Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE
- Scientific Study on Leopards
- Inclusion of gender bias in scope of law to curb sexual harassment
- Dark Web
- Cancer gene map
- How bats harbour several viruses yet not get sick
- Reservation in Promotion not a Fundamental Right
- Arsenic-resistant rice
- Protected agricultural zone
- National Mission on Transformative Mobility and Battery Storage
- Genome India Project
- Melting Antarctic Glaciers
- Facts for Prelims
1 . Scientific Study on Leopards
Context : A scientific study on the genetic analysis of leopards (Panthera pardus fusca) across the Indian subcontinent was conducted by scientists from the Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS India) and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII).
About the Study
- Scientists from the Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS India) and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) used genetic data from leopards from across the Indian subcontinent to investigate population structure and patterns of decline.
- They investigated the demographic history of each identified sub-population and compared genetic decline analyses with countrywide local extinction probabilities, a press release said.
- Research paper is titled as ‘Genetic analyses reveal population structure and recent decline in leopards (Panthera pardus fusca) across the Indian subcontinent.’
- For genetic studies, faecal samples from both tigers and leopards were collected from Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar from 2016-2018 and 56 of them were identified as distinct individuals.
- The leopard population, perceived to be stable due to broad geographic distribution, suffered a possibly human-induced population decline of 75% to 90% between 120 and 200 years ago
- The study authors argue that the population decline in a species seen as wide-ranging and locally abundant suggest that leopards demand conservation attention just like tigers.
- According to the paper, many large carnivores, which maintain the stability and functioning of ecosystems, face declining population sizes due to natural and human pressures. The leopard, probably the most widely distributed and highly adaptable large felid (a member of the cat family) globally, is still persisting in most of its historic range, but there is a lack of sub-species-level population data on country or regional scale.
- genetic analyses revealed four distinct sub-populations corresponding to Western Ghats, Deccan Plateau-Semi Arid, Shivalik and Terai region of the north Indian landscape, each with high genetic variation. Coalescent simulations with microsatellite loci revealed a possibly human-induced 75% to 90% population decline between 120–200 years ago across India,” the paper contends.
- Detailed, landscape-level ecological studies on leopard populations are needed for future conservation efforts, it suggests.
- “The Deccan Plateau-Semi Arid, Shivalik and Terai sub-populations show 90%, 90% and 88% decline in population size, respectively, whereas the Western Ghats sub-population shows relatively less (75%) decline in population size,” the researchers say.
2 . Inclusion of gender bias in scope of law to curb sexual harassment
Context: Include gender bias in scope of law to curb sexual harassment, says Congress member Rajeev Gowda
- The Economic Survey of 2020 has noted with concern that the female labour force’s participation in India has dropped from 33% in 2011-12 to 25.3% in 2017-18. A possible cause of this low participation might be attributed to the difficulties faced by women in work environments.
- The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) 2013 Act provides a mechanism for protection against sexual harassment in the workplace and for the redressal of complaints of sexual harassment in private institutions and government organizations.
- However, there is no legislation that explicitly prevents or helps redress gender bias, harassment and discrimination.
About the Suggestion by Rajya Sabha Member
- There has been a notable suggestion during the ongoing session of the Rajya Sabha with respect to women in workplaces.
- The suggestion is with regard to widening of the scope of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act to include gender bias.
- The suggestion calls for the Ministry of Women and Child Development to include a new provision in the Act to help prevent harassment and discrimination stemming from gender bias and jurisdiction of internal complaints committees should be widened. They should have an NGO member and half of their total members should be women, and in the case of multinational companies, they should include members from the Indian branches.
- He also demanded that the companies publish the number of complaints of gender bias in their annual reports and increase the awareness of the Act among their employees.
What is Gender Bias
- Gender bias refers to discriminatory acts against women that need not be of a sexual nature.
- Gender bias can take the form of humiliation, exclusion from important tasks, removal of responsibilities and withholding of resources through which their promotions are prevented.
3 . Dark Web
Context : A whopping 98% out of a large packet of sensitive credit and debit card details, that have been put up for sale on the dark net, are those of Indian customers, Group-IB — a Singapore-based cybersecurity company — has revealed.
About the News
- According to Group-IB’s statement released on Friday, the stash of 4,61,976 card payment details went up for sale on Wednesday on Joker’s Stash, one of the most secretive portals on the dark net for buying such information. Group-IB has already informed Indian authorities about the leak.
- The company has also observed that the data is suspected to have been collected from phishing rackets, which are on the rise in India over the last few years
What is Dark Web
- Dark Web is the virtual equivalent of a black market. Like Silk Road that marketed illegal drugs through the Dark Web, entities which want to operate out of the arms of the law seek refuge in the Dark Web.
Are Dark Web and Deep Web one and the same? And what is Darknet?
- Deep Web is the area of the Internet which is not accessible through search engines. What we access through search engines is called Surface Web. To get into the Deep Web one should know the right address. Dark Web is part of the Deep Web. While the Deep Web is accessible, the Dark Web is deliberately hidden. Darknet is another name for Dark Web.
How does it work?
- Dark Web can be simply explained as a specialised form of browsing in incognito mode. While incognito mode disables browsing history and web cache, the Dark Web is shielded by specialised software such as Tor. As it is evident by the name, the USP of a Dark Web site is the anonymity it offers and the near-impossibility of tracking it down.
How do the Dark Web operators transact?
- Since the real word money trail carries the danger of exposure, Dark Web operators transact in virtual currencies, the most popular being Bitcoins. In the recent cyberattacks involving Ransomware, the operators demanded from their victims ransom payment ranging between $300 and $600 through Bitcoins.
4 . Cancer gene map
Context : A series of new papers in the journal Nature has revealed the most comprehensive gene map ever of the genes whose departures from normal behaviour — mutations — trigger a cascade of genetic misbehaviours that eventually lead to cancer. Just a handful of “driver” mutations could explain the occurrence of a large number of cancers, the researchers said, raising hopes of a cancer cure being nearer than ever.
What is the new study that has oncologists around the world excited?
- It is a major international collaboration called the Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes (PCAWG), in which researchers has published a series of papers after analysing 2,658 whole-cancer genomes and their matching normal tissues across 38 tumour types.
- They have come to the conclusion that “On average, cancer genomes contained 4-5 driver mutations when combining coding and non-coding genomic elements; however, in around 5% of cases no drivers were identified, suggesting that cancer driver discovery is not yet complete.”
- This is the largest genome study ever of primary cancer. Various kinds of cancers required to be studied separately because cancers of different parts of the body often behave very differently from one another; so much so that it is often said that cancer is not one disease but many.
What is the breakthrough have the studies achieved?
- Previous studies had focused on the 1 per cent of the genome that codes for proteins. The Pan-Cancer Project explored, in considerably greater detail, the remaining 99 per cent of the genome, including key regions that control switching genes on and off. This switching on and off of genes is the most important regulatory mechanism in the body so that it functions normally and diseases are kept at bay.
- The researchers identified 16 types of structural variation signatures in the genes ultimately leading to cancer. In one paper of the series, the researchers analysed 288,457 somatic structural variations in the genes to understand the distributions and effects. Structural variations mean deletion, amplification or reorganisation of genomic segments that range in size from just a few bases to whole chromosomes. Bases are the structural units of genes.
- In another paper, the researchers reconstructed the “life history and evolution of mutational processes and driver mutation sequences of 38 types of cancer”. On the need to do this, Nature says: “Cancers cells are subject to selective forces shaped by mutation rates and the microenvironment, among other factors. PCAWG researchers use the information obtained from whole-genome sequencing to delineate more precisely the parameters that influence tumour evolution, and how it shapes the cancer genome. Looking at cancer through an evolutionary lens can give clues into metastasis and therapy response and resistance.”
What does this study mean for cancer treatment around the world?
- The mutations identified by the team have been catalogued. The catalogue, which is already available online, allows doctors and researchers from all over the world to look things up, consult and find information about the cancer of a given patient. The PCAWG has discovered causes of previously unexplained cancers, pinpointed cancer-causing events and zeroed in on mechanisms of development, opening new vistas of personalised cancer treatment to strike at the root of the problem.
- Cancer is known to be a disease of uncontrolled growth. The growth process, like all other physiological processes, has genetic controls so that the growth is self-limiting. When one or more genes malfunction, the growth process can go out of hand. Not just cancer, there are many other diseases with a genetic link in varying degrees.
- Identification and cataloguing of the genes is a very crucial step and has taken science’s understanding of cancer and its genesis ahead by several leaps. When it comes to drug development, however, the gene mapping is but a first step. The process of drug development will have to now kick in with pharmaceutical companies first identifying the compound(s) that target these gene mutations and then it being subjected to the rigours of clinical trials to prove its safety and efficacy. That could take anything from a few decades to a few years to cover all the mutations identified.
Is the genetic link to cancer well established?
- Yes, it is. One such association, for example, is of breast cancer with the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes; the actress Angelina Jolie, who discovered that she carried the former gene, chose to undergo a preventive double mastectomy. This is personalised therapeutics where, instead of traditional toxic medications like chemotherapy, drugs that specifically target the delinquent genetic mutation are already being used. Such therapy, however, remains very expensive.
- In fact, the genetic analysis of tumours is an already practised protocol of cancer therapy. A good laboratory can analyse about 1,000 genes, of which less than 200 are implicated in various kinds of cancer. But the time taken for developing a drug from identifying a genetic mutation causing cancer varies. In case of ALK-1, which was identified as the driver gene for 5-7 per cent of lung cancers in 2006-07, it was exceptionally short. By 2011, doctors had the drug in their hands. However, of the 200 cancer-causing mutations known so far, less than 40 actually have a targeted drug.
How big is the cancer burden?
- Cancer is the second most-frequent cause of death worldwide, killing more than 8 million people every year; incidence of cancer is expected to increase by more than 50% over the coming decades. One in 10 Indians will develop cancer during their lifetime, and one in 15 Indians will die of cancer, according to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report.
- The Northeastern states, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Haryana, Gujarat, Kerala, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh account for 44% of the cancer burden in India, says a recent analysis, published in The Lancet Global Health, that looked about 9.7 million deaths that happened in India in 2017 and also investigated the reasons for the 486 million DALYs (disability adjusted life years) in India. DALYs are an international unit of death and disability in terms of the number of life years lost of an average person to death and disability.
5 . How bats harbour several viruses yet not get sick
Context : A study carried out last year and published in the journal Nature Microbiology revealed the mechanism responsible for bats to harbour numerous viruses without themselves getting affected and also live long. Compared with terrestrial mammals, bats have longer lifespan.
Details of the Study
- The reason why bats can harbour these viruses without getting affected is simply because bats can avoid excessive virus-induced inflammation, which often causes severe diseases in animals and people infected with viruses.
- When pathogens infect humans and mice, the immune system gets activated and typical inflammatory response to fight the microbes is seen. While controlled inflammatory response to fight infection helps keep humans healthy, it can contribute to the damage caused by infectious diseases, and also age-related diseases when the inflammatory response becomes excessive.
- In complete contrast, the researchers found that the inflammatory response is dampened in bats immaterial of the variety of viruses that are present and the viral load. The researchers used three different viruses — Melaka virus, MERS coronavirus and influenza A virus — and tested the responses of immune cell and other cells (peripheral blood mononuclear cells and bone-marrow derived macrophages) of bats, mice and humans to these viruses. While inflammation was high in the case of humans and mice, it was significantly reduced in bats immune cells.
- “This supports an enhanced innate immune tolerance rather than an enhanced antiviral defence in bats,” they write. “This may also contribute to our understanding of the role of the inflammation in disease tolerance in bats as reservoir hosts” they say.
Reasons for Reduction in Inflammation in bats
- The researchers found that significantly reduced inflammation in bats was because activation of an important protein — NLRP3 — that recognises both cellular stress and viral/bacterial infections was significantly dampened in bat immune cells
- Researchers found that reduced activation of the NLRP3 protein was in turn due to impaired production of mRNA (transcript). Since mRNA production is impaired the NLRP3 protein production gets compromised leading to less amount of the protein being produced. But this was not the case with mice and humans — there was no impairment to mRNA production so the NLRP3 protein was unaffected.
- The NLRP3 protein is found as four variants in bats. The researchers found that the function of all the four variants in bats was dampened compared with human NLRP3.
- Further analysis comparing 10 bat and 17 non-bat mammalian NLRP3 gene sequences confirmed that these adaptations appear to be bat-specific.
6 . Reservation in Promotion not a Fundamental Right
Context : Reservation in promotion in public posts cannot be claimed as a fundamental right, the Supreme Court reiterated in a judgment.
Details of the Judgement
- A Bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and Hemant Gupta observed that State governments are not bound to make reservations. Even the courts could not issue a mandamus directing States to provide reservations.
- There is no fundamental right which inheres in an individual to claim reservation in promotions.
- Citing Constitution Bench precedents that had settled the law, the court said Articles 16 (4) and 16 (4-A) of the Constitution did not confer individuals with a fundamental right to claim reservations in promotion.
- The Articles empower the State to make reservation in matters of appointment and promotion in favour of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes only “if in the opinion of the State they are not adequately represented in the services of the State”. “The inadequacy of representation is a matter within the subjective satisfaction of the State,” the judgment said. Thus, the State government has discretion “to consider providing reservations, if the circumstances so warrant”.
- If a State wishes to exercise its discretion and make reservation in promotions, it has to first collect quantifiable data showing inadequacy of representation of a class or community in public services.
- If the decision of the State government to provide SC/ST reservation in promotion to a particular public post is challenged, it would have to place the data and prove before the court that reservation was necessary and does not affect the efficiency of administration.
7 . Arsenic-resistant rice
Context : Researchers have developed and commercialised a rice variety that is resistant to arsenic. Several studies have shown that arsenic from groundwater and the soil can enter the food chain through paddy.
Need of Arsenic Resistant Rice
- Arsenic is a natural component of the earth’s crust and is widely distributed throughout the environment in the air, water and land. It is highly toxic in its inorganic form.
- People are exposed to elevated levels of inorganic arsenic through drinking contaminated water, using contaminated water in food preparation and irrigation of food crops, industrial processes, eating contaminated food and smoking tobacco.
- Long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic, mainly through drinking-water and food, can lead to chronic arsenic poisoning. Skin lesions and skin cancer are the most characteristic effects.
- Inorganic arsenic is a confirmed carcinogen and is the most significant chemical contaminant in drinking-water globally. Arsenic can also occur in an organic form. Inorganic arsenic compounds (such as those found in water) are highly toxic while organic arsenic compounds (such as those found in seafood) are less harmful to health.
About the New Variety of Rice
- The new rice variety, Muktoshri — also called IET 21845 —, was developed jointly by the Rice Research Station at Chinsurah coming under West Bengal’s Agriculture Department and the National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow, over several years. A gazette notification for the commercial use of Muktoshri was made by West Bengal last year.
8 . National Mission on Transformative Mobility and Battery Storage
Context : India has quadrupled its imports of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries and more than tripled its import bill on the product, vital for powering a range of devices from cellphones to electric vehicles, from 2016-2018
About the scheme
- The multi-disciplinary “National Mission on Transformative Mobility and Battery Storage” with an Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee will be chaired by CEO NITI Aayog.
- The Steering Committee will be comprised of Secretaries from Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Ministry of Power, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Department of Science and Technology, Department of Heavy Industry, Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, and Director General, Bureau of Industrial Standards.
- The Mission will recommend and drive the strategies for transformative mobility and Phased Manufacturing Programmes for EVs, EV Components and Batteries.
- A Phased Manufacturing Program (PMP) will be launched to localize production across the entire EV value chain. The National Mission on Transformative Mobility and Battery Storage will determine the contours of PMP, and will finalise the details of such a program.
- The details of the value addition that can be achieved with each phase of localisation will be finalised by the Mission with a clear Make in India strategy for the electric vehicle components as well as battery.
- The Mission will coordinate with key stakeholders in Ministries/ Departments and the states to integrate various initiatives to transform mobility in India.
- A phased roadmap to implement battery manufacturing at Giga-scale will be considered with initial focus on large-scale module and pack assembly plants by 2019-20, followed by integrated cell manufacturing by 2021-22.
- Details of the PMP for Batteries shall be formulated by the Mission. The Mission will ensure holistic and comprehensive growth of the battery manufacturing industry in India.
- The Mission will prepare the necessary roadmap that will enable India to leverage upon its size and scale to produce innovative, competitive multi-modal mobility solutions that can be deployed globally in diverse contexts.
- The Mission will define the roadmap for transformative mobility in “New India” by introducing a sustainable mobility ecosystem and fostering Make-in-India to boost domestic manufacturing and employment generation in the country.
- The Mission will drive mobility solutions that will bring in significant benefits to the industry, economy and country.
- These solutions will help improve air quality in cities along with reducing India’s oil import dependence and enhance the uptake of renewable energy and storage solutions.
- The Mission will lay down the strategy and roadmap which will enable India to leverage upon its size and scale to develop a competitive domestic manufacturing ecosystem for electric mobility.
- The actions in this regard will benefit all citizens as the aim is to promote ‘Ease of Living’ and enhance the quality of life of our citizens and also provide employment opportunities through ‘Make-in-India’ across a range of skillsets.
- During the Global Mobility Summit held in September 2018, Prime Minister had outlined the vision for the future of mobility in India based on 7 C’s which are Common, Connected, Convenient, Congestion-free, Charged, Clean and Cutting-edge mobility. Mobility has the potential to drive the economy forward and positively impact the lives of citizens both in urban and rural areas.
- Affordable, accessible, inclusive and safe mobility solutions are primary strategic levers for rapid economic development and improving ‘Ease of Living’. Shared, connected and clean mobility solutions are increasingly becoming the key principles of effective mobility solutions across the world. Given its commitment to climate goals, India needs to adopt effective strategies to place itself as a key driver of the mobility revolution in the world.
- Hence, there was a need felt to establish a dedicated multi-disciplinary Mission that will facilitate cooperative federalism, extensive stakeholder and inter-ministerial consultations and implement end-to-end policy framework for transforming the mobility landscape with particular focus on:
- Specification & standards
- Fiscal incentives
- Overall demand creation and projections
- Regulatory framework
- Research & Development
9 . Protected agricultural zone
Context : Under pressure from protesting farmers and after the AIADMK’s poor performance in the December 2019 local body elections, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami on Sunday declared the Cauvery delta region as a protected agricultural zone and stated that his government would not give consent for hydrocarbon projects in the area.
About Protected Agricultural Zones
- Protected Agricultural Zone aims to safeguard this region from practices and projects that are exploitative to the farmers in that region as well as to provide a fillip to cultivation and farm-based activities.
- Aim is to replicate the model of Special Economic Zone (area with unique economic regulations) to boost agriculture and related practices in the region in the delta region.
- It means that apart from agriculture and activities related to cultivation, the region is closed for other activities, including the proposed hydrocarbon projects.
- One of the main concerns that the farmers have been raising is that the hydrocarbon exploration will dry the land out and leave it barren forever, thus, in turn, impacting their livelihood.
- Incidentally, the Kerala government introduced a similar measure — the Special Agricultural Zone (SAZ) — in 2017-2018. This designates the agricultural land exclusively for agricultural purpose. Regions such as Kuttanad, Palakkad, Wayanad, Thrissur and Kozhikode were designated as SAZ for various crops. Similarly, the Indira Gandhi Canal in Rajasthan provided irrigation facilities and transformed the barren deserts of Jaisalmer and Barmer districts into agricultural, fertile lands.
10 . Genome India Project
What is a genome?
- Every organism’s genetic code is contained in its Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid (DNA), the building blocks of life. The discovery that DNA is structured as a “double helix” by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953, for which they won a Nobel Prize in 1962, was the spark in the long, continuing quest for understanding how genes dictate life, its traits, and what causes diseases.
- A genome, simply put, is all the genetic matter in an organism. It is defined as “an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes. Each genome contains all of the information needed to build and maintain that organism. In humans, a copy of the entire genome — more than 3 billion DNA base pairs — is contained in all cells that have a nucleus”.
Hasn’t the human genome been mapped before?
- The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international programme that led to the decoding of the entire human genome. It has been described as “one of the great feats of exploration in history. Rather than an outward exploration of the planet or the cosmos, the HGP was an inward voyage of discovery led by an international team of researchers looking to sequence and map all of the genes — together known as the genome — of members of our species”.
- Beginning on October 1, 1990 and completed in April 2003, the HGP gave us the ability, for the first time, to read nature’s complete genetic blueprint for building a human being.
What is the ‘Genome India’ Project?
- This is being spearheaded by the Centre for Brain Research at Bengaluru-based Indian Institute of Science as the nodal point of about 20 institutions, each doing its bit in collecting samples, doing the computations, and then the research. Its aim is to ultimately build a grid of the Indian “reference genome”, to understand fully the type and nature of diseases and traits that comprise the diverse Indian population. For example, if the Northeast sees a tendency towards a specific disease, interventions can be made in the region, assisting public health, which make it easier to battle the illness.
- The other institutes involved are: AIIMS Jodhpur; Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad; Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics; Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology; Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre; IIIT Allahabad; IISER (Pune); IIT Madras; IIT Delhi; IIT Jodhpur; Institute of Bioresources And Sustainable Development; Institute of Life Sciences; Mizoram University; National Centre for Biological Sciences; National Institute of Biomedical Genomics; National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences; Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology; and Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences.
So, what will the project broadly do?
- The mega project hopes to form a grid after collecting 10,000 samples in the first phase from across India, to arrive at a representative Indian genome. This has been found necessary as over 95% of the genome samples available, which are the basis of new, cutting-edge research in medicine and pharmacology, use the white, Caucasian genome as the base. Most genomes have been sourced from urban middle-class persons and are not really seen as representative.
- The Indian project will aim to vastly add to the available information on the human species and advance the cause, both because of the scale of the Indian population and the diversity here.
Who is an Indian?
- The Indian subcontinent has been the site of huge migrations. Scientists associated with the project recognise that while the first migrations were from Africa, later too there were periodic migrations by various populations, making this a very special case of almost all races and types intermingling genetically. This can be seen as “horizontal diversity”.
- Moreover, later, there has been endogamy or inter-marriage practised among distinct groups, resulting in some diseases passed on strictly within some groups and some other traits inherited by just some groups. This is what scientists term “vertical diversity”.
- Studying and understanding both diversities would provide the bedrock of personalised healthcare for a very large group of persons on the planet.
What are the challenges involved?
- MEDICAL ETHICS: In a project that aims only to create a database of genetic information, gene modification is not among the stated objectives. It is important to note, however, that this has been a very fraught subject globally. The lure to “intervene” may be much more if this kind of knowledge is available, without one being fully aware of the attendant risks. The risk of doctors privately running away with the idea of fixing genetic issues came to light most recently after a Shenzen-based scientist, who helped create the world’s first gene-edited babies, was sentenced to three years in prison. He Jiankui stunned the world when he announced in 2018 that twin girls had been born with modified DNA to make them HIV-resistant. He claimed he had managed that using the gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 before their birth.
- DATA & STORAGE: After collection of the sample, anonymity of the data and questions of its possible use and misuse would need to be addressed. Keeping the data on a cloud is fraught with problems and would raise questions of ownership of the data. India is yet to pass a Data Privacy Bill with adequate safeguards. Launching a Genome India Project before the privacy question is settled could give rise to another set of problems.
- SOCIAL ISSUES: The question of heredity and racial purity has obsessed civilisations, and more scientific studies of genes and classifying them could reinforce stereotypes and allow for politics and history to acquire a racial twist.
- In India a lot of politics is now on the lines of who are “indigenous” people and who are not. A Genome India Project could add a genetic dimension to the cauldron.
- “Selective breeding” has been controversial since time immemorial, and well before the DNA was discovered. But eugenics acquired a dangerous context with the Nazis deliberating on the theme at length and its mention came up in the Nuremberg trials. Post World War-2, it has been a very touchy issue.
11 . Melting Antarctic Glaciers
Context : In the Antarctic floats a massive glacier, roughly the size of Britain, whose melting has been a cause of alarm for scientists over the years. Now, a new study has pinned the cause of the melting to the presence of warm water at a vital point beneath the glacier.
What is the glacier and why is it important?
- Called the Thwaites Glacier, it is 120 km wide at its broadest, fast-moving and melting fast over the years. Because of its size (1.9 lakh square km), it contains enough water to raise the world sea level by more than half a metre. Studies have found the amount of ice flowing out of it has nearly doubled over the past 30 years. Today, Thwaites’s melting already contributes 4% to global sea level rise each year. It is estimated that it would collapse into the sea in 200-900 years. Thwaites is important for Antarctica as it slows the ice behind it from freely flowing into the ocean. Because of the risk it faces — and poses — Thwaites is often called the Doomsday Glacier.
What has the new study found?
- A 2019 study had discovered a fast-growing cavity in the glacier sized roughly two-thirds the area of Manhattan. Then last week, researchers from New York University detected warm water at a vital point below the glacier. The NYU study was funded by the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, headed by the Natural Environment Research Council of the UK and the National Science Foundation of the US; the collaboration has been studying the glacier since 2018.
- The New York University study reported water at just two degrees above freezing point at Thwaites’s “grounding zone” or “grounding line”.
Why is that significant?
- The grounding line is the place below a glacier at which the ice transitions between resting fully on bedrock and floating on the ocean as an ice shelf. The location of the line is a pointer to the rate of retreat of a glacier.
- When glaciers melt and lose weight, they float off the land where they used to be situated. When this happens, the grounding line retreats. That exposes more of a glacier’s underside to seawater, increasing the likelihood it will melt faster. This results in the glacier speeding up, stretching out, and thinning, causing the grounding line to retreat ever further.
- “Warm waters in this part of the world, as remote as they may seem, should serve as a warning to all of us about the potential dire changes to the planet brought about by climate change,” David Holland of New York University said in a statement.
How was the warming water detected?
- Scientists dug a 600-m-deep and 35-cm-wide access hole, and deployed an ocean-sensing device called Icefin to measure the waters moving below the glacier’s surface.
- “The fact that such warm water was just now recorded by our team along a section of Thwaites grounding zone where we have known the glacier is melting suggests that it may be undergoing an unstoppable retreat that has huge implications for global sea-level rise,” Holland said.
12 . Facts for Prelims
- “Sharang is the 130mm artillery gun ‘up-gunned’ to 155mm, 45 calibre up-gunning based on the Army’s tender,” an OFB official said. The Army had issued the Request For Proposal (RFP) in 2013 for both OFB and private industry.
JS – Sniffers
- The researchers focused on two basmati rice varieties: Basmati 334 from Pakistan, known to be drought tolerant and resistant to rice-killing bacterial blight, and Dom Sufid from Iran, an aromatic long-grain rice that is one of the most expensive on the market.
Thermo Acoustic Instability
- When NASA tried to test how to launch the rocket, it just blew apart. The reason was uneven burning of the fuel.
- Like a candle whose flame flickers due to uneven presence of oxygen around it, the flames inside the F1 engine flickered, only at a higher frequency – an instability that blew the rocket apart. This is called a thermo-acoustic instability, which is another name for high-amplitude pressure oscillations, in the combustor.
- Loktak lake is the largest fresh water lake of Northeast India
- The reclusive endangered sangai can be spotted here
- Designated as Ramsar wetland of International importance
- Floating Phumdis can be found here. It is a vegetation of biomass and soil
India – Bangladesh Railway Line
- The landmark rail line to connect the northeastern region with Bangladesh will be ready by the end of 2021
- Completion of the line between Agartala in Tripura and Akhaura in Bangladesh would pave the way for the first train to run from the northeastern region to Bangladesh on the eve of the 75th anniversary of India’s independence in 2022.
- Dark fibre is the extra optical fibre laid by companies in order to avoid cost repetition when more bandwidth is needed.