sexual reproduction. However, only a few among them have always been chosen for mass cultivation. At present, the dessert banana, Cavendish variety is trending with 47 per cent of market share. In the late eighteenth century, however, a reportedly better tasting  Gros Michel, a triploid (seedless) cultivar of M. acuminata was the dominant cultivar in the central and south America. In 1890 a wilting disease was noted in the Gros Michel plantations of Costa Rica and Panama. And it was severe as it eventually wiped out Gros Michel dominance by 1900. Can you believe? In 1910, the cause behind the devastation was disclosed. It is a fungus named Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense as it was found in Cuba. This fungus dwells in the soils and colonize the plant root and can go up leaving the plant dry and sick. They are very hard to manage requiring hazardous soil treatment. The easiest and quickest way is to get a fungus resistant variety instead. Thus banana business regained balance by helping themselves with a replacement, the Cavendish bananas from Honduras and United kingdom. Cavendish, a subgroup of the triploid cultivar of M. acuminata was not susceptible to the race 1 fungal strain which savaged Gros Michel. But unfortunately, the message to take home from this mega event went unnoticed. Another round of risky monoculture with Cavendish bananas only initiated. The lesson was still to learn.

How could a pathogen be so powerful on earth?

Fusarium oxysporum is a cosmopolitan pathogen that affects a wide range of crops as separate host specific strains. They can wait in the soil as spores for the perfect condition for life. In addition the seamless evolution of resistant races makes them hard to overcome. Thus, Gros Michel still comprise 12% of banana cultivation, but only in soils free or unaffected by race 1 of Fusarium oxysporum strain. The problem with edible bananas is more severe as they are propagating asexually. Their is least chance of generating genetic variation possible in each round of sexual reproduction. They are more or less genetically identical clones of the first Cavendish banana planted. On the one hand it helps to preserve the fruit traits that in the first place were admired for leading to selection among other available varieties. However, the absence of genetic variation leaves them hopelessly vulnerable. This is a golden opportunity for any pathogen which are evolving anyway out there. A chance meeting with the susceptible clone is just what required. Rest of the population is ready for the doomsday.

Panama disease is now epidemic…

We are now a global society. Pathogens around the globe are also enjoying the benefits of this globality. They are spreading through all possible sources from infected plant material to sanitation loopholes. In 1960, Cavendish banana was attacked again in Taiwan. In 1994, the responsible strain Tropical race 4, the updated version of Fusarium  was identified. Since the 1990s, this new Avatar has wiped out Cavendish plantations in Indonesia, Malaysia and is threatening business in Australia, Philipines, Jordan, Pakistan, Lebanon affecting approximately 100, 000 hectares of cultivation area in total.

Of course big banana farms are aware of this and vigilant. They have varieties in hand to start over with, if circumstance goes awry. But that doesn’t stop us from asking the simple question. No matter how much safety measures are followed – aren’t we allowing the fungus to gain the upper hand? If banana was allowed its fair share of experimentation – may be that would be savoury not only sweet!

Reference: Worse Comes to Worst: Bananas and Panama Disease—When Plant and Pathogen Clones Meet

 

 

 

Fungi in your chocolate

I loved this article reported by researchers in Belgium and Switzerland, published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology as it is about chocolate! If you don’t know as I didn’t, fermentation is the first step in chocolate making. Inside the pod the bitter cocoa beans remain covered with a white gluey moist pulp composed of sugar and protein. The beans are piled together and covered with banana leaves. In this manner they are left for around one week with occasional aeration allowing microorganisms to grow initiating fermentation. This casts the heavenly spell. During fermentation, the pulp around the beans eventually drains out but leaves behind the characteristic flavors and aroma we are mad about. The microbes in the environment orchestrating the fermentation actually hold the magic wand. This microbial composition varies greatly with farms, seasons and beans. Of course, that’s why there are so many flavors to delight us. Among the fungi, yeast play a prominent role here. They produce enzyme that degrades the gluey pulp around the beans. Fermentation mediated by yeast converts the moist pulp sugar into ethanol, bacteria then oxidizes ethanol to acetic acid. The acid  together with high heat kills the beans initiating chemical reactions which generate aromatic compounds that give chocolate its characteristic taste and flavor.

Customizing chocolate

Yeasts as used in making bread and beer, is a standard commercial culture  to ensure reliable, reproducible fermentation and production. Cocoa industry however, does not do that. They depend on natural fermentation. This leads to inconsistency and economic loss. The recent research done by the same research groups in Belgium and Switzerland, reports several experimentally proven efficient yeast cultures they have created to use in cocoa fermentation. The work was challenging as the environmentally selected microbial culture consists of a complex combination of yeast, lactic acid and acetic acid bacteria acting behind cocoa bean metamorphosis. Interestingly the bacterial diversity is much lower and more or less similar compared to fungal ones here. This led them to exclude the bacteria from the culture. Among the fungal crowd, luckily they found very familiar yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to be the dominant one. In the first place, to get rid of the complexity and uncertainty in the fungal part, they developed heat tolerant aggressive hybrids of S. cerevisiae strains that can outcompete the wild contaminant fungal strains favored by the high temperature tolerance and killer activity of hybrid yeasts. Killer activity means an ability to produce toxic products that is detrimental to the growth of the competitors. Additionally they showed that the aromatic profiles of the resultant chocolates using these novel cultures differed significantly. This arsenal of cocoa-fermenting yeast cultures with signature flavoring ability is a privilege for the chocolate industry to play with the flavors.

Are you ready to move on?

This work is really noteworthy in terms of technical advancement for standardizing cocoa fermentation. This promises reproducible and quality chocolate without a miss. The bread and beer industry have already refined their way regarding this issue. Cocoa industry can now move on as well. We are yet to know their say. Of course on the way we will have to leave behind some fungi (working in natural fermentation along with S. cerevisiae), we are not sure about. I think there should be enough discussion about those unsung fungi before any decision. If you are missing any fungus in your chocolate then that is another twist in this story. May be designer chocolate (with fungi of your choice) will be the next innovation granting your wish!..

 

 

Food and Footprints

Learning about food is itself a delightful feast. It is not only about gastronomical fulfillment. Food touches several aspects of our existence, justifying and enriching our long spun story on the planet earth. In fact, food has defined our culture and civilization. We are evolving over 4 million years along with our food preferences. The evolution of human diet is a dynamic ongoing process. Initially, we had little control, we were hunting and gathering whatever was on offer obviously fruits and meats. We didn’t know about dairy. Cereals and beans were yet to be made edible by neolithic farmers. For the last more or less 10,000 years only we are farming, trying to tame nature in our favor. In the meantime however, we are becoming a perpetual consumer society with and without our permission.

The process of domesticating wild food resource to make them cultivable, edible and profitable has always been experimental but goal oriented in nature. This leads to kind of shortsightedness and lack of common sense. As a result we often see such repeated mistakes in agricultural history that has posed suicidal for human race. All these problems when occurs seem local or isolated or of singular annoyance (not hurting us anyway!). We bypass the responsibility in the hustle bustle of daily grind knowingly and unknowingly. Ironically, however, admit or not, we are all connected in the grand scheme of things directly and indirectly. We are not sure at all, how long we will be allowed to run our experiments and adventures with this indifferent or unaccountable business only attitude! But I hope as I am wondering many others around the globe are also thinking alike. We can actually take charge in defining our society in this crossroad just by carefully studying our footprints after food.

 

 

 

 

 

What you eat…

Recently I am becoming more interested to know about facts related to food and well-being. Well actually we are all really interested about that but place it last in the priority list instead of among the topmost ones where it should be. We are from different walks and seasons of life busy with our daily drama to reach our goals or not knowing what else to do. God bless us! If I check my post records, so far I have written about cognition level of crows, plant tissue as water filter, telomeres, pea aphid, evolutionary origin of mustard and about socializing & marketing. Excluding the post about telomeres there is little focus on eating well and living well. And this can’t go long. There is a saying in my mother tongue (Bengali),

“ja debe ange, tai jabe sange”.

This means “eat well my dear, what you invest in yourself (body), that will remain with you (until heaven)”.

So be ready for some upcoming healthy blogging! I feel I am approaching my Goldilocks zone. We will see.