Category: Science & Technology

QUAD and the Telecom Network Security

Why in News?

  • The advent of 5G provides the Quad or the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue of the United States (US), Japan, Australia and India, a unique opportunity to demonstrate how democracies can engage in effective technology collaboration.

 The Huawei and QUAD response:

  • Huawei’s connection with Chinese Communist Party: Recognising the risks that companies like Huawei, which is connected to the Chinese Communist Party, pose to telecommunications networks, each member country of the Quad has taken steps to ensure secure and resilient access to 5G.
  • Australia’s measure: Australia, for one, banned Huawei from its 5G rollout in 2018 and did the same with ZTE, citing national security concerns.
  • US concerns: For its part, the US has been raising concerns about Huawei since 2012, and doubled-down on its efforts in 2019 by adding Huawei to the Entity List.
  • Japan creating Open RAN: Japan, meanwhile, a long-time leader in the telecommunications space has accelerated its efforts to create ‘Open Radio Access Networks (Open RAN)’, which promote vendor diversification and competition for better solutions.
  • India 5G and conflict with China on border: India took what it called a “step towards the new era” by deploying its first 5G services in select cities in October 2022; it is aiming to extend the network across the country over the next few years. India is unlikely to include Huawei in its networks, given the clash with Chinese forces in Galwan Valley in June 2020 and concerns about vendor trustworthiness.

QUAD alignment on securing 5G telecom networks

  • Agreement in first meeting: During the first in-person leaders’ meeting in September 2021, Quad countries agreed to “build trust, integrity, and resilience” into technology ecosystems by having suppliers, vendors, and distributors ensure strong safety and security-by-design processes, and committed to a “fair and open marketplace”.
  • Memorandum of cooperation on 5g suppliers: Later, at the fourth meeting in May 2022, partners signed a New Memorandum of Cooperation on 5G Supplier Diversification and Open RAN, and reaffirmed their desire to “collaborate on the deployment of open and secure telecommunications technologies in the region.”

Why QUAD must cooperate on Network Security?

  • Fast emerging telecom technologies: For one, virtualised (software-based) networks will be the norm in the next 10 years, by which time 6G networks will begin to rollout. Early attention to security issues for emerging telecommunications technologies will help ensure that there is sufficient focus on security in the runup to 5G rollouts.
  • Interoperable software’s need to check: The Quad’s advocacy of Open RAN networks or network architectures that consist of interoperable software run on vendor-neutral hardware is another reason why there is a need to focus on software supply chain and software-based infrastructure security.
  • To ensure the comprehensive network strategy: Critics of Open RAN solutions often point to security concerns to argue against deploying these technologies. A comprehensive 5G security strategy is necessary to ensure trust in these networks.5G networks are critical infrastructure and it is imperative for states to ensure their security.
  • For instance: In 2018, Australian officials were the first to warn the public of the risks posed by untrustworthy vendors on 5G networks. Officials from the other Quad countries have followed suit and, along with key partners such as the European Union and United Kingdom, there is a clear consensus on the fundamental importance of secure and resilient communications networks.

How QUAD will be a key player in Talent Development?

  • Bridging the gap of talent pool: Nations across the globe are suffering from a talent shortage in the technology domain. With heightened demand for high-skilled workers, like-minded nations must cultivate and share their expertise with one another to bridge critical gaps.
  • Quad Fellowship: this, the Quad created the Quad Fellowship, which will support 100 students per year to pursue STEM-related graduate degrees in the United States. This could be an effective way to grow the talent pipeline in a way that fills current and emerging needs.
  • Restructuring programs that can fulfil the current and future demand: Many nations have started to consider changes to immigration policies for high-skilled talent. Australia, for example, has raised its permanent immigration cap by 35,000 for the current fiscal year, and Japan is planning to expand its programs soon.
  • Creative ways of QUAD countries to recruit talent: Shortage of talent pool that all Quad countries are experiencing as they seek creative ways to grow their technology talent pool. Indian companies, for example, are beginning to recruit in rural areas to address significant tech worker shortages that may stymie a growing start-up ecosystem.

What QUAD need to do?

  • Ensure close coordination: While these commitments are significant, maintaining momentum requires close coordination of resources and policies. No one country can build resilient, open, and secure telecommunications networks on its own, particularly as countries deploy 5G and think ahead to 6G.
  • Adhering to the goals and principles: To ensure that operationalisation moves forward in line with the Quad’s stated principles and goals, the member countries must work together in four key areas: standard-setting; security; talent development; and vendor diversity.
  • Develop a recruitment framework for telecommunications: Quad countries have an opportunity to set a precedent for other democracies by rethinking what it means to be “qualified” for a position. Companies can look beyond degrees during the hiring process and focus on relevant skills by jointly developing assessment criteria for worker readiness and performance.
  • Incentivise 5G deployment in underserved areas: To ensure that talent is not left out of the candidates’ pool for tech jobs, Quad members can agree to prioritise secure 5G deployment in rural regions. Lack of access to reliable information and communications can be a significant barrier to entering the workforce, and expanding 5G deployment is a critical aspect of broadening the talent pool.
  • Enhance public-private partnerships: As Quad countries build their infrastructure and talent pools at home, they must also think about other countries that only consider cost when choosing Huawei and other untrusted telecom providers. As such, the Quad could leverage public-private partnerships to bolster the presence of trusted companies in new locations. By using coordinated, strategic financial incentives, they will also have an opportunity to train and educate third country governments on the threats posed by untrusted 5G vendors. Consequently, they will contribute to broader network security and resiliency as 5G is more widely deployed.
  • Provide R&D incentives: The governments of the Quad countries should offer incentives to promote ongoing work in hardware, software, and security improvements, specific technologies such as high-band technology and end-to-end network slicing, and research areas including telehealth, energy research, and agriculture. A broad base of enabling technologies and applications would encourage new entrants into the market.

Conclusion:

  • Quad countries are well-positioned to accomplish plenty together. Of the many areas where they can progress, securing 5G is particularly promising due to the clearly stated objectives that Quad countries share. The Quad countries have the potential to provide a secure, flexible and open 5G network model to the Indo-Pacific and nations seeking democratic alternatives for their telecommunications infrastructure.

Antimicrobial Resistance Vaccines

Why in News?

  • Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has been declared one of the top global public health threats by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Background:

  • In 2019, an overall 95 million deaths were caused by AMR infections and associated complications.
  • India is the world’s largest consumer of antibiotics and has the world’s highest infectious disease burden including due to multi-resistant pathogens (superbugs).
  • AMR may cause a global annual GDP loss of $3.4 trillion by 2030 and may push 24 million people into extreme poverty.

What is AMR? 

  • Antimicrobial resistance is the resistance acquired by any microorganism (bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasite, etc.) against antimicrobial drugs (such as antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals, antimalarials, and anthelmintics) that are used to treat infections.
  • As a result, standard treatments become ineffective, infections persist and may spread to others.
  • Microorganisms that develop antimicrobial resistance are sometimes referred to as “superbugs”.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified AMR as one of the top ten threats to global health.

Reasons for Spread of AMR:

  • The misuse of antimicrobials in medicine and inappropriate use in agriculture.
  • Contamination around pharmaceutical manufacturing sites where untreated waste releases large amounts of active antimicrobials into the environment.

What Initiatives have been taken by the Government to Prevent AMR?

  • AMR Surveillance and Research Network (AMRSN) was launched in 2013, to generate evidence and capture trends and patterns of drug resistant infections in the country.
  • The National Action Plan on AMR focuses on One Health approach and was launched in April 2017 with the aim of involving various stakeholder ministries/departments.
  • ICMR along with Research Council of Norway (RCN) initiated a joint call for research in antimicrobial resistance in 2017.
  • ICMR along with the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), Germany has a joint Indo-German collaboration for research on AMR.
  • ICMR has initiated Antibiotic Stewardship Program (AMSP) on a pilot project across India to control misuse and overuse of antibiotics in hospital wards and ICUs.

Recommendation by WHO:

  • Equitable and global access to the vaccines that already exist
  • Disruptive approaches are needed: The lessons from COVID 19 vaccine development and mRNA vaccines offer unique opportunities to explore for development of vaccines against bacteria
  • Need to overcome challenges: Such as pathogens associated with hospital-acquired infections (HAI), difficulty in defining target population(s) among all admitted hospital patients; the cost and complexity of vaccine efficacy trials; and the lack of regulatory and/or policy precedent for vaccines against HAIs.
  • Easier regulatory requirement: Vaccine development is expensive, and scientifically challenging, and is associated with high failure rates, and therefore, the need for support from the government and private sector.

Ransomware

Context: 

  • The services at the AIIMS in the national capital were affected for the 7th consecutive day, after the hospital’s server was subjected to a ransomware attack.

What are Cyber Attacks?

  • It is a malicious and deliberate attempt by an individual or organization to breach the information system of another individual or organization.
  • There are various types of cyberattacks like malware, phishing, denial of service attacks, etc.

Different types of Malware:

  • Malware is the shortened form of malicious software. It is the general term for any program that is designed to damage, disrupt, or hack a device. Malware includes viruses, Ransomware, spyware, Trojan, adware, etc.
  • Viruses are malicious pieces of code that infect your device without your knowledge. They can affect your device’s performance, delete files, send spam, and even corrupt your hard drive. They multiply and spread to other machines, often before you’re aware of an infection.
  • Ransomware is malicious programs that block access to your device until you pay a ransom fee to its creator. It is often very difficult and expensive to remove.
  • Spyware is software that spies on you, tracking your internet activities in order to send advertising (Adware) back to your system.
  • Worm is a program that replicates itself and destroys data and files on the computer. Worms work to “eat” the system operating files and data files until the drive is empty.
  • Trojan is a type of malware that are written with the purpose of discovering your financial information, taking over your computer’s system resources, and in larger systems creating a “denial-of-service attack” which is making a machine or network resource unavailable to those attempting to reach it. Example: Google, AOL, Yahoo or your business network becoming unavailable.
  • Phishing is a cybercrime in which a target or targets are contacted by email, telephone, or text message. This is done by someone posing as a legitimate institution to lure individuals into providing sensitive data such as personally identifiable information, banking and credit card details, and passwords.

Steps taken by the Government to spread awareness about cyber-crimes:

  • Online cybercrime reporting portal has been launched to enable complainants to report complaints pertaining to Child Pornography/Child Sexual Abuse Material, rape/gang rape imageries or sexually explicit content.
  • A scheme for establishment of Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C) has been established to handle issues related to cybercrime in the country in a comprehensive and coordinated manner.
  • Establishment of National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre (NCIIPC) for protection of critical information infrastructure in the country.
  • All organizations providing digital services have been mandated to report cyber security incidents to CERT-In expeditiously.Cyber Swachhta Kendra (Botnet Cleaning and Malware Analysis Centre) has been launched for providing detection of malicious programmes and free tools to remove such programmes.
  • Formulation of Crisis Management Plan for countering cyber-attacks and cyber terrorism.

Antimicrobial Resistance Vaccines

Why in News?

  • Poor animal health in factory farming can negatively affect food safety, our environment and climate, leading to Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR).

What are the Issues?

  • Factory farming or intensive food-animal farming is the intense and confined farming of animals such as pigs, cows, and birds. They are industrial facilities that raise large numbers of animals, mostly indoors, in conditions intended to maximise production at a minimal cost.
  • The suffering of animals within farms around the world is too often overlooked or seen to be separate from the big issues such as pandemics and the public health crisis, climate change and biodiversity loss, food insecurity and malnutrition.
  • In reality, this can exacerbate the global problems as well as causing immense cruelty to billions of animals.
  • Producing more than 50 billion factory-farmed land animals each year to satisfy growing demand for cheap meat requires using breeds of genetically uniform animals squashed together, creating an ideal breeding ground for disease that can jump to humans.
  • When diseases jump from one species to another, they often become more infectious and cause more serious illness and death, leading to global pandemics.
  • Bird flu and swine flu are two key examples where new strains constantly emerge from intensively farmed animals.
  • However, there is an addition to this list — Antimicrobial Resistance which is overlooked among these big issues.
  • The overuse of antibiotics on factory farms leads to superbugs that spread to workers, the environment and into the food chain.
  • Factory farms, characterised by substandard husbandry practices and poor animal welfare, drive the increased use of antimicrobials, and are connected to the emergence of AMR alongside a range of zoonotic pathogens.

What is AMR?

  • Antimicrobial resistance is the resistance acquired by any microorganism (bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasite, etc.) against antimicrobial drugs (such as antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals, antimalarials, and anthelmintics) that are used to treat infections.
  • As a result, standard treatments become ineffective, infections persist and may spread to others.
  • Microorganisms that develop antimicrobial resistance are sometimes referred to as “superbugs”.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified AMR as one of the top ten threats to global health.

Reasons for Spread of AMR:

  • The misuse of antimicrobials in medicine and inappropriate use in agriculture.
  • Contamination around pharmaceutical manufacturing sites where untreated waste releases large amounts of active antimicrobials into the environment.

What Initiatives have been taken by the Government to Prevent AMR?

  • AMR Surveillance and Research Network (AMRSN) was launched in 2013, to generate evidence and capture trends and patterns of drug resistant infections in the country.
  • The National Action Plan on AMR focuses on One Health approach and was launched in April 2017 with the aim of involving various stakeholder ministries/departments.
  • ICMR along with Research Council of Norway (RCN) initiated a joint call for research in antimicrobial resistance in 2017.
  • ICMR along with the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), Germany has a joint Indo-German collaboration for research on AMR.
  • ICMR has initiated Antibiotic Stewardship Program (AMSP) on a pilot project across India to control misuse and overuse of antibiotics in hospital wards and ICUs.

Recommendation by WHO:

  • Equitable and global access to the vaccines that already exist
  • Disruptive approaches are needed: The lessons from COVID 19 vaccine development and mRNA vaccines offer unique opportunities to explore for development of vaccines against bacteria
  • Need to overcome challenges: Such as pathogens associated with hospital-acquired infections (HAI), difficulty in defining target population(s) among all admitted hospital patients; the cost and complexity of vaccine efficacy trials; and the lack of regulatory and/or policy precedent for vaccines against HAIs.
  • Easier regulatory requirement: Vaccine development is expensive, and scientifically challenging, and is associated with high failure rates, and therefore, the need for support from the government and private sector.

Centre Amends Aadhaar Regulation

Why in News?

  • The Centre has recently amended Aadhaar regulations, advising card holders to update documents supporting their information at least once every 10 years from the date of enrolment to ensure the accuracy of the data. 

What is Aadhaar? 

  • A 12-digit unique identity for every Indian individual, including children and infants
  • Enables identification for every resident Indian.
  • Establishes uniqueness of every individual on the basis of demographic and biometric information.
  • It is a voluntary service that every resident can avail irrespective of present documentation.
  • Each individual will be given a single unique Aadhaar ID number.
  • Aadhaar will provide a universal identity infrastructure which can be used by any identity-based application (like ration card, passport, etc.)

About the new regulations:

  • Updating the documents:
  • As per the regulations earlier, residents who were older than 15 years at the time of enrolment were recommended to update their biometric data every 10 years.
  • The process of updating documents is not mandatory. 
  • Ensuring accuracy
  • This process will help in ensuring the accuracy of information in the Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR).
  • Demographic information 
  • The amendment of the Aadhaar regulation is limited to updating demographic information and does not involve biometric data such as fingerprints. 

Issues with Aadhar:

  • Aadhaar act allows cancellation of Aadhaar number for any reason by the government and citizens have no recourse.
  • A Centralized database is a concern because once it is compromised everyone is at risk.
  • There is no ID or address verification and there is no means of identifying fakes.
  • There is no data protection law in place in India.
  • Enrollment software hacks allowed foreign nationals to create Aadhaar numbers thus creating a national security risk.
  • UIDAI does not have a monitoring mechanism but only an audit mechanism.
  • Data goes to third parties vulnerability increases due to that.

Significance of Aadhar:

  • Eliminate the leakages: Increasing the accuracy of Aadhaar information is likely to help the government eliminate the leakage of benefit transfers from various schemes.  
  • Jhan Dhan Yojana: Aadhaar Card is used as the major document of proof when opening a bank account under the Pradhan Mantri Jhan Dhan Yojana in the nation.
  • Direct Benefit Transfer: Aadhar Card linked bank accounts will get their set of LPG Subsidy directly accredited in the bank account.
  • Monthly Pension and Provident Fund: a person needs to link their Aadhaar Card to their respective pension account and provident fund.
  • Passport and Voter ID: Aadhaar Card will relieve you of the lengthy procedure while obtaining Passport.

Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) & Aadhar:

  • Aadhaar Act & Establishment of UIDAI:
  • The UIDAI is a statutory authority established under the provisions of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 (“Aadhaar Act 2016”) by the Government of India, under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY). 
  • Need of UIDAI: UIDAI was created to issue Unique Identification numbers (UID), named as “Aadhaar”, to all residents of India. The UID had to be –
  • Robust enough to eliminate duplicate and fake identities, and 
  • Verifiable and authenticable in an easy, cost-effective way. 
  • Under the Aadhaar Act 2016, UIDAI is responsible for:
  • Aadhaar enrolment and authentication, including operation and management of all stages of Aadhaar life cycle,
  • Developing the policy, procedure, and system for issuing Aadhaar numbers to individuals and 
  • Perform authentication and the security of identity information and authentication records of individuals.

About Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR):

  • It is a central database that stores and manages identity information for individuals and organizations.
  • It is used to authenticate and authorize individuals and organizations for access to government services and information.
  • CIDR also supports the issuance of electronic identity cards and the management of identity information.

ModifiedElephant – a hacking group

Why in News?

  • It was recently found by an American Agency that ModifiedElephant, a hacking group, had allegedly planted incriminating evidence on the personal devices of Indian journalists, Human Rights Activists, Human Rights Defenders, Academics and Lawyers.

What is ModifiedElephant? What’s the Issue?

  • ModifiedElephant operators have been infecting their targets using spearphishing emails with malicious file attachments.
  • Spearphishing refers to the practice of sending emails to targets that look like they are coming from a trusted source to either reveal important information or install different kinds of malware on their Computer Systems.

How does it Work?

  • Through mail, the group delivers malware to their targets.
  • NetWire and DarkComet, two publicly-available remote access trojans (RATs), were the primary malware families deployed by ModifiedElephant.
  • It also sent android malware to its victims.

What’s the Difference between Malware, Trojan, Virus, and Worm?

  • Malware is defined as a software designed to perform an unwanted illegal act via the computer network. It could be also defined as software with malicious intent.
  • Malware can be classified based on how they get executed, how they spread, and/or what they do. Some of them are discussed below.
  • Virus: A program that can infect other programs by modifying them to include a possible evolved copy of itself.
  • Worms: Disseminated through computer networks, unlike viruses, computer worms are malicious programs that copy themselves from system to system, rather than infiltrating Legitimate Files.
  • Trojans: Trojan or Trojan horse is a program that generally impairs the security of a system. Trojans are used to create back-doors (a program that allows outside access into a secure network) on computers belonging to a secure network so that a hacker can have access to the secure network.
  • Hoax: An e-mail that warns the user of a certain system that is harming the computer. The message thereafter instructs the user to run a procedure (most often in the form of a download) to correct the harming system. When this program is run, it invades the system and deletes an important file.
  • Spyware: Invades a computer and, as its name implies, monitors a user’s activities without consent. Spywares are usually forwarded through unsuspecting e-mails with bonafide e-mail i.ds. Spyware continues to infect millions of computers globally.

Earth Observation Satellites (EOS)

Why in News?

  • After a disappointing 2021 which saw just one successful launch, ISRO is getting back to business with the EOS-04, an earth observation satellite.

What are EOS?

  • An EOS or Earth remote sensing satellite is a satellite used or designed for Earth observation (EO) from orbit.
  • It includes spy satellites and similar ones intended for non-military uses such as Environmental Monitoring, meteorology, cartography and others.
  • The most common type are Earth-imaging satellites that take satellite images, analogous to aerial photographs.
  • Some EOS may perform remote sensing without forming pictures, such as in GNSS radio occultation.

What is EOS-04 all about?

  • The EOS-04 is fourth in a series of earth observation satellites that are being launched under a new generic name.
  • It is designed to provide high-quality images for applications such as agriculture, forestry and plantations, flood mapping, soil moisture and hydrology.
  • It will complement the data from Resourcesat, Cartosat and RISAT-2B series of satellites that are already in orbit.

Why such Different Nomenclature?

  • Two years ago, ISRO had moved to a new naming system for its earth observation satellites which till then had been named thematically, according to the purpose they were meant The Cartosat series of satellites were meant to provide data for land topography and mapping, while the Oceansat satellites were meant for observations over sea.
  • Some INSAT-series, Resourcesat series, GISAT, Scatsat, and a few other earth observation satellites were named differently for the specific jobs they were assigned to do, or the different instruments that they.
  • All these would now become part of the new EOS series of satellites.

What other Satellites are being launched?

  • Besides EOS-04, two other small satellites —INSPIREsat-1 and INS-2TD — will ride on the heaviest version of the PSLV rocket in the early hours from the Sriharikota launch range.
  • The other co-passenger, INS-2TD, is a technology demonstrator for the first India-Bhutan joint satellite that is scheduled to be launched next month.
  • The two countries had signed a space agreement last year, and its first outcome would be the launch of Bhutan-Sat, or INS-2B, on a PSLV rocket.

How many satellites does India have in Space?

  • India currently has 53 operational satellites, of which 21 are earth observation ones and another 21 are communication-based.
  • EOS-4 launch would be the 54th flight of the PSLV rocket, and the 23rd of its most powerful XL-version that has six strap-on boosters.

BrahMos Deal and India’s Defence Exports

Why in News?

  • Germany has become a weaker link in the Western coalition against Moscow and Beijing.
  • The US-Russia-China power dynamics:
  • There is a convergence between China and Russia on a range of issues from NATO expansion to the AUKUS alliance.
  • Despite their problems with the US, both Moscow and Beijing want a productive partnership with Washington.
  • Both Russia and China want to leverage the united front to negotiate better terms from America.
  • Exploiting the contradiction between Russia and China: Washington, in turn, wants to explore the cleavages between Moscow and Beijing.
  • Focus on challenges from China: Biden’s outreach to Putin last year was based on the premise that the US could better focus on the challenges from China in the Indo-Pacific if there was a reasonable relationship with Russia in Europe.
  • Putin is trying to take advantage of that proposition by raising the stakes in Europe.
  • Exploiting economic means: If Putin is focused on military means to rewrite the European security order with the US, Xi is focused on the economic means to alter the US ties.
  • Xi is making a big play for the Wall Street bankers who see merits in engagement with Beijing and lobby Washington to scale down the confrontation with China.

The US Resilience:

  • The chaos of American domestic politics and the continuing arguments between the US and its European partners tend to amplify the disagreements within the West.
  • It would be a mistake for Putin and Xi to mistake Western disagreements for strategic divergence.
  • Consensus on challenging China: The last few years have seen the quick emergence of a new US consensus on challenging China despite the polarisation of the American political class.
  • The idea that the US can’t risk a two-front challenge with Russia and China is popular but mistaken.
  • Power of the US and its allies: Despite the dramatic rise of China and its new partnership with Russia, the united front can’t really match the comprehensive national power of the US and its allies.
  • India is now a strategic partner of the US and faces growing challenges from China.
  • In Asia, Biden has revived the Anglosphere (the AUKUS alliance with the UK and Australia), elevated the Quad to the summit level, and reached out to the ASEAN.
  • In Europe, the US is getting NATO in order.
  • Britain has taken the lead in the diplomatic confrontation with Russia.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron is coordinating with the US in dealing with the Ukraine crisis.
  • Beyond the rebuilding of US alliances, Washington has an important lever which is the exploitation of the domestic political vulnerabilities of “Czar Putin” and “Emperor Xi”.
  • Challenge for India:
  • New dynamics between two coalitions: India’s approach will depend upon the new dynamic between the two coalitions as well as its own relations with China, Russia, and the US.
  • As both sides consolidate their global coalitions, it will get harder to be in the middle.
  • India would like to see Russia find accommodation with the West in Europe; but if Russia’s relations with the West deteriorate further in Europe, Delhi is unlikely to let Moscow undermine its growing partnership with the US and its allies.

Conclusion:

  • With the return of great Power Rivalry coinciding with India’s deteriorating ties with China, Delhi now stands closer than ever before to the West.

International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER)

Why in News?

  • Scientists in the United Kingdom have achieved a new milestone in producing nuclear fusion energy, or imitating the way energy is produced in the Sun. The record and scientific data from these crucial experiments are a major boost for ITER.

ITER Project:

  • ITER is international nuclear fusion research and engineering megaproject, which will be the world’s largest magnetic confinement plasma physics experiment.
  • The goal of ITER is to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion energy for peaceful use.
  • Project details
  • The project is funded and run by seven member entities—the European Union, India, Japan, China, Russia, South Korea and the United States.
  • The EU, as host party for the ITER complex, is contributing about 45 per cent of the cost, with the other six parties contributing approximately 9 per cent each.
  • Construction of the ITER Tokamak (doughnut-shaped apparatus) complex started in 2013 and the building costs were over US$14 billion by June 2015.

How does it work?

  • Hydrogen plasma will be heated to 150 million degrees Celsius, ten times hotter than the core of the Sun, to enable the fusion reaction.
  • The process happens in a doughnut-shaped reactor, called a tokamak, which is surrounded by giant magnets that confine and circulate the superheated, ionized plasma, away from the metal walls.
  • The superconducting magnets must be cooled to -269°C (-398°F), as cold as interstellar space.
  • Scientists have long sought to mimic the process of nuclear fusion that occurs inside the sun, arguing that it could provide an almost limitless source of cheap, safe and clean electricity.
  • Unlike in existing fission reactors, which split plutonium or uranium atoms, there’s no risk of an uncontrolled chain reaction with fusion and it doesn’t produce long-lived radioactive waste.

Nuclear Fusion:

  • Nuclear fusion is the process of making a single heavy nucleus (part of an atom) from two lighter nuclei. This process is called a nuclear reaction.
  • The nucleus made by fusion is heavier than either of the starting nuclei. It releases a large amount of energy.
  • Fusion is what powers the sun. Atoms of Tritium and Deuterium (isotopes of hydrogen, Hydrogen-3 and Hydrogen-2, respectively) unite under extreme pressure and temperature to produce a neutron and a Helium isotope.
  • Along with this, an Enormous amount of energy is released, which is several times the amount produced by Fission.
  • Scientists continue to work on controlling nuclear fusion in an effort to make a fusion reactor to Produce Electricity.

How it is Different from Nuclear Fission?

  • Simply put, fission is the division of one atom into two (by neutron bombardment), and fusion is the combination of two lighter atoms into a larger one (at a very high temperature).
  • Nuclear fission takes place when a large, somewhat unstable isotope (atoms with the same number of protons but a different number of neutrons) is bombarded by high-speed particles, usually neutrons.

Probe sought into Pegasus case

Why in News?

  • Supreme Court advocate Manohar Lal Sharma has circulated in the media a signed online copy of a plea he claims to have filed in the Supreme Court for an investigation into an allegation made in a New York Times report that India bought Pegasus spyware from NSO of Israel.

Historical Background of the News:

  • The Apex Court stressed that the power of the state to snoop in the name of national security into the “sacred private space” of individuals is not absolute.
  • The court said it consciously avoided “political thickets” but could not cower when allegations involved a “grave” threat to the privacy and free speech of the entire citizenry and raised the possibility of involvement of the Government, or even a foreign power, behind the surveillance.
  • The court said the petitions filed before it, including ones by veteran journalists N. Ram and Sashi Kumar, Editors Guild of India and victims of alleged snooping, had raised “Orwellian concerns” about an all-pervasive technology like Pegasus.
  • The court said India could not remain mute in the face of Pegasus allegations when other countries across the globe had taken them seriously.
  • A Bench led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana had, in a 46-page order on October 27, set up an expert technical committee monitored by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, Justice R.V. Raveendran, to inquire into the allegations of spying and file a report.
  • The order came after the Union government did not file a “detailed affidavit” in the court in response to the petitions, citing national security reasons, among others.
  • The Justice Raveendran committee recently invited persons who suspect themselves of being snooped on to come forward and hand over their electronic equipment for technical examination to detect the presence of the spyware.

What is Pegasus?

  • It is a type of malicious software or malware classified as a spyware designed to gain access to devices, without the knowledge of users, and gather personal information and relay it back to whoever it is that is using the software to spy.
  • Pegasus has been developed by the Israeli firm NSO Group that was set up in 2010.
  • The earliest version of Pegasus discovered, which was captured by researchers in 2016, infected phones through what is called spear-phishing – text messages or emails that trick a target into clicking on a malicious link.
  • Since then, however, NSO’s attack capabilities have become more advanced. Pegasus infections can be achieved through so-called “zero-click” attacks, which do not require any interaction from the phone’s owner in order to succeed.
  • These will often exploit “zero-day” vulnerabilities, which are flaws or bugs in an operating system that the mobile phone’s manufacturer does not yet know about and so has not been able to fix.

Who were the Targets?

  • Human Rights activists, journalists and lawyers around the world have been targeted with phone malware sold to authoritarian governments by an Israeli surveillance firm.
  • Indian ministers, government officials and opposition leaders also figure in the list of people whose phones may have been compromised by the spyware.
  • In 2019, WhatsApp filed a lawsuit in the US court against Israel’s NSO Group, alleging that the firm was incorporating cyber-attacks on the application by infecting mobile devices with malicious software.

Recent Steps Taken in India against Cyber Crime:

  • Cyber Surakshit Bharat Initiative: It was launched in 2018 with an aim to spread awareness about cybercrime and building capacity for safety measures for Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) and frontline IT staff across all government departments.
  • National Cyber security Coordination Centre (NCCC): In 2017, the NCCC was developed to scan internet traffic and communication metadata (which are little snippets of information hidden inside each communication) coming into the country to detect real-time cyber threats.
  • Cyber Swachhta Kendra: In 2017, this platform was introduced for internet users to clean their computers and devices by wiping out viruses and malware.
  • Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C): I4C was recently inaugurated by the government.
  • National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal has also been launched pan India.
  • Computer Emergency Response Team – India (CERT-IN): It is the nodal agency which deals with cybersecurity threats like hacking and phishing.
  • Legislations in India:
  • Information Technology Act, 2000.
  • Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019.

International Mechanisms:

  • International Telecommunication Union (ITU): It is a specialized agency within the United Nations which plays a leading role in the standardization and development of telecommunications and cyber security issues.
  • Budapest Convention on Cybercrime: It is an international treaty that seeks to address Internet and computer crime (cybercrime) by harmonizing national laws, improving investigative techniques, and increasing cooperation among nations. It came into force on 1st July 2004. India is not a signatory to this convention.

Pig’s Heart Beating Inside Human

Why in News?

  • Recently, doctors Transplanted a pig heart into a patient in a last effort to save his life, in Maryland hospital in USA. It was done for the first time in the history of medical.

About the News:

  • The patient is doing well three days after this highly experimental surgery.
  • This marks a significant step in the decades-long debate on using animal organs for life-saving transplants. However, it is too soon to know, if the operation will work.
  • As per Doctors at University of Maryland Medical Center, transplant highlighted that heart from a genetically modified animal can function in human body, without immediate Rejection.

Who was the Patient?

  • The patient was David Bennett aged 57. He knew there was no guarantee of whether the experiment would work. But he was ready for the operation because he was dying and was ineligible for a Human Heart Transplant.

Why this Experiment was Conducted?

  • There is a huge shortage of human organs, which are donated for transplant.
  • This drives scientists to figure out how to use animal organs for transplant instead.
  • In 2021, there were just around 3,800 heart transplants in the U.S. so, if this experiment works, there will be endless supply of these organs from animals for patients.

How about Prior Attempts?

  • Prior attempts of such transplants have failed, largely. This is because, patients’ bodies rapidly rejected the Animal Organ. For instance in 1984, Baby Fae, who was a dying infant, lived for 21 days with a Baboon Heart.

How was the Recent Transplant Different?

  • In the recent transplant, Maryland surgeons used a heart from a pig after it underwent Gene-Editing in a bid to remove a sugar in its cells which is Responsible for hyper-fast organ Rejection.

About Xenotransplantation:

  • Xenotransplantation or heterologous transplant, is the transplantation of living cells, organs or tissues from one species to another. Such cells, organs or tissues are called xenografts or xenotransplants.
  • The technique of Xenotransplantation of human tumour cells into Immunocompromised mice is often used in Pre-Clinical Oncology Research.

FSSAI Draft Regulations for GM foods

Why in News?

  • Social activists working among farmers have come out against the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India’s (FSSAI) draft regulations on genetically modified (GM) food, terming it “Unacceptable”.

What’s their Demand?

  • They want FSSAI to explicitly say that GM foods will not be allowed into India by way of production or imports. Because, according to them, any kind of GM food in India is a threat to the health of our people, to our environment, and to the diverse food cultures of India.

Background:

  • The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has released draft regulations for GM foods.

What’s the Issue?

  • The Draft proposed that all food products having individual genetically engineered ingredients of 1% or more will be Labeled as “Contains GMO/ingredients derived from GMO”. Activists claimed this as a tacit approval to import of GM food instead of prohibiting them.

Overview of the Draft:

  • No one can manufacture or sell any food products or food ingredients derived from Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) without prior approval.
  • Specifies norms that labs will need to adhere for testing GM foods.
  • The proposed regulations will apply to “Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) or Genetically Engineered Organisms (GEOs) or Living Modified Organism (LMOs) intended for direct use as food or for processing.”
  • The Regulations’ ambit will include food products that may have been made using food ingredients or processing aid derived from GMOs, even if GM content is not present in the end-product.
  • Genetically Modified Organisms or Genetically Engineered Organisms “shall not be used as an ingredient” in infant food products.
  • The draft also Proposes labelling norms for food products that contain one per cent or more than one percent of GMO content.

GMO Regulation in India:

  • The task of regulating GMO levels in imported consumables was initially with the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) under the Union environment ministry.
  • Its role in this was diluted with the enactment of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 and FSSAI was asked to take over approvals of imported goods.

What is Genetically Modified Organism (Transgenic Organism)?

  • In GMO, genetic material (DNA) is altered or artificially introduced using genetic engineering techniques.
  • Genetic modification involves the mutation, insertion, or deletion of genes.
  • Inserted genes usually come from a different organism (e.g. In Bt cotton, Bt genes from bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis are induced).
  • Genetic modification is done to induce a desirable new trait which does not occur naturally in the Species.

Applications of Genetic Modification Techniques:

  • GM techniques are used in:
  • Biological and medical research,
  • Production of pharmaceutical drugs,
  • Experimental medicine (e.g. gene therapy),
  • Agriculture (e.g. golden rice, Bt cotton etc.),
  • Genetically modified bacteria to produce the protein insulin,
  • To produce biofuels from some GM bacteria, etc.

WHO Emergency Nod for Serum Institute’s Covovax

Why in News?

  • The WHO recently issued an emergency use listing (EUL) for NVX-CoV2373, or Covovax, the anti-Covid vaccine being produced by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) under Licence from Novavax.

About the News:

  • Covovax is the first protein-based Covid-19 vaccine option with demonstrated efficacy and a well-tolerated safety profile to be made available through the COVAX Facility.
  • Covovax is a subunit of the vaccine developed by Novavax and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). It requires two doses and is stable at 2 to 8°C Refrigerated Temperatures.
  • The vaccine uses a novel platform and is produced by creating an engineered baculovirus Containing a gene for a modified SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.

What is the Regular Procedure for Drug Approval?

  • Vaccines and medicines, and even diagnostic tests and medical devices, require the approval of a regulatory authority before they can be administered.
  • In India, the regulatory authority is the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO).
  • For vaccines and medicines, approval is granted after an assessment of their safety and effectiveness, based on data from trials.

About CDSCO:

  • The Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) under Directorate General of Health Services, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India is the National Regulatory Authority (NRA) of India.
  • Under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, CDSCO is responsible for
  • Approval of New Drugs
  • Conduct of Clinical Trials
  • Laying down the standards for Drugs
  • Control over the quality of imported Drugs in the country and
  • Coordination of the activities of State Drug Control Organizations by providing expert advice with a view to bring about the uniformity in the enforcement of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act.
  • CDSCO along with state regulators is jointly responsible for grant of licenses of certain specialized categories of critical Drugs such as blood and blood products, Vaccine and Sera.

When can Emergency use Authorisation (EUA) be granted?

  • In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) grants EUA only after it has been determined that the “known and potential benefits outweigh the known and potential risks of the vaccine” (or medicine).
  • This means that a EUA application can be considered only after sufficient efficacy data from phase 3 trials had been generated.
  • A EUA cannot be granted solely on the basis of data from phase 1 or phase 2 trials.

What is the process of Getting an Emergency use Authorisation in India?

  • Experts and activists say India’s drug regulations do not have provisions for a EUA, and the process for receiving one is not clearly defined or consistent.
  • Previously it has been granted permission for Covaxin and Covishield and covaxin emerged as the first COVID-19 vaccine globally to be used for vaccinating children as young as 2 years.

About WHO’s Emergency Use List (EUL):

  • The WHO Emergency Use Listing Procedure (EUL) is a risk-based procedure for assessing and listing unlicensed vaccines, therapeutics and in vitro diagnostics with the ultimate aim of expediting the availability of these products to people affected by a public health emergency.
  • To be eligible, the following criteria must be met:
  • The disease for which the product is intended is serious or immediately life threatening, has the potential of causing an outbreak, epidemic or pandemic and it is reasonable to consider the product for an EUL assessment, e.g., there are no licensed products for the indication or for a critical subpopulation (e.g., children).
  • Existing products have not been successful in eradicating the disease or preventing outbreaks (in the case of vaccines and medicines).
  • The product is manufactured in compliance with current Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) in the case of medicines and vaccines and under a functional Quality Management System (QMS) in the case of IVDs.
  • The applicant undertakes to complete the development of the product (validation and verification of the product in the case of IVDs) and apply for WHO prequalification once the product is licensed.

PARKINSON’S DISEASE AND Z-SCAN METHOD

Why in News?

  • IIT Dhanbad and CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Biology (Kolkata) have developed the Z-scan method to monitor the origin as well as the progression of Parkinson’s disease in human beings.

Parkinson’s Disease:

  • Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder that affects the central nervous system.
  • It damages nerve cells in the brain dropping the levels of dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that sends behavioural signals from the brain to the body.
  • The disease causes a variety of “motor” symptoms (symptoms related to movement of the muscles), including rigidity, delayed movement, poor balance, and tremors.
  • Medication can help control the symptoms of the disease but it can’t be cured.
  • It affects the age group from 6 to 60 years. Worldwide, about 10 million people have been affected by this disease.

Aggregation of a protein – Alpha-synuclein:

  • An aggregation of a protein called Alpha-synuclein (ASyn) plays a crucial role in the development of Parkinson’s disease. Protein aggregation is a biological phenomenon in which destabilized proteins aggregate (i.e., accumulate and clump together) leading to many diseases.
  • Alpha-synuclein is a protein found in the human brain, while smaller amounts are found in the heart, muscle and other tissues.
  • In the brain, alpha-synuclein is found mainly at the tips of neurons in specialized structures called presynaptic terminals.
  • Presynaptic terminals release chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters.
  • The release of neurotransmitters relays signals between neurons and is critical for normal Brain Function.

Use of Z-scan Method:

  • The discovered Z-scan method is expected to help in monitoring both the early as well as late stages of the aggregation of ASyn and death of neuronal cells.
  • Until now, worldwide studies could not establish any strong relation between ASyn aggregations and subsequent death of neuronal cells observed in Parkinson’s Disease.

Y2K BUG

Why in News?

  • Y2K bug was recently mentioned by the Prime Minister while addressing the nation on Covid-19 related issues.
  • The letter K, which stands for kilo (a unit of 1000), is commonly used to represent the number 1,000. So, Y2K stands for Year 2000. It is also called the ‘Year 2000 bug or Millennium Bug’.

Background Info:

  • The Y2K bug was a computer flaw or bug that people during the late 1900s thought would prove to be a massive problem when dealing with dates beyond December 31, 1999.
  • Y2K was both a software and hardware problem.
  • While writing computer programs during the 1960s to 1980s, computer engineers used only the last two digits of a year.
  • For example, “19” was left out from “1999” and only “99” was used. This was done because storing data in computers was a costly process that also took up a lot of space.
  • As the new century approached, programmers began to worry that computers might not interpret ”00” as 2000, but instead as 1900.
  • This led to the idea that all activities that were programmed would be damaged as a computer would interpret January 1, 1900 instead of January 1, 2000.

Implications:

  • The sectors such as Information Technology (IT), banking, transportation, power plants, medical equipment, etc. which used to work on correct date and time synchronisation were threatened by the Y2K problem.
  • Software and hardware companies raced to fix the bug and provided “Y2K compliant” programs to help. The simplest provided solution was that the date was expanded to a four-digit number.
  • Countries such as Italy, Russia, and South Korea had done little to prepare for Y2K. They had no more technological problems than those countries, like the U.S., that spent millions of dollars to combat the problem. Due to the lack of results, many people dismissed the Y2K bug as a hoax.

USE OF TB DRUGS ON CROPS

Why in News?

  • Registration Committee (RC) under the Central Insecticides Board and Registration Committee (CIBRC) has recently recommended to ban the use of antibiotics streptomycin and tetracycline for Bacterial Disease Control in Plant crops.

Key Points:

  • The RC Recommended to ban Antibiotics Streptomycin and Tetracycline with Immediate effect on crops where other options are available for bacterial disease control.
  • Where no alternatives are available, use of these antibiotics should be phased out by 2022-end. Till then, the Antibiotics could be used on crops strictly as per the Label claim i.e. streptomycin sulphate (9%) and tetracycline hydrochloride (1%).
  • The RC acknowledged that diseases in crops can be managed by using Integrated pest management and other practices.

Issues Involved:

  • Rampant Misuse: Although Streptocycline use is Allowed for eight crops by the CIBRC, it was found to be used on Many More Crops in practice.
  • Antibiotic Resistance:Exposure to antibiotics can lead to Development of antibiotic resistance in Humans and Animals.

What is Streptomycin?

  • It is also used in multidrug-resistant TB patients and in certain cases of TB meningitis (brain TB).It has important use for previously treated tuberculosis (TB) patients.6
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) recognises streptomycin as a critically important medicine for human use.

About Central Insecticides Board & Registration Committee:

  • The Central Insecticides Board & Registration Committee (CIBRC) was set up by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare in the year 1970 to regulate the import, manufacture, sale, transport, distribution and use of insecticides.
  • The Insecticides are Regulated under Insecticides Act, 1968 and Insecticides Rules, 1971.
  • The Central Insecticides Board (CIB) advises the Central Government and State Governments on technical matters arising out of the administration of Insecticides Act and to carry out the other functions assigned to the Board by or under Insecticides rules.
  • To import or Manufacture any Insecticide, Registration is required at the Registration Committee.

 

 

 

SAFEGUARDS AGAINST CHEMICAL DISASTERS IN INDIA

Why in News?

  • Vizag gas leak tragedy has put the spotlight on the safeguards available against chemical disasters in India.

Law before Bhopal Gas Tragedy:

  • At the time of the Bhopal gas tragedy, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was the only relevant law specifying criminal liability for such Incidents.
    • Section 304: culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
    • Section 304A: deals with death due to negligence and imposes a maximum punishment of two years and a fine.
  • Soon after the tragedy, the government passed a series of laws regulating the environment and prescribing and specifying safeguards and penalties.

Laws after Bhopal Gas Tragedy:

  • Bhopal Gas Leak (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985, which gives powers to the central government to secure the claims arising out of or connected with the Bhopal gas tragedy. Under the provisions of this Act, such claims are dealt with speedily and equitably.
  • The Environment Protection Act, 1986, which gives powers to the central government to undertake measures for improving the environment and set standards and inspect Industrial Units.
  • Hazardous Waste (Management Handling and Trans boundary Movement) Rules, 1989: Industry required to identify major accident hazards, take preventive measures and submit a report to the Designated authorities.
  • Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemicals Rules, 1989: Importer must furnish complete product safety information to the competent authority and must transport imported chemicals in accordance with the amended rules.
  • Chemical Accidents (Emergency, Planning, Preparedness and Response) Rules, 1996: Centre is required to constitute a central crisis group for management of chemical accidents; set up quick response mechanism termed as the crisis alert system. Each state is required to set up a crisis group and report on its work.
  • The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991, which is insurance meant to provide relief to persons affected by accidents that occur while handling hazardous substances.
  • The National Environment Appellate Authority Act, 1997, under which the National Environment Appellate Authority can hear appeals regarding the restriction of areas in which any industries, operations or processes or class of industries, operations or processes shall not be carried out or shall be carried out subject to certain safeguards under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • National Green Tribunal, 2010, provides for the establishment of a National Green Tribunal for effective and expeditious disposal of cases related to environmental protection and conservation of forests.

Recent Major Gas-Leak related Disasters:

  • 2014 GAIL Pipeline Blast:On 27 June 2014, a massive fire broke out following a blast in the underground gas pipeline maintained by the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) at Nagaram, East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh.
  • 2014 Bhilai Steel Plant Gas Leak: In another incident in June 2014 at Bhilai Steel Plant in Chhattisgarh’s Durg district, six people were killed and over 40 injured in an incident of leakage in a methane gas pipeline at a water pump house.
  • 2017 Delhi Gas leak:Around 470 schoolchildren were hospitalised after inhaling poisonous fumes that spread due to a chemical leak at a container depot near two schools in the customs area of Tughlaqabad depot.
  • 2018 Bhilai Steel Plant Blast:Nine people were killed and 14 others injured in a blast at the Bhilai Steel Plant of state-owned SAIL.

Cause for Concern Now:

  • According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), in the recent past, over 130 significant chemical accidents have been reported in the country, which have resulted in 259 deaths and caused major injuries to more than 560 people.
  • There are over 1861 Major Accident Hazard (MAH) units spread across 301 districts and 25 states and three Union Territories in all zones of the country.
  • Further, there are thousands of registered and hazardous factories and un-organised sectors dealing with numerous ranges of hazardous material posing serious and complex levels of Disaster Risks.

BINARY BROWN DWARF SYSTEM

Why in News?

  • A group of astrophysicists have recently found that the closest known brown dwarf, Luhman16A which shows signs of cloud bands similar to those seen on Jupiter and Saturn.

About Polarimetry:

  • They used the technique of polarimetry to determine the properties of atmospheric clouds outside of the solar system.
  • The concept of polarimetry technique is defined as the light emitted by a cloudy brown dwarf, or reflected off an extrasolar planet, will be polarised.
  • It is the study of polarization. Polarization is a property of light that represents the direction that the light wave oscillates.
  • When light is reflected off of particles it can favor a certain angle of polarization. By measuring the preferred polarization of light from a distant system, astronomers can deduce the presence of clouds.
  • In case of Luhman 16A, the researchers have found the actual structure of the clouds (not only their presence).
  • This technique isn’t limited to brown dwarfs. It can also be applied to exoplanets orbiting distant stars, or even stars. However, light from brown dwarfs is ideal for the study.

About Luhman 16:

  • It is part of a binary system (Luhman 16) containing a second brown dwarf, Luhman 16B. This pair of brown dwarfs Luhman 16A and Luhman 16B orbit each other.
  • It is situated at a distance of about 6.5 light years from the Sun and the third closest system to the Sun after Alpha Centauri and Barnard’s star.
  • Despite the fact that Luhman 16A and 16B have similar masses and temperatures and presumably formed at the same time, they show markedly Different Weather.
  • Luhman 16B shows no sign of stationary cloud bands, instead showing evidence of more irregular, patchy clouds.
    • It is noticeable brightness variations as a result of its cloudy features, unlike Luhman 16A which has less brightness variation due to a band of clouds.
    • Understanding the cloud system over a brown dwarf can shed light on the pressure, temperature and climate on the surface of the celestial body.

About Brown Dwarfs:

  • It is also called FailedStars, because their masses are heavier than planets but lighter than stars. Due to their small masses, they are unable to sustain fusion of their hydrogen to produce energy.
  • It is believed that some of the more massive brown dwarfs fuse deuterium or lithium and glow faintly.

About Binary Stars System:

  • They are two Stars Orbiting a Common center of Mass.
  • The brighter star is officially classified as the primary star, while the dimmer of the two is the Secondary Star.
  • In cases where the stars are of equal brightness, the designation given by the discoverer is Respected.
  • They are very important in astrophysics because Calculations of their orbits allow the masses of their component stars to be directly Determined, which in turn allows other stellar parameters, such as radius and density, to be Indirectly estimated.

STYRENE GAS LEAK IN VIZAK

Why in News?

  • A Gas Leak, Reminiscent of the 1984 Bhopal tragedy, has affected thousands of residents in five villages in Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh.

About the News:

  • The source of the leak was a styrene plant owned by South Korean electronics giant LG, located at RRV Puram near Gopalapatnam, about 15 kms from the coast city.
  • A statement from LG Polymers said that stagnation and changes in temperature inside the storage tank could have resulted in auto polymerization and could have caused vapourisation.

What is Styrene?

  • It is a flammable liquid that is used in the manufacturing of polystyrene plastics, fiberglass, rubber, and latex.
  • It is also found in vehicle exhaust, cigarette smoke, and in natural foods like fruits and vegetables.

What happens when Exposed to Styrene?

  • Short-term exposure to the substance can result in respiratory problems, irritation in the eyes, irritation in the mucous membrane, and gastrointestinal issues.
  • Long-term exposure could drastically affect the central nervous system and lead to other related problems like peripheral neuropathy. It could also lead to cancer and depression in some cases.

What are the Symptoms?

  • Symptoms include headache, hearing loss, fatigue, weakness, difficulty in concentrating etc.
  • Animal studies, according to the EPA, have Reported effects on the CNS, Liver, Kidney, and Eye and Nasal Irritation from Inhalation Exposure to styrene.

Other Similar Gas Tragedy in India:

  • Bhopal Gas tragedy occurred on the cold wintry night in the early hours of 3 December, 1984.
  • At around midnight, the chemical reaction started in the Union Carbide (India) Limited factory that culminated in the leakage of deadly Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) gas from one of the tanks of the factory.
  • As a result, a cloud of gas gradually started descending and enveloping the city in its lethal folds. And the city and lakes turned into a gas chamber.
  • In the tragedy around 3000 lives of innocent people were lost and thousands and thousands of people were physically impaired or affected in several forms.
  • After the tragedy, the government of India enacted a Public Liability Insurance Act (1991), making it mandatory for industries to get insurance the premium for this insurance would contribute to an Environment Relief Fundto provide compensation to victims of a Bhopal-like disaster.

What does PLI Act Say?

  • The Public Liability Insurance (PLI) Act, 1991 makes it obligatory upon the user industries handling 179 types of chemicals and compounds and other classes of flammable substances to subscribe a special insurance policy to cover the liabilities likely to arise on account of any chemical (industrial) disaster/accident and payable to those affected people who are not the workers on ‘no fault basis’/ ‘absolute liability’.
  • The Act establishes an Environment Relief Fund (ERF),which is subscribed by all such user industries by an amount equal to the annual premium amount of such insurance policies.
  • PLI Act is administered by the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change.

ICUBE REPORT

Why in News?

  • Recently, the Kantar insights and consulting company released its ICUBE 2019 report on digital adoption and usage trends in India.

Highlights:

  • It is an annual tracking study, which considered to be the currency for digital adoption in the country, gauges the changing digital ecosystem in India, measuring Internet usage by demographic, activity and device segments.
  • It estimated at 574 million, the number of monthly active Internet users have registered an annual growth of 24% indicating an overall penetration of 41%.
  • It projects 11% growth for 2020; estimates 639 million monthly active Internet users.
  • All monthly active Internet users use a mobile phone as one of the devices to access the Internet.
  • It shows about 84% of users access the Internet for entertainment purposes.
  • At 38%, school-going children segment in the age group of 15 years or below has shown a promising growth on internet usage.
  • The access to information and education, social media, gaming and entertainment, especially, Sports, are driving the adoption. Content is the king and is driving the surge in daily internet usage.
  • The Rural India registered a 45% growth in the monthly active internet users in 2019. It is now estimated that there are 264 million internet users in rural India, and this is expected to reach 304 million in 2020.

Important Factors for the Growth:

  • The convenience of content availability across devices and on the go low-cost Internet service resulted in a significant growth in the entertainment consumption in the last year.
  • The Local Language and video are the underlying factors for the internet boom in rural. This is expected to continue in 2020 too, especially in view of the lockdown.

Way Forward:

  • The Children and housewives will be the new Internet adopters in the next year or two.
  • It will be more about breaking the mind set barriers to access the web and most of these users already have Internet at home
  • The Video, Voice and Vernacular (3 Vs) will be significant usage factors for the Internet users.
  • It will drive higher Engagement and frequency of usage, thereby, Helping the users Mature in their Internet Journey.
  • IOT and Smart Devices will make the internet as much a Household Phenomenon as it is an Individual Phenomenon.

SILENT OR HAPPY HYPOXIA

Context:

  • Recently, medical practitioners have reported a condition called silent or happy hypoxia, in which patients have extremely low blood oxygen levels, yet they do not show signs of Breathlessness.
  • Many of them are now advocating for its early detection as a means to avoid a fatal illness called Covid Pneumonia.

About Hypoxia:

  • It is a condition wherein there is not enough oxygen available to the blood and body tissues.
  • It can either be Generalised, affecting the whole body, or local, affecting a region of the body.
  • The Normal arterial oxygen is approximately 75 to 100 Millimetres of mercury (mm Hg) and normal pulse oximeter readings usually range from 95 to 100%.
  • When levels fall below 90%, patients could begin experiencing lethargy, confusion or mental disruptions because of insufficient quantities of oxygen Reaching the Brain.
  • When Levels below 80% can result in damage to Vital Organs.

About Silent Hypoxia:

  • It is a form of oxygen deprivation that is harder to detect than regular hypoxis because patients appear to be less in distress.
  • Covid pneumonia is a serious medical condition found in severe Covid-19 patients, is preceded by silent hypoxia.
  • There are many Covid-19 patients with oxygen levels below 80% look at ease and alert. There have been a few cases of oxygen levels below 50% as well.
  • Those with such low levels of oxygen would normally appear extremely ill but not in silent Hypoxia Cases.
  • Covid-19 Patients with Silent Hypoxia did not Exhibit Symptoms such as shortness of breath or coughing until their oxygen fell to acutely low levels, at which point there was a risk of acute respiratory distress (ARDS) and organ failure.
  • Reason why people are left feeling breathless
  • It is not because of the fall in oxygen levels itself but due to the rise in carbon dioxide levels that occur at the same time, when lungs are not able to expel this gas efficiently.
  • In some Covid-19 cases, this was not the response and patients did not feel breathless.
  • It happened because in patients with Covid pneumonia, the virus causes air sacs to fall, leading to a reduction in levels of oxygen.
  • However, the lungs initially do not become stiff or heavy with fluid and remain compliant meaning they are able to expel carbon dioxide and avoid its buildup. Thus, patients do not feel short of breath.
  • A medical device called a pulse oximeter can be used in the early detection of silent hypoxia.

About Pulse Oximeter:

  • It is a test used to measure the oxygen level (oxygen saturation) of the blood.
  • It measures the saturation of oxygen in red blood cells (RBCs) and can be attached to a person’s fingers, toes, nose, feet, ears or forehead.
  • It is easy and painless and the device can be reused or disposed of after use.
  • It is generally used to check the health of patients with known conditions that affect blood oxygen levels like heart and lung conditions.

About Covid Pneumonia:

  • It is a potentially deadly condition in Covid-19 patients which affects the lungs’ ability to transfer oxygen and causes breathing difficulties.
  • When a person cannot inhale enough oxygen and exhale enough carbon dioxide, the pneumonia can lead to death.
  • It is especially severe because it is viral and it completely affects the lungs instead of small parts.
  • The Patients are required to be put on ventilator support in such severe cases to ensure adequate circulation of oxygen in the body.

BLOOD CLOTS CAUSED BY CORONAVIRUS

Why in News?

  • The doctors around the world have recently noticed a raft of clotting-related disorders in Covid-19 patients, which causes benign Skin lesions on the feet to strokes and Blood-Vessel Blockages.

Highlights:

  • Generally, it was considered that the vast majority of lung damage in Covid-19 patients was due to viral pneumonia.
  • But the autopsies of the Covid-19 patients show that clumps of platelets inside blood vessels, or micro thrombi, to be the reason for rapid and dramatic deterioration of condition of patients.
  • These blood clots are called thrombi, that form in patients’ arterialcatheters and filters used to support failing kidneys.
  • The clots impede blood flow in the lungs, which develop severe blood-oxygen deficiency, causing difficulty in breathing.
  • Studies found that as many as 30% of severely ill Covid-19 patients suffered a so-called pulmonaryembolism, a potentially deadly blockage in one of the arteries of the lungs.
  • Pulmonary embolism: It often occurs when bits of blood clots from veins deep in the legs travel to the lungs. It was 1.3% in critically ill patients without Covid-19.
  • The D-dimer bloodtest  is being used around the world to monitor clot formation in patients, including those with Covid-19, and patients are also being dosened with heparin and other anticoagulant medications.

Background of Blood Clotting Diseases:

  • In 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, caused by a novel strain of influenza, was also linked to downstream damage from clots that could end lives dramatically.
  • The Viruses including HIV, dengue and Ebola are all known to make blood cells prone to clumping.
  • The pro-clotting effect may be even more pronounced in patients with the coronavirus.

Issues of Blood Clotting’s in Covid-19 Patients:

  • If untreated, Large Arterial lung clots can put overwhelming strain on the heart, causing cardiac arrest. Even tiny clots in the capillaries of lung tissue may interrupt blood flow, undermining attempts to help oxygenate patients with ventilators.
  • These Clots may form in other parts of the body, potentially damaging vital organs including the heart, kidneys, liver, bowel, and other tissues.
  • The Covid-19 survivors who have subsequent difficulty breathing, might mistakenly believe it’s a recurrence of coronavirus infection, when it may actually be a reactivation of the whole clotting problem.
  • The Pulmonary embolism also causes Pulmonary Hypertension, Another Dangerous complication that can cause fatigue and shortness of breath.
  • Risk: Patients and doctors alike may not be aware of the risks or the Potential need for Treatment.

 

OFFICIAL DIGITAL CURRENCY OF CHINA

Why in News?

  • Recently, China has started testing its official digital currency which is unofficially called “Digital Currency Electronic Payment, DC/EP”.

About the News:

  • The digital currency of China has not been officially released but internal pilot tests are being carried out in four cities of China.
  • China is expected to officially make the sovereign digital currency available to the public later in 2020.
  • It could be considered the world’s first Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) if it is officially issued by state bank People’s Bank of China.
  • The total size of China’s digital currency could reach one trillion yuan ($140 billion), equivalent to about one-eighth of China’s cash.

What is Digital Currency?

  • Digital currency is a payment method which exists only in electronic form and is not tangible.
  • Digital currency can be transferred between entities or users with the help of technology like computers, smartphones and the internet.
  • Although it is similar to physical currencies, digital money allows borderless transfer of ownership as well as instantaneous transactions.
  • Digital currency is also known as digital money and cyber E.g. Cryptocurrency.

About Cryptocurrency:

  • A cryptocurrency is a digital or virtual currency that uses cryptography for security.
  • Cryptocurrencies use decentralized technology to let users make secure payments and store money without the need to use their name or go through a bank.
  • They run on a distributed public ledger called blockchain, which is a record of all transactions updated and held by currency holders.
  • The most common cryptocurrencies are Bitcoin, Libra, Ethereum, Ripple, and Litecoin.

What is India’s Stand on Digital Currency?

  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had banned cryptocurrencies in 2018.
  • RBI had considered cryptocurrencies as a poor unit of account and also demonstrated by their frequent and high fluctuation in value.
  • RBI also stated that it poses several risks, including anti-money laundering and terrorism financing concerns (AML/CFT) for the state and liquidity, credit, and operational risks for users.
  • It had also said that it would seriously consider developing a sovereign digital currency when the time is appropriate.
  • Subsequently, the Supreme Court has struck down a circular of the RBI, which bans financial institutions from enabling deals in digital or cryptocurrencies.
  • The ban was challenged by the Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMA) sighting that dealing and trading in cryptocurrency was a legitimate business activity and that the RBI did not have jurisdiction over it as these assets could be classified as commodities rather than Currency.

WHO RAISES CONCERN OVER USE OF BCG VACCINE

Why in News?

  • World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros A Ghebreyesus and others highlight a few critical issues over the use of BCG vaccine for COVID-19.

About BCG:

  • Bacillus Calmette–Guerin (BCG) vaccine is a vaccine primarily used against tuberculosis (TB). In countries where TB or leprosy is common, one dose is recommended in healthy babies as close to the time of birth as possible.
  • In areas where tuberculosis is not common, only children at high risk are typically immunized, while suspected cases of tuberculosis are individually tested for and treated.

BCG and COVID-19:

  • The Middle and High-Income Countries
    • Countries that have universal BCG policy had 0.78 deaths per million people.
    • The countries that never had a universal BCG policy had a larger mortality rate, with 16.39 deaths per million people, a significant variation.
  • Low and Middle-Income Countries, even if they had universal immunisation policies, were excluded from the analysis because they were also likely to have low testing rates for COVID-19 infection and therefore fewer reported deaths.
    • India having a universal BCG policy in place and relatively fewer deaths as a proportion of confirmed coronavirus infections, wasn’t included in the analysis.
  • The BCG vaccine is known to confer a strong immune response and a significant degree of protection against leprosy and non-invasive bladder cancers.
  • Those countries where the elderly was likely to have had a BCG shot in their childhood were likely to be better protected against coronavirus because COVID-19 was particularly lethal to the Elderly.

BCG in Cases of Different Countries:

  • Japan (which has a BCG policy since 1947) had one of the early cases of COVID-19 but it has maintained a low mortality rate despite not implementing the most strict forms of social isolation.
    • Japan had 1,655 cases and 65 deaths as of March 29.
  • Iran, which has seen at least 3,000 deaths, began implementing its BCG vaccination policy only in 1984 and therefore anyone over 36 was vulnerable.
  • Spain, France, the United States, Italy and the Netherlands:
    • These countries don’t have universal BCG policies and have seen many deaths from COVID-19.
    • Many of these countries don’t have a universal programme because BCG has been shown to not be always protective against tuberculosis in adults as well as an increased risk of mycobacterium (bacteria) species.
    • Italy, where the COVID-19 mortality is very high, never implemented universal BCG vaccination.

What are the Concerns of WHO?

  • The authors cite five reasons countries should wait for the results of the BCG vaccine Randomised controlled trials.
  • According to them, the association of fewer COVID-19 cases in countries that have a universal BCG Vaccination Programme is based on population rather than individual data.
  • Second, the beneficial effects of the BCG vaccine given at birth are “unlikely” to reduce the severity of COVID-19 decades later. “One reason for this is that the beneficial off-target effects of the BCG vaccine might be altered by subsequent administration of a different vaccine.
  • Third, there is a possibility, even if remote, that the BCG vaccine ramps up the immune system leading to exacerbation of COVID-19 in a small population of patients with a severe disease.It is already known that the virus induces cytokine storm in some patients, leading to further complications — and even death.
  • Fourth, if not effective against the novel coronavirus, BCG vaccination is likely to give a false sense of security to people, especially during the pandemic.
  • And finally, using the vaccine without evidence of its benefits could further Jeopardise vaccine supply, which is already short, to protect children against disseminated TB in high-risk Countries.

HUMAN CHALLENGE TRIALS

Why in News:

  • Recently, many people have volunteered to take part in the Human Challenge Trials (HCTs). It involves intentionally infecting volunteers with the novel coronavirus, in order to speed up the vaccination development.

About the Vaccine Development:

  • Generally, vaccines take several years to develop and their development typically proceeds through three phases of clinical trials.
  1. In Phase 1, a Small Groups of People receive the Trial Vaccine.
  2. In Phase 2, the Clinical study is expanded and the vaccine is given to people who have characteristics (such as age and physical health) similar to those for whom the new vaccine is intended.
  3. In Phase 3, the Vaccine is given to several thousand people and tested for efficacy and safety. During this phase, participants either receive the vaccine or a placebo.
  • Its efficacy is determined by comparing the prevalence of infection in the group that was administered the vaccine with the one which received a placebo.
  • Placebo is anything which looks like real treatment but it is actually not. For example- sugar pills and saline injections.

What is Human Challenge Trials?

  • It means the participants of both the vaccine group and placebo group are deliberately exposed to the infection after their consent and thus are challenged by the disease organism.
  • It is not new and they are usually carried out in developing medications for diseases which are considered less lethal and have been better understood by scientists over the years like malaria.
  • The scientists have suggested replacing the conventional Phase 3 testing of vaccines by controlled HCTs of Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2) vaccine which can accelerate the testing and potential rollout of efficacious vaccines.
  • It may reduce many months from the licensure process, making efficacious vaccines available more quickly and will also require significantly less number of people than regular Phase 3 trials.

About the Ethical Concerns of Human Trails:

  • The trails for Covid-19 have been questioned by critics because it is a potentially deadly disease for even those who are less at risk, and has not been studied fully yet.
  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) emphasised on the ethical framework of the challenge studies and also highlighted the importance of informed consent.
  • Human challenge studies should be conducted with abundant forethought, caution, and oversight. The value of the information to be gained should clearly justify the risks to Human subjects.

HYDROGEN FUEL

Context:

  • Recently, the NTPC Ltd and a central PSU under Ministry of Power, has invited Global Expression of Interest (EoI) to provide 10 Hydrogen Fuel Cell (FC) based electric buses and an equal number of Hydrogen Fuel Cell based electric cars in Leh and Delhi.

About Hydrogen:

  • Hydrogen is the lightest and first element on the periodic table. Since the weight of hydrogen is less than air, it rises in the atmosphere and is therefore rarely found in its pure form, H2.
  • At standard temperature and pressure, hydrogen is a nontoxic, nonmetallic, odorless, tasteless, colorless, and highly combustible diatomic gas.
  • It is the most abundant element in the universe. The sun and other stars are composed largely of hydrogen.
  • It is estimate that 90% of the atoms in the universe are hydrogen atoms. Hydrogen is a component of more compounds than any other element.
  • Water is the most abundant compound of hydrogen found on earth.
  • Molecular hydrogen is not available on Earth in convenient natural reservoirs.
  • Most hydrogen on Earth is bonded to oxygen in water and to carbon in live or dead and/or fossilized biomass. It can be created by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen.

About Hydrogen Fuel:

  • It is a zero-emission fuel burned with Oxygen.
  • It can be used in fuel cells or Internal Combustion Engines.
  • It is also used as a fuel for Spacecraft Propulsion.

Storage of Hydrogen:

  • It can be stored physically as either a gas (typically requires high-pressure tanks) or a liquid (cryogenic temperatures because the boiling point of hydrogen at one atmosphere pressure is −8°C).
  • It can also be stored on the surfaces of solids (by adsorption) or within solids (by absorption).

Potential of Clean Hydrogen:

  • Hydrogen as a fuel has long been touted as an almost magical solution to air pollution crisis.
  • The only by-product or emission that results from the usage of hydrogen fuel is water — making the fuel 100 per cent clean.
  • It is considered an alternative fuel. It is due to its ability to power fuel cells in zero-emission electric vehicles, its potential for domestic production, and the fuel cell’s potential for high efficiency.
  • It can also serve as fuel for internal combustion engines. The energy in 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of hydrogen gas contains about the same as the energy in 1 gallon (6.2 pounds, 2.8 kilograms) of Gasoline.

Significance of Hydrogen:

  • It doesn’t produce harmful emissions. It is readily available.
  • It is environmentally friendly and is a non-toxic substance. It can be used as fuel in rockets.It is three times as powerful as gasoline and other fossil fuels. This means that it can accomplish more with less.
  • It is fuel efficient. Compared to diesel or gas, it is much more fuel efficient as it can produce more energy per pound of fuel.
  • It is renewable. It can be produced again and again, unlike other non-renewable sources of Energy.

Limitations of Hydrogen:

  • It does not occur in deposits or reserves like fossil fuel. It needs to be actually produced using Chemical Reactions.
  • It is far more expensive to produce. And hydrogen-fueled vehicles are also more expensive than even battery-electric ones.
  • It is highly flammable. It is difficult to store. The clean hydrogen industry is small and costs are high. There is a big potential for costs to fall, but the use of hydrogen needs to be scaled up and a network of supply infrastructure created.

MERGER OF TWO BLACK HOLES WITH UNEQUAL MASSES DETECTED

Why in News?

  • The gravitational wave observatories at Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) have detected a merger of two unequal-mass black holes for the first Time.

What is a Black Hole?

  • A black hole is a place in space where gravity pulls so much that even light cannot get out. The gravity is so strong because matter has been squeezed into a tiny space.
  • Gravitational waves are created when Two Black Holes Orbit Each Other and Merge.

Key Points:

  • The event, named GW190412, was observed in April, 2019.
  • The event has occurred almost five years after the first ever detection of gravitational wave signals by LIGO detectors. In 2015, the LIGO Observatories detected a signal from GW150914.
  • GW190412: It involved the merger of two black holes weighing approximately 8 and 30 Solar masses, respectively. The merger took place at a distance of 2.5 billion light years away.
  • The new unequal mass system is a unique discovery since all binaries observed previously by the LIGO and Virgo (Italy) detectors consisted of two roughly similar masses.
  • This will make it possible to infer many more things such as:

1.A more accurate determination of the distance from the event.

2.The spin or angular momentum of the black hole with more mass.

3.The orientation of the whole event with respect to viewers on Earth.

Verification with the Prediction of General Relativity:

  • This Observation once again confirms Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which predicts the existence of higher harmonics, i.e. gravitational waves at two or three times the Fundamental Frequency.
  • General relativity, also known as the General Theory of relativity, is the geometric theory of gravitation published by Albert Einstein in 1915.
  • The key predictions of Einstein’s theory:the first direct detection of gravitational waves and the first observation of the Collision and Merger of a pair of Black Holes.

About Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory:

  • LIGO is the world’s largest gravitational wave observatory.
  • LIGO consists of two widely-separated interferometers within the United States—one in Hanford, Washington and the other in Livingston, Louisiana—operated in unison to detect gravitational waves.
  • Though its mission is to detect gravitational waves from some of the most violent and energetic processes in the Universe, the data LIGO collects may have effects on many areas of physics including gravitation, relativity, astrophysics, cosmology, particle physics, and Nuclear Physics.

STEM CELLS A NEW RAY OF HOPE IN BATTLE AGAINST COVID-19

Why in News?

  • Researchers are now looking at Stem Cells as a cure for Covid-19 Patients.

Highlights:

  • Key scientific groups worldwide, including those in China and the US, have been working to test the treatment.
  • An Israeli pharmaceutical company, Pluristem Therapeutics, has tested it in seven critical hospitalized patients and found positive results. The company is now seeking approval to begin clinical trials.
  • The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already approved clinical trials to study covid-19 patients who have been administered MSC (mesenchymal stem-cells) derived from the placenta to prevent inflammation of lungs.

Efficacy of Approach against Covid 19:

  • The Therapeutic approach involves intravenous injection of mesenchymal stem-cells (MSC) from a human placenta into a covid-19 patient to boost the body’s immune response against the Infection.
  • Further Stem-cells have been successful in treating degenerative diseases, especially Alzheimer’s, as well as Type-1 diabetes.
  • The advantage that stem-cells have is that they have strong anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties, which can help strengthen our immune system.
  • This is important in case of covid-19, where they could reduce inflammation of the lungs, which are the most affected.
  • It could help build up regenerative cells in the lungs, which could protect the epithelial cells of the lungs, prevent lung damage and help patients recover.
Stem Cells:
  • They are undifferentiated or partially differentiated cells that can differentiate into various types of cells and divide indefinitely to produce more of the same stem cell.
  • Under the right conditions in the body or a laboratory, stem cells divide to form more cells called daughter cells.  These daughter cells either become new stem cells (self-renewal) or become specialized cells (differentiation) with a more specific function, such as blood cells, brain cells, heart muscle cells or bone cells.
  • No other cell in the body has the natural ability to Generate New Cell Types.
Classification:
  • Based on formation at Different times of Human Life:
  • Embryonic stem cells:
    • These stem cells come from embryos that are three to five days old. At this stage, an embryo is called a blastocyst and has about 150 cells.
    • These are pluripotent stem cells, meaning they can divide into more stem cells or can become any type of cell in the body.
    • This versatility allows embryonic stem cells to be used to regenerate or repair diseased tissue and organs
  • Adult Stem Cells:
    • These stem cells are found in small numbers in most adult tissues, such as bone marrow or fat.
    • Compared with embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells have a more limited ability to give rise to various cells of the body.
    • However, emerging evidence suggests that adult stem cells may be able to create various types of cells.
    • For instance, bone marrow stem cells may be able to create bone or heart muscle cells.
  • Induced pluripotent Stem Cells or (iPSC’s):
    • These cells are not found in the body but made in the laboratory from cells of the body.
    • The iPSC cells have properties similar to those of embryonic stem cells.
    • Human iPSCs were generated in 2007.
  • Perinatal Stem Cells:
    • Researchers have discovered stem cells in amniotic fluid as well as umbilical cord blood.
    • These stem cells also have the ability to change into specialized cells.
    • Amniotic fluid fills the sac that surrounds and protects a developing fetus in the uterus.
  • Based on Potency:
  • Totipotent (also known as omnipotent) stem cells can differentiate into embryonic and extraembryonic cell types.
  • Such cells can construct a complete, viable organism.
  • These cells are produced from the fusion of an egg and sperm cell.
  • Cells produced by the first few divisions of the fertilized egg are also totipotent.
  • Pluripotent Stem Cells are the descendants of totipotent cells and can differentiate into nearly all cells, i.e. cells derived from any of the three germ layers.
  • Multipotent Stem Cells can differentiate into a number of cell types, but only those of a closely related family of cells.
  • Oligopotent Stem Cells can differentiate into only a few cell types, such as lymphoid or myeloid stem cells.
  • Unipotent Cells can produce only one cell type, their own, but have the property of self renewal, which distinguishes them from non-stem cells

Significance:

  • Increase understanding of how diseases occur.
  • By watching stem cells mature into cells in bones, heart muscle, nerves, and other organs and tissue, researchers and doctors may better understand how diseases and conditions develop.
  • Test new drugs for safety and effectiveness.
  • Before using investigational drugs in people, researchers can use some types of stem cells to test the drugs for safety and quality.
  • Generate healthy cells to replace diseased cells (Regenerative Medicine).
  • Stem cells can be guided into becoming specific cells that can be used to regenerate and repair diseased or damaged tissues in people.

ICMR ASKS STATES TO STOP USING RAPID TESTS

Why in News?

  • The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has directed the States not to use the COVID-19 rapid testing kits for the next two days following reports of wide variations in results.

What is the Issue?

  • The Rajasthan government decided to halt rapid antibody tests after an experts’ team questioned the use of the newly distributed Chinese testing kits following inaccurate results.
  • The health authorities had started the testing on those with symptoms at designated points recently.
  • The quality issues with the test kits, currently being used to study community transmission, would put on hold survey in several States temporarily.
  • The kits would be tested and validated by ICMR teams and an advisory on their use issued in the next two days.
  • If they were found to be not up to the mark, replacements would be sought from the manufacturers.

What is Rapid Test?

  • A rapid test is conducted to determine whether there has been any kind of recent viral infection in a person’s body.
  • When a pathogen enters a human body, specific antibodies are released as a response to the virus.
  • A rapid test can detect the presence of such antibodies in blood, serum or plasma samples quickly, indicating a viral infection.
  • Rapid testing is conducted usually to check for community transmission of a virus during an epidemic.
  • Rapid tests can be used to conduct screening within the community and identify those with suspected infection, put them under observation and if required, subject them to the PCR test for coronavirus confirmation.
  • According to the health department, it is a simple test that can be done with a person’s blood sample and will give out results within 10-30 minutes. It is also a low-cost test.

Way Forward:

  • This has seriously hampered our efforts to get fast test results for starting the treatment and contain the spread of the virus.
  • The advisory issued by the ICMR to the States to not use testing kits for the next two days was most unfortunate, as the medical apex body could not ensure good quality of testing kits.
  • Even at this late stage, the Centre should take an urgent action to procure the equipment from reliable sources and supply them to the States to get the faster results and start the treatment for the affected.

AAROGYA SETU APP MUST FOR LABOURERS, SAYS CPWD

Why in News?

  • Central government organisations involved in construction, were instructed by the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) to ensure that “all labour personnel/staff” returning to work have downloaded the government’s COVID-19 tracking app — Aarogya Setu.

About Aarogya Setu:

  • Aarogya Setu app has been launched by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.
  • It will help people in identifying the risk of getting affected by the Coronavirus.
  • It will calculate risk based on the user’s interaction with others, using cutting edge Bluetooth technology, algorithms and artificial intelligence.
  • Once installed in a smartphone, the app detects other nearby devices with Aarogya Setu installed.
  • The App will help the Government take necessary timely steps for assessing risk of spread of COVID-19 infection, and ensuring isolation where required.

Why CPWD Initiates such Measure?

  • The advisory comes as the Union Home Affairs Ministry has relaxed some restrictions, including for construction activity under certain conditions.
  • When the app is installed in a Smartphone it will detect other devices with Aarogya Setu installed that come in proximity of that phone. The app currently supports 11 languages, including Hindi and English.
  • After submitting the details, it will cross-checks the detail present in the government database and uses the proximity of Bluetooth and suggests whether the labourer is safe or not.
  • In case if a labourer is not safe then the app will suggest to isolate and take precautions.
  • The app will also check the user’s location of around six feet that is whether he or she was in the proximity of an infected patient by using the device Bluetooth.
  • The app will show that you are at a ‘high risk’ or not. In case you are at a high-risk area then the app advises you to go for a test and call the toll-free number 1075 to schedule an appointment at the nearby testing centre.

About CPWD:

  • CPWD came into existence in July, 1854 when Lord Dalhousie established a central agency for execution of public works and set up Ajmer Provincial Division. It is housed under the Ministry of Urban Development.
  • Through the professional expertise in disciplines including Architecture, Engineering, Project Management coupled with comprehensive experience in building construction and maintenance, CPWD has been serving the nation for last 162 years and has executed priority of works in difficult and demanding geographical and climatic conditions.
  • It is headed by DG who is also the Principal Technical Advisor to the Government of India. The regions and sub-regions are headed by Special DGs and Additional DGs respectively, while the zones in all state capitals (except a few) are headed by Chief Engineers.
  • CPWD has PAN India presence and has ability to undertake construction of complex projects even in difficult terrain and maintenance in post construction stage.
  • CPWD had been involved in construction of stadiums and other infrastructure requirements for Asian Games 1982 and Commonwealth Games 2010.

THE EXPORT BAN ON PARACETAMOL FORMULATION IS LIFTED

Why in News:

  • Recently, the Centre has permitted the export of formulations (medicinal products) made from Paracetamol. However, the restriction on export of Paracetamol Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) will continue, which is the part of any drug that produces the intended effects.

Highlights:

  • The Paracetamol and its formulations were among the 13 APIs. Their formulations that figured in the notification by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT).
  • The formulations, includingFixed Dose Combinations (FDC), under any ITCHS code have been made free for export with immediate effect.
  • The ITCHScodes are better known as Indian Trade Clarification (ITC) and are based on the Harmonized System (HS) of Coding. These were adopted in India for import-export operations.
  • The Indian custom uses an Eight Digit ITC(HS) code to suit the national trade requirements.
  • The decision allowing export of formulations made from Paracetamol has come after permitting shipment of antimalarial drug Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) to the United States (US) and several other countries.
  • The Pharmaceutical Export Promotion Council (Pharmexcil) of India wanted the Centre to resume export of Paracetamol APIs too.
  • The Pharmaexcil was established in 2004 by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India, to promote Pharma Exports.
  • The FDC is means two or more drugs contained in a single dosage form, such as a capsule or tablet.
  • An example of a FDC is HIV drug, Atripla (a combination of efavirenz, emtricitabine, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate). By reducing the number of pills a person must take each day, fixed-dose combination drugs can help improve adherence to an HIV treatment regimen.

About Directorate General of Foreign Trade:

  • It is the main governing body in matters related to Exim (Export-Import) Policy.
  • It is an attached office of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry
  • Its main objective of it under the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act, 1992 is to provide the development and regulation of foreign trade by facilitating imports into, and augmenting exports from India.
  • The Foreign Trade Act has replaced the earlier law known as the Imports and Exports (Control) Act 1947.

About Paracetamol:

  • It is a common fever medication globally. It is the most sought after and widely used drug ever since the Covid-19 outbreak.
  • India is one Among the leading manufacturers of Paracetamol Globally.
  • From an export perspective, it is a low value, High Volume Product.

ZOOM NOT A SAFE PLATFORM, SAYS MHA

Why in News?

  • Recently, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has issued an advisory that Zoom video conference is not a safe platform.

What is the Issue?

  • Zoom has seen an exponential rise in usage in India as office-goers remain at home due to the lockdown, imposed to curb the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Over 90,000 schools across 20 countries have started using it regularly.
  • The maximum number of daily meeting participants of approximately 10 million at the end of December 2019 grew to more than 200 million daily meeting participants in March.
  • It has been used extensively by everyone including the central and state ministers for official purposes and Conducting Meetings.

About Zoom:

  • Zoom is a US-based video communication and videoconferencing platform.
  • This Silicon Valley-based company appears to own three companies in China through which at least 700 employees were paid to develop Zoom’s software.
  • This arrangement is apparently an effort at labour arbitrage in which Zoom can avoid paying US wages while selling to US customers, thus increasing their profit margin.
  • However, this arrangement may make Zoom responsive to pressure from Chinese authorities.
  • Reportedly, few calls made through the app are routed through servers in China.

Cautions made by CERT-IN:

  • Earlier, the Computer Emergency Response Team, India (CERT-In) had also issued advisories cautioning on the use of Zoom for office meetings.
    • CERT-IN is an organisation of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India, with the objective of securing Indian cyberspace.
    • It collects, analyses and disseminates information on cyber incidents, and also issues alerts on cyber security incidents.
    • CERT-IN provides Incident Prevention and Response Services as well as Security Quality Management Services.
  • It warned that the insecure usage of the platform may allow cyber criminals to access sensitive information such as meeting details and conversations giving rise to cyber frauds.
  • It also highlighted multiple vulnerabilities which could allow an attacker to gain elevated privileges or obtain sensitive information.

Why Zoom is Not Safe?

  • Citizen Lab, based at the University of Toronto, found significant weakness in Zoom’s encryption that protects meetings.
  • It identified the transmission of meeting encryption keys through China.
  • The lab has raised two primary concerns- geo-fencing and Meeting Encryption.
    • Geo-fencing is a location-based service in which an app or other software uses GPS, RFID, Wi-Fi or cellular data to trigger a pre-programmed action when a mobile device or RFID tag enters or exits a virtual boundary set up around a geographical location, known as a geo-fence.

What is the Response from Zoom?

  • Zoom Founder and CEO Eric S Yuan has apologised and assured the people that the privacy and security expectations would be taken care of.
  • Zoom has added additional features such as placing a new security icon in the meeting controls, changing Zoom’s default settings and enhancing meeting password complexity, among others.
  • It has also added that soon, account admins will have the ability to choose whether or not their data is routed through specific Data Center Regions.

Suggestions given by the Ministry:

  • The users are suggested to set strong passwords and enable “waiting room” features so that call managers could have better control over the participants.
  • Users should also avoid using personal meeting ID to host events and instead use randomly generated meeting IDs for each event.
  • People using the app should not share meeting links on Public platforms.

Who deals with Cyber-crime Issues in India?

  • Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C):
    • The scheme to set up I4C was approved in October 2018, to deal with all types of cybercrimes in a comprehensive and coordinated manner.
    • It has Seven Components:
  1. 1.National Cyber Crime Threat Analytics Unit
  2. 2.National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal
  3. 3.National Cyber Crime Training Centre
  4. 4.Cyber Crime Ecosystem Management Unit
  5. 5.National Cyber Crime Research and Innovation Centre
  6. 6.Cyber Crime Forensic Laboratory Ecosystem
  7. .7Platform for Joint Cyber Crime Investigation Team.
  • Various States and Union Territories (UTs) have consented to set up Regional Cyber Crime Coordination Centres.
  • This state-of-the-art Centre is located in New Delhi.

SEISMIC NOISE

Why in News?

  • Amid this coronavirus lockdown, British Geological Survey (BGS) scientists  have reported a change in the Earth’s seismic noise and vibrations.
  • Few weeks ago, the Royal Observatory in Belgium observed a 30-50% fall in levels of seismic noise since schools and businesses were closed during this lockdown.

What is Seismic Noise?

  • Seismic noise refers to the relatively persistent vibration of the ground due to a multitude of causes. This noise includes vibrations caused due to human activity, such as transport and manufacturing.
  • It is the unwanted component of signals recorded by a seismometer and makes it difficult for scientists to study seismic data that is more valuable.
  • Scientists first observed this seismic noise everything recorded on seismograms that cannot be attributed to earthquakes at the end of the 19th

Advantages of Reduced Seismic Noise:

  • Usually, to measure seismic activity accurately and reduce the effect of seismic noise, geologists place their detectors 100 metres below the Earth’s surface.
  • Because, the seismic noise vibrations caused by human activity are of high frequency (between 1-100 Hz), and travel through the Earth’s surface layers.
  • However, since the lockdown, researchers have said that they were able to study natural vibrations even from surface readings, owing to lesser seismic noise.
  • Due to lower noise levels, scientists are now hoping that they would be able to detect smaller earthquakes and tremors that had slipped past their instruments so far.

What is a Seismometer?

  • Seismometer is the scientific instrument that records ground motions, such as those caused by Earthquakes, volcanic Eruptions, and Explosions.
  • These are incredibly sensitive so they also pick up other sources of vibration too, including human activity, such as road traffic, machinery and even people walking past.

COLOUR CODING TO MANAGE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Why in News?

  • The government has decided to divide all districts across the country into hotspots, Non-hotspots and Green Zones.

About the News:

  • The health and family welfare ministry has identified 170 hotspot districts, 207 non-hotspot districts reporting cases and 359 green zone districts not reporting any cases across the country.
  • These numbers will increase or decrease based on fresh cases of novel coronavirus infection.
  • This will help in managing the COVID-19 pandemic as well as partial opening up of economic activities during the extended period of the nationwide lockdown.
  • This would help in management of hotspots and spread of pandemic.

How are the Districts Divided?

  • The health ministry used two criteria to classify the districts as hotspots — the absolute number of cases and the speed of growth in cases.
  • The technical definition followed to classify the districts is any district reporting more than six cases would be classified as hotspot district or red zone.
  • Any hotspot district with more than 15 cases would be treated as a district witnessing outbreak.

Which Districts are Under Red Zone?

  • Delhi and NCR, Mumbai, Nagpur, Pune, Thane, Yavatmal, Sangli, Buldhana, Ahmednagar, and Latur in Maharashtra, and Chennai, Chengalpattu, Coimbatore, Cuddalore, Erode, Dindigul, Karur, Madurai, Namakkal, Ranipet, Tiruchirapalli, Tiruppur and Theni in Tamil Nadu.

Demarcation of Epicentre and Containment Zones:

  • A house with positive cases or a cluster with positive cases is marked as the epicentre of   containment zone. A radius of 0.5 km is taken and the area around it is cordoned off with only essential services available.
  • Also, a buffer zone is marked where people with severe and acute respiratory illnesses (SARI) are checked and monitored.
  • Containment zones are created to map the local transmission of the disease and prevent the contagion from spreading.

ICMR RECOMMENDS TESTING OF POOLED SAMPLES

Why in News?

  • Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has recently issued an advisory for using pooled samples for testing of COVID-19 in order to increase the number of tests conducted by laboratories across the country.

What is Pooled Testing?

  • In a pooled testing algorithm, samples of multiple individuals are put together in a tube and screened through the PCR test.
  • If positive:If the pooled test turns out to be positive the individual samples under are tested, which is referred to as pool de-convolution.
  • If negative: If there’s no positive result, all individual samples in the pool are regarded as negative.

Recommendations of ICMR for Pooled Testing:

  • Maximum number for pooling:
    • While more than two samples can be pooled together, the number should not exceed five samples to avoid sample dilution, which can lead to false negatives.

    Ideal areas for its Use:

    • This method can be used in areas where the prevalence of COVID-19 is low, which implies a positivity rate of less than two percent.
    • In areas with a positivity rate between two to five percent, sample pooling of PCR screening may be considered in a community survey of surveillance among asymptomatic individuals.
    • Pooling of samples is not recommended in areas or populations with positivity rates of over five per cent.

    Non-inclusion of likely Positive Cases:

    • Samples of individuals with known contact with confirmed cases or healthcare workers should not be included in the Pooled Samples.

What are its Significance?

  • Substantial Cost Savings and Reduction in Requirement of Testing Kits:
    • For example, if a pooled sample consists of the samples of five individuals and it tests negative, the cost of four testing kits is saved and more number of people are covered with fewer resources.
    • The “door to door” approach of collecting pooled samples requires around 56-93 percent fewer tests, in areas where the prevalence of the disease is low to moderate.
  • Increment in overall People Screened:
    • It is critical to increase the numbers of tests conducted by laboratories. And as the positivity rate in COVID-19 cases is still low. Hence, it may help to use the pooled samples for screening.
  • Tracking down the Asymptomatic Cases:
    • Pooled screening can also help in tracking down the asymptomatic cases (showing no symptoms) of the disease, thereby tracking community transmission.
  • Containing Foreseeable Second Wave Outbreaks:
    • In particular, the “door-to-door” pooled-sample approach can facilitate mass screening in early stages of COVID-19 outbreaks, especially in low- and middle-income settings, and in containing foreseeable second wave outbreaks worldwide

THE CONCERN OF FALSE NEGATIVE TESTS

Why in News?

  • There have been rising concerns about theFalse Negative Tests in the scenario of this COVID-19 Pandemic.
  • There are concerns about the manner in which some Covid-19 patients have apparently relapsed due to false negative tests. They have been tested positive only a few days after testing negative.

What is mean by False Negative Test?

  • There is a possibility that the virus does not show up in the first test because patients have not rid themselves of the virus. However, on testing again, the virus shows up and the patients test positive. This is termed as False Negative Test.
  • Although the tests based on detection of genetic material are very sensitive, they can be negative sometimes.
  • Therefore, scientists and researchers have to constantly deal with the positive and negative predictive values.
  • According to the research on the subject of false negative tests, no lab test is 100% accurate.

Possible Reasons behind False Negatives:

  • The swab is not obtained or processed correctly or maybe obtained too early.
  • An initial swab sample may not always collect enough genetic material to provide an accurate test.
  • This problem may arise more often in patients who do not show many symptoms at the time of their test.
  • If the infection is in the lung, then a nose swab may not detect it.
  • The virus may shed in different amounts and is probably not present in the nose while the swab is collected.
  • The test runs badly due to some Technical Glitch.

Possible Suggestions to Overcome the Issue:

  • False negative test results may be reassuring for the low-risk individuals but for higher-risk individuals, even those without symptoms, the risk of such results requires additional protective measures against the spread of disease, like extended self-isolation.
  • To be confirmed negative after being positive, a patient normally needs two negative swabs 24 hours apart to be sure.
  • A negative test does not mean the person does not have the disease so the test results need to be considered in the context of patient characteristics and exposure.
  • The public data on false negative rates in the clinical setting is very limited so each negative test must be guarded and Analysed.

DEPARTMENT OF PHARMA WARNS SCARCITY OF DRUGS AND MEDICAL DEVICES

Why in News?

Recently, the Department of Pharmaceuticals has warned of a Nationwide Shortage of Medicines and Medical Devices.

About the News:

  • It has urged the Ministry of Home Affairs to take immediate steps to help the drug makers resume production under the current lockdown.
  • The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) had also written to all State Chief Secretaries on the problems faced by the pharma firms.

Key Points:

  • The Department of Pharmaceuticals under the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers is entrusted with ensuring the seamless production and distribution of critical life-saving medicines in the wake of the lockdown to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • On an average, drug and medical device makers are functioning at only 20%-30% of their full capacity during the lockdown.
  • Production units engaged in making essential commodities, including medicines, vaccines, masks and their ancillaries have been exempted from the restrictions imposed as per the national lockdown.
  • If the production will not reach the pre-lockdown level soon, it would lead to shortages of medicines and medical devices in the coming weeks.
  • Both in the public and private sector, the seamless functioning of pharma manufacturing and distribution units is crucial in dealing with the crisis.
  • A helpline has been created for pharma producers’ operational complaints, which are also being referred to State Drug Controllers for suitable intervention.

Challenges Ahead:

  • Export of Indian pharmaceuticals offer a better price in global markets which can lead to disproportionate shortages in the domestic market.
  • Restrictions on mobility and production in several states.
    • Unavailability of labour, transport and courier services.
    • Reverse migration (from cities to sub-urban/rural areas) of labour and local workers.
    • Lack of public transport options and the fear of police action.
    • Drivers have left their trucks on highways fearing stoppage of vehicles on State, district and city borders and lack of food and diesel on the Route.
  • Closure of ancillary industries which are not being considered essential by few local administrations.
    • They supply packaging material, excipients (required for tablets and capsules manufacturing), utility consumables like briquettes/gases (required to run boilers) and spare parts.

Suggestions to Address the Grievances:

  • Suitable measures are needed to reduce the export and focus more on domestic needs.
  • State and district administrations need to be sensitised so that they can proactively fulfil the needs of pharma units to function fully.
  • Allowance to the pharma industry to ferry back their contractual workers from their native places and make courier services fully functional in metro, Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities.
  • Drivers with commercial licences should be allowed to move with or without a vehicle by treating it as a ‘pass’ during the lockdown.The apprehensions of the drivers need to be addressed and they also need to be motivated and incentivised.

KERALA GETS NODS FOR TRIAL OF PLASMA THERAPHY

Why in News?

  • Kerala has gone a step ahead and won Indian Council of Medical Research’s (ICMR) approval for the clinical protocol exploring the feasibility of an experimental therapy, convalescent plasma transfusion, which may be administered to severe COVID-19 patients.

Highlights:

  • The expert committee which is guiding the State’s containment and mitigation strategies against COVID-19 had recommended exploring the plasma therapy following the report in JAMA [Journal of American Medical Association] of a pilot study done by doctors in China.
  • In the early 20thcentury, convalescent plasma treatment was used during outbreaks of diseases such as measles, mumps and influenza.
  • More recently, it was used during the H1N1 influenza pandemic, and again in 2013 during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. In the case of the latter, two patients survived the disease after treatment.
  • Following the Ebola outbreak, the World Health Organization issued guidance for its use in treating the disease, saying the small group it was used on showed “promising results.”
  • Doctors have transfused the blood of recovered patients into those still sick with the 1918 flu, measles, polio, chickenpox and SARS —to varying degrees of success.

Convalescent Plasma Therapy:

  • The therapy seeks to make use of the antibodies developed in the recovered patient against the coronavirus.
  • The whole blood or plasma from such people is taken, and the plasma is then injected in critically ill patients so that the antibodies are transferred and boost their fight against the virus.
  • A COVID-19 patient usually develops primary immunity against the virus in 10-14 days.
  • Therefore, if the plasma is injected at an early stage, it can possibly help fight the virus and prevent severe illness.

How is it Done?

  • The process to infuse plasma in a patient can be completed quickly.
  • It only requires standard blood collection practices, and extraction of plasma.
  • If whole blood is donated (350-450 ml), a blood fractionation process is used to separate the plasma. Otherwise, a special machine called aphaeresis machine can be used to extract the plasma directly from the donor.
  • While blood is indeed extracted from the donor, the aphaeresis machine separates and extracts the plasma using a plasma kit, and the remaining blood components are returned into the donor’s body.

Challenges:

  • Despite the potential utility of passive antibody treatments, there have been few concerted efforts to use them as initial therapies against emerging and pandemic infectious threats.
  • The absence of large trials certainly contributes to the hesitancy to employ this treatment.
  • Also, the most effective formulations (convalescent plasma or hyperimmune globulin, HIg) are unknown.
  • Convalescent plasma has the advantage that while its antibodies limit viral replication, other plasma components can also exert beneficial effects such as replenishing coagulation factors when given to patients with haemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola.
  • On the other hand, individual convalescent plasma units demonstrate donor-dependent variability in antibody specificities and titters. H-Ig preparations, in contrast, contain standardized antibody doses, although fractionation removes IgM, which may be necessary against some viruses.
  • Nonetheless, the construction of a strategic stockpile of frozen, pathogen-reduced plasma, collected from Ebola-convalescent patients with well-characterized viral neutralization activities, is one example of how to proceed despite existing unknowns.

CYBER-ATTACKS ON HEALTH CARE INSTITUTIONS

Why in News?

  • The International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) has warned member countries that cybercriminals are attempting to target major hospitals and other institutions on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 with ransomware.

About International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL):

  • Interpol is an intergovernmental organization that helps coordinate the police force of 194 member countries.
  • Each of the member countries hosts an Interpol National Central Bureau (NCB). This connects their national law enforcement with other countries and with the General Secretariat.
    • The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is designated as the National Central Bureau of India.
    • The General Secretariat provides a range of expertise and services to the member countries.
  • It is headquartered in Lyon, France
  • Interpol Notices are international requests for cooperation or alerts allowing police in member countries to share critic.

Key Points:

  • In an alert sent to 194 nations, including India, Interpol said that the hospitals and institutions had become targets of ransomware attacks.
  • Interpol’s Cybercrime Threat Response Team had detected an increase in the number of attempted ransomware attacks against key organisations and infrastructure engaged in the virus response.
  • Cybercriminals are using ransomware to hold hospitals and medical services digitally hostage, preventing them from accessing vital files and systems until a ransom is paid.
    • The attacks were designed to lock these institutions out of their critical systems in an attempt to extort payments.
    • Locking hospitals out of their critical system will delay the swift medical response required during these unprecedented times and it could also directly lead to deaths.
  • The ransomware appears to be spreading primarily via e-mails, often falsely claiming to contain information or advice regarding the coronavirus from a government agency, which encourages the recipient to click on an infected link or attachment.
    • Prevention and Mitigation efforts are crucial to stopping the attacks.
    • Interpol continues to stand by its member countries and provide any assistance necessary to ensure vital healthcare systems remain untouched and the criminals targeting them held accountable.
  • Interpol also issued a Purple Notice to seek or provide information on modus operandi, objects, devices and concealment methods used by criminals.

Changed Pattern of Crimes:

  • Interpol warned that with a majority of people working from home due to the pandemic, there was a change in the pattern of crimes.
  • Following is the change
    • Fraudulent trade in personal protective equipment and anti-viral medicines,
    • Individuals/businesses on reduced income becoming potential targets of loan sharks (Persons who loan money at extremely high interest rates and often use threats of violence to collect debts).
    • The lockdown period has made business establishments/factories vulnerable to thefts.
    • Since more people were at home, the number of burglaries had dropped. But thieves are increasingly targeting factories or business premises that were locked.
  • Domestic violence cases have risen since the start of coronavirus-related quarantines, with reports showing women and children at greater risk of abuse.
  • Recent weeks have seen increased online activity by paedophiles (persons who are sexually attracted to children) seeking child sexual abuse material.
    • This is being intensified by a shortage of moderators who identify and remove offensive material from networks.

Steps Taken by the Government:

  • Alerts received by the Government of India on the threat of ransomware/malware attacks have been communicated to the concerned departments.
  • Institutions and individuals have been appealed not to open any mail or link on coronavirus data or home remedies unless it is from a trusted source like a government agency.
    • They were also cautioned about a possibility of e-mail spoofing, where a suspect operating from a remote location would send a mail that would appear as if it came from a known person.

FILLING THE GAP: COVID TEST

Why in News?

  • The nation-wide lockdown that began on March 25 has helped to contain the spread of COVID-19. However, it needs to be asked if India’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has any unseen gaps.

Gaps in Controlling COVID-19 Pandemic:

  • Low number of infectious disease specialists:
    • These specialists are available in India, but they mostly work in big private hospitals. The Clinical Infectious Diseases Society (CIDS) and the Indian Association of Medical Microbiologists (IAMM) are not known to have proffered any advice to the Government.
  • Fulling Mandate of National Institute of Biologicals:
    • The National Institute of Biologicals (NIB) was established in 1992 by the Ministry of Health to function as the apex body and was mandated to ensure validation of invitro diagnostics, vaccines and biotherapeutics in the event of a pandemic.
    • The NIB ought to deliver on its mandate and the best infectious diseases professional in the country should be steering it. A search committee of retired virologists, infectious diseases specialists and medical microbiologists should be constituted urgently to find a director for the NIB.

Need to Conduct Antibody test along with PCR test:

  • Traditionally, there are two types of diagnostic tests for infectious organisms — tests for the presence of the virus itself (current infection), and tests for antibodies to the virus (current or prior infection).
  • The Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test used for detecting specific genetic material of a virus is key to determine if someone ill is infected with COVID-19. The WHO recommendations have also added antibody and antigen tests alongside the PCR. This will enable mass screenings — these have to be confirmed by PCR tests.

What are PCR, Anti-body and Anti-gen Tests?

  • PCR Test:
    • The PCR test identifies a virus from the swabs taken a few days after infection, to about 8-10 days after the first symptoms appear. It can also provide clues to community transmission, including anticipating the percentage of population that might develop serious complications.
    • A PCR test takes six to eight hours, not counting the time taken to collect and send the sample to the nearest lab. It is expensive as each test costs around Rs 4,500.
    • A commercial test named X-pert has recently been approved by the US FDA for detecting the virus’ nucleic acid within a couple of hours.
  • Antibody Test:
    • The antibody test is the best to calculate the number of people who may have experienced COVID-19.
    • It is dependable for hotspot surveillance; it is quick and helps to see who has been infected more than 10 days earlier.
    • The only negative aspect of it is that if conducted very early, it may miss virus shedders while hunting for the antibodies.

Antigen Test:

  • Antigen test identifies the protein component of the virus and could be used even sooner than the Antibody Test.

INDIA LIFTS BAN ON EXPORT OF HYDROXY-CHLOROQUINE

Why in News?

  • The Government of India has announced that it had rescinded its earlier ban on the export of malaria drug hydroxyl-chloroquine (HCQ), which is now being used in countries such as the U.S. as a possible line of treatment for COVID-19.

What is Hydroxy-chloroquine?

  • Hydroxy-chloroquine (not to be confused with anti-malaria drug chloroquine) is an oral drug used in the treatment of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
    • Autoimmune diseases are in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells.
    • Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder affecting many joints, including those in the hands and feet.

Hydroxy-chloroquine against COVID-19:

  • The drug shows antiviral activity in vitro against coronaviruses, and specifically, SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes COVID-19].
  • Further, the study suggests that prophylaxis(treatment given to prevent disease) with hydroxy-chloroquine at approved doses could prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection and may help to improve viral shedding.
  • Clinical trials are under way in China to know whether the drug can be used for treatment.

Combination of Hydroxy-chloroquine with Other Drugs:

  • Hydroxy-chloroquine and Chloroquine:
    • A study suggests that both hydroxy-chloroquine and chloroquine have in vitro activity against SARS-CoV, SARS-CoV-2, and other coronaviruses, with hydroxy-chloroquine having higher potency against SARS-CoV-2.
    • In vitro studies are performed with microorganisms, cells, or biological molecules outside their normal biological context (such as in a test tube).
    • In contrast to in vitro experiments, in vivo studies are those conducted in living organisms, including humans, and whole plants.
  • Hydroxy-chloroquine with Azithromycin:
    • The combination of hydroxy-chloroquine with azithromycin is a commonly used antibiotic.
    • The combination is expected to be efficient for virus elimination.

ICMR Recommendations on use of Hydroxy-chloroquine:

  • The restricted population for usage of hydroxy-chloroquine include, namely, ‘Asymptomatic (showing no symptoms) Healthcare Workers’ and ‘asymptomatic household contacts’ of laboratory-confirmed cases.
  • The above mentioned population have been advised to use the hydroxy-chloroquine to contain further spread of the pandemic.
  • However, the drug is not recommended as a preventive healthcare in children under 15 years of age.
  • ICMR also advised that placing healthcare workers under hydroxy-chloroquine treatment should not instill a sense of false security and they need to follow all prescribed public health measures such as frequent washing of hands, respiratory etiquettes, keeping a distance of minimum one metre and use of personal protective equipment, etc.

Cautions over the Drug:

  • ICMR cautioned the general public against the unrestricted use of the drug, stating that “it is still at experimental stage and is not recommended for public use.”
  • Hydroxy-chloroquine is recommended only for a healthcare worker who is treating a COVID-19 patient. Secondly, it’s recommended only for persons staying with and caring for a household patient who has been tested positive. They can take that only for prophylaxis only for prevention.
  • “The recommendation is for empirical use of the drug based on available evidence and is restricted for use by only two categories of people and under strict supervision of a doctor.

What are the Concerns?

  • None of the drug approving agencies across the world, including the FDA, has cleared the drug for prophylaxis or for treating COVID-19 patients which ICMR has done.
  • The available evidence of the efficacy of the drug is a small study by French researchers involving 26 COVID-19 patients. The study found “significant” reduction in viral load in over half the number of patients at end of six days of therapy.
  • As the trial showed significant reduction, the results were published on March 17 in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents even before the 14-day follow-up was completed.
  • When there is no other drug available, and when the virus is highly contagious, it is best to use if there is some benefit. The same logic applies for other diseases where there are no medicines available. ICMR too applied the same logic in usage of this drug.
  • Our first obligation is to ensure that there are adequate stocks of medicines for the requirement of our own people.
  • In order to ensure this, some temporary steps were taken to restrict exports of a number of pharmaceutical products.
  • But export of the hydroxyl-chloroquine may deem to loss of adequate supply during the pandemic crisis.

CYTOKINE STORM

Context:

  • Cytokine storm is recently seen in news, which is feared as a compounding effect of COVID 19

About Cytokine Storm:

  • It is an overproduction of immune cells and their activating compounds (cytokines), which, in a flu infection, is often associated with a surge of activated immune cells into the lungs.
  • It resulting in lung inflammation and fluid build-up can lead to respiratory distress and can be contaminated by a secondary bacterial pneumonia — often enhancing the mortality in patients.
  • It can occur due to an infection, auto-immune condition, or other diseases.
  • Its symptoms include high fever, inflammation (redness and swelling), severe fatigue, and nausea.
  • It is not exclusive to coronavirus patients. It is an immune reaction that can occur during other infectious and non-infectious diseases as well.

About the Role of Cytokines in the Immune System:

  • It signals proteins that are released by cells at local high concentrations, which is characterised by the overproduction of immune cells and the cytokines themselves because of a dysregulation in the process.
  • The severe immune reaction, leading to the secretion of too many cytokines in the bloodstream, can be harmful since an excess of immune cells can attack Healthy Tissue as well.

About the Functions of Immune System:

  • It protects us from bacteria, viruses, and parasites by removing them from our systems.
  • It gets activated by things that the body does not recognise as its own. These hings are called antigens, and include bacteria, fungi and viruses.
  • It response involves inflammation, an important and indispensable part of the process.
  • Its Inflammation has an important protective function. The release of inflammatory mediators increases the blood flow to the area, which allows larger numbers of immune system cells to be carried to the injured tissue, thereby aiding the repairing process.
  • If this inflammatory response is not regulated, a ‘cytokine storm’ can be triggered.
  • Impact a COVID-19 patient: In the case of any flu infection, a cytokine storm is associated with a surge of activated immune cells into the lungs, which, instead of fighting off the antigen, leads to lung inflammation and fluid build-up, and respiratory distress.

WHY EVERYONE SHOULD WEAR MASKS?

Why in News?

  • Experts say that the pandemic can be slowed only by a lockdown as well as by ensuring universal Mask Use.

What is an Epidemic Curve?

  • On the curve, Y axis and X axis represent case numbers and time, respectively.
  • A normal epidemic curve is bell-shaped, with an early ascending slope (first phase), a peak (second phase) and a declining slope (third phase).
  • The area under the curve represents the total number of cases. India is now in the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Need of an Hour:

  • Flattening the epidemic curve (case distribution curve) is the need of the day.
  • A rapid increase in cases will demand far more healthcare facilities than now available.
  • Healthcare facilities were not created in anticipation of a pandemic and are grossly inadequate for India to tackle the first phase.
  • A flattening of the curve will reduce the demand on beds in intensive care units, respirators, and specialists to manage acute respiratory distress syndrome.
  • The peak will be dwarfed and come after some breathing time; the pressure will be eased.

How the Curve can be Flattened?

  • There are two ways of flattening the curve: imposing a strict lockdown for a number of weeks or use of face masks all the time when outside our homes.
  • A lockdown physically distances families from each other.
  • There are four reasons for the Universal Use of Masks.
  1. 1.First, any infected person will not infect others because the droplets of fluids that we let out during conversations, coughing or sneezing will be blocked by the mask.
  2. 2.Second, uninfected people will have some protection from droplet infection during interactions with others. For those who wear eyeglasses, there is additional protection from droplets falling on the conjunctiva. When both parties wear masks, the probability of transmission is virtually zero.
  3. 2.Third, the mask-wearers will avoid inserting their fingertips into their nostrils or mouths. Viruses deposited on surfaces may be carried by hand if we touch such surfaces; if we do not touch our eyes, nostrils or mouth; this mode of transmission is prevented.
  4. 4.Fourth, everyone will be reminded all the time that these are abnormal days.
  • In overcrowded areas such as slums, a lockdown will not be efficient in slowing down transmission.
  • In such places, universal mask use is a simple way to slow down transmission. In India the wise choice would have been to ensure universal mask use in slums, bazaars, shops selling essential commodities, etc.

Way Forward:

  • COVID-19 mortality is due to Three Reasons.
  1. 1.Virus virulence is the given and cannot be altered.
  2. 2.Co-morbidity (diabetes, chronic diseases) is already prevalent.
  3. 3.Then there is low-quality healthcare.
  • Slowing down the epidemic by imposing a lockdown and ensuring universal mask use gives us the chance to protect people from infection and improve healthcare quality; wherever that was done, the mortality was less than 1%.

GRAVITY RECOVERY AND CLIMATE EXPERIMENT FOLLOW ON (GRACE-FO)

Why in News?

  • Recently, a new satellite-based, weekly global maps of soil moisture and groundwater wetness conditions were developed by US space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) on March 31, 2020.

About GRACE- FO Mission:

  • It is a partnership between NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ).
  • It is a successor to the original GRACE mission, which began orbiting Earth. The GRACE missions measure variations in gravity over Earth’s surface, producing a new map of the gravity field every 30 days.
  • It will continue the work of tracking Earth’s water movement to monitor changes in underground water storage, the amount of water in large lakes and rivers, soil moisture, ice sheets and glaciers, and sea level caused by the addition of water to the ocean.
  • These discoveries provide a unique view of Earth’s climate and have far-reaching benefits to society and the world’s Population.

About the Global Maps produced by GRACE-FO Mission:

  • Its global maps are derived with data available from NASA and German Research Center for Geosciences’
  • It provides the satellite-based observations of changes in water distribution were integrated with other data within a computer model that simulated water and energy cycles.
  • It also produces other outputs, such as the time-varying maps of the distribution of water at three depths Surface soil moisture, root zone soil moisture (roughly the top three feet of soil) and shallow groundwater.
  • Its map has a resolution of up to 8.5 miles, providing continuous data on moisture and groundwater conditions across the Landscape.

Significance of the Data:

  • The data available through this project would fill existing gaps in understanding the full picture of wet and dry conditions that can lead to drought.
  • It is absolutely a critical tool to helping us address and offset some of the impacts anticipated, whether it is from population growth, climate change or just increased water consumption in general.
  • It would also help in managing the selection of appropriate agricultural crops and Predicting Yields.

GEO-FENCING APP TO LOCATE QUARANTINE VIOLATORS

Why in News?

  • The government has tested an application that triggers e-mails and SMS alerts to an authorised government agency if a person has jumped quarantine or escaped from isolation, based on the person’s mobile phone’s cell tower location.

What is Geo-fencing?

  • Geo-fencing is a location-based service in which an app or other software uses GPS, RFID, Wi-Fi or cellular data to trigger a pre-programmed action when a mobile device or RFID tag enters or exits a virtual boundary set up around a geographical location.

About the News:

  • The Centre is using powers under the Indian Telegraph Act to “fetch information” from telecom companies every 15 minutes to track COVID-19 cases across the country.
  • The government has tested an application that triggers e-mails and SMS alerts to an authorised government agency if a person has jumped quarantine or escaped from isolation, based on the person’s mobile phone’s cell tower location. The “geo-fencing” is accurate by up to 300 m.
  • The location information is received periodically over a secure network for the authorised cases with “due protection of the data received”.
  • The States have been asked to seek the approval of their Home Secretaries under the provisions of Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, for the specified mobile phone numbers to request the DoT to provide information by email or SMS in case of violation of “geo-fencing”.

Why Geo-fencing Needed?

  • One of the biggest challenges that India faces in its fight against Coronavirus in the country is about tracking the potential carriers to curb the spread of this highly infectious disease.
  • To address this challenge, centre has come up with an application, which can be used to identify and isolate the potential carriers, who are Currently Asymptomatic.

How does App work?

  • The mobile application works via geo-fencing feature. The application would allow government authorities to ‘register the asymptomatic carriers and track them to effectively monitor their movement.
  • The movement of potential carriers would be monitored and tracked using geo-fencing feature.
  • In case the potential carrier tried to break the fence setup for them, the app would trigger an alert to the authorities, which can then track down the suspects and curb the spread of COVID-19.

HOW BATS CARRY VIRUSES BUT DON’T FALL ILL THEMSELVES

Why in News?

  • As the novel coronavirus has spread across continents, studies are underway to better understand its origin and how it is transmitted.

Highlights:

  • Diseases caused by coronaviruses, such as COVID-19, are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people.
  • The global SARS outbreak of 2002-2004, which claimed almost 800 lives in more than two dozen countries, was also traced to the horseshoe variety of bats in 2017.
  • According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), SARS-CoV was transmitted to humans from civet cats, and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels. Both the viruses, however, are believed to have originated from bats and subsequently passed on to other Animals.
  • While researchers are yet to conclude how the novel coronavirus (first detected in China’s Wuhan) originated, many believe it could be traced back to bats.

Bats Natural Zoonotic Reservoir:

  • Many studies over the years have found bats to be a natural reservoir for a large number of zoonotic viruses that have caused outbreaks in many countries in the past. These include rabies, Marburg, Nipah and Hendra viruses.
  • Researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China were able to trace the origin of the SARS virus to these bats in a remote cave in the country’s south eastern Yunnan province.
  • After years of investigating caves in several parts of China, the virologists were able to find a single population of horseshoe bats that had the virus strains which matched the ones which had been transmitted to humans.
  • Some experts believe that the novel coronavirus could also be traced to horseshoe bats.
  • Reasons behind bats surviving despite being carriers of viruses themselves
  • Bats are able to carry a host of viruses without becoming ill, except for rabies, which affects them.
  • Research suggests that bats, which make up a quarter of all mammal species, have developed stronger immune systems through the process of evolution which enabled them to fly.
  • Studies have shown that when bats fly, the energy requirements in their bodies cause cells to break down into bits of DNA which are then released. While most organisms would treat such DNA particles as foreign invading bodies, in bats such responses are more muted.
  • Due to this weakened response, bats do not develop inflammations, which can cause a considerable toll on the body’s energy.
  • This phenomenon is believed to be the reason so many viruses can exist in their bodies.

Observations by American Society of Microbiology:

  • Coronaviruses are well known to undergo genetic recombination, which may lead to new genotypes and outbreaks.
  • The presence of a large reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, together with the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China, is a dangerous combination.
  • The possibility of the re-emergence of SARS and other novel viruses from animals or laboratories and therefore the need for preparedness should not be ignored.

COVID-19 AND THE ORPHAN DRUG ACT

Why in News?

Despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared COVID-19 an Orphan Disease, or a Rare Disease.

Key Points Regarding the Issue:

  • The FDA granted Gilead Sciences orphan drug status for its antiviral drug, Remdesivir, on March 23, 2020.
    • Originally developed to treat Ebola, the drug is now being tested for treating COVID-19. Clinical trials are already in Phase III.
  • But on March 25 Gilead announced that it had submitted a request to the FDA to remove its orphan drug designation for Remdesivir.
  • Earlier, Gilead had sought the orphan status to the Remdesivir drug to expedite approval of the drug. However, advocates for global access to medicines, rejected the company’s argument.
  • Gilead’s exorbitant pricing of its drug to treat hepatitis C and its drug to treat HIV also attracted attention in the past.
  • In recent years, drug companies have been accused of exploiting the law to reap profits, in sales.

What is a Rare Disease?

  • A rare disease is a health condition of low prevalence that affects a small number of people compared with other prevalent diseases in the general population.
    • There is no universally accepted definition of rare diseases and the definitions usually vary across different countries
  • Though rare diseases are of low prevalence and individually rare, collectively they affect a considerable proportion of the population.
  • 80% of rare diseases are genetic in origin and hence disproportionately impact children.
  • In India there are 56-72 million people affected by rare diseases.
  • There is also a demand for the reformulation of National Policy for Treatment of Rare Diseases, 2017.

About Orphan Drug Act, 1983:

  • Rare diseases became known as orphan diseases because drug companies were not interested in adopting them to develop treatments.
  • In the U.S., under the Orphan Drug Act, companies are provided incentives to develop therapies, or orphan drugs, for rare diseases.
  • The Act allows seven years of market exclusivity and financial incentives to innovators of these drugs. As a result, orphan drugs are often exorbitantly priced.
  • Privileges under the Act may be conferred to companies for drugs to treat a disease that affect less than 200,000 people in the U.S., or for a disease that affects more than 200,000 people but for which there is no hope of recovering R & D costs.
  • The idea is that without these incentives, companies would find it difficult to recover their R&D costs given the small number of people suffering from the rare disease.

About National Policy for Treatment of Rare Diseases, 2017:

  • The policy highlights the measures and steps, both in the short as well as in the long term, that need to be taken to deal comprehensively with rare diseases.
  • The policy intends to constitute an Inter-ministerial Consultative Committee to coordinate and steer the initiatives of different ministries and departments on rare diseases.
  • It also mentions the creation of a corpus fund at Central and State level for funding treatment of rare diseases.
  • The policy aims to create a patient registry for diseases housed in Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
  • However, recognizing the higher cost of treatment for rare diseases, the policy also seeks to strike a balance between access to treatment and health system sustainability.
  • It also aims to create awareness among health professionals, families of patients and the public in general, about rare diseases.

Issues Regarding the Declaration:

  • COVID-19 not a Rare Disease:The Orphan Drug Act applies to a potential drug for COVID-19, which is anything but a rare disease, with 800,049 confirmed cases across the world.
  • Paradox:The U.S. FDA conferred the status of an orphan drug on Remdesivir proposed to treat COVID-19 a pandemic.

Impacts on declaring as Orphan Disease:

  • Had Gilead not sought that orphan drug status be repealed, generic manufacturers would not have been able to market a drug to treat COVID-19 with the same active ingredient till the seven-year period of market exclusivity had ended.
  • This would have given Gilead free rein on pricing and licensing which would have had disastrous consequences on the healthcare system.
  • However, orphan drug status of Remdesivir would have no impact on India as Gilead Sciences holds patents in India and patents are open to challenge.
  • As far as its patent rights are concerned, Indian law permits the government to issue a compulsory licence in certain circumstances of a public health crisis under Section 92 of the Patents Act.
    • This would allow third parties to manufacture a patented drug without permission of the Patent Holder.

ACUTE ENCEPHALITIS SYNDROME (AES)

Context:

  • Recently, the Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) returns in Bihar as toddler dies in Muzaffarpur.

About AES:

  • It is a basket term used for referring to hospitals, children with clinical neurological manifestation that includes mental confusion, disorientation, convulsion, delirium, or coma.
  • It is a severe case of encephalitis transmitted by mosquitoes and is characterized by high fever and inflammation of the brain.
  • It is coined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2006, to signify a group of diseases which seem similar to one another but are difficult to differentiate in the chaotic environment of an outbreak.
  • It most commonly affects children and young adults and can lead to considerable morbidity and mortality.
  • Its Symptoms include confusion, disorientation, coma, or inability to talk, high fever, vomiting, nausea, and unconsciousness.
  • The National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme in India has set up countrywide surveillance for AES through sentinel sites with a focus on detecting Japanese encephalitis (JEV).

About Cause of the Disease:

  • It is considered a very complex disease as it can be caused by various agents including bacteria, fungi, virus and many other agents.
  • Viruses are the main causative agents in AES cases, although other sources such as bacteria, fungi, parasites, spirochetes, chemicals, toxins, and noninfectious agents have also been reported over the past few decades. It is not Vaccine-Preventable.
  • It is mostly caused by Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) (ranging from 5%-35%) and, Nipah virus, Zika virus, Influenza A virus, West Nile virus, Chandipura virus, mumps, measles, dengue, scrub typhus, S.pneumoniae are also found as causative agents for AES.

About Litchi Fruits:

  • It outbreaks in north and eastern India have been linked to children eating unripe Litchi Fruit on empty stomachs.
  • It contains the toxins hypoglycin A and methylenecyclopropylglycine (MCPG), which cause vomiting if ingested in large quantities. Hypoglycin A is a naturally occurring amino acid found in the unripened litchi that causes severe vomiting (Jamaican vomiting sickness), while MCPG is a poisonous compound found in litchi seeds.

How it Affects Children?

  • The Blood glucose falls sharply causing severe brain malfunction (encephalopathy), leading to seizures and coma, and death in many cases.
  • It is because the under-nourished children lack sufficient glucose reserve in the form of glycogen and the production of glucose from non-carbohydrate source is blocked midway leading to low blood sugar level. It causes serious brain function derangement and seizures.

Way Ahead:

  • Measures needed to be taken are by Increase access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation facilities, improve nutritional status of children at risk of JE/AES, Preparative measures to be in place before the possible outbreaks, Vector control, Better awareness generation among children, parents through Anganwadi workers, ANMs etc

INDIA JOINS WHO FOR SOLIDARITY TRIALS

Why in News?

  • India is all set to join the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Solidarity Trial which aims at rapid global search for drugs to treat COVID-19.

What are the Key Points?

  • India has stayed away from the multi-country trial till now due to its small sample size.
  • It will express its interest to participate in the trial for the Indian population when it feels that the time is right.
  • Vaccine development wasn’t a priority for Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) currently because there are around 30 vaccine groups already in operation worldwide.
  • Keeping in view the rising number of cases and challenges faced by India, the government has decided to participate in the solidarity trial.

How Solidarity Trial Done?

    It will test different drugs or combinations like:
    1.Remdesivir.
    2.Combination of lopinavir and ritonavir (anti-HIV drugs).
    3.Interferon beta with the combination of lopinavir and ritonavir.
    4.Chloroquine.

    It will compare their effectiveness to the standard of care, the regular support used by the hospitals treating COVID-19 patients.

What are the Key Challenges?

  • Shortage of Medical Devices and Equipment:The Medical Technology Association of India (MTAI), which represents research-based medical technology companies, has highlighted the shortage of medical devices and Equipment.
    • The Centre has exempted manufacturing, warehousing and distribution of the medical devices and equipment from the lockdown but these are being clamped down by the state governments and local level administrators.
    • Transport trucks carrying these vital preparatory materials are stuck at city and state borders.
  • Delays in Import:India is importing probes and rapid testing kits from China, Germany and WHO. However, some delays have been reported but it is made sure that the delays do not affect the testings.
  • Time Constraints:ICMR is currently looking at repurposed drug molecules to find treatment for COVID-19 due to time constraints.

What could be the Possible Solutions?

  • India needs to Prioritise what it needs right now to deal with the situation.
  • Indian scientists have formed a group called Indian Scientists’ Response to COVID-19 (ISRC) to tackle the pandemic.
  • While governmental bodies make their decisions and professional scientific academies take principled stands, there is a need for individuals in the scientific community to also help individually and collectively.

Indian Scientists’ Response to COVID-19:

  • Indian Scientists’ Response to COVID-19 (ISRC) is a voluntary group of scientists to address the concerns raised by the COVID-19 outbreak and to discuss the rapidly evolving situation with its dire need for science communication.
  • The group consists of nearly 200 scientists from institutions such as the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), the Indian Institute of Technologies (IITs), etc.
  • It aims to study existing and available data to bring out analysis that will support the Central, State and local governments in carrying out their tasks.
  • There are several working groups within it:
    • One of them works on hoax busting to address disinformation spreading with respect to the coronavirus.
    • One works on science popularisation to develop material that explains concepts such as home quarantine.
  • Other groups work on resources in Indian Languages, Mathematical Models and Apps Etc.
    • It is suggested that an app should be developed that can map spaces being used as shelters and share that data with the State governments.
  • A platform has also been developed to connect people in need with those who can provide help.
    • It works through two channels, phone and WhatsApp.
    • It can connect patients or people with symptoms to doctors.
    • It may also connect elderly people with volunteers from NGOs to assist in chores such as grocery shopping.

CONTROLLING COVID-19 THROUGH SOUTH KOREAN MODEL

Why in News?

  • The Korean Model, a vigorous regime of “trace, test, treat”, has shown remarkable results in controlling the spread of the novel coronavirus, without putting a nationwide lockdown in place.

How is the Situation in Korea?

  • Korea is now in full control of the spread of the disease. The number of new confirmed cases per day has been showing steady decline since hitting a peak at 989 in February to double-digit figures as of mid-March.
  • Korea might be the only country that hasn’t imposed a lockdown within its territories or even of its international borders.

How has this been possible? What is the ‘Korean Model’?

  • It is grounded on concentrated testing of high-risk areas and clusters.
  • Korea found out at the beginning of the spread of the virus that a certain religious cult and its gathering was the cause of a large portion of the spread in a certain area of the country. This group had massive gatherings in a closed-off space.
  • The government listed all members of the group across the country, tracked their whereabouts and conducted tests on a massive scale, leading to the rapid increase in the number of confirmed cases.
  • However, Korea succeeded in identifying and isolating potential cases at a very early stage and finally flattened the curve.

Other Best Practices followed by Korea:

  • The moment the virus DNA pattern was confirmed in Wuhan, Korean medical teams and bio-companies were able to develop new testing kits with surprising speed. This made it possible for Korea to conduct mass-scale testing of 18,000 cases a day.
  • Anybody in Korea who has symptoms or reasons to be tested can get the test within minutes at ‘drive-thru’ or ‘walk-thru’ testing centres and receive the result by text message the very next day. Korea made available over 650 testing centres nationwide.

Is it possible for India to Replicate this Model?

  • Given India’s demography and medical infrastructure, lockdowns are necessary. However, openness and transparency is important to tackling this situation and identifying and isolating the core of the spread of the virus with full medical capacity at the earliest possible stage is key. This is the essence of the ‘Korean model’.

 

 

 

ANTIBODY KITS

Why in News?

  • The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has recently invited manufacturers to supply 5 lakh antibody kits for diagnosis of COVID-19 infection.

About the Antibody Test:

  • It will act as a screening process that will give quick results in a few hours.
  • It detects the body’s response to the virus. It gives an indication that a person has been exposed to the virus.
  • If the test is positive, the swab is collected and a Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) test is done using the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) kit. Therefore, this is a two-stage process.
  • It does not definitely indicate that a person is infected with COVID-19 infection. It is only for screening. India is only conducting the conventional RT-PCR test (Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction).

About RT-PCR Test:

  • It detects the virus genetic material, which is the RNA. It detects the body’s response to the virus.
  • It provides direct evidence whereas antibody kits provide the Indirect Evidence.

About Ribonucleic Acid:

  • It is an important biological macromolecule that is present in all biological cells.
  • It is principally involved in the synthesis of proteins, carrying the messenger instructions from Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), which itself contains the genetic instructions required for the development and maintenance of life.
  • Contract Tracing is the process of identifying, assessing, and managing people who have been exposed to a disease to prevent transmission.

Why we need Antibody Kits?

  • There is a Shortage of the PCR kits and thus the test is complicated, expensive and time-consuming.
  • The antibody test will be where a large number of people are being quarantined and where everybody cannot undergo an RNA test.
  • The antibody test was done in South Korea, one of the few countries which has been able to flatten the pandemic curve.
  • A large number of suspected patients were being quarantined in the country through contact tracing of just a single patient.

About Indian Council of Medical Research:

  • It is the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research.
  • Its mandate is to conduct, coordinate and implement medical research for the benefit of the Society; translating medical innovations into products/processes and introducing them into the public health system.
  • It is funded by the Government of India through the Department of Health Research, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.

ICMR RECOMMENDATIONS AND CAUTIONS OVER USE OF HYDROXY-CHLOROQUINE

Why in News?

  • The National Task force for COVID-19, constituted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), has suggested the use of hydroxy-chloroquine to contain the spread of SARS-CoV-2 (Coronavirus) for restricted populations.

About ICMR:

  • Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research.
  • Its mandate is to conduct, coordinate and implement medical research for the benefit of the Society; translating medical innovations into products/processes and introducing them into the public health system.
  • It is funded by the Government of India through the Department of Health Research, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.

What is Hydroxy-chloroquine?

  • Hydroxy-chloroquine (not to be confused with anti-malaria drug chloroquine) is an oral drug used in the treatment of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Autoimmune diseases are in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder affecting many joints, including those in the hands and feet.

Hydroxy-chloroquine against COVID-19:

  • The drug shows antiviral activity in vitro against coronaviruses, and specifically, SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes COVID-19].
  • Further, the study suggests that prophylaxis (treatment given to prevent disease) with hydroxy-chloroquine at approved doses could prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection and may help to improve viral shedding.
  • Clinical trials are under way in China to know whether the drug can be used for treatment.

Combination of Hydroxy-chloroquine with Other Drugs:

Hydroxy-chloroquine and Chloroquine:

  • A study suggests that both hydroxy-chloroquine and chloroquine have in vitro activity against SARS-CoV, SARS-CoV-2, and other coronaviruses, with hydroxy-chloroquine having higher potency against SARS-CoV-2.
  • In vitro studies are performed with microorganisms, cells, or biological molecules outside their normal biological context (such as in a test tube).
  • In contrast to in vitro experiments, in vivo studies are those conducted in living organisms, including humans, and whole plants.

Hydroxy-chloroquine with Azithromycin:

  • The combination of hydroxy-chloroquine with azithromycin is a commonly used antibiotic.
  • The combination is expected to be efficient for virus elimination.

ICMR Recommendations on use of Hydroxy-chloroquine:

  • The restricted population for usage of hydroxy-chloroquine include, namely, ‘Asymptomatic (showing no symptoms) Healthcare Workers’ and ‘Asymptomatic household contacts’ of laboratory-confirmed cases.
  • The above mentioned population have been advised to use the hydroxy-chloroquine to contain further spread of the pandemic.
  • However, the drug is not recommended as a preventive healthcare in children under 15 years of age.
  • ICMR also advised that placing healthcare workers under hydroxy-chloroquine treatment should not instill a sense of false security and they need to follow all prescribed public health measures such as frequent washing of hands, respiratory etiquettes, keeping a distance of minimum one metre and use of personal protective equipment, etc.

Cautions over the Drug:

  • ICMR cautioned the general public against the unrestricted use of the drug, stating that “it is still at experimental stage and is not recommended for public use.”
  • Hydroxy-chloroquine is recommended only for a healthcare worker who is treating a COVID-19 patient.
  • Secondly, it’s recommended only for persons staying with and caring for a household patient who has been tested positive. They can take that only for prophylaxis only for prevention.
  • “The recommendation is for empirical use of the drug based on available evidence and is restricted for use by only two categories of people and under strict supervision of a doctor.

How ICMR approved the Drug?

  • None of the drug approving agencies across the world, including the FDA, has cleared the drug for prophylaxis or for treating COVID-19 patients which ICMR has done.
  • The available evidence of the efficacy of the drug is a small study by French researchers involving 26 COVID-19 patients. The study found “significant” reduction in viral load in over half the number of patients at end of six days of therapy.
  • As the trial showed significant reduction, the results were published on March 17 in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents even before the 14-day follow-up was completed.
  • When there is no other drug available, and when the virus is highly contagious, it is best to use if there is some benefit. The same logic applies for other diseases where there are no medicines available. ICMR too applied the same logic in usage of this drug.

INDIA FRANCE

Why in News?

  • Recently, India and France conducted joint patrolling for the first time from the Reunion Island. The patrolling was conducted in the month of February by a P-8I aircraft.

Highlights

  • It is conducted under the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy and broader maritime cooperation, the Indian Navy undertakes joint Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) surveillance with Maldives, Seychelles and Mauritius and Coordinated Patrols (CORPATs) with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia.
  • The objectives of the CORPATs are to ensure effective implementation of United Nations Conventions on Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS).
  • The joint patrolling with France shows India’s intent to expanding its footprint in the Indian Ocean, focusing on the stretch between the East African coastline and the Malacca straits.
  • India has carried out CORPATs only with maritime neighbours and had rejected a similar offer by the US in 2016. India has recently become an observer to the Indian Ocean Commission. It consists of Reunion as one of its members.

About Defence Relations between India- France

  • The Indian navy is currently inducting French Scorpene conventional submarines, being built in India under technology transfer.
  • The Indian Air Force will soon get the first batch of its 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.
  • India is working with France to develop strategic and economic partnership involving Madagascar, Reunion Islands-Comoros so as to balance the growing influence of China in that part of the Indian Ocean Region.
  • Some of their defence exercises are
    • Gagan Shakti is conducted by the Indian Air Force to showcase its air dominance over the entire extended area of the Indian Ocean Region.
    • Garuda Shakti is the joint military exercise between India and Indonesia.
    • Mitra Shakti is the joint military exercise between India and Sri Lanka.

About P-8I Aircraft:

  • The Boeing’s P-8A Poseidon is designed for long-range Anti-Submarine warfare (ASW), Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW), and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.
  • Its Indian variant is referred to as P-8I. Of a total of 12 ordered aircrafts, India has received eight, making the Indian Navy’s P-8 fleet the second largest in the world. Another four aircrafts are on-schedule to be delivered in 2020.
  • It is not just responsible for coastal patrolling but is also used for other critical missions like search-and-rescue, anti-piracy, and supporting operations of other arms of the military.
  • Reunion Island is a French overseas department and overseas region in the western Indian Ocean. It is located about 420 miles (680 km) east of Madagascar and 110 miles (180 km) southwest of Mauritius.

About United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS):

  • It is an international treaty which was adopted and signed in 1982. It replaced the four Geneva Conventions of April, 1958, which respectively concerned the territorial sea and the contiguous zone, the continental shelf, the high seas, fishing and conservation of living resources on the High Seas.

COVID-19: STAGE BY STAGE PANDEMIC

Context:

  • On the light of one of the greatest crisis, Pandemic COVID-19 across the globe, there are different stages of transmission that people need to know.

What are the Stages of a Pandemic?

  • In the First stage of a disease epidemic that eventually takes the form of a pandemic sweeping the globe, cases are imported into a country in which the infection did not originate. An infection whose spread is contained within the boundaries of one or a few countries is obviously not a pandemic.
  • The Second stage is when the virus starts being transmitted locally. Local transmission means that the source of the infection is from within a particular area and the trajectory the virus has taken from one person to the next is clearly established.
  • The Third stage is that of community transmission.

What is Community Spread of the Infection?

  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) says community transmission “is evidenced by the inability to relate confirmed cases through chains of transmission for a large number of cases, or by increasing positive tests through sentinel samples (routine systematic testing of respiratory samples from established laboratories)”.
  • In the simplest terms, community spread is when you do not know the source of the infection — you are unable to trace it back to someone who has travelled in an affected area overseas, or got it through contact with someone who is infected.

Why the Third Stage is Worrisome?

  • Community spread implies that the virus is now circulating in the community, and can infect people with no history — either of travel to affected areas, or of contact with the infected person.
  • In a situation of community transmission, it is theoretically possible for every person regardless of where they are from or whether they have been in contact, to spread the infection.

When can it be said that the virus is definitely in the stage of Community Spread?

  • There have to be several cases of untraced infection source to conclude definitively that the outbreak has moved to the Next Level

What is the Fourth Stage?

  • It is when the disease becomes endemic in some countries. Among diseases that are currently endemic in India — meaning they occur round the year across the country — are malaria and dengue.

How does Categorising an outbreak in this Manner Help?

  • The stages of a pandemic are uniform the world over.
  • This is so because in today’s interconnected world, it is important to have a standardised phraseology that conveys the same thing to every person around the world, and helps countries prepare better.
  • The categorisation helps countries take specific actions that are necessary to target just that particular scenario.

Worldwide, in which stage is the COVID-19 Pandemic Now?

  • The pandemic has spread to nearly every country on the planet. In most, though, it is in the stage of either imported cases or local transmission.
  • Among the countries where community transmission seems to be operating are China, Italy, Iran, South Korea and Japan.

How should India be Prepared Now?

  • Isolation, and not indiscriminate testing, is the only way India can limit the spread of COVID-19.
  • A lockdown is the most important step in breaking transmission of the infection.

MAHARASHTRA TOPS IN ORGAN DONATION

Why in News?

  • Maharashtra has recently surpassed Tamil Nadu and Telangana and became the top performer in the field of organ donation.

About:

  • The Ministry of Health and Family welfare has established
    • National Organ and Tissue Transplant Organisation (NOTTO) at National level, State Organ
    • Tissue Transplant Organisation (SOTTO) in States and Regional Organ and
    • Tissue Transplant Organisation (ROTTO) at regional level.
  • NOTTO functions as apex centre for coordinating all activities and networking for procurement and distribution of organs and tissues and maintaining registry of organs and tissues donation and transplantation in the country.
  • Sensitisation drives and the meticulous efforts of Regional Organ and Tissue Transplant Organisation – State Organ and Tissue Transplant Organisation (ROTTO-SOTTO) along with four Zonal Transplant Coordination Centres (ZTCCs) are important contributing factors behind this achievement.

About Organ Donation:

  • It means giving part of the body (organ) to a person with end stage organ disease who needs a transplant.
  • The organs that can be donated for transplantation include kidney, liver, heart, lungs, and small bowel and tissues such as corneas, heart valves, skin and bone.

There are two types of Organ Donation:

    • A person during his life can donate one kidney, a portion of pancreas and a part of the liver are called Living Donor Organ Donation.
    • A person can donate multiple organs and tissues after (brain-stem/cardiac) death are called Deceased Donor Organ Donation.

Legal Framework for Organ Donation:

  • Organ Transplantation and Donation is permitted both by law and covered under the “Transplantation of Human Organs Act 1994”, which has allowed organ donation by live & Brain-stem Dead donors.
  • According to the amendment of the Act which also brought in donation of human tissues, thereby calling it as “Transplantation of Human Organs & Tissues Act 2011”.
  • The Government of India has also started a National Organ and Transplant Program (NOTP).
  • Under NOTP, which patients below the poverty line are supported for the cost of transplant as well as cost of immunosuppression after transplant for one year.

TACKLING COVID-19 THROUGH SOAPS

Why in News?

  • Guidelines by the World Health Organization, to reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection, specify that one of the ways to reduce the risk of infection is by regularly and thoroughly cleaning one’s hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or washing them with soap and water.

How does washing with soap help get rid of the Coronavirus?

  • Using soap is more effective in removing microbes on our hands.
    • Viruses such as coronavirus, influenza-causing viruses, Ebola, Zika have their genetic material encased in a layer of fat called the lipid envelop.
    • Soap molecules are pin-shaped with a head that is water-loving (hydrophilic) and a tail that is oil-loving (oleophilic). Being oleophilic, the tail portion of the molecule tends to have an affinity for and ‘competes’ with the lipids in the virus envelope.
    • Since the chemical bonds holding the virus together are not very strong, the long oleophilic tail gets inserted into the envelope and tends to have a ‘crowbar’ effect that breaks the lipid envelope of the virus.
    • The tail also competes with the bond that binds the RNA and the lipid envelop thus dissolving the virus into its components which are then removed by water.

Do all viruses have the Lipid Layer?

  • No, certain viruses do not have the lipid envelop and are called the non-enveloped viruses. Rotavirus which causes severe diarrhoea, poliovirus, adenovirus that cause pneumonia and even human papillomavirus (HPV) do not contain the lipid envelop.
  • The oil-loving tail of the soap molecule also disrupts the bond that binds dirt and non-enveloped viruses to the hand.
  • The dirt and viruses are surrounded by several tails making them remain as suspended particles. Rinsing with water washes away the suspended particles leading to clean hands.

How do alcohol-based hand sanitisers help get rid of coronavirus?

  • Like soap, the alcohol present in hand sanitisers dissolve the lipid envelop, thus inactivating the virus.
  • In addition, the alcohol also tends to change the shape or denature the mushroom-shaped protein structures that stick out of the lipid envelop. The mushroom-shaped protein structures help the virus to bind to special structures found on human cells and enter the cells. To be effective, the sanitisers should contain at least 60% alcohol.
  • Unlike water, alcohol run does not remove the dead viruses from the hand. While a sanitiser can quickly reduce the number of microbes, it does not get rid of all types of germs, and is “not as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy”.

Primary Precautions:

  • WHO cautions that using a mask alone will be insufficient to provide an“adequate level of protection”. It should be combined with hand hygiene to prevent human-to-human transmission.

ONE HEALTH CONCEPT

Why in News?

  • India has highlighted the ‘One Health policy’ to tackle the zoonotic diseases after it is facing the devastating COVID-19 outbreak.

About One Health Concept:

  • One Health is an approach to designing and implementing programmes, policies, legislation and research in which multiple sectors communicate and work together to achieve better public health outcomes.
  • The areas of work in which a One Health approach is particularly relevant include food safety, the control of zoonotic diseases (diseases that can spread between animals and humans, such as flu, rabies and Rift Valley Fever), and combating antibiotic resistance (when bacteria change after being exposed to antibiotics and become more difficult to treat).
    • The diseases, which “spillover” from animals to humans are referred to as zoonotic diseases
    • They represent more than 60% of emerging infectious diseases worldwide.
    • The destruction of the natural environment, globalised trade and travel and industrialised food production systems have created numerous pathways for new pathogens to jump between animals and Humans.
  • Although One Health, as a conceptual entity, emerged relatively recently, a stellar example of One Health being operationalised in the field was seen in India in the late 1950s.

India and One Health Approach:

  • In the 1950s, the One Health approach helped discover the source of Kyasanur Forest Disease (KFD), a highly dangerous haemorrhagic fever more threatening than COVID-19.
  • This was the result of working of several organizations such as the Virus Research Centre (now known as the National Institute of Virology), Pune, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Bombay Natural History Society.
  • In 2018, Kerala reacted quickly and efficiently to tackle the Nipah virus outbreak and successfully managed to confine it to 23 cases.
  • This success is credited to the strong public health infrastructure and the political will to quickly seek help from a multidisciplinary team of national and international experts.
  • One of the components of the National Mission on Biodiversity and Human Well-being explicitly links biodiversity to human health through the One Health framework.
    • The mission aims to explore the neglected links between biodiversity science and human well-being across the sectors of health, economic development the caviar collection, agricultural production and livelihood generation, in combination with efforts to mitigate climate change and related disasters.
  • However, the regulatory framework for doing One Health research in India with international collaboration typically requires approvals from multiple authorities. This hampers the country’s ability to rapidly respond to emerging threats from infectious diseases.

Way Forward:

  • The frequency with which new pathogens are emerging or old ones are re-emerging across the world are alarm calls for greater transparency, cross-country collaborations, and enhanced national infrastructure and capacity for integrated One Health science.
  • India needs to leap-frog over the systemic and institutional barriers that prevent an integrated One Health framework from being operationalised.
  • The One Health framework will help government and private institutions, across a range of disciplines, in collaborating to understand how zoonotic diseases can emerge, the threats they can pose, and the mechanisms by which the emergence or spread can be controlled.

TREATING DRUG-RESISTANT TB

Why in News?

  • A small trial (Nix-TB) undertaken at three sites in South Africa to test the safety and efficacy of three oral drugs, bedaquiline, pretomanid and linezolid, in patients with extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) and multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) showed encouraging results.

Highlights:

  • Of the 98 patients who were successfully treated using the three drugs, 63 patients had XDR-TB and 35 had MDR-TB. The treatment success rate was 89% (63 of 71) for XDR-TB and 92% (35 of 38).
  • The treatment using the three oral drugs lasted for 26 weeks and was followed-up for six months after the end of the treatment. Patients received the treatment daily for 26 weeks.
  • The 90% treatment success in the case of hard-to-treat patients is at par with the success rate seen while treating drug-sensitive TB. Of the 109 patients treated, 11 had unfavourable outcomes while 98 had favourable outcomes.
  • Of the 11 patients who had unfavourable outcomes, there were seven deaths and two had a relapse during the six-month follow-up period.
  • The MDR-TB patients included in the trial were either not responsive to standard treatment or had discontinued treatment due to side effects.
  • Of the three drugs used in the trial, a “high-percentage” of patients experienced adverse effects related to linezolid drug.Of the 109 patients treated, 88 patients (81%) had peripheral neuropathy (weakness, numbing and pain usually of hands and feet due to nerve damage), though the symptoms were mild to moderate in the majority of cases.
  • Two patients developed optic neuritis, where the optic nerve becomes inflamed, which was resolved when linezolid drug was withdrawn.
  • Also, 40 had anaemia, while eight patients had adverse event of the liver and the regime had to be interrupted.

Causes:

  • Drug-resistant TB can occur when the drugs used to treat TB are misused or mismanaged. Examples of misuse or mismanagement include
    • People do not complete a full course of TB treatment
    • Health care providers prescribe the wrong treatment (the wrong dose or length of time)
    • Drugs for proper treatment are not available
    • Drugs are of poor quality
  • Drug-resistant TB is more common in people who
    • Do not take their TB drugs regularly
    • Do not take all of their TB drugs
    • Develop TB disease again, after being treated for TB disease in the past
    • Come from areas of the world where drug-resistant TB is common
    • Have spent time with someone known to have drug-resistant TB disease

ROLE OF GLUCOSE IN REGULATING LIVER FUNCTIONS

Why in News?

  • The recent study by researchers from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai (TIFR) has revealed that glucose in the body controls the function of SIRT1 directly.

What is SIRT1?

  • SIRT1 is an enzyme that de-acetylates (removal of acetyl) proteins and contribute to cellular regulation (reaction to stressors, longevity).

Functions:

  • In normal healthy individuals, SIRT1 protein levels are known to increase during fasting and decrease during the feed, which is essential to maintain a balance between glucose and fat metabolism.
  • The glucose controls the functions of a protein SIRT1 which in turn maintains everyday feed-fast cycles and is also associated with longevity.
  • The feed-fast cycle is a basic pattern and the metabolism-related to this is largely taken care of by the liver.
  • Thus, the study shows that both over-activation and under-activation of SIRT1 can lead to diseases.Glucose puts a check on the activity of SIRT1 in the fed state. In the absence of this check, SIRT1 activity increases and results in hyperglycemia in a fasted state, mimicking diabetic state.
  • The constant feeding or high-calorie intake that leads to a sustained reduction in the levels of SIRT1 (by glucose) is associated with ageing and obesity.

Significance of the Study:

  • A shortage or absence of the control of SIRT1 by glucose may lead to a diabetic-like state, while excess feeding and sustained low levels of SIRT1 can lead to obesity and enhanced ageing.
  • This study paves the way might be beneficial in tackling lifestyle disorders and ageing-Related Diseases.

FINDING CURE FOR CORONAVIRUS

Why in News?

  • Scientists across the world are trying to develop a line of treatment and a possible vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, which has infected over 100,000 people and claimed over 4,000 lives.

Highlights:

  • A global effort is on to collect and analyse the genetic composition of the new virus, which would be key to developing a cure and a vaccine.
  • Laboratories in various countries have been isolating and sharing the genome sequences of the virus on an international platform.
  • Whole genome sequencing is the process of determining the complete DNA sequence of an organism’s genome at a single time.

Significance of COVID-19 Genome Sequencing:

  • Genome sequence is the unique code of genetic material of any organism, and determines the characteristic of any organism.
  • The gene composition of novel coronavirus, for instance, is different from that of the influenza virus.
  • India has so far reported two sets of genome sequences, both of which are very similar to the original sequences collected from patients in Wuhan.
  • When viruses multiply, or reproduce, there is a copying mechanism that transfers the gene information to the next generation.
  • When the virus multiplies, there will be small changes, which are called mutations. These mutations accumulate over time, and after prolonged periods, are responsible for evolution into new organisms.
  • The small changes could provide scientists with information about the origin, transmission, and impact of the virus on the patient.
  • It could also hold clues to the differing effects the virus could have on patients with different health parameters.
  • Patients with existing medical conditions could be candidates from where genome sequences of this virus could be isolated. This could help scientists to look for clues to possible impact of virus amidst those existing medical conditions.
  • New technological tools have made it easier to isolate full genome sequences. Traditional techniques used to take weeks for the extraction, but new machines are able to do it within two to three days.
  • Right now, drugs are being repurposed, meaning old drugs for similar diseases are being checked for their efficacy against COVID-19. These drugs, if they work, will require clinical trials, and then can be made widely available for people.

Genome Sequencing:

  • Genome:It is an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes.
  • Each genome contains all of the information needed to build and maintain that organism. In humans, a copy of the entire genome—more than 3 billion DNA base pairs—is contained in all cells that have a nucleus.
  • Genome sequencing: It is figuring out the order of DNA nucleotides, or bases, in a genome—the order of As, Cs, Gs, and Ts that make up an organism’s DNA. The human genome is made up of over 3 billion of these genetic letters.
  • Sequencing the genome doesn’t immediately lay open the genetic information of an entire species. Even with a rough draft of the human genome sequence in hand, much work remains to be done. Scientists still have to translate those strings of letters into an understanding of how the genome works.

CURING HIV USING STEM CELL THERAPY

Why in News?

  • Researchers report that a patient who underwent stem-cell transplantation and a chemotherapy drug regimen has been cured of HIV.

Highlights:

  • In 2011, a patient based in Berlin (the ‘Berlin patient’) was the first HIV patient to be reportedly cured of the virus three and half years after undergoing similar treatment.
  • Although there was no active viral infection in the patient’s body, remnants of integrated HIV-1 DNA remained in tissue samples, which were also found in the first patient to be cured of HIV.
  • The authors suggest that these can be regarded as so-called ‘fossils’, as they are unlikely to be capable of reproducing the virus. The findings show that the success of stem cell transplantation as a cure for HIV, first reported nine years ago in the Berlin patient, can be replicated.
  • As a high-risk treatment, this therapy is unlikely to be offered widely to patients with HIV who are on successful antiretroviral treatment.
  • The transplant aimed to make the virus unable to replicate in the patient’s body, whilst the body irradiation and chemotherapy targeted any residual HIV virus.
  • Ultrasensitive viral load sampling from the London patient’s cerebrospinal fluid, intestinal tissue or lymphoid tissue was taken at 29 months after interruption of antiretroviral therapy (ART) and viral load sampling of his blood at 30 months.
  • The results showed no active viral infection was detected in samples of the patient’s blood at 30 months or in his cerebrospinal fluid, semen, intestinal tissue and lymphoid tissue 29 months after stopping ART.
  • Researchers suggest that the long-term remission of HIV can be achieved using reduced intensity drug regimens, with one stem cell transplant (rather than two) and without total body irradiation.
  • Gene editing using the CCR5 has received a lot of attention recently. There are still many ethical and technical barriers to overcome before any approach using CCR5 gene editing can be considered as a scalable cure strategy for HIV.

NATIONAL MISSION ON INTERDISCIPLINARY CYBER PHYSICAL SYSTEMS (NMICPS)

Why in News?

  • Recently, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Ropar, Punjab is setting up a Sectoral Application Hub in Technologies for Agriculture and Water.

About National Mission on Interdisciplinary Cyber Physical Systems (NMICPS):

  • The hub is being set up under the National Mission on Interdisciplinary Cyber Physical Systems (NMICPS) and is granted by Union Government’s Science and Engineering Research Board.
  • It will bring solutions for stubble management, water quality improvement and mapping of hazardous substances in water.
  • It aims at carrying out translational research and work with concerned departments to develop prototypes, products and implementations.
  • It was launched in 2018 and is implemented by the Department of Science & Technology for a period of five years.
  • It covers entire India which includes Central Ministries, State Governments, Industry and Academia.

Its objectives are:

  • It is a comprehensive mission which would address technology development, application development, human resource development & skill enhancement, entrepreneurship and start-up development in Cyber-Physical System (CPS) and associated technologies.
  • The mission aims at establishing 15 Technology Innovation Hubs (TIH), six Application Innovation Hubs (AIH) and four Technology Translation Research Parks (TTRP).
  • They have four focused areas namely:
    • Technology Development.
    • HRD & Skill Development.
    • Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Start-ups Ecosystem Development.
    • International Collaborations.

Cyber-Physical Systems:

  • These systems integrate sensing, computation, control and networking into physical objects and infrastructure, connecting them to the Internet and to each other.

Few Potential Applications:

  • Driverless cars that communicate securely with each other on smart roads.
  • Sensors in the home to detect changing health conditions.
  • Improving agricultural practices.
  • Enabling scientists to address issues arising out of climate change.
  • Advances in cyber-physical systems will enable capability, adaptability, scalability, resiliency, safety, security and usability that will far exceed the simple embedded systems of today

COVID-19 NOW A PANDEMIC, SAYS WHO

Why in News?

  • WHO has recently announced COVID-19 as pandemic amidst of increasing outbreak in various countries.

What is COVID-19?

  • The COVID-19 is a disease caused by the spread of 2019-nCoV (2019 novel Corona Virus).
  • Originating in China, it has spread to other parts of the world which is a cause for concern.
  • Coronaviruses are a class of viruses so named because their electron microscope image resembles the corona of the sun.
  • They are usually found in animals, but sometimes get transmitted to human beings possibly through the food chain.
  • The symptoms can include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
  • This happened during the 2003 outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) coronavirus that claimed close to 800 lives.
  • The current 2019 strain that had originated in China has been named as 2019 ‘novel’ coronavirus (2019-nCoV) or SARS-CoV-2.

What is Pandemic?

  • A pandemic is an epidemic of disease that has spread across a large region; for instance multiple continents, or worldwide.
  • A widespread endemic disease that is stable in terms of how many people are getting sick from it is not a pandemic.
  • The last pandemic reported was the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, which killed hundreds of thousands globally.
  • According to 2017 pandemic influenza risk management guidelines, the WHO uses pandemic influenza phases, interpandemic, alert, pandemic and transition, to reflect its risk assessment of the global situation regarding each influenza virus with pandemic potential infecting humans.
  • Further, flu pandemics generally exclude recurrences of seasonal flu.
  • Throughout history, there have been a number of pandemics, such as smallpox and tuberculosis. One of the most devastating pandemics was the Black Death, which killed an estimated 75–200 million people in the 14th century.
  • The only current pandemic is HIV/AIDS, which started in the 1980s. Other recent pandemics are the 1918 influenza pandemic (Spanish flu) and the 2009 flu pandemic (H1N1).

What are the different levels of disease?

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are different levels of diseases, they are:
    • Sporadic:When a disease occurs infrequently and irregularly.
    • Endemic:A constant presence and/or usual prevalence of a disease or infection within a geographic area. (Hyper endemic, is a situation in which there are persistent, high levels of disease occurrence.)
    • Epidemic:A sudden increase in the number of cases of a disease—more than what’s typically expected for the population in that area.
    • Pandemic:An epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents, affecting a large number of people.

Phases of Pandemics:

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) provides an influenza pandemic alert system, with a scale ranging from Phase 1 (a low risk of a flu pandemic) to Phase 6 (a full-blown pandemic):
    • Phase 1:A virus in animals has caused no known infections in humans.
    • Phase 2:An animal flu virus has caused infection in humans.
    • Phase 3: Sporadic cases or small clusters of disease occur in humans. Human-to-human transmission, if any, is insufficient to cause community-level outbreaks.
    • Phase 4:The risk for a pandemic is greatly increased but not certain.
    • Phase 5:Spread of disease between humans is occurring in more than one country of one WHO region.
    • Phase 6:Community-level outbreaks are in at least one additional country in a different WHO region from phase 5. A global pandemic is under way.

CORD BLOOD BANKING

Context:

  • Cord Blood Banking is recently seen in  news.

Highlights

  • Over the past decade, stem cell banking has been aggressively marketed even as its use is still in experimental stages.
  • They get access to data of to-be parents and start approaching their prospective customers much before the delivery and offer competitive packages.
  • They convince parents to bank the cells for several years promising future therapeutic use.
  • Enormous fees are charged from parents to preserve cells merely by emotional marketing.
  • According to Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR),there is no scientific basis for preservation of cord blood for future self-use and this practice therefore raises ethical and social concerns. It does not recommend commercial stem cell banking.
  • Private storage is advisable when there is an elder child in the family with a condition treatable with these cells and the mother is expecting the next baby. In other situations, parents should be educated about the limitations of banking at this point of time.

About Indian Council of Medical Research:

  • It is the apex body in India for formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research.
  • Its mandate is to conduct, coordinate and implement medical research for the benefit of the Society; translating medical innovations into products/processes and introducing them into the public health system.
  • It is funded by the Government of India through the Department of Health Research, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.

Cord Blood Banking:

  • It is the blood from the baby that is left in the umbilical cord and placenta after birth.
  • The banking involves taking the umbilical cord blood, which is a rich source of stem cells, and preserving it for future use.
  • It contains special cells called hematopoietic stem cells that can be used to treat some types of diseases. Hematopoietic stem cells can mature into different types of blood cells in the body.
  • Globally, the banking is recommended as a source of hematopoietic stem cellb derived from bone marrow, peripheral blood, or umbilical cord blood transplantation for haematological cancers and disorders where its use is recommended.
  • The use of cord blood as a source of stem cells for all other conditions is not yet established.

Stem Cells:

  • It is special human cells that have the ability to develop into many different cell types, from muscle cells to brain cells.
  • It is divided into two main forms- Embryonic stem cells and Adult Stem Cells.
  • Embryonic stem cells come from unused embryos resulting from an in vitro fertilization procedure and that are donated to science. These cells are pluripotent, meaning that they can turn into more than one type of cell.
  • Adult Stem Cells are two types of adult stem cells. One type comes from fully developed tissues, like the brain, skin, and bone marrow. There are only small numbers of stem cells in these tissues, and they are more likely to generate only certain types of cells. For example, a stem cell derived from the liver will only generate more liver cells.
  • The second type is induced pluripotent stem cells. These are adult stem cells that have been manipulated in a laboratory to take on the pluripotent characteristics of embryonic stem cells.

FACIAL RECOGNITION

Context:

  • In recent years, facial recognition has become a cause for concern in western democracies. The European Commission is considering imposing a five-year moratorium on the use of facial recognition technologies in the European Union (EU). Whereas, the United States (US), municipalities have are considering passing prohibitions, India, however, is rushing to adopt public facial recognition.

What is Facial Recognition, and how does it work?

  • Facial recognition is a technology, based on artificial intelligence (AI), that leverages biometric data to identify a person based on their facial patterns.
  • It can be used for the purposes of ‘verification’ and ‘identification’ of individuals.
  • Facial recognition has evolved in many ways, from the first cameras that could recognise faces in the mid-1960s up to now.
  • It has evolved from looking at 3D contours of a face to recognising even the skin patterns.
  • Facial recognition systems analyze the visual data and millions of images and videos created by high-quality Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras installed in our cities for security, smartphones, social media, and other online activity.
  • Machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities in the software map the distinctive facial features mathematically, look for patterns in the visual data, and compare new images and videos to other data stored in facial recognition databases to determine identity.
  • Market research experts believe that the facial recognition market will grow to $9.6 billion by 2022.

What are the uses of Facial Recognition Technology?

  • Today, it’s used in a variety of ways from allowing you to unlock your phone, go through security at the airport, purchase products at stores etc,.
  • One of the major advantages of facial recognition technology is safety and security.
  • Law enforcement agencies use the technology to uncover criminals or to find missing children or seniors.
  • In the financial sector, the demand for remote identification services is growing faster than ever, so identity verification technology based on live video is increasingly used such as the Fully-Verified system.
  • Airports are increasingly adding facial recognition technology to security checkpoints.
  • It can play a critical role in finding missing children, preventing human trafficking, and curbing crime. Experts believe that when people know they are being watched, they are less likely to commit crimes so the possibility of facial recognition technology being used could deter crime.

Where do we find Such Technology in India?

  • Facial recognition systems have been active at several major Indian airports, including the Delhi airport. These systems at airports have been installed under the DigiYatra initiative.
  • Telangana’s election commission piloted a facial recognition app in its local elections, and claimed that it could address the issue of voter impersonation.
  • In the long-term, India plans to build a nation-wide Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS) under the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), to modernize the process for criminal identification and verification by various police organizations across the country.

What are the Issues Associated with the Technology?

  • The accuracy of the facial recognition software is questionable.
    • For instance, the Delhi Police applied the facial recognition technology to find missing children, the success rate was less than 1 percent.
    • In some cases, the technology could not even differentiate between genders.
  • The technology suffers from ethnic and racial biases globally.
  • The technology propagates, open collection of private data without putting in place adequate safeguards for individual privacy.
    • As a consequence, it infringes upon an individual’s Fundamental Rights.
  • There is a possibility that the technology could be used for mass surveillance.
  • There’s no sufficient information regarding the type of security that would be employed to ensure the integrity of the repository of the database such that it is not privatized or monetized.
  • The level of reliability or admissibility standards that would apply to such data being presented as evidence during legal proceedings cannot be determined.

Finding the Balance:

  • The current application of facial recognition for public services does raise reasonable questions and concerns about privacy and rights.
  • However, given this technology’s potential to solve problems, if applied properly in specific cases and contexts and with proper regulatory mechanisms, it could be leveraged in a beneficial manner.

WORKING OF IN-FLIGHT WI-FI SERVICES

Why in News?

  • The government has permitted airlines operating in India to provide in-flight Wi-Fi services to passengers.
  • This move comes after the Telecom Commission had given its green signal to in-flight connectivity of Internet and mobile communications on aircraft in Indian airspace in 2018.

Who Can Permit?

  • The pilot may permit the access of Internet services by passengers on board an aircraft in flight, through Wi-Fi on board, when laptop, smartphone, tablet, smart watch, e-reader or a point of sale device is used in flight mode or airplane mode.

How in- flight Connectivity Works?

  • In-flight connectivity systems use two kinds of technologies– terrestrial and satellite internet services.
  • Once flight mode is activated, the plane’s antenna will link to terrestrial Internet services provided by telecom service providers.
  • Then, when the aircraft has climbed to 3,000 m, the antenna will switch to satellite-based services.
  • This way, there will be no break in Internet services to passengers, and cross-interference between terrestrial and satellite networks will be avoided.

What are its Impacts?

  • Globally, more than 30 airlines allow voice calls and internet access during flights. This facility will now will help Indian airlines compete with foreign carriers.
  • Business travellers greatly value these services as they can continue their work commitments without any deterrence.
  • Other travellers can be in touch with their near and dear ones even during the flight.

What are the Challenges Faced?

  • Airlines will have to bear the initial cost of installing antennae on aircraft. So, the additional cost could find a way into ticket prices.
  • Apart from the equipment, airlines will have to bear additional fuel costs, given the extra weight and drag aircraft will face due to the antenna.
  • Technology and laws allow calls to be made from aircraft, which in turn lead to noisy cabins.

WOMEN IN SCIENCE

Context:

  • Recently, National Science Day (NSD) was celebrated at Vigyan Bhawan on February 28 with ‘Women in Science’ as the focal theme. President of India Ram Nath Kovind announced three key initiatives for gender advancement and equality in academic and research institutions on the occasion of National Science Day.

The National Science Day:

  • The first National Science Day was celebrated on February 28, 1987.
  • On this day, Sir C V Raman announced his discovery, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for this discovery in 1930.
  • National Council for Science & Technology Communication (NCSTC), Department of Science and Technology (DST) acts as a nodal agency to coordinate the celebration of the National Science Day.

Gender Disparity in Science:

  • The world over, women scientists have been in the forefront of ground-breaking research across the world.
  • But despite their remarkable discoveries, globally they still represent just 29 % of researchers. In India the numbers have been even less.
  • Globally only 3% of the Nobel Prizes for science have been awarded to women, and only 11% of senior research roles are held by women.
  • According to a 2018 fact sheet prepared by UNESCO on women in science, just 28.8% of researchers are women. In India, this stands at 13.9%.
  • UNESCO data from 2014-16 show that only around 30% of female students select STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)-related fields in higher education.
  • In India, a 2016-17 NITI Aayog report compared female enrolment in various disciplines over five years –
    • In 2015-16, 9.3% of female students in undergraduate courses were enrolled in engineering.
    • Conversely, 4.3% of female students were enrolled in medical science, compared to 3.3% across genders.
    • Then, at master’s and doctoral levels, female enrolment remained lower than overall enrolment, and also fell behind for medical science in three of the five years.
    • Broadly, women showed a preference for arts; however, female enrolment in science streams rose from 2010-11 to 2015-16.
    • The report found that in over 620 institutes and universities, including IITs, NITs, ISRO, and DRDO, the presence of women was 20.0% among Scientific and Administrative Staff, 28.7% among Post-Doctoral Fellows, and 33.5% among PhD scholars.

Why so few women in STEM?

  • Main three socio-psychological reasons, namely
    • masculine culture
    • lack of sufficient early exposure to computers, physics and related areas compared to boys in early childhood
    • gender gap in self-efficacy.
  • Data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) and the IHDS show that education and employment have a U-shaped relationship (a rise and subsequent decline in employment with the rise in education levels).
  • The recent National Family Health Survey data reflect that the increasing levels of education have not offered a greater say in household decisions or freedom of movement outside the home to women.
  • Rising education for women does not offer increasing income-earning opportunities or better marriage prospects.
  • Social barriers and prejudices have curbed the benefits from the rising education levels of women.
  • Their contribution to the economy specifically, or the society as free and liberated members in general, have further been worsened by lack of their participation in STEM fields from school years.

Way Forward:

  • Mindset changes –
    • Educating boys and girls equally.
    • Gender sensitization of male colleagues.
  • An integrated approach is needed along with women-centric policy making where women are not treated as passive beneficiaries but are seen as potential contributors to society.
  • The scientific community should facilitate women’s participation as both colleagues and leaders.Along with legislative cushions like the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, Maternity Benefit Act, social sensitization towards the issues of women is important.
  • Measures for increasing education levels should be balanced with the creation of jobs and better facilities for women.
    • Special Schemes and affirmative action for women scientists.
    • Creating website repository of women scientists & their work.
    • Incentivizing institutions to be gender friendly.
    • Open and collaborative work culture.
  • India has shown a dedicated will to bring changes by pledging to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals which include ideals of gender justice and women empowerment.
  • Only with constructive planning and comprehensive changes at various levels of society can the new emerging “women” be able to realize her complete potential in India.
  • Creating appropriate infrastructure to help women balance family & professional Responsibilities.Collaboration between scientists and social scientists for a better understanding of the problem.

PRESENCE OF COLISTIN-RESISTANT BACTERIA OF FOOD ORIGIN IN THE GUT IS CAUSE FOR WORRY

Why in News?

  • Recently, a new study has found that the origin and spread of Colistin resistant bacteria in human gut is majorly on account of Poultry.

What is Colistin?

  • Colistin is a last-resort anti-biotic that is commonly used for treating gram negative infections in humans like Pneumonia, meningitis and other infections caused by E.coli etc
  • Besides, use of Colistin is rampant in poultry where it is used as growth promoter and for disease prevention. (Tylosin is another antibiotic used as growth promoter)

Colistin-Resistance in Bacteria:

  • Recently it has been found that bacterial strain Klebsiella pneumonia that lives in human gut has developed resistance to colistin.
  • The origin of colistin-resistance in human gut Bacteria Includes

1. Hospitals
2. Food

  • Poultry consumption
  • Vegetables that contains Colistin-resistant Klebsiella bacteria:
    • This is because poultry litter is used as manure for growing vegetables.
    • Colistin-resistant bacteria of hospital origin do not respond to any of the antibiotics, including carbapenem while colistin-resistant bacteria of food origin will respond to carbapenem.

How resistance is Spread?

  • The mutation in the mgrB gene confers colistin resistance to Klebsiella bacteria.
  • Besides in 3% of the cases colistin-resistance in Klebsiella bacteria is due to mutation in mcr gene.

Significance of the Study:

  • So far it was believed that the mutation in the mgrB gene or other chromosomal genes are the reason behind colistin resistance in Klebsiella bacteria.
  • Till date, there is no evidence to suggest that the mgrB gene mutation spreads from food to human Klebsiella bacteria.
  • But this study has found mgrB gene mutation in food Klebsiella bacteria. This shows that mgrB gene mutation also spreads from food to human Klebsiella bacteria.

NASA’S ARTEMIS PROGRAM

Why in News?

  • United States space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has recently announced that it will begin to accept applications for astronauts under its Artemis programme.

About Artemis Programme:

  • Artemis– Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics of Moon’s Interaction with the Sun.
  • It is NASA’s next mission to the Moon.
  • Its objective is to measure what happens when the Sun’s radiation hits our rocky moon, where there is no magnetic field to protect it.
  • Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo and goddess of the Moon in Greek mythology.
  • With the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024.

What are its Significances?

  • NASA’s powerful new rocket, the Space Launch System(SLS), will send astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft nearly a quarter million miles from Earth to lunar orbit.
  • Astronauts will dock Orion at the Gateway and transfer to a human landing system for expeditions to the surface of the Moon.
  • They will return to the orbital outpost to board Orion again before returning safely to Earth.
  • The agency will fly two missions around the Moon to test its deep space exploration systems.
  • NASA is working toward launching Artemis I, a non crewed flight to test the SLS and Orion spacecraft together, followed by the Artemis II mission, the first SLS and Orion test flight with crew. NASA will land astronauts on the Moon by 2024 on the Artemis III mission and about once a year thereafter.

What are its scientific objectives?

  • Find and use water and other critical resources needed for long-term exploration.
  • Investigate the Moon’s mysteries and learn more about our home planet and the universe.
  • Learn how to live and operate on the surface of another celestial body where astronauts are just three days from home.
  • Prove the technologies we need before sending astronauts on missions to Mars, which can take up to three years roundtrip.

EU’S DATA STRATEGY

Why in News?

  • The European Commission has released a ‘European strategy for data to ensure the human-centric development of Artificial Intelligence’ and a white paper on Artificial Intelligence.

Highlights:

  • The new documents present a timeline for various projects, legislative frameworks, and initiatives by the European Union, and represent its recognition that it is slipping behind American and Chinese innovation.
  • The strategy lays out “why the EU should act now”. The blueprint hopes to strengthen Europe’s local technology market by creating a “data single market” by 2030 to allow the free flow of data within the EU.
  • To aid a “data-agile economy”, the Commission hopes to implement an enabling legislative framework for the governance of common European data spaces by the latter half of the year.
  • Between 2021 and 2027, the Commission will invest in a High Impact Project to jump-start data infrastructure. Several other initiatives are laid out, including a cloud services marketplace.

Reason for the Policy:

  • The EU has the potential to be successful in the data-agile economy. It has the technology, the know-how and a highly skilled workforce. However, competitors such as China and the US are already innovating quickly and projecting their concepts of data access and use across the globe.
  • With American and Chinese companies taking the lead on technological innovation, Europe is keen to up its own competitiveness.

Indian Context:

  • The Economic Survey of 2018 envisioned a similar use of non-personal data. Just as the EU’s strategy discusses “data for public good”, the chapter titled “Data ‘Of the People, By the People, For the People’” advocated that the government step in to sectors that private players ignore, marking the first time India’s Economic Survey has isolated “data” as a strategic focus.
  • Other data integration efforts have been announced or implemented by NITI Aayog (the National Data & Analytics Platform), the Smart Cities Mission (India Urban Data Exchange), and the Ministry of Rural Development (DISHA dashboard).
  • In 2018, the National Informatics Centre worked with PwC and other vendors to create a Centre of Excellence for Data Analytics aimed at providing data analysis help to Government Departments.

ADITHYA L-1 MISSION

Why in News?

  • The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is also preparing to send its first scientific expedition to study the Sun. Named Aditya-L1, the mission, expected to be launched early next year, will observe the Sun from a close distance, and try to obtain information about its atmosphere and Magnetic Field.

Highlights:

  • Earlier this month, 47 new papers were published in a special supplement of The Astrophysical Journal, analysing data from the first three flybys of the Parker Solar Probe, NASA’s historic mission to the Sun.
  • ISRO categorises Aditya L1 as a 400 kg-class satellite, that will be launched using the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) in XL configuration. The space-based observatory will have seven payloads (instruments) on board to study the Sun’s corona, solar emissions, solar winds and flares, and Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), and will carry out round-the-clock imaging of the Sun.
  • The mission will be undertaken in collaboration between various labs of ISRO, along with institutions like the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Bengaluru, Inter University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune, and Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research (IISER), Kolkata.
  • Aditya L1 will be ISRO’s second space-based astronomy mission after AstroSat, which was launched in September 2015.
  • What makes a solar mission challenging is the distance of the Sun from Earth (about 149 million km on average, compared to the only 3.84 lakh km to the Moon) and, more importantly, the super hot temperatures and radiations in the solar atmosphere.

Importance of Solar Mission:

  • The solar weather and environment, which is determined by the processes taking place inside and around the sun, affects the weather of the entire system.
  • Variations in this weather can change the orbits of satellites or shorten their lives, interfere with or damage onboard electronics, and cause power blackouts and other disturbances on Earth.
  • Knowledge of solar events is key to understanding space weather. To learn about and track Earth-directed storms, and to predict their impact, continuous solar observations are needed.
  • Every storm that emerges from the Sun and heads towards Earth passes through L1, and a satellite placed in the halo orbit around L1 of the Sun-Earth system has the major advantage of continuously viewing the Sun without any occultation/eclipses.
  • Aditya L1 will perform continuous observations looking directly at the Sun. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has already gone far closer, but it will be looking away from the Sun.
  • The earlier Helios 2 solar probe, a joint venture between NASA and space agency of erstwhile West Germany, went within 43 million km of the Sun’s surface in 1976.

Lagrange Point:

  • L1 refers to Lagrangian/Lagrange Point 1, one of five points in the orbital plane of the Earth-Sun system. Lagrange Points are positions in space where the gravitational forces of a two-body system (like the Sun and the Earth) produce enhanced regions of attraction and repulsion.
  • These can be used by spacecraft to reduce fuel consumption needed to remain in position. The L1 point is home to the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory Satellite (SOHO), an international collaboration project of NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).

NAMING A DISEASE BY WHO

Why in News?

  • The World Health Organization officially announced COVID-19 as the name for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
  • This comes more than 40 days after WHO was alerted by China about a cluster of pneumonia-like cases seen in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province.
  • The “co” stands for “corona”, “vi” for “virus” and “d” for “disease”, while “19” was for the year, as the outbreak was first identified on December 31.

Highlights:

  • The WHO had to come up the name in line with the 2015 guidelines between the global agency, the World Organisation for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization.
  • The Coronavirus Study Group of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses, which had assessed the novelty of the human pathogen, has named the virus as “Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2”, or “SARS-CoV-2”.
  • The Coronavirus Study Group is responsible for developing the official classification of viruses and taxa naming of the Coronaviridae family.

Reason for Naming:

  • The name has been chosen to avoid references to a specific geographical location, animal species or group of people in line with international recommendations for naming aimed at preventing stigmatisation.
  • WHO had earlier given the virus the temporary name of “2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease” and China’s National Health Commission was temporarily calling it “novel coronavirus pneumonia” or NCP.
  • Under a set of guidelines issued in 2015, WHO advises against using place names such as Ebola and Zika, where those diseases were first identified and which are now inevitably linked to them in the public mind.
  • More general names such as “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome” or “Spanish flu” are also now avoided as they can stigmatise entire regions or ethnic groups.
  • WHO also notes that using animal species in the name can create confusion, such as in 2009 when H1N1 was popularly referred to as “swine flu”. This had a major impact on the pork industry even though the disease was being spread by people rather than pigs.

Significance of Naming:

  • The urgency to assign a name to the disease is to prevent the use of other names that can be “inaccurate or stigmatising”. People outside the scientific community tend to call a new disease by common names.
  • But once the name gets “established in common usage through the Internet and social media, they are difficult to change, even if an inappropriate name is being used.
  • Therefore, it is important that whoever first reports on a newly identified human disease uses an appropriate name that is scientifically sound and socially acceptable.

Method of Naming:

  • The WHO identified the best practices to name new human diseases in consultation and collaboration with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
  • The main aim behind this exercise was to “minimise unnecessary negative impact of disease names on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare, and avoid causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups”.
  • The name of a new disease should consist of a combination of terms. These terms consist of a generic descriptive term based on clinical symptoms (respiratory), physiological processes (diarrhoea), and anatomical or pathological references (cardic).
  • It can refer to specific descriptive terms such as those who are afflicted (infant, juvenile, and maternal), seasonality (summer, winter) and severity (mild, severe).
  • The name can also include other factual elements such as the environment (ocean, river), causal pathogen (coronavirus) and the year the new disease is first detected with or without mentioning the month.
  • The WHO has also listed out the terms that should be avoided while naming a new disease. This includes, geographic locations, people’s names, species of animal or food, references to culture, population, industry or occupation, and terms that incite undue fear.
  • A couple of diseases carry the name of the person who first identified the disease. Chagas disease is named after the Brazilian physician Carlos Chagas, who discovered the disease in 1909.
  • Some diseases carry the name of animals, bird flu (H5N1) and swine flu (H1N1). The 2009 H1N1 pandemic was commonly referred to as swine flu. It is important to note that the 2009 pandemic virus was not completely derived from swine.

MEDICAL EQUIPMENTS NOTIFIED AS DRUGS

Why in News?

  • The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has recently notified that medical equipment would qualify as ‘drugs’ under Section 3 of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act (D & CA), 1940 from 1st April, 2020.

What does Section 3 of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 says?

  • The Central Government, after consultation with the Drugs Technical Advisory Board (DTAB), specifies the devices intended for use in Human Beings or Animals as Drugs.

About Drugs Technical Advisory Board:

  • Drugs Technical Advisory Board is a statutory bodyconstituted under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940.
  • The function of DTAB is to advise the Central government and State government on technical matters related to drugs and cosmetics. It is a decision making body related to Drugs and Cosmetics in the country.
  • It is also part of Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

About the News:

  • The Medical Devices Amendment Rules, 2020 were released recently which will come into force from 1st April, 2020.
  • The Rules state that the medical devices shall be registered with the Central Licensing Authority through an identified online portal established by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO).
  • Such registration is voluntary for a period of 18 months, after which it will be Mandatory.
  • The move comes in the wake of years of controversy about faulty hip implants of Johnson & Johnson (J&J).
  • DePuy, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, engineered a hip replacement device that used metal in prosthetic components, commonly called “Articular Surface Replacement orASR hip implant”.
  • The manufacture, import and sale of all medical devices will now need to be certified by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation.

What is the Concern?

  • Concerns are being raised that the rules are very rigid and any non-conformity can be treated as a criminal offence by any drug inspector under the Act at his discretion.
  • At present, only 23 medical devices have been classified as drugs. The latest notification gives a wide definition of the term medical devices.
    • The devices used for diagnosis, monitoring, treatment, assistance for any injury or disability, investigation, replacement or modification or support of the anatomy or of a physiological process will come within the scope of the definition of ‘Drugs’.
    • Medical equipment under this definition include implantable medical devices such as knee implants, CT scan, MRI equipment, defibrillators, dialysis machine, PET equipment, X-ray machine etc.
    • Primary intended action of the device in or on human body or animals should not be pharmacological or immunological or metabolic.

Why such Rules Initiated?

  • The aim is to regulate all medical devices so that they meet certain standards of quality.
  • Besides it will also make medical device companies accountable for quality and safety of their products.

What are the Possible Impacts?

  • The decision is going to have a major impact on the small and Marginal Players, Largely Unorganised, in the low-value high volume segment of the medical devices industry.
  • The hi-tech diagnostic imaging sector is dominated by large players and will be the least Impacted.

Way Forward:

  • Merely expanding the scope of regulation to all devices is not enough in a moment of growing number of safety Disasters Involving Devices.
  • Hence, there is a pressing need for framing of a New Medical Devices Act.

LI-ION BATTERIES

Why in news?

  • Recently, India has quadrupled its imports of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries.

Key Points:

  • Indian manufacturers source Li-ion batteries from China, Japan and South Korea.
  • India is the largest importers in the world. China dominates the LI-ion batteries market.
  • Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) manufactures such batteries but volumes are limited and they are restricted for use in space application.
  • To promote indigenous development of such batteries, the union Cabinet in 2019 approved a programme called National Mission on Transformative Mobility and Battery Storage, under the NITI Aayog.

About National Mission on Transformative Mobility and Storage:

  • The Mission will have an Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee chaired by Chief Executive Officer (CEO), NITI Aayog to promote clean, connected, shared, sustainable and holistic mobility initiatives.
  • The Mission will launch the Phased Manufacturing Programmes (PMP) for Batteries and for Electric Vehicle components.

About Li-ion Battery:

  • A lithium-ion battery or Li-ion battery (abbreviated as LIB) is a type of rechargeable battery.
  • It is commonly used for portable electronics and electric vehicles and are growing in popularity for military and aerospace applications.
  • It is the lightest metal on the periodic table, and the one most willing to donate its electrons (The Most Powerful Reducing Agent).
  • From portable electronics like the smartphone to high performance electric cars like the Tesla Model S, lithium ion batteries are currently the most promising chemistry on the market for meeting our renewable energy storage needs.

Advantages of Lithium Ion batteries:

  • High energy density – potential for yet higher capacities.
  • Does not need prolonged priming when new. One regular charge is all that’s needed.
  • Relatively low self-discharge – self-discharge is less than half that of nickel-based batteries.
  • Low Maintenance – no periodic discharge is needed; there is no memory.
  • Specialty cells can provide very high current to applications such as power tools.

SPACE AND WOMEN IN SPACE

Context:

  • NASA astronaut Christina Koch has left her footprint in history after breaking an iconic space record for womankind. Her 328-day stay surpassed the record set by Peggy Whitson on a single space-flight at 288 days.

History of Women in Space:

  • In 1963, aboard Vostok 6, Soviet Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to travel into space.
  • The first woman to complete a spacewalk, or extravehicular activity (EVA), was Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya.
  • In June 1983, NASA astronaut Sally Ride became the first U.S. woman in space when she launched on the STS-7 mission of the space shuttle Challenger.
  • NASA’s Peggy Whitson, became the first woman to command the ISS in April 2008, she was also the first woman to command the ISS twice.

Does space affect men and women differently?

  • Overall adaptation to the space environment is roughly the same for men and women but there are some differences.
  • Women are more likely to feel sick when they go into space, men are more likely to get re-entry sickness when they come back to Earth.
  • Men have more problems with their vision and hearing when they get back from space which women don’t get.
  • When women return they do have problems managing their blood pressure so they feel quite faint.
  • There are some subtle differences – physiologically and psychologically and there is a little study to do with hormonal differences or more physiological changes that are occurring.
  • And long-term, understanding of those differences will help us understand more about human health on Earth.

What does ‘Spacewalk’ mean?

  • Anytime an astronaut gets out of a space vehicle, it is called an extravehicular activity, or EVA. This is also called a spacewalk.
  • Russian astronaut Alexei Leonov performed the first spacewalk on March 18, 1965. The first spacewalk was 10 minutes long.
  • Spacewalks allow astronauts to work outside their spacecraft while still in space.
    1. To carry out scientific experiments in space
    2. To test new equipment’s or make repairs to satellites/spacecraft
  • Spacesuits protect the astronauts from extreme hot and cold temperatures, harmful space dust and radiation.
  • Spacesuits are pressurized to keep the fluids in the body in a liquid state.
  • Once in their suits, astronauts breathe 100 percent oxygen for several hours until all the nitrogen is out of their bodies.

Nitrogen and ‘the bends’:

  • Nitrogen in the body during a spacewalk can cause gas bubbles to form in the body. These gas bubbles can cause astronauts to feel pain in their joints, such as their shoulders, elbows, wrists and knees.
  • This condition is called “the bends” because it affects the places where the body bends. The same condition can affect divers who use oxygen tanks to breathe underwater.

India and Women in Space:

  • Kalpana Chawla was the first woman of Indian descent to go into space.
  • She was also one of the 7 member crew of the ill-fated NASA’s Columbia, that disintegrated upon atmospheric entry killing the crew in 2003.
  • Sunita Williams, was born to an Indian American Father in the United States of America.
  • She formerly held the records for total spacewalks by a woman (seven) and most spacewalk time for a woman (50 hours, 40 minutes).
  • In August 2007, she became the first person to run a marathon in space.
  • Anuradha TK, a Geosat Programme Director at Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Satellite Centre is an eminent scientist in this field.
  • Ritu Karidhal, a scientist at ISRO has worked on multiple ISRO projects as an operations director, is famous for her contribution to Mangalyaan, India’s Mars orbiter mission as the Deputy Operations Director.
  • India has come to a point where contributions of women across all fields are being celebrated and applauded. India still has a long way to go to make the historically male-dominated domains like space, as a level playing field for women. By then Indian women would be, quite literally, reaching for the stars.

GENOME INDIA PROJECT

Why in News?

  • Recently, the Ministry of Science and Technology has cleared the Genome India Project.

About Genome India project:

  • It is funded by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) to sequence at least 10,000 Indian genomes.
  • It has 22 partner organisations including public health institutions will be roped in that have obtained regulatory ethical clearances.
  • The Centre for Brain Research, which is an Autonomousinstitute in the IISc, Bengaluru, will serve as the nodal point of the project.
  • It is a gene-mapping project involving leading institutions including the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru and a few Indian Institute of Technology (IITs).
  • The first stage of the project will look at samples of 10,000 persons from all over the country to form a grid that will enable the development of a reference genome.
  • Investigators in hospitals will lead the data collection through a simple blood test from participants and the information will be added to bio banks.
  • The Government of India got its inspiration from the Human Genome Project.

Human Genome Project:

  • It was an international research effort to determine the sequence of the human genome and identify the genes that it contains. It was a publicly funded project that ended in 2003.
  • It has revealed that there are probably about 20,500 human genes. This information can be thought of as the basic set of inheritable “instructions” for the development and function of a human being.

Significance of the Project:

  • The diverse genetic pool of India will be mapped and it will help in making Personalised Medicine.
  • Its goal to utilize information about a person’s genes, including his or her nucleotide sequence, to make drugs better and safer.
  • It is helps to enable cost effective genetic tests, carrier screening applications for expectant couples, efficient diagnosis for heritable cancers, pharmacogenetic tests to prevent adverse drug reactions.
  • It will be a hard task considering the population diversity and the disease burden of complex disorders but once the genetic basis is ready it will be possible and easy to take action before the onset of a Disease.

FLAW OBSERVED IN PAPER CLAIMING CORONAVIRUS TRANSMISSION DURING INCUBATION PERIOD

Why in News?

  • A Correspondence published in the The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) about an asymptomatic Chinese woman infecting a German during the incubation period of the novel coronavirus turns out to be wrong as it was based on Inaccurate Information.

Highlights:

  • The development is significant given that China’s National Health Commission Minister had first warned that the novel virus might be spreading even during the incubation period when symptoms do not show up.
  • Government authorities spoke to the Chinese woman after NEJM published the finding. And it turns out that the Chinese woman did indeed have symptoms during her stay in Germany, when she came in contact with the German who fell sick.
  • But no tests were carried out in Germany to confirm if she was infected with the novel virus. She underwent testing for the novel coronavirus after her return to China and tested positive for the virus.
  • The NEJM paper confirming it meant that the novel virus indeed has the capability to infect people even before symptoms show up overtly. If it were true, it would mean that there is a possibility that people could spread the virus long before they know they have been infected.
  • The finding establishes that the virus was not transmitted by the Chinese woman during the incubation period and that the German man was not infected as a result of such transmission.
  • The transmission had happened after the incubation period and when she was exhibiting symptoms.
  • WHO said that, asymptomatic infection may be rare, and transmission from an asymptomatic person is very rare with other coronaviruses, such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus.
  • The main driver of novel coronavirus transmission is people who exhibit overt symptoms. Such people will spread the virus more readily through coughing and sneezing.

GLOBAL MEDICAL DATA LEAKAGE

Why in News?

  • Greenbone Sustainable Resilience, a German cyber security firm has recently published it report on Global Medical Data Leak.

About the News:

  • The report stated that medical details of over 120 million Indian patients have been leaked and made freely available on the Internet.
  • The report also places Maharashtra at the top of the States affected by the global medical data leak followed by Karnataka.
  • The report classifies countries in the “good”, “bad” and“ugly” categories based on the action taken by their governments in stopping it.
  • India ranks second in the “ugly” category, after the U.S.
  • The data leak of records includes images of CT scans, X-rays, MRIs and even pictures of the Patients.

What is the Concern?

  • The leak is worrying because the affected patients can include anyone from the common working man to politicians and celebrities.
  • In image-driven fields like politics or entertainment, knowledge about certain ailments faced by people from these fields could deal a huge blow to their image.
  • The other concern is of fake identities being created using the details, which can be misused in any possible number of ways.

What is the cause for Leakage?

  • The leak was facilitated by the fact that the Picture Archiving and Communications Systems (PACS) servers, where these details are stored, are not secure and linked to the public Internetwithout any protection, making them easily accessible to malicious elements.

Way Forward:

  • PACS Servers should be secured properly and should not be connected to public internet to avoid such kind of leakages.
  • Since these medical datas leakages lead to anti-social activities such as organ donation scandals, the particular medical institution should be held accountable for the datas.
  • Any communication between a doctor and a patient is a privileged one. A doctor or a hospital is thus ethically, legally and morally bound to Maintain Confidentiality.

LIVE ATTENUATED CLASSICAL SWINE FEVER VACCINE (IVRI-CSF-BS)

Why in News?

  • IVRI releases live attenuated Classical Swine Fever (CSF) cell culture vaccine (Indigenous strain).

Highlights:

  • Classical Swine Fever (CSF) is one of the Most Important Diseases of pigs causing high mortality with an annual loss of approximately Rs. 4.299 billion.
  • A lapinized CSF vaccine (Weybridge strain, UK) is being used in India since 1964 for controlling the disease. The vaccine is produced by sacrificing large numbers of rabbits for each batch.
  • Lapinization refers to the weakening or modification of a virus or vaccine by its serial passage through rabbits.
  • The country’s total requirement is 22 million doses per year and hardly 1.2 million doses are produced per year by the lapinized vaccine, as only 50 doses are produced from a single rabbit spleen.
  • In order to do away with the sacrificing of rabbits and increase productivity, IVRI had earlier developed a cell culture CSF vaccine by adapting the lapinized vaccine virus in cell culture.
  • Since the cell culture vaccine is from a foreign strain (Weybridge Strain, UK), IVRI has further developed a new CSF Cell Culture Vaccine by attenuating an indigenous virulent CSF virus in cell culture. The vaccine virus has very high titre and lakhs of doses can be produced very easily in cell culture and the country’s requirement can be easily fulfilled using this new vaccine.
  • The new vaccine is ready for release and commercial production will be completed in less than a year.
  • The new vaccine will be part of the Government’s One Health Initiative and result in huge savings as it will nip the spread of the virus at the animal stage so that it does not pass on to the human population.
  • Due to a very high titre of vaccine virus, this vaccine would be the most economical CSF vaccine costing around less than Rs 2/- per dose as against Rs 15-25/- of lapinized CSF vaccine and Rs.30/dose (approx.) for an imported Korean vaccine being used in the country.
  • Besides, the new vaccine gives immunity for two years as compared to 3 to 6 months of protection under the vaccines currently being used.
  • The vaccine is safe, potent, does not revert to virulence and provides protective immunity from day 14 of the vaccination until 24 months studied so far.
  • The vaccine has been tested on around 500 pigs at multiple locations.
  • The new vaccine has been developed by a team of IVRI scientists.

Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI):

  • Established in 1889, the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI) is one of the premier research institutions dedicated to livestock research and development of the region.
  • It is under the administrative control of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), New Delhi.
  • IVRI is located in Izatnagar, Bareilly in UP.

NATIONAL MISSION ON QUANTUM TECHNOLOGIES & APPLICATIONS

Why in News?

  • The Finance Minister in budget 2020 has announced a National Mission on Quantum Technologies & Applications (NM-QTA).

Quantum Technology:

  • Quantum Technology is based on the principles of quantum theory, which explains the nature of energy and matter on the atomic and subatomic level.
  • It concerns the control and manipulation of quantum systems, with the goal of achieving information processing beyond the limits of the classical world.
  • Its principles will be used for engineering solutions to extremely complex problems in computing, communications, sensing, chemistry, cryptography, imaging and mechanics.
  • This key ability makes quantum computers extremely powerful compared to conventional computers when solving certain kinds of problems like finding prime factors of large numbers and searching large databases.

Quantum Mechanics:

  • It is a fundamental theory in physics which describes nature at the smallest – including atomic and subatomic – scales.
  • At the scale of atoms and electrons, many of the equations of classical mechanics, which describe how things move at everyday sizes and speeds, cease to be useful.
  • In classical mechanics, objects exist in a specific place at a specific time.
  • However, in quantum mechanics, objects instead exist in a haze of probability; they have a certain chance of being at point A, another chance of being at point B and so on.

NM-QTA:

  • The mission will function under the Department of Science & Technology (DST).
  • It will be able address the ever increasing technological requirements of the society, and take into account the International Technology Trends.
  • The mission will help prepare next generation skilled manpower, boost translational research and also encourage entrepreneurship and start-up ecosystem development.

Significance:

  • Quantum technologies are rapidly developing globally with a huge disruptive potential.
  • The range of quantum technologies is expected to be one of the major technology disruptions that will change entire paradigm of computation, communication and encryption.
  • It is perceived that the countries who achieve an edge in this emerging field will have a greater advantage in Garnering Multifold Economic Growth and Dominant Leadership Role.
  • It has become imperative both for government and industries to be prepared to develop these emerging and disruptive changes.
  • It will establish standards to be applied to all research and help stimulate a pipeline to support research and applications well into the future.

PARAQUAT POISONING

Why in News?

  • The use of herbicide Paraquat has killed more than hundreds of people in the last two years in Odisha’s Burla district leading to demands for its Ban.

About Paraquat:

  • Paraquat is a toxic chemicalthat is widely used as an Herbicide (Plant Killer), primarily for weed and Grass Control.
  • It has been banned in 32 countries including Switzerland, where herbicide producing company Sygenta is based.
  • Paraquat also figures on the list of 99 pesticides and herbicides the Supreme Court to ban in an ongoing case.
  • Paraquat dichloride is being used for 25 crops in India, whereas it is approved to be used on only nine crops by the Central Insecticide Board and Registration Committee. This is a violation of the Indian Insecticides Act.
  • So far in India, only Kerala has banned the herbicide.
  • Since farmers can’t and don’t read the label on paraquat containers, retailers sell paraquat in plastic carry bags and refill bottles.

Why Paraquat is lethal?

  • There is no antidote to this herbicide, the consumers of which complain of kidney, liver and lung problems.
  • They may recover from kidney problems, but die of lung- and liver-related ailments. Some also witness kidney failure.It is also toxic to human beings and animals due to its redox activity, which produces Superoxide Anions.
  • It has been linked to the development of Parkinson’s Diseaseand is banned in several countries.

 

What is the Issue?

  • The vast majority of the population in western Odisha and its bordering districts in Chhattisgarh are dependent on agriculture.
  • Crop failures and family disturbances often drive people to look for poison to commit suicide and Paraquat, which is easily available at homes as well as in neighbourhood shops, becomes an “obvious” choice.
  • There have also been cases of people becoming accidental victims when they absorb Paraquat while sprinkling it in Agricultural Fields.

Can worldwide ban be Imposed?

  • Paraquat is yet to be listed in the Prior Informed consent (PIC) of Rotterdam Convention.
  • It is an international treaty on Import/Export of Hazardous Chemicalssigned in 1998.
  • If it is in the chemical figures of the PIC, the exporting country has to take the importing nation’s prior consent before exporting it.

About Rotterdam Convention:

  • The Rotterdam Convention is formally known as the Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade.
  • It is a multilateral treaty to promote shared responsibilities in relation to importation of hazardous chemicals.
  • The convention promotes Open Exchange of Informationand calls on exporters of hazardous chemicals to use proper labeling, include directions on safe handling, and inform purchasers of any known restrictions or bans.
  • Signatory nations can decide whether to allow or ban the importation of chemicals listed in the Treatyand exporting countries are obliged to make sure that producers within their jurisdiction comply.
  • India is a party to the convention,with 161 other parties.

 

 

CHINA – EPICENTRE OF GLOBAL OUTBREAKS OF DISEASE

Why in News?

  • Several deadly new viruses in recent years have emerged in China — Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), bird flu, and now the novel Coronavirus (nCOV).

Zoonotic Infections:

  • Closely packed stalls in busy marketplaces, the Chinese taste for exotic meats, and the high population density of cities create the conditions for the spread of zoonotic infections.
  • The reason could lie in the busy food markets dotting cities across the country — where fruits, vegetables, hairy crabs and butchered meat are often sold next to bamboo rats, snakes, turtles, and palm civets.
  • The relationship between zoonotic pathogens and global pandemics are not new.
  • The WHO estimates that globally, about a billion cases of illness and millions of deaths occur every year from zoonoses, i.e, diseases and infections naturally transmitted between people and vertebrate animals.
  • Some 60% of emerging infectious diseases globally are zoonoses. Of the over 30 new human pathogens detected over the last three decades, 75% originated in Animals.

Animal Markets in china:

  • In animal markets, there are greater chances of transmission of a virus from animals to humans, and its mutation to adapt to the human body.
  • It has happened wherever in the world there is unregulated mixing of humans and animals, either wild or domesticated.
  • The official referred to the Ebola outbreak in Africa there it was wild chimpanzees who had the disease. It came into humans after these were killed and consumed.

Corona Transmitted from Snake:

  • The researchers found evidence that the 2019-nCoV may have resided in snakes before being transmitted to humans.
  • The findings suggest that snake is the most probable wildlife animal reservoir for the 2019-nCoV.
  • Researchers also said that there is very likely to be an intermediate non-bat host which would have picked up the virus from bats.
  • They said recombination within the viral receptor-binding protein may have allowed for cross-species transmission from snake to humans.
  • The new virus is similar to the one which caused the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
  • However, the study noted that unlike the SARS-CoV, the 2019-nCoV causes a mild form of viral pneumonia, and has limited capability for person-person spread.

FACIAL RECOGNITION IN TODAY’S WORLD

Why in News?

  • Last week, European media network EURACTIV and Politico published a story that said the European Commission is considering a temporary ban on the use of facial recognition technologies in public spaces.

Highlights:

  • Two big tech companies, Alphabet and Microsoft, have taken completely different positions on the idea.
  • This comes even as facial recognition technologies are being increasingly adopted by individuals, organisations, and governments.
  • European Commission believes that indiscriminate use of facial recognition technologies is a privacy threat, and some regulations are needed so that this does not easily give way to surveillance.
  • During the temporary ban period, a sound methodology for assessing the impacts of this technology and possible risk management measures could be identified and developed.

Significance:

  • It is increasingly being used for everything: from unlocking your phone to validating your identity, from auto-tagging digital photos to finding missing persons, and from targeted advertising to law enforcement.
  • It is also increasingly used for surveillance and can also become problematic in the absence of privacy and data security laws.

Separating Benefits from Drawbacks:

  • Benefits of facial recognition systems can be categorised into three. One, face detection, which could help count the number of people in traffic. Two, facial authentication, which could help you unlock your phone.
  • Three, facial matching, which could help investigators quickly zero in on suspects.
  • Instead of simply banning an entire category of technologies with so many possible applications, including many that are helpful and benign, policymakers should employ precision regulation that applies restrictions and oversight to particular use-cases and end-users where there is greater risk of societal harm.

Current Application Across the Globe:

  • The U.S. has recently released guidelines regarding artificial intelligence, and they reportedly point to a light touch when it comes to regulation.
  • London has joined the bandwagon, and will use real time facial recognition systems to police the city.
  • Closer home, Telangana has recently tested this technology to verify voters in local elections.

NAVIC IN MOBILES

Why in News?

  • Qualcomm Technologies has unveiled mobile chipsets that are capable of supporting Indian regional satellite navigation system – NavIC (Navigation in Indian Constellation).

Usage of New Chipsets:

  • The release of new chipsets will accelerate the adoption of NavIC by Smartphone Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).  Users of such mobile chipsets will be able to use NavIC within the Indian region and in neighbouring countries.
  • OEM is traditionally defined as a company whose goods are used as components in the products of another company, which then sells the finished item to users
  • These enhancements will enable mobile, automotive and IoT platforms to better serve key industries and technology ecosystems in the region.
  • This will help improve user experience for location-based applications especially in dense urban environments where geo-location accuracy tends to degrade.

Benefits:

  • NavIC is set to become the backbone of a public vehicle tracking system in India since it offers flexibility to local law enforcement agencies to monitor vehicles unlike international systems like  GPS (global positioning system).
  • The government has made NavIC-based vehicle trackers mandatory for all commercial vehicles in the country in accordance with the Nirbhaya case verdict. So this will facilitate the installation of vehicle tracking systems and panic buttons in all commercial vehicles.
  • In addition to NavIC, these chipsets will also support the widely used GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System). GNSS includes USA’s GPS, European Union’s Galileo, Russia’s GLONASS and China’s BeiDou Navigation Satellite System for global coverage.

About Navigation in Indian Constellation (NavIC):

  • It has been developed by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).IRNSS is otherwise known as NavIC.
  • IRNSS is an independent regional navigation satellite system being developed by India. It is designed to provide accurate position information service to users in India as well as the region extending up to 1500 km from its boundary, which is its primary service area.
  • IRNSS consists of eight satellites, three satellites in geostationary orbit and five satellites in geosynchronous orbit.
  • IRNSS will provide two types of services, namely, Standard Positioning Service (SPS) which is provided to all the users and Restricted Service (RS), which is an encrypted service provided only to the authorised users.
  • The IRNSS System is expected to provide a position accuracy of better than 20 m in the primary service area.

 

 

WINGS INDIA 2020

Why in News?

  • Indian Civil Aviation industry has declared that its Flagship Event “Wings India 2020” will be held at Begumpet Airport, Hyderabad in the second week of March.

Wings India 2020:

  • Wings India 2020 is an international exhibition and conference on the civil aviation sector.
  • Hyderabad being the hub of Aviation remains the natural host of the event.
  • It will be jointly organised by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Government of India, Airport Authority of India (AAI) and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).
  • The theme of the year 2020 is “Flying for All’’ and the focus is on the new business acquisition, investments, policy formation and regional connectivity in the civil aviation industry.
  • It will be Asia’s largest and most popular gathering in the Aviation Industry.

About Airports Authority of India:

  • It was constituted by an Act of Parliament in 1995 by merging erstwhile National Airports Authority and International Airports Authority of India.
  • It is entrusted with the responsibility of creating, upgrading, maintaining and managing civil aviation infrastructure both on the ground and air space in the country.

About Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry:

  • It was Established in 1927 and is the largest and oldest apex business organisation in India.
  • It is a non-government, not-for-profit organisation.
  • It provides a platform for networking and consensus building within and across sectors and is the first port of call for Indian industry, policymakers and the international business community.

RAJASTHAN TO GET ITS FIRST BIOTECHNOLOGY PARK

Why in News?

  • Rajasthan government will be signing a memorandum of understanding with the Centre’s Department of Biotechnology to set up its first biotechnology park and incubation centre in the state.
  • The biotechnology park and incubation centre would be set up in the State with the support of the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC).

About Biotechnology Parks and Incubators:

  • The Department of Biotechnology has established Biotechnology Parks/Incubators across the country to translate research into products and services by providing the necessary infrastructure support.
  • These Biotechnology Parks offer facilities to Scientists, and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) for technology incubation, technology demonstration and pilot plant studies for accelerated commercial development of Biotechnology.
  • The Department so far has supported 9 Biotechnology Parks in various States.
  • The Department has also come up with ‘National Biotechnology Parks Scheme’.
  • The scheme aims to create an ecosystem to absorb the start-ups which have graduated from incubators and give them a platform for further scaling up their R&D activities in collaboration with the state Government and Industry.

Merits of the Project:

  • This will enable the State government to take up research in the field of biotechnology and provide employment to the youths.
  • It would also help to promote interdisciplinary field research such as bioinformatics, biomedical engineering and nano-medicine.
  • Further, it will also help to promote biotechnology on the lines of health, agriculture, industry and food which will intensify the science-based manufacturing in Industrialisation.

 

Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council:

  • Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) is a Public Sector Enterprise, set up by Department of Biotechnology (DBT).
  • BIRAC is a industry-academia interface and implements its mandate through a wide range of impact initiatives.
  • It aims to strengthen and empower the emerging Biotech enterprise to undertake strategic research and innovation, addressing nationally relevant product development needs.

 

NEW SPACE AGE- ISRO

Context:

  • The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has recently announced that, nearly 20 space missions will be launched in the near future.

About ISRO’s planned Space Projects:

  • The government has proposed a manned space flight (Gaganyaan) before 2022. ISRO would be undertaking many prolonged space exploration projects and sending many astronauts into space.
  • It has declared its intention to build a permanent space station for itself, possibly in the next five to seven years.
  • Aditya-I will be India’s first solar mission scheduled to be launched in 2020. Similar project is planned for Venus.

Development of Private Capacity in Space:

  • A policy framework to enable private participation in this sector would have to be formulated by the government.
  • A strong private sector in space will help India to tap into this lucrative commercial space launch market.
  • Globally, Small satellite revolution is underway, that are expected to be launched between 2020 and 2030.
  • Space tourism is one of the several opportunities that Indian businesses may be keen to explore.

The Increase in competitiveness over Space:

  • Singapore is offering itself as a hub for space entrepreneurship based on its equatorial location, availability of skilled manpower and legal environment.
  • New Zealand is positioning itself as a location for private rocket launches. China has changed its rules to allow private commercial space activity.
  • ISRO has been a genuine global pioneer of aero spatial cost compression on several fronts. Cost-effectiveness has given the agency a distinct edge in the commercial arena of satellite launch services.

The Benefit of Becoming a Space Power:

  • Space is emerged as the fourth arm of the country’s defence setup. Its power has the ability to use space while denying reliable use to any foe.
  • With US, China and Russia already in pursuit of becoming a Space power, India will need to equip itself appropriately to meet emerging security challenges.
  • India, has only a handful of military satellites in operation, compared to over 40 civilian ones. Our first dedicated military satellite was launched only in 2013.
  • Recently, Mission Shakti has demonstrated India’s capability to target enemy satellite.
  • Newly instituted DSA (defence space agency) will be supported by a defence space research organization (DSRO) has the mandate to create weapons to “degrade, disrupt, destroy or deceive an adversary’s space capability”.

Way Forward:

  • India needs to structurally separate the regulatory, commercial and scientific research elements of the space programme.
  • It needs a new space policy, that aims to harness space as a growth sector for the economy, attracts private investment and creates jobs, even as it promotes scientific breakthroughs and helps leapfrog developmental challenges.
  • It must have reliable and accurate capabilities to track space objects, from debris and spacecraft to celestial bodies.
  • It must acquire a minimum, credible capacity across the various types of space weapons, physical, electronic and cyber to have an effective space defence.
  • There is need to establish an independent regulator that governs both ISRO and new space operators on a level playing field.
  • The Funding on Space Research and development must be enlarged and ISRO & private research institutions should work be encouraged to work in tandem.
  • The developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and big data analytics have led to the emergence of the new space age, India’s space programme needs to take two additional leaps i.e. foster a private space industry and start work on a space force.
  • Losses in space missions can seriously impact the future of cooperation between space powers. Therefore, in the new space age, India’s space policy must acquire a new seriousness that can tap into the creative energies of private entrepreneurs and bolster India into a space power.

ADITYA – L1 FIRST INDIAN MISSION TO STUDY THE SUN

Context:

  • If 2019 was all about the Moon for Indian space agency ISRO, year 2020 could well be about the Sun. In his Mann Ki Baat address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about the ISRO’s plans to launch its first Sun Mission AdityaL1.
  • The 400 KG-Class Aditya L1 will carry six scientific payloads that will be inserted in a halo orbit around the Lagrangian point 1 or L1. Incidentally L1 is 1.5 million kilometres from the Earth.

The Sun – Our Central Star:

  • The Sun is the star nearest to us. It is a huge, luminous ball of gas like other stars in the Universe.

From the Inside out, the Solar Interior Consists of:

  • The Core– The central region where nuclear reactions consume hydrogen to form helium. These reactions release the energy that ultimately leaves the surface as visible light.
  • The Radiative Zone– It extends outward from the outer edge of the core to base of the convection zone, characterized by the method of energy transport – radiation.
  • The Convection Zone– The outer-most layer of the solar interior extending from a depth of about 200,000 km to the visible surface where its motion is seen as granules and super-granules.

The Solar Atmosphere is made up of:

  • The Photosphere– The visible surface of the Sun
  • TheChromosphere – An irregular layer above the photosphere where the temperature rises from 6000°C to about 20,000°C
  • TransitionRegion – A thin and very irregular layer of the Sun’s atmosphere that separates the hot corona from the much cooler chromosphere
  • The Corona– The Sun’s outer atmosphere.
  • Beyond the corona is the Solar Wind, which is actually an outward flow of coronal gas.
  • The sun’s magnetic fields rise through the convection zone and erupt through the photosphere into the chromosphere and corona.
  • The eruptions lead to solar activity, which includes such phenomena as sunspots, flares, prominences, andCoronal Mass Ejections.

Aditya – L1:

    • The Aditya-1 mission was conceived as a 400kg class satellite carrying one payload, the Visible Emission Line Coronagraph (VELC) and was planned to launch in a low earth orbit.
    • The Aditya-1 mission has now been revised to “Aditya-L1 mission” – placed in the halo orbit around the Lagrangian point 1 (L1) of the Sun-Earth system, which is 1.5 million km from the Earth.
    • Lagrangian point 1 (L1) of the Sun-Earth system– has the major advantage of continuously viewing the Sun without any Occultation/Eclipses.
      • A Lagrange point is a location in space where the combined gravitational forces of two large bodies, such as Earth and the sun, equal the centrifugal force felt by a much smaller third body.

  • Aditya-1 was meant to observe only the solar corona – It has a temperature of more than a million-degree Kelvin which is much higher than the solar disc temperature of around 6000K.
    • The complete list of payloads and their science objective for developing the Payloads:
    • Visible Emission Line Coronagraph (VELC):To study the diagnostic parameters of solar corona and dynamics and origin of Coronal Mass Ejections.
    • Solar Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (SUIT):To image the spatially resolved Solar Photosphere and Chromosphere in near Ultraviolet.
    • Aditya Solar wind Particle Experiment (ASPEX):To study the variation of solar wind properties as well as its distribution and spectral characteristics.
    • Plasma Analyser Package for Aditya (PAPA):To understand the composition of solar wind and its energy distribution.
    • Solar Low Energy X-ray Spectrometer (SoLEXS):To monitor the X-ray flares for studying the heating mechanism of the solar corona.
    • High Energy L1 Orbiting X-ray Spectrometer (HEL1OS):To observe the dynamic events in the solar corona and provide an estimate of the energy used to accelerate the particles during the eruptive events.
    • Magnetometer:To measure the magnitude and nature of the Interplanetary Magnetic Field.

Questions about the Corona:

  • The outer layers of the Sun, extending to thousands of km above the disc (photosphere) is termed as the corona.
  • It has a temperature of more than a million-degree Kelvin which is much higher than the solar disc temperature of around 6000K.
  • How the corona gets heated to such high temperatures is still an unanswered question in solar physics.
  • With the inclusion of multiple payloads, this project also provides an opportunity to solar scientists from multiple institutions within the country to participate in space-based instrumentation and observations.
  • Thus, the enhanced Aditya-L1 project will enable a comprehensive understanding of the dynamical processes of the sun and address some of the outstanding problems in solar physics.

NAVY PLANS 24 SUBMARINES TO STRENGTHEN FLEET

Why in News?

  • To strengthen its underwater fleet, the Indian Navy plans to build 24 submarines, including six nuclear attack submarines, a parliamentary panel was told.

Submarines in the Navy:

  • According to the data from Indian Navy, currently there are 2 nuclear submarines and 15 conventional submarines in its fleet.
  • The two nuclear submarines in the fleet are INS Arihant and INS Chakra. Out of these INS Chakra has been leased from Russia.

Significance:

  • Navy has made plans to build new submarines as the conventional submarines are more than 25 years old.
  • Thirteen submarines in the fleet are between the age 17 and 32. Also, it is important for the Indian Navy to strengthen its fleet as there is increased activity of the Chinese in the Indian Ocean Region.
  • The main issue that is further delaying addition of submarines to the fleet is US sanctions and CAATSA act of US. CAATSA is Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.
  • Along with the Arihant Class SSBNs which are nuclear-powered submarines equipped with nuclear missiles, the Indian Navy has plans to build six nuclear attack submarines. They are also planned to be built indigenously in partnership with private sector industries.
  • The Ship, Submersible, Ballistic, Nuclear (SSBN) is a nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine.

Concerns:

  • Rising Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean region:
  • The Indian Ocean Region, the area of operations of the Navy, has witnessed rising activities of the Chinese Navy. The Chinese have increased their presence in the form of increased patrolling by submarines and ships.

Aging Fleet:

  • A majority of the conventional submarines in the Indian Navy are over 25 years old. Thirteen submarines are between 17 and 32 years, impairing the capability of the Indian submarines.

Delay in Commissioning New Submarines:

  • The Indian Navy has been revamping its infrastructure, including procuring new ships to match the naval capabilities of the Chinese.
  • Due to the delay in the new submarine construction projects like the six submarines under Project 75 being carried out at Mazagaon Docks, Mumbai, the Defence Ministry has approved Medium Refit cum Life Certification or MRLC of six older submarines.

The sanctions on Russia:

  • The MRLC of submarine Sindhuraj was held up due to sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Russia. This has impeded the ability of Russia to submit bank guarantees and the integrity pact under the MRLC framework.
  • The sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S. under its Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) have severely impaired the capabilities of Russia to service the submarines it has leased out to India.

MOU BETWEEN INDIA AND BRAZIL ON BIOENERGY COOPERATION

Why in News?

  • The Union Cabinet has given its approval for the signing of Memorandum of Understanding between the Republic of India and the Federative Republic of Brazil on Bioenergy Cooperation.

Highlights:

  •  The MoU provides a framework to cooperate and promote investment in biofuel, bioelectricity and biogas supply-chains, including feedstock, industrial conversion, distribution and end-use sectors.
  •  Exchange of information on agricultural practices.
  •  Policies regarding biomass for bioenergy, including sugarcane, corn, rice, oil-crops, and lignocellulosic crops. [Lignocellulose refers to plant dry matter (biomass)].
  •  Policies for reducing greenhouse gas emission levels based on the use of biofuels.
  •  Using cycle analysis and the issuance of emissions reduction certificates traded in an organised market.
  •  Trade aspects and the promotion of a joint position to address market access and sustainability of biofuels, including advanced biofuels.
  •  Engine and fuel modifications/adjustments that may be necessary for different percentages of biofuels blended with fossil fuels.

India and Brazil:

  •  India and Brazil are major consumers of energy in the world.
  •  Brazil is one of the most important trading partners of India in the entire LAC (Latin America and the Caribbean) region.
  •  Brazil is currently the world’s second-largest producer and consumer of biofuels. Biofuels and bioelectricity accounted for 18% of Brazil’s energy mix.
  •  India also has a strong focus in the area of biofuels and has set a target to achieve 20% blending of ethanol in petrol and 5% blending of biodiesel in diesel by 2030 with the announcement of the new policy on Biofuels in 2018.

INDIAN PHARMACOPOEIA (IP)

Why in News?

  • The Indian Pharmacopoeia (IP) has been recognised officially by the National Department of Regulation of Medicines and Health Products of the Ministry of Public Health of Republic of

Indian Pharmacopoeia (IP):

  • The quality, efficacy and safety of the medicines are important from healthcare perspective.
  • In order to ensure the quality of medicinal products, the legal and scientific standards are provided by Indian Pharmacopoeia Commission (IPC) in the form of Indian Pharmacopoeia (IP).
  • IP is an officially recognized book of standards as per the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and Rules 1945
  • As per, the Second Schedule of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, IP is designated as the official book of standards for drugs imported and/or manufactured for sale, stock or exhibition for sale or distribution in
  • Standards prescribed in the IP are authoritative in nature and are enforced by the regulatory authorities for quality control of medicines in

Significance:

  • With this, a New Beginning has been made and Afghanistan has become the first country to recognize IP pursuant to the efforts of Department of Commerce and Ministry of Health and Family

IP Commission:

  • The IP Commission’s mission is to promote public and animal health in India by bringing out authoritative and officially accepted standards for quality of
  • It includes active pharmaceutical ingredients, excipients and dosage forms, used by health professionals, patients and
  • This is achieved by developing the standards for medicines and supporting their implementation.
  • In addition, IPC also develops IP Reference Substances (IPRS) that act as fingerprint for identification of an article under test and its purity as prescribed in the IP

PERSONAL DATA PROTECTION BILL, 2019

Why in News?

  • The Personal Data Protection Bill, which was tabled in Parliament by the Electronics and IT Minister recently, has now been referred to a joint committee.

Types of Personal Information:

  • Sensitive Data constitutes or is related to passwords, financial data, health data, official identifier, sexual orientation, religious or caste data, biometric data and genetic data. It may be processed outside India with the explicit consent of the user.
  • Critical Data will be characterised by the government every once in a while, and must be stored and handled only in India.
  • General Data is any data that is non-critical and non-sensitive and are categorised as general data with no limitation on where it is stored or managed.

About the Bill:

  • As per the bill, it is the individual whose data is being stored and processed.
  • The government is qualified to order any data fiduciary to acquire personal and non-personal/anonymised data for the sake of research and for national security and criminal investigations.
  • Social media companies, which are deemed significant data fiduciaries based on factors such as volume and sensitivity of data as well as their turnover, should develop their own user verification mechanism.
  • An independent regulator Data Protection Agency (DPA) will oversee assessments and audits and definition making.
  • Each company will have a Data Protection Officer (DPO) who will liaison with the DPA for auditing, grievance redressal, recording maintenance and more.
  • The bill also Grants Individuals the right to data portability, and the ability to access and transfer one’s own data.
  • The right to be forgotten: this right allows an individual to remove consent for data collection and disclosure.

Why does Data Protection matter?

  • With a population of over a billion, there are about 500 million active web users and India’s online market is second only to China.
  • Large collection of information about individuals and their online habits has become an important source of profits.
  • It is also a potential avenue for invasion of privacy because it can reveal extremely personal aspects.
  • Companies, governments, and political parties find it valuable because they can use it to find the most convincing ways to advertise to you online.
  • Besides, presently, there are no laws on the utilisation of individual information and forestalling its abuse, even though the Supreme Court maintained the right to privacy as a fundamental right back directly in 2017.

Important recommendations of Justice BN Srikrishna Committee:

  • The Justice Srikrishna committeeon data privacy has made specific mention of the need for separate and more stringent norms for protecting the data of children.
  • It recommended that companies be barred from certain types of data processing such as behavioural monitoring, tracking, targeted advertising and any other type of processing which is not in the best interest of the child.
  • It is widely accepted that processing of personal data of children ought to be subject to greater protection than regular processing of data.
  • Safeguarding the best interests of the child should be the guiding principle for statutory regulation on protecting data of children.
  • The committee noted that, at present, there were two types of entities processing the personal data of children.
  • The first type was services offered primarily to children, such as YouTube Kids, Hot Wheels and Walt Disney, and the second were social media services such as Facebook and Instagram.
  • The committee’s recommends that the Data Protection Authority will have the power to designate websites or online services that process large volumes of personal data of children as “guardian data fiduciaries”.

Why there are Concerns over the Bill?

  • The bill is like a two-sided sword. While it protects the personal data of Indians by empowering them with data principal rights, on the other hand, it gives the central government with exemptions which are against the principles of processing personal data.
  • The government can process even sensitive personal data when needed, without explicit permission from the data principals.

Recent Issues over Data Protection:

  • Recently, messaging platform WhatsAppsaid that some Indian journalists and rights activists were among those spied using technology by an Israeli company, which by its own admission only works for government agencies across the world.
  • Google too had alerted 12,000 users, including 500 in India, regarding “government-backed” phishing attempts against them.
  • The Indian Government has still not come out in the clear convincingly regarding these incidents.

IBM’S WEATHER FORECAST SYSTEM TO TAP USERS’ PHONES FOR DATA

Why in News?

  • International technology company IBM plans to make a high-resolution weather forecast model that will also rely on user-generated data to improve the accuracy of forecasts available in India.

About IBM-GRAF:

  • IBM Global High-Resolution Atmospheric Forecasting System(IBM GRAF), as the forecast system is called, can generate forecasts at a resolution of 3 kilometres.
  • This is a significantly higher resolution than the 12-kilometre models currently  used by the Indian Meteorological Department to generate forecasts .
  • These weather forecast techniques rely on dynamic modelling and collect a trove of atmospheric and ocean data, crunch it in supercomputers and generate forecasts over desired time-frames — three days, weekly or fortnightly.
  • IBM relies on a global network of sensors — automatic weather station, data buoys and barometric pressure data from cell phones of users who’ve downloaded the application.
  • A combination of observations, computing and equations underlies the forecasts, since forecasting tropical conditions over India is particularly tricky.

Benefits:

  • Since the local economy faces huge disruption due to severe weather events and disasters, this forecast model could play a major role in averting such issues.
  • The forecasts are considered to be 30% more accurate than those generated by 12-km resolution models.
  • Weather forecasts will be available to individuals for free download and can be used by farmers.
  • The forecast engine will also be used to provide custom forecasts for energy companies, consumer brands, insurance businesses and satellite imagery analysts.

PSLV-C48/RISAT-2BR1

Why in News?

  • PSLV-C48 successfully launched RISAT-2BR1 and nine commercial satellites from Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SHAR), Sriharikota.

About the Launch:

  • India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, in its 50th flight (PSLV-C48), successfully launched RISAT-2BR1, an earth observation satellite, along with nine commercial satellites of Israel, Italy, Japan and USA from Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) SHAR, Sriharikota.
  • These satellites were launched under commercial arrangement with New Space India Limited (NSIL), the commercial arm of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
  • It was PSLV’s 50th flight and 48th successful flight since its first successful launch in 1994.
  • It was the 75th launch from Sriharikota.
  • This was the 2nd flight of PSLV in ‘QL’ configuration (with 4 solid strap-on motors).
  • With this, ISRO has launched a total of 319 foreign satellites from 33 countries since the first launch in 1999 when PSLV-C2 carried satellites from Germany and South Korea.

About PSLV:

  • PSLV is an expendable medium-lift launch vehicle designed and operated by ISRO.
  • The PSLV, which has a history of successful launches of payloads that include Chandrayaan-1, Mars Orbiter Mission and the space recovery mission.
  • The PSLV had helped take payloads into almost all the orbits in space including Geo-Stationary Transfer Orbit (GTO), the Moon, Mars and would soon be launching a mission to the Sun
  • Initially, the PSLV had a carrying capacity of 850 kg, and over the years it has been enhanced to 1.9 tonnes.
  • The PSLV has failed only twice in its history — the maiden flight of the PSLV D1 in September 1993 and the PSLV C-39 in August 2017.

About RISAT-2BR1:

  • RISAT-2BR1 is radar imaging earth observation satellite carrying X-band synthetic aperture radar, an Indian version of Israel’s TecSAR satellite, with radial rib reflector 3.6 metre mesh antenna.
  • The satellite weighs about 628 kg. The mission life of RISAT-2BR1 is 5 years.
  • The satellite will provide services in the field of Agriculture, Forestry and Disaster Management.
  • It is believed that RISAT-2BR1 along with Cartosat-3, a remote sensing satellite which was launched on November 27, 2019, will also be used for Military Reconnaissance.

VIRTUAL AUTOPSY

Why in News?

  • India will be the first country in South and Southeast Asia to carry out these “virtual autopsies

Virtual Autopsy:

  • An autopsy (Postmortem Examination, Autopsia Cadaverum, or Obduction) is a highly specialized surgical procedure that consists of a thorough examination of a corpse to determine the cause and manner of death and to evaluate any disease or injury that may be present.
  • Virtopsy is a word combining ‘virtual’ and ‘autopsy’ … for the purpose of autopsy and to find the cause of the death. Virtopsy can be employed as an alternative to standard autopsies for broad and systemic examination of the whole body as it is less time consuming, aids better diagnosis, and renders respect to religious sentiments.”
  • In a virtual autopsy, doctors use radiation to examine the innards to reach a conclusion about the cause of death. A CT or an MRI machine could be used, in the same way that they are used to scan a living human’s body.

Need:

  • According to a paper in The Lancet, the advent of virtual autopsy owes to the “Longstanding public objection to dissection of cadavers (that) re-emerged in the UK as a major issue after organ retention scandals in the late 1990s.
  • Some groups —notably Jewish and Muslim communities — have religious objections to autopsy, and demand for a minimally-invasive alternative has increased.” (‘Post-mortem imaging as an alternative to autopsy in the diagnosis of adult deaths: a validation study’: 2012, Ian S D Roberts et. al)
  • A virtual autopsy is also faster than a traditional one — 30 minutes against 2½ hours, and more cost-effective.

International Examples:

  • Virtual autopsy began in Sweden, but is now a “standard technique” in major centres in Japan, the US, Australia, and many European countries.

Accuracy of Virtual Autopsy:

  • In 2018, in an article in the Journal of Pathology Informatics, Russian and Italian scientists compared the results of virtual autopsy and Traditional Post-Mortem.
  • “Out of 23 cases for which the traditional post mortem examination found a cause of death, 15 (65%) were diagnosed correctly using virtual autopsy, these cases were considered as true positives.
  • For one case for which the cause of death was unascertained, the same result was also obtained during the virtual autopsy.
  • This case was considered as true negative. Overall, in 16/25 (64%) cases, virtual autopsy results matched that of the traditional autopsy,” they concluded.

ISRO’S SECOND SPACEPORT AT KULASEKARAPATTINAM (TN)

Why in News?

  • The ISRO has commenced land acquisition for its second launchpad in Kulasekarapattinam, a town in the Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) district of Tamil Nadu.

ISRO’s spaceport:

  • ISRO’s first and only spaceport, the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC), is located in Sriharikota, about 100 km north of Chennai, in the state of Andhra Pradesh.
  • The organisation launches its PSLV and GSLV rockets from here.
  • The SDSC, setup in 1971, currently has two active launchpads.
  • Its first launchpad was decommissioned once the Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle programme ended in 1994.
  • The first of the two active pads mostly services the PSLV and the second, the GSLV, and which ISRO is currently modifying to accommodate crewed vehicle missions as part of its upcoming human spaceflight project, Gaganyaan.
  • The second spaceport at Kulasekarapattinam is expected to provide an important advantage to ISRO’s upcoming Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV), a smaller counterpart of the PSLV.

Need for another Launchpad:

  • The PSLV is designed to launch satellites into pole-to-pole, or polar, orbits around Earth.
  • However, it can’t enter into such an orbit straightaway after launch because its trajectory needs to avoid flying over Sri Lanka, protecting its popular centres from any debris from the rocket.
  • So once the rocket lifts off from Sriharikota, it flies further east to avoid Sri Lanka and then steers itself back towards the South Pole.
  • This manoeuvre requires more fuel, and for a smaller rocket like the SSLV, the addition could eat into its already limited payload capacity and reduce the rocket’s value for Antrix, ISRO’s commercial operator.
  • By setting up a spaceport in Kulasekarapattinam the SSLV will lift off over the Lakshadweep Sea and won’t have to swerve around Sri Lanka as it climbs to higher altitudes.

Significance of Thoothukudi’s location:

  • Proximity to the seashore makes Thoothukudi ideal for “straight southward” launches. From Sriharikota, such southward bound launches are not possible as the rockets have to fly around Sri Lanka.
  • Nearness to the equator: Like the Sriharikota spaceport in the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Thoothukudi was selected as a spaceport due to its nearness to the equator. A rocket launch site should be on the east coast and near the equator.
  • Logistical ease: ISRO has its Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) at Mahendragiri in Tirunelveli district, where it assembles the second and fourth stage engines for the PSLV. Instead of transporting the second and fourth stages to Sriharikota from Mahendragiri, it would be easier to shift them to the launch pad if it is built in Kulasekarapattinam, which is around 100 km away.

PROCUREMENT OF WEAPONS WORTH ₹22,800 CRORE

Why in News?

  • The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), chaired by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, has approved the procurement of weapons and equipment worth ₹22,800 cr

About DAC:

  • The DAC is Defence Ministry’s highest decision-making body for capital acquisition proposals forwarded by the Indian armed forces.
  • It was set up in 2001 as part of the post-Kargil reforms in defence sector which is headed by the Defence Minister.
  • It approves the long-term integrated perspective plan for the forces, accords acceptance of necessity (AON) to begin acquisition proposals, and grant’s its approval to all major deals through all their important phases.
  • It also has the power to approve any deviations in an acquisition, and recommends all big capital defence purchases for approval of the Cabinet committee on security (CCS) headed by Prime Minister.

Functions of DAC:

  • In principle approval of 15 Years Long Terms Integrated Perspective Plan for Defence Force.
  • Accord of Acceptance of Necessity to acquisition proposals.
  • Categorization of the acquisition proposals relating to ‘Buy’, ‘Buy & Make’ and ‘Make’.
  • Issues relating to Single vendor clearance.
  • Decisions regarding ‘offset’ provisions in respect of acquisition proposals above Rs. 300 crore.
  • Decisions regarding Transfer of Technology under ‘Buy & Make’ category of acquisition proposals.
  • Field Trial evaluation.

 

What kind of Weapons is procured?

  • Six additional P-8I long-range patrol aircraft is to be procured from the U.S. for the Navy and additional indigenous Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft for the Indian Air Force (IAF).

About AWACS:

  • AWACS stands for Airborne Warning and Control System that helps the Air Force detect incoming missiles and enemy aircraft from across the country’s border.
  • AWACS is described as an ‘Eye in the Sky’ as it can carry out surveillance at about 400-km range under all-weather situations, and to lock on to lock on to 60 targets at a time simultaneously.
  • They are capable of detecting hostile aircraft, cruise missiles and other incoming aerial threat far before ground-based radars.
  • It is basically an aircraft fitted with sophisticated radar and can be said to be radar on the move. It can provide advance warning about enemy’s intrusion into country’s air space.
  • It can also track and attack enemy’s targets in air. India has an agreement with Israel for supply of its AWACS called Phalcon.

Why it is Needed?

  • As a follow-up to the successful indigenous Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) programme, the DAC revalidated the Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for the procurement of additional AWACS aircraft.
  • “The mission system and sub-systems for these aircraft would be indigenously designed, developed and integrated into the main platform by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).”
  • The IAF now operates three Israeli Phalcon AWACS and three smaller indigenous Netra AEW&C systems mounted on Embraer aircraft.
  • A shortage of these force multipliers was felt during the aerial engagement with the Pakistan Air Force, a day after the Balakot air strike in February.
  • These platforms would provide on-board command and control and ‘early warning’, which would assist the IAF in achieving effective air space dominance in the least possible time, the statement said. The new systems are likely to be mounted on Airbus Aircraft.

GOOGLE HAS WARNED 500 INDIANS ON PHISHING

Why in News?

  • Google has recently announced that over 12, 000 people around the world have become victims of phishing.

About:

  • Google sent out over 12,000 warning to users globally, including about 500 in India, during the three month period from July to September this year, alerting them on “government-backed” phishing attempts against them.
  • Phishing is the act of sending an email to a user falsely claiming to be an established legitimate enterprise in an attempt to scam the user into surrendering private information that will be used for identity theft.
  • Phishing email will direct the user to visit a website where they are asked to update personal information, such as a password, credit card, social security, or bank account numbers, that the legitimate organization already has.
  • The website, however, is bogus and set up only to steal the information the user enters on the page.
  • Phishing emails are blindly sent to thousands, if not millions of recipients.
  • By spamming large groups of people, the “phisher” counts on the email being read by a percentage of people who actually have an account with the legitimate company being spoofed in the email and corresponding webpage.

Types of Cyber Attacks:

  • Malware, short for malicious software refers to any kind of software that is designed to cause damage to a single computer, server, or computer network. Ransomware, Spy ware, Worms, viruses, and Trojans are all varieties of malware.
  • Phishing: It is the method of trying to gather personal information using deceptive e-mails and websites.
  • Denial of Service attacks: A Denial-of-Service (DoS) attack is an attack meant to shut down a machine or network, making it inaccessible to its intended users. DoS attacks accomplish this by flooding the target with traffic, or sending it information that triggers a crash.
  • Man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks, also known as eavesdropping attacks, occur when attackers insert themselves into a two-party transaction. Once the attackers interrupt the traffic, they can filter and steal data.
  • SQL Injection: SQL (pronounced “sequel”) stands for Structured Query Language, a programming language used to communicate with databases.
  • Many of the servers that store critical data for websites and services use SQL to manage the data in their databases.
  • A SQL injection attack specifically targets such kind of servers, using malicious code to get the server to divulge information it normally wouldn’t.
  • Cross-Site Scripting (XSS): Similar to an SQL injection attack, this attack also involves injecting malicious code into a website, but in this case the website itself is not being attacked.
  • Instead the malicious code the attacker has injected, only runs in the user’s browser when they visit the attacked website, and it goes after the visitor directly, not the website.
  • Social engineering is an attack that relies on human interaction to trick users into breaking security procedures in order to gain sensitive information that is typically protected.

Why Cyber Security Needed?

  • Photos, videos and other personal information shared by an individual on social networking sites can be inappropriately used by others, leading to serious and even life-threatening incidents.
  • Companies have a lot of data and information on their systems. A cyber-attack may lead to loss of competitive information (such as patents or original work), loss of employees/customers private data resulting into complete loss of public trust on the integrity of the organization.
  • A local, state or central government maintains huge amount of confidential data related to country (geographical, military strategic assets etc.) and citizens. Unauthorized access to the data can lead to serious threats on a country.

 International Mechanisms regarding Cyber Crime:

  • The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is a specialized agency within the United Nations which plays a leading role in the standardization and development of telecommunications and cyber security issues.
  • Budapest Convention on Cybercrime is an international treaty that seeks to address Internet and computer crime (cybercrime) by harmonizing national laws, improving investigative techniques, and increasing cooperation among nations. It came into force on 1 July 2004. India is not a signatory to this convention.
  • Internet Governance Forum (IGF) brings together all stakeholders i.e. government, private sector and civil society on the Internet governance debate. It was first convened in October–November 2006.
  • Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a non-profit organization responsible for coordinating the maintenance and procedures of several databases related to the namespaces and numerical spaces of the Internet, ensuring the network’s stable and secure operation. It has its headquarters in Los Angeles, U.S.A.

Government initiatives against Cyber Crime:

  • Cyber Surakshit Bharat Initiative: It was launched in 2018 with an aim to spread awareness about cybercrime and building capacity for safety measures for Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) and frontline IT staff across all government departments.
  • National Cyber security Coordination Centre (NCCC): In 2017, the NCCC was developed. Its mandate is to scan internet traffic and communication metadata (which are little snippets of information hidden inside each communication) coming into the country to detect real-time cyber threats.
  • Cyber Swachhta Kendra: In 2017, this platform was introduced for internet users to clean their computers and devices by wiping out viruses and malware.
  • Training of 1.14 Lakh persons through 52 institutions under the Information Security Education and Awareness Project (ISEA) – a project to raise awareness and to provide research, education and training in the field of Information Security. International cooperation: Looking forward to becoming a secure cyber ecosystem, India has joined hands with several developed countries like the United States, Singapore, Japan, etc. These agreements will help India to challenge even more sophisticated cyber threats.

QUANTUM COMPUTING

Why in News?

  • Recently quantum processor of Google solved a problem in just 3 minutes.

About:

  • It describes the point where quantum computers can do things that classical computers cannot.
  • Google had achieved Quantum Supremacy by solving a problem which even with the most powerful classical computer available today would take about 10,000 years to solve in just 3 minutes.

Significances:

  • Help to discover exotic materials for variety of requirements.
  • Provide fool proof cryptographic protection against online frauds.
  • Enable drug discovery to fight diseases.
  • Design efficient batteries.
  • Smarter devices and gadgets.

Qubit/Quantum Bit

  • It is the basic unit of quantum information.
  • It is a two-state quantum mechanical system, one of the simplest quantum systems displaying the peculiarity of quantum mechanics.
  • In a classical system, a bit would have to be in one state or the other.
  • Quantum mechanics allows the qubit to be in a coherent superposition of both states simultaneously, a property which is fundamental to quantum mechanics and quantum computing.
  • The power of the quantum computer comes from its inherent parallelism, the ability to manipulate a large collection of qubits in one shot in ways that a classical computer will not be able to match up.

ARROKOTH

Why in News?

  • The most distant space object ever seen up close has been recently named as ‘Arrokoth’.
  • It was earlier nicknamed as Ultima Thule.

Arrokoth:

  • The International Astronomical Union and Minor Planets Center, the global body for naming Kuiper Belt objects have given this name.
  • It was discovered in 2014 with the Hubble Space Telescope, which is operated by the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.
  • Nasa’s New Horizons spacecraft flew by the snowman figured ice mass in December 2018, some 1.6 billion kilometres beyond Pluto.
  • The New Horizons team of NASA proposed the name to the International Astronomical Union and Minor Planets Center.
  • For the New Horizons team it took some months to finalise this name. In the language of the Powhatan tribe, Arrokoth means “sky”.
  • The team got the approval from the elders of the Powhatan tribe to assign it to their new found “Baby”.

New Horizons Mission:

  • NASA launched the New Horizons mission in January 2006.
  • After crossing by Pluto in 2015, in 2019 it flew by Arrokoth. This remains the “farthest flyby ever conducted.”

Kuiper Belt:

  • The Kuiper Belt is a disk-shaped region found in the outer solar system, past the orbit of Neptune.
  • It is known as the third zone of the solar system, after the zone hosting the gas planets in our solar system. It contains hundreds of millions of small icy bodies that are thought to be left over material from the formation of the outer planets.
  • At least three dwarf planets are located in the Kuiper belt: Pluto, Haumea and Make.
  • Also, some of the solar system’s moons are thought to have originated there, such as Neptune’s Triton and Saturn’s Phoebe.

CHINA PROPOSES TO TREAT ALZHEIMER’S WITH NEW DRUG

Why in News?

  • The recent announcement of China that a new drug meant to potentially treat Alzheimer’s disease, will be available to Chinese patients shortly.
  • The drug has been named as GV-971 or “Oligomannate”. It is a seaweed-based drug which is administered orally.

 About Alzheimer’s Disease:

  • It is a progressive brain disorder that typically affects people older than 65. When it affects younger individuals, it is considered early onset.
  • The disease destroys brain cells and nerves, and disrupts the message-carrying neurotransmitters.Eventually, a person with Alzheimer’s loses the ability to perform day-to-day activities.

Alzheimer’s Versus Dementia:

  • Dementia is an umbrella term for a range of conditions that involve a loss of cognitive functioning.Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia. It involves plaques and tangles forming in the brain. Symptoms start gradually and are most likely to include a decline in cognitive function and language ability.Other types of dementia include Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. People can have more than one type of dementia.
  • Symptoms:
  • Reduced ability to take in and remember new information
  • Impairments to reasoning, complex tasking, and exercising judgment
  • Impaired visuospatial abilities that are not, for example, due to eye sight problems.
  • Impaired speaking, reading and writing Changes in personality and behaviour.
  • The progression of Alzheimer’s can be broken down into three Main Stages:
    • Preclinical, before symptoms appear
    • Mild cognitive impairment, when symptoms are mild
    • Dementia

 Treatment:

  • There is No Cure for Alzheimer’s, because its exact causes are not known. Most drugs being developed try to slow down or stop the progression of the disease.
  • There is a degree of consensus in the scientific community that Alzheimer’s involves two proteins, called beta amyloids and tau. When levels of either protein reach abnormal levels in the brain, it leads to the formation of plaque, which gets deposited between neurons, damaging and disrupting nerve cells. Most existing drugs for Alzheimer’s try to target these proteins to manage some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

ISRO’S NAVIC SET TO BE COMMERCIALISED BY ANTRIX

Why in News?

  • The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and its commercial arm Antrix Corporation Ltd. are poised to commercialise India’s regional navigation satellite system, NavIC.
  • Antrix has recently floated two separate tenders to identify industries that can develop dedicated NavIC-based hardware and systems.

About NavIc (Navigation in Indian Constellation):

  • NavIC is the Indian system of seven (currently eight) satellites that is aimed at telling business and individual users where they are, or how their products and services are moving.
  • The indigenous positioning or location-based service (LBS) works just like the established and popular U.S. Global Positioning System or GPS, but within a 1,500-km radius over the sub-continent.
  • About IRNSS (Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System):
  • IRNSS is an independent regional navigation satellite system designed to provide position information in the Indian region and 1500 km around the Indian mainland.
  • The Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) is similar to that of GPS (global positioning system) of the US, Glonass of Russia and Galileo of Europe as well as China’s Beidou.

Features:

  • It is a constellation of total 7 satellite launched in space and a ground facility on land to receive signals from space satellites. 3 of its satellite Located in Geostationary orbit and 4 are inclined to geosynchronous orbit. However full NAVIC system has 9 satellite, 2 on ground in standby mode.
  • 4 Geosynchronous satellites: They will be orbiting in pairs in two inclined geosynchronous orbits. When observed from the ground, these 2 pairs of satellites will appear to travel in figures of ‘8’.
  • 3 geostationary satellites: They will be placed in the geostationary orbit over the equator. They match the Earth’s rotation and shall remain at a fixed position in the sky.
  • It covers whole India and region surrounding it up to 1500 km.
  • It provides accuracy up to 20m as claimed by ISRO.

How many IRNSS Satellites are up there now?

  • There are currently eight IRNSS satellites (1A to 1I) in orbit. A, B, F, G are placed in a geosynchronous orbit, while the remaining three, C, D, E, are located in geostationary orbit.
  • The last IRNSS, 1H, which was launched on August 31, 2017 was unsuccessful as the satellite did not come out of its heat shield.
  • IRNSS-1I was launched last year to replace India’s first navigation satellite IRNSS-1A, whose three Rubidium atomic clocks had stopped working. The malfunctioning of the Europe-imported atomic clocks in IRNSS-1A made it difficult to measure precise locational data from the satellite.

What areas will it cover?

  • Primary Service Area: To provide accurate position information service to users in India as well as the region extending up to 1500 km from its boundary, which is its primary service area.
  • Extended Service Area: It lies between primary service area and area enclosed by the rectangle from Latitude 30 deg South to 50 deg North, Longitude 30 deg East to 130 deg East.

What all services are provided?

  • IRNSS would provide two types of services, namely
    • Standard Positioning Services available to all users and
    • Restricted Services provided to authorised users. (Encrypted)

Significance of IRNSS:

  • India became one of the 5 countries having their own navigation system like GPS of USA, GLONASS of Russia, Galileo of Europe and Beidou of China. So, India dependence on other countries for navigation purposes reduces.
  • It will help to mitigate the disaster effects by providing information of disaster timing, safe location and also help the disaster relief management to make earlier plans and save the lives of people in India as well as up to 1500 km around it.
  • It will help the mariners for far navigation and fisherman for get information about the valuable fisheries location and any disturbance in Sea.
  • It will help to make friendly relations with others countries by providing real time information during any calamity or disaster for mitigate its after effect and for making early plans

 Recent Positive Developments:

  • In mid-October, ISRO announced that Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., a leading producer of semiconductor chips, had developed and tested NavIC-friendly chipsets across its user bases and that it would add NavIC to them.
  • Apart from GPS, its chips can work with the global navigation satellite systems of Europe (Galileo), Russia (GLONASS) and China (Beidou.)
  • The third and important positive for NavIC was the certification of the Indian system by the 3GPP (The 3rd Generation Partnership Project), a global body for coordinating mobile telephony standards.

‘WHATSAPP DID NOT INFORM GOVT. OF SYSTEM BREACH’

Why in News?

  • WhatsApp has stated that some Indian users of WhatsApp came under surveillance using an Israeli spyware.

Highlights:

  • WhatsApp in October 2019 sued the NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance firm and developers of Pegasus, which is reportedly behind the technology that helped unnamed entities hack into roughly 1,400 devices across at least 20 countries, including India, Bahrain, Mexico and UAE. Indian users were among those impacted by the spyware.
  • The NSO Group is an Israeli technology firm, which claims on its website that its products are used “exclusively” by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies “to fight crime and terror”.

Concerns:

  • WhatsApp has over 1.5 billion users globally, of which India alone accounts for about 400 million.
  • The vulnerability of the users to such spying is of grave concern with regard to breach of their privacy.
  • Government has stated that WhatsApp failed to inform the government of a breach of its system despite being legally bound to do so under Section 70(B) of the IT Act. They are legally bound to inform (computer emergency response team) CERT or any other relevant government agencies about the details of such attacks on Indian citizens.
  • Despite WhatsApp arguing that they had given information to CERT-IN, the government has stated that it was a communication in pure technical jargon without any mention of Pegasus or the extent of breach.
  • Thus the information shared was only about a technical vulnerability but nothing on the fact that privacy of Indian users had been compromised. Lack of clarity on this issue shows the loopholes in the current processes.
  • The government has been blamed for trying to use the spyware to target specific people. However the government has stated that government agencies operate strictly as per provisions of law and a well-established protocol for interception.
  • Government has claimed that reports of breach of privacy of Indian citizens on WhatsApp were attempts to malign the government and are completely misleading. The episode has taken up a political tone.

INDIGEN PROJECT

Why in News?

  • The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has finished conducting “whole-genome sequence” of a 1,008 Indians as part of a programme called “IndiGen”.

IndiGen Project:

  • Programme funded by the Department of Biotechnology will sequence at least 10,000 Indian genomes. The CSIR’s “IndiGen” project, as it is called, selected the 1,000-odd from a pool of about 5,000 and sought to include representatives from every State and diverse ethnicities.
  • Every person whose genomes are sequenced would be given a report.
  • The project is and is also seen as a precursor to a much larger exercise involving other government departments to map a larger swathe of the population in the country.
  • Anyone looking for a free mapping of their entire genome can sign up for “IndiGen”.
  • Those who get their genes mapped will get a card and access to an app which will allow them and doctors to access information on whether they harbour gene variants that are reliably known to correlate with genomes with diseases.
  • The driving motive of the project is to understand the extent of genetic variation in Indians and learn why some genes — linked to certain diseases based on publications in international literature — do not always translate into diseases.
  • Once such knowledge is established, the CSIR expects to tie up with several pathology laboratories who can offer commercial gene testing services.

Genome:

  • A genome is the DNA, or sequence of genes, in a cell.
  • Most of the DNA is in the nucleus and intricately coiled into a structure called the chromosome. The rest is in the mitochondria, the cell’s powerhouse.
  • Every human cell contains a pair of chromosomes, each of which has three billion base pairs or one of four molecules that pair in precise ways.
  • The order of base pairs and varying lengths of these sequences constitute the “genes”, which are responsible for making amino acids, proteins and, thereby, everything that is necessary for the body to function.It is when these genes are altered or mutated that proteins sometimes do not function as intended, leading to disease.

Genome Sequencing:

  • Sequencing a genome means deciphering the exact order of base pairs in an individual. This “deciphering” or reading of the genome is what sequencing is all about.
  • It has been known that the portion of the genes responsible for making proteins — called the exome — occupies about 1% of the actual gene. Rather than sequence the whole gene, many geneticists rely on “exome maps” (that is the order of exomes necessary to make proteins).
  • However, it has been established that the non-exome portions also affect the functioning of the genes and that, ideally, to know which genes of a person’s DNA are “mutated” the genome has to be mapped in its entirety.

India’s Effort:

  • While India, led by the CSIR, first sequenced an Indian genome in 2009, it is only now that the organisation’s laboratories have been able to scale up whole-genome sequencing and offer them to the public.
  • Globally, many countries have undertaken genome sequencing of a sample of their citizens to determine unique genetic traits, susceptibility (and resilience) to disease. This is the first time that such a large sample of Indians will be recruited for a detailed study.
  • Under “IndiGen”, the CSIR drafted about 1,000 youth from across India by organising camps in several colleges and educating attendees on genomics and the role of genes in disease. Some students and participants donated blood samples from where their DNA sequences were collected.

SPYWARE PEGASUS

Why in News?

  • The popular messaging platform WhatsApp was used to spy on journalists and human rights activists in India earlier this year.
  • The surveillance was carried out using a spyware tool called Pegasus, which has been developed by an Israeli firm, the NSO Group.
  • WhatsApp sued the NSO Group in a federal court in US accusing it of using WhatsApp servers in the United States and elsewhere to send malware to approximately 1,400 mobile phones and devices.

Pegasus:

  • All spyware do what the name suggests — they spy on people through their phones.
  • Pegasus works by sending an exploit link, and if the target user clicks on the link, the malware or the code that allows the surveillance is installed on the user’s phone.
  • A presumably newer version of the malware does not even require a target user to click a link.
  • Once Pegasus is installed, the attacker has complete access to the target user’s phone.The first reports on Pegasus’s spyware operations emerged in 2016, when Ahmed Mansoor, a human rights activist in the UAE, was targeted with an SMS link on his iPhone 6.

Method of working:

  • A Pegasus operator must convince a target to click on a specially crafted ‘exploit link’ which allows the operator to penetrate security features on the phone.
  • This automatically installs Pegasus without the user’s knowledge or permission.
  • Once the phone is exploited and Pegasus installed, it begins contacting the operator’s command and control and send back the target’s private data, including passwords, contact lists, events, text messages, and live voice calls from popular mobile messaging apps.
  • The operator can even turn on the phone’s camera and microphone to capture activity in the phone’s vicinity.

EDGE COMPUTING

Why in News?
  • Cloud computing — by which remote servers hosted on the Internet store and process data, rather than local servers or personal computers — is ready to move to the next level i.e. ‘Edge Computing’.

Cloud Computing:

  • Cloud computing is the on-demand availability of computer system resources, especially data storage and computing power, without direct active management by the user.
  • The term is generally used to describe data centres available to many users over the Internet.

Why need an upgrade?

  • Amazon, Microsoft, and Alphabet, the parent company of Google — the technology giants that provide cloud computing infrastructure to major corporates and governments.
  • They want to leverage 5G wireless technology and artificial intelligence to enable faster response times, lower latency (ability to process very high volumes of data with minimal delay), and simplified maintenance in computing.
  • This is where Edge Computing comes in — which many see as an extension to the cloud, but which is, in fact, different in several basic ways.
  • By 2025 companies will generate and process more than 75% of their data outside of traditional centralised data centres — that is, at the “edge” of the cloud.

Edge Computing:

  • Edge computing enables data to be analysed, processed and transferred at the edge of a network.
  • The idea is to analyse data locally, closer to where it is stored, in real-time without latency, rather than send it far away to a centralised data centre.
  • So whether you are streaming a video or accessing a library of video games in the cloud, edge computing allows for quicker data processing and content delivery.

How is Edge Computing different from cloud computing?

  • The basic difference between edge computing and cloud computing lies in the place where the data processing takes place.
  • At the moment, the existing Internet of Things (IoT) systems performs all of their computations in the cloud using data centres.
  • Edge computing, on the other hand, essentially manages the massive amounts of data generated by IoT devices by storing and processing data locally.
  • That data doesn’t need to be sent over a network as soon as it processed; only important data is sent — therefore, an edge computing network reduces the amount of data that travels over the network.
  • Experts believe the true potential of edge computing will become apparent when 5G networks go mainstream in a year from now.
  • Users will be able to enjoy consistent connectivity without even realizing it.
  • Nvidia, one of the biggest players in the design and manufacture of graphics and AI acceleration hardware, has just announced its EGX edge computing platform.
  • This will help telecom operators adopt 5G networks capable of supporting edge workloads.

NATIONAL HEALTH PROFILE, 2019

Why in News?

  • The Union Health Minister released the National Health Profile, 2019.

National Health Profile (NHP):

  • The NHP is prepared by the Central Bureau of Health Intelligence (CBHI) and covers comprehensive information on demographic, socio-economic health status, health finance indicators, health infrastructure and health of human resources in the country.
  • 2019 is the 14th year the NHP is being released.
  • It was released for the first time in 2005.
  • A digital version of the report was also released.
  • The objective of the NHP is to create a versatile database of health information and making it available to all stakeholders in the healthcare sector.
  • The NHP highlights substantial health information under major indicators viz. demographic indicators (population and vital statistics), socio-economic indicators (education, employment, housing and amenities, drinking water and sanitation) and health status indicators (incidence and prevalence of common communicable and non-communicable diseases and RCH), etc.
  • The health finance section provides an overview of health insurance and expenditure on health, both public and Out of Pocket Expenditure (OOP), etc.
  • The section on human resources provides an overview of availability of manpower working in the health sector, while health infrastructure section provides details of medical and dental colleges, AYUSH institutes, nursing courses and paramedical courses, etc.

UNITED TO ELIMINATE LYMPHATIC FILARIASIS

Why in News?

  • The Union Health Minister inaugurates National Symposium on the theme ‘United to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis’.

Highlights:

  • On the occasion, the minister signed the ‘Call to Action to eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis by 2021’.
  • Since the launch of the Global Program to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis (GPELF) by the World Health Organization in 2000, endemic countries across the world including India have adopted a twin pillar strategy:
  • Prevention through Mass Drug Administration (MDA) using combination of 2 anti-filarial drugs (DEC and Albendazole)
  • Providing Morbidity Management and Disability Prevention (MMDP) services to those affected by the disease
  • The Government launched the Accelerated Plan for Elimination of Lymphatic Filariasis (APELF) in 2018.
  • As per this plan, over 4 billion treatments have been availed by over 630 million target population in endemic districts.
  • India has made steady progress in this regard by reducing the infection levels in the community below the threshold level in 96 districts, which accounts for nearly 37% of the total districts.
  • The remaining 160 districts pose a challenge.
  • Actual consumption of medicines remains low due to low awareness about the benefits of medicines at the community-level leading to non-adherence to treatment.

NPCIL ADMITS MALWARE ATTACK

Why in News?

  • CERT-In has conveyed that DTrack, a virus which originated in North Korea, is the weapon used in the cyber-attack on Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant.

About DTrack Virus:

  • DTrack is used by hackers to attack financial and research centres in India. Its earlier version ATM DTrack was designed to hack ATMs in India.
  • “The malware was designed to be planted on the victim’s ATMs, where it could read and store the data of cards that were inserted into the machines.

About CERT-In:

  • The Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) is nodal government agency that deals with cyber security threats like hacking and phishing in India.
  • It was established in 2004 and comes under the aegis of Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

Objectives:

  • Protect Indian cyberspace and software infrastructure against destructive and hacking activities.
  • Strengthen security-related defence of the Indian Internet domain. Issue guidelines, vulnerability notes, advisories, and whitepapers regarding to information security practices, prevention, procedures, response and reporting of cyber security incidents.

Different types of Malware:

  • Malware is the shortened form of malicious software. It is the general term for any program that is designed to damage, disrupt, or hack a device. Malware includes viruses, ransomware, spyware, Trojan, adware, etc.
  • Viruses are malicious pieces of code that infect your device without your knowledge. They can affect your device’s performance, delete files, send spam, and even corrupt your hard drive. They multiply and spread to other machines, often before you’re aware of an infection.
  • Ransomware is malicious programs that block access to your device until you pay a ransom fee to its creator. It is often very difficult and expensive to remove.
  • Spyware is software that spies on you, tracking your internet activities in order to send advertising (Adware) back to your system.
  • Worm is a program that replicates itself and destroys data and files on the computer. Worms work to “eat” the system operating files and data files until the drive is empty.
  • Trojan is a type of malware that are written with the purpose of discovering your financial information, taking over your computer’s system resources, and in larger systems creating a “denial-of-service attack” which is making a machine or network resource unavailable to those attempting to reach it. Example: Google, AOL, Yahoo or your business network becoming unavailable.

Dealing with Cyber-Attacks on critical infrastructure:

  • Nuclear power plants aren’t the only critical infrastructure in operation. As India digitises further, it will mean that there are more surfaces for attacks.
  • India is centralising datasets, and connecting them together. Example: Aadhaar, the largest biometric database in the world; state resident data hubs with citizen data; the National Health Information Network with electronic health records is being planned; UPI; NATGRID with a plan to connect multiple databases together etc.
  • As more critical infrastructure is set up, the risk of crippling critical parts of India’s security and economic infrastructure increases.
  • Cyber-attacks are here to stay, and how the nation responds to them needs to be given due consideration.
  • Defining global conventions around cyber-attacks something like a global agreement around the digital space, akin to a digital Geneva convention on cyber warfare could help. A minimum agreed-upon list of norms on what states must absolutely not do to other states and citizens is needed.
  • India should consider strengthening its Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERT), and empowering sectoral CERTs. Working with the private sector to enhance capacity and manpower related to cyber security will help develop local capabilities.

CSIR OFFERS FREE MAPPING OF INDIAN GENOMES

Why in News?

  • Following the Genome India project, the first such human genome mapping project in India the genomic data of 10,000 Indians are being catalogued.

Highlights:

  • A genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all its genes. It contains all the information needed to build and maintain that organism.
  • By sequencing the genome, researchers can discover the functions of genes and identify which of them are critical for life.
  • Across the world, predictive diagnosis and precision medicine based on the genetic makeup of patients are emerging fields in the treatment of diseases such as cancer and other genetic disorders.
  • The Genome India project will aim to make predictive diagnostic markers available for some priority diseases such as cancer and other rare and genetic disorders.
  • Through the Genome Project India wants to becomes part of the global endeavour to chart out the complex human genetic map.
  • The newly opened IndiGen initiative, a programme managed by the CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) and the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) proposes to offer free mapping of an individual’s entire genome.
  • The aim of the exercise is twofold: to test if it’s possible to rapidly and reliably scan several genomes and advise people on health risks that are manifest in their gene and to understand the variation and frequency of certain genes that are known to be linked to disease.

NANO-PHARMACEUTICALS

Why in News?

  • The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released guidelines for evaluation of nano-pharmaceuticals, which are emerging as more potent tools for treating various diseases.

What are Nano-Pharmaceuticals?

 

  • Nanopharmaceuticals represent an emerging field where the sizes of the drug particle or a therapeutic delivery system work at the nanoscale.
  • They are derived by application of nanotechnology in medical therapeutics.
    In the pharmaceutical industry, a long-standing issue is a difficulty of delivering the appropriate dose of a particular active agent to specific disease site.
  • Nanopharmaceuticals have enormous potential in addressing this failure of traditional therapeutics which offers site-specific targeting of active agents.
    Such precision targeting via nanopharmaceuticals reduces toxic systemic side effects, resulting in better patient compliance.

Benefits:

  • They are expected to bring about a revolution in treatment strategies as they would enable targeting specific delivery of drugs and therapeutic molecules.
    They offer higher efficacy and lower toxicity in many disease conditions.
    They are expected to be of great use particularly in cancer treatment.

Why Need Guidelines?

  • Every year several new nano-pharmaceuticals are being developed and marketed across the world.
  • India too has a sizable pool of nano-scientists generating a large number of scientific publications in this domain.
  • However, regulatory approval is the most important factor for translating laboratory research into bedside medicine.
  • The new set of guidelines is designed to facilitate this process.

Guidelines:

  • The guidelines cover all the aspects of evaluation from the definition and categorization of nano-pharmaceuticals to pharmacovigilance of the new set of therapeutics.
  • It has been prepared as a joint project by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) in the Union Ministry of Science and Technology, and ICMR and Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation under health Ministry.
  • It will give a big boost to innovators and drug manufacturers to optimise their research and come out with medicines that would be safer and more affordable.

QUANTUM COMPUTING

Why in News?

  • Google announced that it has achieved a breakthrough called quantum supremacy in computing.

What is Quantum Supremacy?

  • It is a term proposed in 2012 by John Preskill, professor of theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology.
  • It describes the point where quantum computers can do things that classical computers cannot.
  • In Google’s case, researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara have claimed to have developed a processor that took 200 seconds to do a calculation that would have taken a classical computer 10,000 years.

What is a Quantum Computer?

 

  • Our traditional computers work on the basis of the laws of classical physics, specifically by utilising the flow of electricity. A quantum computer, on the other hand, seeks to exploit the laws that govern the behaviour of atoms and subatomic particles.
  • At that tiny scale, many laws of classical physics cease to apply, and the unique laws of quantum physics come into play.

Mechanism:

  • In a classical computer Bits of information are stored as either 0 or 1. Every string of such digits (bitstrings) represents a unique character or instruction; for example, 01100001 represents the lowercase “a”.
  • In a quantum computer, information is stored in quantum bits, or qubits. And a qubit can be both 0 and 1 at the same time.
  • Quantum physics involves concepts that even physicists describe as weird. Unlike classical physics, in which an object can exist in one place at one time, quantum physics looks at the probabilities of an object being at different points. Existence in multiple states is called superposition, and the relationships among these states is called entanglement.
  • The higher the number of qubits, the higher the amount of information stored in them. Compared to the information stored in the same number of bits, the information in qubits rises exponentially.
  • That is what makes a quantum computer so powerful. And yet, as Caltech’s Preskill wrote in 2012, building reliable quantum hardware is challenging because of the difficulty of controlling quantum systems accurately.
  • Challenges : Quantum researchers need to cool the qubits to close to absolute zero to limit vibration — or “noise” — that causes errors to creep into their calculations. It’s in this extremely challenging task that the research team at Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc, has made significant progress.

Googles Achievement:

  • Google developed a microprocessor, named Sycamore, that packs a total of 54 qubits. Measuring about 10 mm across, it is made using aluminium and indium parts sandwiched between two silicon wafers.
  • In their experiment, the researchers were able to get 53 of the qubits — connected to each other in a lattice pattern — to interact in a so-called quantum state.
  • They then set the quantum computer a complex task to detect patterns in a series of seemingly random numbers. It solved the problem in 3 minutes and 20 seconds. They estimated that the same problem would take 10,000 years for a Summit supercomputer – the most powerful in the world today — to solve
  • Quantum computers could one day result in huge advances in science research and technology. Among areas that stand to gain are artificial intelligence, and new drug therapies.

2 OUT OF 3 WILD POLIOVIRUS STRAINS HAVE BEEN ERADICATED, SAYS WHO

Why in News?

  • In an announcement by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on World Polio Day (October 24), an independent commission of experts declared that Wild Poliovirus Type 3 (Wpv3) has been eradicated worldwide. This follows the eradication of Smallpox and Wild Poliovirus Type 2.

About Wild Polio Virus:

  • The virus is transmitted by person-to person spread mainly through the faecal-oral route or, less frequently, by a common vehicle (e.g. contaminated water or food) and multiplies in the intestine, from where it can invade the nervous system and can cause paralysis.
  • Initial symptoms of polio include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck, and pain in the limbs.
  • In a small proportion of cases, the disease causes paralysis, which is often permanent. There is no cure for polio, it can only be prevented by immunization.
  • There are three individual and immunologically distinct wild poliovirus strains:
    • Wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1)
    • Wild poliovirus type 2 (WPV2)
    • Wild poliovirus type 3 (WPV3).
  • Symptomatically, all three strains are identical, in that they cause irreversible paralysis or even death. But there are genetic and virological differences, which make these three strains three separate viruses that must each be eradicated individually.
  • This type 1 virus remains in circulation in just two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Types of Polio Vaccines:

Two different kinds of vaccine are available:

1.An inactivated (killed) polio vaccine (IPV)

2.Live attenuated oral polio vaccine (OPV)

1.Inactivated Polio vaccine (IPV):

  • It is produced from wild-type poliovirus strains of each serotype that have been inactivated (killed) with formalin.
  • It is an injection able vaccine and can be administered alone or in combination with other vaccines (e.g., diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, and haemophilus influenza).

2.Oral Polio vaccine (OPV):

  • It consists of a mixture of the three live attenuated poliovirus serotypes (type 1, 2 and 3), selected for their lower neurovirulence and reduced transmissibility.
  • Monovalent oral polio vaccines (mOPV) consist of live, attenuated (weakened) poliovirus strains of either type 1 (mOPV1) or type 3 (mOPV3) poliovirus only. The vaccine gives protection against one type of poliovirus only (either type 1 or type 3 depending on the vaccine).
  • Trivalent OPV contains live and weakened versions for all the three types (1, 2 and 3) of wild polio while the bivalent vaccine will contain type 1 and 3. Type 2 of wild polio virus has been eradicated worldwide long time back.

NATIONAL FAMILY HEALTH SURVEY

Why in News?

  • Demographers from around the world gathered in Delhi recently to mark 25 years of National Family Health Surveys (NFHS).

About:

  • The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW) has designated the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) Mumbai, as the nodal agency, responsible for providing coordination and technical guidance for the survey.
  • NFHS is a large-scale, multi-round survey conducted in a representative sample of households throughout India. Four rounds of the survey have been conducted since the first survey in 1992-93.The funding for different rounds of NFHS has been provided by USAID, DFID, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNICEF, UNFPA, and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India.
  • The survey provides state and national information for India on fertility, infant and child mortality, the practice of family planning, maternal and child health, reproductive health, nutrition, anaemia, utilization and quality of health and family planning services.

Goal of NFHS:

  • To provide essential data on health and family welfare needed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and other agencies for policy and programme purposes.
  • To provide information on important emerging health and family welfare issues.

Highlights of NFHS-4 report:

  • According to National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-4, 2015-16, one in every five Indians (both genders) is too thin with a BMI of less than 18.5, while every fourth male and second female is anaemic.
  • The NFHS-4 highlighted that one in three women consume dark green leafy vegetables, chicken/meat/fish/eggs only once a week while one in two women do not consume fruits even once a week.
  • The NFHS report also noted that one in five women however, consume aerated drinks weekly, one in 10 women consume fried food daily. Only one in 10 children aged 6-23 months receives an adequate diet.
  • The Global Nutrition Report stated that India is facing a major malnutrition crisis as it holds almost a third of the world’s burden for stunting.
  • The Global Nutrition report highlighted that 46.6 million children in India are stunted and India tops the list, followed by Nigeria (13.9 million) and Pakistan (10.7 million).
  • The Global Nutrition report also noted that India also accounted for 25.5 million children who are wasted, followed by Nigeria (3.4 million) and Indonesia (3.3 million).
  • Together with various governmental interventions, it is necessary to bring behavioural change to eradicate malnutrition from India. This necessitates educating the families about the need for nutrition.

MISSION INDRADHANUSH 2.0

Why in News?

  • The Government will launch the second phase of nationwide immunisation drive, i.e. Intensified Mission Indradhanush 2.0, to mark the 25 years of Pulse polio programme.

About the Programme:

  • Intensified Mission Indradhanush 2.0 aims to achieve at least 90% pan-India immunisation coverage by 2022.
  • Through ‘IMI 2.0’, the health ministry aims to reach each and every child below the age of two years and all pregnant women still uncovered/partially covered in 271 districts of the country.
  • IMI 2.0 will include four rounds of vaccination, with each round involving a seven-day immunisation drive to be conducted each month.
  • The IMI programme is supported by 12 ministries and departments and is being monitored by the cabinet secretary at the national level.

Government Interventions in Immunization:

1.‘Expanded Programme of Immunization (EPI):

  • Immunization Programme in India was introduced in 1978 as ‘Expanded Programme of Immunization (EPI) by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

2.Universal Immunization Programme (UIP)’:

  • In 1985, the above programme was modified as ‘Universal Immunization Programme (UIP)’.
  • UIP prevents mortality and morbidity in children and pregnant women against 12 vaccine-preventable diseases.
  • The stated objectives of the Programme include:
  • Rapidly increasing immunization coverage,
  • Improving the quality of services,
  • Establishing a reliable cold chain system to the health facility level.
  • Introducing a district-wise system for monitoring of performance,
  • Achieving self-sufficiency in vaccine production.
  • But in the past, it was seen that the increase in immunization coverage had slowed down. So in order to accelerate the coverage, Mission Indradhanush was envisaged and implemented since 2015 to rapidly increase the full immunization coverage to 90%.

3.Mission Indradhanush:

  • It targets children under 2 years of age and pregnant women for immunization.
  • The aim is to fully immunize more than 89 lakh children who are either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated under UIP.
  • It provides vaccination against 12 Vaccine-Preventable Diseases (VPD) i.e. diphtheria, Whooping cough, tetanus, polio, tuberculosis, hepatitis B, meningitis and pneumonia, Hemophilus influenza type B infections, Japanese encephalitis (JE), rotavirus vaccine, pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) and measles-rubella (MR).
  • The rate of increase in full immunization coverage increased to 6.7% per year through the first two phases of ‘Mission Indradhanush’.

4.Intensified Mission Indradhanush:

  • The Intensified Mission Indradhanush (IMI) was launched by the Government of India in 2017 to reach each and every child under two years of age and all those pregnant women who have been left uncovered under the routine immunisation programme.
  • Under IMI, greater focus has been given on urban areas which was considered to be one of the gaps in Mission Indradhanush.
  • The target under IMI was to increase the full immunization coverage to 90% by December 2018. However, only 16 districts in the country have achieved 90% coverage so far.
  • The official data states that India’s immunisation coverage is still 62%. (As per National Family Health Survey-4 (2015-16)).

5.Intensified Mission Indradhanush 2.0:

  • This will target the districts which have immunisation coverage of 70% or below.

BRAHMOS SURFACE-TO-SURFACE MISSILE TESTS

Why in News?

  • Two BrahMos Surface-to-Surface missile tests were conducted at Trak Island in the Andaman Nicobar group of islands.
  • A surface-to-surface missile (SSM) or ground-to-ground missile (GGM) is a missile designed to be launched from the ground or the sea and strike targets on land or at sea.
  • They may be fired from hand-held or vehicle-mounted devices, from fixed installations, or from a ship.

BrahMos:

  • It is a medium-range ramjet supersonic cruise missile that can be launched from submarines, ships, aircraft or land.
  • It is a joint venture between the Russian Federation’s NPO Mashinostroyeniya and India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
  • The name BrahMos is a portmanteau formed from the names of two rivers, Brahmaputra and Moskva of Russia.
  • It is the world’s fastest anti-ship cruise missile in operation.

TECHSAGAR

Context:

  • National Cyber Security Coordinator’s office in partnership with Data Security Council of India (DSCI) has launched national repository of India’s cyber tech capabilities named TechSagar.

What is TechSagar?

  • It is a consolidated and comprehensive repository of India’s cyber tech capabilities which provides actionable insights about capabilities of the Indian Industry, academia and research across 25 technology areas.
  • The portal will list business and research entities from the IT industry, start-ups, academia, and individual researchers. Thus, it acts as a platform to discover India’s technological capability through a portal.
  • The areas covered under the portal are as internet of things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), blockchain, cloud & virtualisation, robotics & automation, ar/vr, wireless & networking, and more.

Significance:

  • As India aspires to become a trillion-dollar digital economy, the repository will facilitate new opportunities for businesses and academia to collaborate, connect and innovate in future.TechSagar will allow targeted search, granular navigation and drill down methods using more than 3000 niche capabilities.The repository features 4000+ entities from industry, academia and research including large enterprises and start-ups providing a country level view of India’s cyber competencies.
  • In order to combat the growing threat from cybercrime, there is an urgent need to collaborate and develop cyber technology capabilities in India. With the launch of TechSagar, the seed has been sown for start-ups to prosper in cyber tech. This is a good example of government facilitating industry growth in a strategic domain.

About DSCI:

  • Data Security Council of India (DSCI), is a not-for-profit, industry body on data protection in India, setup by NASSCOM.
  • It is committed to making the cyberspace safe, secure and trusted by establishing best practices, standards and initiatives in cyber security and privacy.
  • To further its objectives, DSCI engages with governments and their agencies, regulators, industry sectors, industry associations and think tanks for policy advocacy, thought leadership, capacity building and outreach activities.

THE NOBEL PRIZE IN PHYSICS 2019

  • The royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced that the Nobel Prize in Physics would go to three people: One half of it would be shared by Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz of the University of Geneva, for discovering for the first time a planet outside our solar system orbiting a Sun-like star; the other half would go to James Peebles, Princeton University, for his contribution to physical cosmology.
  • This brought the topics of exoplanets, dark matter, dark energy, cosmic microwave background (CMB) into limelight.

Exoplanets:

  • An exoplanet is a planet outside our solar system. It is an extrasolar planet.
  • ’51 Pegasi b’ was the first exoplanet to be discovered in 1995. It is unlikely that we can survive in that.
  • According to NASA, there are 4,073 confirmed exoplanets.

Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB):

  • About 400,000 years after the Big Bang, the universe expanded and cooled to a few thousand degrees Celsius.
  • This caused it to become transparent, allowing light to pass through it.
  • This ancient afterglow of the Big Bang, the remnants of which still can be observed, is known as the cosmic microwave background (CMB).
  • CMB is a faint cosmic background radiation filling all space.
  • Microwave radiation is invisible light.
  • The CMB is useful to scientists because it helps us learn how the early universe was formed. It is at a uniform temperature with only small fluctuations visible. By studying these fluctuations, cosmologists can learn about the origin of galaxies.
  • CMB-Bharat is a proposal for comprehensive next generation Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) mission, which could help listen to the faintest murmurs of the early universe.
  • It is proposed as an international collaboration mission with major Indian contribution

Dark Matter:

  • By measuring the speeds of rotating galaxies, scientists were able to see that a lot of mass needed to be there that would hold the galaxies together with the strength of their gravitational attraction.
  • Before Peebles intervened, the missing mass was attributed to neutrinos.
  • Peebles instead said this is due to a hitherto unknown type of “dark” matter particles. However, while they could “see” a portion of this mass, a large part of it could not be seen. Hence the mass missing from view was named “dark” matter.
  • Even though this matter is all around us, close as well as far away, we only feel it through its gravity, but we cannot see it through other interactions. This is because it does not interact with light.
  • About 25% of the mass of the universe is made up of dark matter.

Dark Energy:

  • In 1998, it was discovered that the universe is expanding, and that this expansion was gaining speed or accelerating.
  • There had to be an “invisible” energy that was driving this.
  • Calculations showed that this dark energy did not interact with the observed mass and makes up about 70% of the universe.

ASBESTOS IN BABY POWDER

What to Study?

  • Johnson & Johnson is recalling one lot of its Johnson’s Baby Powder after tiny amounts of asbestos contamination were found in samples from a single bottle purchased online.
  • It was found that the contaminated bottle contained chrysotile fibers, a type of asbestos.

What is Talc?

  • Talc is a clay mineral which is found in underground deposits. It’s the softest mineral ever known and that makes it useful in a wide range of consumer and industrial products.
  • This mineral is used as a thickening agent and lubricant, is an ingredient in ceramics, paint and roofing material, and is also one of the main ingredients in many cosmetic products.
  • Talc in powdered form, often in combination with corn starch, is widely used as baby powder (Talcum Powder).
  • Asbestos is also found underground, and veins of it can often be found in talc deposits, leading to a risk of cross-contamination.

About Asbestos:

  • Asbestos is a group of six naturally occurring fibrous minerals composed of thin, needle-like fibers. They are commonly known by their colours, as blue asbestos, brown asbestos, white asbestos, and green asbestos.

Applications of Asbestos:

  • Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that can be pulled into a fluffy consistency. Asbestos fibers are soft and flexible yet resistant to heat, electricity and corrosion. These qualities make the mineral useful.
  • Pure asbestos is an effective insulator, and it can be used in cloth, paper, cement, plastic and other materials to make them stronger.

Health impacts of Asbestos:

  • Inspite of various applications of asbestos in strengthening and fireproofing of materials, it is banned in many of the countries.
  • It is because when someone inhales or ingests asbestos dust, the mineral fibers can become forever trapped in their body.
  • Over decades, trapped asbestos fibers can cause inflammation, scarring and eventually genetic damage to the body’s cells.
  • A rare and aggressive cancer called mesothelioma is almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos also causes other forms of cancer as well as progressive lung disease and asbestosis.
  • Microscopic asbestos fibers cannot be seen, smelled or tasted, and it is unsafe to sniff a substance suspected of being asbestos. To detect asbestos, a sample of questionable material must be sent to a lab for testing.

MALARIA PARASITE JUMPED FROM GORILLAS TO HUMANS

Why in News?

  • Experts have found that African great apes were the original host to the parasite Plasmodium falciparum – the type the researchers studied, which accounts for most cases of Malaria.

Highlights:

  • Malaria is caused by a parasite that gets into the bloodstream when an infected mosquito bites humans – or animals.
  • There are lots of different strains of parasite and one of the most important ones, which now affects only humans, is Plasmodium falciparum.
  • Falciparumis one of seven species of parasite that can cause malaria in a family known as the Laverania.The study says that the parasite switched host from gorillas at about the same time as the first migration of humans out of Africa, some 40,000 to 60,000 years ago.The DNA sequence included a gene that produced a protein called RH5 that can bind to human red blood cells.

Zoonosis:

  • When diseases, such as influenza or malaria, jump from animals to humans in this way it is known as a zoonosis.It occurs when pathogens that are already able to infect an animal host acquire genetic material that enables them to also infect humans.
  • In the case of falciparummalaria, it is thought that the genetic transfer of the rh5 gene occurred when a gorilla cell became infected with two species of Plasmodium parasite simultaneously – an event known as an introgression.When an introgression occurs, genetic material is swapped from one species to another.
  • In the history of mankind, Plasmodium falciparum malaria has arguably been responsible for more human deaths than any other disease. The scientists have discovered not only how a species host switch has occurred, but the individual mutation which has then restricted P. falciparum to a single host species.

NPL SYNTHESISES NOVEL SECURITY INK

Why in News?

  • National Physical Laboratory (CSIR-NPL) has recently synthesised a novel security ink that emits intense red colour when exposed to UV and emits green colour soon after the UV source is turned off.

About the News:

  • A Novel Security Ink that emits intense red colour when exposed to 254 nm wavelength UV and emits green colour soon after the UV source is turned off has been synthesised by a team of researchers from the Delhi-based National Physical Laboratory (CSIR-NPL).
  • The emission of red is due to fluorescence while green is due to phosphorescence phenomenon. Both red and green can be clearly seen with the naked eye under ambient conditions.
  • The Red Colour is emitted at 611 nm wavelength while the green is emitted at 532 nm.

Lasting Phosphorescence:

  • The researchers found the images printed on ordinary paper using the ink exhibits excellent physical durability and chemical stability. There was no noticeable change in emission from the images even at the end of six months when exposed to high temperatures and high humidity.
  • The emission showed no changes when the images were exposed to various bleaching solutions. So, the ink has the potential to be used as a security feature on currency notes and passports.

INDIAN COUNCIL OF AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH RELEASES TWO DIAGNOSTIC KITS

Why in News?

  • Two diagnostic kits developed by Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) – Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI) under the ‘Make in India’ initiative has been recently launched.

What are the New Diagnostic Kits?

1.The Bluetongue sandwich ELISA (sELISA)

2.The Japanese Encephalitis lgM ELISA kit for the control of Swine and Detection of Antigen

1.About Japanese Encephalitis (JE) ELISA Kit (IgM) for Swine:

  • JE is a re-emerging viral zoonotic disease leading to death of large number of children every year in the country. The kit developed by the ICAR-Indian Veterinary Research Institute will be helpful for assessing the active infection of JE virus in the swine population which predicts the outbreak of JE in the humans.
  • As compared to the commercial kit available in the market at a price of Rs. 52,000; the ICAR-IVRI developed is available for the farmers at a minimal price of Rs. 5,000 only. Each kit is meant for testing around 45 samples.

What is AES?

  • Acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) is a serious public health problem in India.
  • It is characterized as acute-onset of fever and a change in mental status (mental confusion, disorientation, delirium, or coma) and/or new-onset of seizures in a person of any age at any time of the year.Viruses are the main causative agents in AES cases, although other sources such as bacteria, fungus, parasites, spirochetes, chemicals, toxins and non-infectious agents have also been reported over the past few decades.

2.About Bluetongue: Sandwich ELISA for detection of Antigen

  • Bluetongue (BT) virus is an insect-transmitted viral disease of domestic and wild ruminants that includes the camelid species.
  • The disease is widespread among the sheep, goats, cattle, buffaloes and camels in the country.
  • With the help of the Kit, the Bluetongue Virus can be controlled with the vaccination of susceptible animals, vector control and quarantine of infected animals with the good management practices.
  • Apart from the vaccination, the early diagnosis and isolation of the infected animals are one of the commonly suggested preventive methods for controlling the spreading of the disease.

Benefits of the Kits:

  • This indigenous technology will not just help save foreign exchange as the newly developed kits cost ten times lesser than the imported ones but also has the potential to earn foreign exchange.
  • These two Kits will definitely be beneficial for not only the farming community, but the society as a whole. Based on the casualties caused by the deadliest diseases in the societies every year, the Kits will prove to be a real helping hand.

About ICAR:

  • Indian Council of Agricultural Research Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is an autonomous organisation headquartered at New Delhi and works under the Department of Agricultural Research and Education (DARE), Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare.
  • Indian Council of Agricultural Research is the apex body in India for coordinating, guiding and managing research and education in agriculture including horticulture, fisheries and animal sciences in the entire country.
  • Earlier known as Imperial Council of Agricultural Research, it was established on 16 July 1929 as a registered society under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 in pursuance of the report of the Royal Commission on Agriculture.

HOW OXYGEN LEVELS AFFECT CELL METABOLISM?

Why in News?

  • The Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine was awarded to three scientists, William G. Kaelin Jr. from Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Maryland, U.S., Sir Peter J. Ratcliffe from Francis Crick Institute, London, and Gregg L. Semenza from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering for their discovery of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.
  • The three scientists have uncovered the genetic mechanisms that allow cells to respond to varying levels of oxygen.

Why is it important?

  • Oxygen is used by all cells to convert food to useful energy.
  • While oxygen is essential for the survival of cells, excess or too little oxygen can lead to adverse health consequences.
  • Oxygen supply temporarily reduces in muscles during intense exercise and under such conditions the cells adapt their metabolism to lowoxygen levels.
  • Proper growth of the foetus and placenta depends onthe ability of the cells to sense oxygen.
  • Drugs have already been developed to treat Anaemia by making the body produce increased number of red blood cells.
  • Similarly, drugs to increase oxygen availability in people with heart disease and lung cancer are being tested. Many diseases can be treated by increasing the function of a particular pathway of the oxygen-sensing machinery.
  • At the same time, inhibiting or blocking the pathway will have implications in treating cancer, heart attack, stroke and pulmonary hypertension.
  • Cancers are known to hijack the oxygen-regulation machinery to stimulate blood vessel formation and also re- programme the metabolism in order to adapt to low oxygen conditions.
  • The reprogramming of metabolism gives cancer cells the plasticity to shift from a state where they have limited potential to cause cancer to a state when they have greater potential for long-term growth.
  • Efforts are under way to develop drugs that can block the oxygensensing machinery of cancer cells to kill them.

What do we Already Know?

  • The rate at which we respire depends on the amount of oxygen being carried in the blood.
  • Specialised cells present next to large blood vessels in the neck sense the blood oxygen level and alert the brain to increase the rate of respiration when the oxygen level in the blood goes down.
  • At the beginning of the last century, scientists knew that specialised cells present in the kidneys make and release a hormone called erythropoietin.
  • When oxygen level is low, as in high altitudes, more of this hormone is produced and released, leading to increased production of red blood cells in the bone marrow — helping the body adapt to high altitudes.
  • Besides increasing red blood cells, the body also grows new blood vessels to increase blood supply.

What are the main contributions of 2019ʼs winners?

  • Both Prof. Semenza and Sir Ratcliffe independently studied how the erythropoietin gene is regulated by varying oxygen levels.
  • Both researchers found that the oxygen-sensing mechanism is not restricted to kidneys where the erythropoietin is produced but by diverse cells in tissues other than the kidney.
  • Semenza identified a pair of genes that express two proteins.
  • When the oxygen level is low, one of the proteins (HIF-1alpha) turns on certain genes, including the erythropoietin gene, to increase the production of erythropoietin.
  • The hormone, in turn, increases the oxygen availability by boosting the production of red blood cells.
  • Kaelin Jr., who was studying an inherited syndrome called von Hippel-Lindauʼs disease (VHL disease) found that people had increased risk of cancer when they inherited VHL mutations.
  • He found the VHL gene seemed to be involved in how cells respond to oxygen.
  • The function of the HIF-1alpha protein, which turns on the genes to produce more erythropoietin, is blocked and is rapidly degraded when the oxygen level is normal but remains intact when oxygen level is
  • Sir Ratcliffe found that VHL interacts with the HIF-1alpha protein and degrades it when the oxygen level is normal. This ensures that excess red blood cells are not produced when the oxygen level is normal.

Why do athletes use erythropoietin? What are the risks?

  • *Athletes have been found to use erythropoietin, synthetic oxygen carriers and blood transfusions for blood doping. Each of the three substances or methods is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency(WADA).
  • While the use of erythropoietin in people who are anaemic due to chronic kidney disease helps in increasing the oxygen level in the blood, the use of the hormone by normal, healthy people can lead to serious health risks.
  • In the case of healthy people who have a normal red blood cell count, the use of external erythropoietin is highly likely to make the blood thick (increase viscosity) leading to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and cerebral or pulmonary embolism (clot that blocks the flow of blood).

GOLDEN RATIO

Why in News?

  • The golden ratio can be defined in terms of a line, divided into two unequal segments in a way that their lengths meet a simple condition.
  • If we draw an arc across the top of the skull and divide it at a key junction over the brain, the two arc-segments are approximately in the golden ratio.
  • The golden ratio is alternatively called the golden mean and the divine ratio. Its frequent appearances in nature have driven claims that it is the work of a divine design.
  • This feature was studied recently by researchers of Johns Hopkins University, US, who have reported their findings in The Journal of Craniofacial Surgery.

How it makes the Ratio Golden?

  • When the ratio between these two lengths (the longer segment divided by the shorter one) happens to be the same as the ratio between the entire line and the longer segment, then the line is said to be divided in the golden ratio (see illustration).
  • For this condition to hold good, the ratio needs to be 1.61803… with the digits after the decimal going on forever; the golden ratio is what we call an “irrational number”.
  • It is represented by the Greek letter phi.

Why such a ratio is Considered Special?

  • Aesthetic appeal is among the first of many reasons.
  • Architects such as Le Corbusier have consciously proportioned their works to the golden ratio, or close.
  • So have artists such as Salvador Dalí and Leonardo da Vinci, whose fascination with the golden ratio features in the novel The Da Vinci Code and the film based on it.Interpretations of the golden ratio have not always been objective.

Other Examples:

  • The fact remains, however, that the golden ratio frequently shows itself in nature, whether directly or indirectly (through its cousins called the Fibonacci numbers).
  • To cite a few examples, the golden ratio appears in the seeds of sunflowers, the scales of pineapples, the arrangement of petals on a rose, DNA structures, the anatomy of the heart — and has now turned up in the human skull.

ELASTOCALORIC EFFECT

Why in News?

  • When rubbers bands are twisted and untwisted, it produces a cooling effect.
  • This is called the “elastocaloric” effect, and researchers have suggested that it can be used in a very relevant context today.
  • Researchers have found that the elastocaloric effect, if harnessed, may be able to do away with the need of fluid refrigerants used in fridges and air-conditioners.
  • These fluids are susceptible to leakages, and can contribute to global warming.

How it works?

  • In the elastocaloric effect, the transfer of heat works much the same way as when fluid refrigerants are compressed and expanded.
  • When a rubber band is stretched, it absorbs heat from its environment, and when it is released, it gradually cools down.
  • In order to figure out how the twisting mechanism might be able to enable a fridge, the researchers compared the cooling power of rubber fibres, nylon and polyethylene fishing lines and nickel-titanium wires.
  • They observed high cooling from twist changes in twisted, coiled and supercoiled fibres.

Efficiency:

  • The level of efficiency of the heat exchange in rubber bands “is comparable to that of standard refrigerants and twice as high as stretching the same materials without twisting”.
  • To demonstrate this setup, the researchers developed a fridge the size of a ballpoint pen cartridge that was able to bring down the temperature of a small volume of water by 8°C in a few seconds.
  • They suggested that their findings may lead to the development of greener, higher-efficiency and low-cost cooling technology.

IONOSPHERIC CONNECTION EXPLORER

Why in News?

  • NASA has launched a satellite to explore the mysterious, dynamic region where air meets space.

Ionospheric Connection Explorer:

  • The satellite — called ICON, short for Ionospheric Connection Explorer — rocketed into orbit following a two-year delay.
  • The refrigerator-size ICON satellite will study the airglow formed from gases in the ionosphere and also measure the charged environment right around the spacecraft which is at a level of 580 kilometers above the Earth’s surface.
  • The ionosphere is the charged part of the upper atmosphere extending several hundred miles (kilometers) up.
  • It’s in constant flux as space weather bombards it from above and Earth weather from below, sometimes disrupting radio communications.

Why study Ionosphere?

  • There’s too much going on in this region to be caused by just the sun.
  • Hurricanes, tornadoes and other extreme weather conditions on Earth are also adding energy.
  • The more scientists know the better spacecraft and astronauts can be protected in orbit through improved forecasting.
  • A NASA satellite launched last year, Gold, is also studying the upper atmosphere, but from much Higher Up.

PRIVACY RIGHTS & WRONGS

Why in News?

  • TRAI had commenced a process of consultations to bring over the top (OTT) services like WhatsApp and Telegram under “lawful interception”.

Objectives:

  • The objective of the exercise is public security since criminals and terrorists are known to use end-to-end encryption offered by such services to fly under the radar.
  • Parity has always been an issue since telecom providers complain that they are regulated and must respond to requests for information from governments and agencies. But the OTT sector is untrammelled.

Is Interception Technologically Feasible, at all?

  • Technology companies have argued that end-to-end encryption is completely private between the correspondents in the conversation.It is encrypted by a pair of security keys which their devices exchange, and which are available to no one else, not even the OTT provider. Providers are unable to provide governments with any communications content, except metadata like the frequency of contact.
  • The US Attorney General’s, along with his counterparts in Australia and the UK, has requested Mark Zuckerberg not to deploy systems that preclude any form of access to content, even for preventing or investigating the most serious crimes.

Need for Such Technologies:

  • Concerns about crime, terrorism and lethal mischief-making using encrypted communications are legitimate.
  • Worldwide, the pressure is developing on providers and platforms to make content available for inspection.

Against privacy:

  • Privacy concerns are equally legitimate because compromising security would degrade privacy across platforms.Blackberry had kept a copy of encrypted communications and provided it to the governments of India, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Now, it is an inconsequential player. Privacy is now recognised as a right. It would open the door to situations like the NSA mass surveillance scandal.

A NEW TECHNIQUE TO PROTECT COPPER FROM CORROSION

Why in News?

  • Researchers at Indian Institute of Technology (BHU), Varanasi, have developed a new method that promises to protect copper, which is one of the most popular commercial metals, from corrosion in a cost effective manner.

Background:

  • Over the years, scientists have developed several techniques to combat the problem of corrosion of copper.
  • However, they are expensive or highly complex or provide incomplete protection in acidic media. The new method promises to overcome these problems.

Floating Film Transfer Method:

  • Researchers used technique called ‘floating film transfer method’ to obtain ultrathin films of an organic material, squaraine, and to transfer it over the copper articles as layers.
  • The anti-corrosion activity was tested in the presence of hydrochloride using electrochemical techniques as well as surface characterization techniques.
  • The tests showed that nearly 40 per cent corrosion protection is reached with just one layer of squaraine and increased up to 98 per cent with four layers.

Why Squaraine?

  • There are several ways to protect copper from corrosion, but squaraine has an interesting chemical structure.It has a hydrophobic functional group at one end, a hydrophilic functional group at the other end and the two are connected to a square unit in the middle.
  • This helps it dissolve in both hydrophobic and hydrophilic solvents and enables it to be drawn out in the form of thin films.
  • Since metal surfaces are hydrophilic, if squaraine is coated on them, its hydrophilic end interacts with the metal surface and the hydrophobic end hangs out in air and thus repelling corrosive molecules.

The Experiment:

  • For their experiment, the researchers filled a petridish with distilled water up to three-fourth of its height and the upper water surface was cleaned multiple times with small strips of lint free tissue to ensure that there was no contamination.
  • One drop of squarine solution in chloroform was released over the water surface. A blue circular floating film was formed at the air-water interface within seconds.
  • The film was then carefully lifted on to a copper strip and washed gently with a stream of distilled water followed by vacuum drying.
  • The researchers kept depositing layer after layer and after adding every layer tested the anti-corrosion behavior of the layer.

GEOTAIL

Why in News?

  • Recently on board with Chandrayaan-2 mission, an instrument called CLASS, designed to detect signatures of elements in the Moon’s soil, had detected charged particles during the mission.This happened in September, during the orbiter’s passage through the “geotail”.

Geotail:

  • The geotail is a region in space that allows the best observations.
  • The region exists as a result of the interactions between the Sun and Earth.
  • The Sun emits the solar wind, which is a continuous stream of charged particles. These particles are embedded in the extended magnetic field of the Sun.
  • Since the Earth has a magnetic field, it obstructs the solar wind plasma.
  • This interaction results in the formation of a magnetic envelope around Earth.
  • On the Earth side facing the Sun, the envelope is compressed into a region that is approximately three to four times the Earth radius.
  • On the opposite side, the envelope is stretched into a long tail, which extends beyond the orbit of the Moon. It is this tail that is called the geotail.

CLASS:

  • CLASS stands for Chandrayaan 2 Large Area Soft X-ray Spectrometer.
  • For the CLASS instrument seeking to detect element signatures, the lunar soil can be best observed when a solar flare provides a rich source of X-rays to illuminate the surface.
  • Secondary X-ray emission resulting from this can be detected by CLASS to directly detect the presence of key elements like Na, Ca, Al, Si, Ti and Fe.

NOBEL PRIZE

Why in News?

  • The Nobel Foundation has recently started announcing the winners of “Nobel Prize” in various fields and winners and the concerned details are as follows:

Awardees in the field of Physics:

  • The 2019 Nobel prize for Physics was awarded to Swiss Scientists Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz and Canadian – American physicist James Peebles.
  • Peebles, who is awarded one half of the prize, is recognized specifically “for theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology.
  • The other half of the prize is awarded jointly to Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, “for the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star.

1.James Peebles discoveries

  • The Canadian – American physicist James Peebles had contributed a lot to the field of physical cosmology for which he has been awarded with the prize. His discoveries are as:
    • He has made significant contributions towards cosmic microwave background radiation, Big Bang nucleosynthesis, dark energy and dark matter.
    • He was also the pioneer in the theory of Cosmic structure formation.

2.Contribution of Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz:

  • In 1955, the Swiss astronomers discovered an exoplanet at an observatory in France. It was named orbiting a sun like star called 51 Pegasi b (or 51 Peg b). It orbits very close to the sun. The mass of the exoplanet is half of Jupiter and its temperature are around 1200 degree Celsius.
  • At the time of its discovery by the astronomers this close distance for a planet to its start was not compatible with the theories of planet formation. Hence it led to discussions of planetary migration. Finally their discovery was proved right and it created revolution in astronomy.
  • Today, exoplanets are being discovered very frequently — over 4,000 are known — which is remarkable progress from three decades ago, when not even one exoplanet was known.

Awardees in the field of Medicine:

  • The 2019 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to scientists William G Kaelin, Jr, Peter J Ratcliffe and Gregg L Semenza.
  • They received the award jointly for their discoveries of “how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability. they established the basis for our understanding of how oxygen levels affect cellular metabolism and physiological function.
  • Their research has “paved the way for promising new strategies to fight anaemia, cancer and many other diseases.
  • The three will share the Nobel prize sum of nine million Swedish kronor or about 9 Lakh 14 thousand US dollar. They will receive their prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10.
  • It is the 110th prize in the category that has been awarded since 1901.

About Nobel Prize:

  • Alfred Nobel, a Swedish chemist, engineer, industrialist, and the inventor of dynamite, in his last will and testament in 1895, gave the largest share of his fortune to a series of prizeswhich were collectively came to be known as the “Nobel Prizes”.
  • The awards are started from the year of 1901 for five different fields and in the year 1969, the field of Economic sciences was also included.
  • The Nobel Prizes are widely regarded as the most prestigious awards given for intellectual achievement in the world.
  • The various awards that forms the group of “Nobel Prizes” are as follows:
  1. 1.Nobel Prize for Physics
  2. 2.Nobel Prize for Chemistry
  3. 3.Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine
  4. 4.Nobel Prize for Literature
  5. 5.Nobel Prize for Peace.
  6. 6.Nobel prize for Economic Sciences (added only in the year 1969)

The Awards are presented by:

  • The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences confers the prizes for Physics, Chemistry, and Economics. (Sweden Based)
  • The Karolinska Institute confers the prize for physiology or medicine. (Sweden Based)
  • The Swedish Academy confers the prize for literature. (Sweden Based)
  • The Norwegian Nobel Committee based in Oslo confers the prize for peace. (Norway Based)

 Indians (or individuals of Indian origin) who won the award are:

  • Rabindranath Tagore (Literature, 1913), C V Raman (Physics, 1930), Hargobind Khorana (Medicine, 1968), Mother Teresa (Peace, 1979), Subramanian Chandrashekhar (Physics, 1983), the Dalai Lama (Peace, 1989), Amartya Sen (Economics, 1998), Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (2009), and Kailash Satyarthi (Peace, 2014).

MOSAIC MISSION

Why in News?

  • A native of Kerala, the 32-year-old polar researcher will be the only Indian among 300 scientists from across the world aboard the multidisciplinary drifting observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) expedition.

MOSAiC Mission:

  • The MOSAiC mission stands for Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate.
  • It is a one-year-long expedition into the Central Arctic, planned to take place from 2019 to 2020.For the first time a modern research icebreaker will operate in the direct vicinity of the North Pole year-round, including the nearly half year long polar night during winter.
  • It comes about 125 years after Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen first managed to seal his wooden expedition ship, Fram, into the ice during a three-year expedition to the North Pole.MOSAiC will contribute to a quantum leap in our understanding of the coupled Arctic climate system and its representation in global climate models.
  • The focus of MOSAiC lies on direct in-situ observations of the climate processes that couple the atmosphere, ocean, sea ice, bio-geochemistry and ecosystem.

Why Study Arctic Climate?

  • The Arctic is a key area of global climate change, with warming rates exceeding twice the global average.The observed rate of climate change in the Arctic is not well reproduced in climate models.Many processes in the Arctic climate system are poorly represented in climate models because they are not sufficiently understood.
  • Understanding of Arctic climate processes is limited by a lack of year round observations in the central Arctic.

PLANET NINE

Why in News?

  • Hidden in the outer Solar System lurks a presence, believed to be a gigantic planet orbiting the same Sun and casting a visible influence on the behaviour of a number of other objects.
  • Although it has not yet been spotted, this behaviour would be difficult to explain if such a presence did not exist.

Planet Nine:

  • It is popularly referred to as Planet Nine, the presumed ninth planet of the Solar System, and occasionally as Planet X.
  • Scientists have proposed that this could be a tiny black hole instead.
  • They have shown that the behaviour of certain Trans-Neptunian Objects like a primordial black hole.

Primordial black hole:

  • A primordial black hole is one that is believed to have formed immediately after the creation of the universe.Like Planet Nine, primordial black holes too have been predicted to exist — including by the late Stephen Hawking — but none has been spotted as yet.

Planet Nine so far:

  • Over the years, scientists have sought to explain several puzzling aspects of the Solar System by attributing these to the influence of Planet Nine.
  • In a 2016 paper made out a case for Planet Nine’s existence by arguing that it could be responsible for the peculiar alignment of icy objects on the outskirts of the Solar System.

New suggestion about a Black Hole:

  • Researchers based their theory proposed two gravitational anomalies.
  • One is the unusual orbits of asteroids beyond the orbit of Neptune, which have fed the prediction of Planet Nine, estimated to be somewhere between 5 and 20 times the mass of the Earth.
  • The other anomaly was observed thousands of light years away, by a project called the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE).
  • In six observations, an object bent the light of a star like black holes do. This is called microlensing.
  • These six events correspond to objects whose masses are in the range 0.5 to 20 times the mass of Earth.
  • The catch is that it is much harder to look for a black hole than to look for a planet, especially when the black hole is predicted to be of small dimensions.
  • However, it is reasonable to expect a dark matter halo surrounds this black hole.
  • If dark matter can annihilate into particles we know, the halo surrounding the black hole would radiate high energy photons and the halo would be visible in X-rays and gamma rays.
  • Researchers propose to look through a gamma ray telescope dataset and try to find evidence of these annihilations.

CHANDRAYAAN-2’S ORBITER CLASS DETECTS CHARGED PARTICLES ON MOON

Why in News?

  • Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has announced that Chandrayaan2’s Orbiter payload CLASS has detected charged particles on the moon in its first few days of observation.
  • CLASS has observed intensity variations in its first passage through Moon’s orbit.

Highlights:

  • CLASS is able to detect direct signatures of elements present in the lunar soil.
  • It was also found by the CLASS that best observation occurred when the Sun provides a rich source of x-rays to illuminate the lunar surface.
  • The payload can also detect secondary x-ray emissions resulted from the lunar surface to find out elements like Na, Ca, Al, Si, Ti and Fe.
  • The sun emits a stream of protons and electrons into the solar system which is called the solar wind. The plasma in solar winds containing charged particles embedded in the extended magnetic field of the Sun travels at speeds of a few hundred km per second.
  • These particles interact with Earth’s atmosphere and create a magnetic envelop around the earth which is called magnetosphere.
  • This envelop of the magnetosphere is compressed into a region approximately three to four times the Earth radius on the side facing the Sun.
  • On the other end, it has a stretched tail which is called geotail that goes beyond the orbit of the Moon.
  • After every 29 days, Moon crosses the geotail for approximately six days. Therefore, Chandrayaan-2 also traversed geotail and its instruments found charged particles in the field.

CLASS:

  • The CLASS stands for Chandrayaan-2 Large Area Soft X-ray Spectrometer.
  • It helps to study the Moon’s X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectra to find out the presence of major elements such as Sodium, Silicon, Magnesium, Calcium, Aluminium, Titanium and Iron.
  • This technique will identify these elements by measuring the characteristic X-rays they emit when excited by the Sun’s rays.

X-ray Monitor:

  • X-ray Monitor or XSM detects the X-rays emitted by the Sun and its corona. It calculates the strength of solar radiation in these rays and assists CLASS.
  • Major objective of XSM is to provide solar X-ray spectrum in the energy range of 1-15 KV. This payload will give high-energy resolution and high-cadence measurements of solar X-ray spectra as input for analysis of data from CLASS.

ELEPHANT ENDOTHELIOTROPIC HERPESVIRUS

Why in News?

  • Since the middle of August, a rare disease has killed five elephants in Odisha. The disease is caused by a virus called Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV).

About Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV):

  • An EEHV information website, a resource conceived in 2011 at the 7th Annual International EEHV Workshop in Houston, describes EEHVs as a type of herpesvirus that can cause a highly fatal haemorrhagic disease in young Asian elephants.
  • Most elephants carry just as most humans carry a cold virus. When EEHV is triggered, the elephant dies of massive internal bleeding and symptoms which are hardly visible
  • Some elephants show symptoms such as reduced appetite, nasal discharge and swollen glands.
  • The disease is usually fatal, with a short course of 28-35 hours.
  • There is no true cure for herpesviruses in animals or in humans because the disease has a short course, this means we have to take a very quick call on a suspected EEHV case and kick off treatment protocols.
  • The treatment is a combination of anti-viral therapy, aggressive fluid therapy (to counter haemorrhaging), immuno-stimulant drugs (selenium and Vitamins C, E), anti-pyretics and analgesics (to bring down fever).

Concerns:

  • If elephants in the wild start falling prey to the virus, then treatment will be very difficult, it will be extremely hard to track down every wild elephant in the state and test whether they are positive for EEHV.
  • EEHV is lethal for young elephants between the ages of one and 12. If a young elephant dies before reproducing, it affects the population of the species as a whole in the concerned geography.

MONSOON MISSION COUPLED FORECAST MODEL (CFS)

Why in News?

  • The new monsoon model, called the Coupled Forecast Model (CFS), deployed by the IMD under the National Monsoon Mission (NMM) has failed to forecast the excess rainfall received during Aug-Sept 2019.

About:

  • An analysis has been suggesting that new monsoon models, called the Monsoon Mission Coupled Forecast Model (CFS), deployed by the IMD over the last decade are not performing better than the older ones in Long-Range Forecasting and its recent failure to predict the excess rainfall stands evidence to it.
  • However, the analysis have suggested that the IMD models that forecast two weeks ahead (called extended range prediction) and the short-term forecast models (that gauge weather three days ahead) are functioning well and have predicted the excess rainfall in advance.

About National Monsoon Mission (NMM):

  • This Mission was launched by Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) in 2012 with a vision to develop a state-of-the-art dynamical prediction system for monsoon rainfall on different time scales.
  • Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune is vested with the responsibility of execution and coordination of this mission.
  • Climate Forecast System (CFS) of USA has been identified as the basic modelling system for the above purpose, as it is one of the best among the currently available coupled models.

Objective of the Mission:

  • To build an ocean atmospheric model for – improved prediction of monsoon rainfall on extended range to seasonal time scale (16 days to one season) and improved prediction of temperature, rainfall and extreme weather events on short to medium range time scale (up to 15 days).

About Coupled Forecast Model (CFS):

  • “Climate Forecast System” (CFS) is an American model developed by National Centres for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), USA.
  • It is a coupled ocean-atmosphere modelling system that combines data from ocean, atmosphere and land for providing long range forecasting (seasonal prediction of Indian Monsoon).

THE GANDHIAN CHALLENGE

Why in News?

  • On the 150th birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, AIM, NITI Aayog’s Atal Tinkering Labs (ATL) and UNICEF India, including Generation Unlimited, have launched ‘The Gandhian Challenge’.

About Gandhian Challenge:

  • It is an innovation challenge which provides a platform for every child across India to ideate innovative solutions for a sustainable India of their dreams, using Gandhi’s principles.
  • The winners of The Gandhian Challenge will be awarded by NITI Aayog’s Atal Innovation Mission and UNICEF on the occasion of Children’s Day in November. The contest – open for every child in India from 2 October to 20 October – also celebrates 70 years of partnership between Government of India and UNICEF India to enable Every Right for Every Child.
  • Ideas and solutions to the Gandhian Challenge may be expressed through broad categories: Art & Innovation (Letters, poems, painting, videos and photos, among others) and Science, Technology & Innovation (Robotics, IoT, sensors and 3D printers, among others).

About Atal Innovation Mission (AIM):

  • AIM is the Government of India’s flagship initiative to promote a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in the country.
  • AIM’s objective is to develop new programmes and policies for fostering innovation in different sectors of the economy, provide platform and collaboration opportunities for different stakeholders, create awareness and create an umbrella structure to oversee innovation ecosystem of the country.
  • Six major initiatives of AIM:
    • Atal Tinkering Labs-Creating problem-solving mindset across schools in India.
    • Atal Incubation Centers-Fostering world class start-ups and adding a new dimension to the incubator model.
    • Atal New India Challenges-Fostering product innovations and aligning them to the needs of various sectors/ministries.
    • Mentor India Campaign- A national Mentor network in collaboration with public sector, corporates and institutions, to support all the initiatives of the mission.
    • Atal Community Innovation Center- To stimulate community centric innovation and ideas in the unserved /underserved regions of the country including Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities.
    • ARISE-To stimulate innovation and research in the MSME industry.

About UNICEF India and Generation Unlimited:

  • UNICEF, an integral part of the United Nations, works with governments, communities, civil society organizations, the private sector, and other partners worldwide to advance children’s rights, and is guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • Generation Unlimited is a new UNICEF-led global partnership that aims to ensure that every young person age 10-24 is in some form of school, learning, training, self-employment, or age-appropriate employment by 2030.
  • It aims to co-create and scale up proven solutions related to secondary age-education, skills for learning, employability and decent work, and empowerment, with a focus on girls.

HOW GRAVITY DISTORTS OUR VIEW OF A BLACK HOLE

Context:

  • A new visualisation of a black hole, released by NASA, illustrates how its gravity distorts our view by warping its surroundings.
  • The visualisation simulates the appearance of a black hole where infalling matter has collected into a thin, hot structure called an accretion disc.
  • The black hole’s extreme gravity skews light emitted by different regions of the disc, producing the misshapen appearance, NASA explained in the release.

Explanation:

  • As magnetic fields twist through the churning gas, bright knots form and dissipate in the disc. In the area closest to the black hole, the gas orbits at close to the speed of light.
  • The outer portions spin a bit more slowly. This difference stretches and shears the bright knots, producing light and dark lanes in the disk.
  • The black hole’s extreme gravity alters the paths of light coming from different parts of the disc, producing the warped image.
  • Exactly what we see depends on our viewing angle; the greatest distortion occurs when viewing the system nearly edgewise.
  • Glowing gas on the left side moves toward us so fast that the effects of Einstein’s relativity give it a boost in brightness.
  • On the right side, gas moving away becomes slightly dimmer. This asymmetry disappears when we see the disc exactly face on because, from that perspective, none of the material is moving along our line of sight.

About Einstein’s Theory of Relativity:

  • In 1915, Albert Einstein presented his theory of general relativity, which proposed that gravity itself was the result of a warping of spacetime by massive objects like stars and planets.
  • Einstein’s theory of relativity indicates that all objects fall the same way regardless of mass or composition.

Things predicted by General relativity include:

  • As light gets closer to the sun, it bends towards the suntwice as much as classical physics (the system used before general relativity) predicts.
  • The perihelion of the planet Mercury rotates along its orbit more than is expected under Newtonian physics. General relativity accounts for the difference between what is seen and what is expected without it.
  • Redshift from gravity.When light moves away from an object with gravity (moving away from the center of the valley), it is stretched into longer wavelengths. This was confirmed by the Pound-Rebka experiment.
  • The Shapiro delay.Light appears to slow down when it passes close to a massive object. This was first seen in the 1960s by space probes headed towards the planet Venus.
  • Gravitational waves.They were first observed on 14 September 2015.

PROJECT NETRA

Why in news?

  • ISRO has initiated ‘Project NETRA’ – an early warning system in space to detect debris and other hazards to Indian satellites.

Project NETRA (Network for space object Tracking and Analysis):

  • The project will give India its own capability in space situational awareness (SSA) like the other space powers — which is used to ‘predict’ threats from debris to Indian satellites.
  • NETRA’s eventual goal is to capture the GEO, or geostationary orbit, scene at 36,000 km where communication satellites operate.
  • The space agency says our SSA will first be for low-earth orbits or LEO which have remote-sensing spacecraft.
  • Under NETRA the ISRO plans to put up many observational facilities: connected radars, telescopes; data processing units and a control centre.
  • They can, among others, spot, track and catalogue objects as small as 10 cm, up to a range of 3,400 km and equal to a space orbit of around 2,000 km.
  • The NETRA effort would make India a part of international efforts towards tracking, warning about and mitigating space debris.

What NETRA consists of?

  • In the plans are a high-precision, long range telescope in Leh and a radar in the North East.
  • Along with them, we will also use the Multi-Object Tracking Radar (MOTR) that we have put up at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, and the telescopes at Ponmudi and Mount Abu to get a broad SSA picture.
  • NORAD, or the North American Aerospace Defense Command, is an initiative of the U.S. and Canada that shares selective debris data with many countries.
  • The new SSA centre would consolidate debris tracking activities that are now spread across ISRO centres.
  • Currently there are 15 functional Indian communication satellites in the geostationary orbit of 36,000 km; 13 remote sensing satellites in LEO of up to 2,000 km; and eight navigation satellites in medium earth orbits.

Why Space debris matters?

  • Space debris could be floating particles from dead satellites or rocket parts that stay in orbit for many years.
  • Satellite agencies worry over even a speck of paint or fragment floating towards their spacecraft: it disables on board electronics and cripples the satellite worth several hundred crore rupees.
  • Agencies constantly look for debris at the time of a launch and through the life of a satellite.

Enhancing Space situational awareness (SSA):

  • India, as a responsible space power, should have SSA as a part of a national capability, as in the U.S. This is a vital requirement for protecting our space assets and a force multiplier.
  • The SSA has a military quotient to it and adds a new ring to the country’s overall security.
  • It uses satellites, ground and air radars to secure its two countries against attacks from air, space or sea.
  • With long-range tracking radars, the SSA also provides us the capability of an early warning system against ballistic missiles coming in at a height.
  • Apart from radars and telescopes, he said India should also think of deploying satellites that track other satellites — as the U.S. and other space powers had done.
  • Combined with other elements of military intelligence SSA would help us to understand motives behind any suspicious orbit changes of other satellites and to know if they were spying on or harming our spacecraft.

CHANDRAYAAN-2’S VIKRAM LANDER HAD A HARD LANDING, SAYS NASA

Why in News?

  • S. space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has officially said moon lander Vikram had a hard-landing and that its own orbiting spacecraft Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) could not get clear pictures of Vikram’s crash site during its recent flyover.

Details:

  • The LRO captured a 150-km-wide area in the southern lunar highlands but the pictures were not clear as it was sunset and light had faded.
  • Vikram’s precise location eluded the sharp camera of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) when it last flew over the probable site on September 17.
  • NASA stated that it is possible that the Vikram lander is hiding in a shadow. The lighting will be favourable when LRO passes over the site in October and once again attempts to locate and image the lander.
  • This was the reconfirmation that Indian Space Research Organisation and the space community have awaited to figure out where and how the lander of the Chandrayaan-2 mission had fallen when it attempted to touch down on moon.
  • LRO will next fly over the landing site on October 14 when lighting conditions will be more favourable.
  • The landing region lies between two craters about 70° south of the lunar equator and about 600 km from its shadowy south pole.
  • The orbiting Chandrayaan-2 and the LRO routinely fly over the same spot at regular intervals. Images from their next flyovers could help ISRO give conclusive information.

About Chandrayaan-2 Mission:

  • Chandrayaan-2 was launched using a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk III (GSLV-F10).
  • The spacecraft (orbiter) weighs around 3,290 kg and it will orbit around Moon and perform objectives of remote sensing the Moon.
  • It has been developed indigenously by ISRO. It consists of Orbiter, Lander (Vikram) and Rover (Pragyan) In this mission, ISRO has attempted for the first time to land a rover on moon’s south pole

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO):

  • The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite missions began on June 18, 2009. It is a robotic spacecraft currently orbiting the Moon.
  • It studies the Moon’s surface, clicks pictures, and collects data that help in figuring out the presence and possibility of water ice and other resources on the Moon, as well as plan future missions to it.
  • The primary mission of the LRO, managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, located in Greenbelt, Maryland, was to measure the entire lunar surface to create a high-resolution 3-D map of the Moon.
  • The map with ~50-centimeter resolution images would aid in the planning of future robotic and crewed missions.
  • In addition, LRO would map the Polar Regions and search for the presence of water ice.

The Mission:

  • The mission has provided technical innovations and made surprising discoveries that have changed our view of the Moon.
  • The instruments on board the spacecraft return global data, such as day-night temperature maps, a global geodetic grid, high resolution color imaging and the moon’s UV albedo.
  • It is estimated that the LRO has fuel enough to stay on its mission for at least six more years.

RADIOACTIVE CESIUM TECHNOLOGY FOR MEASURING SOIL EROSION

Why in News?

  • Indian scientists have now developed a method to measure the rate of soil erosion and associated decrease in organic content in soil by assessing levels of radioactive cesium in soil.

Radioactive Cesium Technology:

  • Researchers at the ICAR-Indian Institute of Soil and Water Conservation, Dehradun have developed a way to monitor soil erosion and decrease in carbon content in soil by relating it with levels of radioactive cesium in soil.
  • Carbon concentration is soil correlates with levels of isotope of cesium.
  • Different sites were found to have varying levels of cesium pointing at different degrees of soil degradation in different sites.
  • By applying various formulas, the cesium loss was then used to calculate erosion and associated carbon loss in soil.
  • For measuring cesium levels in soil, gamma spectroscopy technique was used.

Significance:

  • Radioactive cesium technology is a more rapid and less expensive method for soil erosion studies in the severely intensive croplands.
  • It gives more accurate results for all types of erosion studies including historic, comparative and long-term soil and soil organic carbon erosion.
  • This method can help in monitoring the effects of soil erosion and effectiveness of soil conservation strategies.

Why Monitor Soil Erosion?

  • Soil supports plants, insects and microbial life and is formed by natural forces over a long period of time.
  • Carbon reaches soil through the microbial action on withering plant parts and remains in soil, changing its physio-chemical properties and also enhancing its fertility.
  • This way soil also sequesters carbon helping in regulating carbon levels in the atmosphere.
  • Soil erosion, which involves disaggregation and displacement of soil, leads to decrease in its organic content and eventually its fertility.
  • Natural and human activities are contributing to soil erosion and posing problems for both food production and climate change.
  • Therefore, monitoring of soil erosion induced-carbon loss from soil is important.

FIRST INDIGENOUS FUEL CELL SYSTEM LAUNCHED

Why in News?

  • The First Indigenous Fuel Cell System launched on the Foundation Day of CSIR.

Highlights:

  • This fuel cell system was developed by the CSIR in partnership with Indian industries under India’s flagship program named “New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative (NMITLI)”.
  • Three laboratories of CSIR (at Pune, New Delhi and Karaikudi) and two private sector companies Thermax Limited (Pune) and Reliance Industries Limited (Mumbai) were involved in the development.
  • The 5.0 kW fuel cell system generates power in a green manner using methanol/bio-methane, with heat and water as bi-products for further use.
  • This system has an efficiency of 70%.
  • The Fuel Cells developed are based on High Temperature Proton Exchange Membrane (HTPEM) Technology.
  • The development is most suitable for distributed stationary power applications for small offices, commercial units, data centres, etc. where highly reliable power is essential with simultaneous requirement for air-conditioning.
  • This system will also meet the requirement of efficient, clean and reliable backup power generator for telecom towers, remote locations and strategic applications as well.
  • This development would replace Diesel Generating (DG) sets and help reduce India’s dependence on crude oil.

DRUG RANITIDINE FOUND TO HAVE HIGHER LEVELS OF CARCINOGEN

Context-

  • The Ranitidine drug has been found to have levels of a carcinogen above the US FDA prescri

Background

  • Ranitidine Hydrochloride capsules in the US has confirmed contamination with N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) above levels established by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in batches of Sandoz Ranitidine Hydrochloride capsules.
  • Sandoz has withdrawn 14 batches of the drug which it manufactured in 2017 and 2018 and which were set to expire in 2020 and 2021.

N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA)

  • According to the FDA, NDMA is classified as a probable human carcinogen (a substance that could cause cancer) based on results from laboratory tests.
  • NDMA is a known environmental contaminant and found in water and foods, including meats, dairy products, and vegetables.

Ranitidine

  • Ranitidine is a prescription drug but is also sold over the counter (OTC).
  • As an OTC drug, it is used to decrease the volume of acid produced in the stomach.
  • It is also used to prevent and relieve heartburn associated with acid ingestion and sour stomach.
  • As a prescription drug, it has multiple uses, including treatment and prevention of ulcers of the stomach and intestines and treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.

Outside America:

  • Besides the FDA, the European Medicine Agency has also launched a similar enquiry, the results of which are awaited.
  • The Singapore drug regulator banned the supply of the drug in the country early this month.
  • Meanwhile, in India, Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) has also asked state drug controllers to ensure that the drug is safe.
  • Indian doctors have advised patients here to avoid over-the-counter (OTC) use of popular antacid ranitidine.

US FDA:

  • The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, and medical devices; and by ensuring the safety of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.

METHANE-POWERED ROCKET ENGINE

Why in News?

  • ISRO is planning to develop methane-powered rocket engines.

LOX Methane Engines:

  • The space agency is developing two ‘LOx methane’ engines (liquid oxygen oxidiser and methane fuel) engines.
  • One of the two projects is trying to convert the existing cryogenic engine, which uses liquid hydrogen for fuel, into a LOx methane engine.
  • The other is a smaller engine of 3 tonnes thrust, which will feature an electric motor.
  • These are being developed at ISRO’s Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre at Trivandrum.
  • ISRO currently prefers to use a fuel called Unsymmetrical Di-Methyl Hydrazine, along with Nitrogen tetroxide for oxidizer, in its liquid fuel (Vikas) engines, which are used in the lower stages of its rockets, PSLV and GSLV.

Why Methane?

  • Di-Methyl Hydrazine like all hydrazine-based fuels, is said to be highly toxic and cancer-causing.
  • Globally, governments are keen on banning hydrazine.
  • Besides, methane beats hydrazine on every other count.
  • Apart from being non-toxic, it has a higher specific impulse which means one kg of the gas can life one kg of mass for a longer time.
  • Methane, which can be synthesized with water and carbon dioxide in space, is often described as the space fuel of the future.
  • It is easy to store, does not leave a residue upon burning, less bulky, and, importantly, can be synthesized up in space.
  • Methane-fired engines need an igniter to start the fire.
  • Hydrazine fuels are hypergolic, which means they start burning on their own upon coming in contact with oxygen.

Rocket Engine Development:

  • Mumbai-based start-up Manastu Space is developing a propulsion system that will use Hydrogen peroxide as fuel.
  • Currently, Manastu’s engines are meant for steering satellites in orbit but they can be scaled up to power launch vehicles.
  • According to the company, the space industry started with Hydrogen peroxide, but moved to a ‘better’ hydrazine.
  • But Manastu has developed a chemical additive, which it is trying to patent — the additive will enable Hydrogen peroxide to elbow hydrazine out of the competition.

CHANDRAAYAN-2 AND THE APPROACHING LUNAR NIGHT

Why in News:

  • The failure of soft landing of the lander Vikram of Chandraayan-2 mission and the follow up efforts by ISRO to retrieve the lander is about to yield no results as lunar night is about to approach.

About:

  • India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, GSLV MkIII-M1 successfully launched the 3,840-kg Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft into the Earth’s orbit on July 22. The spacecraft successfully entered the lunar orbit on August 20 by performing Lunar Orbit Insertion (LOI) manoeuvre, and on September 2, ‘Vikram’ successfully separated from the orbiter.
  • But Lander Vikram, with rover Pragyan housed inside it, lost communication with the ground station during its final descent, just 2. 1 kms above the lunar surface, minutes before the planned touch-down on the Moon.
  • Since then ISRO has been trying to establish contact with the lander, though the hopes kept fading with the lunar night phase approaching.

Why we can’t retrieve Vikram During Lunar Night:

  • The lander, designed to execute a soft-landing on the lunar surface, and rover have a mission life of one Lunar day, which is equivalent to 14 earth days that ends Saturday.
  • ISRO has said once the Lunar night falls, there would be no sunlight for the lander to generate power for its working and also it was not designed to operate in the heavy cold temperature of Moon during the phase.

About Lunar Night:

  • A lunar day is the period of time for Earth’s Moon to complete one rotation on its axis with respect to the Sun. Due to tidal locking, it is also the time the Moon takes to complete one orbit around Earth and return to the same phase.
  • A lunar month is the period between two new moons. A lunar month lasts about 29.5 solar days on earth.
  • The average lunar month is 27.3 earth days so half that, the lunar day is on average 13.65 earth days long and so is the Lunar night approximately.

About Chandrayaan-2 Mission:

  • Chandrayaan-2 was launched using a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk III (GSLV-F10).
  • The spacecraft (orbiter) weighs around 3,290 kg and it will orbit around Moon and perform objectives of remote sensing the Moon.
  • It has been developed indigenously by ISRO. It consists of Orbiter, Lander (Vikram) and Rover (Pragyan) In this mission, ISRO has attempted for the first time to land a rover on moon’s south pole.