Monthly Archives: July 2005

The Miracle Of the Blue Blood


Friends, we have all received intravenous injections. Some have received artificial organs. In all these cases something from outside the body is put within the body.

        Things outside the body can be pretty dangerous. Viruses and Bacteria are everywhere. It can be very dangerous if a bacteria enters the blood stream through a contaminated injection! The sick person has a weak immune system and even a simple bacteria in the bloodstream can be fatal.

How do we make sure that the injections are free of these harmful germs?

One way is to steam sterlize them. But there are some bacteria called the “Gram-negative” bacteria that survive steam sterlization! How do we know that the injection is not contaminated?!

        One way to test the purity of a drug was to inject it to a rabbit.

If it lives the drug is pure. If it dies then the drug is contaminated by bacteria. And this technique was used till 1960s!!!

        In 1960s a substance was discovered which would help us detect efficiently any pathogens in a substance. It was a chemical obtained from the blood of a horseshoe crab. This chemical is known as Limulus Ameobocyte Lysate(LAL). This chemical is ONLY found in the blood of one creature- the horseshoe crab. Scientists have not been able to make it artificially in a lab- the only way to get it is to get it from Horseshoe crab’s blood.

        LAL is a remarkable substance. If it touches any bacteria it immediately clots. So to check if any substance has any bacteria in it just put a few drops of LAL in that substance. If the LAL clots then the substance is contaminated with bacteria. If LAL does not clot then the substance is pure. This technique is so effective that every drug  that can be injected and every artificial organ has to be tested with LAL before it can be released in the market.

 So the horseshoe crab’s blood has saved millions of lives from dangerous bacteria. Lets study the horseshoe crab and its blood in some more detail.

        The horseshoe crab is not a crab. It is not anything we know. It is an ancient creature that has somehow survived to the present times. It is a creature that first appeared on earth 120 to 200 million years ago.

So it is from the early dinosaur era. Its body and biology have not changed in the last 120 million years. It is a “living fossil”.

        Our blood is red because it contains hemoglobin. The horseshoe crab contains no hemoglobin. It contains copper and is therefore blue in colour.

        Most animals(including humans) have a very advanced immune system- if bacteria/virus enter the body antibodies are produced in the blood which kill these invading microbes. This kind of an immune system is a newer development. Remember that the horseshoe crab has not changed for more than 120 million years. So the horseshoe crab does not have a modern immune system. It has a very basic and simple immune system – if a bacteria/virus is found in the blood the blood will clot around it. So the clots around the invading bacteria makes them immobile and unable to reproduce. It might be a simple immune system but is has helped the horseshoe crab survive 200 million years! And it is this clotting property of the immune system that helps modern medicine detect bacterial contamination in injectible medicines.

      The Horseshoe crab is very very important creature for our health. We need to preserve it and make sure it does not become extinct. To get LAL horshoe crabs are not killed. They are caught, bled and left back in the sea alive.

        Friends, human imagination is very limited. Nature and her imagination is infinite. We pride ourselves in creating clever tools and gadgets but compared to nature’s creations these are nothing. Technology is not a pure creation of the human brain. Most technologies just try to mimic nature. It is Science that is a true nature lover’s domain. The cure to ills like AIDS and cancer will not be invented in the labs of the medical technologist. These cures will be discovered in the sap, blood, veins, organs of plants and animals in the dense forests of Amazon and the depths of the Pacific. We can not create even a substance that detects bacteria- how can we be proud of our technology? To save our own lives from the diseases of injected bacteria we need the blood of a 200 million years old creature- the horseshoe crab.

      We must preserve nature, we must study nature, we must respect nature, we must worship nature.




  Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides:                 

  Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides:                 

  Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,                           

  Correct old time and regulate the Sun;                             



Sid’s Trip to the Particle Zoo

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


[It was an unusually bright summer day. But the brightness of the
sun could not match the brightness on Sid’s face. This was the day that
Sid had been waiting for almost two months now. His father Ken had
promised to take him to the particle Zoo as soon as he had studied about
electrons, protons and neutrons in his school. Ken had always been a slow
driver but today he seemed even slower to the impatient Sid.]

Sid: How much longer to the zoo, Papa?

Ken: You seem very excited. Just about an hour more.

Sid: Our teacher told us that there are only three particles: the electron, proton and the neutron. How many more are there? Why didnt the
teacher tell us about all of them.

     [ Ken had always critical of the formal educational system. He would ordinarily use the word “stupid” to describe it. But he didnt want
to discourage Sid about school. So he decided to curb his natural feelings]

Ken: The teacher did not want to confuse you with the more complicated particles.

Sid: Do all particles look different?

Ken: All particles have different characteristics. But we cannot see them in the way we see things around us. Particles are just too small to be
seen. And even if we could use instruments to magnify them we would still not be able to “see” them because the microscope and the light would hit them and make them run away.

Sid: But then what will we see in the Zoo?

Ken: They have a special apparatus called Mathelogicus which will give us an impression of seeing these particles.

[ Sid and Ken reached the particle Zoo. Ken parked his car and bought two tickets. Then they entered the gates of the Particle Zoo. It was a sight that Sid had only imagined in his dreams: there were three huge domes of three different sizes. Outside the the domes were written “Fields”, “Leptons” and “Hadrons”. The ‘Field” dome was the smallest and the “Hadrons” dome was the largest. Ken and Sid first entered the “Fields” dome]

Sid: Papa, What particles are these? I see four glass boxes marked Photon, W/Z bosons, Gluon and Graviton. The Photon box seems to be full of small bright fuzzy dots. The W/Z bosons box seems is full of larger slow moving balls. But the boxes marked Gluon and Graviton are empty!

Ken: Sid, These four particles are responsible for the four forces of nature. The particles you seen in this dome are “messenger” partices of
these forces. The photon is a particle of light and it carries the electromagnetic force. The W/Z bosons are responsible for something called the Weak nuclear force. There partices are larger in size. But the two jars labelled Gluons and Graviton are empty because these particles have still not been discovered. Scientists are still trying to find them. Gluons are responsible for the strong nuclear force( a force that holds a nucleus together) and the Graviton is responsible for gravity- the force that holds us to the ground and makes earth revolve around the sun. Theory has predicted that Gluons and Gravitons exist but no one has been able to catch them and put them into the boxes in the particle Zoo.

[ Sid did not understand much of what Ken told him. But that did not curb his excitement. He spent a long time looking at the fuzzy and fast photons and the slow bulky W/Z bosons. He imagines what the Gluon and Graviton will look like once they are discovered. Ken walks him to the second dome- The “Leptons”. This is a larger dome but not as large as the “Hadrons” dome]

Sid: Papa, there are six boxes here. But each box has been divided into two parts. Hey! I see the electron there!!! But what is the other particle
in the same box but separated by a thick wall.

Ken: Sid, all these particles are the particles that do not experience the strong nuclear forces. As I told you earlier the strong nuclear force is
the strongest force known to man. It joins together protons and neutrons to form the atomic nuclei. The strong nuclear force has no effect on the
six particles that you see in this dome. They are called the Leptons. There are only six pairs of Leptons. Remember: every particle in this world has an antiparticle. The antiparticle has the same properties as the particle. However there is one difference : they have the opposite charge. You see the electron: it has a negative charge. Its antiparticle you see in the same box has a positive charge.

Sid: But Papa, why are the electron and its antiparticle separated by a thick wall?

Ken: If we let the electron meet its antiparticle- the Positron they will blow each other up in a flash of light.

[ A Scientist in the Zoo comes up to them and offers to show how a particle and antiparticle annihilate each other. He takes them to a dark
room where an electon and a positron are moving about in the same box without a glass wall in between! Soon they come close to each other and then there is a flash of light. Zing!  The electron and positron are seen no more. All Sid and Ken can see is a photon rushing away from the scene of “annihilation”! Sid loves the show and laughs at the violent behavour of the particles]

[Sid and Ken then move to the third dome which is named “Hadrons”. it is a much much bigger dome and has two large rooms inside it. The first one is named ‘Mesons” and the second one is called “Baryons’. These two rooms are lined with hundreds of boxes … some filled but a lot empty]

Sid: Papa, what are Hadrons? What are Mesons and what are Baryons?

Ken: Remember I told you that Leptons dont face the strong nuclear force. Hadrons face this force. There are hundreds of Hadrons and there are many more that have still not been discovered. Hadrons are divided into two parts: The baryons have spins which are a multiple of 1/2 ( half) and the mesons which have integral spins( like 1,2,3 etc). So you see the neutron and the proton in the Baryons room because they have a spin of 1/2.

Sid: Papa, I see that all Baryons are kept one per box. But the Mesons are hundreds in a box. Why?

Ken: Sid, All particles with a spin that is a multiple of 1/2 cannot occur in groups. But particles that have an integral value of spin love to be
with each other. This phenonmenon is called the Pauli’s exclusion principle. Leptons also have a spin of 1/2. All particles with a spin that
is a multiple of 1/2 are called Fermions. All particles with an integral spin are called Bosons. So Bosons are always found in groups. But
Fermions obey the Pauli’s exclusion principle and cannot come together.

Sid: But what about light particles- the Photons?

Ken: Photons are also Bosons. So they occur in groups. If they could not occur together it would be a very dark world!

[ Sid was tired and hungry. Ken had always been a lover of good food. They exited the Hadrons dome and headed for the food court. Ken got Sid his favourite burger from Burger King. Ken got himself the Panfried chicken in honey sauce with noodles. They also ordered a pitcher full of Pepsi. They sat down to eat on a table that overlooked the “Hadrons” dome.]

Sid: Papa, What is inside these particles?

Ken: Most of  these particles are made up of Quarks. The Director of the Zoo told me that they are making another dome for the 6 types of quarks.

Sid: Papa, I loved the particles. There are so many of them and they all have their own characteristics. There is a whole world out there. But
there is something that I dont really understand.

Ken: And what is that Sid?

Sid: Papa, I still do not know what is a particle!

Ken:[ looking very embarrassed] Sid, frankly speaking I also dont know what a particle REALLY is!

Sid:[ laughing] ha! ha! Papa, you know all about different kinds of particles but you dont even know what a particle really is!!!!! Don’t worry, When I grow up I will understand all about particles and then I will tell you what a particle really is!

[ As soon as Sid said these word there was a huge flash of light in the sky. A flash that travelled from one horizon to the other!  And a loud
voice thundered from the sky]