Vol. 6 No. 2 April 1998
DRDO TECHNOLOGIES-LIFE SCIENCES
DRDO has achieved significant success in the area of life sciences technology. Several life support systems devices and processes have been developed which have facilitated the soldier to perform better. These are also useful for the civil sector. All these achievements have become possible as a result of R&D in areas like human physiology, environmental medicine, occupational health, bio-engineering, and biomedical technology. These developments in life sciences are not an end product in themselves, but they permit man to fulfil his functions in the safest and performance optimised fashion.
In the context of DRDO, life sciences technologies have four important dimensions, namely, man- environment interface, specialised agriculture, special food and ration, and bio-engineering and bio-medical technology.
Man-Environment Interface Technologies
Bio-technology & Bio-techniques for Safety & Protection of Soldier
Diagnostic Kits & Techniques Developed & in Use
Selected Rations for Soldiers
Food Processing & Preservation Technology
Bio-engineering & Bio-medical Technology
Bio-medical Equipment & Devices
High Altitude Research
Research on problems at high altitude has a special significance in the Indian context. Extensive research has been carried out by DRDO to assess the various physiological, biochemical and psychological responses during acclimatisation to high altitude stress. Based on these studies, an acclimatisation schedule, known as Staging of Acclimatisation, has been formulated. If a soldier has to be posted at an altitude of 4500 m and above, he has to undergo three stages of acclimatisation. This staging of acclimatisation has minimised most of the ill-effects of high altitude and thereby reduced the casualties to a large extent.
Optimal levels of work capacity, load carriage and marching speeds have also been formulated for different altitudes. For recovery from cold injuries, rewarming of affected parts with a decoction of tea leaves along with supplementary dosage of vitamin C has been found helpful.
Adaptogens for Altitude Acclimatisation
The extreme cold and low oxygen pressure conditions at high altitude are detrimental to the physical and mental performance of human beings. The problem becomes acute for the natives of plains/lower altitudes. Several studies have been conducted to assess the magnitude of loss of performance and on ways and means to arrest it or even reverse it. Some special traditional Indian medicinal preparations used as health food have been found to arrest the deterioration in performance and facilitate acclimatisation.
Facilities for Human Experiments
Protection against Hostile Enviroment
System engineering by making use of oxygen therapy concepts, specially developed polyurethane material and air-tight zip helped in the development of a portable one-man hyperbaric chamber which simulates low altitude conditions in high altitude areas. This 2 m long chamber is made up of neoprene nylon and weighs approximately 3.5 kg. Designed and developed for the treatment of high altitude pulmonary oedema (HAPO) among Defence personnel serving at high altitudes, the chamber is also used by trekkers and mountaineers. It is an excellent first-aid treatment used for shifting HAPO patients to lower areas.
Micro-Environmental Cooling Systems
The micro-environmental cooling system vortex tube has been developed. It converts ordinary compressed air into two outlet streams, one hotter and the other cooler than the inlet air. The cold air is then circulated over the body of the person using it.
NBC Protective Devices
An NBC system comprising a respirator mask, a resuscitator and an integrated hood mask, has been developed and introduced.
Bio-safety Evaluation Technology
Man interacts with a plethora of chemicals in everyday life. In view of the large number of chemicals being synthesised and used, his safety is at stake. The safety considerations require identification of moderately toxic chemicals and laying down of safe levels for their routine usage. This in turn requires determination of threshold level for toxicity and finding antidote for accidental overdose. Toxicity testing of all chemicals and formulations is also a prime requirement before marketing any new product to the consumers.
Toxicity testing is generally done by administering the chemical or the formulation to laboratory animals through oral, dermal or inhalation routes, and studying the response by physiological, biochemical, haematological and histological techniques. Neurotoxicity, muta- genecity, teratogenecity and carcino- genecity tests are also carried out. Enormous infrastructural facilities and expertise have been developed over the years in this area. This facility is available to outside DRDO agencies as well.
Water Purification Technology
Testing and Desalination
Field kit for water testing, field kit for detection of poisons in water (for drinking purposes), pocket water purifier, and electrodialysis desalination plant for desert region are some important products developed in this area.
A mobile 2000 l per hour water purification system has been successfully developed for conversion of NBC-contaminated water into potable water. The system is based on reverse osmosis principle and fitted on a Shaktiman vehicle. It is rugged and can remove all the contaminating agents to well below prescribed safe limits.
Technology for Bio- degradation of Organic Wastes at Low Temperature
Psychrotropic bacteria have been isolated from soil samples of Leh and Antarctica and screened for production of hydrolytic enzymes at 10 oC. Aeromonas hydrophila was found to have a potential to carry out biodegradation at 5 oC. Maintenance of such optimum temperature is difficult in aerobic systems when ambient temperature is extremely low. DRDO has developed an anaerobic system to obviate this problem by gradual adoption of cow dung digester slurry to night soil and low temperature. This adopted microbial consortium worked well at 10 oC using HTR of 25 days with l:l diluted night soil. The breakthrough has been tested using fixed dome type digester system.
Technology for Vector Containment
Various technologies have been developed for containment of vectors like mosquitoes, rat fleas, ticks, bed bugs, blood sucking flies and snails. These include:
The inhospitable conditions in hills and high altitude regions especially in the Himalayan region pose a serious problem in the production of vegetables due to extreme cold weather for long durations resulting in very short agricultural seasons. Concerted attention has been paid by DRDO to meet this challenge.
Green House Farming
DRDO has made it possible for the farmers to grow green vegetables, namely, coriander, mint, lettuce, celery, parsley, and fenugreek and palak at sub-zero temperature conditions in cold desert by developing polyhouse and trench cultivation techniques. These techniques use polythene and local material affordable by farmers.
In the areas where captive power is not available, underground polyhouse popularly known as soil trenches have been designed to harness soil and sun temperature. Farmers now produce leafy vegetables during long winters experiencing ultra low temperatures up to -20 OC.
The plant tissue culture medium and methodology has been standardised to get healthy seedlings of hybrid tomato, carnation and strawberry. The protocol developed was found successful in the reduction of cropping period, which is important for the cultivation of tomatoes in hills, where conducive climate period is very short.
True Potato Seed Technology
The conventional method of raising the potato crop requires huge quantity of potato tubers and also considerable land and storage facilityall problem areas particularly in the Himalayan belt. The technology of raising true potato seed in these areas has been standardised by DRDO for cold desert regions of Ladakh, Lahaul and Spiti and some locations in central Himalayas.
Mushroom Cultivation Technology
The spawn production technology for mushroom species Agaricus and Pleurotus has been standardised for large scale production. Besides, the package of practices has also been standardised for the preparation of best quality compost (growing medium) for raising the mushroom crop in colder areas of Himalaya and north-east region of the country.
Improved Vegetables Variety
Suitable varieties of vegetables have been developed for hills and high altitude regions. The varieties developed and their yield in quintal/hectare (given in brackets) are: Brinjal:ARU-l (360) and ARU-2C (327); Tomato: HT-6 and HT-8 (550 each); Capsicum: HC-201 (300) and HC-202 (320); Cabbage: ARU Glory (250); Green chilli: HC-1 (250); and Bittergourd: BWM-1 (360).
Greening of Leh
The greening of Leh has been achieved by alfalfa production and cold desert afforestation. Alfalfa is a major fodder crop of Ladakh. High yielding strains of alfalfa have been identified and a package of production practices has been evolved to grow alfalfa with little input and very high return. After three decades of experimentation, a package for afforestation in cold desert has been standardised, covering propa- gation, plantation, post-plantation care, protection against stray animals, mulching, manuring and development of fast growing fodder, fuel and timber species.
Alpine Herbs & Rare Plant Cultivation
Ladakh is rich in herbal, aromatic, edible, fodder and aesthetic plants. Through an extensive survey of Ladakh, over 600 wild plants have been collected from different altitudes. An alpine herb gARDEn has been established at 3700 m to standardise the method of cultivation of certain potential commercially exploitable rare plants.
High altitude and cold climate dairy farming, animal husbandary and poultry technology have been developed, standardised and practiced.
Extensive studies on nutritional requirements of armed forces personnel operating under different environmental conditions have been carried out and accordingly proper ration scales have been laid down. A number of specialised compo pack and emergency rations and ready-to-eat, convenience food items have been designed, produced and introduced into the Services. These food items include: short-term preserved chapatis (7-10 days) and long-term preserved chapatis (6 months); instant halwa mix, upma mix, rava idli mix, nutro cereal mix, vegetable pulav mix and khichidi mix; mixed vegetables like avial mix; dairy foods such as kheer mix; fruit flavoured milk shake, and fruit yogurt; egg products like scrambled egg mix and omelette mix; fruit drinks such as orange drink mix; several type of meat products like keema, and soup; dhals and pulses, like instant tur dhal, green gram dhal, urd dhal, kabli channa, rajma, and cholle, soft bar, fruit bar and slices, and pre-cut vegetables.
DRDO has constantly endeavoured to develop and adopt various food processing and preservation technologies to meet the requirements of the Services. Retort processing technology, intermeDIATe moisture food technology, hurdle technology, modified hot air dehydration technology, dehydration plus additive treatment technology, high temperature short-time pneumatic dehydration technology, and freeze dehydration technology have been standardised and are being used.
Biopreserved Tender Coconut Water
The process of preservation of tender coconut water using a bio- preservative has been standardised in two convenient packaging systems, namely, 200 ml capacity polypropy- lene pouches and aluminium beverages cans achieving shelf life of three and six months, respect- ively. The above process enables retention of original flavour of coconut water over after six months storage, without any loss of nutrients.
Keep Fresh Salt
Keep fresh salt has been developed to ward off rancidity and off-flavour in fried products like potato and banana chips, fried moong dal, etc. Rancidity and off-flavour develop due to atmospheric oxidation.
This salt is antioxygenic in nature and increases the shelf life of normal fried products from an average of about one month to four months. The salt remains free flavouring and does not loose antioxygenic activity even after six months of storage.
Two encapsulation techniques have been developed to protect the ingredients from the risk of development of taints and to preserve aroma and flavour for extended shelf life. The encapsula- tion techniques control the release of flavours, artificial sweetners, gases, minerals, vitamins, acids, and lipids during processing or eating.
Microencapsulated essential oils and price oleoresins have been developed using these techniques. The former has been developed based on spray drying process in which micronised oils globules are coated with hydrocolloids and dried. In another process, the flavours are retained in hydrocolloids by forming complexes. Microencap- sulated flavours enhance the keeping qualties and acceptability of instant foods.
Field kits for microbial and chemical quality testing of food items and meat have been developed and are in regular use.
Application of recent developments in electronics and engineering, computer science, ergonomics, anthropometry to biomedical research and occupational health care has resulted in the development of many useful life support systems, biomedical equipment and devices.
Life Support Systems for Pilots
DRDO has successfully developed several protective equipment/life saving devices for pilots. The technology involves fabrication, design and development of suitable special materials. The various items being:
These equipment can be suitably deployed under the required conditions and conform to the anthropometric values of the Indian soldiers. These have been tested and accepted by the Services. The technology has spin-off potential for other areas like adventure sports and civilian aircraft.
Neem Oil as Contraceptive
Neem oil was found to possess spermicidal activity in vitro. When applied intravaginally, it was found hundred per cent effective in preventing pregnancy. Neem oil has been further subjected to fractionation and useful fraction (named NIM-76) isolated. Precoital intravaginal appli- cation of NIM-76 in gelatin jelly at a dose of 10 mg for rabbit and 100 mg for monkey was able to prevent pregnancy. Detailed studies on the compounds using gas chromato- graphy and mass spectroscopy techniques undertaken in collabo- ration with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and clinical trials are being initiated.
Floor Reaction Orthosis (FRO)
A light-weight walking aid for polio patients developed as a medical spin-off of the advanced composite technology used in making missile nose cones. Fitted in over 600 children, it has been widely acclaimed by medical and social organisations in the country
Stents have been designed and produced making use of special materials developed by DRDO for its Light Combat Aircraft and missile programmes. Special quality 316L grade austenitic stainless steel wire is used. It meets the stringent metallurgical requirements of homogenous microstructure and the absence of delta ferrite. The stent developed by DRDO costs Rs. 15,000 as against the market price of up to Rs 60,000 for other comparable stent.
Stress Test System
This is a PC-based treadmill system which monitors and records the subjects ECG (electrocardio- graph) while exercising on a treadmill. It is extremely useful in detecting coronary artery disease where a mismatch/imbalance between oxygen supply and demand leads to Ischemia.
A speech aid for a laryngectomeePermendur (49 Fe-49Co-2V) diaphragm has been developed. It is a critical transducer component in the unit aiding conversion of electrical oscillations into mechanical vibrations. The system is available at one-third of the cost of the imported systems.
It is a computerised cell recognition and cancer detection and diagnostic system based on the latest image processing and pattern recognition technologies. It helps in better prognosis/diagnosis and statistical analysis.
Bone Plants & Dental Implants
In association with NFTDC a technology has been developed to design and fabricate titanium endosteal osseo-integrated bone implants and titanium bone plates for fractures of facial skeleton. These implants and bone plates are made from commercially pure titanium which has been extensively tested and found suitable as per ASTM specifications.
DRDO, in collaboration with the LV Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad, has designed a pulsed Nd-YAG laser with a delivery system for ophthalmolo- gical applications. The system is used as a photodisruptor for the treatment of glaucoma. It is configured as a Q-switched laser operating at its fundamental wavelength of 1064 nm.
Initial clinical trials of the laboratory model on about 100 patients have been successful and the system is ready for transfer of technology.
Body Plethysmograph for Assessing Lung Function
A non-invasive lung function test for laboratory animals has been developed to monitor the effects of natural industrial or experimentally- induced hazardous environment on lungs and to carry out long-term drug trials to prevent them. A body plethysmograph has been designed and fabricated for guinea pigs to measure their specific airway conductance. The conscious animal sits inside the box and the measurements are done during normal breathing.