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Science Monitor: 15 May 2021

Science Monitor: 15 May 2021

1. Role of N-Protein in SARS-COV-2 viral transmission:


According to a new research, the N-Protein of the SARS-COV-2 plays an important role in increasing the infectivity of the virus. The study conducted by Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Bhopal researchers demonstrates that in addition to the spike protein a study of other viral proteins particularly the N-Protein is also necessary to fully understand the COVID-19 viral infection. These findings by Indian researchers may help in developing better therapeutic drugs, antibodies and entry inhibitors to fight against this deadly infection.

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About the study:

  • As the world struggles with the ups and downs of the COVID-19, scientists are constantly studying the different avatars of the virus and their infectivity. Researchers at the IISER, Bhopal have reached a new conclusion in this direction.

  • A team of scientists from the Institute's Department of Biological Sciences has found that the nucleocapsid or N-Protein of the virus also plays a critical role in increasing the infectivity of the SARS-COV-2.

  • The actual infectious levels of the virus in a real life scenario can vary greatly in the presence of such proteins. So, it is not enough to study spike protein alone to develop the therapeutic drugs antibodies and entry inhibitors.

  • The SARS-COV-2 is an RNA genome virus which is surrounded by a sphere-shaped structure. The structure includes a wide variety of proteins one of which is the spike protein that gives the virus a special prickly or crown like form.

  • Since, the virus is highly infectious, most studies do not use the live virus but use a similar protein capsule made up of spike that has been filled with another viral core in a process called pseudotyping.

  • Researchers at IISER, Bhopal looked at whether other proteins of the coronavirus also influenced the pseudotyped viral infectivity. The team combined a type of virus vector called lentivirus with a COVID-19 spike protein to produce spike lentivirus and study the infectivity of various proteins of SARS-COV-2.

  • During the study, pseudoviruses produced with the nucleocapsid proteins were found to be comparatively more infectious than those containing other proteins. Researchers believe that N-Protein promotes the incorporation of the spike protein into viral particles thereby increasing the chances for each viral particle to bind to the target cell.

  • This discovery has added a new dimension to the COVID-19 research. This will help in understanding the viral transmission in a better way. The findings of this study have been published in the peer review journal frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology.

2. New process to prevent plastic residues in sea salt:


Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati have developed an efficient microfiltration process to remove microplastics from sea water. This process will help not only in the extraction of plastic free sea salt but also in the prevention of various diseases that are triggered by plastic pollution.

About the process:

  • Oceans are getting affected by plastic pollution. Microplastics have been found in almost all oceans and marine animals. These particles are polluting sea salt as well. A study in East Asia found microplastics in 90 percent of the salt brands sampled worldwide.

  • Another study by IIT, Mumbai has found Polyesters, Polyethylene, Terephthalate, Polyamide, Polyethylene and Polystyrene in several brands of Indian sea salt. These particles can disrupt hormones in the human body can cause diseases of the nervous system besides leading to infertility and cancer.

  • Now, researchers at the IIT, Guwahati have developed a microfiltration system using hollow fiber membranes. The system can remove microplastics from sea water before the extraction of salt.

  • Hollow Fibre Membranes are being used extensively in various water related applications. IIT, Guwahati researchers have created a filter matrix by bundling together hundreds of tiny straw-like tubes to isolate up to 99.3 percent of the microplastics.

  • Researchers have shown for the first-time efficient removal of microplastics using Hollow Fibre Microfiltration (HFMF) Membranes from synthetic sea water. According to them, ceramic membranes with very low pore size can also be used at home to remove harmful plastics from salt solution.

  • The research that was recently published in the research journal Environmental Technology and Innovation can be used for pre-treatment of sea water. This system is also able to operate under low water pressure without electricity, thereby producing cost-effective water treatment to produce healthy salt.

3. Guinness World Record established by AI for India 1.0:  


IIT, Madras incubated startup GUVI and the All India Council for Technical Education have set a new world record to their online initiative called AI for India.

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About the initiative:

  • Artificial Intelligence is leading to amazing applications in almost all the sectors due to its increasing utility. Many efforts are being made in India to promote innovation and create trained human resource in the field.

  • To upskill Indians in Python programming language, AI for India initiative was organized on the 24th and 25th of April by GUVI. An IIT, Madras incubated startup and All India Council for Technical Education along with IIT, Madras Research Park and BUDDI.AI.

  • This 24-hour online coding class was attended by over 1.12 lakh participants comprising different sections of the society from all over the country. The event has now set a Guinness World Record for most numbers of users to take a programming lesson in 24 hours beating the previous record by 50 times.

  • In addition to the online coding class, an online training session to build a face recognition app was also organized as part of the same event, 1.43 lakh participants attended this session online.

  • In order to develop economical and better resources in the field of artificial intelligence education, the startup GUVI has launched online coding and programming classes mainly for the students. The endeavour is being enriched by expert talk and training sessions in various other regional languages besides Hindi and English.

  • Such initiatives are proving very useful during the current COVID crisis and achievements such as the Guinness World Record reflect GUVI's commitment in India.

Science Express:

1. India recently participated in the 3rd Arctic Science Ministerial Meeting representing India:

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  • Union Minister for Health & Family Welfare, Science & Technology and Earth Sciences, Dr Harsh Vardhan shared the country's long-term plans for research work and cooperation in the Arctic region.

  • The 3rd meeting was jointly organized by Iceland and japan. The event aims to enhance collective understanding about the Arctic region through observation research and capacity building.

  • India's involvement with the Arctic began in 1920 with the signing of the Svalbard Treaty in Paris.

  • July 2008, India established a permanent research station in the Arctic region named ‘Himadri’ and since 2013, India has been working as an observer country in the Arctic Council.

  • India has contributed to observing systems in the Arctic both in-situ and by remote sensing and in 2014, a multi-sensor moored observatory IndARC was also deployed by India.

  • All these operations are coordinated and conducted by the Goa based National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research, functioning under the Ministry of Earth Sciences.

2. ISRO’s VSSC Develops Ventilators, Oxygen Concentrator To Support India’s Battle Against Covid-19:

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  • Indian Space Research Organization has developed three affordable ventilators and an oxygen concentrator in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Developed by ISRO's Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, the instruments Prana, Vau, Svasta and shwaas are easy to use and fully automated.

  • Prana provides oxygen to the patient using automated compression pressure of an Ambu bag while the Svasta cam works without electricity and Vau is a low-cost ventilator equivalent to commercially available high-end ventilators.

  • The oxygen concentrator developed by ISRO is called shwaas and it can provide enriched oxygen at the rate of 10 litres per minute. The technology transfer to industries for commercial production of these devices will also be done soon.

3. NASA’s asteroid-punching spacecraft begins its trek back home:!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/16x9_780/bennu-osiris-rex.jpg

  • NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has started its return journey to Earth after collecting and carrying samples from a Bennu. Bennu is a near-earth asteroid 200 million miles away from Earth. The robotic spacecraft reached Bennu in 2018 and orbited it for 2 years before collecting samples from its surface.

  • Scientists estimate that the spacecraft has exceeded collection targets of 60 grams of sample and is bringing back 200 to 400 grams of debris from Bennu.

  • It will take 2 years for the OSIRIS-REx to return to Earth. The spacecraft is expected to land on earth by September 24th, 2023. This expedition is part of a study about the origin of the earth.

  • Scientists believe that asteroid samples can provide important information relating to the origin of the Earth and the beginning of life on it. Currently, scientists are monitoring OSIRIS-REx ‘s safe return to Earth which is an important part of this campaign.

4. Scientists now have the latest information about the deepest points on the Earth.

Image shows the location of the deepest points within each of the world's oceans (Atlantic, Southern, Indian, Pacific and Arctic)

  • These are important locations in the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Arctic and Southern Oceans that have been mapped by the 5 most recent deep expeditions.

  • Places such as the 10,924 meter deep Mariana Trench in the Western Pacific have already been surveyed many a time, but the latest deep dive projects have overcome many uncertainties and doubts, for example, there were two claims for the deepest point in the Indian ocean, a section of the Java Trench off the coast of Indonesia and a Fracture Zone to the southwest of Australia.

  • The latest expedition has proved that the Java Trench is actually the deepest point in the Indian Ocean. The deepest place in the Atlantic Ocean is the Brownson Deep in the Puerto Rico Trench. Similarly, a new place named as Factorian Deep has also been discovered in the Southern Ocean.

  • These depths are the trenches of the ocean where the earth's tectonic plates meet, precise details of these depths have been measured by state-of-the-art technology during the 10-month expedition.


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