Monday, September 20, 2010



A Ray of Hope…


Finally, an exhilarating ray of hope for the haplessly endangered aboriginal tribes of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands…



But, providence notwithstanding, the colonially inherited Red-tapism is proving to be a damper for a fascinating research project to “immortalize” the cell lines of the endangered tribes of Andaman and Nicobar islands.


A team of scientists from Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), led by Director Dr Lalji Singh, had sent a proposal to the Centre more than two years ago seeking permission to draw the blood samples of primitive tribes for clinical studies of their genome structure and immortalize their cell lines. However, the proposal is caught in a bureaucratic maze, still awaiting the nod by multiple ministries.


“The permission from multiple agencies is required for this project. The clearance was not given earlier but I am planning to write to the government again on the need to preserve the genome of these tribes for posterity,” Singh, who retired recently from the CCMB, told The Tribune in an interview.



Surviving for over 70,000 years without any exposure to modern civilization, the tribes such as Onges, Jarawas and Sentinelese are considered the direct descendents of the set of human beings who migrated from Africa. Suresh Dharur of Tribune News Service, says, “These ancient tribes are fast vanishing and their population has come down to less than 250 now.”


The genetic material of these ancient tribes reflected the “heritage of mankind” and could be of immense help in the search for medical cures for many diseases, Singh, who continues to work for the CCMB on Bhatnagar Fellowship, said.These tribes are on the verge of extinction. Our aim is to preserve their genome by immortalizing their cell lines,” the scientist, who pioneered DNA fingerprinting technology in India, said.



The scientists use a procedure called “epstein- barr virus transformation” to develop transformed cells, which will multiply externally.


His team from the CCMB, in association with Harvard Medical School, the Harvard School of Public Health and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT in the US, had recently published extensive studies to trace the genetic history of the Indian population.


“We have ICMR’s (Indian Council for Medical Research) permission for the project. But, we need clearances from the ministries of Home, Tribal Welfare and Environment and Forests, besides the administration of the Union Territory,” he said.


In order to preserve the unique genetic material of these endangered tribes, their blood samples have to be transported within 24 hours of collection to the laboratory where facilities for developing the transformed cell lines exist. “We need to create laboratory facilities in the islands because experiments on blood samples should start within 24 hours,” Singh said.



Those who are opposed to taking up such a project argue that the tribes should not be used as “guinea pigs” for laboratory experiments. India is home to over 500 tribes and 70 of them are classified as primitive. Of them, the tribes of Andaman and Nicobar islands are the most endangered.


Well, a pretty promising innovation about the glorious “immortalization” of the cell-lines of these very rare tribes which does hold water indeed!


Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how well and how honestly we can work towards a much-needed breakthrough in the direction of saving these significant tribes from a hapless extinction further by trying, in an organized manner, to curb their alarming rate of mortality, which is due to multifarious socio-economic and environmental factors.


News Courtesy: The Tribune

Wednesday, September 1, 2010



Sea Plane Starts October 1



These historic coral islands are poised to be connected by a faster and innovative mode of transport in the form of amphibian aircraft connectivity, popularly known as ‘Sea Plane’, as the Central Planning Commission has cleared its operation here from October 1, 2010 i.e. barely a month from today.


Instead of procurement of helicopters, the Planning Commission has given its nod for Sea Plane operation as Pilot Project on 50:50 partnership basis, the Director (Tourism), Andaman & Nicobar Administration, Shri Binay Bhushan informed at Port Blair a couple of days ago.


According to him, the A & N Administration has signed a MoU with Pawan Hans Helicopters Ltd., which will run the Pilot Project initially; as I had written in a post of mine about a month ago. As per the MoU, PHHL will operate Sea Plane from October 1, 2010, for island hopping by tourists in the breathtaking archipelago. The A & N Administration has provided an amount of Rs 146.40 Lakhs as advance to effect the operation, Binay Buhushan told the media.



Meanwhile, as per The Daily Telegrams, tenders for inducting sea planes on wet lease bases were invited and the successful bidder M/s Maritime Energy Heli Air Service Pvt. Ltd. will source the aircraft. The PHHL is currently operating chopper services connecting all the major islands in the archipelago.


To start with, Seaplanes will be available in the range of eight to 18 seaters. Operating the seaplane will cost about Rs 1 crore a month, including lease rental and operational expenses, that will be equally shared by the two government agencies.



This promising project, when materializes, is certainly to be greeted with warmth by the islanders and the tourists alike and the proposed operation of Sea Plane here also augurs well for the ensuing tourism and festive season.


As I had written earlier too, the Andaman & Nicobar Administration has chosen some of the most beautiful islands for being linked by the seaplane with the capital Port Blair. These include the happening Havelock Island (rated among the best beaches globally), Barren Island (an active volcano that most recently came to life five years ago), Neil Island and Diglipur (North Andaman).



All this would mean that there’s going to be an alluring bonus for the tourists visiting the tropical paradise of Andaman & Nicobar, henceforth and that’s the enchanting, spanking new Seaplane service for matchless island hopping, which is going to be India’s very first Sea Plane service.


The bottom-line – ‘Air Andaman’ is gonna be livelier, come October 1st… Hurray…!!! :-)