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Warning that wheat blast could be “catastrophic” for South Asia: Scientists from Bangladesh

Wheat blast is caused by a fungus known as Magnaporthe oryzae although scientists are still debating its exact identity

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Wheat, Wikimedia

Kolkata, March 30, 2017: Warning that wheat blast could be “catastrophic” for South Asia, scientists from Bangladesh, which was ravaged by an outbreak of the disease in 2016, have offered to help their Indian counterparts tackle the deadly fungal foe, reported here for the first time this year.

Following the first sightings of wheat blast in India in Bengal, experts at the Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya (BCKV) in the state have sought to fully understand the pathogen in collaboration with scientists at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University (BSMRAU) in Bangladesh, given their experience in the matter.

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“Through the collaboration with scientists from Bangladesh, we can step ahead as they are already continuing their studies from 2016. So their experience will help us. This kind of research will help even other countries of Southeast Asia where the disease is predicted to occur,” Sunita Mahapatra, Assistant Professor, Plant Pathology, BCKV, Nadia, told IANS.

Mahapatra is waiting for the go-ahead from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.

Wheat blast is caused by a fungus known as Magnaporthe oryzae although scientists are still debating its exact identity.

Mahapatra says the disease, that periodically devastates crops in South America, has been detected in wheat in the Bangladesh-bordering Murshidabad and Nadia districts of Bengal in February. Wheat on at least 1,000 hectare in the two districts has been riddled with the fungus.

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“ICAR, Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research and the Agriculture Department of the state government took immediate measures and decided to burn all the infested fields to stop its spread as well as its survival for the next season,” Mahapatra said, adding initial investigations have confirmed the presence of the fungus.

Now, with the wheat harvesting season knocking on the doors, there is an urgency to “know the enemy”.

Wheat blast was first sighted in Brazil in 1985. In February 2016, the disease emerged in eight districts of Bangladesh and became an epidemic — the first reported outbreak outside South America. In Bangladesh, the fungus led to yield loss of up to 90 per cent in more than 15,000 hectares of crops last year.

In its aftermath, Md. Tofazzal Islam and his team at BSMRAU developed a convenient and rapid molecular diagnostic tool for detection of wheat blast in seeds, asymptomatic plants and alternate hosts.

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“Indian researchers are welcome to collaborate with us for precisely determining the genetic identity and origin of wheat blast in India. We are ready to help them analyse Indian samples by field pathogenomics analytic methods and molecular diagnosis that we have developed,” Islam, Professor and Head of the Department of Biotechnology at BSMRAU, told IANS.

Pathogenomics refers to genomic research on pathogenic micro-organisms.

“This pathogen causes a destructive disease on rice and it would be disastrous if the same situation arises now in wheat,” he warned.

Through genomic analysis and bioinformatics studies, Islam and 31 researchers from 14 institutes spanning four continents collaborated to trace the lineage of wheat blast in Bangladesh to South American Magnaporthe oryzae.

British and Bangladeshi teams are making raw genetic data for the wheat blast pathogen available on the Open Wheat Blast website. One of the key collaborators is Sophien Kamoun of Britain’s The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich.

“Our ultimate goal is to develop a durable blast-resistant wheat variety for the farmers,” Islam explained.

Mahapatra said genetic studies are crucial to strengthen (disease) resistance research and strategies.

“We also need to find out the ancestor of the pathogen, from where it came, study pathogen behaviour, distribution of the pathogen, immunity in the host or resistance and so many other aspects that we need to solve before the next season of wheat harvesting — as soon as possible . So, if we work together, then our work will be faster as well as fruitful,” reasoned Mahapatra.

Islam believes spores (reproductive units) of the fungus, that can travel via wind for six km or more, were responsible for the spread of the disease in Bengal.

Similarity of weather in the Bengal districts and across the border also favoured its dissemination, Mahapatra felt.

“Wheat blast needs no passport or visa for crossing geographical borders. It poses serious threat to future food and nutritional security of South Asia. If delayed, wheat blast can be catastrophic in South Asia,” added Islam.

According to data on the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) website, South Asia is home to 300 million undernourished people and inhabitants consume over 100 million tonnes of wheat each year. (IANS)

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Mahalaya: Beginning of “Devipaksha” in Bengali Celebration of ‘Durga Puja’

“Mahalaya” is the auspicious occasion that marks the beginning of “Devipaksha” and the ending of “Pitripaksha” and heralds the celebration of Durga Puja

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Mahalaya morning in Kolkata. Flickr
  • Mahalaya 2017 Date: 19th september.
  • On Mahalaya, people throng to the holy river Ganges in order to pay homage to their ancestors and forefathers; which is called ‘Torpon’
  • Mahalaya remains incomplete without the magical chanting of the scriptural verses from the ‘Chandi Kavya’ that is broadcasted in All India Radio
  • The magic is induced by the popular Birendra Krishna Bhadra whose voice makes the recitation of the “Chandi Kavya” even more magnificent

Sept 19, 2017: Autumn is the season of the year that sees the Hindus, all geared up to celebrate some of the biggest festivals of India. The festive spirit in the Bengalis all enthused to prepare for the greatest of the festivals, the ‘Durga Puja’.

About Mahalaya:

Mahalaya is the auspicious occasion that marks the beginning of “Devipaksha” and the ending of “Pitripaksha,” and this year it is celebrated on September 19.

Observed exactly a week before the ‘Durga Puja’, Mahalaya is the harbinger of the arrival of Goddess Durga. It is celebrated to invoke the goddess possessing supreme power! The goddess is invited to descend on earth and she is welcomed with devotional songs and holy chants of mantras. On this day, the eye is drawn in the idols of the Goddess by the artisans marking the initiation of “Devipaksha”. Mahalaya arrives and the countdown to the Durga Puja begins!

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The day of Mahalaya bears supreme significance to the Bengalis. The day is immensely important because on this day people throng to the holy river Ganges in order to pay homage to their ancestors and forefathers. Clad in white dhotis, people offer prayers and take dips in the river while praying for their demised dear ones. The ritual is popular as “Torpon”.

Mahalaya
An idol-maker in progress of drawing the eye in the idol of the Goddess. Wikipedia

As per Hindu myth, on “Devipaksha”, the Gods and the Goddesses began their preparations to celebrate “Mahamaya” or Goddess Durga, who was brought upon by the trinity- Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheshwara; to annihilate the fierce demon king named Mahishasura. The captivating story of the Goddess defeating the demon got popularized with the goddess being revered as “Durgatinashini” or the one who banishes all the evils and miseries of the world. The victory of the Goddess is celebrated as ‘Durga Puja’.

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Mahalaya remains incomplete without the magical chanting of the scriptural verses from the ‘Chandi Kavya’ that is broadcasted at dawn in All India Radio in the form of a marvelous audio montage enthralling the souls of the Bengalis. Presented with wonderful devotional music, acoustic drama, and classical songs- the program is also translated to Hindi and played for the whole pan-Indian listeners.

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Mahalaya
Birendra Krishna Bhadra (1905-1991). Wikipedia

The program is inseparable from Mahalaya and has been going on for over six decades till date. The magic is induced by the popular Birendra Krishna Bhadra whose voice makes the recitation of the “Chandi Kavya” even more magnificent! He has been a legend and the dawn of Mahalaya turns insipid without the reverberating and enchanting voice of the legendary man.

Mahalaya will keep spreading the magic and setting the vigor of the greatest festival of the Bengalis- the Durga Puja, to worship the supreme Goddess, eternally.

                 “Yaa Devi Sarbabhuteshu, Shakti Rupena Sanhsthita,

                     Namastaswai Namastaswai Namastaswai Namo Namaha.”

– by Antara Kumar of NewsGram. Twitter: @ElaanaC

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Raja Chari: Indian American Astronaut chosen by NASA

Raja Chari, an American of Indian descent, has been chosen by NASA as one of the 12 astronauts for a new space mission.

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Raja Chari. Twitter.
  • Raja Chari is an American of Indian descent chosen by NASA for the new batch of astronauts
  • Currently, he is a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force
  • Chari will have to go through two years of astronaut training which begins in August

June 06, 2017: NASA has chosen 12 astronauts out of a record-breaking 18,300 applications for upcoming space missions. An American of Indian descent, Raja Chari, has successfully earned his spot in the top 12.

The astronauts were selected on the basis of expertise, education, and physical tests. This batch of 12 astronauts is the largest group selected by NASA since two decades. The group consisting of 7 men and 5 women surpassed the minimum requirements of NASA.

Born in Waterloo, Iowa, Chari graduated from Air Force Academy in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in Astronautical Engineering and Engineering Science. He went on to complete his master’s in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The astronaut is also a graduate of US Naval Test Pilot School.

Currently, Raja Chari is a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force. He is the commander of 461st Flight Test Squadron and director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

After Late Kalpana Chawla, Lt. Col. Raja Chari is the second Indian American astronaut chosen by NASA.

The 12 astronauts will have to go through two years of training. Upon completion, they will be assigned their missions ranging from research at the International Space Station, launching from American soil on spacecraft by private companies, to flying on deep space missions on NASA’s Orion Spacecraft.

The US Vice-President Mike Pence visited the Johnson Space Centre in Houston to announce and congratulate the new batch. Pence also said that President Trump is “fully committed” to NASA’s missions in space.

by Saksham Narula of NewsGram. Twitter: @Saksham2393

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Over 5,000 Plant Varieties in Last 3 Years sent in by Tribal Farmers to protect the species : Minister

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Tribal Farmers
tribal farmers submitted more than 5,000 plant varieties in last three years (representational Image). Wikimedia

New Delhi, June 8, 2017: Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh on Wednesday said tribal farmers submitted more than 5,000 plant varieties in last three years through Krishi Vigyan Kendras for registration at the Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers Rights Authority.

It will play an important role in the development of climate resilient and sustainable varieties in future, he said at the National Workshop on Empowerment of Farmers of Tribal Areas here.

“New technological innovations in agriculture must reach to the fields of tribal areas but before taking such steps we must keep in mind the unique conditions of these areas, which are the gift of nature and therefore, we should promote natural farming in those areas,” he said, as per an official release. (IANS)

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