Pink Bollworm Epidemic Leaves Cotton Farmers in Despair

Recent news regarding the pink bollworm epidemic in the cotton growing belt has left the cotton growing belt of Maharashtra aghast and disappointed. The recent farmer deaths have been attributed to the illicit use of pesticides as a last ditch effort to save their crop from the pink bollworm attack. This leaves one thinking how, despite the use of Bt cotton and regular spraying of pesticides, how did it come to such a dire situation?

The pink bollworm is deadly because the attack is completely devoid of symptoms until the boll are ready for harvest. This Kharif season, farmers were left clueless as to why bolls had not started bursting by the time of harvest. Upon investigating further, it was found that entire field worth of bolls were completely infested with pink bollworms. Experts are of the opinion that the pink bollworm has adapted and grown resistant to the cry protein expressed in the Bt cotton.

All this only points to the fact that no matter how much chemical intervention in the form of pesticides takes place, there will always be a need for finding preventive measures to these problems. Benjamin Franklin once famously quoted, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In order to reduce the ‘fire fighting’ that needs to be done after the onset of a pest attack, a lot more importance should be given to finding preventive solutions to stop/reduce the onslaught of infections. Biopesticides typically are not as potent as chemical pesticides in the sense that they typically only work at a certain life stage of the pest in question. A big problem with this is usually the failure to identify the early stage or predict the onset of pest attacks. Using inappropriate biopesticides for certain diseases or getting the time wrong can result in complete failure.

To counter this, it should the prerogative of biopesticide production companies to educate the farmer regarding the potential of the biopesticide as well as its time and dosage of application. Apart from this, a holistic solution needs to be given to the farmer regarding what sort of biopesticide – pesticide combinations are safe to use (without reducing the potency of either). Not only will this reduce the unnecessary use of pesticides, it will maximize the impact of the biopesticides and pesticides applied. Regulatory norms often are found to impede the pace at which development of more potent and targeted biopesticides. A serious thought needs to be put as to how to counter this issue.

Are any microbes hardy enough to survive in outer space?

Microbes are versatile. They possess the series of enzymatic machinery to bring out the biochemical changes inside as well outside the cell, thereby impacting the environment in which they are present. Microbes have the capability to adapt to any kind of adverse conditions and they thrive for the survival by exploiting their fullest genomic and biochemical potential. And after all, when there is a question of survival of any life, the fittest one wins!

Life can thrive in some of the most extreme environments on the planet. Microbes flourish inside hot geothermal vents, beneath the frigid ice covering Antarctica and under immense pressures at the bottom of the ocean.

Are any microbes sturdy enough to survive in outer space? Through the experiments conducted by the space scientists, it was found that many microbes survive and even thrive in a space-vessel environment. Most do even worse when exposed to some of the actual conditions of outer space, either in the laboratory or in space.

Arriving in space without any protection, microorganisms are confronted with an extremely hostile environment, characterized by an intense radiation field of galactic and solar origin, high vacuum, extreme temperatures, and microgravity. The vast, cold, and radiation-filled conditions of outer space present an environmental challenge for any form of life. Earth’s biosphere has evolved for more than 3 billion years, shielded by the protective blanket of the atmosphere protecting terrestrial life from the hostile environment of outer space. Within the last 50 years, space technology has provided tools for transporting terrestrial life beyond this protective shield in order to study in situ responses to selected conditions of space.

Of all the organisms tested, only some lichens, Rhizocarpon geographicum and Xanthoria elegans, were fully viable after two weeks in outer space, with its radiation, vacuum, temperature extremes and low gravity. The most lethal factor, found was the high level of solar ultraviolet radiation found beyond the ozone layer. However, if spores of Bacillus subtilis, a common bacterium, were shielded against the radiation, they did survive in space for up to six years, especially if they were embedded in clay or in artificial meteorites made of meteorite powder. These findings support the possibility of interplanetary transfer of microorganisms within meteorites. The question of microbe survival has been of interest to scientists since the early days of space exploration, out of concern both that extraterrestrial microbes might be accidentally brought back to Earth and that Earthly ones might contaminate space.

For these organisms to survive and function, so must the enzymes that enable them to live and grow. The research has been focused on what allows particular enzymes to function under extreme environmental conditions. Enzymes are proteins that catalyze the critical biochemical reactions in an organism, and for it to work, its molecular structure has to be stable and flexible.

Higher temperatures would loosen the atomic interactions in an enzyme, making it less stable but more flexible. High pressures would compress the enzyme and force it to become more rigid, making it more stable but less flexible. So for an enzyme under extreme conditions to function, it must adapt to have the right level of stability and flexibility. An enzyme adapted to high pressures, for example, might be more flexible than if it were adapted to normal pressures.

Researchers used computers to simulate the behavior of an enzyme at the molecular level, under various pressures and temperatures. They focused on a well-studied enzyme called dihydrofolate reductase, which is found in the familiar E. coli, a bacterium that lives under normal conditions, called a mesophile. They also studied a high-pressure version of the enzyme found in M. profunda, a microbe found at the bottom of the Atlantic, making it both a piezophilic (pressure-loving) organism as well as a psychrophilic (cold-loving) organism. Understanding how these so-called extremophiles thrive helps scientists gauge under what conditions life can exist – whether it’s in the ocean, deep underground, or even outer space.

These kinds of studies could even help researchers engineer proteins from mesophilic organisms to work in extreme conditions. Scientists can change the DNA sequence or the amino acids of a mesophilic protein and make it function under high pressure, low or high temperatures, just like those extremophiles. This could lead to industrial applications in making biofuels and other chemicals that require extreme conditions for optimal production. Knowing the limits of microbial life could also be useful for sterilizing and preserving food by high-pressure processing.

The search for signatures of life forms on another planet or moon in our solar system is one of the most prominent goals of space expeditions. Our neighbor planet Mars and Jupiter’s moon Europa are considered key targets for the search for life beyond Earth. By analogy, with terrestrial extremophilic microbial communities, e.g., those thriving in arid, cold, salty environments and/or those exposed to intense UV radiation, additional potential extraterrestrial habitats may be identified. Also, sulfur-rich subsurface areas for studying chemo-autotrophic communities, rocks for endolithic communities, permafrost regions, hydrothermal vents, and soil or evaporite crusts are all of interest. Field studies with microbial communities in those extreme environments as well as microbiological studies under simulated planetary environments—in space as well as in the laboratory—will provide valuable information for preparing the correct “search-for life” experiments on missions to those solar system bodies. Another important role of microbiologists in space exploration concerns the planetary protection initiative. Spacecraft can unintentionally introduce terrestrial microorganisms to the planet or moon of concern. This may destroy the opportunity to examine these bodies in their pristine condition. To prevent the undesirable introduction and possible proliferation of terrestrial microorganisms on the target body, the concept of planetary protection has been introduced. The planetary protection guidelines require cleaning and, in specific cases, sterilization of the spacecraft or components to avoid contamination with terrestrial organisms.

Microbes are versatile and smart too. It’s the Microbiologists most important role to exploit them in a right way and of course to control them at the right time before it is too late.


Organica Bio fertilizers – Microbes Designing Soil Fertility

India has been an agricultural nation since time immemorial. Agriculture is the part and parcel of this nation’s rich cultural heritage. As of 2011, India had a large and diverse agricultural sector, accounting, on average, for about 16% of GDP and 10% of export earnings. Therefore all the measures to improve the agricultural yield are of utmost importance for the overall development of its economy. Many practices and technologies have been employed to improve the yield of agricultural produce. Some common measures involve use of fertilizers, pesticides, hybrid seeds and many synthetic nutrients. The major concern in agriculture is variability of changing weather patterns, steadily declining soil fertility. The addition of various fertilizers and nutrients has not helped to increase the quality of soil. The use of biofertilisers in conjunction with traditional fertigation, would greatly enhance the utility of these nutrients being added to the soil.

Biofertilizers are microbes which have evolved their enzymatic machinery to sequester fixed nutrients from soil and assist in their assimilation into plants. They have a localized effect and since most of these organisms are symbiotic in nature they help in overall development of plants. The application of biofertilizers in soil help in improving the organic and macro nutrient content in it. Some biofertilizers also produce phyto-hormones which accelerate the growth of roots and shoots. The Biofertilizers group contain a wide variety of organism but for suitability of application they are categorized as Phosphate solubilizing bacteria (PSB), Potash mobilizing bacteria (KMB), Nitrogen fixing bacteria (NFB), Zinc mobilizing bacteria (ZMB), Siderophore producers and many more.

Phosphate is one of the most important macronutrient for the overall development of plants. Although soil may contain the nutrient in ample quantity, its often fixed in form of insoluble salts of Calcium like rock phosphates which make it unavailable for assimilation by plants. Phosphate solubilizing bacteria belonging to the the genus of Pantoea spp., Bacillus spp., Klebsiella spp. and others are capable of producing large quantities of organic acids and enzymes which solubilize these insoluble salts of phosphorous and make it available to plants for absorption.

Potash again is a similar macronutrient which is of great significance for the growth of some high value crops like Grapes and Banana. As in the case of phosphates, potash too is fixed in soils in the form of potassium aluminium silicate. As the fixed form of potash is insoluble and chemically inert it is therefore necessary to mobilize it using the enzyme machinery of Potash mobilizers like Klebsiella spp, Bacillus spp. Since these bacteria colonize the root rhizosphere they provide a quick access of solubilized nutrient to the roots.

Nitrogen fixing bacteria are the micro-organisms which play a pivotal role in nitrogen cycle and fixing of atmospheric nitrogen into soil. Bacterial species of Azotobacter spp,, Azospirillum spp. and Rhizobium spp. are the major families of bacteria belonging to this group. These microbes also form nodules in plant roots and form a symbiotic system which promote plant growth by assimilating nitrogen in the rhizosphere.

Many other biofertilizers have been to known to possess additional plant growth promoting activities like auxin production, abscisic acid production, siderophore production and anti-bacterial activity. Thus biofertilizers act as a soil conditioning experts, who can mould soil fertility. As they are part of natural soil micro flora, their use wont disturb the ecological niche associated to their application. Thus it can be said that biofertilizers may lead our agricultural sector to the path of highly productive farming.


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