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BHAGAVAD-GITA The Gita is one of the principal scriptures of Hinduism, the oldest of the great, formal religions of the world. It has a deep philosophical structure projecting the essence of the Vedas, the cornerstones of Hindu orthodox tradition, interlaced in the dramatic background of the ancient great battle, the Mahabharata. While the latter is composed by the sage-author Vedvyasa, the origin of the Gita is attributed to Krishna, a major player in the Mahabharata, and believed to be one of the few great avatars (incarnations) of the Supreme Lord, now regarded as Vishnu, the Creator among the Hindu trinity of Brhama, Vishnu and Mahesh.

On the battlefield of Kurukshetra, where the Great War of Mahabharata was about to commence, Arjuna, the great archer Prince of the Pandav dynasty facing the armies of the related clan of Kauravas, was overwhelmed by the piquancy of having to do battle unto death with his own kin. He voiced his feelings of utter confusion and dejection by seeking to lay down arms rather than destroy his own flesh and blood for the sake of worldly wealth in the form of the Kingdom of Hastinapur for his Pandava clan. Krishna, the renowned warrior strategist with manifest divine origins and nature, had sworn not to take to arms or sides with either of the two feuding clans since both were his friends and relatives. He had therefore offered to both either his powerful army, or only himself, unarmed. The Kauravas had chosen his army, and the Pandavas chose him alone. Krishna offered to be the charioteer of Arjuna, his friend and the prime archer among the Pandava brothers. Thus, seeing Arjuna falter on the eve of the great battle, Krishna gave him the message of Gita, which has since become not only Hinduism's but one of Humanity's universal theological philosophy.

Krishna's message, or the teaching of the Gita , in the briefest nutshell, was based on the philosophy of Karma, or Action. According to the Gita, Man was enjoined to do his dutiful and right (moral) Karma, without seeking fruit in the form of rewards, but ascribing, or offering the latter, as indeed the Karma itself, to the Lord. Krishna also expounded the doctrine of Re-birth in which the soul passes through several incarnations. Thus, earthly relations such as father, mother, brother, uncle, wife, son etc are all essentially illusory and impermanent. Only the corporeal body dies. The soul does not. The soul is untouched by pain, joy or death. It remains unscathed , and passes through cycles of birth and rebirth till its good Karmas release it from these sagas of suffering and unite it with the Supreme. Thus, opined Krishna, the father of this birth may be the son in the next. Such relations are transient, as is Life. Only the soul is permanent, and its journey through time is governed by Karmas performed through the various Lives. Only Karma which is performed in the line of duty, is moral, and whose rewards are not sought but even if accruing are offered to the Lord is the one which is the noblest. After hearing the exposition of this new and great philosophy of the Gita, Arjuna took up arms and and the battle of Mahabharata was fought and won victory for the morally rightful Pandavas.

The Gita has also been called the Song Divine. It is written in Sanskrit in the form of shlokas, or poetic stanzas, and comprised of 18 chapters. It has been translated in all major languages of the world and has been the subject of inumerable commentaries. Many of its principal cornerstones, eg the idea of Karma, rebirth, the immutability of the soul etc have entered not only the parlance, but the spirit of the modern universal human psyche. (RNS)

BHOPAL: Bhopal is a city in the State of Madya Pradesh in central India. It is the site of an industrial tragedy, which killed about 2000 people and injured many others. In 1985, Union Carbide chemical industry met with an accident, which involved the leak of the poisonous gas methyl isocyanate (MIC). The victims who inhaled MIC were subjected to cyanide poisoning with necrosis of the cells in the respiratory tract. Many legal and ethical issues were raised, some of which were not settled. (JA)

BIAS: 1. Prejudice or discrimination. (See AFFIRMATIVE ACTION, DISCRIMINATION, RACISM) 2. Error which is directional, as opposed to noise, or random error. Accuracy is freedom from bias. (See ERROR, NOISE) (MP)

BIBLE: Christian scriptures containing the Jewish scriptures (see OLD TESTAMENT) and the NEW TESTAMENT (q.v.). There are some (fairly minor) differences between the various Christian Churches as to which documents are included within the canon of scripture. (See RELIGIOUS EDUCATION) (MR)

BICYCLE TRANSPORT: Safe and extensive bicycle transport networks are an essential component of a healthy city. Cycling is an addition rather than an alternative to car commuting. Advantages in cities include less traffic congestion, parking space and air pollution, and advantages to cyclists are equitability, convenience, exercise and enjoyment. In some cities there is a monthly "Critical Mass"; a cyclist demonstration and congregation on central city arteries to highlight the demand for cycle-ways and affirm cyclist road rights. Many Asian and other poorer countries have high proportions of cyclists on the roads, but models for bicycle-friendly cities may be found in certain European countries such as Holland, where safe cycle-ways and a culture of respect for cyclists are standard. (See SUSTAINABLE CITIES) (MP)

BIG BANG: Astrophysical theory about the origin of our universe. The Big Bang was the beginning of both time and space, a giant explosion around 14 billion years ago which expanded rapidly, cooled and coalesced into the universe of today. Some predictions from the theory have since had corresponding data from the distant universe, and the theory is believed by much of the science community. The total mass of the universe will have a bearing on whether the universe will continue expanding forever (the ‘heat death’ of the universe) or contract back again due to gravity (the ‘Big Crunch’). (See BLACK HOLE, COBE, OMEGA POINT THEORY, PARALLEL UNIVERSES THEORY) (MP)



BIGOTRY: Conduct or mental state of one who holds disreputable view(s). Nowadays, for example, a racist would be said to be bigoted. (MR)

BILIRUBIN: Natural breakdown product of hemoglobin occurring in reticuloendothelial system High level (2 to 2.5 mg per ml) results in jaundice.



BIOCENTRIC: Central prime mover is a consideration of equality to all forms of life. It considers the view from the individual organism, and may ascribe equal rights to all forms of life, E.g. Vedic Indians considered plants as divine (See ANTHROPOCENTRIC). (JA+IP)

BIOCHEMICAL OXYGEN DEMAND (BOD): An indicator of the consumption of dissolved oxygen (DO) by biological processes and organisms in a water body or sample. BOD is the equivalent oxygen gas concentration chemically required to biologically oxidize the reducing agents in the water sample; if DO is low, then BOD is likely to be high. (See DISSOLVED OXYGEN) (MP)

BIOCHEMICAL WASTE TREATMENT FACILITYA facility wherein treatment of disposal of biomedical waste or processes incidental to such treatment/disposal is carried out. (JA)

BIOCHEMISTRY: The science of the chemistry of living organisms and their life processes (see BIOTECH and BIOTECHNOLOGY). (IP)

BIOCOENOSIS: Bios (life), coenosis (seamless union), living together without a dividing wall in between organisms, used frequently in Russian literature, means a community. (JA)

BIOCONVERSION: BIOS = life, It is a method in biotechnology. Transformation of chemical products into its raw materials or into another form by biological organisms like converting hydrocarbons to alcohols also called biological transformation or microbial transformation (since microbes are used). Extensively used in organic chemistry for carrying out complex synthesis. e.g. fermentation of sugar into alcohol by microbes. The soil bacterium Pseudomonas can break down organic compounds and has been used in industrial applications. Organic waste can be converted to the biogas methane when fermented under anaerobic conditions. Methane can be used to produce light and in cooking. (JA)

BIODIVERSITY: see Biological diversity - indicates the total number of living species found in the biosphere including variations found in form and function in the entire biological systems. Three types of biodiversity- genetic (molecular), biological (organismal) and habitat (ecological), the word first appeared in biological literature in 1986, given preeminent importance during the Convention on Biodiversity held in Rio in 1992. Biodiversity is an index of the biological wealth of this planet (see CONVENTION OF BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY) (JA+GK+IP)

BIODIVERSITY HOTSPOT: A region of very high endemism where threats to habitat integrity or of extinction are also high. As human activities are drastically accelerating extinction worldwide and only limited resources are available to conserve many endangered organisms, this concept was proposed to focus effort and funding on areas where there might be the best possible conservation results. Conservation International ( leads efforts to mobilize international public and private resources to support conservation of biodiversity hotspots with involvement of local communities. (RW)

BIOENGINEERING: The study of the relationship between living organisms and machinery; for example, the industrial application of the results of biologic research in the field of recombinant DNA technology which permits the production of synthetic hormones, enzymes, therapeutics etc. (See BIOPHYSICS, BIOTECH, BIOTECHNOLOGY, GENETIC ENGINEERING). (IP)

BIOETHICAL MATURITY: Term coined by Darryl Macer in 1994. A mature society is one which has developed some of the social and behavioural tools to balance bioethical principles, and apply them to new situations raised by technology. We could call the bioethical maturity of a society the ability to balance the benefits and risks of applications of biological or medical technology. It is also reflected in the extent to which the public views are incorporated into policy-making while respecting the duties of society to ensure individual's informed choice. Awareness of concerns and risks should be maintained, and debated, for it may lessen the possibility of misuse of these technologies. Other important ideals of bioethics such as autonomy and justice need to be protected and included in the benefit/risk balancing which is important for the ethical application of biotechnology in medicine. Concern about technology should be valued as discretion that is basic to increasing the bioethical maturity of a society, rather than being feared as a barrier to the implementation of new technology. (DM)

BIOETHICS: 1. the study of life ethics. A word coined in the later part of the 20th century to describe the various rights and wrongs of new scientific and technological procedures and discoveries (in particular in response to human experimentation during World War II) which were seen to bear a direct and significant impact upon humane survival". 2. Rules of conduct in scientific research and involves many disciplines and skills such as law, philosophy, theology medicine, science and technological research [derived from Greek bio- life and ethicos moral]. 3. Love of Life. (see BIOSCIENCE ETHICS). (IP+DM)

BIOETHICS COMMITTEES: Groups of people set up to adjudicate about bioethical matters. In an increasing number of countries such committees are established in law and are charged with certain legal responsibilities, typically about the conduct of research or clinical practice at either local or national level. (MR)

BIOETHICS INFORMATION DIRECTORIES: Bioethics is a subject which covers an encompassing range of issues and information. Organizations and internet directories which increase the accessibility and dissemination of bioethics information include Eubios Ethics Institute, Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Bioethicsline, Bioethics Net, International Association of Bioethics, International Society for Environmental Ethics, and Institute for Global Ethics. (See ENVIRONMENTAL INFORMATION DIRECTORIES, MEDICAL INFORMATION DIRECTORIES) (MP)

BIOGAS: is a non conventional energy, methane as a natural gas is an example. When organic waste is fermented using methanogenic bacteria, methane is produced also called the marsh gas. Biogas is an alternate source of energy, can be used in domestic applications such as lighting a house. (JA)

BIOGEOCHEMICAL CYCLE: Refers to the reciprocal interactions between living organisms and their elemental bio-cycles. Earth is essentially a closed system with respect to carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur the elements organisms need in large quantities; thus, these elements cycle from the environment through organisms back to the environment in sustainable harmony. There are two major types of biogeochemical cycles - gaseous and sedimentary, where each element has its distinct cycle with the specifics depending on its physical and chemical properties and how it is utilized by organisms (see CARBON CYCLE, HYDROLOGICAL CYCLE, NITROGEN CYCLE). (JA+IP)

BIOGEOCHEMISTRY: The study of fluxes and transformations of the materials that constitute the Earth, including the Earth's interior, surface, oceans, and atmosphere. (RW)

BIOGEOCOENOSIS: A seemless partnership between living organisms and their physical environment. Frequently used in Russian literature, equivalent to the word "ecosystem". (JA)

BIOGEOGRAPHY: The branch of biology which studies the geographical range and distribution of animals and plants across the earth. Of particular importance to ecological sustainability is the distribution and abundance of keystone, endangered and exotic pest species. (MP)

BIOHAZARD: A health hazard from a biological organism or substance. (See BIOSAFETY). (DM)

BIOINFORMATICS: The acquisition, management, analysis, storing and processing of biological information; such as, gene sequences, genomics, biological structures, pharmaceutical chemicals, taxonomy, biodiversity and environment. Biomolecules such as DNA and proteins have large amounts of information of biological interest. DNA is called the blue print of life and proteins are the building blocks of life. Developed out of a combination of computer science, information technology and genetics to determine and analyze genetic/biological information, and these technologies can be now used as a scientific basis on which ethical decisions can be made. Origin - the first bioinformatic databases were constructed a few years after the first protein sequences began to become available. The first protein sequence reported was that of bovine insulin in 1956, consisting of 51 residues. Nearly a decade later, the first nuclei acid sequence was reported, that of yeast alanine tRNA with 77 bases. Soon thereafter Dayhoff gathered all the available sequence data to create the first bioinformatic database. Organizations in biomolecular databases have two goals: (i) to get valuable and practical information out of these databases (ii) to integrate information from diverse sources. DNA databases are stored in GenBank Company in USA and also in the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Germany. Similar protein sequence databases are also available. (See GENBANK, INFORMATICS) (IP, JA)


BIOLISTICS: A useful method to transport DNA into any organ, cell using a Particle gun/biolistic gun. Can also transfer DNA into animal tissues, plant cells and fungal as well as into mitochondria . (JA)

BIOLOGICALS Any preparation made from organism or microorganism or their product metabolism/biochemical reactions intended for use in the diagnosis/immunization or in the treatment of human beings or animals in research activities. (JA)

BIOLOGICAL: Any event/processes relating to life/organisms. (JA)


BIOLOGICAL CONTROL is a method of controlling pest species by introducing one of their natural predators or otherwise interfering with their life cycle; for example, the Mediterranean fruit fly has been successfully controlled by the method known as "sterile male technique" where unproductive adult flies are released into their habitat after the pupae were sterilized by exposure to gamma radiation. This method has distinct advantages over the use of toxic, non-biodegradable chemicals. (IP)

BIOLOGICAL DETERMINISM: theory that human action or behavior (aggression, sexual orientation, sex roles, intelligence and so on) are not free but set by genetics. The theory always becomes popular at times of political austerity where whole populations are encouraged to believe that their social prejudices are scientifically based (see DETERMINISM). (IP)


BIOLOGICAL SCALES: Fields of biology and units of biodiversity organized by increasing scale and complexity are as follows: carbon chemistry leads into biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology, cellular biology, physiology, organism biology, behavioral studies, community biology, ecology, environmental biology, human ecology, evolutionary biology, Gaia hypothesis, artificial life, psychology, consciousness and further into biological philosophy and bioethics. (See BIOLOGY, BIODIVERSITY, BIOETHICS). (MP)


BIOLOGICAL TISSUES BANK: BLOOD BANK, CELL BANK, DNA BANK, ORGAN DONOR BANK. Refers to a collection of samples gathered from free donors, whose purpose is to serve as tissue (blood) or organ donor center to save sick peoples" lives (blood transfusions or organ transplantation). DNA and cell banks are meant to provide samples for research purposes, either in genetic, physiology, biochemistry or other experimental protocols. Neither of these tissue banks have commercial interests. In the case some money is charged, it is to compensate the costs of maintaining, culturing and dispatching the samples. (See also REPOSITORY.) (GK)

BIOLOGICAL WARFARE: Waging war by the deployment of biological weapons; that is, the deliberate release of natural or genetically engineered disease causing organisms, or their products, into enemy territory. The threat of biological warfare has not decreased since the signing of the 1972 worldwide treaty on Biological and Toxic Weapons which in theory prohibits their development and deployment. On the contrary, the danger of institutionalized terrorism has become more real with the alleged stockpiling of many agent of germ warfare (see BIOWEAPON, ETHNIC CLEANSING, INSTITUTION OF WAR, VIRTUAL WARFARE). (IP+GK)

BIOLOGY: Bios (life), logy (study). The science of life. Includes the study of zoology and botany. The term appeared in a book title during 1802 by a German physican , Gottfried Reinhold Treviranus, the title of the book being, "Biologie oder Philosophie der lebenden Natur fur Naturforscher und Aerzte (Biology, or philosophy of the living Nature for Scientists and Physicians" Source - (JA)

BIOLUMINESCENCE AND BIOELECTRICITY the production of light or electric discharges by living organisms. The mechanism has evolved independently in many kinds of organisms from bacteria to vertebrates; for example fireflies who produce flashes of light used to attract mates, the electric eel who can generate up to 550 volts which it uses for offense and defense, fishes who use electric organs and electroreceptors for navigation purposes and a variety of deep-sea creatures who are luminescent by means of either light-producing body cells or by specialized organs containing luminous bacteria. Now we can also include human engineered chimeras, like the tobacco plant which produces a dazzling light when watered with an appropriate substrate due to the inclusion into its genome the luminescent firefly gene. (IP)

BIOMAGNIFICATION: The increase in toxicity of chemically stable synthetic human-made compounds which resist the natural detoxifying processes of excretion and decay, so the poison accumulates exponentially in the animal body as it progress up the food chain (see Food Web) and, through the process of magnification, the concentrations of any single pollutant can be millions of times greater in the body of a top predator (carnivores like the eagle, tiger or human) compared with the surrounding environment. For example, the biomagnification of PCBs in fish can be concentrated to reach an accumulation factor exceeding 250,000 times that in the water (see FOOD WEB, POLYCHLORINATED BIPHENYLS, ENDOCRINE DISRUPTERS and DDT). (IP)

BIOMASS: The total biological mass, quantity of living matter, or dry weight of a particular species, within a habitat or geographical area. Since species differ in size, the use of the mass rather than the number of organisms per unit of area helps to indicate the importance of a population in relation to productivity and the flow of energy and nutrients through an ecosystem. The global biomass consists of all of the organisms in the world. (See BIODIVERSITY). (MP)

BIOMASS ENERGY: Biomass energy is fuel stored in organic matter such as plants or animals and their waste products. Much of the population in developing nations rely on biomass for fuel, especially from wood. Although a renewable resource, improperly managed use of fuelwood is having adverse impacts on habitats and biodiversity. The burning of dung indoors for heating or cooking has also been implicated in respiratory health problems. (See BIOMASS, RENEWABLE ENERGY) (MP)

BIOME: (Greek: bio "life" + oma "tumor" or "mass"). A major ecological community or category of habitat, and having a characteristic ecology, climate or geographical region. (MP)

BIOMEDICAL ETHICS: Domain of ethics (moral philosophy) concerned with such medical matters as ABORTION (q.v.), CLINICAL TRIALS (q.v.) and EUTHANASIA (q.v.). (MR)

BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH: Biomedical research is usually thought of as highly scientific laboratory or clinical research. But vast numbers of the world's population, maybe the majority, have no access to medicine at all. They have little chance to benefit from the results of high-tech medical research. So research into methods to teach healthy behavior to medically deprived populations should be thought of as a central part of biomedical research. This research would include strategies for encouraging avoidance of sexually transmitted diseases (as through condom use), healthy and sanitary childbirth, simple methods of environmental health, like digging a pit for nightsoil so that children won't wander in it barefoot and become invested with parasites, simple nutritional advice, etc. Researchers should seriously study whether low-tech biomedical research of this sort might save many more lives than the high-tech sort. (FL)

BIOMEDICAL WASTE: Any solid or liquid waste, which may present a threat of infection to human beings including non liquid tissue and body parts from humans and other primates, laboratory and veterinary wastes which contains human disease causing agents and used discarded sharps, blood, blood products and body fluids from human and other primates.; used absorbent materials saturated with blood and body fluids or excretions/secretions, contaminated with blood. (JA)

BIOMETRICS: 1. Also known as biometry, biometrics is the application of statistics to biological data. 2. The use of distinctive biological characteristics for the recognition and positive identification of an individual. The most familiar biometric tag is the fingerprint, but the technology is fast advancing examples include iris pattern scanning, electronic voice verification, DNA fingerprinting and face recognition in security cameras. (See BIG BROTHER) (MP)

BIOMIMETICS: Engineering which mimics designs from nature to produce new functional or technological innovations. (MP)

BIONICS: The science of combining electronic principles, prosthetic technology and computer science to rehabilitate and restore function; such as artificial pacemakers used to correct abnormal heart rhythms, cochlear implants to reduce deafness by direct stimulation of the auditory nerve, and implantable retinal microchips to improve vision. (See CYBERNETICS, CYBORG, DISABILITY, LIFE EXTENSION) (MP & IP)

BIOPHILIA: (Greek: bios 'life' + philos 'beloved') Word coined by E.O Wilson to describe the emotional affiliation of human beings for other living things, the innate tendency to focus on life and life-like processes . (DM)

BIOPHYSICS: The science of the application of the laws of physics to life processes. (See BIOENGINEERING, BIOTECH, BIOTECHNOLOGY, PHYSICS). (IP)

BIOPIRACY: 1. The use of nature or traditional knowledge and/or medicines for modern use without consent and/or acknowledgment of their origins 2. theft of biological knowledge for profit. Origin - the first patent was granted to General Electric Company in 1971 for what the "inventor" - Anand Mohan Chakravarty - described as "I simply shuffled genes, changing bacteria that already existed." This stimulated a rush by US corporations to understand, and ultimately, to patent and claim ownership of existent and modified life forms. From this behavior the term "biopiracy" was coined (see web site at (IP)

BIOPROSPECTING: Investigative collection of living organisms with the aim of uncovering potentially useful applications, for example biomimetic design features, unique genetic information, food and crop varieties, indigenous medicines, and especially with reference to the potential presence of pharmaceutically-active alkaloids. Conservationists and developers today find agreement over the value of biodiversity protection, at least on practical if not ideological grounds. Less than 1 or 2% of Earth's organisms have been examined - the investigation and conservation of global biodiversity remaining one of the last great unexplored and undervalued realms of scientific discovery. (See BIODIVERSITY, BIOINFORMATICS, BIOMIMETICS, BIOPIRACY, BIORESOURCES) (MP)

BIOPSY: The surgical removal of a cell or sample of tissue for diagnostic purposes. (DM)

BIOREGION: An integrated and continuous natural area which contains an interconnected biophysical system, for example a river catchment, mountain range or other discrete ecosystem. (See BIOREGIONALISM) (MP)

BIOREGIONALISM: The defining and management of regions according to their biophysical and ecological characteristics, without restriction by political borders or other arbitrary human boundaries. This recognizes the integrity and continuity of large biological systems such as habitats and ecosystems, and is the appropriate large-scale unit for integrated management and monitoring of environmental impacts and change. (See BIOREGION, INTEGRATED MANAGEMENT) (MP)

BIOREMEDIATION: Cleaning the environment of pollution and waste materials of human origin using the ability of microorganisms to break down complex organic and inorganic compounds. The organic decontamination or resuscitation of ex-industrial sites and other desecrated lands can be achieved using biologically active plants, fungi and bacteria. These destroy or degrade pollutant chemicals into their basic components and remediate the soil creating a viable ecology or usable land quality. For example, keratinophilic fungi can break down the keratins of hair, nails and feathers efficiently into basic biochemicals which can be reused. Bioremediation technologies include composting, land-farming organisms on site, bioreactor organisms cultured offsite, soil-bank air and water networks, ecological and biochemical techniques. Research includes enzymic incorporation of pesticide residues, and desalination of soils by plant biomass. Alternative chemical and physical remediation processes may also serve to transfer rather than to degrade many pollutants. (See BIODEGRADABLE, BIOREACTOR, DECOMPOSITION, RESTORATION ECOLOGY) (MP & JA)

BIORESOURCES: Genetic resources, organisms or part thereof, populations or any other biotic component of the ecosystem with actual or potential use or value for humanity (Latin resurgere rise again). (IP)

BIOSAFETY: Concept dealing with the insertion of foreign genes in a species to yield a transgenic species and releasing it into the wild, may endanger the health food chain and diversity of ecosystems, ecobalance and human consumption. Implementation of international safeguards, Controlling agency like Food and Drug Administrative Office (US). (JA)

BIOSCIENCE ETHICS: Acts as the interface between science and bioethics - science is descriptive and ethically neutral as it deals with facts requiring verification, whereas ethics is prescriptive dealing with what ought to be and depends on intellectual justification; however, if the bioethical discussion is to be relevant to our knowledge-based lives, there is the expectation of high biological standards in agreement with modern scientific insights. Bioscience ethics resides in between scientific endeavor and its application into acceptable forms of bioethical consensus with its major elements being increased understanding of biological systems, responsible use of technology and curtailment of ethnocentric debates more in tune with new scientific insights. Irina Pollard and Steven Gilbert first used the term in 1997 (see Bioethics, SCIENTIFIC METHOD). (IP)

BIOSPHERE: It is a combination of two words - bios (life) and sphere (globe), meaning a globe that can sustain life, e.g. Earth. Largest self-sustaining and self-maintaining biological system. Biosphere = Ecosphere. refers to the regions of the Earth’s atmosphere and crust occupied by living matter (see Cryosphere, Hydrosphere & Exosphere) [Greek bios = life + sphaira = globe] (JA+IP)

BIOSPHERE 2 PROJECT: Biosphere 1 is Gaia, or the Earth. The Biosphere 2 Project was a closed-environment experiment in which 8 humans were enclosed for two years (1991-93) in a large artificial habitat in Arizona. The glass domes of Biosphere 2 contained 204,000 cubic meters including a mini-sea, mangroves, rainforest, desert and farm. Unexpected difficulties arose in the maintenance of the system over the two years, for example most vertebrate and insect species went extinct, including all plant pollinators. Most problematic was the biogeochemical regulation of water quality and the atmosphere, with oxygen in the end having to be added from the outside. Such mixed success maintaining a self-sufficient colony can only further impress the need for preservation of the intricate ecological life-support systems already provided by the Earth, but taken for granted. (See ARTIFICIAL HABITAT, BIOSPHERE,) (MP)

BIOSYSTEMS: resultant of interaction between abiotic factors and biotic factors eg. Gene system, cell system, organ system, organismal systems, population systems and ecosystems (JA)

BIOTA: The combined living organisms of a given ecological habitat, biome or geographical region, comprising all of the plants, animals and microorganisms. The collection of all organisms living in a place. (See BIODIVERSITY, BIOMASS) (MP, RW)

BIOTECH: The shortened form of "biotechnology" which first appeared in the 1970s when it became possible to manipulate the genetic make-up of living organisms; for example, biotech companies can create plants and animals with new characteristics such as resistance to disease where the biotechnician is a person working in a biotech laboratory. Since the 1970s, the creation of modified life-forms have generated heated ethical and environmental controversy (see BIOTECHNOLOGY and GENETIC ENGINEERING). (IP)

BIOTECHNOLOGY: The use or development of techniques using organisms (or parts of organisms) to provide or improve goods or services. It is the application of biological knowledge for the purpose of solving practical problems in healthcare, agriculture, veterinary science and related fields (see BIOTECH and GENETIC ENGINEERING). (IP, DM, DR)

BIOTIC COMMUNITY: The community consisting of all of earth’s living organisms. The proposal for an extension of ethics to cover all the species of the living systems emerged in the 20th century, particularly by means of Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There” (1949). (CP)

BIOWEAPON: A weaponry must have the killing power and is easy to manufacture and handle; to weaponise biological organisms as agents of mass destruction of human beings. Between a 100 Kg bomb and 100 Kg bacteria, the kill is greater in the later. It can kill from one to four million people depending upon the spread of bacterial. See Anthrax, smallpox. (JA)

BIPOLAR (MANIC) DEPRESSION: a spectrum disorder where the sufferer can be in varying degrees manic (elation/excitement) or even-tempered, depressed (melancholia) or normal, or alternating between mania and depression. The condition can be severe, intermittent or chronic and can be primary or secondary. A primary depression is one where the particular mood disorder is the dominant problem, while in a secondary depression a number of psychological, physiological and/or social variables, for example, schizophrenia, drug abuse (alcoholism, marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine), extreme nutritional deficiencies and physical illness, may produce the symptoms. On the whole, bipolar patients are a much more homogeneous group compared to unipolar depressives as they experience, in varying degrees, alternating cycles of mania and depression. They are also more responsive to treatment with lithium salts than are those with recurrent attacks of depression only. If severe manic episodes escalate, the patient may lose contact with reality, hallucinate and, if coupled with paranoia, become openly psychotic (see BRAIN NEUROTRANSMITTERS, DEPRESSION, LITHIUM, SEROTONIN RE-UPTAKE INHIBITORS, UNIPOLAR DEPRESSION). (IP)

BIRDS: Homeothermic (warm-blooded), feathered, egg-laying vertebrates of the class Aves. The forelimb of birds is in the form of a wing, though not all birds fly. According to the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red Book data from year 2000, about 12% of birds face a serious risk of extinction during the next 100 years. (RW)

BIRTH CONTROL: The prevention of birth. Birth control has been practiced by different contraceptive methods in almost all cultures and epochs. It has not been an exclusivity of females, since males have used different means to kill sperm cells before intercourse. Birth control policies in Latin America have been introduced with great effort since the sixties, first by private ONGs, then by national health services, but in many of these countries, the Catholic church has tirelessly been opposed to any method different from the rhythm method (Ogyno). As a result of educational campaigns and higher schooling, middle to upper classes in these countries have gained control over their reproductive choices, reducing the overall birthrate, but lower classes still have high numbers of children and do not use contraceptive methods. (GK)

BIRTH DEFECTS: hereditary birth defects are transmitted by the parent’s genes; however, many birth defects are the result of extremely complex interactions between genes and environmental variables. The more complex the genetic defect (cleft palate, heart abnormalities) the greater uncertainty about their predictability. (See CONGENITAL MALFORMATION, TERATOLOGY). (IP)

BIRTH RATE: Quantification of the potential rate of increase of a population due to the production (birth) of new individuals. Normally expressed as number of young produced per adult female per unit time. (MR)

BIT: (Binary + Digit) A bit is the smallest unit of information in mathematics or computer terminology, representing the presence or absence of a single feature (1 or 0; on or off). Eight bits comprise one byte. (See BYTE, QUBIT) (MP)


BLACK HOLE: Coined in 1969 by John Wheeler and further theorized by Stephen Hawking among others, a black hole is a point in the universe of immense gravity, often created by the collapse upon itself of a giant star some twenty times the size of our Sun or larger. A black hole is so dense that matter or light cannot escape once past the ‘event horizon’. The centre is postulated to be an infinitely dense point known as a ‘singularity’. Contrary to popular opinion, some forms of energy may escape a black hole, perhaps even leaving an imprint of all that has fallen in and been crushed. Large black holes may exist at the centers of galaxies. (See BIG BANG, EVENT HORIZON, PARALLEL UNIVERSES THEORY, SINGULARITY, WORMHOLE) (MP)

BLASTOCYST: A hollow ball of cells, filled with fluid, that forms about four days after fertilization from the zygote, and prior to the beginning of the process of implantation. The embryo develops from a small cluster of cells in the centre of the sphere, and the outer wall of the sphere becomes the placenta. (DM)

BLASTOMERES: The daughter cells that derive from the first and subsequent cleavages of the zygote. (DM)



BOARD: An authority with office bearers and expert members possessing qualifications, knowledge and experience of scientific engineering or management aspects of a given subject for example, Pollution. The Board accordingly is the Pollution Control Board, which is empowered to give directions requiring control measures. (JA)

BOAT PEOPLE: A term often used to mean illegal immigrants arriving by boat, often in an attempt to escape brutality or impoverishment. In sympathy, perhaps it should be remembered that Europeans in Australasia and North America, and Chinese and Korean forefathers of Japanese in Japan, were originally boat people themselves. (MP, DM)

BODHISATTVA: Buddha-in-the-making, literally an "enlightenment being"- to keep free all beings from the coils of suffering. (JA)


BONE MARROW: soft, spongy tissue found in the center of large bones that is essential in the manufacture and maturation of blood cells (white cells, red cells and platelets). It is sensitive to the effects of radiation, anticancer drugs and toxic agents (e.g. benzene). Damage to the bone marrow can cause leukemia or suppressed immune system. (See CANCER, IMMUNE SYSTEM, IMMUNITY). (SG2)

BOOK OF ENOCH: The name of several unrelated books of the Apocrypha. Each of these books is ascribed to the Biblical figure Enoch, who has long been associated with visions, due to the cryptic note in Genesis 5,24 that he was no longer to be found because God "took him". No direct mention is made of Enoch's death, and so, a tradition developed that he ascended alive to Heaven. Each of the books called "Enoch" describes a collection of heavenly visions. The Ethiopian Book of Enoch in particular supplies much information on angelology, and supplies the names of a large number of angels. (AG)

BOOK OF MORMON: A central scripture of the Mormons. This book is actually a collection of many books, and serves as a "Third Testament" for the Mormons, in addition to the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Book of Mormon chronicles historical events and figures important to Mormon history starting from the 2nd Temple period in Judea, and continuing in North America of ancient times. According to Mormon tradition, this history was written on golden plates in a form of the Egyptian language and was hidden in ancient times in North America. In modern times, they were rediscovered by Joseph Smith, and with the assistance of the angel Moroni, Joseph Smith translated these records on the golden plates from Egyptian to English. The standard Book of Mormon is now printed in English. Two other books important to Mormons (although not as central as the Book of Mormon) are "Pearl of Great Price", and "Doctrines and Covenants". (AG)

BOOK OF THE DEAD: Tibetan Book of the Dead (In Tibetan, "Bardo thos grol chen mo", meaning "The Great Book of Natural Liberation Through Understanding in the Between". The popular title of the book in English, however, is "Book of the Dead"). A Tibetan Buddhist text written by Padma Sambhava in the 8th/9th century which explains the stages through which a person goes during the process of dying, and the process through which the person's soul is reborn into another body to begin a new life. The book is useful both to an individual who is dying, and to relatives and friends, because it explains both what process the dying person goes through and the prayers which are helpful in assisting the individual to be reborn in the next life. The book contains a day by day description of the stages the individual's soul goes through, and the beings it encounters leading up to rebirth. (AG)

BOOK OF THE DEAD: Egyptian Book of the Dead A collection of magical texts which were written on papyrus by the ancient Egyptians and placed upon their dead in order to assist the deceased with their journey through the netherworld, and to help them deal with the dangers of this journey, and ultimately help them attain the afterlife. The text was divided into spells, and was accompanied by pictures and illustrations which further explained the various aspects of the netherworld. The earliest such collection of papyri from the middle of the 15th century bce, but the traditions contained within them are a great deal more ancient. (AG)

BOOLEAN LOGIC: Named for the English mathematician George Boole, ‘Boolean Logic’ uses the logical relationships AND, OR and NOT, useful for symbolic representation in ‘Boolean algebra’ and computer programming. (See GAME THEORY, MODEL) (MP)

BOOMERANG: Australian Aboriginal returning and non-returning flat hardwood object used for hunting or ceremonial purposes. Nowadays the most popular model is shaped such that the projectile returns to its thrower. In areas of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory it was also used as a musical instrument as well as a hunting tool. Term is also colloquially used to indicate 'the return to' or 'recoil upon' the originator of an idea, gift, promise etc like "a boomerang decision", "a boomerang cheque" and of particular importance a dishonored political promises made to the Aboriginal people like "boomeranged


BOTANICAL GARDENS: is an example of ex situ conservation where endangered plants are grown under human care and protection. There are about 1,500 botanical gardens world wide, mostly found in industrialized countries. About 230 botanical gardens are found in topical developing countries, which are rich in plant diversity. (JA)

BOTANY: (Greek: botani"plant") The branch of biological science dealing with plant life, for example the classification, structure or ecology of plants, or the flora characteristics of a particular time or region. (MP)

BOTULISM: (Latin: botulus "sausage"). An often fatal form of food poisoning caused by the endotoxin produced by the anaerobic bacterium Clostridium botulinum. The toxin is ingested in contaminated food from improper sterilization during canning or preservation, but the live bacteria need not necessarily be present once the toxin has been released. Unlike other forms of food poisoning, symptoms occur from 18 hours up to one week post-ingestion, and include lassitude, fatigue, muscle weakness and visual disturbances. Nausea and vomiting occurs in less than 50% of cases. Two thirds of cases are fatal, usually as a result of delayed diagnosis and treatment. (See ENDOTOXIN, FOOD SAFETY) (MP & IP)

BOTULINUM TOXIN: A bacterial toxin of Clostridium botulinum, One gram of crystalline toxin can kill about one million people. (JA)

BOVINE SOMATOTROPIN (bST): Somatotropin is a growth hormone found in all mammals, and in lactating cows (bovine) it increases milk production. In the early 1990s, bacterium E. Coli was genetically engineered to produce bST, which made its use economically practical in dairy farming. Bovine Somatotrophin hormone also know as Bovine Growth Hormone. However, the use of bST to increase commercial milk production continues to be controversial. The genetically engineered (GE) hormone (rBST) was manufactured by a multinational company, the Monsanto as an agricultural product to improve the growth rate and protein and was approved for use in USA in 1993. A few side effects in animal health concerns have been noticed in the treated cows which include increased risk of udder infection (mastitis) , lameness and a reduction in life span. (See GENETIC ENGINEERING). (SG2, JA)

BOVINE SPONGIFORM ENCEPHALOPATHY (BSE) a fatal degenerative Prion brain disease of cattle characterized by clumsy, jerky movements, loss of balance and apprehensive behavior. The disease was first observed in cattle by veterinarians in 1983 with its outbreak in England being associated with other spongiform encephalopathies such as scrapie in sheep, from which it is hypothesized it crossed species through scrapie-infected bone and meal supplemented cattle feed. The subsequent outbreak of a new variant of Creuzfeldt-Jabob disease in humans during the 1980s was blamed on the consumption of BSE-infected beef, though there is no conclusive scientific proof of this transmission; however there is a major concern as bovine albumin has been routinely used in Assisted Reproductive Technology programs, organ culture media and blood products (see CREUTZFELDT-JAKOB DISEASE and PRIONS). (IP)

BRAIN: The structure of the nervous system that provides the highest level of integration, control and regulation. It weighs about 1.5 kg in the adult (only about 2.5% of body weight) but receives 15% of the blood supply and 25% of the oxygen consumed by the body. The cells in the brain are far more individualized in structure and function than cells in any other part of the body. The brain can be divided up into a) cerebrum comprised of four lobes (frontal, temporal, parietal and occipital) where each lobe has special functions; b) cerebellum which helps the body to maintain balance by integrating several kinds of information such as vision, inner ear and impulses caused by the effect of gravity. Besides equilibrium the cerebellum affects muscular coordination and the autonomic execution of fine movements; c) the brain stem that connects the higher brain centers with the spinal cord and is the seat of the basic involuntary functions in the brain stem. The brain stem is divided up into several sections - the hypothalamus which regulates the hormones through the body by its secretions to the pituitary gland (growth, puberty, metabolism and reproduction) and the lowest part being the medulla whose cells control many autonomic and involuntary functions such as heart beat, breathing, intestinal activity and so on. (See BRAIN NEUROTRANSMITTERS). (IP)

BRAIN DEATH: Defined as the entire, permanent, irreversible cessation of functions of the brain stem that is synonymous with brain-stem death, since the centers for the control of such essential body functions as consciousness, respiration and blood pressure are situated within the brain stem". It is significant that guidelines on live donor transplantation, Cadaver donor transplantation and the on recipients of transplantation are being considered (JA..+FL,IP)

BRAIN DEATH, BRAIN-STEM DEATH: After the first heart transplant in 1968, people began to raise questions about whether a heart can be transplanted without murdering the donor. For the procedure can be begun only if the heart has not died a natural death, ie only if it is still beating. But if the heart is beating then the patient seemed -- by traditional standards -- still to be alive. The problem was solved in many countries by defining "death' as the death of the brain. "Brain death" was then defined as brain-stem death, and clinical criteria were developed for determining brain-stem death.

Brain death is to be distinguished from other syndromes, like Persistant Vegetative State, Permanent Vegetative State, Locked-in Syndrome, Advanced Dementia, etc, where one may be unresponsive to stimuli while the brain is nonetheless alive. Indeed in the Persistant Vegetative State there are discernible periods of sleep and wakefulness, and there has been some success in restoring PVS patient to various degrees of conscious function, as has been reported in a number of papers by Keith Andrews in London.

In a classic paper, Robert Truog and James Fackler (Critical Care Medicine, (1992) 20: 1705-1712) brought considerable clinical evidence to show that patients who have satisfied then-current criteria for Brain Death retained, nonetheless, brain function in the forms of hypothalamic endocrine function; cerebral electric activity; some environmental responsiveness with clear hemodynamic response to surgical incision at the time of organ removal; and spinal cord function in the form of spinal reflexes.

In the light of these data, one might easily conclude that we are harvesting organs from people who are really alive. Such a conclusion can lead to either of two quite contradictory courses of action. On the one hand it can be concluded that if we are already taking organs from live people, then we may as well find even more fruitful sources of organs and take them from patients in the Persistant Vegetative State (a position close to that advocated in a later article by Truog: Is it time to abandon brain death? HCR (1997) 27:29-37), or even from severely demented or other seriously mentally ill patients. But on the other hand one might conclude exactly the opposite, ie that if heart and other major organ transplantation requires taking organs from live people, then this is murder and such transplantations ought to be stopped.

The dilemma is reflected in debates within ancient spiritual cultures, such as Israel and Japan. Since 1997, Japan has had a law allowing taking hearts from brain-dead patients, for transplantation. But there both lay and scientifically educated Japanese have been reluctant to donate, perhaps because of deep-rooted beliefs about the importance of heartbeat and blood to life. Important aspects of brain-death and transplantation in Japan are discussed by Dr Masahiro Morioka in his website:

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