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School of Life Sciences in JNU Celebrated four decades of its existence

The completion of Four Decades of the establishment of the School of Life Sciences at JNU, was observed in three days of intense scientific sessions, "Vistas of Life Sciences: now and beyond" starting from 13 February, 2014 onwards. The School of Life Sciences, one of the first institutions for interdisciplinary biology teaching and research, was conceived in 1970 by an expert committee consisting of the Father of Green Revolution in India Prof. M.S. Swaminathan, Prof. M.G.K. Menon, Prof. G.P. Talwar, Prof. Obaid Siddique, Prof. T.S. Sadasivan and Dr. A.Gopal Ayengar. They on visioned a significant development in the area of sciences encompassing revolutionary discoveries in the field of biology involving Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics that appears to be true in present times. In order to provide a holistic and comprehensive dimension to the study of Life Sciences, the expert committee proposed to set up the School of Life Sciences with an initial budget of 0.25 million dollars and invited outstanding Indian Scientists working abroad. The concept of SLS is a big success that has been achieved and nurtured by the efforts of all the past Deans and faculty members, many of whom have been nationally recognized with Padma awards, Vice-Chancellorships, membership of Planning Commission, Bhatnagar awards and fellowships of national academies, etc. The success of SLS has been emulated as a model for creation of new centres of Life Sciences across India.

The Chairperson of the event and the Chancellor of JNU, Dr. K. Kasturirangan, Vice-Chancellor Prof. S.K. Sopory and the Dean of SLS, Prof. B.N. Mallick welcomed the members of expert committee, Prof. Swaminathan, Prof. Menon and Prof. Talwar. Besides them, past Deans of SLS including Prof. P.N. Srivastava, Prof. Asis Datta (both former VCs of JNU) and Prof. Rajendra Prasad (former Rector of JNU) were felicitated. The event was an occasion to commemorate the achievements of the SLS and to chart out a strategy for future challenges. Dr. Kasturirangan emphasized that basic research in Life Sciences should be able to translate through biotechnological and industrial collaborations for the service of mankind. Prof. Sopory emphasized the uniqueness of the School for its multidisciplinary nature including all the facets of biological systems. He also said that the limitations of resources or instrumentation should not be an excuse and that we can do a lot within what is available with us. Prof. Swaminathan expressed satisfaction over the fact that the purpose of establishing SLS has effectively been achieved as is evident from the high quality of education and research undertaken by the School. The other members of the Expert Committee Prof. Talwar and Prof. Menon emphasized on the importance of Physics and Maths in understanding the complex mechanisms of biological systems which should be taught in every University in laying the foundations of concepts of Biology. The contributions of Late Prof. G.S. Singhal, Prof. Sipra Mukherjee, Prof. P. K, Mohanty and Prof. Sivatosh Mookherjee were acknowledged through a message sent by the first faculty of SLS, Prof. P. C. Kesavan.

The second and third day of this event were dedicated to exhibit the various cutting edge researches being currently followed across the past decade in India, particularly the present faculty and alumni of SLS. The major themes of discussion on the second day were pathogens, parasites and diseases, neuro and behavioural biology, epigenetics, cancer and degenerative diseases, cellular and molecular signaling pathways. The research on various mechanisms of pathogenesis by Candida and HIV were exhibited by leading scientists, Prof. Prasad (SLS, JNU), Dr. Kaustav Sanyal (JNCASR) and Dr. Uday Kumar Ranga (JNCASR). The imminent discovery of vaccines against Streptococcus and Leishmania were proposed by Dr. A. K. Johri (SLS, JNU) and Prof. R. Madhubala (SLS, JNU). Aspects of mental health encompassing epilepsy, neurodegenerative diseases and rapid eye movement sleep were discussed by Dr. S. Sikdar (IISc), Dr. N. R. Jana (NBRC) and Prof. B. N. Mallick (SLS, JNU), respectively. The prospective application of the use of chemopreventive agents such as silibinin, from plants, for controlling tumour angiogenesis thereby starving the tumour growth and progression of cancer was discussed by Dr. R.P. Singh (SLS, JNU). Breast cancer which is reported to be one of the most prevalent cancers in both developed and developing countries is being deeply researched through the works of Dr. T. Kundu (JNCASR), Dr. Rajkumar (Cancer Institute, Chennai) and Dr. Gokul Das (Roswell Park Cancer Institute, USA). Dr. Sandhya Visweswariah from IISc stressed on Guanylyl Cyclase C that it may be a target for bacterial enterotoxins and proposed its clinical relevance as a key regulator of intestinal cell proliferation during colorectal cancer. The phagocytosis, a key process of engulfing extracellular materials inside the cells, has been deciphered to be a calcium dependent process in Entamoeba histolytica by Prof. A. Bhattacharya (SLS, JNU).

The final day was marked by lectures on response systems in plants, macromolecular structures in biology and genomics and systems approaches to biology. Prof. Asis Datta emphasized on the role of genetically modified (GM) food for the need of growing population. Prof. A. Pareek (SLS, JNU) discussed the mechanisms for improving salinity stress tolerance in crop plants. His previous patents of rice and development of stress tolerant plants has provided a new hope for tackling the challenges of salinity for plantsin India. In continuation to this, Prof. B. C. Tripathy (SLS, JNU) stressed on the use of genetic manipulation for enhancing photosynthesis and crop productivity while Dr. A.K. Sharma from University of Delhi talked about the latest use of gene silencing in improving crop varieties. Research on molecular modeling and protein structure in India is gaining attention through the work done by Dr. S. Gourinath, Prof. Manju Bansal (IISc), Dr. Bhupesh Taneja (IGIB) and Dr. R. Sankaranarayanan (CCMB). They delivered talks on diverse fields ranging from the role of the protein structure on genetic code to gene expression. Dr. Gourinath, talked about the biosynthetic pathway of enzymes in E histolytica while Dr. Taneja discussed the structural and functional insights of ribosomal nucleotide methyltransferase proteins of Mycobacteria. In the final scientific session, Dr. Kanury Rao (ICGEB) elucidated how Mycobacteria evade macrophage and immune system for its survival during tuberculosis. Dr. R. Gokhale (IGIB) explained the mechanisms of controlling skin pigmentation while Prof. R.N.K. Bamezai (SLS, JNU) gave an overview of the role of genes in various human diseases. Prof. S. Galande (IISER, Pune), Prof. B. K. Thelma (University of Delhi) and Dr. R. Mishra (CCMB) also spoke on the epigenetic regulation and genome wide studies on various model organisms.

The final session was a panel discussion by some of the eminent scientists and educationists including Prof. S. C. Lakhotia (BHU), Prof. A. Bhattacharya (SLS, JNU), Prof. P.C. Rath (SLS, JNU), Prof. Jayanta Pal (University of Pune) and Prof. B. K. Thelma (University of Delhi, They discussed the current challenges of higher education and charted out a roadmap for the future aspects of research and teaching in Life Sciences in the University system of India.

The panelists unequivocally stressed on the need for up-gradation of syllabus and the way teaching is imparted in the current scenario. Most of the panelists were of the opinion that knowledge of classical subjects of Biology such as taxonomy, cell biology etc. apart from the contemporary subjects such as Molecular Biology and Biotechnology are important for understanding the diverse aspects of Modern Biology. They emphasized that research in biology has been lately affected by the use of expensive, readymade kits which are impeding the understanding of techniques and basic principles driving biological processes. They proposed that students should be imparted with basic concepts and should be left open to challenge themselves with new questions and to solve the problems themselves. There were suggestions that the students from Physics, Chemistry, Maths and Computer Sciences should be encouraged to join Life Sciences. The present entrance exam process sometimes hinders their entry and therefore it may be modified accordingly. Stress should also be given for making the Life Sciences curriculum more inclusive, offering remedial courses and hosting field trips from the high schools. It was also argued that in order to motivate students there is a need of a better introspection among teachers themselves. Lastly, all the panel members including the Chair, Prof. Lakhotia, unanimously expressed that the current curriculum of SLS is by and large the best available in India; however, it could be further improved. They also proposed that such a Life Sciences programme needs to be replicated in other University systems through proper integration and management of classical, contemporary and technology based syllabi. The panel urged that in the near future, the faculty of SLS, spearheaded by Prof. B.N. Mallick (Dean, SLS), would prepare a report based on the various suggestions provided by the panel members keeping in mind the core structure of Life Sciences, as envisaged by the first Academic Advisory Committee, to incorporate changes in order to deal with the new challenges evolving the Life Sciences education.

B.N. Mallick, Dean
School of Life Sciences

Building Community Resilience: JNU-DRG Meet on Resilience Framework, Indicators and Measuring tools

The last day of June 2014, became the curtain raiser for Disaster Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) as the Vice Chancellor Prof. S. K. Sopory declared the launch of the 'JNU-Disaster Research Group (DRG)' composed of faculty drawn from seven Centres at JNU. In collaboration with UNDP-GoI, the JNU-DRG hosted the Focus Group meeting on Community Resilience Framework, Indicators and Measuring Tools at the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance. Many prominent personalities in the discipline of disaster research shared their views and perceptions to identify indicators for resilience of affected communities during emergencies. The Head of UNDP India's Disaster Management Unit, Shri. G. Padmanabhan and Dr. Sunita Reddy from the JNU-DRG team coordinated the discussion. Valuable experience was shared by Smt. Neelkamal Darbari, Joint Secretary of NDMA, Prof. Vinod C. Menon, former member of NDMA, Dr. Nivedita P. Haran, Home Secretary of the Government of Kerala and Prof. Janaki Andharia from TISS's Disaster Studies Department. The workshop was widely attended by not only faculty from Jawaharlal Nehru University, University of Delhi, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) but also a large number of non-governmental organisations and academic bodies looking into the problem of disaster risk reduction (DRR). Prof. Amita Singh, Prof. Vaishna Narang, Prof. GVC Naidu and Dr. Sunita Reddy represented the JNU-DRG.

The workshop aimed to discuss community resilience framework in India, formulate resilience indicators and the measuring tools. In doing so, social sciences would need the support of environmental sciences. Prof. I. S. Thakur, Chair of the School of Environmental Sciences, extended his support to the group as workshops and teaching programmes begin on the much cherished initiative undertaken by the Vice Chancellor for 'trans disciplinary research clusters' within JNU. Prof. Sopory insisted that development in education and capacity building should take note of many other Asian countries such as Taiwan which has made very innovative utilization of technology in skill building and holistic personality development of students. He hoped to see the meaningful collaboration between JNU-DRG, UNDP and NDMA reach new heights in disaster management and holistic planning. Smt. Neelkamal Darbari highlighted that the government of India's policy on disaster management has changed in the last nine years, from response oriented to mitigation and resilience building, particularly after the earthquake at Bhuj, Gujarat. Dr. Nivedita P. Haran, architect of the Kerala Disaster Management Authority, reiterated the need to bridge the chasm between administrators and academia in the interest of knowledge based governance. Prof. Andharia and Prof. Menon analysed the concept of resilience to argue that it should imply 'bouncing back' as well as 'bouncing forward' and provided a peek at the role of macro structures in inhibiting community capacity development.

Using the lessons learnt from the implementation of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) initiatives, the workshop witnessed strong suggestions of multi-dimensional monitoring indicators and tools for measuring community disaster resilience. There was unanimous consensus that indicators should be reflective of reality and applicable in both pre - and post - disaster stages. The indicators ranged from social, economic, institutional and governance, to infrastructural and service delivery. Members of the DRG opinioned that this workshop was a continuation of the objectives enshrined in the 2013 NAPSIPAG conference on "Leadership, Land and Local Resource Management at the eve of the MDG deadline of 2015" held at Ecoashram, Doiwala, Dehradun. It was here that an Asia specific network of scholars deliberated at the foothills of the devastating Uttarakhand disaster on the need for more legitimate and ethical consumption from land and its resources such as water bodies, rivers, forests, mountains and mines. Disasters imply caution on the limitless extraction from what has come to us from nature besides exposing gaps created within governance structures due to corruption, fuzzy legal frameworks, speciecism and iniquitous social structures which display a vulgar power configuration in societies.

Sanghamitra Nath, Research Scholar
JNU-Disaster Research Group
Centre for the Study of law and Governance

Other News / Report

Report on the Activities of the Committee for Sensitization and Orientation

The Committee for Sensitization and Orientation which was set up following the Report of 10-Member Committee has organized four workshops/ plays between November 2013 and April 2014. In meetings where representatives of the GSCASH, the EOO office, the Cultural Committee and the JNUSU representatives were present, an Annual Programme which followed the Academic Calendar of JNU was drawn up. The idea was that the programs would be organized in collaboration with these bodies as all these above mentioned bodies have a very important role to play in creating a just and gender-sensitive atmosphere in JNU.

According to the schedule drawn up, we were to organize a certain number of events each semester focusing on different issues of diversity to be held in different sites at the University. These would encompass the entire working community of this University. We have successfully organized four such events –

1. On 16 November, 2013 in collaboration with the Cultural Committee of the campus a play Hum Inkaar Karte Hain (Street play) by Parindey (Dramatics Society, Mata Sundari College, University of Delhi) was performed at Poorvanchal and the core theme was the status of women in society. This was organized through Prof. Manjushree Chauhan.

2. In January, 2014 Must Bol, an organization which works with young people in Delhi on issues of how dominant gender norms create restrictive and violent situations for women held a two day dialogic workshop for B.A. I students on the theme of "Shame was a place inside my heart. Conversations about sex, sexuality and the body" based on an audio installation by Priyanka Chhabra. This took place on the 16 - 17 January, 2014 and on the 18 January, 2014 a one day workshop for GSCASH volunteers on the theme "Love, control and violence" was conducted by Manak Matiyani and Vaishali Singh. This three day workshop was organized in collaboration with GSCASH.

3. On 23 January, 2014 a film on Caste (India Untouched: Stories of a People Apart)was screened at the SSS Auditorium followed by a discussion with Prof. Gopal Guru, Centre for Political Studies, and Dr. Sachidanand Sinha from the Centre for the Study of Regional Development. This programme was organized in collaboration with the EOO's office. "India Untouched - Stories of a People Apart" is perhaps the most comprehensive look at Untouchability ever undertaken on film. Director Stalin K. spent four years traveling the length and breadth of the country to expose the continued oppression of Dalits who suffer under a 4000-year-old religious system. Spanning eight states and four religions, this film makes it impossible for anyone to deny that untouchability continues to be practiced in India till date.

4. On the 11 – 12 April, 2014 a two day legal literacy workshop on Gender Based Violence and the Law was organized for the faculty and students of the University at the Convention Centre. This was organized in collaboration with the Centre for Law and Governance (through Dr. Pratiksha Baxi). The resource person who conducted this workshop was Jhuma Sen from the Jindal Law University. The workshop aimed at enhancing the knowledge base of the participants by focusing on some specific areas of gender based violence and its interaction with the law. The idea behind this workshop was to assist the participants to understand the nuances of the legal system and the legitimate expectations that one can have from the system. Over a two day period the workshop offered an understanding of the criminal justice system, the criminal laws related to violence against women, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005, the Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013, some practical approaches in specific contexts etc.

All participants were given a participation certificate at the end of this workshop.

Madhu Sahni, Professor
Centre of German Studies, SLL&CS

Extra-terrestrial solar event triggered Uttarakhand cloudburst – Research an SES

Unplanned human activities in the Himalayan terrain coupled with some unusual extra-terrestrial events triggered the massive cloudburst over Kedarnath resulting in the catastrophic 2013 floods in Uttarakand regio1n of India, according to new research.

Using NASA satellite data, Saumitra Mukherjee from the School of Environmental Sciences at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) suggests that a sudden rise in 'proton flux' from the Sun was responsible for the catastrophe. The change in land use pattern (such as construction of reservoirs on the Ganges and Alaknanda rivers) added fuel to fire and created havoc in Uttarakhand.

"The rise in proton flux – an unusual solar event where protons emitted by the Sun are accelerated to very high energies – was responsible for the anomalous rise in atmospheric temperature. High concentration of aerosol trapped in the atmosphere and glaciers in Indo-China border initiated a nucleation process in the concentrated water vapour to trigger formation of clouds for the torrential rain and cloud burst on 16 and 17 June 2013," Mukherjee told Nature India.

NASA's Sun Observatory Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite recorded a steep rise in solar proton flux above 10 MeV for 12 days from May 15 to 26). During the same period, the cosmic ray intensity was also recorded at an all-time high at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), which represents the regional cosmic ray data in the Space Environment Viewing and Analysis Network (SEVAN) of the Asian office of Aerospace Research.

This was just before the anomalous rise in atmospheric temperature in the Himalayan region, which Mukherjee says was initiated by the release of heat energy from the trapped proton drift. "After this event anomalous rise in cosmic ray was recorded. Rise in cosmic rays was instrumental in condensation of the clouds leading to the cloudburst in Kedarnath," he explains.

The scientist suggests that it took 20 days and 6 hours for the mechanism (of heat transfer to cloud appearance) to initiate the cloudburst in Kedarnath. The heat from the Sun was captured in the 'Van Allen's belt' (between the Sun and Earth), which further accelerated the protons. This extra-terrestrial influence led to rise in temperature to release the aerosol trapped in the glaciers and atmosphere in the Indo-China border to initiate the cloudburst.

Generally, increase in aerosol heating over the Indo-Gangatic plains in the pre-monsoon period leads to a strengthening of the Indian monsoon. The heat transfer from the protons to the atmosphere has affected not only the atmospheric water vapour but has been responsible for melting of glaciers which feed the river Ganges.
Mukherjee says the influence of the Sun, along with anthropogenic activities, on climate change needs more study, especially its manifestation in torrential rains. "This is a radical departure from previous principles but is consistent with existing observations," he adds. Mukherjee says his hypothesis does not change the general conclusion that increased proton flux from the Sun reserves trapped heat in geospecific locations which influence temporary change in the atmosphere.

The Kedarnath extreme weather event is a clear manifestation of climate change, he adds. The devastating flood in Uttarakhand was a combined impact of cloudburst in Uttarakhand, quick melting of glaciers at high altitude due to beating of ice sheet by raindrops and breaching of natural embankment of Chorabari Tal (north of Kedarnath) due to accumulation of excess surface runoff. Within 48 hours, 280 mm rainfall was recorded and about five feet of snow precipitated at higher altitudes.

Apart from Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, northeast Rajasthan and Delhi also received torrential rainfall. In Delhi, it was an advent of early monsoon that broke the past record of 150 years.

S. Mukherjee, Professor
School of Environmental Sciences


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