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Daily Category  (Bio-technology )

Migration of Butterflies 

Context:

In August 2020, an unusual phenomenon took place when thousands of butterflies were seen traveling from the Eastern Ghats to the Western Ghats.

Details:

  • The two seasonal butterfly migrations is an annual event that occurs between the Western and Eastern Ghats of the Indian peninsula in search of food and survival.
  • The Nilgiris are one hub for the migratory butterflies. Lakhs and lakhs of butterflies fly through the Nilgiri hills from the Kallaru corridor and Thengumorahada.
  • Dark blue tiger, blue tiger, common crow, and double branded crow are the common migratory butterflies between the Ghats

Reasons for migration:

  • Intense rain: The intense rain in the Western Ghats complex during the southwest monsoon makes it difficult for the butterflies to survive.
    • Before the onset of the southwest monsoon, butterflies start their first migration from the Western Ghats to the plains and to the Eastern Ghats in order to avoid the inclement weather.
    • In the Western and Eastern Ghats, it is clear that altered rain patterns have affected the migration patterns of butterflies.
  • Ideal climate: The Eastern Ghats provide the ideal climate for the butterflies to survive during the southwest monsoon.
    • The migratory adults become reproductive, breed, lay eggs, and die the successive generation starts to migrate back from the Eastern Ghats.
    • The second migration took place early in 2020 due to heavy rainfall in the Eastern Ghats during the southwest monsoon.
    • The butterfly offspring population would not have been able to survive in the Eastern Ghats with unviable weather conditions and a lack of food, forcing an early migration.

Butterflies: Indicators of Climate Change:

  • The Butterflies are bioindicators and the early migration means an early arrival of monsoon.
  • With climate change altering weather phenomena across the world, tracking and studying seasonal butterfly migrations have assumed greater significance.
  • The butterflies originate from Western Ghats ranges, such as Kodagu, Wayanad, Nilgiris, Siruvani, and Anamalai, and move toward the Eastern Ghats consisting of Yercaud, Pachamalai, Kolli, and Kalvarayan hills during the first migration.
  • The migration between the Ghats is a form of local migration but other types of migration are also prevalent among butterfly species in the hills of peninsular India.

Source: Indian Express

Tubarial Salivary Glands

Context:

Scientists at the Netherlands Cancer Institute have identified a set of salivary glands deep in the upper part of the throat and have named them “tubarial salivary glands”.

Details:

  • The researchers confirmed the presence of the glands after examining at least 100 patients.
  • The discovery may be important for cancer treatment. So far, nasopharynx region (behind the nose) was not thought to host anything but microscopic, diffuse, salivary glands.
  • Doctors using radiotherapy for treating cancers in the head and neck try to avoid the main salivary glands as damaging them could make eating, speaking, or swallowing difficult for patients.
    • However, in this case, the newly discovered glands were getting hit by radiation as doctors were not aware of their existence in the human body.
    • Thus, the new discovery may result in fewer side effects for cancer patients.

Tubarial salivary glands:

  • These glands are about 1.5 inches in length on average and are located over a piece of cartilage called the torus tubarius.
  • The new organ was discovered while scientists were studying prostate cancer cells using PSMA PET-CT technology. 
  • The glands lubricate and moisten the upper throat behind the nose and mouth.
    • Until now, there were three known large salivary glands in humans: one under the tongue, one under the jaw, and one at the back of the jaw, behind the cheek.
  • Beyond those, perhaps a thousand microscopic salivary glands are scattered throughout the mucosal tissue of the throat and mouth. 

PSMA PET-CT technology:

  • It is a combination of CT scans and positron emission tomography (PET) which is good in detecting salivary gland tissues.
  • In this technique, a radioactive “tracer” is injected into the patient that binds to the protein PSMA, which is elevated in prostate cancer cells.

Salivary Glands:

  • The salivary glands in mammals are exocrine glands that produce saliva through a system of ducts.
  • Humans have three paired major salivary glands (parotid, submandibular, and sublingual) as well as hundreds of minor salivary glands.
  • Salivary glands can be classified as serous, mucous, or seromucous (mixed).
    • In serous secretions, the main type of protein secreted is alpha-amylase, an enzyme that breaks down starch into maltose and glucose,
    • In mucous secretions, the main protein secreted is mucin, which acts as a lubricant.

Source: Indian Express

New Species of Sub-Aerial Diatoms

Context:

The seven new species of sub-aerial diatoms have been discovered from some areas of Western Ghats by city-based scientists from the Agharkar Research Institute (ARI).

Diatoms:

  • Diatoms are single-celled algae which generate nearly 25 % of global oxygen.
  • They are the only organism on the planet with cell walls composed of transparent, opaline silica.
  • They are commonly found in streams, rivers, lakes, and seas.

Significance:

  • Diatoms have light-absorbing molecules (chlorophylls a and c) that collect energy from the sun and turn it into chemical energy through photosynthesis.
  • The diatoms remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere through carbon fixation.
  • The CO2 is converted to organic carbon in the form of sugar, and oxygen (O2) is released.
  • Diatoms produce long-chain fatty acids.
  • Diatoms are an important source of energy-rich molecules that are food for the entire food web, from zooplankton to aquatic insects to fish to whales.
  • Zooplanktons depend on phytoplankton for their food and other matter found in the sea (heterotrophs).
    • Phytoplankton and zooplankton: ‘Phyto‘ is used for small plants like diatoms and algae and ‘zoo‘ is used for small animals like tiny fish, crustaceans, which are weak swimmers and just move along the currents.
    • Plankton refers to the smallest aquatic plants or animals that float and drift in the limnetic zone of water bodies.

Carbon fixation:

  • It is also called ?arbon assimilation.
  • It is the process by which inorganic carbon (particularly in the form of carbon dioxide) is converted to organic compounds by living organisms.
  • The organic compounds are then used to store energy and as building blocks for other important biomolecules.
  • Photosynthesis is the most prominent example of carbon fixation. Chemosynthesis can take place in the absence of sunlight.
  • Organisms that grow by fixing carbon are called autotrophs, which include photoautotrophs (which use sunlight), and lithoautotrophs (which use inorganic oxidation).
    • Heterotrophs are not themselves capable of carbon fixation but are able to grow by consuming the carbon fixed by autotrophs.

Source: Indian Express

Asafoetida Cultivation

Context:

The Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (IHBT) took up the Asafoetida Cultivation in India to utilize vast expanses of wasteland in the cold desert conditions of the region.

Asafoetida:

  • Ferula asafoetida is a herbaceous plant of the Umbelliferae family.
  • It is a perennial plant whose oleo gum resin is extracted from its thick roots and rhizome.
  • Asafoetida is one of the top condiments and is a high-value spice crop in India.
  • India imports about 1200 tonnes of raw asafoetida annually from Afghanistan, Iran and Uzbekistan.
  • The raw asafoetida is extracted from the fleshy roots of Ferula assa-foetida as an oleo-gum resin.
  • There are about 130 species of Ferula found in the world, but only Ferula assa-foetidais the economically important species used for the production of asafoetida.
  • India does not have Ferula assa-foetida, but other species Ferula jaeschkeana is reported from the western Himalaya (Chamba, HP), and Ferula narthex from Kashmir and Ladakh, which are not the species that yield asafoetida.

Favourable conditions:

  • The first asafoetida sapling, grown at IHBT’s Centre for High Altitude Biology, was planted by in Kwaring village of Lahaul valley.
  • The agriculture ministry has identified four locations in the valley and has distributed heeng seeds to seven farmers in the region.
  • Asafoetida best grows in dry and cold conditions.
  • The plant can withstand a maximum temperature between 35 and 40 degrees, whereas, during winters, it can survive in temperatures up to minus 4 degrees.
  • The regions with sandy soil, very little moisture and an annual rainfall of not more than 200mm are considered conducive for heeng cultivation in India.

Benefits of Asafoetida:

  • The medicinal properties of heeng are a relief for digestive, spasmodic and stomach disorders, asthma and bronchitis.
  • The herb is commonly used to help with painful or excessive bleeding during menstruation and pre-mature labour.

Source: Indian Express

Municipal Solid Waste Processing Facility

Context:

The CSIR-Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute developed the Municipal Solid Waste Processing Facility.

Features of Municipal Solid Waste Processing Facility:

  • Bio-methanation Plant: CSIR-CMERI have started an innovative technology of producing the Biogas from grass and weeds and Vermi-composting of Slurry of the plant process. 
    • The Bio-Digestion process adopted has a minimum pollution factor. 
    • The MSW facility has special disinfection capabilities to help Break the COVID Chain through UV-C Lights and Hot-Air Convection methods. 
    • The Smokeless Stove has also been developed to utilize these briquettes. 
    • Such stoves have the benefits of Reduction in the import of LPG and reduction in pollution.
  • Targeting a Zero landfill:  The latest technology being used by Institute is the Pyrolysis process wherein the conversion of plastics into gas and fuel is done. 
    • Heavy oil, gas being used in pyrolysis helps in obtaining self-sustainability.  
    • Through Plasma Gasification Process also eco-friendly disposal of solid wastes is processed without the formation and reformation of toxic dioxins and furans.
    • Solid Waste Disposal using Plasma Arc converts wastes into a plasma state for proper disposal. 
  • Wealth out of waste: The residues generated having good carbon content are used in agriculture as fertilizer and non-usable are utilized to make bricks for construction purposes. 
    • Solar energy technology, which can also feed the surplus Energy Supply onto a Mini-Grid.
    • It can result in a drastic reduction of expenditure related to Transportation Logistics and can help reductions in CO2 emissions, by reducing fossil fuel usage. 

Significance:

  • The processing facility has not only helped to achieve the Decentralised Decimation of Solid Wastes but has also helped create value-added end-products from waste.
  • The changing ecological scenarios require special attention to address the issue of ‘Sustainable Processing of Municipal Solid Waste’.
  • This CSIR-CMERI MSW Technology envisions a Zero-Landfill and a Zero Waste City in addition to developing Job-Creation opportunities. 

Pyrolysis:

  • The word pyrolysis is coined from the Greek words "pyro" which means fire and "lysis" which means separating.
  • It is a process of chemically decomposing organic materials at elevated temperatures in the absence of oxygen.
  • The process occurs at temperatures above 430 °C and under pressure.
  • It simultaneously involves the change of physical phase and chemical composition and is an irreversible process.

Source: PIB

A quest for order amid cyber insecurity

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

The present time is both, the best and worst for cyberspace.

Apple, Amazon and Microsoft have amassed over a trillion dollars in market value since the beginning of the year 2020.

However, on the other hand, cyber-attacks have grown as well.

2. INCREASING CYBER-INSECURITY

2.1 Increasing malwares

  • A report puts the number of daily malware and phishing emails related to COVID-19 to over 18 million in a single week in April 2020 monitored by a single email provider.
  • This was in addition to more than 240 million COVID-19-related daily spam messages.        
  • Twitter hackers and ransomware targets too are increasing by the day.

2.2 Cyber-attacks and States

  • Concerns about role of states in cyber-attack are also surfacing as mentioned by Australia.
  • There are also allegations on China regarding hacking health-care institutions in the U.S. doing research on COVID-19 treatment.
  • The United Kingdom has warned Russian state backed hackers targeting pharmaceutical companies working on COVID-19 vaccine.
  • India has recently banned specified Chinese Apps stating that they are “engaged in activities prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India”.
  • This act of the Indian Government adds another layer of complexity to the contestation in cyberspace.
  • Therefore, clearly the cyber insecurity of individuals, organisations and states is expanding amidst the COVID-19 atmosphere.

2.3 Better understanding of Global Cyberspace

  • The world is increasingly moving in the digital space. People are adapting to new ways of digital interaction and an increasing number of critical infrastructure is turning digital.
  • However, despite the accelerated pace towards digital technologies, most of us do not understand the parameters of the transformation towards digital.
  • Much like the global public health, cybersecurity too is considered a niche area and is left to the experts.
  • The covid-19 pandemic has underlined the importance of the global public health infrastructure and the need to abide by agreed rules.
  • On similar lines, a better understanding of the global cyberspace architecture is also imperative.

3. NO GLOBAL COMMONS

3.1 The global commons

  • International law identifies four global commons viz. the High Seas, the Atmosphere, the Antarctica and the Outer Space.
  • The borderless global cyberspace is also considered a part of the “global commons”, however experts are of the view that it does not exist.

3.2 Border control on cyberspace

  • The view of cyberspace in terms of connectivity across national boundaries is an illusion.
  • Since the internet is dependent on the physical infrastructure that is under national control, the internet too is subjected to border control.
  • States control the national networks through laws in accordance with their international commitments.

3.3 Responsibility of States vis-a-vis cyberspace

  • States are also responsible for the following:
    • Ensuring cybersecurity,
    • Enforcing laws related to cyberspace
    • Protection of public good
  • Apart from their own actions, States are also responsible for actions taken from within their sovereign territory.
  • However, the implementation of the States' responsibilities towards cyberspace is difficult, since the infrastructure on which the Internet is dependent, falls within the jurisdictions of multiple states.
  • These states have differing approaches towards the view of cyberspace and cybersecurity.

3.4 Multiple Stakeholders

  • There are multiple stakeholders in the cyberspace including both states and non-state actors.
  • The non-state actors play key roles with both benign and malignant intentions.
  • Furthermore, some networks are private which have different objectives than the states have.
  • At last, the cyber tools too have dual use, cheap and make attribution and verification of actions quite a task.

3.5 Developing cyber norms

  • Despite the presence of both state and non-state actors, only the states have the right of oversight.
  • There is no single authority for the global cyberspace like the World Health Organization, which can monitor, assess, advise and inform about fulfilment of state commitments, in however limited or unsatisfactory a manner.
  • To put it simply we are still searching for the cyber "rules of the road".
  • Presently we are in the developing stage of “cyber norms” that can provide a balance between the competing demands of national sovereignty and transnational connectivity.

4. GAPS IN CURRENT PROCESSES

4.1 UN and Cybersecurity

  • In 1998, Russia raised the issue of information and communications technologies (ICTs) in international security on the UN agenda.
  • Since then, six Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) with two-year terms and limited membership have been working on the issue.
  • In addition to the GGE, last year, an Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) began working on the same issue with similar mandates. The group is open to all and many states have shown interest in the group.
  • A report is expected by the next year.

4.2 Discussions in the group

  • The discussions are focussed narrowly in line with the mandate.
  • Issues that have been kept out are:
    • Internet governance
    • Development
    • Espionage
    • Digital privacy
  • Issues like terrorism and crime are acknowledged as important but the discussions on these topics are not as thoroughly done as in other UN bodies.

4.3 Outcome of the UN Exercise

  • The net outcome of the UN exercise on cyberspace is the acceptance that international law and the UN Charter applies to cyberspace as well.
  • On these lines, a set of voluntary norms of responsible state behaviour was agreed to in 2015.
  • However, the aspects are circumstances in which the international law will be applicable have still not been addressed and various reports on the matter call for action including the recent report by UN Secretary General AntónioGuterres’s entitled “Roadmap for Digital Cooperation”.
  • However, given the present geopolitical circumstances there is very little hope of such processes being undertaken.

5. MORE ENGAGEMENT NEEDED

5.1 Expanding cyberspace in India

  • Generally speaking, technologies move faster and are ahead of the development of associated norms and institutions, similar is the case with cyberspace.
  • This provides India the opportunity with the time and space to develop our approach in tune with relevance of cyberspace to India's future economic, social and political objectives.
  • Despite the digital divide, India’s cyber footprint is expanding at an accelerated rate and therefore the rate of conflicts and crimes will increase too.
  • Under these circumstances, the Shared “rules of the road” become imperative.

5.2 India and Cybersecurity

  • The Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology is a very active nodal agency for cybersecurity.
  • Five of the six GGEs formed had representatives from India.
  • India is also an active participant at the OEWG.
  • India is also a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which has also shown support for a code of conduct.
  • India also joined the Christchurch Call, which brought countries and corporations together on order for an increased effort in stopping the use of social media for promoting terrorism and violent extremism.

5.3 Need of active engagements

  • The cyberspace is becoming an increasingly contested and fragmented domain.
  • Going forward, the issue of cybersecurity will require better arrangements and more intense partnerships with additional safeguards.

5.4 India and Global Efforts

  • India needs to turn attention immediately on the issue of cybersecurity.
  • India needs to take both domestic and global efforts in this regard.
  • India should be an active participant in shaping and defining cyber norms.
  • India can also consider acceding to the Convention on Cybercrime of the Council of Europe (Budapest Convention).
  • There should be increasing participation and engagement in multi-stakeholder orientations as the Paris Call for trust and security in cyberspace.

5.5 India and domestic Efforts

  • There should be more clarity on legislation on data protection.
  • The private sector in India should be encouraged to participate increasingly in industry-focused processes such as the Microsoft-initiated Cybersecurity Tech Accord and the Siemens-led Charter of Trust.

6. CONCLUSION

Present there is a huge digital divide in India. However, the coming future is going to bridge this gap and India is expected to have a major portion of the next billion smartphones.

Therefore, it is imperative that cybersecurity is going to play a large role in the lives of Indians.

To prepare for the larger role of cyberspace in India, we need to work on a deeper public understanding of cyberspace, cybersecurity and its various dimensions.

Given the size and scope of cyberspace in India, it is too important to be left only to the experts.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In)

  • CERT-In is a functional organization under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology of the Government of India.
  • CERT-In is the national nodal agency to deal with cybersecurity incidents.
  • The CERT-In was established in 2004.
  • The Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008 has provided for the following functions to be undertaken by CERT-In and has designated it to serve as the national nodal agency:
    • Collection, analysis and dissemination of information on cyber incidents.
    • Forecast and alerts of cybersecurity incidents
    • Emergency measures for handling cybersecurity incidents
    • Coordination of cyber incident response activities.
    • Issue guidelines, advisories, vulnerability notes and whitepapers relating to information security practices, procedures, prevention, response and reporting of cyber incidents.
    • Such other functions relating to cybersecurity as may be prescribed.

Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020

Context:

Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020 for discovering one of gene technology’s sharpest tools i.e. the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors.

Background:

  • Emmanuelle Charpentier was studying a bacteria called Streptococcus pyogenes and noticed a previously unknown molecule called tracrRNA.
  • The tracrRNA was part of the bacteria’s immune system and it helps the bacteria destroy viral DNA.
  • In 2011, Charpentier and Doudna succeeded in recreating the bacteria’s scissors and reprogramming it and then proved that they can now use these scissors to cut any DNA molecule at a required site.

CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors:

  • CRISPR is an abbreviation for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.
  • The CRISPR-Cas9 system consists of two molecules that make an edit in the DNA.
    • Cas9: An enzyme that functions as a pair of ‘molecular scissors’. It has the ability to cut the two strands (sense and anti-sense) of DNA at a specific location in the genome.
    • guide RNA (gRNA): A short (20 bases or so) piece of pre-designed RNA sequence located within a longer RNA scaffold. The gRNA guides the Cas9 to the planned part of the genome ensuring the right place is cut.
    • The gRNA has bases that are complementary to the target sequence in the DNA like a very specific lego piece. This in theory ensures that the gRNA binds only to the desired sequence and not somewhere off-target.
  • The Cas9 scissor enzyme is guided to the desired location and snips across both strands of the DNA. Once this happens the cellular mechanism understands that the DNA is damaged so initiates a repair mechanism. At this juncture, it is possible to use this opportunity to introduce changes to the genes of their design.

Possible Applications with CRISPR-Cas Systems:

Gene silencing:

  • With the use of a target-specific CRISPR RNA (crRNA) and trans-activating crRNA (tracrRNA), or a fused format called a single guide RNA (sgRNA), locations within complex mammalian genomes can be targeted by the Cas9 endonuclease for a double-stranded break.
  • The crRNA, tracrRNA, and sgRNAs can either be transcribed intracellularly, in vitro transcribed or custom synthesized and introduced through transfection.
  • The Intracellular expression of Cas9 endonuclease can be accomplished by plasmid or integrated lentiviral expression vectors driven by constitutive or inducible promoters.

DNA-free CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing:

  • The system uses no CRISPR-Cas9 components in the form of DNA vectors i.e. each component is either RNA or protein.
  • The use of DNA-based Cas9 or guide RNA expression systems carries with it the possibility of undesirable genetic alterations due to plasmid DNA integration at the cut site or random lentiviral vector integrations.
  • A DNA-free gene editing system can be a good choice for creating engineered cell lines.

Homology-directed repair (HDR):

  • The CRISPR-Cas9 induced double-strand break can also be used as an opportunity to create a-knockin, rather than a target gene knockout.
  • The precise insertion of a donor template can alter the coding region of a gene to “fix” a mutation, introduce a protein tag, or create a new restriction site.

Embryonic stem cell and transgenic animals:

  • CRISPR-Cas systems can be used to rapidly and efficiently engineer one or multiple genetic changes to murine embryonic stem cells for the generation of genetically modified mice.

Transient activation of endogenous genes (CRISPRa or CRISPR on):

  • By employing a Cas9 mutant that cannot cut DNA and to which a transcriptional activation domain has been fused, the expression of endogenous genes can be up-regulated by targeting the Cas9 fusion protein to the promoter region of an endogenous target gene, or multiple genes simultaneously.

Source: Indian Express

Nobel Prize in Physics

Context:

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences decided to award one half of the 2020 Nobel Prize in physics to Roger Penrose and the other half jointly to Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez for furthering the understanding of black holes.

Black Holes:

  • A black hole is formed when stars collapse and can be defined as a space in the universe with an escape velocity so strong that even light cannot escape it.
    • The escape velocity is the speed at which an object must travel to override a planet or an object’s gravitational force.
  • Since light cannot get out, black holes are invisible and can only be tracked with the help of a space telescope or other special tools.
  • The reason light cannot escape is mainly that the gravity inside a black hole is very strong as a result of a lot of matter being squeezed into a small space.

Observations on Black Holes:

  • Penrose has been awarded the prize for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity.
  • Penrose’s work has shown that black holes are a direct consequence of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
  • Penrose used Einstein’s general theory of relativity in order to prove that the process of formation of black holes is a stable one.
  • Genzel and Ghez have been awarded the prize for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy.
  • Genzel and Ghez, on the other hand, have discovered that an invisible and an extremely heavy object govern the stars’ orbit at the centre of the Milky Way.
  • The work of Genzel and Ghez tells us that at the centre of our galaxy the Milky Way lies an invisible supermassive object, of which a black hole provides a reasonable explanation.

Nobel Prize:

  • Alfred Nobel in his last will and testament in 1895, gave the largest share of his fortune to a series of prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology/Medicine, Literature, and Peace, to be called the “Nobel Prizes”.
  • In 1968, the sixth award, the Prize in Economic Sciences was started.

The nomination of candidates:

  • The Nobel Committees invite thousands of members of academies, university professors, scientists, previous Nobel Laureates, and members of parliamentary assemblies among others to submit candidates for the Nobel Prizes for the coming year.
  • The nominators are selected in such a way that as many countries and universities as possible are represented over time.
  • One cannot nominate himself/herself for a Nobel Prize.

 The institutions that choose winners:

  • Nobel Prize in Physics, Nobel Prize in Chemistry: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
  • Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: The Karolinska Institutet
  • Nobel Prize in Literature: The Swedish Academy
  • Nobel Peace Prize: A five-member Committee elected by the Norwegian Parliament (Storting)
  • Prize in Economic Sciences: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

 Source: Indian Express

Nobel Prize for Medicine

Context:

Americans Harvey J Alter and Charles M Rice, and British scientist Michael Houghton were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology for the discovery of the hepatitis C virus.

  • WHO estimates there are over 70 million cases of hepatitis worldwide and 400,000 deaths each year. The disease is chronic and a major cause of liver inflammation and cancer.
  • The award is the first of six prizes being announced through October 12.
  • The other prizes are for outstanding work in the fields of physics, chemistry, literature, peace, and economics.

Significance of discovery:

  • The Nobel Committee noted that the trio’s work helped explain a major source of blood-borne hepatitis that couldn’t be explained by the hepatitis A and B viruses.
  • Their work makes possible blood tests and new medicines that have saved millions of lives.
  • Now, highly sensitive blood tests for the virus are available and these have essentially eliminated post-transfusion hepatitis in many parts of the world.
  • Their discovery also allowed the rapid development of antiviral drugs directed at hepatitis C. For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating the hepatitis C virus from the world population.

Hepatitis:

  • It refers to an inflammatory condition of the liver and commonly caused by a viral infection,
    • However, there are other possible causes of hepatitis like autoimmune responses, medications, drugs, toxins, and alcohol.
  • There are 5 main hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D, and E.

Hepatitis C:

  • Hepatitis C is caused by the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV).
  • It is transmitted through direct contact with infected body fluids, typically through injection drug use and sexual contact.
  • A vaccine for the disease has still not been developed but it can be treated with the help of anti-viral drugs.

Initiatives:

  • The Indian government has included Hepatitis B under India's Universal Immunization Programme.
    • Objective: To provide free of cost vaccination against a total of 12 vaccine-preventable diseases.
  • National Viral Hepatitis Control Programme (NVHCP):
    • It was launched in 2018 with an objective to eliminate Hepatitis C by 2030.
    • The program is the largest program for Hepatitis B and C diagnosis and treatment in the world.

Source: The Hindu

BreathPrint Biomarker

Context:

Recently, the researchers at the S. N. Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences have found the new biomarker called ‘BreathPrint’.

Biomarker:

  • A biomarker is "a characteristic that is objectively measured and evaluated as an indicator of normal biological processes, pathogenic processes, or pharmacological responses to a therapeutic intervention."
  • Biomarkers are the measures used to perform a clinical assessment such as blood pressure or cholesterol level and are used to monitor and predict health states in individuals or across populations so that appropriate therapeutic intervention can be planned.
  • Biomarkers may be used alone or in combination to assess the health or disease state of an individual.

Details:

  • The new biomarker 'BreathPrint' has been found for the diagnosis of 'Helicobacter pylori' in semi-heavy water (HDO) in human exhaled breath.
  • The biomarker will be used for the early diagnosis of bacteria that causes peptic ulcers.
  • Helicobacter pylori are usually diagnosed by the traditional and invasive painful endoscopy and biopsy tests which are not suitable for early diagnosis and follow-up.
  • The team has already developed a patented ‘Pyro-Breath’ device for the diagnosis of various gastric disorders and Helicobacter pylori infection.

Helicobacter pylori:

  • The term "Helico" means spiral, which indicates that the bacteria are spiral-shaped.
  • It is a common type of bacteria that grows in the digestive tract and has a tendency to attack the stomach lining.
  • H. pylori are adapted to live in the harsh, acidic environment of the stomach. 
  • H. pylori infections are usually harmless, but they’re responsible for the majority of ulcers in the stomach and small intestine.
    • The spiral shape of H. pylori allows them to penetrate the stomach lining, where they’re protected by mucus and the human body’s immune cells are not able to reach them.

Source: PIB

The Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever (CCHF)

Context:

The Palghar, Maharashtra administration has asked authorities to remain alert against a possible spread of the Congo fever in the district.

Details:

  • This is a matter of concern for cattle- breeders, meat-sellers, and animal husbandry and it is necessary to take timely precautions as there is no specific and useful treatment for the Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever (CCHF).
  • Palghar animal husbandry department’s deputy commissioner mentioned that the CCHF has been found in some districts of Gujarat and is likely to spread to border districts of Maharashtra.
  • The department has instructed authorities to take all necessary precautions and implement preventive measures.

The Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever (CCHF):

  • It is commonly known as Congo fever. This viral disease is transmitted from one animal to another by a specific type of tick.
  • The disease is transmitted to humans through contact with the blood of infected animals and by eating the meat of infected animals.
  • If the disease is not diagnosed and treated in time, 30 % of patients die.
  • The CCHF is a widespread disease caused by a tick-borne virus (Nairovirus) of the Bunyaviridae family.
  • The virus causes severe viral haemorrhagic fever outbreaks, with a case fatality rate of 10 to 40 %, as per the World Health Organisation (WHO).
  • Human-to-human transmission can occur resulting from close contact with the blood, secretions, organs, or other bodily fluids of infected persons.
  • Hospital-acquired infections can also occur due to improper sterilization of medical equipment, reuse of needles and contamination of medical supplies, according to the WHO.

Treatment:

  • The antiviral drug ribavirin has been used to treat CCHF infection with apparent benefit.
  • There are no vaccines widely available for human or animal use.

Source: Indian Express

Cat Que Virus

Context:

Scientists from Maximum Containment Laboratory and ICMR-National Institute of Virology have noted the presence of antibodies against the Cat Que virus (CQV) in two human serum samples.

Key findings:

  • The presence of the Cat Que virus has been largely reported in Culex mosquitoes in China and in pigs in Vietnam.
  • For the study, 1020 human serum samples that showed acute febrile illness during 2014-2017 were collected.
  • All these samples were found to be negative for CQV when subjected to the real-time RT-PCR test.
  • However, antibody positivity was recorded in two of the 883 samples that were tested for the presence of antibodies.

Cat Que virus:

  • For CQV, domestic pigs are considered to be the primary mammalian hosts.
  • Antibodies against the virus have been reported in swine reared in China, which indicates that the virus has formed a “natural cycle” in the local area and has the ability to spread in pigs and other animals through mosquitoes.
  • CQV belongs to the Simbu serogroup and infects both humans and economically important livestock species.
  • It was first isolated in 2004 from mosquitoes during the surveillance of arbovirus activity in northern Vietnam.
  • In this study, researchers reported a CQV strain, which was isolated from mosquito samples collected in China in 2006 and 2008

Humans infection:

  • Humans can get infected through mosquitoes as well.
  • In the study, scientists note that because of positivity in human serum samples and the replication capability of CQV in mosquitoes, there is only a “possible disease-causing potential” of CQV in the Indian scenario.
  • Availability of vector, primary mammalian host (swine), and confirmation of CQV from jungle myna signifies the potential of this Orthobunyavirus as a public health pathogen in India.
  • It is not clear that the virus is dangerous or not. Other viruses that belong to the same genus as CQV and are similarly transmitted through mosquitoes include the Cache valley virus that can cause meningitis, the La Crosse virus that can cause pediatric encephalitis.

Source: Indian Express

Cyanobacteria

Context:

Toxins in water produced by cyanobacteria killed more than 300 elephants in Botswana this year.

The African elephant:

  • The African elephant is the largest animal on Earth.
  • They are vulnerable as per the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
  • African elephants in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe are included in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix II.

Cyanobacteria:

  • Cyanobacteria also called blue-green algae.
  • These are microscopic organisms common in water and sometimes found in soil. Not all produce toxins but scientists say toxic ones are occurring more frequently as climate change drives up global temperatures.
  • These single-celled organisms (bacteria) live in fresh, brackish, and marine water.
  • These organisms use sunlight to make their own food.
  • In warm, nutrient-rich (high in phosphorus and nitrogen) environments, cyanobacteria can multiply quickly.

Impact on other animals:

  • Other animals in the Okavango Panhandle region appeared unharmed.
  • Some cyanobacterial blooms can harm people and animals and scientists are concerned about their potential impact as climate change leads to warmer water temperatures, which many cyanobacteria prefer.
  • According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Southern Africa’s temperatures are rising at twice the global average.

Botswana:

  • Botswana is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. 
  • Botswana is topographically flat, with up to 70 percent of its territory being the Kalahari Desert.
  • It is bordered by South Africa to the south and southeast, Namibia to the west and north, and Zimbabwe to the northeast.
  • Its border with Zambia to the north near Kazungula is poorly defined but is, at most, a few hundred meters long.

Source: The Hindu

Global Initiative to Reduce Land Degradation and Coral Reef Program

Context:

The Environment Ministerial Meeting (EMM) of the G20 countries took place under the Presidency of Saudi Arabia. G20 EMM, 2019 saw an agreement on adopting a new implementation framework for actions to tackle the issue of marine plastic waste on a global scale.

  • Global initiatives to reduce Land Degradation and Coral Reef Programme under the G20 has been also launched.

India’s Commitment:

  • India intends to take measures to enhance coral reef conservation under the National Coastal Mission Programme.
  • India is committed to working with G20 nations for a better world and is taking adequate action to meet the Paris Agreement and its climate commitments.
  • The proposed mission under the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) will address the impact of climate change on coastal and marine ecosystems.
  • India has also put efforts towards achieving land degradation neutrality and towards the attainment of global goals of climate change mitigation and adaptation.
  • It was emphasised that equity, common but differentiated responsibilities, finance and technology partnerships are the key pillars to tackle the problem of climate change.

Global Coral Reef Research and Development Accelerator Platform:

  • Objective: To create a global research and development programme to advance research, innovation and capacity building in all facets of coral reef conservation, restoration and adaptation.
  • It will strengthen ongoing efforts and commitments made to enhance coral reefs conservation and stop their further degradation.
  • It limits global average temperature and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase, in line with the Paris Agreement, provides the only chance for the survival of coral reefs globally.

G20:

  • It is an informal group of 19 countries and the European Union (EU).
  • It has also representatives of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
  • Members: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the UK, the USA, and the EU.
  • Headquarters: It does not have any permanent secretariat or management and administrative structure.

Paris Agreement:

  • It was adopted by 195 parties at the UN climate conference "COP 21" held in Paris in 2015.
  • Objective: To prevent an increase in global average temperature and keep it well below 2 degrees Celsius.
  • It emphasised that global GHG emissions must fall 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
  • 19 members of the G20, except the USA which has pulled out of it, have given the commitment to the full implementation of the deal.

Source: PIB

Discovery of Phosphine Gas in the Atmosphere of Venus

Context:

An international team of astronomers have discovered phosphine gas in the atmosphere of Venus and the possibility of the presence of lifeforms on the neighbouring planet.

Phosphine:

  • It is a colourless but smelly gas, is known to be made only by some species of bacteria that survive in the absence of oxygen.
  • It is produced in industrial processes.

Key findings:

  • A team of scientists have reported traces of phosphine in a concentration of approximately 20 parts per billion, thousands to millions of times more than what could be expected.
  • Scientists have discovered it in the presence of a chemical which is known to be produced only through a biological process, and not through any naturally occurring chemical process.
  • There are some other ways in which this chemical might be produced, for example, in the underbelly of volcanoes or meteorite activity, but that would have shown in much lower concentrations.

Significance:

  • This is the most credible evidence yet for the possibility of life on Venus. Scientists say it is more significant than the discovery of water on the Moon or Mars.
  • In the search for extraterrestrial life, this is the biggest finding.
  • The detection of phosphine had raised Venus “higher up on the ladder of interesting targets” where the possible presence of life-forms can be explored.
  • The finding can further ignite interest in space missions to Venus. Missions to Venus are not new. Spacecraft have been going near the planet since the 1960s, and some of them have even made a landing.
  • ISRO is also planning a mission to Venus, tentatively called Shukrayaan, in the near future. 
  • All future missions to Venus would now be attuned to investigating further evidence of the presence of life.

Life on Venus:

  • The temperature of Venus is too high, and its atmosphere is highly acidic, just two of the things that would make life impossible.
  • But Scientists suggested that this phosphine could be remnants from a time when Venus was a much more hospitable place.
  • This finding opens up many interesting possibilities. Scientists don’t know how long phosphine molecules survive. 

Venus:

  • it is also called Earth’s twin.
  • It is called the morning or an evening star, although it is not a star.
  • Venus has no moon or satellite of its own.
  • It rotates from east to west while the Earth rotates from west to east.
  • It takes 5,832 hours to complete a rotation.

Source: Indian Express

A Device for the Prevention of Deep Vein Thrombosis

Context:

The Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology has indigenously developed a device for the prevention of Deep Vein Thrombosis.

  • The institute is located at Thiruvananthapuram and works under the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India.
  • The institute has applied for a patent and has a scientific publication on this technology.

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT):

  • The earliest case of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) was described by Sushruta in his book Sushruta Samhita around 600–900 BC.
  • It is the formation of blood clots in deeply located veins, usually in the legs.
  • Normally blood in the veins of the legs is returned to the heart by the contraction of muscles of the legs during walking.
  • DVT is caused by prolonged immobility and bed-ridden state, post-operative immobilization, paralysis of legs, stroke, pregnancy, dehydration, use of certain drugs, travel by long flights without moving, etc.
  • The symptoms of DVT are pain, swelling, redness, warmth engorged surface veins.
  • DVT and pulmonary embolism (PE) are the two main manifestations of venous thromboembolism (VTE).
  • Pulmonary embolism (PE) is a blockage of an artery in the lungs by a substance that has moved from elsewhere in the body through the bloodstream (embolism).

Working of the device: 

  • The detachment of the clot from the veins and its transport to the heart and into the artery carrying impure blood from the heart to the lungs can cause 'pulmonary artery embolism,' a potentially life-threatening complication.
  • The device works by compressing the veins in the legs in sequence so that the flow of blood from the veins in the legs is facilitated.
  • The compression pressure is set in such a way that the veins are compressed but not the arteries.
  • The device is equipped with closed-loop monitoring of compression pressure and electronic controls.
  • Dedicated software is also provided in the device to ensure that safe compression levels are always maintained.
  • It is also equipped with a power supply backup.

Cost:

  • The cost of the imported device varies from Rs two lakh to Rs five lakh.
    • However, it is estimated that the indigenous equipment can be manufactured and sold for less than Rs one lakh.

Source: PIB

Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) iCREST

Context:

Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) has launched AIM iCREST – an Incubator Capabilities enhancement program for a Robust Ecosystem focused on creating high performing Startups. This is a first of its kind initiative for advancing innovation at scale in India. 

Details:

  • Objective: To encourage and enable holistic progress in the incubator ecosystem across the country,
  • AIM has joined hands with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Wadhwani Foundation - organizations that can lend credible support and expertise in the entrepreneurship and innovation space.
  • The program will focus on supporting start-up entrepreneurs in knowledge creation and dissemination as well as in developing robust and active networks. 

Features:

  • These partnerships will provide global expertise and showcase proven best practices to the AIM's incubator network. 
  • AIM iCREST has been designed to enable the incubation ecosystem and act as a growth hack for AIM’s Atal and Established incubators across the country.
  • Under the initiative, the AIM’s incubators are set to be upscaled and provided requisite support to foster the incubation enterprise economy, which will help them to significantly enhance their performance.
  • This will be complemented by providing training to entrepreneurs, through technology-driven processes and platforms. 

The Atal Innovation Mission (AIM):

  • It is a flagship initiative set up by the NITI Aayog to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in the country. The mission is based on a detailed study and deliberations on the innovation and entrepreneurial needs of India in the years ahead.

Two core functions:

  • Entrepreneurship promotion through Self-Employment and Talent Utilization: Innovators would be supported and mentored to become successful entrepreneurs.
  • Innovation promotion: To provide a platform where innovative ideas are generated.

Benefits:

  • Atal Innovation Mission would play an instrumental role in the alignment of innovation policies between central, state, and sectoral innovation schemes.
  • AIM helps in the establishment and promotion of an ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship at higher secondary schools, science, engineering, and higher academic institutions, and SME/MSME industry, corporate, and NGO levels.

The framework of Atal Innovation Mission

  • Atal Tinkering Labs: to promote creative, innovative mindset in schools
  • Atal Incubators: to promote entrepreneurship in universities and industry
  • Atal New India Challenges and Atal Grand Challenges: to promote specific product innovations with social/economic impact

Source: PIB

A quest for order amid cyber insecurity

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

 

The present time is both, the best and worst for cyberspace.

Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft have amassed over a trillion dollars in market value since the beginning of the year 2020.

However, on the other hand, cyber-attacks have grown as well.

2. INCREASING CYBER-INSECURITY

2.1 Increasing malwares

  • A report puts the number of daily malware and phishing emails related to COVID-19 to over 18 million in a single week in April 2020 monitored by a single email provider.
  • This was in addition to more than 240 million COVID-19-related daily spam messages.
  • Twitter hackers and ransomware targets too are increasing by the day.

2.2 Cyber-attacks and States

  • Concerns about the role of states in cyber-attack are also surfacing as mentioned by Australia.
  • There are also allegations on China regarding hacking health-care institutions in the U.S. doing research on COVID-19 treatment.
  • The United Kingdom has warned Russian state-backed hackers targeting pharmaceutical companies working on the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • India has recently banned specified Chinese Apps stating that they are “engaged in activities prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India”.
  • This act of the Indian Government adds another layer of complexity to the contestation in cyberspace.
  • Therefore, clearly the cyber insecurity of individuals, organizations, and states is expanding amidst the COVID-19 atmosphere.

2.3 Better understanding of Global Cyberspace

  • The world is increasingly moving in the digital space. People are adapting to new ways of digital interaction and an increasing number of critical infrastructure is turning digital.
  • However, despite the accelerated pace towards digital technologies, most of us do not understand the parameters of the transformation towards digital.
  • Much like the global public health, cybersecurity too is considered a niche area and is left to the experts.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the importance of the global public health infrastructure and the need to abide by agreed rules.
  • On similar lines, a better understanding of the global cyberspace architecture is also imperative.

3. NO GLOBAL COMMONS

3.1 The global commons

  • International law identifies four global commons viz. the High Seas, the Atmosphere, Antarctica and the Outer Space.
  • The borderless global cyberspace is also considered a part of the “global commons”, however experts are of the view that it does not exist.

3.2 Border control on cyberspace

  • The view of cyberspace in terms of connectivity across national boundaries is an illusion.
  • Since the internet is dependent on the physical infrastructure that is under national control, the internet too is subjected to border control.
  • States control the national networks through laws in accordance with their international commitments.

3.3 Responsibility of States vis-a-vis cyberspace

  • States are also responsible for the following:
    • Ensuring cybersecurity,
    • Enforcing laws related to cyberspace
    • Protection of public good
  • Apart from their own actions, States are also responsible for actions taken from within their sovereign territory.
  • However, the implementation of the States' responsibilities towards cyberspace is difficult, since the infrastructure on which the Internet is dependent, falls within the jurisdictions of multiple states.
  • These states have different approaches towards the view of cyberspace and cybersecurity.

3.4 Multiple Stakeholders

  • There are multiple stakeholders in the cyberspace including both states and non-state actors.
  • The non-state actors play key roles with both benign and malignant intentions.
  • Furthermore, some networks are private which have different objectives than the states have.
  • At last, the cyber tools too have dual use, cheap and make attribution and verification of actions quite a task.

3.5 Developing cyber norms

  • Despite the presence of both state and non-state actors, only the states have the right of oversight.
  • There is no single authority for the global cyberspace like the World Health Organization, which can monitor, assess, advise and inform about the fulfillment of state commitments, in however limited or unsatisfactory a manner.
  • To put it simply we are still searching for the cyber "rules of the road".
  • Presently we are in the developing stage of “cyber norms” that can provide a balance between the competing demands of national sovereignty and transnational connectivity.

4. GAPS IN CURRENT PROCESSES

4.1 UN and Cybersecurity

  • In 1998, Russia raised the issue of information and communications technologies (ICTs) in international security on the UN agenda.
  • Since then, six Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) with two-year terms and limited membership have been working on the issue.
  • In addition to the GGE, last year, an Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) began working on the same issue with similar mandates. The group is open to all and many states have shown interest in the group.
  • A report is expected by the next year.

4.2 Discussions in the group

  • The discussions are focussed narrowly in line with the mandate.
  • Issues that have been kept out are:
    • Internet governance
    • Development
    • Espionage
    • Digital privacy
  • Issues like terrorism and crime are acknowledged as important but the discussions on these topics are not as thoroughly done as in other UN bodies.

4.3 Outcome of the UN Exercise

  • The net outcome of the UN exercise on cyberspace is the acceptance that international law and the UN Charter applies to cyberspace as well.
  • On these lines, a set of voluntary norms of responsible state behavior was agreed to in 2015.
  • However, the aspects are circumstances in which the international law will be applicable have still not been addressed and various reports on the matter call for action including the recent report by UN Secretary-General AntónioGuterres’s entitled “Roadmap for Digital Cooperation”.
  • However, given the present geopolitical circumstances, there is very little hope of such processes being undertaken.

5. MORE ENGAGEMENT NEEDED

5.1 Expanding cyberspace in India

  • Generally speaking, technologies move faster and are ahead of the development of associated norms and institutions, similar is the case with cyberspace.
  • This provides India the opportunity with the time and space to develop our approach in tune with the relevance of cyberspace to India's future economic, social, and political objectives.
  • Despite the digital divide, India’s cyber footprint is expanding at an accelerated rate and therefore the rate of conflicts and crimes will increase too.
  • Under these circumstances, the Shared “rules of the road” become imperative.

5.2 India and Cyber security

  • The Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology is a very active nodal agency for cybersecurity.
  • Five of the six GGEs formed had representatives from India.
  • India is also an active participant at the OEWG.
  • India is also a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which has also shown support for a code of conduct.
  • India also joined the Christchurch Call, which brought countries and corporations together on order for an increased effort in stopping the use of social media for promoting terrorism and violent extremism.

5.3 Need of active engagements

  • The cyberspace is becoming an increasingly contested and fragmented domain.
  • Going forward, the issue of cybersecurity will require better arrangements and more intense partnerships with additional safeguards.

5.4 India and Global Efforts

  • India needs to turn its attention immediately on the issue of cybersecurity.
  • India needs to take both domestic and global efforts in this regard.
  • India should be an active participant in shaping and defining cyber norms.
  • India can also consider acceding to the Convention on Cybercrime of the Council of Europe (Budapest Convention).
  • There should be increasing participation and engagement in multi-stakeholder orientations as the Paris Call for trust and security in cyberspace.

5.5 India and domestic Efforts

  • There should be more clarity on legislation on data protection.
  • The private sector in India should be encouraged to participate increasingly in industry-focused processes such as the Microsoft-initiated Cybersecurity Tech Accord and the Siemens-led Charter of Trust.

6. CONCLUSION

Present there is a huge digital divide in India. However, the coming future is going to bridge this gap, and India is expected to have a major portion of the next billion smartphones.

Therefore, it is imperative that cybersecurity is going to play a large role in the lives of Indians.

To prepare for the larger role of cyberspace in India, we need to work on a deeper public understanding of cyberspace, cyber security, and its various dimensions.

Given the size and scope of cyberspace in India, it is too important to be left only to the experts.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In)

  • CERT-In is a functional organization under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology of the Government of India.
  • CERT-In is the national nodal agency to deal with cyber security incidents.
  • The CERT-In was established in 2004.
  • The Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008 has provided for the following functions to be undertaken by CERT-In and has designated it to serve as the national nodal agency:
    • Collection, analysis, and dissemination of information on cyber incidents.
    • Forecast and alerts of cyber security incidents
    • Emergency measures for handling cyber security incidents
    • Coordination of cyber incident response activities.
    • Issue guidelines, advisories, vulnerability notes, and whitepapers relating to information security practices, procedures, prevention, response, and reporting of cyber incidents.
    • Such other functions relating to cyber security as may be prescribed.

Source: The Hindu

The India-Russia Joint Technology Assessment and Accelerated Commercialization Programme

Context:

The India-Russia Joint Technology Assessment and Accelerated Commercialization Programme has been launched by the Department of Science and Technology.

  • The program is launched in partnership with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and Foundation for Assistance to Small Innovative Enterprises (FASIE) of the Russian Federation.

Key features:

  • Objective: To connect Indian, and Russian Science & Technology led SMEs and Start-ups for joint Research and Development for technology development and for cross-country technology adaptation.
  • The initiative will run through two annual cycles with up to five projects to be funded under each cycle.
  • Projects under the program include leading S&T focus areas, including IT & ICT, Medicine & Pharmaceuticals, Renewable Energy, Aerospace, Alternative Technologies, Environment, New Materials, Biotechnologies, Robotics, and Drones.
  • On behalf of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), FICCI will implement the program in India.

Funding:

  • Over a period of two years, DST will fund up to Rs 15 Crores to ten Indian SMEs/Start-ups and FASIE will provide similar funding to the Russian projects.
  • The program will provide access to partial public funding for jointly selected projects with the participation of at least one start-up/SME from India and one SME from Russia. The selected projects will be required to bear partial funding as well, either through their own funds or alternate sources of funding.
  • In addition to financial support, the teams will also be supported through capacity building, mentorship, and business development.
  • The program is accepting applications under two categories, i.e. Joint Partnership Projects and Technology Transfer/Adaptation. 

Benefits:

  • The innovations and technologies supported through this program will help both countries to face and overcome future challenges.
  • This initiative will create an ecosystem for S&T-led SMEs and startups to come together to develop new technological solutions.
  • The launch of this program will help both countries move towards the revival of the economies leading to sustainable growth.
  •  India and Russia have a long-standing bilateral scientific cooperation. The launch of the program is another step towards strengthening the Science, Technology, and Innovation ties between the two countries.
  • This initiative can leverage joint intellectual and financial resources to develop technologies. 
  • India has one of the largest startup ecosystems in the world. S&T-led innovation and entrepreneurship are the priorities of both countries. There is a history of scientific cooperation between the countries.

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI)

  • It was established in 1927 as an association of business organizations in India.
  • FICCI is the largest, and oldest business organization in India.
  • It is a non-government, not-for-profit organization.
  • FICCI draws its membership from the corporate sector, both private and public, including SMEs and MNCs.
  • Headquarter: New Delhi
  • It has a presence in 12 states in India and 8 countries across the world.

Source: PIB

Conservation of the Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Genetic Resources

Context:

The National Medicinal Plants Board (NMPB) under the Ministry of AYUSH and the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) under the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

Details:

  • Objective:  To conserve the Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Genetic Resources at the designated space of ICAR-NBPGR in a long-term storage module in the National Gene bank. Conservation at Regional Station for medium-term storage module and acquire hands-on training on plant germplasm conservation techniques to the working group of NMPB.
  • Both institutions are committed to conserving germplasm on a long-term basis, safely and cost-effectively for present and future generations to ensure social and economic security.
  • Both on behalf of the ICAR would develop detailed modalities for seed storage of MAPGRs and submit periodic progress reports to their respective organizations.
  • Medicinal Plants are rich resources of traditional medicines and are being used for thousands of years in the health care system resources. 

National Medicinal Plants Board

  • It was set up in 2000 by the government of India to promote the medicinal plant's sector.
  • Objective: To develops a mechanism for coordination between various ministries, organizations, and implementation of programs for cultivation, conservation, trade, and export. The board also focuses on the growth of the medicinal plant's sector at the central, state, and international levels.
    • Currently, it is working under the Ministry of AYUSH.

National Gene Bank (NGB):

  • The National Gene Bank was notified in 1996-97 and hosted by National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), New Delhi.
  • Objective: Conservation of the Plant Genetic Resources for future generations in the form of seeds, genomic resources, pollen, etc. NGB also stores cereals, millets, medicinal and aromatic plants, and narcotics, etc.
  • Facility: It has four kinds of facilities, namely, Seed Genebank, Cryogenebank, In vitro Genebank, and Field Genebank.

National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources:

  • In 1977 it was renamed as ‘National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources’ (NBPGR).
  • The NBPGR is associated with National Active Germplasm Sites for the management of active germplasm of field and horticultural crops.
    • Germplasm is living tissue from which new plants can be grown.
    • Germplasm can be a seed or another plant part such as a leaf, a piece of stem, pollen, or even just a few cells that can be turned into a whole plant.
    • Germplasm contains the genetic information of a species.
  • It is one of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) Institutes.

Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR):

  • It is an autonomous organization under the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare.
  • It is a nodal organization in India for the management of Plant Genetic Resources (PGR).

National Animal Gene Bank:

  • It established at the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources (NBAGR).
  • Objective: Conservation of the indigenous livestock biodiversity.
  • The foundation stone of NBAGR/NIAG was laid in 1985.
  • The National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources and National Institute of Animal Genetics were merged in 1995 to function as a single unit in the form of National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources

Source: PIB

Heparin Medicine

Context:

National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) has allowed pharmaceutical companies to increase the ceiling price of heparin medicine heparin by 50 percent until December 31.

Background:

  • NPPA used emergency powers provided to it under the Drugs (Prices Control) Order, 2013.
  • NPPA in extra-ordinary circumstances fixes the retail price of any drug regardless of whether they were under or eligible for price control under normal circumstances.
  • The Drugs (Prices Control) Order, 2013 also allows NPPA to increase or decrease their prices irrespective of the annual wholesale price index of that year.
  • In 2019, for the first time, NPPA increased the prices of medicines under price control, where it hiked, by 50 percent, prices of 21 drugs integral to public health programs and often used as the first line of treatment.
    • This included the BCG vaccine for tuberculosis, vitamin C, antibiotics like metronidazole and benzylpenicillin, anti-malarial drug chloroquine and leprosy medication dapsone

Heparin Medicine:

  • Heparin is an essential medicine and uses as a blood thinner. It has been given to the patient vulnerable to blood clots in their legs, lungs, heart, or other body parts. 
  • It is also used to reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and pulmonary embolism. 
  • It is also given to those requiring kidney dialysis.
  • This drug has been included by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in its clinical management guidelines for the treatment of Covid-19 patients.

Reasons for the price hike:

  • Shortage: Heparin is very essential to high-risk patients and NPPA had capped heparin’s ceiling price in 2018. However, there have been also instances of a shortage of this drug during the pandemic.
  • Cost of production: The active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), which forms a considerable amount of the cost of making the drug in India, has increased significantly. These ingredients are crucial elements in drug production as they give medicines their therapeutic effect.
    • According to an expert committee, since 2018, the price of API has shot up 211 %. With the maximum price that companies can charge for the drug fixed, but the API costs rising, now the companies claimed it had become unviable to continue manufacturing and selling the drug in India.
  • Import from China: The heparin sodium API for the injections made in India imports from China. Some companies mentioned that there are not many alternative manufacturers for the API in India.
  • Dependency on China: This is the case with several APIs used in India’s pharma industry. India is heavily relying on China for various APIs used to make crucial antibiotics and vitamins. Even the API and other key ingredients for popular painkillers are imported from China.
    • In the last three-six months, prices of APIs from China have gone up 20-35 %.
      • Of the over $3.5 billion worth of ingredients that Indian companies imported to manufacture several essential medicines in 2018-19, China catered to around 68%.

Source: Indian Express

Drug Discovery Hackathon 2020

Context:

Ministry of Human Resource Development and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare jointly launched the Drug Discovery Hackathon 2020. 

Drug Discovery Hackathon:

  • Drug Discovery Hackathon is a joint initiative of MHRD’s Innovation Cell, All India Council for Technical Education, and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and supported by Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC), MyGov as well as private players. 
  • Objective: To identify drug candidates against SARS-CoV-2 by in-silico drug discovery through the hackathon and also follow up by chemical synthesis and biological testing.
  • The vision and mission of the Hackathon are to establish the ‘Open innovation Model’ for in silico drug discovery against coronavirus.
  • The hackathon will also cover the various processes in drug discovery, including in silico screening of molecules, lead optimization, and identification of drug-able non-toxic targets.

Features:

  • The hackathon is an online competition and participants can participate from anywhere in the country or world.
  • It is the first of its kind national initiative for supporting the drug discovery process.
  • To attract international talent, it will be open to participation from across the globe from professionals, faculty, researchers, and students. Participants of Computer Science, Chemistry, Pharmacy, Medical Sciences, Basic Sciences, also take part in the hackathon.
  • MyGov portal is being used and any Indian student can participate.
  • In this initiative, the HRD Innovation cell and All India Council for Technical Education will work together
    • Both will focus on identifying potential drug molecules through the Hackathon while the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research will take these identified molecules forward for synthesis and laboratory testing.
  • The hackathon will have three phases of three months. The whole exercise is to be completed by April-May 2021.
  • At the end of each phase, successful teams will be rewarded. At the end of phase 3, the ‘lead’ compounds will be identified. Further, it will be taken forward for an experimental level at CSIR and other interested organizations.

Challenges:

  • The Hackathon has challenges that are posted as problem statements. These challenges are based on specific drug discovery topics which, are open to the participants to solve. A total of 29 Problem Statements have been identified.

The Hackathon will have three Tracks:

  • Track 1: It will deal with drug design for anti-COVID-19 hit/lead generation: this is done using tools such as molecular modeling, pharmacophore optimization, molecular docking, hit/lead optimization, etc.
  • Track 2: It will deal with designing/optimizing new tools and algorithms which will have a strong impact on expediting the process of in silico drug discovery.
  • Track 3: It is also called “Moon shot “which allows for working on problems that are ‘out of the box’ nature.

Source: DD News

Accelerate Vigyan scheme

Context:

The Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) has launched a new scheme called ‘Accelerate Vigyan’ (AV) to increase scientific research programs in the country.

Details:

  • Objective: To give more thrust on encouraging high-end scientific research and preparing scientific manpower, which can lead to research careers and knowledge-based economy. 
  • Vision: To expand the research base, with three broad goals, namely:
    • consolidation of all scientific programs,
    • initiating high-end orientation workshops, and
    • creating opportunities for research internships for those who do not have access to such resources.

Components of the scheme:

  • ABHYAAS program: It is an attempt to boost research and development by enabling and grooming potential PG/Ph.D. students by means of developing their research skills in selected areas across different disciplines or fields.
    • Accelerate Vigyan scheme has already called for applications under its ‘ABHYAAS’ component for the Winter Season.
    • It has two components: High-End Workshops (‘KARYASHALA’) and Research Internships (‘VRITIKA’). It is important for those researchers who have limited opportunities to access such learning capacities.
    • The current call for applications invites researchers for the winter season (Dec 2020-Jan 2021) ‘KARYASHALA’ and ‘VRITIKA’
  • SAMMOHAN: It has been sub-divided into ‘SAYONJIKA’ and ‘SANGOSHTI’.
    • SAYONJIKA is an open-ended program to catalog the capacity building activities in science and technology supported by all government funding agencies in the country.
    • SANGOSHTI is a pre-existing program of SERB.

Importance of the scheme:

  • The database of skilled manpower will serve the cause of all stakeholders in respect of capacity building in the country.
  • The scheme also seeks to garner the social responsibility of the scientific community in the country.
  • The AV platform is expected to be a game-changer for developing career paths and providing support to catalog the development of skilled manpower.

 The Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB):

  • It is a statutory body established through an Act of Parliament.

Objectives:

  • Serve as a premier agency for planning, promoting, and funding of internationally competitive research in emerging areas.
  • Identify major inter-disciplinary research areas, and individuals, groups, or institutions and funding them for undertaking research.
  • Assist in setting up infrastructure and environment for scientific pursuit.
  • SERB gives special attention to young scientists below the age of 35 years (relaxable by 5 years in the case of SC/ST/OBC, woman, and physically handicapped category) to undertake independent research in the area of science and engineering. 

Way forward:

Accelerate Vigyan scheme focuses on scientific research, infrastructure development which is very crucial for the new research and overall development of the nation. The scheme will also help other government programs like the Atal Tinkering lab in promoting scientific culture in the country.

Source: PIB

The strain of influenza virus G4 Flu

Context: 

Scientists from China have identified a “recently emerged” strain of influenza virus G4 Flu. The virus is infecting Chinese pigs and it has also the potential of triggering a pandemic. China has the largest population of pigs in the world

G4 Flu: 

  • The swine flu strain has genes similar to those in the virus that caused a flu pandemic in 2009.
  • The identification of the virus has been done through the surveillance of influenza viruses in pigs. Scientists carried out surveillance of influenza viruses from 2011 to 2018 in ten provinces of China.
  • Scientists also found that the G4 strain has the capability of binding to human-type receptors (like, the SARS-CoV-2 virus binds to ACE2 receptors in humans).
  • The virus showed effective infectivity and aerosol transmission and it was able to copy itself in human airway epithelial cells.
  • The scientists report that G4 has descended from the H1N1 strain. The swine industry of China is the new hotspot for zoonoses.

Human to Human transmission: 

  • Direct Effect: G4 virus could efficiently infect human airway epithelial cells found in the respiratory system.
  • Cellular Damage: The researchers also assessed replicability in normal human bronchial epithelial cells and alveolar epithelial cells also found in the respiratory system.
  • The replicability: Replicability level of the G4 gene was similar to the 2009 pandemic virus at each point in time and produced virus progeny after 36-60 hours of seeding of infection.
  • Organ Failure: G4 virus caused much more damage to the lungs as compared to the 2009 pandemic virus.
  • The H1N1 strain was responsible for the 2009 flu pandemic.
  • Pigs are intermediate hosts for the generation of pandemic influenza virus.
  • Thus, systematic surveillance of influenza viruses is a key measure for pre-warning the emergence of the next pandemic influenza.

2009 swine flu pandemic:

  • Influenza viruses that generally circulate in swine are called “swine influenza viruses” or “swine flu viruses”.
  • In 2009 when there were around 30,000 cases globally then the WHO declared the outbreak of type A H1N1 influenza virus a pandemic.
  • It was caused by a strain of the swine flu (H1N1 virus). This virus was transmitted from human to human.
  • Swine influenza viruses have different subtypes and strains like human influenza.
  • Fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headaches are the symptoms of swine flu.

Source: Indian Express

COVAXIN

Context:

COVAXIN, India’s first vaccine against novel coronavirus, developed by Bharat Biotech gets the approval of the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) for Phase I and II human trials.

Details:

  • Bharat Biotech gets approval on human trials after submitting results generated from preclinical studies, demonstrating safety and immune response.
  • Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the National Institute of Virology (NIV) developed this vaccine.
  • According to Bharat Biotech, human clinical trials of the experimental COVID-19 are scheduled to start across the country in July 2020.
  • The indigenous, inactivated vaccine has been developed and manufactured at Bharat Biotech’s Bio-Safety Level 3 (BSL-3 ) High Containment facility located in Genome Valley, Hyderabad.
  • According to the company, COVAXIN has been expedited through national regulatory protocols, and subjected to "comprehensive pre-clinical studies", which reports that the results are "promising" and "show extensive safety and effective immune responses".
  • In the past, Bharat Biotech has manufactured the H1N1 vaccine during the swine flu outbreak.
  • The most significant of their developments are the rotavirus vaccine Rotavac, a next-gen vaccine against viral gastroenteritis that got pre-approval from the WHO.

Clinical trials in humans are classified into three phases:

  • Phase I: Clinical studies carry out initial testing of a vaccine in small numbers (e.g. 20) of healthy adults, to test the properties of a vaccine, its tolerability, and, if appropriate, clinical laboratory and pharmacological parameters. Phase I studies are primarily concerned with safety.
  • Phase II: It involves larger numbers of subjects and is intended to provide preliminary information about a vaccine’s ability to produce its desired effect (usually immunogenicity) in the target population and its general safety.
  • Phase III: These trials are required to fully assess the protective efficacy and safety of a vaccine. The trial is the pivotal study on which the decision on whether to grant the license is based and sufficient data have to be obtained to demonstrate that a new product is safe and effective for the purpose intended.

Source: The Hindu

New biomolecules to fight drug resistance in Kala-azar

Context:

Scientists at the Department of Biotechnology’s National Centre for Cell Science (DBT-NCCS) in Pune have been exploring ways to tackle miltefosine (a drug used to treat Leishmaniasis/Kala-azar) resistance.

Details:

  • Protein molecules, called transporter proteins, play a major role in carrying miltefosine into and out of the parasite’s body, which comprises a single cell.
  • ‘P4ATPase-CDC50’: It is a protein and responsible for the intake of the drug by the parasite. Another protein, called ‘P-glycoprotein’, is responsible for throwing this drug out from within the parasite’s body.
  • A decrease in the activity of the P4ATPase-CDC50 protein and an increase in the activity of the P-glycoprotein results in fewer amounts of miltefosine being accumulated inside the parasite’s body, thus causing it to become resistant to the drug.
  • Scientists worked with one of the species of Leishmania that causes infection, called Leishmania major.
  • Scientists have also tried to manipulate these transporter proteins in the species in a manner that would result in increased uptake of the drug and decrease in its being thrown out of the parasite’s body.

Kala-azar (Leishmaniasis):

  • Kala-azar is a neglected tropical disease affecting almost 100 countries including India. 
  • The disease is caused by a parasite called Leishmania, which is transmitted through the bite of sandflies.
  • There are three main forms of leishmaniasis – visceral, which affects multiple organs and is the most serious form of the disease, cutaneous, which causes skin sores and is the most common form; and mucocutaneous, which causes skin and mucosal lesion.
  • Visceral leishmaniasis, which is commonly known as Kala-azar in India. The only drug available against leishmaniasis, miltefosine, is rapidly losing its effectiveness because of emerging resistance to this drug due to a decrease in its accumulation inside the parasite, which is necessary for the drug to kill the parasite.

Source: PIB

Coccolithophores

Context:

A study on Coccolithophores (microscopic marine algae) has been conducted by the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR).

  • Coccolithophores are single-celled algae living in the upper layers of the oceans. They play a key role in marine ecosystems and the carbon cycle for millions of years.

Importance of Coccolithophores:

  • Build exoskeletons: Coccolithophores build exoskeletons from individual CaCO3 plates consisting of chalk and seashells building the tiny plates on their exterior. 
  • Remove carbon dioxide: Though carbon dioxide is produced during the formation of tiny plates, coccolithophores help in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and ocean by consuming it during photosynthesis. 
    • At equilibrium, coccolithophores absorb more carbon dioxide than they produce, which is beneficial for the ocean ecosystem.
  • Marine phytoplankton: Coccolithophores calcify marine phytoplankton that produces up to 40% of open ocean calcium carbonate and responsible for 20% of the global net marine primary productivity.

Key findings:

  • There is a decrease in the concentration of oceanic calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in the Southern Indian ocean because of the increase in the concentration of another single-celled alga known as diatoms. This will affect the growth and skeleton structure of coccolithophores.
  • According to The National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), abundance and diversity enrichment of coccolithophores in the southern Indian Ocean is dependent on time and influenced by several environmental factors such as silicate concentrations, calcium carbonate concentration, diatom abundance, light intensity and availability of macro and possibly micronutrient concentrations.
  • The research revealed that the reduction of coccolithophore diversity in the early summer and late summer periods is due to an increase in the presence of diatom algae, 
    • Diatom algae occur after sea ice breakdown with climate change and ocean acidification and increase the silicate concentration in the waters of the Southern Ocean. 
  • The scientists also analyzed the maximum coccolithophore diversity during mid-summer in the Subtropical Zone (STZ) and Sub-Antarctic Zone (SAZ), which is controlled by elevated silicate, low temperature, and low salinity conditions.
  • As per the results, the biogeographic boundaries of coccolithophores in the southern Indian Ocean are highly variable. It is controlled by environmental factors in early and mid-austral summer and grazing pressure in late austral summer. 
  • Physical forcing also may play a crucial role in the transport of coccoliths and coccospheres at high latitudes. It indicates that the southward extension of coccolithophores is important and may occur for short periods during the hot summer.

Way forward:
As per the results, climate change as a major reason for the altered coccolithophore calcification rate. Different environmental factors and the ability of the species to adapt to environmental changes due to climate change would determine the future coccolithophore calcite production. 
These researches are very important for future intervention to bring positive changes in the marine ecosystem and the global carbon cycle.

Source: PIB

Scheme for Promotion of Academic and Research Collaboration (SPARC)

Context:

Researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras with their counterparts in Germany are going to develop new materials for green energy solutions.

Details:

  • The project, taken up under the Scheme for Promotion of Academic and Research Collaboration (SPARC). 
  • The objective is to develop alternative technologies to produce green hydrogen in anticipation of the transition to a hydrogen-based economy.
  • Generating hydrogen through conventional methods results in a large quantity of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that imposed serious environmental concerns. 
  • Whereas for large-scale production of high-purity H2 electrochemical splitting of water, called ‘Water Electrolysis’ (WE), is clean, facile, and highly efficient technology.
  • Through collaboration with Germany, scientists aim to develop novel low-cost electrocatalysts for hydrogen evolution reactions.

Greenhouse gas:

  • Greenhouse gas has the property of absorbing infrared radiation emitted from Earth’s surface and reradiating it back to Earth’s surface, thus contributing to the greenhouse effect
  • carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide (N2O), water vapor, and chlorofluorocarbons are capable of trapping the out-going infrared radiation from the earth’s surface hence these gases are known as greenhouse gases and the heating effect is known as the greenhouse effect.

Scheme for Promotion of Academic and Research Collaboration (SPARC):

  • SPARC was launched by The Ministry of Human Resource Development in 2018.
  • Objective: To improve the research ecosystem of India’s higher educational institutions by facilitating academic and research collaborations between Indian Institutions and the best institutions in the world. 
  • Under SPARC, 600 joint research proposals will be awarded for 2 years to facilitate research collaboration between Indian research groups and renowned research groups in the leading universities of the world.

Salient Features of SPARC are:

  • 5 Thrust Areas: Fundamental Research, Emergent Areas of Impact, Convergence, Action-Oriented Research, and Innovation-Driven and sub-theme areas in each thrust area has been identified for collaboration under SPARC.
  • Each Thrust Area will have a Section Chair. The role of Section Chair of each Thrust Area is to review shortlist and recommend the potential joint-proposals submitted under the SPARC scheme.
  • A set of Nodal Institutions (NI), from India, for each participating foreign country has been identified.
  • The objective of NI: To help and coordinate with willing Participating Indian Institutions to forge an alliance with the Institutions of a concerned participating foreign country, for academic and research collaboration.  
  • 25 such reputed Institutions have been notified as Nodal Institutions.
  • SPARC proposes to enable productive academic cooperation by supporting the following critical components:
    • Visits and long-term stay of top international faculty/researchers in Indian institutions to pursue teaching and research, 
    • Visits by Indian students for experimentation in premier laboratories worldwide, 
    • Joint development of niche courses, world-class books, and monographs, translatable patents, demonstrable technologies.
    •  Publication, Dissemination, and Visibility through the annual international conference in India.

Source: The Hindu

Annual TB Report 2020

Context: 

Ministry of health and family welfare has released the annual TB Report 2020. A Joint Monitoring Mission report, a manual on Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) to TB patients under the NIKSHAY system, a Training Module, and the quarterly newsletter NIKSHAY Patrika have been also released.

Key findings:

  • Around 24.04 Lakh TB patients have been notified in 2019 an 14% increase in as compared to the year 2018.
  • As against more than 10 lakhs in 2017 of missing cases, there is a reduction of  2.9 lakh cases.
  • Private sector notifications increased by 35% with 6.78 lakh TB patients notified.
  • Because of the availability of molecular diagnostics, the proportion of children diagnosed with TB increased to 8% in 2019 compared to 6% in 2018.
  • Provision of HIV testing for all notified TB patients increased from 67% in 2018 to 81% in 2019.
  • The expansion of treatment services has resulted in a 12% improvement in the treatment success rate of notified patients.  For 2019 it is 81% compared to 69% in 2018.
  • More than 4.5 lakh DOT Centers provide treatment covering almost every village across the country.
  • NIKSHAY also expanded the provision of four Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT) schemes of the program:
    • Nikshay Poshan Yojana to TB patients
    • The incentive to Treatment Supporters
    • An incentive to Private Providers and
    • Transport incentive to TB patients in the notified tribal areas

Tuberculosis (TB):

  • TB is an infectious airborne bacterial disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
  • When TB infection becomes resistant to the first line of treatment — isoniazid, and rifampicin it is called Multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB). 
    • However, when the infection becomes resistant even to the second-line treatment it is called Extensively-drug resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB).

The Truenat TB test:

  • It is a new molecular test that can diagnose TB in one hour as well as testing for resistance to the drug rifampicin. 
  • This test for TB uses a sputum sample taken from each patient. 
  • It is a small battery-operated device that requires minimal training and is usable even in smaller settings such as the Primary Health Centre.
  • Truenat uses a chip-based technology and takes just up to 60 minutes for a test, screening, or confirmatory. 

Working of TrueNat test: 

  • The test works by the rapid detection of TB bacteria using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) Any resistance to rifampicin (RR) is detected by doing a second RTPCR (Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction)
  • Earlier gen expert was used to detect 
  • Genexpert versus TrueNat:  The Genexpert machine is designed for larger volumes and needs a reliable electricity supply.  The TrueNat machine is more of a point of care machine, which is not fully automated.  It is designed for situations where there may not be electricity and where the need is for one test to be done at a time.

Govt initiatives: 

  • Cash benefit for TB patients: Tuberculosis patients are getting Rs. 500 every month from the center as social support. The cash benefit for social support will cover the loss of wages, travel, and mainly nutrition. Rs. 500 will be to the private medical practitioner for notification of the disease
  • Nikshay: To keep a track of the TB patients across the nation the government has introduced a system called NIKSHAY. Patients receive daily messages to ensure they continue their medication.
  • Cartridge-Based Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (CBNAAT): It is a rapid molecular test that simultaneously detects Mycobacterium tuberculosis and rifampicin drug resistance. It is fully automated and gives results within two hours.

Source: PIB

The clinical utility of Foldscope

Context:

The clinical utility of Foldscope in the diagnosis of diseases has been explored and validated by the Institute of Microbial Technology (IMTECH), Chandigarh. 

Foldscope:

  • Foldscope is an affordable paper microscope. It was designed to be portable and durable while performing on par with conventional research microscopes.
  • The Foldscope helps in views very tiny things like bacteria, blood cells, and single-celled organisms. As well as larger things like insects, fabrics, organic tissues.
  • The study examined the use of the Foldscope in the clinical diagnosis of oral and urinary tract infections and evaluated its efficacy as a motivational tool for improving oral health among school children in India.

Smartphone mounted foldscope:

  • Foldscope is an origami-based microscopy device. It is composed of a series of paper clippings. The device can hold a specimen slide for observation, and this specimen can be viewed via a mobile phone camera attached to it. 

Benefits:

  • The study identifies that Foldscope is particularly convenient to diagnose urinary tract infection and monitor kidney stones. Using this tool, one can easily monitor their own-kidney stone status at home with a simple glass-slide, a Foldscope, and a phone. Such easy monitoring could perhaps avoid kidney stone reaching a painful state or surgery in recurring cases.
    • Foldscope is capable of visualizing calcium oxalate crystals, which are a major cause of kidney stones. Foldscope can thus be applied in regions where people are more prone to kidney stones due to environmental factors such as water quality.
  • Given the ease of operation and low cost, Foldscope may be employed in public healthcare centers for primary diagnosis of oral health and UTI or as a personal health monitoring device.
  • The researchers compare the Foldscope to a clinical microscope by examining five different types of clinical samples. Among other clinical samples, the Foldscope was effective in detecting infection in dental plaque samples and urine samples. 

Source: PIB

CSIR Institute to conduct clinical trials of Umifenovir

Context:

The Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI), Lucknow has received permission for carrying out Phase III trials for the use of Umifenovir against Covid-19. These trials will be randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled that will test the efficacy, safety, and tolerability of the drug.

  • The CSIR is evaluating Mycobacterium W (Mw) for faster recovery of hospitalized Covid-19 infected patients.
  • The clinical trial of the Favipiravir drug has also been allowed by the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI).

Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Trials:

  • Randomized trials mean that subjects are randomly assigned to placebo and intervention groups.
    • Placebo is anything that looks like a real treatment but it is actually not. for example sugar pills and saline injections.
  • Double-blind means that neither the patients nor the researchers know who is getting a placebo and who is getting the treatment. This ensures that the result of trials is not affected by the biases of researchers and patients.
  • Placebo-controlled trials refer to a control group receiving a placebo. This sets it apart from studies that simply give participants treatment and record the results.
    • Here, a control group is given a placebo while another group is given the drug (or other treatment) being studied. That way, researchers can compare the drug's effectiveness against the placebo's effectiveness.

Working of Umifenovir:

  • Umifenovir inhibits membrane fusion of the influenza virus. Umifenovir prevents contact between the virus and target host cells.
  • The fusion between the viral envelope and the cell membrane of the target cell is inhibited. This prevents viral entry to the target cell and therefore protects it from infection.
  • The drug is manufactured by Pharmstandard

Advantages: 

  • Improve Immune System: It acts by preventing entry of the virus into human cells and also by priming the immune system.
  • Indigenously Developed: All the raw materials for the drug are indigenously available and if the clinical trial is successful, Umifenovir can be a safe, efficacious, affordable drug against Covid-19.
  • Safe: Umifenovir has already been used for the treatment of influenza in China and Russia and therefore is safe. It recently came into prominence due to its potential use for Covid-19 patients. The clinical trial is to evaluate its efficacy in Indian patients.
  • Prophylactic Use: It has the potential for prophylactic use. A prophylactic is a medication or a treatment designed and used to prevent a disease from occurring.

Source: The Hindu