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Thursday, 24 January 2002  
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Sunday Observer

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Science & Technology

Selling and storing Genetic Data

The collection, treatment, storage and use of genetic data is another issue troubling ethicist around the world. Nicole Questiaux, vice-president of France's National Consultative Ethics Committee for Health and Life Sciences (CCNE), is also the Chairperson of the IBC working group on genetic data. She spoke to Sources about the complexities of the issue.

Why all the fuss about using genetic data?

Ethical problems about using it much more widely arise from scientific progress and from legal confusion over it. Because it's gathered from the human body and is sensitive information, it has to be protected.

Has this come up in the past?

Some of the problem has already been dealt with in the collecting of medical data. That system's based on trust between doctor and patient, on confidentiality and not sharing personal medical information with others. These are the rules. Genetic data, though, isn't going to interest just the person involved, but relatives and descendants too.

Old and purely medical data is now going to be brought out again for a look at its genetic side, long after the relationship between doctor and patient has ended.

Is anonymity a solution?

Every society that uses medical statistics for major public health programmes solves the problem by making the data anonymous. But genetic data raises two issues. One, purely scientific, is that using it to trace back to the original person can be crucial to understanding a problem.

The other is that genetic material is being used for such things as looking for the father of a child or investigating crime, both of which involve identifying some one. So anonymity would work here.

How can these interests be reconciled?

We'll have to come up with some rules. the attitudes of the patient, the doctor, the medical researcher and the person who wants to use the data for non-medical ends are understandably different. Behind all that looms the growth of research into such material, and ultimately selling it.

What are the practical problems of storing it?

You could say such data is vital to understanding human beings, but it raises the issue of privacy. This is usually linked to one person but here it can involve a whole family or a section of the population that might fear discrimination on the basis of genetic data. The notion of privacy should go with the idea that such data is so crucial and shared that its appropriation by any person or group is out of the question. Indeed, such appropriation is condemned in the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights.

How are these problems being tackled?

We have to find ways to combine very rigorous protection of people's private lives in the broadest sense with the ida of sharing something all human beings have, a link so strong that we shouldn't allow it to be appropriated. Then there's the practical business of stocking such data, which is a new skill. Until now, there's been some protection because in most countries a genetic researcher's work has to be approved as ethical by a committee.

Why have things changed?

Because we're no longer just concerned with rare diseases. We're now moving towards genetic knowledge being used extensively, if research goes well, with much broader sections of the population involved. So far, reach has not resulted in many genetic treatments. But when they do, the pharmaceutical industry will be interested. At present, medial data can be investigated and when the research is complete, it ends there. A mass of data has been built up throughout the world and nobody worries about what happens to it.

But when you think of the extent and time-period of genetic research, you can see the interest of such data collection for future use, sometimes in research unrelated to the original purpose agreed between the donor of the sample and the first researcher who looked at it.

What about storing genetic material?

Medical staff and researchers don't have the equipment to store it for decades in secure places with full guarantees. When this new profession gets going, it'II have to be legally recognised, to decide who shall have access to genetic data banks and how much they should pay.

The relationship between researchers with access to the same data will also have to be worked out. How should people be told when their genetic data is going to be looked at, perhaps in the future, for purposes unrelated to the original intention? And how do you ensure the material is kept out of the hands of governments? Laws are badly needed here.

Isn't there a risk of poor countries dong things in this field that are banned in rich countries?

I don't think we'll get anywhere in this without extensive worldwide consultation. We have to hope national and international thinking will advance openly and in step. If not, what'll quickly happen is that if one country adopts fairly strict monitoring of its data banks, researchers will be tempted to shop elsewhere, as it were. And they'll possibly encounter willing donors.

Have there been examples of that?

When a nationwide collection of genetic data was done in Iceland and Estonia, for example, both countries reacted very quickly to ethical objections. They drew up rules about consent and information for the population, allowing people to opt out. When ethics came up, it was dealt with. But there's a real need to bring all these discussions together.

Either by drafting a general declaration of principles or else, more practically, by having an international debate that'll have a big impact on national attitudes. Is "shopping elsewhere" unavoidable?

Yes. The moment you make rules that protect people and interests involved in the most developed countries, awareness of ethical issues spreads very quickly. Even countries that don't have the money to do such large-scale research soon understand that if their scientists don't soon get it, the population may supply its genetic material to others. So it's important to keep the ethics debate going as scientific progress continues.

Do North and South speak the same scientific language?

Scientists raised the issue of ethics recently because they wanted to spread the responsibility they bore. The gap between rich and poor is huge, but scientists on both sides of the divide still believe in knowledge, in a need to work together and they're always trying to forge a common language.

Is international legislation just a dream?

The fact that people are talking as if they're drafting an agreement is one way to build a bridge between different cultures on the matter, to force them to express themselves and voice their doubts and opinions. UNESCO is the natural bridge between North and South and a good place for that debate, especially as people don't really seem to understand the significance of this new knowledge.

It's rather idealistic at the moment to think we can come up with a draft declaration or treaty that'll define the exact status of genetic data banks or how such material is to be gathered. Much more useful is the International Bioethics Committee's report listing some principles for such a document and that we realise such a task is urgent.

What are the risks?

If groups of rich and very developed countries find the ethics debate irritating and fear it'll show down their activities, they could decide not to share any more fruits of their research and not tell us anything. But every time they've been tempted to do this, they've ended up going in the opposite direction. Because the free flow of knowledge has been one of the driving forces of humanity's intellectual progress and because the very aim of science is to open up, not close off.

A digitized fingerprint showing the genetic sequence of the owner's DNA, Such information can put people behind bars or confirm their paternity.

Interviewed by Cristina L'Homme (Courtesy : Sources)

A new mud wheel with retractable lugs for power tiller

by PLAG Alwis

In Sri Lanka, land preparation for the cultivation of paddy land is done mainly using the Power Tiller. The moisture content of Paddy soil is usually very high. Therefore, Power Tillers that are operated in the saturated of flooded conditions often require special devices called "Mud wheels" in place of wheels.

Rotating ring type Cage Wheels with Retractable Lugs for Power Tillers were designed and developed to provide easy road transportation and to improve performance in wetland operations.

A pair of cage wheels were constructed after testing first wheel and implementing necessary modifications. The developed wheel consists of an inner ring and an outer cage. The 12 lugs were hinged on the inner ring resting on cross bars of outer cage those guide the lugs when the wheel was expanding or retracting. The 4 pulleys were provided on the inner side of the inner ring to rotate it smoothly when the wheel diameter was changed.

Two experiments were conducted in two locations (dry and wet soil conditions) to compare the performance of the developed wheels with conventional cage wheels.

Effective field capacity, time per heater, travelling speed, travel reduction, the pull developed at 100% slip and wheel cost were considered in evaluation.

From the results, it was observed that the performance of designed cage wheels were significantly higher in both locations. Increase in pull and power of the developed cage wheel over conventional was about 1.5 and 1.6 in both soil conditions, respectively.

The tyres you drive on today, you could be walking on tomorrow!

by Pradeesha Wamasooriya

It is estimated that there are approximately 300 million tires discarded each year in the United States, and this is on top of the 800 million scrap tires that reside in landfills and tire dumps throughout the country.

About 180 million of the 300 million tires discarded each year are recycled, 130 million are burned as fuel for power plants and cement kilns, 15 million are retreaded and resold, and the remainder are ground into crumb for polymer filling. The remaining 120 million scrap tires are discarded (legally or illegally) in landfills or tire dumps. Current tire reuse technologies offer a considerable opportunity to generate valuable materials from what is essentially worthless scrap.

Considering all of the potential markets for crumb rubber as polymer filler, the one with the greatest potential is the production of rubber pavements. There are 27 million tons of asphalt used in building and maintaining roads each year in the United States.

Lynntech Inc, has developed an innovative ozonation process that alters the physical nature of the crumb rubber in two ways. The rubber is chemically "devulcanized," generating cleavage products that are free from the interference of the sulfur-carbon bonds in the original rubber state, and secondly, there is oxygen functionality added to the cleavage products.

The overall result of this treatment is a product that is easy to mix with asphalt, with greater surface area for better contact, and functional groups for improved bonding.

Experts believe that an asphalt pavement made using the Lynntech modified crumb rubber would be of better quality than a pavement made with ordinary crumb rubber. The Phase I objective is to develop a low-temperature process for the production of surface modified crumb rubber.

The system will be environmentally friendly and have low treatment costs, thus making the process economically sound.

Continuous cleaning multi-functional biofilter

by J. G. Shantha Siri

The filter is a hydrodynamically driven, expandable-media, non-clogging, self cleaning, biological reactor primarily designed for the chemical reduction of inorganic nitrogen (nitrification) in water. The filter is applicable in aquaculture as well as domestic wastewater treating. It may be utilized for biological nitrification, mechanical solids filtration, or a combination of both.

The filter employs a patented process whereby a "bed" of low-density media is continuously recirculated into itself by flowing water. It does not fit into any standard reactor configurations. However, if it did, it would be described as a downward-flow, concentric-draft, elliptical semiclosed loop, and three-phase bioreactor.

It is hydrodynamically driven by forces created by the water which is pumped through it. Since most aquaculture and wastewater processes already operate pumps, the filter can often be added in-line with little or no adjustments. Since both the nitrification and solids capture modes of the filter are driven by the influent water there are no moving parts to wear, break, or replace.

Other types of filters require either expensive motor driven propellers, or air bubbles to backflush their filters. A new line of filters that represents a combination of technology, efficiency and convenience has been introduced through this filter.

The filter is useful for aquaculturalists who are seeking the highest standards of performance, quality, and dependability. Combining RBC, fluidized bed, submerged upflow biofilter and trickling filter technologies into a single process, the filter nitrifies while continuously providing its own aeration, Co2 stripping and self cleaning.

Specific features

  •  Flow rates never change
  •  Filter never biofouls
  •  Filter aerates itself
  •  Substantially better nitrification
  •  Continuously self cleaning
  •  No backwash frequency worries
  •  Absolutely no moving parts.

lime extractor

by Ruvini Liyanage

Lime thrives very well in Sri Lanka. During the season it floods the market heavily and reduces the prices drastically. To overcome this problem lime juice can be extracted and converted to readily drink soft drinks.

Thailand Institute of Scientific and Technological Research (TISTR) has conducted research and development of many products from lime such as ready to cook and ready to drink lime juice, essential oil from lime peel, and pectin. While lime processing progresses continuously, lime processing machines are developed to serve lime products.

The important lime processing machines are lime washing machine, lime sizing machine, lime juice pasteurizer and ready to cook lime cup juice filler. The prototype lime extractor of TISTR has a capacity of 75 fruit/min. Because of the various sizes and species of Thai limes, TISTR's lime extractor can be designed to have different sockets and pressing accessories for each size of limes.

However, this prototype lime extractor has been designed to use lime size Np. 500 having a diameter of 4.5 cm. When this machine is used to extract No. 500 lime fruit, lime juice has no bitter taste from lime oil or broken seed effect. extracted lime juice will be filtered by a stainless steel sieve to separate pulp and seed.

The dimension of the machine, weighing 60 kg are 45 x 50 x 60 cm. It is easily transportable because of its very small and portable size. Electrical supply to drive 1 hp motor is 220 v and 50 Hz.

Crescat Development Ltd.

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