Daily Current Affairs: 20th October 2021

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics covered

  1. Genetically Modified food crops
  2. The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG)
  3. The Quad Forum(India-U.S-Israel-UAE bloc)
  4. Nihang Sikhs
  5. Facts for prelims

1. Genetically Modified Food Crops


Context: Candy giant Mars Wrigley carried out a mass recall of several batches of its Crispy M&Ms across Europe this August, it was due to the use of one ingredient: rice flour with genetically modified (GM) contamination that allegedly originated in India, according to notifications on the European Commission’s rapid alert system.

Background

  • Conventional plant breeding involves crossing species of the same genus to provide the offspring with the desired traits of both parents. Genetic engineering aims to transcend the genus barrier by introducing an alien gene in the seeds to get the desired effects. The alien gene could be from a plant, an animal or even a soil bacterium.

About genetic modification (GM) of crops?

  • Genetic modification of plants involves adding a specific stretch of DNA into the plant’s genome, giving it new or different characteristics.
  • This could include changing the way the plant grows, or making it resistant to a particular disease.
  • The new DNA becomes part of the GM plant’s genome which the seeds produced by these plants will contain.

Process

  • For example if scientists want to produce wheat with high protein content and they decide to incorporate the high protein quality of beans into wheat. To make this possible, a specific sequence of DNA with protein-making trait is isolated from the bean (which is called the donor organism) and is inserted into the gene structure of wheat, in a laboratory process.
  • The new gene or the transgene thus produced is transferred into the recipient cells (wheat cells). The cells are then grown in tissue culture where they develop into plants. The seeds produced by these plants will inherit the new DNA structure.
  • Traditional cultivation of these seeds will then be undertaken and we will have genetically modified wheat with high protein content.

What is the legal position of genetically modified crops in India?

  • In India, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is the apex body that allows for commercial release of GM crops. In 2002, the GEAC had allowed the commercial release of Bt cotton. More than 95 per cent of the country’s cotton area has since then come under Bt cotton.
  • Use of the unapproved GM variant can attract a jail term of 5 years and fine of Rs 1 lakh under the Environmental Protection Act ,1989.

Benefits

GM crops are perceived to offer benefits to both producers and consumers.

  • Genetic engineering can improve crop protection. Crops with better resistance to pest and diseases can be created. The use of herbicides and pesticides can be reduced or even eliminated.
  • Farmers can achieve high yield, and thereby get more income.
  • Nutritional content can be improved.
  • Shelf life of foods can be extended.
  • Food with better taste and texture can be achieved.
  • Crops can be engineered to withstand extreme weather

What are the potential risks?

  • Genetically engineered foods often present unintended side effects. Genetic engineering is a new field, and long-term results are unclear. Very little testing has been done on GM food.
  • Some crops have been engineered to create their own toxins against pests. This may harm non-targets such as farm animals that ingest them. The toxins can also cause allergy and affect digestion in humans.
  • Further, GM crops are modified to include antibiotics to kill germs and pests. And when we eat them, these antibiotic markers will persist in our body and will render actual antibiotic medications less effective over a period of time, leading to superbug threats. This means illnesses will become more difficult to cure.
  • Besides health and environmental concerns, activists point to social and economic issues. They have voiced serious concern about multinational agribusiness companies taking over farming from the hands of small farmers. Dependence on GM seed companies could prove to be a financial burden for farmers.
  • Farmers are reluctant because they will have limited rights to retain and reuse seeds.
  • Their concern also includes finding a market that would accept GM food.
  • People in general are wary of GM crops as they are engineered in a lab and do not occur in Nature

GM crops in India

  • Bt cotton is the only genetically modified (GM) crop that has been approved for commercial cultivation in 2002 by the Government of India. Long term studies were conducted by ICAR on the impact of Bt cotton which did not show any adverse effect on soil, microflora and animal health. More than 95 per cent of the country’s cotton area has since then come under Bt cotton.
  • Bt Brinjal resistant to brinjal shoot fly developed by M/S Mahyco in collaboration with University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad; Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore and ICAR-Indian Institute of Vegetable Research, Varanasi was approved by GEAC in 2009 but due to 10 years moratorium imposed on GM crops by the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) appointed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, no further action on commercialization has been taken.
  • GM mustard Dhara Mustard Hybrid 11 (DMH 11) developed by Delhi University is pending for commercial release as GEAC has advised to generate complete safety assessment data on environmental bio-safety, especially effects on beneficial insect species

Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee

  • The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) functions under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).
  • It is responsible for the appraisal of activities involving large-scale use of hazardous microorganisms and recombinants in research and industrial production from the environmental angle.
  • The committee is also responsible for the appraisal of proposals relating to the release of genetically engineered (GE) organisms and products into the environment including experimental field trials.
  • GEAC is chaired by the Special Secretary/Additional Secretary of MoEF&CC and co-chaired by a representative from the Department of Biotechnology (DBT).

2. The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG)


Context: The decline in daily new infections across India has prompted INSACOG, the consortium of labs focused on sequencing coronavirus variants, to “prioritise” new surveillance approaches.

About the News

  • According to INSACOG (India SARS-CoV-2 Genome Consortium) due to declining cases and importance of early detection of increased transmission in the future, it will prioritise developing and expanding a SARS-CoV-2 sewage surveillance program
  • SARS-CoV-2 sewage surveillance program : CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, which is also part of the INSACOG network, has since early 2020 been collecting sewage from large drains in cities to check for the presence of the virus. Because a large fraction of those afflicted by the virus are asymptomatic but are carriers of infection, their body fluids and stool often contain traces of the virus. Finding large proportions of it in public drains can often be a precursor to a fresh outbreak, with a rise in symptomatic infections.

About INSACOG

  • The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), jointly initiated by the Union Health Ministry of Health, and Department of Biotechnology (DBT) with Council for Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), is a consortium of 28 National Laboratories to monitor the genomic variations in the SARS-CoV-2.
  • INSACOG is a multi-laboratory, multi-agency, Pan-India network to monitor genomic variations in the SARS-CoV-2 by a sentinel sequencing effort.
  • The network carries out whole genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 virus across the nation, aiding the understanding of how the virus spreads and evolves, and provide information to aid public health response.
  • INSACOG also aims to focus on sequencing of clinical samples to understand the disease dynamics and severity.

3. The Quad Forum (India-U.S-Israel-UAE bloc)


Context: India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the United States have decided to launch a new quadrilateral economic forum, as External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar joined his counterparts at a videoconference from Jerusalem.

Key points discussed at the quad forum

  • The grouping had decided to establish an international forum for economic cooperation, and specifically discussed “possibilities for joint infrastructure projects”.
  • They also discussed about expanding economic and political cooperation in the Middle East and Asia, including through trade, combating climate change, energy cooperation, and increasing maritime security,” as well as ways to counter the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Business groups in India, the UAE and Israel have also been in talks for trilateral cooperation since diplomatic ties were established, and the International Federation of Indo-Israel Chambers of Commerce (IFIIC) has predicted that the potential for agreements backed by Israeli innovation, UAE funding and Indian manufacturing, given India’s close ties and strategic partnership with the two other countries could cross $100 billion by 2030.
  • In the first such venture, a UAE project for robotic solar panel cleaning technology was signed by Israeli company Ecoppia that has a manufacturing base in India.

4 . Nihang Sikh


Who is a Nihang

  • Nihang is an order of Sikh warriors, characterised by blue robes, antiquated arms such as swords and spears, and decorated turbans surmounted by steel quoits.
  • The order can be traced back to the creation of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699, according to Sikh historian Dr Balwant Singh Dhillon.
  • “Etymologically the word nihang in Persian means an alligator, sword and pen, but the characteristics of Nihangs seem to stem more from the Sanskrit word nihshank which means without fear, unblemished, pure, carefree and indifferent to worldly gains and comfort,” he said.

What is Nihang Sikhs’ role in history?

  • Nihangs played a major role in defending the Sikh panth against attacks and persecution by Mughal governors in the early decades of the 18th century, and then during the invasions of the Afghan Ahmad Shah Durrani between 1748 and 1767. When the Khalsa army was divided into five battalions in 1734, a Nihang or Akali battalion was led by Baba Deep Singh Shahid.
  • Nihangs also took control of the religious affairs of the Sikhs at the Akal Bunga (now known as Akal Takht) in Amritsar, where they held the grand council (Sarbat Khalsa) and passed the Gurmata (resolution). Their clout came to an end after the fall of the Sikh Empire in 1849; the British appointed a manager (sarbrah) for the administration of the Golden Temple in 1859.
  • During the militancy years, the then Baba Budha Dal chief Nihang chief, late Baba Santa Singh, fell afoul of the mainstream Sikhs when he, at the instance of Indian government, went on to rebuild the Akal Takht that had been damaged during Operation Bluestar in June 1984. “Some Nihangs, including Ajit Singh Poohla, collaborated with the Punjab police to eliminate Sikh militants

How are Nihangs different from other Sikhs, and other Sikh warriors?

  • “Nihangs observe the Khalsa code of conduct in its strictest sense. They do not profess allegiance to any earthly master. Instead of saffron, they hoist a blue Nishan Sahib (flag) atop their shrines
  • Nihangs use the slogans ‘chhardi kala’ (forever in high spirits) and ‘tiar bar tiar’ (state of ever-preparedness) for unforeseen events.

5. Facts for Prelims


World Economic Outlook

  • World Economic Outlook is a Survey by the IMF staff usually published twice a year ( April and October). An update is also provided to the Report in January and June.
  • It presents IMF staff economists’ analyses of global economic developments during the near and medium term.
  • Chapters give an overview as well as more detailed analysis of the world economy; consider issues affecting industrial countries, developing countries, and economies in transition to market; and address topics of pressing current interest.

Bhaskarabda era

  • Bhaskarabda, an era counted from the date of the ascension of a seventh century local ruler, will be added to Saka and Gregorian eras in the official calendar of the Assam Government.

Ballistic missile

  • It is a rocket-propelled self-guided strategic-weapons system that follows a ballistic trajectory to deliver a payload from its launch site to a predetermined target.
  • Ballistic missiles can carry conventional high explosives as well as chemical, biological, or nuclear munitions.
  • They can be launched from aircraft, ships, and submarines in addition to land-based silos and mobile platforms

Types of ballistic missiles based on the range

  • Short-range (tactical) ballistic missile (SRBM): Range between 300 km and 1,000 km.
  • Medium-range (theatre) ballistic missile (MRBM): 1,000 km to 3,500 km.
  • Intermediate-range (Long-Range) ballistic missile (IRBM or LRBM): 3,500 km and 5,500 km.
  • Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM): 5,500 km +

Cheruthoni Dam

  • The Cheruthoni Dam, located in Idukki district, Kerala, India, is a 138m tall concrete gravity dam.
  • This dam was constructed in 1976 as part of the Idukki Hydroelectric Project along with two other dams Idukki and Kulamavu.

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