UPSC IAS Prelims 2022 Material| Science and Tech Current Affairs | Biology and Biotechnology – Part 2

Dear Friends,

This post is a part of our current affairs series for the UPSC IAS Prelims 2022. In this post, we have covered the Science and tech current affairs of the Biology and Biotechnology section. This post covers the current affairs of September, October 2021 and April 2022 months.


Science and Tech Current Affairs 2021-22

BIOLOGY AND BIOTECHNOLOGY

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Nipah Virus

News

A 12-year-old boy infected with the Nipah virus died in a private hospital in Kozhikode, Kerala.

About Nipah Virus

Nipah Virus(NiV) is a zoonotic virus. ​​The first outbreaks of the Nipah virus among humans were reported in Malaysia (1998) and Singapore (1999).

Host Reservoir of Nipah Virus

The animal host reservoir for this virus is known to be the fruit bat, commonly known as the flying fox. Fruit bats are known to transmit this virus to other animals like pigs, and also dogs, cats, goats, horses and sheep.

Spread

It is a zoonotic virus, meaning it has been transmitted from animals to human beings.

The transmission happens mainly through direct contact with these animals or through the consumption of food contaminated by the saliva or urine of these infected animals.

Person-to-person transmission is not fully established yet.

Symptoms of Nipah Virus infection

Fever, respiratory symptoms include cough, sore throat, aches, fatigue and encephalitis. The death rate for the Nipah virus is 70%.

Treatment for Nipah Virus infection

There is no vaccine against the Nipah virus. The only available treatment is supportive cough care. Ribavirin, an antiviral drug, was used to treat encephalitis in 2018.


HIV Vaccine candidates

News

Moderna has announced the human trials for two HIV vaccines, namely mRNA-1644 and mRNA-1644v2-Core.

About the two HIV Vaccines

The two vaccines are based on the same platform — mRNA — as Moderna’s Covid vaccine.

Working: The vaccine is expected to work similar to the Covid-19 vaccine — by getting the body’s cells to produce the HIV’s spike protein triggering an immune response.

Difficulties in making HIV Vaccine

HIV has a spike-shaped virus protein known as Env or the envelope protein.

HIV tends to change its envelope so rapidly that it is difficult to provide any antibody cover. Additionally, the envelope proteins are covered by a sugar coating that affects the generation of an immune response.

Moreover, even when antibodies are made, by the time they are produced, the virus rapidly evolves and the antibodies do not neutralise the virus. This rapid mutation allows the virus to escape the antibody response.

Hence, because of this, previously inactivated forms of the virus and adenovirus vector-based vaccines have been tried but have not worked.

Expected Benefits of m-RNA Vaccine

mRNA-based vaccines are believed to be a promising alternative because they do not involve the use of a live virus, can be made relatively easily, can be quickly deployed and safely administered.

Global HIV burden

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), HIV has claimed 36.3 million lives so far. There were an estimated 37.7 million living with HIV at the end of 2020.

However, there is still no cure for HIV. But with increasing access to effective prevention, diagnosis and care, HIV infection has become a manageable chronic health condition in recent years.

HIV burden in India

According to the National AIDS Control Organization’s India HIV Estimation 2019 report, there were an estimated 23.48 lakh people living with HIV in 2019.

Overall, the estimated adult (15-49) HIV prevalence trend has been declining in India since the peak in 2000 and has been stabilising in recent years.


Fragile X Syndrome

News

In 2017, a man affected by autism underwent his first DNA blood test at the age of 40. He tested positive for Fragile X Syndrome (FXS). This shows the lack of awareness and appropriate training in diagnosing FXS.

About Fragile X Syndrome

Fragile X syndrome(FXS) is a genetic disorder. It is also known as Martin-Bell syndrome or Marker X syndrome.

The syndrome is the leading inherited cause of autism in 4% of the population worldwide. Boys often have a more serious form of it than girls.

Caused by: The syndrome is caused by changes in a gene called FMR1, which makes an important protein (FMRP). This protein is required for brain development. Children with Fragile X syndrome make too little or none of it.

Symptoms: The symptoms are learning difficulty, speech delay, aggressive behaviour, hyperactivity, attention deficit, problems in motor skills, etc.

Passed on from mother who is a carrier of FXS has a 50% chance of passing the mutated gene to her children, who will either be carriers or have FXS. Men who are carriers do not pass the pre-mutation to their sons, but only daughters, who become carriers.

Estimated cases of Fragile X Syndrome in India: It is estimated there are 4 lakh individuals who have been identified with mutated FMRI in India and 40 lakh undiagnosed carriers of the gene.

Diagnosis: The simplest tool for timely detection of Fragile X Syndrome is a DNA test.

Treatment: The disorder cannot be cured, but early therapy can improve the individual’s quality of life.


Sterile Insect Technique

News

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have created a new system named precision-guided Sterile Insect Technique(pgSIT) that restrains populations of mosquitoes.

About the Sterile Insect Technique
Source: IAEA

The sterile insect technique is a method of biological insect control whereby overwhelming numbers of sterile insects are released into the wild.

The released insects are preferably male as this is more cost-effective and the females may in some situations cause damage by laying eggs in the crop, or, in the case of mosquitoes, taking blood from humans.

The sterile male insects compete with wild males to mate with the females. Females that mate with a sterile male produce no offspring, thus reducing the next generation’s population.

About the precision-guided Sterile Insect Technique(pgSIT)

It is a new scalable genetic control system that uses a CRISPR-based technology to engineer deployable mosquitoes that can suppress populations.

Males don’t transmit diseases, so the idea is to release more and more sterile males. The population of mosquitos can be suppressed without relying on harmful chemicals and insecticides.

Hence, this technique basically alters genes linked to male fertility—creating sterile offspring—and female flight in Aedes aegypti.

PgSIT mechanistically relies on a dominant genetic technology that enables simultaneous sexing and sterilization. Thus facilitating the release of eggs into the environment ensuring only sterile adult males emerge. 

pgSIT eggs can be shipped to a location threatened by mosquito-borne disease or developed at an on-site facility that could produce the eggs for nearby deployment.

Once the pgSIT eggs are released in the wild, sterile pgSIT males will emerge and eventually mate with females, driving down the wild population as needed.


Saline gargle RT-PCR Technique

News

The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute(NEERI) has transferred the indigenously-developed saline gargle RT-PCR technique to the Ministry of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises(MSME).

About Saline gargle RT-PCR Technique

Saline gargle RT-PCR is a technique that will be used for testing Covid-19 samples.

Developed by: National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI).

Working of Saline gargle RT-PCR Technique

The method is non-invasive and simple enough for a patient to collect his/her own sample for testing. A simple collection tube filled with a saline solution is used. The patient gargles with the solution and rinses it inside the tube.

The sample is then taken to a laboratory where it is kept at room temperature in a special buffer solution prepared by NEERI. An RNA template is produced when this solution is heated, which is further processed for the RT-PCR test.

Benefits of the Technique

The technique is simple, fast, cost-effective, patient-friendly and comfortable.

It provides instant test results and is well-suited for rural areas with poor connectivity, given its minimal infrastructure requirements.


Converting keratin waste into fertiliser and animal feeds

News

Scientists from the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT) have developed an innovative way to convert keratin waste into fertiliser and animal feeds.

About Keratin Waste

Keratin waste is generated from human hair, poultry feather waste and wool. India generates a huge amount of keratin waste each year.

These wastes are dumped, buried, used for landfilling or incinerated. This leads to increased environmental hazards, pollution and threat to public health and increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

Potential use of Keratin waste

Keratin waste is an inexpensive source of amino acids and protein. Hence, it can be used as animal feed and fertiliser.

Method of converting keratin waste into fertilisers

Indian Scientists have developed a method that can easily convert keratin waste into fertiliser and animal feed.

The method uses advanced oxidation for the conversion of the waste to marketable fertilisers and animal feed. The key technology behind this involves pre-treatment followed by hydrolysis of keratin using a technique called Hydrodynamic Cavitation, which involves vaporization, bubble generation, and bubble implosion in a flowing liquid.

This method is almost three times more economical than the existing technologies.

It is also easily scalable, environment-friendly and would make amino acid-rich liquid fertilizers more economical as compared to currently marketed products.


Turn edible plants into mRNA vaccine factories

News

Scientists and Researchers at the University of California are studying whether they can turn edible plants like lettuce into mRNA vaccine factories.

Key element in this project

Purpose: The project aims to demonstrate whether they can convert plants like spinach and lettuce into mRNA vaccine factories.

The key to making this project work are chloroplasts. These are small organs in plant cells that convert sunlight into energy the plant can use.

They’re tiny, solar-powered factories that produce sugar and other molecules which allow the plant to grow. Hence, they are an untapped source for making desirable molecules.

Significance of this project

Messenger RNA or mRNA technology works by teaching our cells to recognize and protect us against infectious diseases.

One of the challenges with the mRNA technology is that it must be kept cold to maintain stability during transport and storage.

Hence, if this new project is successful, plant-based mRNA vaccines — which can be eaten — could overcome this challenge with the ability to be stored at room temperature.


Havana Syndrome

News

A US intelligence officer on an Indian trip has reported symptoms of Havana Syndrome. This is the first instance of the phenomenon being reported in India, at least on record, and could have diplomatic implications.

About Havana Syndrome
Havana syndrome
Source: TOI

Havana Syndrome refers to a set of mental health symptoms that are said to be experienced by US intelligence and embassy officials in various countries.

It typically involves symptoms such as hearing certain sounds without any outside noise being present, nausea, vertigo and headaches, memory loss and issues with balance.

Origin of Havana Syndrome

Havana Syndrome traces its roots to Cuba. In 2016, about a year after the US opened its embassy in Havana, some intelligence officials and members of the staff at the embassy began experiencing sudden bursts of pressure in their brain followed by persistent headaches, feeling of disorientation and insomnia.

Cause of Havana Syndrome

Experts have suggested that the victims may have been subjected to high-powered microwaves that either damaged or interfered with the nervous system.

Greater exposure to high-powered microwaves is said not only to interfere with the body’s sense of balance but also impact memory and cause permanent brain damage.

The US experts believe that these microwaves are sent through a special gadget called a “microwave weapon”.

About Microwave weapons

“Microwave weapons” are supposed to be a type of direct energy weapons, which aim for highly focused energy in the form of sonic, laser, or microwaves, at a target.

A number of countries are thought to have developed these weapons to target both humans and electronic systems. China had first put on display its “microwave weapon”, called Poly WB-1, at an air show in 2014.

The United States has also developed a prototype microwave-style weapon, which it calls the “Active Denial System”.


Regeneron antibody Therapy

News

Recently, World Health Organization (WHO) approved the Regeneron antibody combination for treatment of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

About Regeneron

Regeneron is a combination of two drugs — casirivimab and imdevimab.

It has reduced mortality in seronegative patients with severe infections. The drug cocktail replicates the natural antibody response of human beings. Last year it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration of the United States.

Recommendations of WHO regarding this therapy

As per UN health agency, giving drugs in veins may be difficult in outpatient scenarios. For such cases, it recommended application of drugs under the skin.

Specialised clinics, adequate amounts of antibodies and trained medical staff will be required for the therapy.


Global Roadmap to Defeat Meningitis by 2030

News

Recently, World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners launched the first-ever global strategy to defeat meningitis. Meningitis is a debilitating disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people each year.

Aim of the strategy

The strategy aims

-To prevent infections and improve care and diagnosis for those affected.

-To eliminate epidemics of bacterial meningitis (deadliest form of the disease)

-To reduce deaths by 70 per cent and halve the number of cases.

The strategy could save more than 200,000 lives annually and significantly reduce disability caused by the disease.

Roadmap to achieve the strategy

First, achievement of high immunisation coverage, development of new affordable vaccines and improved prevention strategies and outbreak response

Second, speedy diagnosis and optimal treatment for patients

Third, good data to guide prevention and control efforts

Fourth, care and support for those affected, focusing on early recognition and improved access to care and support for after-effects

Fifth, advocacy and engagement, to ensure high awareness of meningitis, accountability for national plans, and affirmation of the right to prevention, care and after-care services

There is an urgent need for innovation, funding and research to develop more meningitis-preventive vaccines. Efforts are also needed to strengthen early diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation for all those who need it after contracting the disease.

About meningitis

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. It is predominantly caused by bacterial and viral infection. Meningitis caused by bacterial infection causes around 250,000 deaths a year and can lead to fast-spreading epidemics.

It kills a tenth of those infected mostly children and young people. It leaves a fifth with long-lasting disability, such as seizures, hearing and vision loss, neurological damage, and cognitive impairment.

Meningitis epidemics have occurred in the last decade in all regions of the world. But it is most common in the ‘Meningitis Belt,’ which spans 26 countries across sub-Saharan Africa.

Vaccines to protect against meningitis

Several vaccines protect against meningitis, including Meningococcal, Haemophilus influenzae type B and pneumococcal vaccines. But not all communities have access to them. Many countries are yet to introduce them into their national programmes.

Research is underway to develop vaccines for other causes of meningitis, such as Group B Strep bacteria.


Recirculatory Aquaculture System(RAS) Technology

News

Union Minister of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying has inaugurated the Recirculatory Aquaculture Systems (RAS) technology for the culture of rainbow trout in the private sector under Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana(PMMSY)

About Recirculatory Aquaculture System(RAS) Technology
RAS
Source: Blue Ridge Aqua Culture

 

This method is used for high- density culture of various species of fish, utilizing minimum land area and water.

Under the Recirculatory Aquaculture System (RAS) technology, water is recycled and reused after mechanical and biological filtration and removal of suspended matter and metabolites.

Difference between RAC and other methods

It is an intensive high-density fish culture, unlike other aquaculture production systems. In the traditional method, the fish is grown in open ponds and raceways. But, in RAS the fishes are typically reared in indoor/outdoor tanks in a controlled environment.

Advantages of RAS method

The RAS method has many advantages. Such as

  1. i) Extended durability of tanks and equipment,
  2. ii) Reduced dependency on antibiotics and therapeutants hence, an advantage of getting high-quality fish.

iii) Reduction of direct operational costs associated with feed, predator control and parasites.

  1. iv) Risk reduction due to climatic factors, disease and parasite impacts
  2. v) RAS production can promote flexibility in terms of location for farming, proximity to market.
Disadvantages of RAS method

A constant uninterrupted power supply is required if electric power fails, then a backup of electricity is required.

The capital cost of starting a recirculating aquaculture system is high as compared to ponds and raceways.


Phycoremediation in Lukha river

News

Meghalaya government has claimed that a detoxing project through the use of phycoremediation has rejuvenated Lukha river. The project was funded by the “District Mineral Fund”.

Reason for contamination

The Lukha River was considered toxic beyond redemption a decade ago. Meghalaya’s pollution control board in its report blamed drainage from ‘acid mines’ drainage and ‘rat-hole coal mines’ as the reason for toxicity in the river.

In response, the government used the Phycoremediation method to detoxify the river.

About Phycoremediation

It is a type of bioremediation, can be defined in a broader sense as the use of macroalgae or microalgae for the removal or biotransformation of pollutants. It improves the PH of the water.

About Lukha river

It drains the southern part of ‘East Jaintia hills’(Meghalaya). It is fed by its major tributary ‘The Lunar River’ and streams from ‘Narpuh reserve forest’.

The river passes into southern Assam’s Barak Valley and ends up in the floodplains of Bangladesh.


Mastitis disease in Cattle

News

Based on the indigenous knowledge shared by a farmer from GujaratNational Innovation Foundation(NIF) has developed a poly-herbal and cost-effective medicine named Mastirak Gel to treat Mastitis, an infectious disease of dairy cattle.

About Mastitis disease in Cattle

Mastitis is an infectious disease condition resulting in an inflammatory reaction in the mammary gland of the cow.

Caused by: There are a variety of microorganism species that are known to cause mastitis. These range from viruses, mycoplasma, fungus and bacteria.

Symptoms: The clear sign of mastitis is inflammation of the mammary gland that turns into a red and hard mass. This affects farm productivity due to a fall in milk quality thus impacting income-generating activities.

Treatment: The treatment usually involves antibiotics. But this poses a public health hazard.

Mastitis and Mastirak Gel

Mastirak Gel has been developed utilizing indigenous knowledge. Hence, it can be a sustainable alternative towards the treatment of mastitis with minimal use of antibiotic therapy.


Dyscalculia

News

Dyscalculia is a well-established Specific Learning Disorder (SLD) and about 6% of school-age children might be affected. But it doesn’t get diagnosed easily.

About Dyscalculia

It is a learning disability in math. People with this disease have trouble with math at many levels. They often struggle with key concepts like bigger vs. smaller.

Causes: The causes include, Genetic and heredity reasons, challenges in brain development, etc.

Signs and symptoms: The common signs include facing challenges in grasping the meaning of quantities or concepts like biggest vs. smallest, challenges in remembering math facts in school, like times tables and challenges in calculating money or money-product exchange.

Impact of the disease: An estimated 5 to 10% of people in the world might have dyscalculia. However, it’s not clear whether dyscalculia is as common in girls as in boys.

In India, About 6% of school-age kids may have dyscalculia, but even many teachers are unaware of the condition.

Difficulties associated with Dyscalculia

It is more than just difficulty with math. Many times, dyscalculia comes with other learning disorders, such as dyslexia or dysgraphia.

Note: Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. It causes problems with reading, writing and spelling. Dysgraphia is a term that refers to trouble with writing.

With Dyscalculia, there may be problems with working memory, making it hard to keep track of multiple instructions such as those in a cooking video. Often there are spatial and visual orientation deficits, for instance, imagining different perspectives or following directions.

Treatment for Dyscalculia

The only way to get a diagnosis is through an evaluation. This can happen at any age. Evaluators use different tests for adults than for kids.

Individualised Education Programme: In this programme, a special educator will work with Dyscalculia affected persons using audio and visual teaching aids to explain the math concepts at his own pace.

The school might also give accommodations (permitting calculators) to make learning math easier.


Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine(PCV)

News

The Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare has launched the nationwide expansion of Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV) under the Universal Immunization Programme (UIP) as a part of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav.

About Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine(PCV)

Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is given to prevent pneumococcal disease.

Pneumococcal disease refers to any illness caused by pneumococcal bacteria. These bacteria can cause many types of illnesses, including pneumonia, which is an infection of the lungs.

Pneumonia is a leading cause of death among children under-5 years old, globally and in India. In India, around 16%  of deaths in children occur due to pneumonia.

Hence, the nationwide rollout of PCV will reduce child mortality by around 60%.

Note:  So far, the PCV vaccine through government hospitals was available only in five states — Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. On the other hand, two states, Haryana and Goa were offering the PCV vaccine from the state government funds.


Pollens and Pollen Allergy

News

Indian scientists have recommended several measures for the prevention and control of pollen allergy.

About Pollens

Pollen grains are male biological entities produced by higher plant cells that are essential for sexual reproduction.

Pollen themselves are immobile and dispersion is aided by agents such as water, insects, birds and wind. Hence, they are considered as aero planktons (floating in the air) surrounding human beings.

About Pollen Allergy

Pollen Allergy is considered a major public health problem that causes morbidity and subsequently affects a patient’s quality of life.

Pollen due to their large size cannot enter the thoracic regions of the respiratory tract but can affect the nasopharyngeal mucous membrane.

At the same time, the submicronic-pollen particles can act as respirable particles reaching deeper into the upper airways leading to exacerbation of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other allergic reactions

In India, about 20-30% of the population suffers from allergic rhinitis/hay fever and approximately 15% develop asthma.

Factors responsible for the increase in pollen allergens in the atmosphere

There are many factors responsible for the increase of pollen allergens in the atmosphere such as:

– Climate change and increase in global surface temperature in the atmosphere have a significant impact on plant life-cycle events (photosynthesis and plant growth) and their physiological parameters (such as pollen production, morphology and pollen season)

– Magnitude and concentration of pollen is the change in meteorological conditions and geographic distribution and

– Rapid unplanned urbanization with high vehicular emissions was reported to be linked with rising incidences of pollen-induced respiratory allergies.

Measures to be taken to minimize pollen-related allergic diseases

Indian Scientists have suggested measures like 1) developing pollen forecast systems, 2) training health care professionals, 3) personal measures like following pollen forecasts, use of face masks, spectacles, and air filters, regularly taking prescribed medications, limiting outdoor exposure, and 4) avoiding gardening or grass-cutting during peak pollen seasons.

They have also highlighted the need for dissemination of proper knowledge regarding pollen allergy, allergen avoidance, their symptoms, and management to better address the ailment.


Tuberculosis(TB)

News

Indian Council of Medical Research(ICMR) is in the advanced stage of developing a vaccine against tuberculosis.

About 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). When the infection becomes resistant even to the second-line treatment it is called Extensively-drug resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB).

About the Tuberculosis(TB) Cases in India

According to India’s TB Report 2022: India reported a 19% rise in tuberculosis cases in 2021 over the previous year. The total number of incident TB patients (new and relapse) notified during 2021 were 19.33 lakh, as opposed to that of 16.28 lakh in 2020.

Deaths due to TB: The total number of estimated deaths from all forms of TB excluding HIV for 2020 was 4.93 lakh, which was higher by 13% than the 2019 estimate.

A huge majority of 64% of surveyed symptomatic population did not seek healthcare services between 2019 and 2021.

State wise TB Cases: Delhi, with 534 cases per 1 lakh population, has the highest prevalence of TB, followed by Rajasthan,  Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Kerala has the lowest prevalence with 115 per 1 lakh people.

Elimination Efforts
Efforts in India

The Indian government has put forward National Strategic Plan (NSP) for TB Elimination, 2017-2025. The plan is a framework to provide guidance for the activities of various stakeholders to reduce the burden of TB mortality and morbidity.

In 2018, the government launched the TB Free India campaign to take activities under NSP for TB Elimination. The campaign seeks to eliminate TB in India by 2025.

TB Harega Desh Jeetega’ Campaign: The campaign aims to improve and expand the reach of Tuberculosis care services across the country by 2022.

National TB Prevalence Survey: 25 vans will be part of the prevalence survey, which will go to 625 clusters of the country and check for TB. This sample survey is to be completed by 2020. The survey will present national and state level data which will be used as a policy tool for further interventions.

Nikshay Poshan Yojana: Launched in 2018, a direct benefit transfer (DBT) scheme to provide nutritional support to TB patients. Under the scheme, TB patients have been receiving Rs. 500 per month for the entire duration of treatment.

Global efforts

SDG 3.3: It calls to eliminate TB by 2030

WHO End TB Strategy: Under the strategy, compared to 2015 levels of TB, the WHO aims to:

  • Reduce TB deaths by 35 per cent and TB incidence rate to 20 per cent by 2020
  • Reduce TB deaths by 90 per cent and TB incidence rate to 80 per cent by 2030
  • Decrease TB deaths by 95 per cent and TB incidence rate to 90 per cent by 2035

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria: It is an international financial organization designed to accelerate the end of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria as epidemics. The organisation is a partnership between governments, civil society, the private sector and people affected by the diseases. It was formed in 2002. It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. Recently, India has announced a contribution of $22 million to the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria for the 6th replenishment cycle (2020-22).

About the vaccines being developed against Tuberculosis

National AIDS Research Institute(NARI) under the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is conducting Phase 3 Trials of two potential vaccines for TB namely VPM1002 and Immuvac.

The trials are being done in 18 sites in six Indian states. The phase 3 trials are expected to be over by 2024 after which the patient data will be compiled and results will be analyzed.


Complete human genome

News

In 2003, Scientists published the map of the human genome for the first time. However, this was incomplete as about 8% of the human DNA was left unsequenced.

Now, a large global collaboration called the Telomere-2-Telomere(T2T) project has accounted for the remaining 8% and completed the picture of the human genome for the first time.

About Genome and Human Genome matter

A genome refers to all of the genetic material in an organism. The Human genome is mostly the same in all people, but a very small part of the DNA does vary between one individual and another.

By constructing a complete human genome, scientists can use it for reference while studying the genome of various individuals, which would help them understand which variations if any, might be responsible for the disease.

About the status of Human Genome Sequencing

Human Genome Sequencing was made available in 2003 by the Human Genome Project, an international collaboration between 1990 and 2003.

It contained information from a region of the human genome known as the euchromatin. This chromosome is rich in genes, and the DNA encodes for protein.

The remaining 8% that was left out was in the area called heterochromatin. This is a smaller portion of the genome and does not produce protein.

Reason for not sequencing heterochromatin

There were two key reasons why heterochromatin was given lower priority:  1) This part of the genome was thought to be “junk DNA” because it had no clear function, 2) The euchromatin contained more genes that were simpler to sequence with the tools available at the time.

About the recent development

A global collaboration called the Telomere-2-Telomere (T2T) project has completed the reading of the remaining 8% of the genome.

They found a new reference genome called T2T-CHM13. This genome includes highly repetitive DNA sequences found in and around the telomeres (structures at the ends of chromosomes) and the centromeres (at the middle section of each chromosome).

The sequence also reveals long stretches of DNA that are duplicated in the genome and are known to play important roles in evolution and disease.


Fournier’s Gangrene

News

After the U.S. and Canada, India has reported the first case of Fournier’s Gangrene from Type 2 diabetes patients using sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 (SGLT2) inhibitors.

About Fournier’s Gangrene

Fournier’s gangrene is also called necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease). It is a serious bacterial infection that affects the genitals and areas around the genitals.

The infection commonly occurs in older men, but it can also occur in women and children.

About the relation between Fournier’s Gangrene and Diabetes medication

Sodium-glucose cotransporter-2(SGLT2) inhibitors (a class of Type 2 diabetes medication) are recommended as preferred add-on oral antidiabetic drugs(OADs) after metformin. This is preferred for Type-2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) patients with cardiovascular disease, heart failure (HF) and chronic kidney disease(CKD).

However, several diabetic patients taking the SGLT2 inhibitor drugs have been infected by Fournier’s Gangrene. Recently, India has reported the first case of Fournier’s Gangrene from this diabetes medication.

Steps taken by the Government

Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) has requested all State Drug Controllers to direct the manufacturers of SGLT2 inhibitor class drugs, named Canagliflozin, Dapagliflozin and Empagliflozin under their jurisdiction to include warnings in the package.


ARCT-154 Vaccine

News

A self-amplifying mRNA vaccine named ARCT-154 has shown promising results against Covid-19 in ongoing phase 1/2/3 trials.

About ARCT-154 Vaccine

It is a self-amplifying mRNA vaccine against Covid-19.

Developed by: Arcturus Therapeutics Holdings, based in San Diego, California, and its trials are in progress in Vietnam.

Efficacy: It offered 95% protection against severe Covid-19 and death, and 55% against Covid infection.

About mRNA and self-amplifying mRNA vaccines

mRNA vaccine uses messenger RNA that encodes the spike protein of the coronavirus. In other words, the mRNA directs the cell to produce copies of the spike protein so that the immune system will recognise the spike if and when actual infection takes place, and mount a response.

On the other hand, self-amplifying mRNA vaccines are an improvement on the traditional RNA platform. These are the ones in which the delivered RNA multiplies inside the body. The basic advantage of these vaccines is that a) It comes at a lower cost, b) Their self-amplifying design allows for smaller doses.


Genetically Modified Mosquitoes(GMM)

News

Oxitec, the UK-based company, has said that the first open-air study of Genetically Modified Mosquitoes(GMM) in the United States has yielded positive results.

About Genetically Modified Mosquitoes(GMM)

These are the mosquitoes whose genome has been altered using recombinant DNA technology. Their genome is altered in a way to favour the few desired physiological traits and the generation of desired biological products.

The desired trait of these GMM is to reduce the transmission of mosquito-borne human diseases.

Development of Genetically Modified Mosquitoes(GMM)

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes spread viruses including dengue, Zika, and chikungunya.

Among them, only female mosquitoes bite. They need a blood meal to produce eggs. Male mosquitoes do not bite. They feed on nectar from flowers.

Hence, to reduce the spread of these viruses. GM Mosquitoes have been developed.

GM mosquitoes and their control of Ae. aegypti mosquitoes
Source: University of Floria website

Scientists produced GM male aegypti mosquitoes eggs in a lab. They programmed these males to carry a gene that they’ll pass to their offspring when they mate in the wild.

The gene is designed to kill female offspring since only female mosquitoes bite and spread disease.

The male offspring live on to pass the gene along when they mate. As each generation mates, more females die, and the A. aegypti population in the area should decrease.

Concerns regarding GMMs

The concerns range from the modified mosquitoes harming people, their impact on mosquito-eating species and other unintended consequences such as the emergence of a deadly virus.


Plasma-based green disinfectant

News

Researchers have developed a plasma-based disinfectant generated with the help of cold atmospheric pressure plasma(CAP) which could act as a green decontaminant for Covid-19.

Background

The Covid-19 pandemic had brought forth the urgent need for decontaminants that can limit the spread of infectious diseases through contact.

However, most decontaminants consist of chemicals that are hazardous to the environment. This encouraged researchers to work towards greener alternatives.

About the plasma-based disinfectant

Researchers have developed a plasma-based disinfectant generated with the help of cold atmospheric pressure plasma(CAP).

This disinfectant has the potential to deactivate SARS-CoV-2 spike protein which binds to human ACE2 receptors for inducing viral infection and subsequent Covid-19.

Note: Plasma, the fourth state of matter which makes up most of the universe when produced in controlled conditions in the lab is termed as Cold Atmospheric Pressure Plasma(CAP).

About the significance of this method

This method is a better alternative to environmentally hazardous chemical-based decontamination methods.

The CAP is environmentally safe since, during the entire decontamination process by plasma treatment, no chemical waste is produced.


Colour Blindness

 News

The Supreme Court has directed the Film and Television Institute of India(FTII) not to exclude candidates suffering from colour blindness from its courses on filmmaking and editing and asked it to make changes to its curriculum instead.

About the Colour Blindness
Colour Blindness
Source: Medindia

Colour blindness, also known as a colour deficiency, is the inability to see colours in the normal way.

Colour-blind individuals often cannot distinguish between certain colours — usually greens and reds and sometimes blues as well.

The mechanism behind Colour Blindness

In the retina, there are two types of cells that detect light. They are:

Rods Cells: It detects only light and dark and is very sensitive to low light levels.

Cone cells: It detects colour and is concentrated at the center of human vision. There are three types of cones that see color: red, green and blue. The brain uses input from these cone cells to determine the color perception.

– Color blindness can happen when one or more of the color cone cells are absent, not working, or detect a different colour than normal.

About the causes of Colour Blindness

Congenital Colour Blindness: Most colour blind people are born with the condition (congenital colour blindness). Congenital colour vision deficiencies are usually passed on genetically.

Medical Conditions: A problem with the colour vision that arises later in life could be the result of disease, trauma, or ingested toxins. If colour blindness arises out of disease, one eye may be affected differently from the other, and the difficulty could worsen over time.

– Medical conditions that may increase the risk of getting colour blindness include glaucoma, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, alcoholism, leukaemia and sickle-cell anaemia.

Vulnerable Gender: Men suffer from a higher incidence of colour blindness than women. Around the world, every tenth male is estimated to have some form of colour deficiency. Men of Northern European descent are considered to be especially vulnerable.

Treatment: Colour blindness cannot as yet be treated or reversed. However, it can be corrected to some extent by wearing special contact lenses or colour filter glasses. There is some research that suggests gene replacement therapy can help modify the condition.

Steps Taken by Government of India: In 2020, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways amended the Central Motor Vehicles Rules 1989 to enable citizens with mild to medium colour blindness to obtain a driver’s licence.


InspectIR COVID-19 Breathalyzer

News

The US Food and Drug Administration has issued an emergency use authorization for the Covid-19 test named InspectIR COVID-19 Breathalyzer.

About the InspectIR COVID-19 Breathalyzer

It is the first testing device that can detect COVID-19 in the breath samples of humans.

Working process: The device uses a technique called gas chromatography gas mass-spectrometry (GC-MS) to separate and identify chemical mixtures and rapidly detect five Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection in exhaled breath.

When the device detects the presence of VOC markers of SARS-CoV-2, a presumptive (unconfirmed) positive test result is returned and should be confirmed with a molecular test.

Significance of this device

Firstly, this device is about the size of a piece of carry-on luggage and can be used in doctor’s offices, hospitals and mobile testing sites.

Secondly, the device can provide results in less than three minutes.


XE Variant of Omicron

News

Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation(BMC) has announced that a woman with a travel history to South Africa may have been infected with the newly-discovered ‘XE’ variant of the coronavirus.

About XE Variant

XE is a sub-variant of Omicron which caused the third wave of Covid-19.

First Discovered in: XE was first discovered in the United Kingdom in January 2022 and so far more than 600 samples of XE have been found in different countries.

Formation of XE Variant

The Omicron variant has two prominent sub-variants, called BA.1 and BA.2. There is also a BA.3 sub-variant as well, but that is less common.

The XE variant is what is called a ‘recombinant’ variant. This means it contains the mutations found in BA.1 as well as BA.2 varieties of Omicron.

About the Recombinant Variant

Apart from the errors in the virus genome, another process through which the virus increases its genetic diversity is recombination.

Recombination occurs in extremely rare situations. In this, two different lineages of the virus co-infect the same cell in the host and exchange fragments of their individual genomes. This generates a descendent variant having mutations that occurred in both the original lineages of the virus.

Recombination of lineages happens in a variety of other viruses, including those that cause influenza, as well as other coronaviruses.

Threat from XE variant

As of now, there is no evidence to show that the XE variant is significantly different from the other varieties of Omicron.

XE could be about 10% more transmissible than the dominant BA.2 variant. But that is a very small advantage that XE has, and even this has not been confirmed as of now.


 

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