Research Highlights

Getting richer as you go higher: New Insights on Soil Variability in a Dry Tropical Forest

“Each soil has its own history”, wrote Charles Kellogg in his book The Soils that Support Us (1956). Indeed, there are several processes happening in the background that are responsible for the dynamic nature of the soils that support our forests and agriculture. These processes can give rise to variations in the soils that are evident in as little as a kilometre in the same geographic area, as examined by a team of scientists from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The variation in the soil, also known as soil heterogeneity, plays an important role in forest ecology. The spatial differences in the soil may ensure that the same substrate can be differentially utilized by multiple species, thus enabling co-existence of diverse plants and maintenance of the community structure.

Scientists decipher a wasp’s way back home

Suppose you were blindfolded and dropped off in a strange place, will you ever be able to get back home?

For us, the ‘intelligent’ Homo sapiens, the answer would depend on where you are stranded. If you are close to a human inhabited region, and you possess certain technological devices – the product of our intellectuality, chances are high that you can return safely. But for the little Indian Paper Wasp, it seems that many of the foragers can return, when displaced within a certain radius. This unique ability of these wasps has attracted scientists from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, to study the homing behavior of the wasps – the ability of certain animals to navigate through unfamiliar areas towards known territory, or to its nest.

Scientists discover gene responsible for aggressiveness of brain cancer

The story of glioblastoma research has all the makings of a Dan Brown novel; the protagonist making small but sure steps towards understanding his rival’s malicious intentions and the unravelling of a plot that seems to thicken with every page. The ‘rival’ in my metaphor is Glioblastoma, a highly aggressive and a grievously common form of brain tumour that occurs in adults. It is known for being notoriously un-resectable due to its high metastazing capacity (the ability to travel to different parts of the body) which may sometimes involve important regions of the brain. The ‘Robert Langdons’ of this story are the scientists attempting to unravel the biology of glioblastoma, in an attempt to identify where the deregulation occurs; in other words, the scene of the crime.

Rebuilding BCG, the Tuberculosis Vaccine

A "TB free India" has been the vision of the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Program (RNTCP), a state-run tuberculosis (TB) control initiative of the Government of India. Around 2.7 lakh people succumb to the disease every year, and around 12 lakh new cases emerge, making Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) not only the biggest health problem in India, but also the second largest infectious killer in the world. The World Health Organizationreported 1.5 million deaths caused by TB in 2014.

Do healthy muscles fight infections too?

It has been repeatedly reported that physical exercises are beneficial for health and also for improving the body’s ability to fight infections. However, exactly how exercising helps improve immunity against infections is still a mystery. The immune system which consists of both innate and acquired mechanisms protects the body from invading pathogens (infectious agents). The innate (native) immunity is the first line of defence post exposure to infection. Subsequently, the more complex and potent acquired (adapted) immune responses take over. In the Indian subcontinent, we are no strangers to infections, having been exposed to an ever increasing range of infectious diseases and related health concerns. Can exercising help build good muscles which then in turn are better at fighting infection?

Deciphering the molecular mechanisms of mitotic spindle behaviour

In a multicellular organism when a life form begins at the one-cell stage embryo, how do different cell types come into existence during development? Part of the answer to this puzzles lies in the process of asymmetric cell division. During asymmetric cell division a cell undergoes division in such a way that it produces two daughter cells with distinct fates and thus having different developmental potential.

Protein motions can provide clues of their functional roles, say IISc scientists

It is said that our body houses over 25000 different proteins. If we consider the body as a huge factory of sorts, then proteins are like the workers in it; they deal with security, communication, transportation, structural stability, maintenance, and every other role that one can envision. But unlike actual human workers, proteins are molecules, made up of units called amino acids-imagine a long chain of beads (amino acids) of different sizes and shapes strung together; protein sequences are just permutations and combinations of 20 different amino acids.

A Fungal solution to Cancer

Nature is the mother to all solutions! And this has been proven time and again. In early 1960’s National Cancer Institute, United States, funded researchers to find a natural compound to treat one of the most dreadful diseases of all times- cancer. After screening through thousands of trees, scientists finally found a remarkable chemical compound from the bark of a Pacific Yew tree (Taxus brevifolia). They named this biomolecule with anti-cancer properties as Paclitaxel (marketed as Taxol).

A green way to treat cancer

Cancer is one of the most dangerous diseases in the world today. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) estimated 14.1 million new cases of cancer worldwide in 2012 alone, out of which, eight million cases were from the developing countries. Approximately 8.2 million cancer deaths occurred in the same year, which means 22,000 cancer deaths every day. The World Health Organization has estimated that the cancer cases would increase by 70% over the next two decades. The most common causes of cancer deaths are lung, liver, stomach, colorectal, breast and oesophageal cancer. It is normally treated using radiation, chemotherapy and surgery. However, all these methods of treatment carry considerable side effects and thus, treating with naturally occurring compounds is the most desirable way. A research group at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, led by Dr. S.C. Raghavan, has recently reported some natural anticancerous compounds in two independent studies.

Scientists decipher a key puzzle in brain tumor research

It’s aggressive, it’s resistant, and it’s invasive. It’s your own cell gone awry. It is cancer. Glioblastoma - one of the most common forms of brain tumor does not have a foolproof cure till date. A person with glioblastoma, who has undergone radiation therapy coupled with chemotherapy and all the other latest therapies, survives for an average of just over a year (12-17 months). Needless to say, glioblastoma cells still remain an enigma.

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