A) International Relations
1. Karabakh fighting (TH)
- Context: As Azerbaijani troops pushed farther into Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenian Prime Minister asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to quickly discuss possible security aid to Armenia.
- Russia, which has a military base in Armenia and has signed a pact obliging it to protect its ally in case of foreign aggression, faces a delicate balancing act, of trying to also maintain good ties with Azerbaijan and avoid a showdown with Turkey.
- Joining the fighting from the Armenian side would be fraught with unpredictable consequences and risk an open conflict with Turkey.
- Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994.
- The Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan are meeting in Geneva for a day of talks brokered by Russia, the United States and France.
- Russia said help would only be provided if the fighting reaches Armenian territory.
- This topic was comprehensively covered in 29th Oct file.
B) Science and Technology/Defence/Space
2. Spiral galaxy bars may prevent new stars (TH)
- Context: An article in the Hindu.
- Stars are fundamental building blocks of galaxies.
- Galaxies themselves are of different types: star-forming spiral galaxies and non-star-forming lenticular and elliptical galaxies.
- In some spiral galaxies, the stars move in elongated orbits near the centre so that, from far, this portion appears like an illuminated bar.
- Nearly two-thirds of the disc galaxies in the local universe are found to have this bar structure.
- The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy.
Role of bars
- Since not all spiral galaxies have bars, the role of bars – why they exist, what triggers their formation and whether they foster star formation are interesting questions.
- Some barred galaxies have shown a higher concentration of newly formed stars, suggesting that the bar nurtures star formation.
- Scientists studied four such barred galaxies out of which three, in fact, appear to prevent stars from forming at their central region covered by the length of the bar.
- In three of the four galaxies, they find that the region covered by the length of the bar does not have enough gas (Hydrogen in the atomic form and molecular hydrogen, which is believed to condense and form stars).
- The scientists understood this observation as evidence for the bar redistributing the gas in the central region of these spiral galaxies.
- This is almost like the whirlpool we see in rivers. There is a cavity formed in the central region with no gas and stars.
The researchers do not see the same depletion of gas and stars in the fourth galaxy.The reason, they believe is that this galaxy does not have an old enough bar.
3.How water bears or the tardigrades survive lethal UV radiation (TH)
- A tardigrade called Paramacrobiotus BLR strain (BLR for Bengaluru) has a protective fluorescent shield which helps it survive harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
- But why does this protective coat show fluorescence? In addition to the UV protective function, scientists speculate that the fluorescence might serve as a signal to other organisms around — like an indication: ‘Hey the tardigrade is glowing, there is UV radiation here, let’s get away’.
- It provides a survival advantage to these tardigrades by reducing competition.
- The small fraction of non-fluorescent variants may have other mechanisms to escape from UV radiation, for example, living deeper inside the moss where UV radiation cannot reach.
- If you go into outer space without protection, you’ll die.
- The lack of pressure would force the air in your lungs to rush out.
- Gases dissolved in your body fluids would expand, pushing the skin apart and forcing it to inflate like a balloon.
- Your eardrums and capillaries would rupture, and your blood would start to bubble and boil.
- Even if you survived all that, ionising radiation would rip apart the DNA in your cells.
- Mercifully, you would be unconscious in 15 seconds.
- But one group of animals can survive this: tiny creatures called tardigrades.
- In 2007, thousands of tardigrades were attached to a satellite and blasted into space. After the satellite had returned to Earth, scientists examined them and found that many of them had survived.
- Some of the females had even laid eggs in space, and the newly-hatched young were healthy.
- Tardigrade, also called water bear or moss piglet, is any of more than 1,100 species of free-living tiny invertebrates belonging to the phylum Tardigrada.
- They are considered to be close relatives of arthropods (e.g., insects, crustaceans).
- Tardigrades are mostly about 1 mm or less in size and can only be seen with a microscope.
- They live in a variety of habitats worldwide: in damp moss, on flowering plants, in sand, in fresh water, and in the sea.
- In adapting to this wide range of external conditions, a large number of genera and species have evolved.
- Tardigrades have a well-developed head region and a short body composed of four fused segments, with each segment bearing a pair of short, stout, unjointed limbs generally terminated by several sharp claws.
- The animals have no known specialized organs of circulation or respiration; the tardigrade’s body cavity is filled with fluid that transports blood and oxygen.
- The alimentary canal traverses the body from end to end.
- Most plant-eating tardigrades feed by piercing individual plant cells with their stylets (spearlike structures near the mouth) and then sucking out the cell contents.
- A few tardigrades are predatory carnivores.
- Tardigrades may reproduce sexually or through asexual reproduction (by means of parthenogenesis or through self-fertilization [hermaphroditism]).
- The most remarkable feature of the tardigrades is their ability to withstand extremely low temperatures and desiccation (extreme drying).
- Besides tardigrades, some nematode worms, yeast and bacteria can also survive desiccation.
- They do this by making a lot of a particular sugar called trehalose.
- This sugar forms a glass-like state inside their cells that stabilises key components, such as proteins and membranes, which would otherwise be destroyed.
- Under unfavourable conditions, they go into a state of suspended animation called the “tun” state—in which the body dries out and appears as a lifeless ball (or tun).
- In this state their metabolism may decline to as little as 0.01 percent of its normal rate.
- Tardigrades can survive as tuns for years, or even decades, to wait out dry conditions.
- An inactive tardigrade might not die of thirst, but it could get eaten.
- We know that a lot of desiccation-tolerant organisms have to make xenoprotectants: molecules that keep bacteria and fungi from basically eating them while they are in their inactive state.”
- Tardigrades in the tun state could survive a pressure of 600 megapascals (MPa). This is beyond anything they might encounter in nature.
- The deepest part of the sea is the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, where the water pressure is around 100 MPa. Somehow the tardigrades survived six times that.
- Tardigrades are easily distributed by wind and water while in the tun state.
- They are truly ancient. Fossils of tardigrades have been dated to the Cambrian period over 500 million years ago, when the first complex animals were evolving.
- In February 2019, an Israeli lunar lander called Beresheet (Hebrew for ‘the beginning’) crash-landed on Moon and was irredeemably broken except, for a curious, quirky payload called the Lunar Library.
- The Lunar Library is a 30 million page archive of human history and civilisation, covering all subjects, cultures, nations, languages, genres, and time periods.
- In the event of human extinction, it’s meant to be a ‘backup’ of earth-life.
- It is housed within a 100 gram nanotechnology device that resembles a 120mm DVD. However it is actually composed of 25 nickel discs, each only 40 microns thick.
- The device was conceived courtesy the Arch Mission Foundation (AMF), a U.S.-based non-profit whose mission is to create repositories of human civilisation and spread them through space.
- The Lunar Library contained a small sample from the Bodhi tree in India, along with material on learning Hindi, Urdu and information on music.
- The Lunar library also contained thousands of tardigrades — small, multicellular animals, first found by scientists in Antarctica, and known to be extremely resilient in hostile environments.
- They can survive without food and water for decades.
- Assuming that the Lunar library has survived they could be the first living organisms splashed across the surface of the moon.
- The first microbes on the Moon are those left behind in the human faeces from the astronauts aboard the Apollo missions of 1968-1972.
- This fact was kept secret for obvious reasons. However, it might not violated any provisions of the Outer Space Treaty.
- The treaty is a global, United Nations-backed agreement that bars countries from pursuing actions that could “harmfully contaminate” outer space including the Moon.
4.How will the signing of BECA deepen military ties between India and the U.S.? (TH)
- Context: Recently, India and the U.S. signed the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) during the third 2+2 dialogue of defence and foreign ministers of the two countries.
- This is the fourth and the last of the foundational agreements that both countries have concluded, starting with GSOMIA (General Security of Military Information Agreement) in 2002, LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement) in 2016, COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) in 2018, and now BECA.
What are the foundational agreements?
- The United States enters into what are called ‘foundational or enabling agreements’ with its defence partners.
- These agreements govern the nature and scope of U.S. defence partnerships.
- Partners enhance the capabilities of the U.S. military in distant places through sharing information, platforms and logistics.
- The competitive advantage of the U.S. military is maintained primarily by the advanced technologies that the country develops continuously.
- For instance, consider the B777-300ER aircraft that India bought from Boeing recently for the use of VVIPs. The sale of advanced communication and security systems on the aircraft — which are not commercially available — is made seamless by foundational agreements.
- The U.S. is also eager to advance ‘interoperability’ with defence forces of the countries that are its defence partners.
- Interoperability involves real-time coordination of forces.
- The U.S. has signed these foundational agreements with at least 100 countries, which mostly follow a standard text.
- Country-specific changes were made in India’s case in all four foundational agreements.
What do these agreements do?
- The General Security of Military Information Agreement or GSOMIA, and its extension, the Information Security Annex (ISA) signed in 2019, allow military technology cooperation for the sharing of classified information between governments and companies in both countries.
- The LEMOA enables logistics support, say refuelling of planes or ships, supply of spare parts or maintenance to each other.
- The COMCASA allows Indian forces to procure advanced, secure communication equipment from the U.S.
- The BECA enables exchange of geospatial information. Akin to a GPS that enables navigation, such exchange of geospatial information enhances the accuracy of a missile or the utility of a drone.
What is the strategic importance of these agreements?
- India is designated a ‘Major Defence Partner’ by U.S.
- Foundational agreements deepen defence cooperation, in trade and operation.
Are there any concerns?
- Critics worry that tying itself too closely with the U.S. may limit India’s choices.
- The evolution of technology makes it inevitable that all military platforms will be integrated and networked in the future.
- The U.S. is very particular about the integrity of its networks, and pressure could mount on India to remain firmly in its camp.
- At any rate, it will not be possible to integrate Russian and American platforms, and this could throw up new challenges of military planning for India.
- The U.S. is particularly irked by India’s continuing defence cooperation with Russia.
- India will be taking the delivery of Russian S-400 missile defence system next year, ignoring American objections. The U.S. could respond with sanctions.
5. SARS-COV2 D614G mutation (TH)
- Context: While novel coronavirus is undergoing many mutations, one particular mutation called D614G, according to a study, has become the dominant variant in the global COVID-19 pandemic.
- This mutated form of the virus was first identified in China and then in Europe. Later it spread to other countries like the U.S. and Canada and was eventually reported in India.
How SARS-COV2 enters humans?
- The coronavirus uses these spikes to grab the outer walls of its human host’s cells and then enter those cells.
- Their analysis showed that the “hook” part of the spike had evolved to target a receptor on the outside of human cells called ACE2, which is involved in blood pressure regulation.
- It is so effective at attaching to human cells that the researchers said the spike proteins were the result of natural selection and not genetic engineering.
- The D614G mutation is situated in the spike protein of the virus.
- You can think of the spike protein as a massive ‘trimer’ assembly with three protein chains.
- Each protein chain has two sub-units (S1 and S2).
- The sub-unit S1 is the one that attaches to the host cells — Human ACE2 receptor, The S2 sub-unit mediates the fusion of the viral and human membranes.
- The D614G mutation is present in the sub-unit S1 of the protein and is also close to the S2 sub-unit. Therefore, it has an impact on the human cell’s interactions with both S1 and S2
What is D614G mutation?
- When the virus enters an individual’s body, it aims at creating copies of itself. When it makes an error in this copying process, we get a mutation.
- In this case, the virus replaced the aspartic acid (D) in the 614th position of the amino acid with glycine (G). Hence the mutation is called the D614G.
- In simple words, this particular mutation aids the virus in attaching more efficiently with the ACE2 receptor in the human host, thereby making it more successful in entering a human body than its predecessors.
- The D614G show increased infectivity but it also displayed greater ability at attaching itself to the cell walls inside an individual’s nose and throat, increasing the viral load.
All about Mutation in cells
- A mutation is a change in a DNA sequence.
- Mutations can result from DNA copying mistakes made during cell division, exposure to ionizing radiation, exposure to chemicals called mutagens, or infection by viruses.
- Over a lifetime our DNA can undergo changes or ‘mutations’ in the sequence of its bases ie: A, C, G and T.
- This results in changes in the proteins that are made. This can be a bad or a good thing.
- Mutations can occur during DNA replication, if errors are made and not corrected in time.
- Mutations can also occur as the result of exposure to environmental factors such as smoking, sunlight and radiation.
- Often cells can recognise any potentially mutation-causing damage and repair it before it becomes a fixed mutation.
- Mutations contribute to genetic variation within species.
- Mutations can also be inherited, particularly if they have a positive effect.
- For example, the disorder sickle cell anaemia is caused by a mutation in the gene that instructs the building of a protein called haemoglobin. This causes the red blood cells to become an abnormal, rigid, sickle shape. However, in African populations, having this mutation also protects against malaria.
- However, mutation can also disrupt normal gene activity and cause diseases, like cancer.
- Cancer is the most common human genetic disease; it is caused by mutations occurring in a number of growth-controlling genes. Sometimes faulty, cancer-causing genes can exist from birth, increasing a person’s chance of getting cancer.
C) Schemes/Policies/Initiatives/Social Issues
6. Explained: APIs & Bulk Drug Parks (IE)
- Context: Himachal Pradesh is vying for the allotment of a bulk drug park under a central government scheme Promotion of Bulk Drug Parks announced earlier this year for setting up three such parks across the country.
- India has one of the largest pharmaceutical industries in the world (third largest by volume) but this industry largely depends on other countries, particularly China, for importing APIs, DIs and KSMs.
- This year, drug manufacturers in India suffered repeated setbacks due to disruption in imports
- The bulk drugs parks scheme is expected to reduce the manufacturing cost of bulk drugs in the country and dependency on other countries for such as drugs.
- In this context, the Union Cabinet recently approved the following schemes: the scheme on Promotion of Bulk Drug Parks and the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) Scheme.
- Department of Pharmaceuticals, Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers is implementing these schemes
Promotion of Bulk Drug Parks
- Decision is to develop 3 mega Bulk Drug parks in India in partnership with States.
- Government of India will give Grants-in-Aid to States with a maximum limit of Rs. 1000 Crore per Bulk Drug Park.
- Parks will have common facilities such as solvent recovery plant, distillation plant, power & steam units, common effluent treatment plant etc.
- A sum of Rs. 3,000 crore has been approved for this scheme for next 5 years.
- The scheme will be implemented by State Implementing Agencies (SIA) to be set up by the respective State Governments and the target is to set up 3 mega Bulk Drug Parks.
Production Linked Incentive Scheme
- Financial incentive will be given to eligible manufacturers of identified 53 critical bulk drugs on their incremental sales over the base year (2019-20) for a period of 6 years.
- The scheme will be implemented through a Project Management Agency (PMA) to be nominated by the Department of Pharmaceuticals.
- The Scheme will be applicable only for manufacturing of 53 identified critical bulk drugs (KSMs/Drug Intermediates and APIs).
How will the Centre select the three parks?
- Several states including Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Telangana have expressed interest in the scheme, and are likely to send their respective proposals.
- A state can only propose one site, which is not less than a thousand acres in area, or not less than 700 acres in the case of hill states.
- The proposals should contain the estimated cost, feasibility studies, environmental risk assessment etc.
- A project management agency, nominated by the department of pharmaceuticals, will examine these proposals and make recommendations to a scheme steering committee, which will then approve the proposals.
What are bulk drugs or APIs?
- A bulk drug, also called an active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), is the key ingredient of a drug or medicine, which lends it the desired therapeutic effect or produces the intended pharmacological activity.
- For example, paracetamol is a bulk drug, which acts against pain.
- It is mixed with binding agents or solvents to prepare the finished pharmaceutical product, ie a paracetamol tablet, capsule or syrup, which is consumed by the patient.
- It is the biologically active component of a drug product.
- It is a chemical compound that is the most important raw material to produce a finished medicine.
- API is the primary ingredient. Other ingredients are commonly known as “excipients”.
How an API is manufactured?
- APIs are prepared from multiple reactions involving chemicals and solvents.
- The primary chemical or the basic raw material which undergoes reactions to form an API is called the key starting material, or KSM.
- Chemical compounds formed during the intermediate stages during these reactions are called drug intermediates or Dis (These are chemical compounds which are in the process of becoming an API from raw material).
- API is not made by only one reaction from the raw materials but rather it becomes an API via several chemical compounds.
- An API manufacturer first develops the chemical compound in a laboratory. Later, the production department manufactures high quantity of APIs using large reactors. It is then checked for purity before selling it to drug-makers.
How India lost its API market to China?
- During the early 90s, India was self-reliant in manufacturing APIs.
- China created a low-cost API manufacturing industry. The industry was backed by the low cost of capital followed by aggressive government funding models, tax incentives. Their cost of operation is one-fourth of India’s cost.
- So, due to low-profit margins and non-lucrative industry, Indian pharma companies over the years stopped manufacturing APIs.
- India gave up manufacturing APIs for ascorbic acid (Vitamin C supplements), Aspartame (artificial sweeteners) and also for commonly used antibiotics and steroids.
- Not just APIs, India even stopped producing materials used to manufacture APIs (intermediates).
- The list of intermediates includes atorvastatin (anti-cholesterol drug), chloroquine (anti-malarial drug), and ciprofloxacin and cephalosporins (both antibiotics).
7. Production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme (PIB)
- The government is set to extend the production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme for manufacturing mobile/ electronics, pharmaceutical, medical devices and industrial parks announced under the Atma Nirbhar Bharat package to more sectors.
8. Nyay Kaushal (PIB)
- Nyay Kaushal is India’s first e-resource centre recently inaugurated at the Judicial Officers Training Institute in Nagpur.
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