Science City, Kolkata organised a popular science lecture on “Recent Applications of Biotechnology and Biomedical Engineering in improving Air Quality and Medicine”. The lecture was delivered by Nabarun Ghosh, professor of biology and advisor for biology education, department of life earth and environmental sciences, West Texas A&M University, Canyon, Texas US. Ghosh delivered a most fascinating speech and after that answered a few questions. Excerpts:

Q: You mentioned the presence of aerosols, including particulate matter 2.5, in your enlightening lecture. Could you please elucidate this matter?

Aerosols, including particulate matter 2.5, are the reasons for many allergic reactions and respiratory syndromes. PM 2.5 is present in heavily polluted areas such as southern Californian cities, New Delhi, China and New York. Based on studies from clinics and hospital admissions, PM 2.5, composed of metals and products from fuel combustion, has been positively correlated with increased cases of allergic rhinitis, asthma, bronchitis, allergic pharyngitis and many other diseases.

Since it has a diameter of only 2.5 micrometres, this particulate matter is often not visible to the human eye. It is inhaled and causes irritation to the lungs. Many big cities in the world contain PM 2.5 in much higher concentrations than the permissible limits.

Q: Apart from governments, how can businesses help with combating this?

Global economies are so tightly interconnected that companies, governments and industries will soon be forced to cooperate in ways we could not have imagined just a few years ago. Innovations in technology continue to have massive effects on business and society.

We’re now seeing emerging markets become hotbeds of innovation, especially in efforts to reach the growing middle class and lowincome consumers around the globe. Collaboration between the corporate world and academia has proved to be beneficial in scientific inventions.

Q: Do tell us about the new air purifier that has been developed by your team.

With increased population growth and industrial expansion, most cities are experiencing poor air quality. Global warming exerts substantial effects on flora and fauna all over the world. Increasing greenhouse gasses causes accelerated pollinosis and fungal spore production — two major aero-allergens that trigger asthma and allergy symptoms. We are in need of a much-advanced air purifier that works more efficiently than those in the market.

Decade-Long research in aerobiology and nanotechnology helped us develop an air purification system that uses bi-polar ionisation to reduce indoor aero-allergen, improve air quality and aid better food preservation. The new “Air For Life” air purifiers utilise a new generation of ionisation technology that is more efficient than the conventional air purifiers.

This new technology simply produces a blanket of redundant oxidisers that not only clean the surrounding air but also sanitise surfaces. There is ongoing work at the research and development unit of “Air For Life” (UK) in collaboration with the West Texas A&M University to apply the ionisation technology to develop commodities like air purification systems for homes, hotels and hospital facilities.

Q: What actually causes such high concentrations of PM 2.5 in big cities?

The main reason is excessive burning of fossil fuels including gases from industrial exhausts. In our cities in India, the problem increases during winters as the burning of plastic products, tyres and fuel wood causes excessive PM 2.5 accumulation. Burning of crop residues in the neighbouring states of Delhi is causing the air pollution in the capital, which is considered highest among the busiest cities of the world.

Q: Why exactly is indoor air quality so bad?

It fully depends upon the aeration system and physical condition of a room. Damp weather can cause production of bacteria and fungi, especially on the tiles of a room. Oil papers could be a dangerous source of microbial growth adding the polluted indoor air. If the air quality outside is poor, more pollutants are added to the room.

Q: You also talked about the perils of smoking. What do you have to say about underage smoking?

It is very dangerous, especially during the development of one’s organs. All the natural physiological processes are disrupted due to the administration of nicotine from smoking or chewing tobacco, which is classified as a teratogen (causing birth defect), mutagen (causing mutation) and carcinogen (causing cancer). Such people will have an immune-suppressant condition and suffer from various respiratory diseases in their lives.