Low cabin pressure mid-air forced a Delhi-bound SpiceJet aircraft from Mumbai, carrying over 100 passengers, to land at the city airport this morning under emergency conditions. All the passengers on-board were safe, an airline spokesperson said.“SpiceJet Boeing 737 aircraft (VT-SZB) was operating flight SG 160 Mumbai-Delhi. Enroute, the aircraft had a (cabin) pressure problem,” the SpiceJet spokesperson said. Following the standard operating procedure, the crew diverted the aircraft to Ahmedabad, where it landed safely, he added. There were over 100 passengers on-board the plane, the spokesperson said.
“We are rising to God’s challenge”Kiran Mazumdar ShawKiran Mazumdar Shaw Chairman & Managing Director, Biocon LtdScience without religion is lame and religion without science is blind,” Albert Einstein once famously said. If we accept that God has bestowed upon us challenges and imperfections, we can do so in two ways.,”We are rising to God’s challenge”Kiran Mazumdar ShawKiran Mazumdar Shaw Chairman & Managing Director, Biocon LtdScience without religion is lame and religion without science is blind,” Albert Einstein once famously said. If we accept that God has bestowed upon us challenges and imperfections, we can do so in two ways. We can bow to our destiny and do nothing about it. Or we can strive to remove the imperfections and change our destiny. As bio-technologists, we believe we are searching for answers to imperfections. Is that playing god? Or is that rising to God’s challenge?Let’s take the 21st Century pandemic, diabetes. There are 170 million diabetics worldwide, slated to rise to 300 million by 2025. India is the world’s diabetes capital. The WHO estimates, in the next 10 years India will lose $330 billion in economic growth to this disease. Should we resign ourselves to our fate or focus on how we can change our destiny?Scientists have taken up the diabetic challenge. New knowledge is emerging. We know now that genetics and genomics have a major role to play in this disease. We also know that Indians are genetically predisposed to diabetes. Diagnosis is also taking a new turn. It’s no longer just about measuring blood-sugar levels, but predicting early warning signs and progression of the disease through biomarkers.IF OUR EFFORTS TRANSLATE INTO EFFECTIVE CURES, WE’LL HAVE THE CHANCE TO SAY WE CHANGED OUR DESTINY. Novel regimens for treating, managing and correcting the disease are coming up. For years, we have been trying to counter it with a single hormone, insulin. Now, scientists in Australia and New Zealand are focusing on geno-transplantation of the insulin-producing islet cells from human-compatible Auckland pigs. Gene therapy-whereby you can take parts of genes which are deficient in diabetics and inject them back into diabetics to correct the disease-is marching ahead. Stem cells research is growing. And effort is on to evolve a new type of vaccine that would to bring about immune tolerance among diabetics. Exciting products, like monoclonal antibodies that can correct immunological disorders leading to type 1 diabetes, are being developed.If all these translate into effective cures in the future, we will have the chance of saying that we have changed our destiny. This is what the excitement of biotechnology is all about. Are we playing God by going against nature? I believe, we are simply doing what Einstein articulated long back. We are “unblinding” religion with science and helping God and rising to his challenge.advertisement”Leave God out of it”Juan EnriquezJuan EnriquezAuthor, Chairman & CEO, BiotechonomyThe difference between humans and animals is actually very small. If you take the human genome and put it next to that of a monkey, the difference would be about 1.23 per cent of gene code. But the real difference lies elsewhere. We can pass on information and data across time and space. No other animal on the planet can do that.Over the past centuries we simplified communication into letters and alphabets. In the last 30 years, we collapsed those into ones and zeros. This new set of alphabets can transmit music, images, and every word written and spoken in every language on the planet. This transition had enor-mous implications for the global economy. And it brought about enormous change in who was rich and who was poor. The rise of India comes, for the most part, because this is one of the very few countries to understand the alphabet shift. Not only did India speak English, it also spoke digits. And because they learnt this new language, the economy shifted. If you don’t teach kids this transition in language you get into real trouble. You become like Argentina-which is far wealthier than India but its kids kept working on farms and cattle and became a smaller and smaller part of the global economy.The language of wealth and what will generate wealth over the next 30 years is changing once again. At the centre of it is the DNA. February 12, 2001 was probably one of the most important dates in human history, when we decoded the full gene-code of every human being. You can now generate about a 100 million letters out of this gene-code every 24 hours. Very small changes in the code can change life-function and you can programme it. That’s fortunate, because otherwise we will all be clones. As each of your cells contains your entire gene code, it is not inconceivable that we will learn how to re-grow limbs in humans.It has already led to a huge churn in the global economy. Companies-GE, Intel, Microsoft-are focusing on life sciences. A restructuring similar to the IT revolution is taking place in life-sciences, as it moves from molecule-management to information-management. This is especially important for India. It has proved itself to be very good at the second part of the equation. You no longer have to establish enormous sequencing salaries and spend millions of dollars on hard lab work. You have already done large-scale information management-which you are very good at-on IT. You just have to pay attention to the education of your next generation so that they learn the language of the next economic growth and manage to dominate the brave new world that is unfolding.advertisement DiscussionQ.We have been talking about a great change in biotechnology since the 1990s. But where exactly are we? Are we in science fiction or are we really doing something that would change the world? Enriquez: Is it just science fiction? Not for those who invested in Kiran’s company, surely! There have been some pretty extraordinary financial returns already. And as it goes forward, people who are involved in insurance, real estate, chemicals, textiles, food or energy are going to feel the impact. The initial impact is very small. You saw it coming and then all of a sudden it just took off. You are seeing the same thing here. The way it was launched also indicates its growthpath. It was a physicist, Erwin Shrdinger, who wrote a slim book, What is Life, that pulled many other physicists into this field. Watson, who discovered the DNA, was going to be an ornithologist, but he read this book and changed. The same thing happened to a range of other great physicists. The reason is, the dominant language of this century is going to be life. This is the century of biology.Q.If we have so much of knowledge of genetics, why don’t we genetically modify the embryo so that there are no diseases? Shaw: That’s a long, long way away, because it is difficult even to conceptualise the ‘perfect’ baby. But suffice it to say that, yes, there are efforts to look into certain diseases like Down’s Syndrome or Huntington’s Disease, which we have a pretty clear understanding of, and see how we can prevent those before the baby is born. These are big, tough challenges.Q. Which countries do you see as having the most potential in scientific research, applications and also in growing the businesses? Enriquez: The UK probably has the best life scientists on the planet. This is the place that discovered DNA, the penicillin, molecular antibodies and cloning. And it has been unable to make businesses out of these. All the knowledge gets exported to the US and it builds huge businesses. If you don’t tie academia to business, it is very hard for research institutions, universities and countries to develop. Those who adopt regulatory frameworks, teach their children the science and feel comfortable with it, are going to do well. In that sense, India may have a very significant advantage. Not just because it has an enormous trained workforce and excellence in training, but also because there’s a significant belief in re-incarnation here. It might be a lot more comfortable with the new directions in biosciences than other societies. The societies that oppose are going to fall behind. It is really important for not just businesses and countries but also for religions to adapt. Shaw: I think, the cultural acceptance in a country like India is far greater than in other parts of the world. But what we really need to focus on is the spirit of innovation and the curiosity of discovery. India really needs to do this, apart from having the regulatory mindset to accept new as well as ‘sensitive’ technologies, which might be perceived as ‘unethicalr’ in other parts of the world.advertisement