Friday, March 27, 2009

Human Gene prospecting in Iceland

This is an article inspired by a conversation between my father and me. My father, Dr.A.V.S.S.Sambamurty, is a retired Reader in Botany from Sri Venkateswara College, Delhi University. He had written many books on Genetics, his field of research in PhD.

He was explaining a unique phenomenon in Iceland regarding the population's gene structure. I got so interested, wondered at nature and wanted to share the same with all of you.

Caveat: It might get a little technical at certain places, but mostly my father tried keeping it comprehensible by non-botanists, like me. :) A few terms are defined for better understanding of the article in the beginning.

Genome is the complete gene sequence of any living organism. Human genome implies all the genes present on the 24 chromosomes, and their complete sequence upto the nucleotide level.

Four nucleotides are C(cytosine), G(guanine), T(thyamine), A(adenine). These exist as complimentary pairs on the DNA strand. C-G forms one pair and A-T forms the other pair.

Human Genome Project
A little introduction into the human genome project will reflect the importance of the study conducted in Iceland.

The Human Genome project was launched in 1990. The goal of HGP is to map all the 70,000 to 100,000 human genes to construct a detailed physical map of the entire human genome and also to determine the nucleotide sequences of all 24 human chromosomes by the year 2005.

Geneticists all over the world came to form Human Genome Organisation (HUGO). James Watson with Francis Crick discovered double-helix structure of DNA in 1953. He was the first director of this ambitious project which was expected to take nearly two decades to complete and to cost around $3 bn. In 1993, Francis Collins who with Lap-Chee Tsui, led the research teams that identified the cystic fibrosis gene, replaced Watson as the director of HGP.

Benefits of Human Genome Project
The availability of detailed maps and nucleotide sequences of entire genomes of many species allows scientists to perform computer searches for sequences that encode enzymes with desired activities, to isolate these sequences, and to introduce them into the genomes of other species. Scientists have already engineered transgenic plants that are herbicide and insect resistant as well as plants that synthesize antibodies, drugs, enhanced level vitamins and even plastics.

An interesting component of the effort to identify human genes with important pharmacological values is taking place in a somewhat unexpected location, the remote island of Iceland, located in the North Atlantic between Greenland and Scandinavia. Because of their history and geographical isolation, the 270,000 people of Iceland provide a unique resource for genetic studies. They are genetically quite homogeneous, descendants of Vikings, who settled on this island more than 1100 years ago. This homogeneity has been enhanced by two genetic bottlenecks during which the population was sharply reduced. During the 15th century, population plummeted from around 70,000 to around 25,000 when bubonic plague ravished the island. During the 1700s, the population dropped below 50,000 because of famine, and disease caused in part by the eruption of the volcano Hekla. Thus, human gene pool of Iceland is much more homogeneous than the gene pools of most other human populations. Such a population is called Endemic Population. In addition, Iceland's national health service has kept superb family medical records since 1915.

Benefits passed on to Iceland
In 1997, Kari Stefansson, a Harvard geneticist, recognised the uniqueness of Iceland's human gene pool and family records. He returned to his homeland to launch a private company, deCODE Genetics, with the goal of identifying human genes that would lead to the development of new pharmaceutical drugs and diagnostic tests. The company's first success was the identification of familial essential tremor gene - , a gene associated with the shakiness in the elderly. In addition, deCODE scientists have made rapid progress in their studies of several other human disorders.
Based on these results deCODE Genetics negotiated a contract with the Swiss pharmaceutical giant, Hoffmann-LaRoche, which will give the Swiss firm exclusive rights to any drugs or diagnostic products resulting from the work of deCODE scientists. However, contract specifies that Hoffmann-LaRoche must provide free of charge all drugs, diagnostic test and other products resulting from this research to the people of Iceland. Therefore, at least in this one case, the people who are providing genetic data and the DNA samples for analysis will personally benefit from the results of research by a private company.

Is it not fascinating to know that a small part on our globe has such homogeneous population with unique genetic history? They have not blended by other genetic populations. Physically, one may not find any thing to observe, but the uniqueness lies at the microscopic level!!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Interesting facts of mathematicians!

Following are some interesting events in the early lives of few of the most famous and genius mathematicians of the world. I am always in awe whenever I read about them and their lives. I do not want to devote the post to their biographies, rather a collection of the most interesting reads! I have randomly picked the great ones. Randomness is another fact of life that I keep pondering about and find it so difficult to accept its existence in life!

He had always intrigued me and thus, want to start with him. I am yet to lay my hands on the book The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan

Birth: Born on 22 December 1887 in Erode, Tamil Nadu, India, at the place of residence of his maternal grandparents. His father, K. Srinivasa Iyengar worked as a clerk in a sari shop and hailed from the district of Thanjavur.

One day at school, the teacher was explaining division and said that "if you divide any number by itself, you get 1.''

The teacher in a small high school in southern India turned round to see a tiny hand trying to reach the ceiling. Oh by the gods, him again! That Aiyangar boy with his horribly difficult and quite irrelevant questions. Like last week, when he wanted to know how long it would take for a steam train to reach Alpha Centauri. As if he would be able to afford the fare if he knew. Well, he couldn't let him exercise his hands too much.

``Yes Ramanujan?''

The small boy with shining eyes stood up. He spoke slowly, with the calm confidence of one who did not need to be told he was the best in the class.

``Is zero divided by zero also equal to one?''

Unfortunately for all those other teachers who've been asked this question at least twenty times in their lives, the response to the question is unknown. But the life of the boy, Srinivasa Ramanujan Aiyangar, certainly isn't.

By age 11, he had exhausted the mathematical knowledge of two college students, who were lodgers at his home. He was later lent a book on advanced trigonometry written by S.L. Loney. He completely mastered this book by the age of 13 and he discovered sophisticated theorems on his own. By 14 he was achieving merit certificates and academic awards.

Awesome, is it not?

I could not really get specific early life incidents but have added some noteworthy facts.

Birth: Born around 565 B.C. on the Greek island Samos off the Coast of Asia-Minor, his father Mnesarchos was a wealthy merchant and an engraver. His mother Pythais was a native of Samos.

Pherekydes, a philosopher and a fiction writer, was the teacher of Pythagoras. Pythagoras too was a mathematician as his mentor. He (Pherekydes), put forward the doctrine of transmigration of souls and cycle of birth liberation of human being from this life cycle which was proffessed by his student, Pythagoras. This theory is analogous to the doctrine of poorva janma (Past Life), punar janma (Re-birth) and moksha (Salvation), of the Hindu philosophy.

How the famous Pythagoras Theorem was propounded?
In the earlier days, Egypt was considered more advanced than Greece. The journey to Egypt was recognized as broadening the horizon of knowledge and wisdom. Ancient Egyptians knew the technique of preparing bricks and constructed buildings using them. From this, they acquired knowledge of shape, size and volume of solids. Thus, they developed some geometry for measurement and decimal number system for calculations. Pythagoras would have learnt all these theories during his travels to Egypt. The Egyptians knew that a triangle having sides of length three, four, and five units was a right-angled triangle. They also knew some elementary trigonometry. Pythagoras worked on right-angled triangles and propounded his theory; ‘The Pythagoras Theorem.’ The Pythagoras theorem states – The square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides of the right-angled triangle.


Born: Fibonacci, or more correctly Leonardo da Pisa or Leonardo Pisano, was born in Pisa in 1175 AD. He was the son of a Pisan merchant.

Leonardo Pisan was known as Fibonacci, which is short for filius Bonacci meaning "the son of Bonaccio". His father's name was Guglielmo Bonaccio. Fi'-Bonacci is like the English names of Robin-son and John-son.

Well, one may say, what is in a name? But, I was too amused to know how he got his name and thus, thought of sharing my amusement.

His famous contributions being the decimal number system and the famous being the Fibonacci series.

He learnt about the decimal system from Arabs who in turn had learnt from the Hindus. He introduced this number system into Europe - the positional system we use today - based on ten digits with its decimal point and a symbol for zero:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0

His wrote a book on how to do arithmetic in the decimal system, called Liber abbaci (meaning Book of the Abacus or Book of Calculating)

Fibonacci Series
In Fibonacci's Liber Abaci book, chapter 12, he introduces the following problem:

How Many Pairs of Rabbits Are Created by One Pair in One Year?

A certain man had one pair of rabbits together in a certain enclosed place, and one wishes to know how many are created from the pair in one year when it is the nature of them in a single month to bear another pair, and in the second month those born to bear also.

Then he showed the solution to the above stated problem from where the series got derived.

beginning 1 first 2 second 3 third 5 fourth 8 fifth 13 ..... end 377

Fibonacci says his book Liber Abaci (the first edition was dated 1202) that he had studied the "nine Indian figures" and their arithmetic as used in various countries around the Mediterranean and wrote about them to make their use more commonly understood in his native Italy. So he probably merely included the "rabbit problem" from one of his contacts and did not invent either the problem or the series of numbers which now bear his name.

D E Knuth adds the following in his monumental work The Art of Computer Programming: Volume 1: Fundamental Algorithms errata to second edition:

Before Fibonacci wrote his work, the sequence F(n) had already been discussed by Indian scholars, who had long been interested in rhythmic patterns that are formed from one-beat and two-beat notes. The number of such rhythms having n beats altogether is F(n+1); therefore both Gospala (before 1135) and Hemachandra (c. 1150) mentioned the numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, ... explicitly.

Well, then why is it named after him? It was the French mathematician Edouard Lucas (1842-1891) who gave the name Fibonacci numbers to this series and found many other important applications.


Every human has two hands, each one of these has five fingers, each finger has three parts which are separated by two knuckles. All of these numbers fit into the sequence.

These patterns within nature were discovered many centuries ago, and until this day, scientists are still studying the pattern of natures numbers. The planets also possess a pattern which relates to the orbital period, which is the time it takes to go once around the Sun to its distance from the Sun. There is much that has been scientifically proven regarding natures numbers and the planet, animal, and human world in which we live.

I wish that this will interest many readers to understand how passion for something leads to greatness. The key thing is the ardent passion with not much forethought given to the end result!

Their lives and lives of many more like them, have lot to teach us and keep us motivated to strive for excellence!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

My Cake Collection

Two - tier Chocolate cake

On my dear husband's birthday, I got inspiration to bake a two-tier chocolate cake. It was the first time I tried frosting!


Cake batter
Cocoa powder
Icing sugar
Baking powder

Icing sugar
Chocolate bars
Drinking chocolate

NOTE: I could not write the measures as I used all approximations and could not really put it in form of 1 tbsp, or an oz sorts language. I guess that is the difference between amateurs and pros.


1. Beat eggs, butter and sugar till the mixture is foamy.
2. Mix maida, baking powder and cocoa powder till they become homogeneous.
3. Add the two mixtures in step 1 and 2 together till the batter reaches thick consistency. If it is too thick, add little warm water. Take care that the mixture does not become too liquid.
4. Grease the base and the sides of the baking pan and sprinkle flour.
5. Pre-heat the oven at 250 degrees for 10 minutes.
6. Bake the batter for 30 minutes at 180 degrees.
7. Check by inserting the back of a spoon or blunt knife. The cake is baked if there is no batter stuck to the surface of the spoon or knife.
8. Cool the cake and then over turn on a plate.

9. Melt the chocolate bars in microwave or keep the container over boiling water.
10. Take care no water vapors enter the melted chocolate.
11. Add cream, butter, little drinking chocolate powder to the melted chocolate. Your frosting mix is ready.
12. Use a flat spatula or frosting knife(with triangular surface) to spread the frosting evenly over the cake.
13. After covering the top and the sides, leave it for sometime to cool.

Marble Cake

On the occasion of Holi, I tried my hands at Marble cake. It has come out with pretty designs.

Vanilla essence
Icing sugar
Baking powder

Cocoa powder and Coffee filtrate
Chocolate bars

1. Beat eggs, sugar, butter together till foamy.
2. Mix maida, baking powder.
3. Make a batter with thick consistency by adding the two mixtures in step 1 and 2.
4. Divide the batter into two equal halves and separate them in two containers.
5. In one, add vanilla essence.
6. In the other, add cocoa powder and coffee or melted chocolate. Coffee gives a little bitter taste for those who want nullify the sweetness of the vanilla.
7. Now, grease the top and sides of the baking pan and sprinkle little flour.
8. Add the two batter mix forming alternate layers. Vanilla at the base gives a better taste.
9. Once batter added in layers. Use a skewer and insert it vertically and just run it in circular motion twice and get a marble design. Take care not to mix the layers completely lest it all becomes chocolate cake!
10. Pre-heat the oven at 250 degrees for 10 minutes.
11. Bake the batter for 30 minutes at 180 degrees.
12. Check by inserting the back of a spoon or blunt knife. The cake is baked if there is no batter stuck to the surface of the spoon or knife.
13. Cool the cake and delicious marble cake is ready.

Happy Holi to all of you!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Marriage or wedding!

Marriage is something people always use interchangeably with wedding. Its so much different from wedding though! Wedding comprises of the stream of rituals for the boy and girl tie the knot. Guess, marriage is lot different from all those rituals, meaning of most of them are just not understood but we perform in a robotic manner.

Marriage, I feel, is blending of thoughts. Its the trust we instill in each other. The respect we earn during our journey together. The boundless love we share. Effective communication of thoughts. The power to understand each other's view point. The ability to listen to each other's silence, rather than always talking!

It is to be realized that any two individuals will always have difference of opinion on a particular issue. But the way the differences are handled and understood by each partner is what makes the whole difference.

Most couples, I observe, are trying to change each other to what fits into their definition of right behavior.

Scenario 1:
There will be a wife, who will have certain standards of neatness and keeping the house impeccably clean. Consider her husband who cares nothing about cleanliness and lo! the drama starts! Imagine how this situation is dealt in general households. There will be bickering from wife's side about the husband's callousness and husband's vexation on the wife's being a nag!!

The word 'nag' is so offensive to women, I tell you! Its a vicious circle, wife feels that if she keeps repeating herself there will be more impact and the husband has already developed a deaf ear to whatever wife says. Fallout is that many-a-times, important information gets missed out.

Scenario 2:
There cannot be a worser moment for a wife who is speaking to her husband while he is all glued to either T.V. or laptop or whatever. I empathise with the wife who wants to offload as soon something comes to her mind! But, now it does not end there. She will speak anyway knowing fully well that he is not listening and then complain that he was not listening! Why cannot she wait till he is done with whatever he is doing? Believe me, if you leave one alone, he will be free and more attentive. Think of a reverse scenario. The wife is catching up with her favorite TV serial or pre-occupied with office work, how much you would hate if you are interrupted, isn't it?

Scenario 3.
Women are very sensitive about their cooking. If she has prepared anything, no matter even if it is the 100th time, still she will wait for a feedback. Mind you, the feedback she is looking for is a compliment. Criticism will lead to "n" number of explanations as to what went wrong!!
It is to be understood that their expectation of feedback is merely symbolic. They are looking for recognition from her husband that she is good! The reinforcement is very important to most women!! Hmmm..... I think all women!

Men do not have such insecurities regarding cooking and food, but I guess, they would definitely like to be recognized as the bread-winner of the house. The fact that the whole house is dependent on him. I guess, most men look for such feedback.

There are infinite instances in our daily routine where there is a conflict in the manner a wife and husband work. A wife needs to understand that there are certain things that just do not come naturally to males and the same reciprocated by the husband towards his wife. Also, there is more than one way to solve or tackle a problem.

Now, daily we face with similar challenges. One way to settle the issue is to raise volume of your voices and try to dictate or instruct. The other way is discussing the issue at hand objectively and try arriving at an amicable solution.

There may be times when you are just not in a mood of such lengthy discussions and just want the things to be done, in that case the other party needs to be more observant and patient enough to ease off the environment.

Always avoid blame-game, name-calling, passing sarcastic remarks, bringing past inefficiencies in the present discussion/debate/fight. Try sorting out the issue at hand in a day or two of its occurrence to avoid pent up emotions. Think from other's point of view and see the difference!!

Each couple's story is unique and their distinctive ways of coping with each other's personality differences. Simple fact of life to remember is that each one is different and no one is perfect!

Well, I do not want my post to be the preachy one on marriage tips or dwell into Men are from Mars Women are from Venus stuff! I was just putting my random thoughts in the post and guess, I must stop now! Probably, its the effect of the occasion!

I am just thankful to God that I got married to my husband. Together the marital life is bliss! We still get compliments that we look like "just married" couple!! Well, in reality, today we have completed three years of marriage! Thanks God, from all my heart!

I take the opportunity to wish all the couples, would-be couples a successful, peaceful and contented life together!