Greenhouses, Green Thumbs and Green Rooms

climate-change

Whether it is cricket or a thicket, green is the color that predominates and preserves the game of life. The foliar dressings of green perpetuate nature by hydrolyzing water and supplying the oxygen for the strain of pneuma (a word that can be used to define both life and spirit) that inevitably controls life span and the life story. At the end life is about quality and not quantity – whether we truly loved one creature close to one’s heart and existed in harmony with diversity of beings that make up mankind. Although the power of green preserves life, the human race has been unappreciative, negligent and unrepentant on their actions that have transformed this wondrous turquoise planet to an over-heating greenhouse. Global warming although taking the leap from myth to fact has been debated and counter-debated by scientific prophesies and uncertainties that pollute the future horizons of this delicate and ominous subject. In this scheme of things, it is wise to think ahead and to find application-driven solutions to the biological footprint of global warming and climate change.

Humans are notorious contributors to climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions from industrial nations are the main driving forces of climate change which has  resulted in the trapping of heat by key atmospheric gases that have evolved in their share of the atmosphere and continue to heat-up the immediate vicinity of this true-blue rolling ball. The footprint of climate change is scary and many consequences of this phenomenon can be easily seen in the rising sea levels, the over-heating of the atmosphere, seasonal irregularities, reductions in the arctic ice cap, shifting of glaciers, species variations and loss of biodiversity, agricultural losses due to abiotic stresses, regular precipitation and flooding and severe changes in weather patterns. The greenhouse effect has to be dealt with fast and furious action to reverse the juggernaut and to ensure that this spherical greenhouse is conducive to life.

Key to global warming are three gases, carbon dioxide, methane (34 times as potent as carbon dioxide) and nitrous oxide (a 298 fold higher footprint than carbon dioxide) which are the chief contributors of global warming. Although water vapor too is a potent contributor to climate change we are unable to restrict the water vapor emissions and thus our mitigating mechanisms should be centered on the attenuation of emissions of the “big three” gases – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Funny enough the cultivation of crops or agriculture, is a chief perpetrator to climate change in the emissions of all three of the above gases; heavy machinery and the Haber process that produces ammonia fertilizer possess high carbon footprints, farming of ruminants and rice cultivation which promotes anaerobic respiration are both emitters of methane, and the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers that potentiate nitrification and denitrification of nitrogen compounds emit nitrous oxide as a by-product. Therefore it is time to truncate the climate change footprint of agriculture by promoting the use of biological alternatives to nitrogen fertilizers (biofertilizers), which are bacterial/cyanobacterial organisms that possess the remarkable ability to fix nitrogen gas and to furnish the nitrogen requirements of the plants. Nitrogen fixation is biologically-viable, does not pollute or emit greenhouse gases, is cost-effective, user-friendly and universally-applicable which makes this old biological trick a potent player in the future climate change handicapped world – we need to truly possess green thumbs and green technologies to address the real world problems stemming from climate change.

Climate change is inevitable (in spite of the Kyoto protocol, carbon reductions and offsets) and this requires that we are ready to adapt to the climate-change charged world. To adapt there is a need to adopt greener technologies. We need to exploit providence and to even tinker with creation to ensure that there will be the perpetuation of life in our humble home. Therefore, plant breeding and genetic modifications are both needed to develop and promote climate change ready crops that will be able to withstand seasonal fluctuations of heat, rain, flooding and nutrient deprivations. This is imperative to resist the footprint of climate change and to neutralize or counter the consequences of heat on our susceptible planet.

The green room can be described as the grim reaper, since the most common use of the word ‘green room’ stems from the death chamber of the largest death row penitentiary in the United States, the San Quentin prison in California which houses thousands of inmates. Climate change too is a green room to many, since there are bound to be innumerable mortalities stemming from the future imprint of climate change. It is of strong significance and value, that we humans are able to ride the wave of climate change, in a surfer’s green room, floating with the tide and loving the surf of the gargantuan wave of uncertainty.

Green rooms do not necessarily mean doom and gloom. Maybe humans can balance themselves on the ever-rising tide of climate change and come out as eventual winners. We can never be perfect control freaks only laid-back surfers.

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Botany of Cricket

cricket-2

Recently, the 2015 world cup of cricket ended with Australia coming out on top as the eventual winners beating New Zealand convincingly in the final held in Melbourne, Australia. Although cricket is a game, there is a strong and unbreakable bond between cricket and botany, since whether it is cricket bats  and balls, or the outfield or even pitch characteristics (what defines pace or turn), plants play an important role in perpetuating cricket in this field of dreams. It should be remembered that from balsa surf boards to bamboo or maple baseball bats, there is a dependency of sports on botany, which makes the study of botanical cricket a truly memorable foray in to journalistic research.

First cricket, like baseball is largely defined by the impact of bat on ball, where strikes of a piece of wood, is considered to be the heartbeat of the game. A cricket bat is finely carved and produced from a tough but light consistency of wood from a deciduous tree called the cricket willow. Cricket willow which has a botanical name of Salix alba var. caerulea, is a type of willow that is grown in Britain for the harvesting of the wood to furnish cricket bats – what is colloquially named as ‘willows’.  The cricket willow tree has a strong straight woody trunk and is also identified by large leaves which are painted by a bluish green tone. This tree is considered the true origins of the classic bat that is used by both the former and current crop of cricketers, from William Grace to Steven Smith. Although the weight and dimensions of the cricketing bat have evolved,  in large, cricketing bats have maintained their dependency on willow wood and even the infusion of carbon-fiber polymers to the backbone of the bat has failed to establish itself as a mainstay of the game of cricket.

Another area where cricket and botany are interwoven, is the grass meadow on which the game of cricket is played. Grasses belong to the family Poaceae, and are a ubiquitous sight on the cricketing field. While the outfield grass is trimmed and cropped to suit the running (and diving) outfielder, the cricket pitch is largely given a total shave – mowed and rolled –; yet with minuscule stubs, to ensure that there is adequate green to keep the fast bowlers (and swing) interested. Therefore the more grass there is in the bowling area of a cricketing pitch, the merrier for the bowlers, in particular the tearaways or the crafty swing bowlers. Therefore whether it is a crafty Tim Southee or a fast and furious Mitchell Johnson, grass is friend and not foe to the trade of pace bowling.

Another inevitability in cricket is the cricket ball which is made up of cork in the center with a spherical leather cover on the exterior. In the interior of a cricket ball, two halves of cork are rolled together by strong reels of string. Cork is found in the outer rings of trees, is elastic and impermeable to water and is crafted by the division of a tissue called the cork cambium. Cork is obtained from a tree identified by its botanical name Quercus suber and although once native to the Mediterranean region is now predominantly grown in Portugal, which is the largest exporter of cork in the world. It is in woodland plantations called ‘Montado’s, that cork is harvested and manufactured in Portugal. Therefore, the cricket ball and not Moises Henriques is the biggest cricketing export from this beautiful country which is known for her vineyards, universities, soccer and pioneering explorers of the new world.

Therefore it appears that botany and the game of cricket are inseparable akin to conjoint twins. Botany will always serve as a vast reservoir of foods, fibers, spices, industrial resins, commodities and sporting equipment and can be termed a ‘supermarket’ of uncountable ingredients that can be used to perpetuate honorary traditions and delightful sports. So whether we are watching a game of cricket at the MCG, or taking a tour of the International Hall Of Fame in Cricket in Bowral, Australia, or playing a game of street cricket in Colombo, Sri Lanka, one should never forget that the bat and ball that is held in hand, was once part of a woody plant.

Entry to Nature Science Journalist for a Day Comp…….

Sherpa

Sherpa Dreams (599 Words)

Scientific communication has always been taller than Everest, rockier than Matterhorn, holier than Kailash, snowy as Kilimanjaro and as alien as Olympus Mons, which makes this rocky fortress truly a herculean task to surmount. Yet there are those who are seasoned scientific writers who have scaled the heights of success of this sought-after profession. This is my story of harboring Sherpa ambitions to scale the lofty heights of scientific communication.

From experience I know that sending magazine articles down the throat of pigeon holes and postboxes of the electronic age will not get you column space or a voice on paper. My yahoo e-mail address is cluttered with my many attempts to catapult scientific magazine articles down the black holes of general e—mail addresses which are the only portals available to many of the well-known scientific magazines. Rarely do we get access to authors and columnists and in the climate of seclusion and building hermitages, and finding your place in any of the acclaimed scientific magazines is as rare as a Venus transit. To be frank, I have given up writing to “Olympian” magazines, as I have realized that the chances of fruition of anonymity and amateurship, is very remote and requires lady luck to make that jump across.

Empiricism is a challenge of the intricacies of the firing neurons and scientific writing is the outflow of creative juices that are churned in the blenders of the human mind, and both are offspring of the same matriarch, science. Science is the first frontier and the last destination of the human mind and in between lies a beautiful narration of muscled or serendipitous outcomes that will litter the streets of discovery. Scientific communication is the narration of the story for all to understand, from the Nobel laureate to the street pauper and in this story lies the interface of technical brawn and creative beauty and together they form a beautiful strain of science from the bench to the bedside.

Therefore I lie here wondering whether I will ever make it as a scientific communicator, to be able to simplify the labyrinths of science on A4paper and to chronicle vast arrays of metadata sets into meaningful compasses pointing the way forward to scientific utopias.  Perhaps lightning will strike and perhaps it will be bare skies but what is certain is that with every rejection there is a sense of defeat and dilution of confidence, which I hope will be as transient as a flame from a match. I don’t know what the future holds for my ambition as a scientific communicator but I will always be fearful of rejection; still at the same time, I will also by shy to accept free passes to success. I would rather earn my ticket than be a beggar extending my palm for a few sympathetic coins. I owe myself that – to want to be measured by the ink spilled on parchment and not on my pleading self.

Scientific communication will always be a long winding road to the top and time will tell of my story of pitfalls and perhaps the occasional podium. The short road away from home looks increasingly tempting and in spite of my many broken dreams I think I will stand my ground a bit longer. I might not scale the mountain tops but at least I will enlighten a few minds of the intricacies of science along this uphill journey, first as the man with the pen in hand and equally importantly, as the Sherpa wannabe who persevered with the pen in his pocket.

Curiosity Driven Life

 

Dragon Fly

Curiosity proverb says killed a feline pet but the same element that defines the perennial seeker or conquistador in man, is not for sale or lease from any form of researcher or scientist. From a bath tub in Syracuse, Sicily to an apple tree in Lincolnshire in England to a dream in California, U.S.A, it was curiosity that defined the next paradigm of science – be it buoyancy, gravity or the polymerase chain reaction. Like the hunt for the perfect soul-mate or the fountain of youth or the elixir of immortality, man has always been searching to flourish within the microcosm he belongs to – his search for eudemonia – or in more simpler terms what defines an overwhelming feeling of well-being and happiness, what cannot be delivered by an ice cold beer, a trip to Hawaii or a dream date with Mandy Moore. Therefore, science has always been a personal and perennial quest to reach a scientist’s Valhalla, for his own indulgence of a real dose of eudemonia, a discovery that could bridge a mental gap (theory) or a pragmatic hiatus (application).

A quest has fluidish goals as well as several strings – what drives you forward and what holds you back. Curiosity can be a journey in inhospitable dunes and in this reality, empiricism is the camel that will take you to a scientific oasis and discovery is finding that oasis even in the face of defeat of uncountable mirages or setbacks. Therefore, it is important to first draw a blueprint of conception of a virgin idea and then build a foundation where the first mental brick laid will be of true significance to the subsequent ascent in empirical altitude, the journey to reach the heights of discovery. A scientist’s dream is in quenching of the thirst of discovery and not the recognition or glory of a name etched in folios of history or cult status attained in the mental tapestries of human appeal.

A scientist too has strings that hold him back. It is a stark reality that Murphy’s law is as abundant as Newtonian gravity, a stranglehold that keeps us connected to the realities and frailties of empirical experimentation. No conception can predict the strangeness and the complexities of science, for there is no foregone conclusion just the cultivation of an open mind. In these eras of metagenomics and whole transcriptome arrays, where the reductionist approaches are no longer serial quests but platforms for gargantuan data sets, there is a need to be equipped with not just the nitty-gritty but also the view from the pyramid top. There will always be a war between systems biology and the biology of systems, but it is high time, that both factions lay down their mental arsenal and just kiss and make up – For the road ahead will be spectacularly an open road to somewhere, but there will never be a utopia or a Shangri-la in science, as the  curiosity-driven journey will always travel beyond the next horizon and infinity is the only static destination.

In these times of meta data sets, there is still room for the strange and the serendipitous to unfold in kismet’s hold, as has been the case for penicillin and rapamycin, or even with the blue pill that fuels the oldest act of recreation and procreation.  Fate will continue to mold or fold the grail of science in times ahead and we just have to learn to drift to fate’s force when we cannot cut across waves and steer to a pre-conceived scientific haven.

Yet another string comes in the form of scientific uncertainly, such as in the origins of climate change and the footprint of transgenic foods. In these hazes of sciences, it is important to be precautious in principle and action and not to jump ahead, for the cart has to go behind the bullock, and data has to draw the weight of conclusion. Another beast in science comes in the guise of falsities, for sometimes, crosstalk, contamination, convolution and inconsistency can lead to a plethora of problems in analysis, interpretation and drawing of conclusions.

Furthermore, in these exciting times of digital renaissance, it is important that the renaissance man is reinvented. We can no longer be a frog in a well, we need our mental faculties to grow like an empowered fungus to be receptive to change and progress, to not just be impersonators of Learnado De Vinci but be human clones of this maestro, for there is no place for archaic dinosaurs in this new age of enlightenment.

It is a religious truth that curiosity may kill a fish near an angler’s hook, but in science, curiosity has a license to thrill. Curiosity was never James Bond, just Houdini outside the square of a box.

Three is not a Crowd (The Story of Lichens)

Lichens

It was nearly 150 years ago that lichens were discovered. Lichens were shown to be a composite partnership of fungi and algae/cyanobacteria. The relationship was called symbiosis. This fundamental canon remained as a mainstay in biology for more than a century until in the second decade of the 21st century a home-schooled Ph.D. from Montana (Dr Tony Spiribille) showed that lichens were a tripartite partnership with two types of fungi – Ascomycetes and Basidiomyctes in partnership with the photobiont or photosynthetic energy supplier of light harvesting which comes in the form of algae or blue-greens. This finding revolutionized lichen biology and it is up to the lichenologists to conduct further investigations to see whether this phenomenon is a universal truth or a niche development in a subset of lichens.

Lichens are a mass bio-reservoir of bioactive compounds. One such compound is Vulpinic acid, which has been shown recently to be highly effective in destroying methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The Vulpinic acid is hypothesized to be linked intimately with the development of the cortical (outer) basidiomycetes fungi in the lichen structures. It seems the distinguishing property of the two lichens (Bryoria fremontii and Byoria tortuosa) is the presence of a newly-discovered early evolving basidiomycetes which is suggested to produce Vulpinic acid, which is more readily available in the yellow lichens (Byoria tortuosa). The presence of this acid is hypothesized to be involved in the securing of the ‘love triangle’ between the two fungal varieties and an algal species – by ensuring there is no interference of other microbes.  It appears that these three bedfellows give a ‘Tri-biosis’, an advantage to survive in harsh terrain that lichens are usually accustomed to.

The lesson to learn from this study is that science will always be susceptible to the carousal of change. Even a static science like human anatomy is dealing with finding new layers beneath the eye and new structures in the knee and lichens too have evolved from being “two is a company” to being three is a marriage. Still there are questions whether this phenomenon is only present in macro lichens or whether it is also found in cyanolichens. This should be a study in scarlet, a red hot area of scientific endeavor for budding lichenologists.

They say there are two winner and two losers in a love triangle, but here though there are no losers. All three appear to be unlikely bedfellows on beds of rocks and logs. It seems, there is more to the chemistry of sharing bonds and the physics of triangles. After all, biology supersedes them all by molding a three-way evolutionary wonder in the form of lichens. They say the genus Vulpes are true foxes, but these Vulpinic acid producing lichens seem to outfox everything else in their surrounding and make merry when the times are lean. Three it seems is not a crowd, just a blissful bigamy of the nuptials of three partners sharing one bed. That bed is the biological marvel called a lichen.

Intelligence – A Poem

Smart

It’s a number in a scale
A quotient without units or dimensions
A reward for answering a few questions
On a piece of paper
A venerated test that few people take
After all if your number is on the lower half
You feel like a bottom-dweller
A scavenger fish, a debris feeder
Still people queue up
Especially the mathematicians
And the physicists – some are pure geniuses
And some merely mad men –
Some can untie knots of algebra
On the black board and some
Hide beneath stellar theories
But in this day and age – unlike in Syracuse
Naked men don’t run amok
After jumping on to a bath tub
To show the size of their brain
Only geniuses with knotty grey and white matter
Fall head over heels, saturated in one feeling
After all, no numerical label of your brain
Can ever stop a foolish heart
From a dizzy arrhythmia, even shattering to pieces
After all even Einstein the egg-head
Was merely Humpty-Dumpty
Falling in love.

The Theory Of Everything

Everything

We live in a world of theories, some logical, some factual, some ingenious, some plain stupid but one common progenitor cell that unites them all is that they were all once new ideas that set a benchmark or an alternate reflection to a scientific question. In this era, there are discoveries that solve and absolve the greatest quests of human experimentation and unlike the quest for the Ark the Covenant – that contains manna and the ten commandments –; the scientific grail is not a crusade that will end in a Christian town in Ethiopia, it is bound only to end up in mental utopia. The theory of something is not a holy pilgrimage, it is an unholy indulgence of an idea that shatters again the very norms that bind us and the walls that contain us and fuels the spirit that sustain us in the journey to theoretical bliss.

As a biologist, there are many layers, interfaces and compound networks that makes both the nitty-gritty and the bird’s eye view equally important. Science is like a clown that can do a handstand on convention, and history will show you that it has been clowns like Darwin that have been foolish enough to counter convention – the idyllic and stubborn view of God’s creation –  that has evolved paradigms shift in scientific thought.  We need to be bold as Darwin – to get on board the mental Beagle – and think beyond the cosmic and inter-galactic spaces and orbits of science, to contribute a new idea or theory. New models will continue to replace old mannequins and new frontiers will displace crowded civilizations – and that will always be an inevitability in science.

As a biologist we have many evolving architectures and interfaces to deal with; like the genetic and the epigenetic – Layers of information that determines most biological processes and fuses genetic imprinting with nature’s tinkering or epi-imprinting. The very idea of epigenetics was a myth a while back and just like many crusades, epigenetics has become a reality in modern science. Genomes are truly pianos and the scales of expressions played on her keys – genes – are the origins of the music of biology. The genes can be symbolized by the white keys and the black intonations are the methylation sites that accentuate on the minor scales, the ingenuity of the epi- or top-up-genome. The marriage between theory and empiricism was the propelling force; the reason that this mystique piece of top-up biology is now a reality. The power of music is unequal – just listen to Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major  – and just like that, the music of biology is equally breathtaking, how scales are played by many players – age, hormones, sugars and stress – which all together furnish the scales of genetic expression.

Love too is a journeying science. A love gene is yet to be identified but the love hormone (oxytocin) is now widely venerated as the basis of eudemonia, an important element of flourishing in the bliss of loving your soul mate and accomplice for life. It would be nice to dissect love even the beyond-genetic basis of falling in love. Would transcriptomics and epigenomics be able to shed some light on love I wonder?…………In any case, the theory of everything does not eliminate one gene, epigenetic modifications or transcript number in the etiology of falling and flourishing in love.

A further intriguing question comes in the form of the biology of sex and arousal which is based on second messengers and a gaseous hormone (Nitric Oxide) and can be termed as a hydraulic mechanism. However in most other primates, there is a penis bone (baculum) that is part of the arousal mechanism. So it seems that human have evolved a more complex mechanism of arousal that is based on love and affection and have downgraded the more mechanical methods of arousal and copulation. We are the only species other than dolphins that mate for pleasure and we are rare in finding ourselves in front a creature that loves and cherishes counter-creature in the oldest and deepest act of love of them all. Therefore, there is a theory here too, that the evolution of love and sex, was perhaps interlinked and molded us to cherish and exploit love as the basis of blissful pleasure.

Then there is the question of how better nutrition fuels intelligence. Can a balanced diet fuel higher intelligence? Well, the Flynn effect has demonstrated that the IQs of the current generations are superior to their ancestors and food has been linked to the origins of this phenomenon. Of course the linkage between higher intelligence – better resources – more children and artificial selection and technological advances will ensure that IQ will continue to leapfrog each generation. Yet, the link between food and IQ is an interesting one, since there might be neuronal plasticities that might be oiled by the ingredients of our diets.

Theories are not theatres of the absurd nor should they always be ingenious windfalls. I always tell my students not to be afraid of being foolish and to ask questions when you don’t have a clue. We should never be laughed at for dreaming or questioning, because at the end it is the fools or the crazy ones that make an impact in this world. I’m a deeply flawed creature, a perfect example of someone who’s behind the times and watches Pride and Prejudice for fun. Yet at the same time, I will question science as I see it, with no interference from set agendas and mainstays of convention.

Dreams are made for those who believe in them, once Eleanor Roosevelt said.  I would extend that line by saying that dreams are made for the foolish ones who question the sheer convenience of convention.

DNA – A Poem

DNA

In the mythical curves of a voluptuous creature
A helical mannequin that flaunts
The perfection of creation and imperfection of being
In her near-naked breasts and hourglass hips
A heiress that radiates tones and veneers
Color-coded in ethnicity and barcoded by identity
Bearing both the canopy of skin
And the inner beauty that lies concealed
A muse who ages with man’s journey
Surrendering to nurture, in scales of expression
Of piano keys that play the tunes of the ages
Where black and white intercalate
In a bittersweet sculpture of mortality
Where beneath the chiseled imprint of nature
Lies a perennial beauty
Who will forever make love to her crown prince of evolution
In the flow and ebb of mutational bliss
Where in the echoes of one woman
Rest the seed of perpetuation
And the tide of change

Climate Change, Commas, Crops and a little bit of Cricket…….

 

We humans have inherited a turquoise globe that bears an infinite number of life forms, animals, plants and microbes, which are dependent and consequently susceptible to a dynamic atmosphere that is fuelling global warming and climate change. Amidst such forecasts of turmoil within this spherical greenhouse of life, there is an emerging need to lower the collective strength of heat-retaining emissions (greenhouse gases), by tinkering with biological systems that possess the intrinsic capacity to attenuate greenhouse gas emissions and to mitigate the ripple effects stemming from an orbiting furnace that traps heat in the form of inward-reflected solar irradiation. A potent contributor to climate change is nitrous oxide, a gas emitted from the actions of nitrifying and denitrifying bacteria on natural pools of soil nitrogen and synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, which possesses a 298 fold higher capacity to warm our planet compared to the global warming footprint of carbon dioxide. Furthermore, nitrous oxide is a gas capable of stratospheric O-zone depletion and consequently can be labeled as ‘dangerous’ for human health. One instrument of biology earmarked as a solution to the widespread application of chemical fertilizers is nitrogen fixation, nature’s way of trapping the gaseous elemental form of nitrogen in to building blocks of biomolecules.

Nitrogen fixation can be easily termed as a biological trick that utilizes elemental nitrogen to build up biochemical and genetic bricks of nature. This ingenious mechanism of milking the vast pools of nitrogen gas has slowly made inroads in to mainstream agriculture as well as its offshoot, organic agriculture, as more and more farmers are tapping the promise of nitrogen biofertilizers (biological organisms that can convert diatomic nitrogen in to usable sources of nitrogen, namely ammonia) to replenish plants with a continuous supply of nitrogen, which has a myriad of downstream synthetic applications, since without nitrogen, the backbone of proteins, the bases of nucleic acids and the rings of chlorophyll would simply not exist.

One of the most commonly used nitrogen fertilizer in contemporary agriculture is a slightly curved ‘comma’-shaped flagellated bacterium (Figure 1) of the class alpha-proteobacteria designated by the genus Azospirillum which is used for the infusion of nitrogen in to crops belonging to the family Poaceae, many of which contain the C4 photosynthesis toolkit. Where this comma-shaped bacterium really bends and defies convention is that it forms an associative symbiotic relationship with a wide variety of plants. By using a process of adsorption and anchorage, the bacterium is able to move towards the root using its propelling flagella and use its innumerable pili to live in the exudate-rich localities of the rhizosphere. The association with the roots is facilitated by a glycoprotein that is able to claw and hold on to the surface of the plant root, like a alpine mountaineer using ice screws to fasten to a steep icy mountain surface. This remarkable trick gives this bacterium the best of both worlds – free-living and symbiotic, as host specificity is lost due to the non ‘true-symbiotic’ nature of the association, i.e there is no special compartment such as a nodule formed by the association of plant and specific bacterium, and therefore the bacterium is able to colonize a range of plants and prosper in the nutrient-rich broth found on the proximities of plant roots.

The name Azospirillum stems from the fusion of the terms, ‘azo’ pertaining to nitrogen and ‘spirilla’ defining a small spiral or twirl (although not strictly in the case of Azospirillum), and together they form this genus which contains six species of nitrogen fixers. Azospirillum was first isolated and identified by the father of nitrogen fixation, Martinus Beijerinck, as early as 1925. Like other diazotrophs, this genus of bacteria possesses the catalytic machinery in the form of the nitrogenase enzyme that possesses the remarkable aptitude to cleave the symmetry of diatomic nitrogen for the formation of asymmetrical ammonia. Nitrogen fixation is favored by this bacterium in nitrogen-deficient or limiting soil conditions and like any other form or subtype of the nitrogenase enzyme, this heteromeric catalytic engine requires microaerophilic conditions to transform a relatively inert pool of gas into to mobile building blocks of ammonia.

Outside of nitrogen fixation, Azospirillum is also the best known plant growth-promoting bacterium used in contemporary agriculture beneficial to plants, which has intrinsic capacities to secrete a broad spectrum of growth promoting substances such as phytohormones which are able to alter metabolic pathways and boost root architecture, to supply energy requirements and to better absorb minerals from the soil. Indole acetic acids, indole lactic acids, gibberellins and cytokines are examples of the phytochemical arsenal synthesized and released by this plant growth enhancing bacterium. Therefore, although earmarked for its nitrogen-fixing potential, this remarkable elixir for plant growth and development, can be termed as a true miracle capable of sustaining the agriculture of Asia, which is largely held on the herculean shoulders of grass staples such as rice and wheat.

It is noteworthy that many strains of Azospirillum have been sequenced and the data sets have unveiled a strong ancestral contingent of genes and a near 25% non-ancestral component of the genome, where genes encoding for plant root colonization, plant growth promotion and rhizosphere adaptation are strictly strain specific hinting at nice-specific adaptability of different strains. Therefore, it appears that Azospirillum does not simply grow in a narrow range of environments but is driven by evolution to adapt or acclimatize to a wide variety of niches.

Asia is universally known for its fanatical followers of the game cricket. Cricket in Asia, is not just a adrenaline-charged game, but a religion where people build shrines of cricketing deity, hold effigies (even burn them in despair), follow sermons of the bat and the ball and take to the streets for the celebration of holy days of nail-biting victories and days of holding aloft a gold-plated chalice. What we should not forget, even for a fleeting second, in these manic episodes of cricket is that the cricketing outfield is a turf of grass that can be easily be fed with Azospirillum to replenish its nitrogen needs. Azospirillum is environmentally friendly, economically-sustainable and unlike its chemical surrogate, urea, will not contribute towards global warming through the release of greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide. Therefore, all in all, the future is rosy and ripe for Azospirillum, a true wonder of nature that will be forever an accomplice to the grasses, and bosom friend and not staunch foe to the future well-being of the climate-change threatened environment.

With the current crisis of population growth, which in turn has a strain on contemporary agriculture, it is important to find solutions that not only increase the yield parameters but also preserve environmental integrity. This can be partially achieved by the adoption and supplementation of Azospirillum to sustain agricultural production systems. Even the wave of organic agriculture that is flowing fast and furious, will only serve to fortify the beneficial claims of Azospirillum and other biofertilizers.

Some marriages are made above the canopy of clouds in the elysian fields of heaven, and some, on the way to the fires of hell, buried deep in the soils of the earth. Azospirillum belongs to the latter. Whether it is rice terraces or even wheat horizons, Azospirillum would be there hidden beneath the top soil, to spur on the lush grains of precious gold. I guess, it is more than fair to say, that just like cricket, Azospirillum is here to stay, in the golden basins of Asia.