#TNOP (The Nature Of Poison, February 28, 2015):

SynTalk thinks about the tantalizing cocktail of poisons, toxins & venoms, and wonders if ‘what does not kill us makes us stronger’. We also constantly explore the striking similarity (in many ways) between medicine and poison (a la the vagueness of the word pharmakon). The concepts are derived off / from Sant Eknath, Parikshit, Derrida, & RG Macfarlane, among others. We peek into the world of snakes, scorpions, bacteria, rats, SNARE proteins, Botox, & bioterror. Why are there poisons in nature at all, and is there a link to the natural tendency towards ecological diversity? Is nothing poison in the world? How ‘the dose is the poison’. We (illustratively) explore the origins, structure, molecular & cellular actions, transmission, and dynamics of the Botulinum Neurotoxin (BoNT). How the Botulinum bacteria can survive for many months inside us (unlike any other bacteria). Do we have to have crime to have a stable society, and do poisonous plants & animals serve a parallel purpose in nature? How scorpion poison can be used to (potentially) treat Brugada Syndrome, and its links with cardiac sodium channel. How it is very difficult to use vaccines to permanently protect against venoms given the speed with which toxins act. We also borrow concepts such as padarth and dravya from vaiseshika philosophy to understand the (beautiful) metaphysical link of poison with the concept of ‘space’. How ‘substance’ is something that has different quality and action. Is venom a highly prestigious molecule for the snake itself for finding prey? How, then, do the non venomous snakes make a living? Why a child is (often) not afraid of a cobra? Is it possible to look at (molecular) structure and predict its (poisonous) action? Is it possible to identify the exact molecule (& not the cocktail) responsible for blocking the pre synaptic receptors? Is a more advanced society more vulnerable to poisons? What does poison look like? Should our nature ‘be’ to understand poisons? The SynTalkrs are: Dr. H.S. Bawaskar (medicine, Bawaskar Hospital & Research Centre, Mahad), & Prof. Bal Ram Singh (biophysical chemistry, indic studies, UMass, Dartmouth).

SynTalk is pleased and privileged to have hosted the following SynTalkrs (in alphabetical order) on its #TNOP show.

Dr. Himmatrao Sabula Bawaskar (medicine, writing) is a physician running his private medical practice in Mahad (a town that is 175 kms from Mumbai). He was born in a small village with a population of 500 in rural Maharashtra to a poor farmer in the early 1950s. He completed his M.B.B.S. from Nagpur and in 1976 joined the Public Health Department (PHD) as a Medical Officer in the coastal district of Raigad. Here he was introduced to the problem of scorpion stings for the first time, and took upon himself to meticulously study the patients and their symptoms. He concluded that most scorpion stings’ deaths were due to pulmonary edema (published in Lancet (1978)). He subsequently completed his MD from Medical College, Pune. Dr. Bawaskar was successful in managing many cases of scorpion sting using Sodium Nitroprusside for sting-related heart failure. The next challenge was to find a safer alternative which could be easily administered even in peripheral settings & he discovered the use of Prazosin, an alpha blocker. In 1984 he successfully treated 126 patients with Prazosin, and published his findings in The Lancet (1986). Prazosin’s success was later duplicated all over the world. Also, a serendipitous observation prompted him to suggest that scorpion the venom might prove useful for the treatment of Brugada Syndrome. He has over 60 publications in international and national journals to his credit including seventeen letters, one manuscript, and three case reports in The Lancet. He has been an invited speaker at many national and international conferences. He has written his autobiography in Marathi “Barristerche karte”. Dr. Bawaskar remains close to reality and his research is driven by day to day experience from his surroundings.

Prof. Bal Ram Singh (biophysical chemistry, indic studies) is currently the President of the Institute of Advanced Sciences and has been the Founding Director (2000-2014) of Center for Indic Studies at University Of Massachusetts, Dartmouth in United States. As a Professor of Biophysical Chemistry and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar, and also as the Director of Botulinum Research Center (2003-present), he has been conducting research since 1990 on botulinum and tetanus neurotoxins, and lately also on yoga, mind, and consciousness. Botulinum neurotoxins produced by Clostridium botulinum are the most potent toxic reagents currently known to man. He guides research in, among others, molecular mechanism of the production of the toxin, stability of the toxin under natural & artificial adverse conditions, cloning of genes and their expression, extraction of the toxic & non-toxic Neurotoxin Associated Proteins (NAPs), and binding of the toxin to its receptor(s). At the Institute of Advanced Sciences, his research includes Ayurvedic science and technology, Vedic education pedagogy, and Vedic social and political traditions. He is also currently (2015) a Visiting Professor at JNU. His research on biodefense and biotechnology is internationally recognized, and has served on several national & international scientific panels. He has published 10 books and over 250 articles, including over three dozen articles related to India’s philosophy, heritage, and traditions. He currently holds 10 patents. He is Editor/Associate Editor of Ayurveda Journal of Health, International Journal of Indian Culture and Business Management, and The Botulinum Journal. He received his bachelor’s degree (1977) from Avadh University, M.Sc. (1980) and M.Phil. (1982) from JNU, and PhD (1987) from Texas Tech University.

Note: Any & all errors in the brief profiles above are SynTalk’s own.

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