Swedish Geneticist Svante Paabo Awarded Nobel Prize 2022 in Physiology or Medicine for Ancient Human DNA Research

Book Review by my dad, K.S.Loganathan

Ancient human DNA research is a subject of importance in human evolution. It casts light on what makes our physiology different from that of our ancestors, which has contributed to dramatic developments in building complex cultures, figurative art and speech and led to advanced technological innovations, such as for example, agriculture, the wheel and other advanced tools.

When ancient humans migrated out of Africa, at least two extinct hominin populations inhabited Eurasia. Neanderthals in Western Eurasia and the Siberian Denisovans existed. Humans encountered and inter-bred with both groups around fifty-four thousand to forty-nine thousand years ago. Genetic data can prove that ancient mixture between populations occurred. The sequencing of the Neanderthals, our big-brained cousins, also led to the discovery of the Denisovans, an archaic population that had not been predicted by archaeologists and that mixed with the ancestors of the present-day New Guineans.

From ancient DNA, we can reconstruct such populations that no longer exist (such as the Yellow and Yangtze River people) in unmixed form based on the bits of genetic material they have left behind in present-day people. Two approaches to DNA studies have emerged – the analysis of the entire genome or partial analysis based on mitochondrial DNA.

Book Cover

As Director at the Max Plank Institute for evolutionary anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, Svante Paabo undertook research on ancient DNA, which led to the identification of ancient Denisovans as a distinct species. It has augmented traditional archaeology and historical linguistic studies as a tool for investigating past populations and their migration to all parts of the world.

Such studies reveal that the Yamnaya, a Steppe pastoralist tribe, invented the wheel and horse-drawn carriages, and spread agriculture throughout Europe and South Asia around 4000 years ago, mixing with Iranian farmers on the way. A smaller group entered India via Tibet. Early Sanksrit literature (like the Manusmriti), as well as the Avesta (the ancient Persian text) called them Aryans.

The genetics of modern humans gives the ancient travel path. Ancient DNA databases are currently run by different research groups, most of them in Europe and USA. For a general introduction to the subject, read ‘Who we are and how we got here’ by David Reich, Oxford University Press, 2018 and watch his videos on YouTube.

David Reich was a part of Svante Paabo’s international team, which sequenced the entire Neanderthal genome in 2007.

The Kindness Gene

Despite my sometimes-stern exterior, I have indeed inherited #TheKindnessGene from my mom and dad. Both my parents are gentle and kind by nature.

Here are a few things I do/have done to be kind:

1.    I sometimes buy a book or something else for my
domestic help’s children.

2.    As a child, I taught a younger friend some subjects.

3.    In college, I taught a younger friend economics.

4.    I have listened to the medical problems faced by my
domestic help and tried to help them with some medicine for their ailment (if
needed) since our house is like a pharmacy! 😛

5.    I have talked about my domestic help’s children’s
careers with them. I’m aware of some of their struggles.

6.    I try not to dispose of batteries or inflammables in the
trash ‘coz they may explode when people burn the trash and end up hurting

7.    I make sure no broken, poky things are lying around
that could hurt anyone when they step on them.

8.    When someone gets hurt, I feel bad. I try to give them
Burnol or some antiseptic cream.

9.    I collect packages (courier) of the neighbours. I’m
mentioning this coz when I stayed in Bangalore, my neighbour refused to collect
my courier!

You can check other people’s posts here


The face of terror

Celine’s car broke down in the middle of nowhere. All that she could see for miles around was a run-down house. She decided to spend the night there until help arrived to fix her car. When she entered the guest bedroom, it was full of spiderwebs. The bed looked dusty and unused for ages. She started dusting it with her scarf. She wondered how she would catch a night’s sleep there. As she lay down on the bed, she heard it creak. The branches of the trees outside looked like the long arms of a ghost. She started feeling a sense of dread. She closed her eyes and hoped the night would pass uneventfully. Suddenly, she heard a knock on the door. She didn’t dare open it. An eerie laugh rent the air. The door flung open by itself and she saw a figure all in white. As her eyes grew wide with shock and shivers ran down her spine, she found herself looking at the masked white figure before her. The ghost took off the mask and revealed a black void. Its bony hands reached out for her face. Terror gripped her as she realised that it wanted her face.

Photo by Art Hauntington on Unsplash

I first wrote this story to a prompt in a Facebook group.

Finding Mr. Right

Lisa lived in a huge bungalow with only her four cats for company. She spent a lot of her time reading in the little library room. One day, she was reading a romance and dreaming about the hero in the book who was tall and handsome. Suddenly, the book fell out of her hands and the hero came into the room…from the book! But he was translucent! Oh my God! Lisa thought with a shock..he was a ghost! But he had the nicest voice she had ever heard. She got goosebumps when he spoke her name. She had read all about him in the novel and now he was here with her. He went to a corner of the room and picked up a violin lying there and serenaded her. He spoke sweet nothings in her ear until she blushed a deep shade of pink. He was everything that was missing in her life…so what if he was a ghost? Now, every morning when she woke up, he would be there with tea on the dining table for her. Her lacklustre days soon seemed special. After spending a few weeks together, the two of them decided to tie the knot…

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

I wrote this 200-word piece in response to a prompt in The Hive writing group in 2021

A Lover’s Call

I’m caught in the middle of a storm. It’s not an external storm I speak of, but an internal one. My entire being is torn asunder by numerous forces, and I’m not even aware what they are. I burst into tears and they flow down my cheeks unchecked. I wail in heartbreak. I scream in rage. I feel the cold hands of death reaching down to grip me, and I almost welcome it. It seems so much more inviting than this life that’s filled with agony and pain. Maybe it will, indeed, be a “better” place as they say. I don’t want to court death, but it looks like the grim reaper is courting me after all. Who knows what tomorrow brings? Certainly not me. Then in the midst of this torture, I hear that faint call. It’s you saying “Don’t go.” It’s so distant that I can barely hear it. But I cock my ears like a Spaniel straining to hear. Because I want to. After all these years, the love is still alive. Hope rests like a butterfly on my shoulder. And I don’t want to scare her away. This sliver is enough to last me another day.

This was my winning entry for #minitales30 conducted by The Hive in their Facebook group in 2021.

A one-way ticket to misery

Happy to make my debut in The Literary Yard.

Literary Yard

By Aishwariya Laxmi

Photo by Jakub Novacek on Pexels.com

I thought I’d loved you forever
But I realize it was never meant to be
‘Coz you gave me sleepless nights
And acted in a way that hurt me
If you had meant well
You wouldn’t have acted so selfishly
Left me hanging
And continued to lead me on
For so long
I do take responsibility
For acting foolishly
And sharing my thoughts
With you indiscriminately
Now I’m working on my boundaries
So that such things
Do not happen again
I see the point that my well-wishers
Have been trying to make for so long
But I must remember that I did no “wrong”
And not be too hard on myself
‘Coz it’s just the folly
Of someone who was lonely
And another who was flattered, maybe.
It’s not a meeting of the minds or souls
It’s just a one-way ticket…

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Author Arjun Raj Gaind’s New Book

‘The Anatomy of Scars’ by author Arjun Raj Gaind was my first read in The Himalayan Book Club in January 2021. At that time, I had received the Advance Review Copy( ARC) of the book, which was later self-published by the author on Amazon and available for free for a limited period on Kindle Unlimited. I also attended an online meeting with the author arranged by the Himalayan Book Club.

It was published with this cover. I’d written about it on this blog then.

Recently, the author has published a book called ‘The Anatomy of Loss’ with Bloomsbury. ( 28 July 2022)

The new book cover

Here’s my review of the ARC of ‘The Anatomy of Scars’, which I shared on Goodreads and Amazon in January 2021.

‘The Anatomy of Scars’ by Arjun Raj Gaind is the story of Himmat, whose nani ( maternal grandmother) is a Muslim married to a Sikh. The initial part of the story is set in 1984 when Indira Gandhi is assassinated. Himmat witnesses something his nana (grandfather) does that disillusions him.

The story highlights how the Sikhs were persecuted after Operation Blue Star. It also conveys the other side of the story. Nana says “In the future, a time will come when people will speak of 1984 dismissively and blame Bhindranwala and Mrs. Gandhi for what is happening here in Punjab, but they are not the ones to blame. It is us, puttar, you and I, the watchers and the talkers, sitting on our sofas and running away when it is time to stand up and fight for what is ours. We are the ones who have killed Punjab. We were given paradise, and we have turned it into jehannum.”

Several years later, Himmat moves to London to study, and the rest of the book details his experiences there. Himmat is a man searching for his identity. His sense of rootlessness is highlighted – “I wasn’t Indian anymore or Punjabi, or even Sikh. I was a nobody, a man without a country, without history, a refugee in the truest sense of the word. A refugee from my past, a refugee from myself.” In London, he becomes part of an anarchist group, who wanted a separate state of Khalistan. When Himmat meets the leader of the anarchist group, he thinks “And now he wanted me of all people, someone who had never believed in anything to become part of his stalwart band.” When he stands up for his Pakistani friend, he realises he does not want to be a part of the fringe group anymore.

The story also traces how different people are in search of their identities and their roots, be it Himmat or the character Kev-O that the author meets in London.

Himmat reflects, “London had changed me far too much. In the few short years that I had spent there, I had become a true émigré, an immigrant not of body, but of soul, of spirit, of self.”

The book examines stereotypes, gender and sexuality through a confessional tone. It also examines infatuation, falling in love, falling out of love, and explores the concept of manhood as defined by society. The story is about moving on, disappointment, disillusionment, and scars – Scars that nations inflict upon us, scars that history inflicts upon us, and scars that people inflict upon us.
The protagonist Himmat has led a chequered life replete with a spectrum of experiences from consuming drugs to being arrested. There are brief descriptions of self-harm and suicidal ideation.

Himmat tries so long to run away from the past but he realises that the only way to live in the present is to make peace with it and go back to his roots. He reflects on what it is to be a Punjabi and an Indian. The story is about brokenness and reclaiming the lost parts of one’s soul. It’s about releasing old memories and breaking free. It’s about hatred and forgiveness. The story highlights that sometimes one is a victim of circumstances and that every scar conceals a story. The characters leap off the page and the story deals with raw, visceral emotions.

The book is a bildungsroman, which is slated for an international release later this year.
Note: I received the ARC from The Himalayan Book Club. All opinions are honest and my own.

My pizza memories

I’ve always loved pizzas! I remember back when I was in high school, my friend and I would go to this place called Cakes ‘N Bakes in Chennai and eat pizzas topped with mushrooms. I still remember the rich, cheesy, thick-crust pizzas with a layer of mozzarella cheese and topped with button mushrooms. I recall the smooth texture and light brown colour of the mushrooms, and I just feel like sinking my teeth into them again! The great thing about button-mushroom topped pizzas in Cakes n Bakes was that they would never have that non-veg flavour. I’ve eaten mushrooms at Benjarong – a Thai restaurant in Chennai and I found them non-veg flavoured.

When I was in college, my mom and I ordered lots of pizzas from Pizza Corner and Domino’s. In later years, we would order them from Pizza Hut.  They were all thick-crust pizzas. But it was only much later (I can’t remember the year) that I first ate thin-crust pizzas and a fan was born! Since then, I have enjoyed my thin-crust pizzas although they have been few and far between.

Places in Chennai where I have enjoyed thin-crust pizzas include Bella Ciao and Café Pascucci. Here is a picture of a woodfire thin-crust pizza from Café Pascucci with baby corn topping.  

Another pleasant pizza memory is eating a huge thin-crust pizza with friends on New Years’ Eve at a pizzeria in Bangalore. I think the name of the place was The Fat Chef.

My most memorable pizza however is the pizza I had at a roadside deli in Rome, Italy. My mom’s most memorable pizza-eating memory is at Pizza Hut in London. She says she was really hungry that day, so she enjoyed it a lot! What is your most memorable pizza-eating moment?

Happy 383rd Madras Day!

I’ve lived in Chennai since my childhood. I’ve briefly lived in Bangalore, Hyderabad, West Bengal, and Delhi, but I suppose Chennai is home although I now live 40 km away from the city.

I’m a proud Xennial and I’ve been in Chennai since it was ‘Madras.’ Although I may not be in touch with my friends from the days it was known as ‘Madras’, the memories will always remain. I’ve done most of my schooling and college in the fine institutions of this city. My dad has also lived here and his parents before him since 1942.

The city is known for a mix of its traditional values amidst modernity.

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