Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fossil sirenians give scientists new look at ancient climate

What tales they tell of their former lives, these old bones of sirenians, relatives of today's dugongs and manatees. And now, geologists have found, they tell of the waters in which they swam.

While researching the evolutionary ecology of ancient sirenians--commonly known as sea cows--scientist Mark Clementz and colleagues unexpectedly stumbled across data that could change the view of climate during the Eocene Epoch, some 50 million years ago.

Clementz, from the University of Wyoming, published the results in a paper in this week's issue of the journal Science.

He and co-author Jacob Sewall of Kutztown University in Pennsylvania used their findings to dispute a popular scientific assumption about the temperature and composition of seawater during the time marked by the emergence of the first modern mammals.

The Sirenia, named for the sirens or mermaids of Greek myth, is an order of aquatic, plant-eating mammals that live in swamps, rivers, estuaries, marine wetlands and coastal waters.

Four species of "sea cows" are alive today, in two families and genera: the dugong, with one species, and manatees with three species.

Sirenia also includes the Steller's sea cow, extinct since the 18th century, and others known only from fossil remains. The order evolved during the Eocene more than 50 million years ago.

In their paper--"Latitudinal Gradients in Greenhouse Seawater δ18O: Evidence from Eocene Sirenian Tooth Enamel"--the scientists used the isotopic composition of sirenian fossils from a broad time period and geographic area, along with climate simulation data, to add to the long-running debate over Eocene climate.

"This study demonstrates the value of the fossil record, and of examining the deep time record of paleoclimatological events, so we can better understand climate change today," says Lisa Boush, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research.

"This novel approach will potentially transform our way of thinking about the hydrologic response to global climate change."

"I wasn't looking at it from this direction when we started the project," says Clementz, whose research is part of an NSF CAREER award.

"But once we started accumulating enough samples, we could step back and get a better understanding of the habitat and dietary preferences of these fossil species, and also of the big picture. We saw that it could be reflecting climate and environmental change."

A new look at climate during the Eocene, when Earth underwent a dramatic change, could help scientists better understand global climate change today.

Most scientists assumed that the oxygen isotopic composition of seawater in the past was very similar to that of today, with high values at low latitudes and low values at high latitudes.

Isotopes are variants of atoms of a particular chemical element, in this case oxygen, with differing numbers of neutrons.

"But when we looked at the oxygen isotopic values of the fossils from low-latitude sites for the Eocene, they were much lower than we would predict," says Clementz.

The finding suggests that low-latitude sites during the Eocene were much wetter than today.

"This created a very different distribution in the oxygen isotopic composition of seawater for this time interval, which would, in turn, significantly impact estimates of paleoclimate and paleotemperature in the distant past," says Clementz.

"Scientists have used this assumption of the oxygen isotopic values of seawater to constrain temperature estimates for the past."

In their paper, Clementz and Sewall show that the assumption may be flawed, which could mean that previous estimates of water temperature are incorrect.

Starting a new metabolic path

Efforts to engineer new metabolic pathways into microbes for the inexpensive production of valuable chemical products, such as biofuels or therapeutic drugs, should get a significant boost in a new development from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI). Researchers there have successfully demonstrated a technique they call "targeted proteomics" that speeds up and improves the ability to identify and quantify specific proteins within a cell or microorganism. "Metabolic engineers and synthetic biologists can use our directed proteomic technique to get useful information about protein levels in their organisms, which in turn can be used to direct valuable followup experiments," says Christopher Petzold, chemist and deputy director for proteomics at JBEI, who led this research. "We believe that targeted proteomics is a useful tool that fills a much needed gap in efforts to engineer new metabolic pathways for microbes."

Petzold, who also holds an appointment with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab)'s Physical Biosciences Division, is the corresponding author on a paper describing this research that was published in the journal Metabolic Engineering. The paper is titled "Targeted proteomics for metabolic pathway optimization: Application to terpene production." Coauthoring the paper with Petzold were Alyssa Redding-Johanson, Tanveer Batth, Rossana Chan, Rachel Krupa, Heather Szmidt, Paul Adams, Jay Keasling, Taek Soon Lee and Aindrila Mukhopadhyay.

Metabolic engineering is the practice of altering genes and chemical pathways within a cell or microorganism to increase production of a specific chemical substance. It is fast becoming one of the principal techniques of modern biotechnology for the microbial production of chemicals that are currently derived from non-renewable resources or from natural resources that are limited. Critical to the success of metabolic engineering efforts are techniques that enable researchers to assemble and optimize novel metabolic pathways in microbes. Given that such pathways often involve multiple different factors, performance- hampering problems, such as the abundance of proteins and messenger RNA, or the activity of enzymes, are not always evident simply by measuring the amount of final product obtained.

"Synthetic biologists and metabolic engineers will utilize a variety of analytical methods to identify the parts of a metabolic pathway that limit production," Petzold says. "At the metabolite level, for example, monitoring all pathway intermediates helps identify bottlenecks where further engineering could improve the final product titer. However, pathways that divert intermediates to native processes at the cost of final product formation may disguise the actual location of a bottleneck."

Researchers have tried developing assays to evaluate every intermediate in a given metabolic pathway but this has been a major challenge because intermediates often degrade rapidly or are isomers, and because there are few available standards for such evaluations.

"Engineers are often left to guess at the metabolite levels in parts of the pathway," Petzold says.

Targeted proteomics is based on a variation of mass spectrometry called selected-reaction monitoring (SRM) that can be used to rapidly detect and quantify multiple target proteins within complex protein mixtures, such as those found in cells or microbes. When coupled to liquid chro¬matography (LC),SRM mass spectrometry analysis provides high selectivity and sensitivity through the elimination of background signal and noise even in the most complex mix of proteins. This is made possible by selecting only two points of mass for monitoring - a peptide mass and a specific fragment mass – rather than scanning the entire mass range.

"Carrying out targeted proteomics through SRM mass spectrometry analysis is most useful when quantification of multiple proteins in a single sample is desired," Petzold says. "Working with protein-specific peptides, you can analyze 20 or more targeted proteins in an hour, and entire engineered metabolic pathways can be quantified in a single experiment, something that isn't practical with conventional immunoblot analysis."

Petzold and his co-authors demonstrated the effectiveness of their targeted proteomics technique when they used it to measure protein levels in Escherichia coli that were engineered with yeast proteins to produce amorpha-4,11-diene, a member of the family of plant chemicals known as sesquiterpenes. Strains of E. coli containing a high flux mevalonate pathway have the potential to provide a vast range of high value sesquiterpenes and other isoprenoid-based chemical compounds, which today are typically obtained from petrochemical or plant sources.

"Our analysis identified two mevalonate pathway proteins, mevalonate kinase and phosphomevalonate kinase, both from yeast, as potential bottlenecks," Petzold says. "Codon-optimization of the genes encoding mevalonate kinase and phosphomevalonate kinase, and expression from a stronger promoter led to significantly improved levels of these two proteins and a more than three-fold improvement in the final amorpha-4,11-diene titer, greater than 500 milligrams per liter."

Petzold and his JBEI colleagues are now in the process of implementing "scheduled-SRM," a variation of the SRM mass spectrometry analysis that would allow them to easily detect and quantify 100 proteins in a single experiment that can be completed in less than two hours.

Standing up for athletes at risk

When a high school athlete drops dead, the rare but fatal condition called "sudden death syndrome" dominates the headlines. For reasons that remain a mystery to scientists, some young athletes — especially young males — begin to experience an unusual heart arrhythmia. With over-exertion, their hearts stop pumping, leading to sudden death. Until now, screening for the hard-to-detect syndrome has been prohibitively expensive. But cardiologist Dr. Sami Viskin of Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine has developed a new test that's already being used by doctors in America –– and may have already saved lives.

The "Viskin Test" is based on the researcher's discovery that almost imperceptible abnormalities between normal and at-risk patients could be suddenly be made more visible using a simple bedside test that requires a subject to suddenly stand up. When standing, at-risk patients will experience a measurable difference in a portion of their heart rate called the QT interval. The difference can be detected by an electrocardiogram (ECG).

Dr. Viskin described his research in a recent issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The long and short of the QT test

"Current screening methods offer no real therapeutic value, because very few people who experience arrhythmias, up to 20 percent of the population, will ever die from sudden death," Dr. Viskin says. "Moreover, there is such a significant overlap between what's normal and abnormal on an ECG that we need additional screening parameters. This test, when done on people with strong symptoms, can really give us doctors a yardstick to compare those at risk for sudden death syndrome to those who would otherwise go on to live a healthy life."

According to Dr. Viskin, the QT interval shortens when the heart rate accelerates, but this response is not instantaneous. In the study, he tested whether sudden changes in a body as it stands up would reveal an abnormally prolonged QT interval patients with long QT syndrome (LQTS), the most common cause of sudden death. Those affected with LQTS have a normal heart structure but have problems in the electrical discharge in the heart — they have trouble "recharging" after these sudden changes.

Young people who suddenly faint for no reason, have dizzy spells or have a family history of LQTS are very good potential candidates for this new test, Dr. Viskin says.

A warning for immediate intervention

In the study that led to the "Viskin Test," Dr. Viskin assessed 68 patients with LQTS and 82 control subjects who all underwent a baseline ECG while resting in the supine position. They were then asked to get up quickly and stand still during continuous ECG recording. The QT interval was then studied over various time periods.

In response to brisk standing, both the LQTS patients and the control subjects showed similar heart rate acceleration. But Dr. Viskin discovered that the QT interval in LQTS patients increased significantly.

"This test adds diagnostic value. And the beauty of the test," Dr. Viskin adds, "is that it's easily done at the patient's bedside. It eliminates the need for more expensive IV tests and more strenuous exercise tests."

He adds that, while untreated LQTS can be life-threatening, the therapies to treat it can be very effective.

Small doses of cancer treatment information 'more effective'

When information about cancer treatment options is given in small doses, the patient is more likely to make a sensible decision, research has suggested.

A study from the University of Michigan investigated the cancer treatment choices of women with breast cancer, and found that those who were presented with the information in small doses, rather than all at once, made smarter choices.

Brian Zikmund-Fisher said: "What that tells me is that it doesn't take very much information to be too much, especially with patients who have trouble with numbers.

"When we try to provide patients with full and complete information, we often end up overwhelming them."

In other news, the minimization of chemoradiation side effects could improve the survival of brain cancer patients, according to a study published in the British Journal of Cancer.

Glioma patients who did not have early side effects of the treatment were seen to live an average of four months longer than those who did.

Health news

Time to spring clean... your mind? Scientists say memory lapses can be blamed on too much irrelevant information

If you struggle to remember names and numbers or frequently fail to follow the plot of a film, help could be at hand.

Scientists say the problem is that you know too much – and you need to declutter, or spring-clean your mind.

Experiments show that the memory lapses that come with age are not simply due to brain slowing down.

Instead, they can be blamed on the well-used brain finding it more and more difficult to stop irrelevant information interfering with the task in hand.

The first step in the study was to compare the working memory of the young and old. Working memory involves holding information in mind while manipulating it mentally.

Examples in everyday life include retain plots of films and books to understand or predict what will happen next and following the thread of a conversation while working out how you can contribute to the topic.

In the context of the study, it involved giving the volunteers groups of sentences and asking them to work out whether each line made sense – and to remember the last word of each sentence.

Overall, the younger people, who had an average age of 23, did better, the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology reports.

The Canadian researchers then did a second experiment to see what was hindering  the older volunteers, who had an average age of 67.

This involved being shown a pictures of eight animals and being asked to memorise the order in which the creatures appeared.

The volunteers were then shown dozens of the pictures and asked to click on their computer mouse when the first animal in their memorised sequence occurred, then the second and so on.

The older adults found it more difficult to progress, suggesting the previous picture was stuck in their mind.

Mervin Blair, of Montreal’s Concordia University, said: ‘We found that  the older adults had more difficulty in getting rid of previous information.

‘We found that that accounted for a lot of the working memory problems seen in  the study.’

A third study confirmed that the memory problems were not simply due to a  simple slowing down of the mind.

Mr Blair, a PhD candidate, says that the older mind appears to have trouble  suppressing irrelevant information. This makes it more difficult to concentrate on the here and now.

For those who have trouble remembering, he suggests relaxation exercises to  declutter the mind.

‘Reduce clutter, if you don't, you may not get anything done.’

Keeping the mind young, through learning a language or musical instrument can also help.

He added that younger people can also fall foul of memory lapses caused by a failure to suppress extraneous information, with sleepless nights making it  harder for the brain to function properly.

Previous research has found that the part of the brain that keeps embarrassing  thoughts in check also weakens with age, leading to people losing some of their  inhibitions.

In other words, outspoken old people aren't being rude - they just can't hold  their tongues.

Health news

Iron rich salt to fight malnutrition

With high prevalence of anaemia in the country, the government has decided to promote iron fortified iodised salt as a measure to deal with malnutrition.

The decision was taken at a meeting held in the Prime Minister's Office on promoting consumption of iron fortified iodised salt.

The meeting attended by various ministries called for the urgent measures to tackle anaemia in India's population, particularly among adolescent girls, women and children.

Anaemia is caused by inadequate intake and poor absorption of iron. It can be prevented and cured by promoting consumption of iron rich foods and iron supplements.

The National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), Hyderabad, has developed technologies for the double fortification of salt with iodine and iron.

Health news

Breaking – Ford Focus sedan caught on test in Chennai

Two Indian Autos Blog readers have reported sightings of the Ford Focus testing near the Saidapet area in Chennai. The vehicle had one person on board and was driven quickly.

It featured multi-spoke alloys, black interiors and silver body paint (roughly like what you see above). The badges were covered using black duct tape.

Both readers could not get pictures as the in one case the vehicle zoomed past in the opposite direction and the person wasn’t carrying a camera in the other. Having said this, it is only a matter of time before eagle-eyed petrolheads get hold of snaps that confirm this development.

During the unveiling of the new Fiesta at a mall in Delhi last week, top Ford officials opened up on the possibility of the Focus arriving to India. They said the C-Platform, which the Focus is based on, is heading to India along with the CD-Platform, which the Mondeo uses. Exciting times are ahead in Focus’ segment as Hyundai is planning the Avante and Honda is all set to launch the new Civic here as well.

Technology news

Sony Ericsson launches first Android Walkman phone W8

As we reported earlier, Sony Ericsson today made first Android powered Walkman series phone official on its website. Dubbed as W8, it looks like an extended version of Sony Ericsson Xperia X8, and bears similar specifications.

Sony Ericsson W8 features a three inch display with 320 x 480 pixels resolution,  600 MHz processor,  128 MB internal memory with microSD card support upto 16GB and 3.2 MP camera.  Features and pretty basic as per the industry standard nowadays, so we would expect an aggressive pricing from the company.

This phone is targeted towards music lovers, so company hasn’t bothered it with the latest version of Android and it comes with Android 2.1. W8 will be available in China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam from Q2 2011.

Technology news

ISRO's dead end in space

Just like some of its rockets, India’s space agency is losing direction. By being more open, it can begin to stop the slide.

April is the cruellest month,” wrote T.S. Eliot in The Waste Land, a poem noted for its rich metaphors and allusions that describe a soul’s struggle in the post World War I moral decay. In the next few weeks, India’s space agency will experience that firsthand as the unforgiving gaze of public scrutiny turns towards it. Two high-stake launches — that of a polar orbiting rocket and a communication satellite — are scheduled for this month and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) cannot afford to go wrong with them. The unqualified admiration it elicited from the public for its success with the moon mission in 2009 seems like a distant memory now. A year of glitches in satellites and rockets rounded off with allegations of a scam has put ISRO under immense pressure and its credibility is in question like never before.

If nothing else, ISRO has been guilty in recent years of letting its public image deteriorate steadily and of doing nothing to arrest the slide by encouraging an open debate about its functioning. The situation spun out of control when a series of mishaps hit and the public turned sceptical about the space agency. The failure of the indigenously developed cryogenic engine in April 2010 and then the crash of the launch vehicle GSLV-F06 in December were bad enough, but the nation soon came in for another nasty surprise: The ISRO-Devas Multimedia deal for broadband spectrum that politicians and media described as a scam bigger than the 2G corruption scandal.

The opinion in the scientific community is more nuanced but no less critical. They see a huge public organisation that is losing its research edge and slipping into a bureaucracy; a place where communication has broken down with the external world as well as within. They say ISRO is still full of honest people and that the Devas deal was not a scam at all; but they also say the organisation is straying from its core ideals. ISRO officials did not agree to be interviewed and failed to answer a detailed questionnaire from Forbes India on these issues.

ISRO can hardly afford to get mired in organisational hiccups when the space race is heating up. China has made rapid strides in the last five years, putting a man in space. Advanced nations are moving in to colonise space and use it for their strategic advantage. For India to remain in this game, ISRO must buckle up and perform quickly.

More specifically, a whole lot of important missions will suffer if ISRO delays launching a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) with an indigenously developed cryogenic engine. At stake is not just the future of two big announced missions — Chandrayaan-2 in 2013 and the manned flight to the moon in 2015 — but significant commercial opportunities to sell its services to the rest of the world.

The satellite launch market is seeing a boom with geostationary satellites getting bigger and more complex to meet the burgeoning communication needs of a connected world. Paris-based consulting firm Euroconsult expects this trend to continue till 2018. India must rush to exploit this opportunity before the window closes. India and China are the two forces that can challenge the market leader, Russia. But poor reliability of GSLV will not only dent ISRO’s commercial prospects but even its image, which is directly related to India’s prestige.

Up, Up and Ouch
Failure is hardly a bad thing. Or uncommon in the world of space research. The fact that India’s space agency is seeing more failures now “shows that ISRO has reached a certain level of maturity which certainly calls for modern governance,” says Steve Bochinger, president of Euroconsult North America. Other space agencies have similarly struggled with launch failures, organisational bottlenecks or confusion about long-term vision that ISRO is experiencing right now.

But then, a culture of openness, leadership and a high standard of accountability are the prescription for cure. And sadly ISRO ranks low in those departments.

Take the case of the crash of GSLV-F06 (with an imported cryogenic engine) in December 2010. A Failure Analysis Committee was formed to look into it but experts associated with the exercise say they are not aware if it “is completed and a cohesive report prepared”. The Committee chairman, former ISRO boss G. Madhavan Nair, had given varying explanations as the work was in progress and a final report would have cleared the air.

Technology news

Apple pressured to respond to iPhone tracking

Apple faced pressure Thursday to respond to claims that its iPhone 4 records sensitive location data, which is transferred and stored on a user's computer in an unprotected and unencrypted format.

At a technology conference on Wednesday, Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden, two British researchers, said a program on the smartphone records location information and a time stamp, which are then uploaded to a user's hard drive.

The news prompted several U.S. politicians to send queries to Apple asking for clarification, including Edward Markey, a Republican congressman from Massachusetts.

"I am concerned about this report and the consequences of this feature for individuals' privacy," Markey wrote, in a letter addressed to Steve Jobs.

Markey asked the company to explain whether the reports are true, why the company installed the software and how it intends to be used.

Democratic Senator Al Franken sent a similar letter on Wednesday.

In an email Thursday, a spokesperson for Canadian privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said "we're following this with interest."

"The issue concerns location-based information, which can be very sensitive personal information," senior communication adviser Valerie Lawton wrote in an email, adding that so far, the organization had not received any complaints.

Attempts to contact Apple were not successful, and the company has not issued a statement about the claims.
Privacy and security concerns

Michael Geist, a law professor from the University of Ottawa, said the tracking software is a worrying development.

"I think there are privacy concerns and security concerns that the information itself is stored in an insecure, unencrypted matter, making itself potentially vulnerable to hackers and to fishing expeditions by law enforcement," he said.

Geist, who also serves on the Canadian privacy commissioner's expert advisory panel, said he was able to retrieve his own location data using his iPhone 4.

"It's stunning to see literally everywhere you've gone over the last few months plotted on a map," he said.

Allan and Warden have set up a website detailing how the information is recorded, where it can be found and steps that can be taken to protect the information, including encrypting the data.

In a blog post on O'Reilly Radar, a technology website, they said the data collection feature seems to have first appeared with the release of iOS 4 in June 2010.

Allan and Wardan said the data is not transmitted anywhere else, but is normally stored in an unprotected format. It is also transferred to a new Apple phone when that device is synched up with the computer.

"We're not sure why Apple is gathering this data, but it's clearly intentional, as the database is being restored across backups and even device migrations," they wrote.
Beyond expectation of consumers

A BBC News online article suggests users may be tacitly consenting to the disclosure of this information.

Apple posts its terms and conditions on its website.

"We may collect information such as occupation, language, zip code, area code, unique device identifier, location and the time zone where an Apple product is used so that we can better understand customer behaviour and improve our products, services and advertising," the document says.

However, Geist said the company needs to do more to be transparent about how it collects personal information.

"We're talking about tens of millions of people who are affected. Even if it is within the strict letter of the law, I think this runs outside the expectation of most consumers," he said.

Geist said he expected to see governments in the U.S. and Canada take a more active role in the days to come.

"I think we're going to see some real action here," he said.

Technology news

Facebook fury: Kate Middletons locked out of network

It's not easy being Kate Middleton.

The woman who will marry Prince William on April 29 at Westminster Abbey has a face and name known around the world - which is creating some hilarity and a host of problems for the hundreds, if not thousands, of women who share her name.

It's a global goof: Some colleagues bow when they pass Catherine Middleton in the hallway of the school where she works in Sydney. When people in Pepper Pike, Ohio say they've heard she is about to marry a prince, Catherine Argentieri Middleton replies "I already did."

One Kate Middleton in Birmingham, England, says she does not want to talk about her royal name since she's "had enough of hearing of it."

To comprehend the struggles faced by the many women who suddenly found themselves answering to a famous name, take the case of Kate Elizabeth Middleton, a mother of two from Kent, England.

Everywhere she goes, people ask if she's the real thing - the bride to be, of course, not a teacher living in the English countryside.

Her passport shows her name is Kate Middleton, but thanks to a security glitch, the technology wizards who run Facebook did not believe her. She and her fellow namesakes have had to prove it.

She was born Kate Elizabeth Walker and hadn't heard of the prince's romance when she married Mark Middleton on April 17, 2004.

When the royal engagement was announced, Middleton the teacher, 34, changed her Facebook status to "thinking of reverting to her maiden name for a year" because of all the buzz.

"It is just crazy, particularly at the moment," she said.

Not all the attention has been an inconvenience. Her well-known moniker has led to "fun" television and radio appearances - but the novelty has faded, especially since she was booted off Facebook.

When Middleton tried to log on to Facebook recently from her home, she saw that her account had been disabled by a security system in place to weed out imposters and fraudulent accounts.

She thinks Facebook should have recognised that there are plenty of real Kate Middletons - it is, after all, a fairly common name.

"My status updates aren't about a lady set to marry a future king," she said. "Just things that someone with children would do."

After a certain amount of rigmarole, she convinced Facebook that she was legitimate and had her account reinstated with an apology.

Several other Kate Middletons reported similar experiences.

Facebook executives said some mistakes were inevitable as they tried to keep the social network secure.

Middleton has high hopes that this season of silliness will end once her famous namesake is actually married on April 29.

"Soon she'll be Princess Catherine or Princess Kate and I can just be plain old Kate Middleton again," she said.

"Fingers crossed. Otherwise I might cry."

Entertainment news

Flops Motivate To Do Better: Abhishek Bachchan

He has suffered a series of flops in the recent past but actor Abhishek Bachchan is not ready to give up and is looking forward to doing better in the future.

"It feels sad (film flopping at box office), but it motivates to do better in future," he told reporters.

His latest releases Game, Khelein Hum Jee Jan Se and Raavan have failed to make an impact at the box office.

Commenting upon a magazine describing him as "zero number one", the junior Bachchan said, "Every five years the media picks up an actor and portrays him as unsuccessful first and then later on he is projected as a success."

On being pressed whether this had happened previously with any one, Abhishek said, "Yes, with Hrithik Roshan."

"Every person does not like each thing in a movie... but if film flops it shakes the confidence and one feels embarrassed too," he added.

The 35-year-old actor, who is playing a cop in his upcoming film Dum Maaro Dum, said that it was improper to relate the film with drugs, adding that the reason causing controversy has already been removed from the film.

Dum Maaro Dum is special for Abhishek in more ways than one. The film, set in Goa, is Abhishek's third collaboration with childhood friend Rohan Sippy. And he is in love with his character, ACP Kamath, a tough cop out to clean up the drug mafia. "I found the character magnetic and I was instantly drawn to him."

Dum Maaro Dum starring Abhishek, Bipasha Basu, Rana Daggubati and Prateik Babbar will release on April 22.

Entertainment news

Delhi HC Clears Deck For Dum Maaro Dum Release

Abhishek Bachchan and Bipasha Basu-starer Dum Maaro Dum secured the Delhi High Court's green signal for its release after the film's makers assured that it would blur some scenes against an air hostess training institute.

Accepting producer and director Ramesh Sippy's assurance that the movie will have blurred scenes of the air hostess institute and its logo, Justice Manmohan Singh allowed the film to be released from Friday.

Dum Maaro Dum's release was objected to by Frankfinn Airhostess Training Institute which had sought damages worth Rs 35 lakhs from Sippy for allegedly depicting it in a negative manner in the movie. In a civil suit to the court, the institute had contended that one of the characters, shown as its student in the film, was given a negative role which tarred the image and reputation of the institute.

"The character in the film does not show a student of Frankfinn in a good light. This film does not help in any way to maintain the good reputation and image of the company," the air hostess training institute told the court seeking removal of certain scenes in the movie.

"The director and the producer are personally liable for the story of the movie and the manner of depiction of the movie scenes," the institute said in the suit claiming a damage of Rs 35 lakh.

The company also sought removal of the institute's uniform, the logo and any other similar trademark in the film.

Entertainment news

Muthoot Finance to outpace industry growth: P Lilladher

Country's largest gold financing company Muthoot Finance's (MFL) initial public offering opened for subscription. Prabhudas Lilladher has recommended subscribing the issue, citing valuations remain reasonable, according to its research report.

The issue, which closes on April 21, has been subscribed 10 times so far, as per data available on NSE. Reserved portion of qualified institutional bidders, which closes today, has subscribed more than 23 times.

The non-banking finance company engaged in gold loan business plans to raise Rs 901 crore via an initial public offer of 5.15 crore equity shares at the higher end of price band of Rs 160-175 a share.

The report says, "MFL is well poised to tap the strong growth opportunities in the rapidly growing gold loan market, given its robust distribution strength and strong brand. MFL is expanding its footprint by diversifying its presence into the non-Southern regions. Although return ratios are likely to compress in the near term on account of capital raising, we expect it to still remain higher compared to other financing companies (we expect RoEs to remain in the region of 25-30% in the medium term). Moreover, despite steep asset growth witnessed in the past (72.4% CAGR for MFL during FY07-10 v/s industry CAGR of 43%), we expect MFL to continue to outpace industry growth. Valuations remain reasonable, we recommend ‘Subscribe’."

Disclaimer: The views and investment tips expressed by investment experts on are their own, and not that of the website or its advises users to check with certified experts before taking any investment decisions.

Business news

TCS meets street expectations, net jumps 31.1%

India’s largest information technology (IT) services provider Tata Consultancy Services’ (TCS’) fourth quarter and annual results have met street expectations. With the discretionary spend and all-round growth across verticals and geographies, the company’s net profit for the fourth quarter ended March 2011, touched Rs 2,623 crore, up 31.1 per cent from Rs 2,001 crore in the corresponding quarter last financial year.

Despite a weak quarter, TCS added 39 clients. It’s revenue for the quarter grew 31.3 per cent to Rs 10,157 crore from Rs 7,738 crore in the corresponding quarter last year. In US dollar terms, TCS net profit was up 2.7 per cent year-on-year (y-o-y) at $531 million and revenues at $2.24 billion grew 4.7 per cent y-o-y sequentially; much better than its close competitor Infosys Technologies that reported a 1.1 per cent growth in dollar revenue on a sequential basis. After the lacklustre fourth quarter and annual numbers of Bangalore-based Infosys Technologies, the street was expecting TCS to post better numbers. Compared to Infosys, that reported a dip in volume growth by 1.3 per cent, TCS reported a volume growth of 2.9 per cent. However, despite meeting analyst expectations, the company’s stock price was down 2.23 per cent as it closed at Rs 1,191.6 per share. “TCS stock run-up was due to the high expectation that was getting built-up. I think this dip is more of a correction,” said an analyst on condition of anonymity.

A 4.7 per cent sequential growth in dollar-revenues is in line with street expectations (slightly below our expectations of five per cent q-o-q, but healthy nevertheless). Good topline growth should allay investor concerns on industry-wide demand, which had arisen after the poor Infosys report,” said a CLSA report. For the financial year 2011, TCS net profit at Rs 9,068 crore were up 29.5 per cent compared to last year. The company also clocked revenue of Rs 37,325 crore ($8.2 billion) for the year, up 24.3 per cent. “It is been a good quarter. We grew by 5.1 per cent this quarter. That means our revenues in this quarter were above Rs 10,000 crore. We are exiting a financial year at one of the highest margins levels. We have had a very well-rounded growth across all verticals and regions. More importantly, this quarter we have seen discretionary spend coming back and we are looking forward to a great year,” said N Chandrasekaran, CEO and managing director.

Emkay Global Financial Services, Head (Institutional Research) Ajay Parmar said, “In all, it is an in-line performance from TCS, especially after the big disappointment at bellwether Infosys last week. We believe TCS’s results reinforce the strong demand for Indian techs. However, we do not foresee any meaningful earning upgrades from the current results,” he said. At 28 per cent operating margins, TCS also managed to maintain its margins despite a higher intake of employees. On a sequential basis, TCS' operating margins were down six basis points. On a year-on-year basis, it was up 51 basis points.

“If you look at the last four quarters, we have been able to maintain our margins at 28 per cent range. In this quarter, though, we had a positive impact of 0.6 per cent due to forex gains. We were negatively impacted by offshoring (-0.2 per cent) and SG&A (-0.6 per cent). We have also added over 19,000 employees this quarter,” said S Mahalingam, CFO and executive director.

TCS, which counts Citigroup and General Electric among its clients, saw its North America revenue grow by 4.4 per cent q-o-q. Its revenue in Europe grew over five per cent and in other regions by 8.1 per cent. However, because of the Indian region being cyclical, the revenue growth was flattish. It said that UK has been a tad slow in growth, on a constant currency basis UK grew 0.8 per cent q-o-q.

“TCS has out-performed Infosys in terms of revenue growth over the past few quarters. It will have to work harder to sustain the high level of margins. TCS revenues and operating profits were in line with expectations. The volume growth at 2.9 per cent, though better than Infosys’ reported growth, was marginally lower than our expectations. The margins' performance was very much in line. The growth has been well rounded with most geographies, services and verticals contributing to the same. The 12-14 per cent offshore salary rise reflects the high level of confidence,” said Dipen Shah, senior vice-president (Private Client Group Research), Kotak Securities.

Business news

RIL Q4 topline beats street; misses bottomline, GRM target

Mukesh Ambani flagship company Reliance Industries came out with mixed set of numbers for quarter-ended March 2011.

The company's Q4 net profit was up 14% at Rs 5376 crore versus Rs 4710 crore, year-on-year (YoY). While its Q4 net sales were up 26.23% Rs 72,674 crore versus Rs 57,570 crore, YoY.

According to CNBC-TV18 estimates, its was likely to report 16.8% growth in its fourth quarter net profit of Rs 5,500 crore while sales were likely to go up by 19% to Rs 68,500 crore.

Here are the key highlights of Q4:

    * Its Q4 EPS stood at Rs 16.4.
    * Its quarter-on-quarter basis GRM stood at USD 9.2 versus USD 9 per barrel.
    * Its EBITDA margins were at 13.54% versus 15.86% YoY.
    * Its other income was up at Rs 917 crore versus Rs 615 crore, YoY.
    * Its Petchem revenue were up at Rs 18,194 crore versus Rs 15,448 crore, YoY.
    * Its refining revenue were up at Rs 62,704 crore versus Rs 51,250 crore, YoY.
    * Its oil & gas revenue were down at Rs 4,104 crore versus Rs 4,318 crore, YoY.
    * Its Petchem EBIT margins was at 14.43% verus 14.38%, YoY.
    * Its refining EBIT margins at 4% versus 3.8%, YoY.

The company has decided to pay dividend of Rs 8 per share.


The company's FY11 net profit was up 24.94% at Rs 20,286 crore versus Rs 16,236 crore.

Its FY11 revenues were up 29% at Rs 2,48,170 crore versus Rs 1,92,461 crore.

GRM for FY11 stood at USD 8.4 per barrel.

RIL says

The Board of Directors has approved an appropriation of Rs 16,000 crore (USD 3.59 billion) to General Reserves, RIL said in a media release.

The company will get USD 2 billion from BP as deposit under current liabilities. The BP deposit will be included in books post regulatory nod.

It also said that Atlas, Pioneer and Shale joint ventures have commenced production. “Shale joint ventures currently producing 80 mmscfd of gas,” the press release said.

Business news

16 Killed, 40 Injured In Gambling Den Blast In Karachi

Karachi : At least 16 people were killed and around 40 injured in Pakistan’s commercial capital, when armed men raided a gambling club and threw hand grenades in one of the city’s old areas, Ghas Mandi.

Police chief, Fayyaz Leghari said the club was operating upfront as a bridge club but the owners ran a illegal rummy club that was frequented by some very influential people.

Leghari told reporters that 16 people had been killed in the incident in which armed men raided the club and threw hand grenades and other explosive material causing extensive damage and causalities.

“The condition of 15 of the injured is pretty precarious,” a doctor at the Jinnah hospital said.  “In the past infact last September police raided the club but the owners went to the court and got relief,” Leghari said.

He said investigations were being carried out to find out if the assailants had planted a bomb near the club or attacked it with hand grenades.

Geo News reported the club was operating under the patronage of some underworld elements as well.

Television channels showed footage of a deep crater inside the club caused by the explosion, broken bottles and damaged pillars. The club was located inside the parking area of a residential building.

Security forces cordoned off the area shortly after the blast, which was heard from several kilometres away.

Footage on television showed the injured, many with bloodstained clothes, being taken into the Civil Hospital.

Bloodstains and discarded footwear lay scattered at the site of the blast. The explosion caused a crater and many of the injured were hit by splinters. Hundreds of people were present in the gambling den at the time of the blast.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack. Officials of the bomb disposal squad dismissed an earlier report that the blast was caused by a grenade. They said evidence indicated that a planted bomb was used in the attack. PTI

World news

Pak Army Chief Angry Over 'Negative' Propaganda

Islamabad : Hours after a top American military official said that ISI's continued links with the militant Haqqani network are at the core of the strained US-Pak ties, Pakistan's powerful army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has strongly rejected the notion calling it "negative propaganda".

Kayani, in a statement, contended that Pakistan Army's "ongoing operations (against militants) are a testimony of our national resolve to defeat terrorism".

He "strongly rejected negative propaganda of Pakistan not doing enough" against militants and his force's "lack of clarity on the way forward".

Kayani's statement came after Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff who was on a visit to Pakistan yesterday, referred to the military-run ISI's links to the Taliban faction led by militant commander Jalaluddin Haqqani that is based in the country's North Waziristan tribal region.

"It's fairly well known that the ISI has a longstanding relationship with the Haqqani network and addressing the Haqqani network from my perspective is critical to the solution set in Afghanistan...that's at the core - it's not the only thing - but that's at the core, that I think is the most difficult part of the relationship," he had said.

"Haqqani is supporting, funding, training fighters that are killing Americans and killing coalition partners. And I have a sacred obligation to do all I can to make sure that doesn't happen," Mullen told the Dawn newspaper.

The daily said, Mullen was in a "mood to name and shame" and made it clear that the ISI's links with the Haqqani network were at the core of problematic bilateral relations.

Mullen also said in an interview with a TV channel that elements in the ISI, and not the whole spy agency, were linked to the Haqqani network.

"The ISI has a long-standing relationship with the Haqqani network. That doesn't mean everyone in the ISI, but it's there," he said.

The ISI's relationship with the Haqqani network is unacceptable to the US leadership, he said.

"The ISI has a rich history of how they operated in this part of the world, to protect their own country. I understand that some of the aspects of that we strongly disagree with, and that is something that we continue to address," he said.

The Haqqani network's presence in the tribal areas has long been a sore point in the US-Pakistan ties and Mullen's remarks indicated a hardening of the American stance.

The situation led to the conclusion "that...the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan is the epicentre of terrorism in the world," he said.

The ISI has been accused of maintaining ties with the Haqqani network since the campaign against Soviet occupying forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Pakistan, which has denied such ties, has consistently spurned US demands to move troops into North Waziristan Agency to flush out the Haqqani network.

The Haqqani network does not carry out attacks within Pakistan and uses North Waziristan as a base for launching strikes on US and foreign troops in Afghanistan.

Analysts believe the Pakistani military wants to use Haqqani to project its influence in a future political set-up in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops.

Meanwhile, Kayani reinforced the Pakistan government's position to US drone strikes and said that they undermined "our national effort against terrorism" and "turn public support against our efforts, which remains the key to success".

But Mullen made it clear that the US is not likely to yield on issues that the Pakistan military is concerned about. He indicated that there would probably be no reduction in drone strikes, which are mostly carried out in North Waziristan Agency, until the ISI dissociated itself from the Haqqanis.

He also hinted that there would be no reduction in the CIA's presence in Pakistan - an issue that is believed to have dominated recent contacts between the ISI and the CIA, including ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha's recent visit to the US.

Mullen, often criticised for being soft on the Pakistan military, is not the first US official to accuse elements of the ISI of having links to the Haqqani network.

His blunt remarks came against the backdrop of strains in US-Pakistan ties in the wake of the arrest of CIA contractor Raymond Davis in Lahore in January and continued US drone strikes in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.

Davis, who was arrested after he shot and killed two armed men believed to have ties with the ISI, was freed in March after over two million dollars was paid under a "blood money" deal to the families of the dead men.

Despite his release, diplomatic ties and contacts between the ISI and CIA have remained strained.

The US has categorised the leaders of the Haqqani network as global terrorists and offered a five million-dollar reward for information leading to the arrest of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the operational commander of the group established by his father Jalaluddin. PTI

World news

Cardiologist Panda Takes A Swipe At Obama

Mumbai : Eminent cardiologist Dr Ramakant Panda today said that the notion that India delivers cheap health care is not to be encouraged and asserted that it was a huge misconception.

Reacting to the remarks made by US President Barack Obama yesterday, the CEO of Asian Heart Institute said it is a misconception in 21st century that India represents cheap health care.

"Our doctors, in various fields, compete with the best in the world and India as a country today represents high quality health care and not cheap health care," Panda who operated upon Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a couple of years of back, said.

"The number of patients coming in from US to India is less than five per cent . While there is potential for US patients to come to India, we do not foresee a reduction in actual numbers with this initiative from President Obama," he said.

"As on today, the Middle East and Africa constitute a bulk of the patients who travel to India for medical tourism," Panda said.

"It is always easier to divide the dollar and arrive at the rupee value of a medical procedure. That is very basic arithmetic. However, the notion that India delivers cheap health care is not to be encouraged," he said.

In his sales pitch to rein in mounting deficits, Obama described health care as one of the most important pillars of the social safety net yesterday.

Obama had said, "my preference would be that you (Americans) do not have to travel to Mexico or India to get cheap health care. I'd like you to be able to get it right here in the US that's high quality."

World news

Railway Waiter Held For Molesting Girl On Rajdhani Express

New Delhi : The government railway police at Hazrat Nizamuddin has arrested Mohit, a waiter working for IRCTC on the Thiruvananthapuram-Nizamuddin Rajdhani Express on charge of allegedly molesting a girl passenger.

According to police, the girl who was travelling with her parents was asleep on her berth, when the waiter came and allegedly molested her. She narrated her ordeal to her parents who informed the GRP on arrival at Nizamuddin station The waiter Mohit has been arrested.

India news

I Don't Know The Bhushans Well At All, Says Anna Hazare

Ralegan Siddhi : Gandhian Anna Hazare has said that it wasn't he  who got Shanti Bhushan and his son Prashant Bhushan on the joint drafting committee for Lok Pal Bill.

“I don’t know the Bhushans well at all. I met them only in Delhi. I did not get them onto the Lokpal committee on my own, their names were suggested by other members and I agreed. I do not want to say anything more on them or the issue of their land (farmhouse plots allotted in Noida) because I don’t know anything about it,” he told The Indian Express.

While the Bhushans’ colleagues on the committee, Arvind Kejriwal and Santosh Hegde, have come out in support, Hazare has maintained a silence on the subject. “Why is everyone asking me about them? Ask them (the Bhushans), they are the best people to talk on the issue,” he said.

Told that as per the government notification, the Bhushans were his nominees, he said: “I do not know them for long or from earlier days. I was not the one to put their names on the committee.”

Anil Sharma, assistant to Hazare who was with him throughout his fast at Jantar Mantar and who handles most of his assignments and appointments at Ralegan Siddhi, added: “Basically we do not know about people outside Maharashtra.

"Anna met the Bhushans in Delhi and people there like Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal, who are close to Anna and the movement, recommended their names.

"Also, the Bhushans had been involved in making the earlier draft of the Jan Lokpal Bill so it was thought that it’s better they be there rather than anyone new since they have so much knowledge of the issue.

"The only thing we heard was that some people objected to the father-son duo being there and we clarified that point later on,” said Sharma.

Hazare said that despite the controversies swirling around the committee, it would work on the Bill as planned and there would be no disruptions.

“The Lokpal committee will continue as it is. We are committed to doing our work. The letter I received from Sonia Gandhi is a very positive one where she has supported our drafting of the Bill. I am very happy with her reply and when Sonia Gandhi is with us on this, what impediment can there be?”

He said he is preparing for the next meeting on May 2 in New Delhi after which he will set out on a nationwide tour.

India news

Five Top Corporate Honchos Slept On Tihar Jail Cell Floor

New Delhi : Five top honchos of telecom firms, who were sent to Tihar jail yesterday in connection with the 2G spectrum allocation scam, spent their night like others prisoner as they were not provided any special treatment.

In contrast to their lavish lifestyle, all the five spent their night in a 90 square feet Tihar prison cell.

Swan Telecom Director Vinod Goenka, Unitech Wireless (Tamil Nadu) Ltd Managing Director Sanjay Chandra, and three top officials of Reliance ADA Group -- Gautam Doshi, Surendra Pipara and Hari Nair were sent to the jail last evening.

"They had the usual prison food -- dal, roti, sabzi and chawal -- and after that they were sent to their respective cells. They share cells with other inmates as the jail is already overcrowded. They slept on the floor as their co-inmates do," a jail official said.

All the five woke up early in the morning and were present for the head count. PTI

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