Sunday, May 29, 2005



I watched “MEET JOE BLACK” with my friend yesterday. It is a movie where death takes a human form and falls in love with a human and finds it difficult to leave the human body. DO NOT WORRY! This is not a review for “MEET JOE BLACK” but just an outlet of thoughts that came to me when I was watching this movie. While I was watching the movie I remembered the deaths of two people whom I have been very close with. The first person was my grandfather; this was the first time I lost someone close to me. It took only 4 hours for my grandfather to die. I still remember that day very vividly, he sat down for his afternoon coffee as usual. Everything seemed normal, he was in his elements, cracking some amazing jokes, and all of a sudden it took him. There was blood everywhere, he was vomiting blood, and his mug of coffee was now filled to the brim with his red blood cells. He woke up from his chair like nothing happened, walked across the room wore his shirt and came out with us to the front gate, everyone in the house was aghast, dumbfounded. He said “I am alright!! I can handle this get me an auto-rickshaw and let me get to the doctor”. He was 72 years old then. He died 4 hours after we took him to the doctor. It was a shocking incident for me. I had never imagined losing him and when the end came, I did not believe it.

My grandfathers death though, was natural, the second person’s wasn’t; he was my friend. A very close friend, his birthday preceded my grandfather’s death day. I was in his house celebrating the day before my grandfather left me. He was a very intelligent guy, one of the best in my class. I envied him for his intelligence. We were a group of three, and he was by far the most mischievous of the lot. The favorite pastime of the three musketeers (that is what we called ourselves) was books. We discovered a passion for reading and discussion that formed the basis for the strong love, admiration and friendship we had for each other. Our association broke when I was in the 10th grade. His father got transferred to another city and he had to leave with his parents. I met him one last time on an unforgettable day. It was the entrance exam for the biotech course. Around a million students were taking that exam and to qualify you had to be one in a million. I met him in the examination hall. He was very composed and assured in our brief meeting. A bright future lay ahead of him waiting. He was among the ones in the million to clear the entrance exam, I did not. He finished his degree in biotechnology and left his country of birth to the country of opportunities (USA) to do his PhD. I came a year later to the US expecting to meet him and my other friend and we were to have a reunion of the musketeers. I got news that my friend had drowned while swimming and that we were only two now and not three.

The losses of my grandfather and my friend have left me wondering about death itself. We are all dispensable. Our futures are not set in stone, but, should our quest end? Death, in itself is a new beginning. Every death signals the end of an era and the beginning of another. Death makes a person stronger, with every death a person encounters, the stronger willed does he get. I shared my encounters with death to awaken the survival spirit in us all…

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Sunday, May 22, 2005


I guess it’s been a week since my last blog. It was worth the wait for I wanted to write a review for this one movie more than any other. I watched the REVENGE OF THE SITH yesterday. I can safely write a review for this one without bothering about revealing it all, because everyone knows that this is the movie in which Anakin turns to the dark side and becomes DARTH VADER. I will however, keep his mentors identity a secret. George Lucas’s STAR WARS trilogy was the first ever science fiction movie that went beyond earth and reached out to the other galaxies of our universe. Even though there are many loopholes in the whole production (for example: All aliens and humans walk upright in zero gravity!!) the experience of watching a Star Wars movie is unparalleled. I am talking in absolutes here because I love the special effects. The special effects in the REVENGE OF THE SITH is the best of any Star Wars movie to date. If someone decided to criticize this movie they will not have to try hard because it has dozens of loopholes like the one I mentioned before. I therefore do not want to pinpoint the loopholes and would like to point out some of the breathtaking scenes in the movie. There were many breathtaking scenes in the movie like Yoda fighting DARTH SIDIOUS and ANAKIN fighting Obi Van, but the most intense scene in the whole movie was when the helmet is slipped over Anakin’s mutilated face and his transformation to DARTH VADER is complete. There is something so captivating about the breathing sound that emanates from Darth Vader’s helmet. Another reason to watch this movie is for the dialogues They all seem to pin pointedly attack George Bush. Recent movies have all tried to make a point against the war in IRAQ. George Lucas has gone a step ahead and many of the dialogues carry a deeper meaning referring to the current order (I felt that Manoj Night Shyamalan hit a home run- he named the sanctuary for the people in the village “WALKER SANCTUARY”). One character I missed a lot in the recent trilogy has been Captain HAN SOLO. I seriously feel that the previous three episodes would not have been a world wide hit if not for Captain Solo. Harrison Ford’s cool rendering of this wayward cow boyish pilot stole many people’s hearts including mine. I felt the same about the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. It lacked one actor with Harrison Ford’s personality. But all said and done DARTH VADER'S legend revives this movie. The biggest and the only selling point of THE REVENGE OF THE SITH is DARTH VADER. If you are not a Star Wars fan and know little about what I am talking about check out THE REVENGE OF THE SITH and turn to the dark side.


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Wednesday, May 11, 2005



It is a great honor to introduce the man in the picture above. It might be a sin for me to write about him considering the level he has taken science to. Nevertheless, I do want to take this opportunity and talk about my Idol "CHARLES DARWIN". He is the reason why we all know the term evolution. Darwin’s book "THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES" whose first edition was published on the 7th of January 1860 revolutionized thinking in biology and gave the scientists an incentive to work ahead. Most of the other branches of biology like genetics, cell and molecular biology owe it to Darwin. All of us owe our life to him. If it had not been for him we wouldn’t have understood Natural selection. If it had not been for him we wouldn’t have understood that diseases can be spread from one generation to the other and most importantly we would not understand drug resistance in bacteria. Human discovery in the field of biology in the last century by and large owes it to this great man. Let us now talk about evolution. Today all of us are aware that DNA is the genetic element and that we inherit it from our parents and we pass it on to our offspring’s. We also know that genetic variation and mixing (crossing over) is responsible for the variation we see in our children. But poor Charles Darwin did not know any of that. He did not even know that the variations he observed were because of genes. He wasn’t aware that there was some such thing called DNA. I am saying all this just to emphasize the magnitude of Charles Darwin’s work.

Many of us might ask, IF EVOLUTION IS HAPPENING AROUND US WHY DON’T WE SEE IT? Evolution is happening around us but it is happening at an imperceptible rate. It is similar to the development of science. Human beings have been on earth for the past 4 million years but the most important developments at least in the field of biology have occurred only in the last two centuries. Our life span has increased tremendously in the last two centuries because of our scientific growth. We just don’t realize that this is happening. Similarly, evolution is happening around us and one day it will manifest itself for all of us to see. We already do witness evolution and natural selection in our daily lives. I am sure most of us must have heard of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. How do bacteria gain antibiotic resistance? Through mutations or by acquiring genetic resistance through extrachromosomal DNA containing resistance genes commonly called as plasmids. The bacteria that have the extrachromosomal DNA conferring resistance are “NATURALLY SELECTED” to survive despite the administration of the drug. Just like those drug resistant bacteria, human beings are also evolving. Our food habits have evolved; our habitats are different from that of our ancestors. We no longer live in caves and we are in a sense very different from our ancestors in many ways. We will continue to evolve. IS THERE AN END POINT TO EVOLUTION? There are about 30,000 genes in our chromosomes that have been identified. If you consider the permutations and combinations with which these genes can undergo alterations or the possible addition of other genes to this gene pool the evolutionary end point is far, far away. There is no end to evolution. Evolution will only end when all life on earth comes to an end. Thus, evolution is not just man becoming superman. It will not happen perceptibly. It will happen over a period of time and we might not even realize it (scientists will).

That’s all for now… happy evolving.


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Tuesday, May 10, 2005


"One People, One Reich, One Führer."

You might wonder what HITLER is doing in a blog named scientific masala. Hitler is here for us to understand human psyche. It is amazing that the most important events of the past century have been associated to this man. He was a barbaric villain; there are no second thoughts about that. But, despite all that he motivated an entire nation from mediocre levels to that of a super power. It is incredible how one man can motivate people to hate other people. Human beings have a history of craving for power and glory.
Wars are fought for three reasons,

Now in the context of war let’s analyze the meaning of being civilized

civ·i·li·za·tion (sĭv'ə-lĭ-zā'shən)

  1. An advanced state of intellectual, cultural, and material development in human society, marked by progress in the arts and sciences, the extensive use of record-keeping, including writing, and the appearance of complex political and social institutions.
  2. The type of culture and society developed by a particular nation or region or in a particular epoch: Mayan civilization; the civilization of ancient Rome.
  3. The act or process of civilizing or reaching a civilized state.
  4. Cultural or intellectual refinement; good taste.
  5. Modern society with its conveniences: returned to civilization after camping in the mountains.

WAR can never go hand in hand with the word civilized. A civilized individual does not fight. He does not pollute. He preserves. Therefore, war is generally not right. History has always talked bad about leaders who led their countries to war. Out of the three reasons above to wage a war territorial integrity is the best and the only plausible reason for war. In the animal kingdom, fights over territorial integrity are common but, animals seldom kill their own species. It is a rarity in the animal kingdom. Human beings are the only species that can kill their own and punish their own. It is kind of disconcerting at this point to think about what would happen if we evolve further. Science fiction writers have always associated increased levels of barbarism and brutality with increased intelligence. Imagine the human being subject to laboratory testing by a superior species. That day might not occur in the near future but if the laws of evolution hold true humans might evolve to a superior species. Our human race and dominance will become obsolete and we will become dead fossils like dinosaurs. This has been the topic of discussion of many science fiction movies like planet of the apes. Artificial intelligence taking over man is probably the most popular science fiction topic. Man made machines ruling over man himself. I find that an obsolete idea, but not impossible. Till the dawn of the next super species let’s learn to rule the earth in peace with our own species or the days of extinction are not far away.


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Monday, May 09, 2005


The picture above shows the timeline since the big bang. It is interesting to note that it has been 13.7 billion years since the big bang occurred. Thus, 13.7 billion light years is also the diameter of the universe. I included this time line to make a simple point; it has been only 4.5 billion years since the birth of planet earth and only 4 million years since the birth of mankind. Life on earth formed surprisingly early about 3.5 billion years ago i.e., just one billion years after the formation of Earth itself. Evolution of mankind though took a longer time. There were many prominent scientists in the past who spoke about a life on earth being alien. They spoke about life beginning on a different planet and then being subsequently transferred to Earth. Two modern day scientists Hoyle and Wickramasinge proposed the PANSPERMIA theory. Scientists have long observed that the vegetative form of bacteria called bacterial spores have special resistant features. The bacterial spores can withstand high temperatures, cosmic rays, and even vacuum. This made the bacterial spore a very special intergalactic vehicle. A bacterial spore formed in Mars can then be transported along with meteorites to Earth. There are many records or Mars meterorites falling on Earth and scientists a few years ago also observed PCHC’s (polycyclic hydrocarbons) in these meteorite samples. The presence of such hydrocarbons can be considered as equivalent of finding a bacterial fossil. But the sole presence of these hydrocarbons is not proof enough that life existed on Mars. This theory will only hold true if the geological age of Mars is significantly more than that of the geological age of Earth. Like all theories the panspermia theory also has great support and equal opposition. But it does bring forth one very interesting question. ARE WE ALL ALIENS?


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Sunday, May 08, 2005


I am sure many of us ask this question. This question first reminds me of a Jackie Chan flick of the same name, Charles Darwin, Richard Dawkins and more recently Mr. Desikans (dasavatharam the missing link) blog. I read his blog at my friends place and he seemed to reflect my opinion on the famous dasa avatharam. Many people here in the US have asked me about hinduism and I have always maintained that hinduism is a deep philosophy. It is ironical that a person like me who doesnt believe in religion is writing this blog.
I believe in simplifying the hindu philosophy to the trinity. WHAT IS THE TRINITY?
BRAHMA- the creator
SHIVA- the destroyer
VISHNU-the preserver ( cosmic intelligence)

All the different stories I heard from my grandfather when I was a kid had these three basic characters. Whenever the creator or destroyer faced problems they used to run to the cosmic intelligence for help. For instance there is this story of Basmasura who tries to kill shiva after getting a boon from shiva himself. Vishnu in his Mohini avataram saves Shivas skin.
Let us equate this scenario with the food chain. The food chain must be maintained in order for the different species in the food chain to exist peacefully. There has to be a balance between the number of carnivores and herbivores. The number of herbivores depend on the number of carnivores and the food source. The same holds true for the carnivores and the primary producers. The chain, if disrupted, can cause extinction of a species. I find it incredibly intriguing that hindu philosophy agrees so well with what occurs in nature. We can use the same analogy to different other things.
Now to return to the basic question... Who am I?
I have no answer. For a scientist, I am a living, breathing mammal, a land animal, bestowed with the ability to read, write and comprehend an animal of outstanding brain power. For the religious person, I am gods child. A mirror image of god himself. Created out of dust...
Who am I?
I am ROBBIE ...

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Isaac Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics"
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. Posted by Hello


This is my inaugural blog and let me introduce you to ROBBIE first. Meet ROBBIE, the hero of the first robot short story written by ISAAC ASIMOV. Yes! You guessed it!! The great ISAAC ASIMOV, father of the term ROBOTICS! Most of the modern movie makers and science fiction writers derive inspiration from ASIMOV's robot series and the foundation series. He along with Sir ARTHUR C CLARKE revolutionized science fiction writing. ARTHUR C CLARKE described artificial intelligence in the book he wrote in the early 60's. I am sure most of you must have watched the epic movie made by Stanley Kubrick in 1968. Kubrick supposedly prevented Clarke from publishing "2001 a space odyssey" before the movie was released. Most people did not understand the movie and the book. I lent this book to my English teacher when I was in my 12th grade and he asked me if I understood the meaning of the last chapter in the book. The link provided tries to explain Kubrick’s movie (
Most of you might ask, why a blog on science fiction and Robbie? Robbie is a landmark robot story and a landmark character, a robot that followed Asimov's three laws of robotics. It has been many years since the birth of robotics and artificial intelligence, but very few advances have been made in these fields. We havent even yet reached the stage where robots can stand up tall like humans and walk like humans. I was reading an interesting article in THE SCIENTIST about how biology helps to make robots more intelligent.
The complexity of human body is so confounding. Our brain has a network of millions and millions of neurons each connected to a specific organ or site in the body ready to transmit signals composed of very simple chemicals like acetyl choline. The neurotransmitters are such simple molecules and they function by binding to their receptors. The polarization and depolarization of neurons also occur by the opening and closing of sodium and potassium channels.

You might wonder why I have shifted so dramatically from robotics and sci-fi to biology. It is because I am a biologist by profession. I am trying to understand how polarized epithelial cells establish and maintain polarity. Does it mean electrical polarity or geographical polarity? Well it means neither. It refers to epithelial cells that have distinct apical and basolateral membrane domains separated by tight junctions. What does this mean? The apical surface of an epithelial cell is the surface that faces the external environment and the basolateral surface faces the inside. It must be clear now why epithelial cells are so important, they form the primary line of defense by protecting the underlying tissue from the external environment. The tight junctions that separate the apical and basolateral surfaces serve as a barrier against any invading micro-organisms. Why study polarized epithelial cells? They line every organ of the human body. 50% of the human total cell mass is epithelial cells. 80% of human cancers are derived from epithelial cells and cancerous cells are characterized by a loss of cell polarity.

I hope to intrigue everyone with more information soon.

ROBBIE signs off…