Here are some of the science snippets that I have contributed to the weekly column at Deccan Herald, bylined under "Research Matters"

ORS: The salt that saved millions of lives

It’s not a vaccine; neither is it a drug. It does not taste bitter, nor is it expensive. Yet, oral rehydration salts (ORS) have saved millions of lives in the last few decades, thanks to science. The magic ingredient is a humble mixture of sugar and salt — a seemingly uncomplicated formula for such a valuable drug. Yet, it came to light after millions of lives were lost to deadly diseases like cholera. It is estimated that ORS has brought down the risk of death due to dehydration by 93% worldwid

How a glowing jellyfish threw much light on cells

In the last few decades, our understanding of cells has seen a monumental change. We now know about the various processes that happen inside these cells and the diseases that bother them. Did you know much of it was possible because of a jellyfish and its glow? Crystal jelly, scientifically called Aequorea victoria, is a jellyfish species found on the coasts of the Pacific Ocean in North America. What’s unique about this colourless, transparent jellyfish is that it glows green when threatened o

Zebrafish: Science’s beloved ‘model’ organism

In the shallow freshwater ponds across South Asia lives a small fish, just about three centimetres long. With striking blue stripes on its sides, it gets the name from an animal known for stripes—the zebra. Called the zebrafish, or Danio rerio in science, it has the looks needed to make it to the aquariums. Yet, it is a favourite among a different community who look beyond its beauty— the scientific community. For good reasons, this fish is at the pinnacle of a wide range of scientific studies—f

The enigma behind Fairy Circles

In the arid grasslands of Namibia, hostile to most life forms, are thousands of circular patches of barren land surrounded by grass. For a long time, no one understood how these circles, each about two to 15 metres in diameter, formed. Hence, they were called ‘Fairy Circles’, attributing their creation to some supernatural powers. The nomadic tribes in the region revered them as footprints of the gods. The folklore also had it that these circles, unique to this region, were created by dragons! S

Mysteries of the Deccan Traps

Have you observed that some hills on the Maharashtrian parts of the Western Ghats have a stair-like appearance? Trekking these rocky steps in the monsoon, amidst the lush-green landscape towards cloud-kissed summits, with tiny waterfalls trickling down, can refresh a tired soul. About 66 million years ago, this region was anything but serene! A massive volcanic explosion spewed hot magma from the earth’s interior for about 30,000 years without a break. At that time, this flowing magma covered al

It is time to thank the horseshoe crabs for our medical safety

Imagine a big, inverted saucepan with two holes for eyes, a few legs at the bottom and a long tail. That is what a horseshoe crab vaguely looks like. Don’t get carried away by the name! It is not a crab, but a marine invertebrate closely related to spiders and scorpions. While the earliest fossils of horseshoe crabs date back to 450 million years ago, there are four species in the world today. Three of them are found on the beaches of South and Southeast Asia. What’s fascinating about these arch

Every bird has its own version of a song

What could be a better start to a day than waking up to an orchestra of bird songs? With an ensemble of pitches, the winged musicians sing their chorus without missing a note. Songbirds, as the name indicates, are a group of birds that sing elaborate songs. Consisting over 5,000 species of birds, including warblers, swallows, sparrows, robins, finches, and crows, songbirds produce two kinds of sounds — calls and songs. Calls are short, simple and made throughout the year to signal danger or flig

There are ‘water bears’ all around us

Imagine a bear a few millimetres long, having eight legs, tiny mouth and no snout, swimming in water. Sounds weird? Well, that is a tardigrade for you! Also called ‘water bears’ or ‘moss piglets’, based on their looks, these microscopic organisms are unlike any other. First described in 1773 by the German zoologist Johann August Ephraim Goeze, today we know of about 1,300 species of tardigrades that live in the world. Tardigrades are found everywhere on the planet—from the hot springs in the lo

Non-dairy product may not be allowed 'milk' tag

Since our childhood days, most of us have grown up drinking the elixir of life — milk. When we were born, it was our mother’s milk, and then we switched to cow’s milk as we grew up. While cow’s milk is palatable for most, there is a growing number of people who do not prefer it for various reasons. For some, lactose, the sugar molecule in milk, is not easily digested in their body and hence, they are intolerant to it. A few may have other conditions like Crohn’s disease or bowel disorders that p

Did You Know? Bacteria causes gastritis and ulcers

Our stomach, with a pH of 1.5 to 3.5, presents the harshest environment for life to thrive. Gastric acids, primarily hydrochloric acid, are responsible for the acidic pH. For years, it was believed that no microbes, including bacteria, could live in the hostile environment of the stomach and cause any disease. Yet, people suffered from recurrent gastritis (inflammation of the lining of the stomach) and peptic ulcers (breaking of the stomach lining). Their lifestyle was blamed for their condition

Trees have their own ‘Internet’

About 30 years ago, Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, which is fundamental to today’s digitally-connected world. It turns out that the world’s trees have their own ‘Internet’, right below our feet. Called the Wood Wide Web, this intricate network, formed by fungi and bacteria, lets trees ‘talk’ to each other. This ‘conversation’ is through the exchange of nutrients, and chemicals, rather than words! Ecologist Suzanne Simard first proposed the groundbreaking idea that trees ‘commu

Scouring clothes turns sour for the planet

Turtles strangled with plastic cords, beached whales with ingested plastic, beaks of marine birds sealed with plastic flaps—these images speak the loudest on the plight of marine pollution. Over time, plastics strewn in the ocean degrade and become microplastics, which choke the internal organs of marine animals and impair their growth. This is a story we know. What we don’t is that of an equally nefarious pollutant lurking on us—in the fibres of our favourite garment—the microfibres. Microfibr
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