SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
5.1. HUMAN GENOME PROJECT-WRITE (HGP-WRITE)
Why in news?
On June 2, 2016, scientists from multiple academic institutions in the US published a perspective in the journal Science proposing a second human genome project, called Human Genome Project-Write (HGP-Write)
The original Human Genome Project was referred to as HGP-Read.
HGP-read aimed to “read” a human genome. Many scientists now believe that to truly understand our genetic blueprint, it is necessary to “write” DNA and build human (and other) genomes from scratch.
What is the Genome Project-write?
It will be an open, academic, international scientific research project led by a multi-disciplinary group of scientific leaders who will oversee a reduction in the costs of engineering and testing large genomes, including a human genome, in cell lines by over 1,000-fold within ten years,
They will also be developing new technologies and an ethical framework for genome-scale engineering as well as transformative medical applications.
The overarching goal of such an effort is to further our understanding of the blueprint for life provided by the Human Genome Project (HGP-read).
How will HGP-write benefit humanity?
Some potential applications include, but are not limited to:
Growing transplantable human organs, thus saving the lives of thousands of patients globally who die waiting for donated organs from those
who die from disease or accidents
Engineering immunity to viruses in cell lines
Engineering cancer resistance into new
therapeutic cell lines
Enabling high-productivity, cost-efficient vaccine and pharmaceutical development using human cells and organoids that makes precision medicine more affordable and universal
The Human Genome Project (HGP) was a large, international and multi-institutional effort that took 13 years [1990-2003] and $2.7 billion to produce a blueprint of the sequence of genes and spaces between genes that make up a typical human genome.
Achievements of HGP
The Battelle Technology Partnership Practice has compiled the true economic benefit of HGP-Read and suggested that, among other outputs, the US economy received areturn of $141 for every $1 invested by the US government.
The availability of the human genome sequence has aided our understanding of the function of many human genes; in the discovery of new genes linked to human characteristics; in studies on genetic diversity between humans and other humanoids, apes and primates; in studies on genes related to intelligence, cognitive functions and speech; and finally in better comprehending the characteristics linked to BEING HUMAN.
The best examples of the usefulness of the human genome sequence are in the realm of disease-gene discovery for many monogenic disorders and personalised medicine in oncology
One specific and significant example is the cancer genome sequencing efforts which provides us with opportunities to develop new drugs by exploring the link between metabolism and cancer.
How will HGP-write benefit biomedical research?
Similar to sequencing and computation, DNA synthesis is a foundational technology. HGP-write is therefore expected to accelerate research and
development across the spectrum of life sciences, supporting basic research and the development of new bio-based therapies, vaccines, materials,
energy sources, and foods.
Additionally, the project will develop enabling tools of broad applicability throughout biomedical research, such as:
Computational tools, which allow the redesign of any genome, followed by compilation and testing of the redesigned code in silico before hitting the print button
Phenotypic screening platforms such as organoid cultures, which allow characterization of performance of synthetic DNA and variants of unknown significance
Cheaper, more accurate and longer DNA synthesis and assembly.
Targeted delivery to specific cell types or systemically throughout multiple organ systems.
Benefits to India
The potential benefits of HGP-write to India include providing new solutions to diseases like malaria, dengue and chikungunya.
One of the strategies against combating these deadly diseases could be to introduce sterile mosquitoes into the environment, incapable of producing offspring after mating with their wild type mates and/or by building pathogen resistance in mosquitoes, both by genome engineering.
Tools generated through HGP-write may aid this process by making synthetic vector genomes incapable of hosting the parasite and/or the virus.
Vaccine development: One can accelerate the process tremendously by producing viruses synthetically and then use those for vaccine development.
This, in addition to saving lives, can add to our economy, where India is already an acknowledged world leader.
Big projects require large funding and it’s better for India to share the cost and risks (technical, scientific and financial) with other countries in executing such large projects.
Additionally, projects like HGP-write will provide Indian scientists access to knowledge and expertise of a renowned group of global thought leaders.
Concerns: The concerns range from the ethical to the scientific.
There are genuine fears among a section of the society that one day, humans will be able to play god by synthesising new genomes that may create new creatures with potential for misuse. For example, sterile, genetically-rewritten mosquitoes could create imbalances in ecological niches and wipe out entire populations of insects.
Then there are the unintended side- effects of releasing modified mosquitoes into the wild, who which could transfer their genes to non-target species.
Designing tighter and high containment-level field trials are is essential to control this.
The correct answer may not be to eliminate the mosquito population but to make the mosquito either harmless or an unviable host for deadly pathogens.
India should not to shy away from participating in science-led activities but to do it correctly from the beginning within a transparent policy framework.
India did not participate in HGP-read but a large number of scientific discoveries that originated in India in the last decade owe their success to the availability of a reference human genome sequence.
India has reached a stage in world science where the consequences of not participating in such international efforts may bring more harm than good in the long run.
As government programmes like universal Internet connectivity reach our nation’s hinterland, India’s technologically-savvy youth are waiting to harness the benefits of human genome to innovate and contribute to our economy. HGP-write will add to this.
5.2. EXPLORING METALS IN INDIAN OCEAN
Cabinet approved signing of a 15 year contract between its Earth Sciences Ministry and the International Seabed Authority (ISA) for undertaking exploration and other developmental activities related to polymetallic sulphides in the Indian Ocean.
The exploration will be done in the allotted area of 10,000 sq km in parts of Central and South - West Indian Ridges (SWIR), in the Indian Ocean.
It will enhance India's presence in the Indian Ocean where other players like China, Korea are active.
These polymetallic sulphides in the Ocean Ridges have attracted worldwide attention for their long term commercial as well as strategic values.
This comes after the ISA, under the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), approved an application submitted by India for allotment of 10,000 square km area along with 15 years plan of work for exploration of polymetallic sulphide (PMS) along these two areas.
The program will be implemented by the Ministry of Earth Sciences with the participation from various national institutes and research laboratories and organizations.
International Seabed Authority (ISA)
The International Seabed Authority is an autonomous international organization established under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 1994 Agreement relating to the Implementation of Part XI of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The Authority, which has its headquarters in Kingston, Jamaica, came into existence on 16 November 1994, upon the entry into force of the 1982 Convention.
It was established to organize, regulate and control all mineral-related activities in the international seabed area beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, an area underlying most of the world’s oceans.
Polymetallic nodules (manganese nodules)
These are small potato-sized (from millimetres to tens of centimetres in diameter) lumps of material precipitated from seawater and sediment pore water at slow rates over millions of years and occur mainly on the deep-seafloor.
They contain approximately 24% manganese, compared to 35 to 55% manganese in land ore bodies, so they do not offer solid economics as a manganese source, but they also contain iron (14%), copper (>1%), nickel (>1%), and cobalt (0.25%).
The last three metals together, can make up to 3 wt. %.
Apart from these metals, nodules include trace amounts of molybdenum, platinum and other base metals.
Cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts
Cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts occur at shallower depths of <400 to about > 5000 meters in areas of significant volcanic activity.
The crusts grow on hard-rock substrates of volcanic origin by the precipitation of metals dissolved in seawater in areas of seamounts, ridges, plateaus and where prevailing currents prevent deposition of unconsolidated sediments and occupy large areas on top of these topography highs.
In many cases, the deposits occur within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the countries.
Similar in general composition to the polymetallic nodules, cobalt crusts are attracting investment in exploration for higher cobalt percentage (up to 2%), platinum (0.0001%) and Rare Earth Elements (REE) besides Nickel and Manganese.
In addition, crusts can also contain significant amounts of nickel, lead, cerium, molybdenum, vanadium and other minor metals including those of the platinum group elements.
ISA has signed exploration contracts for cobalt-rich crusts with Japan, China and Russia.
The mining technology for these deposits is more complex than the polymetallic nodules.
Polymetallic sulphides (PMS)
PMS are formed by precipitation of metals leached by hydrothermal fluid as it interacts with the cooler ambient seawater at or beneath the seafloor at hydrothermal vent sites.
PMS are typically composed of iron pyrite, but contain varying proportions of pyrrhotite, pyrite/marcasite, sphalerite/wurtzite, chalcopyrite, bornite, isocubanite and galena.
Copper and zinc are the most likely metals to be recovered, but some deposits exhibit significant gold (0–20 ppm) and silver (0–1200 ppm) grades as well.
Submarine massive polymetallic sulphide bodies are principally found along the earth’s major tectonic belts.
Up to 40% of the known deposits occur at shallower depths in back-arc basins and on submarine volcanic ridges within 200 nautical miles of the coast and within the jurisdiction of national exclusive economic zones (EEZs).
5.3. POTASSIUM BROMATE
According to the CSE, potassium bromate typically increases dough strength, leads to higher rising and gives uniform finish to baked products. Potassium iodate is a flour treatment agent.
The government banned the use of potassium bromate as a food additive following a Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) study that found its presence in bread caused cancer.
As far as potassium iodate is concerned, it has been referred to a scientific panel.”
Potassium iodate is also used as a food additive and it too is said to be carcinogenic, it has been also referred to a scientific panel
A CSE study had found that 84 per cent of 38 commonly available brands of pre-packaged breads, including pav and buns, tested positive for potassium bromate and potassium iodate.
The two food additives are banned in many countries and are listed as “hazardous” to public health.
According to the CSE, potassium bromate typically increases dough strength, leads to higher rising and gives uniform finish to baked products. Potassium iodate is a flour treatment agent.
Why in News?
Unprecedented new details of medieval cities in Cambodia near Angkor Wat have been revealed using Lidar, shedding new light on the civilisation.
In Telangana, the State government proposes to use LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology in preparation of high resolution maps for use in various engineering works and projects that the State is planning.
Last year, the Telangana State government had conducted Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) survey on the river flow of Godavari last year
Lidar stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges (variable distances) to the Earth.
These light pulses—combined with other data recorded by the airborne system— generate precise, three-dimensional information about the shape of the Earth and its surface characteristics.
In other words, LiDAR is a remote sensing technology that measures distance by illuminating a target with a laser and analysing the reflected light.
A LIDAR instrument principally consists of a laser, a scanner, and a specialized GPS receiver.
LiDAR is highly accurate scientific surface/topographic data with active sensing system and it uses its own energy source, not reflecting naturally or naturally emitted radiation. This mode allows direct acquisition of terrain information.
Use of Lidar technology is quite beneficial and it gives quality data in digital form in a short time. This data can be used in many projects related to roads, canals, surface transport, city planning, landslides, irrigation etc.
This system can be brought to use for engineering designs, conservation planning, floodplain mapping, surface feature extraction (trees, shrubs, roads and buildings) and vegetation mapping (height and density).
5.5. BIONIC LEAF
Why in News
A team of scientists from Harvard University has created a unique “bionic leaf” that uses solar energy to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen, and hydrogen-eating bacteria to produce liquid fuels.
Bionic leaf 2.0 can convert solar energy to biomass with 10 percent efficiency - a number far higher than efficiency of photosynthesis in the plant.
How it works?
The bionic leaf 2.0 is placed in water and, as it absorbs solar energy, it's able to split the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. These can be harvested and used in fuel cells to generate electricity.
With the help of an engineered bacterium, the hydrogen can also be used to produce liquid fuels.
5.6. SPACE TECHNOLOGY FOR ROOFS - CASPOL
Why in News?
Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), have developed the ceramic-polymer hybrid (CASPOL) that could protect public transport systems and poor men residing in thatched homes from fire accidents.
The water-based ready-to-coat product was originally developed to protect the rockets from high temperature and fire to which they are exposed during the initial moments of launch.
Potential applications of Caspol
Caspol can withstand up to 800 degree Celsius. Seats in automobiles, public transport system and seat cushions of railway coaches can be made fireproof when Caspol is applied.
Besides its ability to protect against fire and high temperature, Caspol can also make surfaces waterproof.
Indian Institute of Science (IISc) has developed a bone reconstruction method similar to Joints of bone.
They have used maltitol- derived from maltose, a sweetening agent found in most sugar-free foods such as ice-creams.
How it Works?
Maltitol is combined with other components to make long chain-like structures that become plastic. This is then used to fill in the bone gap caused by fracture, instead of the traditional rod.
Maltitol would be a huge advantage over metal rods, which do not allow growth of the bone, especially in infants and adolescents. Drugs can also be injected into it for faster healing.
5.8. BLUE LIGHT EMITTED BY LED IS HARMFUL
According to a report recently released by the American Medical Association (AMA) Council on Science and Public Health, excessive blue light emitted by light emitting diodes (LED) can adversely impact human health.
Blue light directly affects sleep by suppressing the production of the hormone melatonin, which mediates the sleep-wake cycle in humans.
As per the report, compared with conventional street lighting, the blue-rich white LED street lighting is five times more disruptive to sleep cycle.
Although more research is needed, evidence available suggests a long-term increase in the risk for cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and obesity caused by chronic sleep disruption due to exposure to blue light.
The excessive blue wavelength contributes to glare effects as a result of larger scattering in the human eye.
Glare forms a veil of luminance that reduces the contrast, thus in turn reducing the visibility of a target.
The report also notes that unshielded LED lighting causes papillary constriction, leading to “worse night-time vision between lighting fixtures.” Intense blue spectrum can even damage the retina.
As per the report, contrary to the popular notion that bright LED lighting increases road safety, discomfort and disability glare caused by unshielded, bright LED lighting negatively impacts visual acuity, thus “decreasing safety and creating road hazards”.
5.9. PLANET 9
Kuiper belt is a region of the solar system beyond the orbit of Neptune, believed to contain many comets, asteroids, and other small bodies made largely of ice.
Why in News
Astronomers have claimed that the mysterious Planet 9 may
have been stolen from its original star by our Sun some 4.5
billion years ago, possibly making it the first exoplanet to be
discovered inside the solar system.
Planet Nine is a hypothetical large planet in the far outer Solar System, the gravitational effects of which would explain the improbable orbital configuration of a group of trans-Neptunian objects that orbit mostly beyond the Kuiper belt.
The predicted planet would be a super-Earth, with an estimated mass of 10 Earths, a diameter two to four times that of Earth, and a highly elliptical orbit with an orbital period of approximately 15,000 years.
5.10. INDUSTRIAL INTERNET
What is Industrial Internet?
IoT’s industrial applications are called as the ‘Industrial Internet’.
The Industrial Internet closely linked to enterprise IoT is likely to radically transform and overhaul business segments including manufacturing, oil and gas, agriculture, defence, mining, transportation and healthcare etc. Collectively, these sectors account for over two-thirds of the global economy.
How Industrial Internet works?
The industrial Internet draws together fields such as machine learning, big data, the Internet of things and machine-to-machine communication to absorb data from machines, analyze it (in real-time), and use it to adjust operations.
It holds great potential for quality control, sustainable and green practices and overall supply chain efficiency.
The Industrial Internet also is applied to transportation projects, such as driverless cars and intelligent railroad systems.
The Industrial Internet is still at an early stage and the full range of implications of the industrial internet on their industries is still emerging and not crystal clear.
But it is said that industrial internet applications in the sectors mentioned above will grow by leaps and bounds, requiring not just huge amounts of bandwidth but more importantly, absolutely reliable and real-time responses.
Consumer internet, i.e. terrestrial internet (through fibre, cable or WiFi) is not quite the solution as
Next generation satellite technologies are becoming available providing high speeds, much lower latency, smaller form-factor satellite devices and satellite mobility.
Cost: For the purpose of IoT, satellite broadband especially with high-throughput satellites would also be available at a fraction of the cost of terrestrial broadband.
About The internet of things (IoT)
The internet of things (IoT) is the network of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items-embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enable these objects to collect and exchange data.
Thus IoT creates opportunities for more direct integration of the physical world into computer-based systems, and resulting in improved efficiency, accuracy and economic benefits
IoT is one of the platforms of today's Smart City, and Smart Energy Management Systems. It can also be used to improve crop yield to help feed the world’s growing population.
5.11. LISA PATHFINDER
Why in News?
ESA’s LISA Pathfinder mission has demonstrated the technology needed to build a space-based gravitational wave observatory.
Results from LISA Pathfinder, show that the two cubes at the heart of the spacecraft are falling freely through space under the influence of gravity alone, to a precision more than five times better than originally required to detect gravitational waves.
LISA would be the first dedicated space-based gravitational wave detector. It aims to measure gravitational waves directly by using laser interferometry.
The LISA has a constellation of three spacecraft, arranged in an equilateral triangle with million-kilometre arms flying along an Earth-like heliocentric orbit. The distance between the satellites is precisely monitored to detect a passing gravitational wave.
As a prelude to the massive LISA mission, the smaller LISA Pathfinder was launched by ESA in 2015.
5.12. DRAFT GUIDELINES FOR SAFE HANDLING OF NANOMATERIALS
The Nano Mission under the Department of Science and Technology has come out with the draft “Guidelines and Best Practices for Safe Handling of Nanomaterials in Research Laboratories and Industries”.
The guidelines, intended as standard operating procedure (SOP) for handling nanomaterials in research laboratories and industries,
prescribe a combination of engineering controls, work practices and personal protective equipment as part of a robust exposure control
These lay down the process for identifying hazards, taking note of the specific effect of surface chemistry, shape, size and morphology on toxicity caused to various organs.
The guidelines also lay down set of best practices related to the making and handling of Nanopowders and use of products relating to food and healthcare.
Few Applications of Nanotechnology
desalination of water
Nanomedicine is being used to treat disease and prevent health issues.
Nanoparticles are used in sunscreen, cosmetics and food packaging.
About Nano Mission
The Government of India, in May 2007, has approved the launch of a Mission on Nano Science and Technology (Nano Mission) with an allocation of Rs. 1000 crore for 5 years.
The Department of Science and Technology is the nodal agency for implementing the Nano Mission.
Capacity-building in this upcoming area of research will be of utmost importance for the Nano Mission so that India emerges as a global knowledge-hub in this field.
Equally importantly, the Nano Mission will strive for development of products and processes for national development, especially in areas of national relevance like safe drinking water, materials development, sensors development, drug delivery, etc.
5.13. BIO-INK FOR 3D PRINTING
Scientists have developed a new stem cell-containing bio-ink that allows 3D printing of complex living tissues that may be used for surgical implants.
The bio-ink contains two different polymer components: a natural polymer extracted from seaweed, and a sacrificial synthetic polymer used in the medical industry.
The special bio-ink formulation was extruded from a retrofitted benchtop 3D printer, as a liquid that transformed to a gel at 37 degrees Celsius, which allowed construction of complex living 3D architectures.
Potential Applications of Bio-ink
It can be used for printing complex tissues using the patient’s own stem cells for surgical bone or cartilage implants, which could be used in knee and hip surgeries.
How it works?
The synthetic polymer causes the bio-ink to change from liquid to solid when the temperature is raised, and the seaweed polymer provides structural support when the cell nutrients are introduced.
The team was able to differentiate the stem cells into osteoblasts - a cell that secretes the substance of bone - and chondrocytes, cells that have secreted the matrix of cartilage and become embedded in it, to engineer 3D printed tissue structures over five weeks.
5.14. MOU FOR GEO-TAGGING ASSETS
A MoU has been signed between the Rural Development Ministry and ISRO, for geo-tagging the assets created under MGNREGA in each gram panchayat.
It will help in online recording and monitoring of assets to check leakages and for effective mapping of terrain for future developmental works.
A Gram Rozgar Sahayak or junior engineer will take a photo of an asset created by beneficiaries of the scheme and through a mobile app created by ISRO, upload the photo on the Bhuvan web portal run by ISRO’s National Remote Sensing Centre.
When the photo is uploaded, the location and time will get encrypted and there will be an option to add more information according to a few parameters.
5.15. CHINA SETS UP FIRST 'DARK SKY' RESERVE
China has launched its first "dark sky reserve" for astronomical observation in the Tibetan prefecture of Ngari, bordering Nepal and India.
The reserve covers an area of 2,500 square kilometres and aims to limit light pollution by stepping up protection of dark-sky resources for education and tourism development.
Why Ngari is famous?
Ngari is among the best sites for astronomical observation on earth, due to its high altitude and large number of cloudless days throughout the year.
However, the recent inflow of people from other areas has given rise to increasing urbanisation, and thus the associated risk of more light pollution.
Light pollution is excessive, misdirected, or obtrusive artificial (usually outdoor) light. Too much light pollution washes out starlight in the night sky, interferes with astronomical research, disrupts ecosystems, has adverse health effects and wastes energy.
5.16. ZIKA VACCINE: DNA VACCINE (GLS-5700)
The first Phase-1 human clinical trial of a vaccine for the Zika virus is set to begin soon.
The DNA vaccine (GLS-5700) has already been tested on animals and found to elicit “robust” antibody and T cell responses.
The human trial will be carried out on 40 healthy adults to evaluate safety, tolerability and immunogenicity and the interim results are expected before the end of the year.
About Zika virus
Zika virus disease is caused by a virus transmitted primarily by Aedes mosquitoes. It is a cause of microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Microcephaly is a condition where a baby’s head is much smaller than expected. Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare condition in which immune system attacks nerves, leading to muscle weakness and even paralysis.
5.17. ISRO LAUNCHES 20 SATELLITES
Why in news?
ISRO has created a new record of launching 20 satellites from a single rocket, including those of US, Germany, Canada and Indonesia, from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota.
This has brought India into the elite club of USA and Russia who have also launched more than 20 satellites in a single launch.
ISRO has broken its own record of launching 10 satellites in 2008.
About the mission
The PSLV-34 vehicle was used to launch 3 Indian and 17 commercial foreign satellites.
Among the 3 Indian satellites there is CARTOSAT-2 series which has potential uses in geological surveying, border management, disaster management etc.
The other two Indian satellites - SatyabhamaSat and Swayam were made by college students.
They will be used to collect data on greenhouse gases and provide point-to-point messaging services
The foreign satellites are LAPAN-A3 from Indonesia, Brios from Germany, M3MSat and GHSSat-D from Canada, SkySat Gen 2-1 and 12 Dove satellites from the United States.
The payload or total weight of all the 20 satellites carried on-board PSLV-C34 is 1288 kg.
Benefits for Indian space industry
This successful launch establishes ISRO as a credible player in global space market worth $300 billion.
The inclusion of satellites made by students encourages the young minds towards pursuing space science.
Packing a rocket with a large no. of satellites displays utility and efficiency, and reduces mission costs.
Future opportunities for India
The market for small satellites is growing. This perfectly syncs with ISRO’s ability of launching small satellites at one-third costs of the global average.
With the successful testing of Reusable Launch Vehicle, total expenditure of launch may further reduce by up to 80 percent of the current costs. This will further attract foreign customers to ISRO.
ISRO can subsidise the Indian programme and to an extent, set a scientific agenda for space.
India could use this to deepen its soft power and relations with other third world nations.