Daily Current Affairs : 27th and 28th February 2024

Topics Covered

  1. Gaganyaan
  2. 10,000 genome project  
  3. Funding in Science
  4. Public Stockholding Programme and WTO
  5. Bitcoin halving
  6. Facts for Prelims  

1 . Gaganyaan


Context: Four IAF pilots named as possible Gaganyaan crew.  

About the news

  • India on Tuesday announced the names of the four astronaut-designates for the Gaganyaan human spaceflight mission, planned for launch in 2025. 
  • The names of the Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots — Group Captain Prasanth Balakrishnan Nair, Group Captain Ajit Krishnan, Group Captain Angad Pratap and Wing Commander Shubhanshu Shukla — were revealed for the first time in the presence of Prime Minister during his visit to the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) in Thiruvananthapuram. 
  • The final crew for the mission will be picked from among the four.  
  • Shortlisted through a rigorous selection process, they have been undergoing training in various aspects of space flight, initially in Russia, and later at the Astronaut Training Facility established by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in Bengaluru. 

About Gaganyaan

  • Gaganyaan project envisages demonstration of human spaceflight capability by launching crew of 3 members to an orbit of 400 km for a 3 days mission and bring them back safely to earth, by landing in Indian sea waters. 
  • The project is accomplished through an optimal strategy by considering inhouse expertise, experience of Indian industry, intellectual capabilities of Indian academia & research institutions along with cutting edge technologies available with international agencies. 
  •  The pre-requisites for Gaganyaan mission include development of many critical technologies including human rated launch vehicle for carrying crew safely to space, Life Support System to provide an earth like environment to crew in space, crew emergency escape provision and evolving crew management aspects for training, recovery and rehabilitation of crew. 
  • Various precursor missions are planned for demonstrating the Technology Preparedness Levels before carrying out the actual Human Space Flight mission. These demonstrator missions include Integrated Air Drop Test (IADT), Pad Abort Test (PAT) and Test Vehicle (TV) flights. 
  • Safety and reliability of all systems will be proven in unmanned missions preceding manned mission. 

Human rating of launch vehicle

  • ISRO will use its LVM3 rocket for all of Gaganyaan missions. LVM3, earlier called GSLV-MkIII, is the Indian space agency’s most powerful launch vehicle that has flown seven times without failure. The rocket consists of liquid stage, solid stage, and cryogenic stage. 
  • ISRO has reconfigured all components of LVM3 to meet human rating requirements. On February 14, final tests on the cryogenic engine, known as CE20, were performed. The engine successfully passed the test and was certified for missions that would transport humans to space. 
  • The Vikas engine to be used in the liquid stage, and the solid booster, which is part of the solid stage, have already qualified for the missions. 
  • The special flight engine, which ignites as the rocket lifts off, has completed acceptance tests. These tests certify/ qualify the test performance of the hardware according to the mission requirement. The technology or development is then applied in the final mission. 

Crew module and escape system

  • Preparations for the human space flight includes development of life support systems to provide an Earth-like environment for the crew in space, provisions for emergency escape, and evolving crew management aspects for training, recovery, and rehabilitation of the crew. 
  • Precursor missions such as Gaganyaan-1 will demonstrate the levels of technology preparedness before the manned mission. The unmanned mission will carry an unpressurised crew module — the capsule in which the astronauts will be seated during the human flight — to space and back. 
  • The Gaganyaan-1 mission’s crew module will not have the Environment Control and Life Support System, which ensures an Earth-like environment inside the module. ISRO is currently developing and testing the various components of the system at its labs. 
  • A second unmanned flight is planned with a pressurised crew module, in which the complete life support system will be tested. This flight will carry the robot Vyommitra which will record all parameters to study the impact of the flight on humans. 
  • The schedules for these missions are not final yet. 
  •  last year, ISRO successfully conducted the first test of a basic crew module and crew escape system (CES). The CES is a part of the module that ensures the crew is taken to a safe distance in case of any emergency either at launch pad or during ascent phase.  
  • The test also demonstrated the success of the deployment of drogue chutes at the desired angle. Drogue chutes play an essential role in stabilising the crew module and reducing its velocity to a safe level during re-entry. They bring the crew module from a height of 17 km and speed of 150 metres/ second to 2.5 km from the sea surface and a speed of 63 metres/ sec. 
  • ISRO has also been experimenting with a crew module uprighting system, which ensures that the module remains upright after splashdown in the sea. 

Training of the astronauts

  • The four astronauts completed their generic training at Russia’s Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre between February 2020 and March 2021. ISRO signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Glavkosmos, a subsidiary of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, for the training in June 2019. 
  • The astronauts are currently training at ISRO’s astronaut training facility in Bengaluru. The training is continuous. They are now being trained on subsystem functioning on various subsystem simulators. They are a part of the development process of the crew module design, as they can pinpoint what is comfortable, what works and so on.  
  • One of the four astronauts is expected to be trained by the American space agency NASA. Bill Nelson, administrator of NASA, had made this announcement during a visit to New Delhi in 2023. This astronaut would likely be chosen from among the four who are preparing for the Gaganyaan mission. 

2 . 10,000 genome project


Context: The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) officially announced the completion of the ‘10,000 genome’ project — an attempt to create a reference database of whole-genome sequences out of India. 

About the news

  • While India first sequenced a complete human genome in 2006, creating a database that is representative of the diversity of India’s population, is seen as a key step to being able to learn about genetic variants that are unique to India’s population groups and use that to customise drugs and therapies. 
  • The United Kingdom, China, and the United States are among the countries that have programmes to sequence at least 1,00,000 of their genomes. 
  • About 20 institutions across India are involved in the project with the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru and the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad being the lead institutions coordinating the project. 

What does genome-mapping tell us? 

  • According to the Human Genome Project, there are estimated to be over 20,500 human genes. Genome refers to an organism’s complete set of DNA, which includes all its genes and mapping these genes simply means finding out the location of these genes in a chromosome. 
  • In humans, each cell consists of 23 pairs of chromosomes for a total of 46 chromosomes, which means that for 23 pairs of chromosomes in each cell, there are roughly 20,500 genes located on them. 
  • Some of the genes are lined up in a row on each chromosome, while others are lined up quite close to one another and this arrangement might affect the way they are inherited. For example, if the genes are placed sufficiently close together, there is a probability that they get inherited as a pair. 
  • Genome mapping, therefore, essentially means figuring out the location of a specific gene on a particular region of the chromosome and also determining the location of and relative distances between other genes on that chromosome. 
  • Genome mapping enables scientists to gather evidence if a disease transmitted from the parent to the child is linked to one or more genes. 
  • It also helps in determining the particular chromosome which contains that gene and the location of that gene in the chromosome. 
  • According to the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), genome maps have been used to find out genes that are responsible for relatively rare, single-gene inherited disorders such as cystic fibrosis and Duchenne muscular dystrophy. 
  • Genetic maps may also point out scientists to the genes that play a role in more common disorders and diseases such as asthma, cancer and heart disease among others. For instance, in a series of papers published in the journal Nature, researchers from several international institutions mapped the handful of genes whose mutation causes several different kinds of cancers. 
  • According to the Genome News Network, unlike conventional geographical maps, genome maps are one-dimensional, much like the DNA molecules that make up the genome.  

What is the Genome India project?

  • The Genome India project was approved by the government in 2020 with the aim of creating a comprehensive catalogue of genetic variations found in the Indian population. A map of genetic diversity is essential for understanding the history of our evolution, discovering the genetic basis for various diseases, and creating therapies of the future. This cannot be done using data available in existing international databases, as Indian genomes are likely to be different from that of other populations.
  • Researchers who analysed 5,750 of the genome sequences have already identified 135 million genetic variants found in India.
  • This map will also create a unique resource. This is because our population of 1.4 billion consists of more than 4,600 distinct groups. With endogamy — marrying within the same community — common in India, the various groups have maintained their distinct genetic makeup. This can help compare and contrast the impact of genetic variations on physical health.

What is a genome, how is it sequenced?

  • The human genome is essentially a biological instruction manual that we inherit from our parents. It is a tome written with just four letters, A,C,G, and T — the four bases that come together to create everyone’s unique genetic makeup. There are around 3 billion pairs of bases in the complete human genome. This contains all the information needed to create your physical form and maintain it throughout life. From your height, colour of the eyes, the genetic diseases you get or those you are at a higher risk for, everything is determined by the genetic makeup.
  • To sequence the genome, researchers first extract the information from the blood. With a complete sequence of 3 billion pairs being extremely hard to handle, scientists cut it up into small pieces and tag them — like you would when you disassemble furniture. The A,C, G, T code of these smaller chunks are written down by a DNA sequencer and then the complete sequence is put together.

How does studying the genetic makeup of the country help?

  • It can help identify the genetic basis or genetic risk factors for various diseases.
  • It can help in targeted treatments, especially for rare diseases that usually arise from genetic anomalies. .
  • It can also help in identifying resistance-indicating variants — for example, genes that might make certain medicines or anaesthetics ineffective in certain populations.

3 . Funding in Science


Context: The 2024 theme for National Science Day, which India celebrates every year on February 28, is “Science for Sustainable Development”. Science and technological developments are key drivers of India’s journey towards becoming a developed country by 2047. India is committed to making this progress through sustainable means, as evidenced by its commitments under the Paris Agreement, participation in global fora for sustainable development, and reinforced in this year’s theme for Science Day. 

How much is India spending on research and development? 

  • Funding for fundamental research in India is amongst the world’s lowest, particularly for a country with high science and technology ambitions. In the recent past, India’s research and development (R&D) expenditure has dropped to the current 0.64% of GDP from 0.8% in 2008-2009 and 0.7% in 2017-2018. This reduced expenditure is worrying considering government agencies themselves have issued several calls to double this spending. 
  • The 2013 Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy noted that “Increasing Gross Expenditure on R&D (GERD) to 2% GDP has been a national goal for some time”. 
  • The 2017-2018 Economic Survey reiterated it in its chapter on science and technology transformation. 
  •  The reasons for the reduction in R&D spending despite the government being cognisant of the need to increase it are not clear, but may stem from a lack of coordination between government agencies and a need for stronger political will to prioritise R&D expenses. 
  • Most developed countries spend between 2% and 4% of their respective GDPs on R&D. 
  • In 2021, member-countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on average spent 2.7% of their GDP on R&D. The U.S. and the U.K. have consistently spent more than 2% of their GDPs on R&D for the past decade. Many experts have called for India to spend at least 1%, but ideally 3%, of its GDP every year until 2047 on R&D for science to have a meaningful impact on development. 

How can India improve its R&D spending? 

  • Science requires consistent, large-scale investment to bear fruit. For India to reach the ‘developed nation’ status, it needs to spend more to scale R&D than developed countries spend to maintain that status. This is the foundation of the demand to spend at least 3% of the GDP on R&D annually until 2047. 
  • beyond the current spending being inadequate, its primary dependence on public money signals an immature financing system and weak domestic market. In 2020-2021, the private sector industry contributed 36.4% of the GERD whereas the Union government’s share was 43.7%. State governments (6.7%), higher education (8.8%), and the public sector industry (4.4%) were the other major contributors. 
  • In economically developed countries, a major share like 70% on average of R&D investment comes from the private sector. The hesitancy of private-sector funding may be because of the poor capacity to evaluate R&D in India, ambiguous regulatory roadmaps that can deter investors, lack of clear exit options for investors in sectors such as biotechnology, and fears of intellectual property rights theft. 
  • While the Anusandhan National Research Foundation was meant to solve some of the financial issues, its implementation has been delayed. 
  • The ₹2,000 crore annual budget the government earmarked for its implementation in the last budget was revised to ₹258 crore this year. 
  • Strategies for how the remaining budget of ₹7,200 crore from the private sector is to be raised have not been clarified yet. Thus, there is a perceived need to determine the overall quantum of R&D funding and its primary sources, given India’s ambition to be a developed country by 2047. 

How is the R&D budget utilised? 

  • While the need for India to at least double its R&D investment has been expressed several times, the question of how effectively the allocated money is spent is explored less often. The Union Ministry of Science and Technology has consistently under-utilised its budget. So, while the calls for increased funding through both government and private sources  are legitimate, a strengthened budget utilisation is also required to affect science outcomes. 
  • In 2022-2023, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) used 72% of its estimated budget allocation on centrally sponsored schemes/projects while the Department of Science and Technology (DST) used only 61%. The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR), which receives the lowest allocation for centrally sponsored schemes, spent 69% of its allocation. 
  • Such underutilisation is not a one-time error but has been consistently recorded over several years to varying degrees. The phenomenon is also not specific to the Science Ministry; given that India generally under-spends on R&D, there will likely be a major impact if the allocated funds are spent optimally. 
  • The reasons for under-utilisation, as with under-allocation, are unclear and may indicate tedious bureaucratic processes for approving disbursements, lack of capacity to evaluate projects or clear utilisation certificates, lack of prioritisation for science funding by the Ministry of Finance or inadequate planning or implementation strategy for the requested funds by the Ministry of Science and Technology. 
  • The lack of capacity also reflects in delays in grant and salary disbursements. Most of these issues can be fixed by proper capacity building within different governmental agencies. 

What does sustainable funding entail? 

  • In the latest Budget, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman provided many indications that the government would like R&D expenditure to include more contributions from the private sector. 
  • Against this backdrop, mitigating the under-spending and under-utilisation of funds earmarked for R&D stand out as obvious first steps. This in turn requires the political prioritisation of R&D spending and recognition of it as a core, irreplaceable element of India’s growth journey. 
  • This prioritisation has to happen not only within the concerned Ministries but also at the Ministry of Finance, which disburses the funds. 
  • Incentives for private investment, including relaxation of foreign direct investments, tax rebates, and clear regulatory roadmaps for products will help build investor confidence. 
  •  India also needs the bureaucratic capacity to evaluate science projects and, after allocations, monitor utilisation. Building such capacity is a prerequisite for India becoming a science power by 2047.  

4 . Public Stockholding Programme and WTO


Context: India seeks permanent solution to public food stockpile issue at WTO meet. 

About the news

  • India recently called on WTO members to find a permanent solution to the long-pending public food stockpile issue, saying it is directly related to achieving the sustainable development goal of zero hunger by 2030. 
  • Commerce and Industry Minister said that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) should not negotiate rules on non-trade-related subjects like climate change, gender, and labour and rather these should be addressed in respective intergovernmental organizations. 

WTO on Food security

  • The WTO Agreement on Agriculture explicitly recognises the need to take account of food security — both in the commitments that WTO members have made to date, which are monitored in the Committee on Agriculture, and in ongoing negotiations. 
  • Trade can improve food availability where it is scarce — and can also improve economic access to food by creating jobs and raising incomes. A more predictable trading system can also improve stability, another key component of food security. 

Public stockholding for food security purposes

  • Public stockholding programmes are used by some governments to purchase, stockpile and distribute food to people in need. 
  •  While food security is a legitimate policy objective, some stockholding programmes are considered to distort trade when they involve purchases from farmers at prices fixed by the governments, known as “administered” prices. 
  • At the 2013 Bali Ministerial Conference, ministers agreed that, on an interim basis, public stockholding programmes in developing countries would not be challenged legally even if a country’s agreed limits for trade-distorting domestic support were breached. They also agreed to negotiate a permanent solution to this issue. 
  • A decision on public stockholding taken at the 2015 Nairobi Ministerial Conference reaffirmed this commitment and encouraged WTO members to make all concerted efforts to agree on a permanent solution. 

The Agreement on Agriculture

  • The AoA categorises domestic support as Green Box support (no or minimal trade distortive effect, such as R&D support) and Amber Box support (any support that distorts trade) with MSP, in principle, being considered such support. 
  • The aggregate monetary value of Amber Box is subject to member-specific reduction commitments. 
  •  Green Box measures are exempt from reduction commitments. 
  • Developing countries’ public stockholding for food security is treated as Green Box support. Such support must have minimal trade-distorting effect and no specific production-favouring effect. Direct payments to producers that don’t distort production balance (type & volume), certain developmental measures in developing countries and certain direct payments under production-limiting programmes, and de minimis levels of support are exempted from reduction. 

Bali Peace Clause

  • The AoA’s de minimis norms protect price support in any year, even if it is perceived as trade-distorting, if aggregate value of the product-specific support does not exceed 5% of the total value of production of the product. Non-product specific support less than 5% of the value of total agricultural production is also exempt from reduction. The 5% threshold applies to developed countries whereas for developing countries the de minimis ceiling is 10%. 
  • At the 2013 Bali conference, developing and developed nations arrived at a temporary window to protect countries’ food security programmes even if these breached the de minimis rule. The peace clause was to be in force for four years till 2017, by when a permanent solution was to be found. The peace clause comes with exhaustive disclosures requirements including full disclosure of MSPs and annual procurement operations. 

Concerns with India’s Public Stockholding 

  • Nine major grain exporters challenged India’s public stockholding in March this year. India has invoked the Bali Peace Clause many times with respect to its grains procurement and stockholding programme. The countries allege that the heavily subsidised stockholding is affecting food security of other countries. 
  • India’s accusers say it has not provided enough disclosures and has no mechanism to check stocks from being exported. India says it will provide certain data once it has compiled it. Along with the G-33 grouping and African nations, India is seeking a permanent solution for public stockholding of foodgrains. 

5 . Bitcoin halving


Context: Just as the sporting world eagerly awaits the Olympics every four years, those following cryptocurrency look forward to their own quadrennial event. As athletes train for the 2024 Games in Paris this summer, crypto traders and Bitcoin miners are preparing for what is known as the ‘Bitcoin halving’—predicted to happen in April. 

What is the Bitcoin halving? 

  • Bitcoin halving refers to the 50% reduction in the reward paid to Bitcoin miners who successfully process other people’s cryptocurrency transactions so that they can be added to the public digital ledger known as the blockchain. 
  • In order to “grow” Bitcoin’s blockchain and keep the ecosystem running, Bitcoin miners rely on advanced computer equipment to solve a complex mathematical puzzle through a process known as ‘Proof of work.’ This intense activity is the reason Bitcoin transactions result in huge carbon footprints and require vast amount of electricity. No real mining is carried out. 
  • The Bitcoin miners with cutting-edge computer equipment, working on an industrial scale, are most likely to solve the puzzle first and claim their prize, which is currently set at 6.25 Bitcoin (BTC). While the reward amount is set, the true value of this prize fluctuates based on BTC prices in the market, and when the owner chooses to sell. 

Why does the Bitcoin halving matter to crypto investors? 

  • Bitcoin mining increases the supply of BTC in circulation while Bitcoin halving reduces the rate at which these coins are released, making the asset more scarce. Scarcity is seen as pushing up prices, as is the case with gold. While there can only ever be 21 million BTC in the world, over 19 million have already been “mined” or released. 
  • Bitcoin halving means it will take far more time for the remaining coins to be mined. A halving takes place after 2,10,000 blocks are mined, and has happened so far in 2012, 2016, and 2020 — every four years. 
  • In 2009, a successful Bitcoin miner could claim a prize of 50 BTC. After this year’s halving, they will only get 3.125 BTC. However, Bitcoin prices are far higher now than they were in 2009, so this isn’t necessarily a loss for the miner. 
  •  As of February 14, the price of 1 BTC was around $49,528. This means a mining reward on February 14 would be worth around $3,09,550 (6.25 x price of 1 BTC). Whether this value will rise or fall after the Bitcoin halving depends on the price of Bitcoin. 
  • Both corporate and independent Bitcoin miners are spread across the world, trying to leverage cheap electricity prices in countries like Kazakhstan and Iran to mine as much Bitcoin as they can. 
  • China was originally home to many of the world’s crypto miners, but government crackdowns triggered an exodus to other countries. 

What impact will Bitcoin halving have on investors? 

  • This depends on the investor in question, and the extent of their involvement with Bitcoin and its ecosystem. For example, a corporate-level miner who has burned through their wallet paying for Bitcoin mining hardware (and the electricity bills that come from powering them) is probably desperate to earn their block reward in these last days while it is still set at 6.25 BTC rather than the much lower 3.125 BTC. 
  • On the other hand, a new trader who has invested a small sum of money in Bitcoin through their crypto exchange via a phone app and knows nothing about the underlying blockchain technology might not even react to the news of the halving. 
  • Meanwhile, a more experienced trader who has looked at past halvings might try increasing their Bitcoin investment in the hope of benefiting from a possible price spike, even as another might “short” Bitcoin while hoping to profit from a possible price crash. 

What will happen to the crypto market after the next Bitcoin halving? 

  • While nobody can know for sure what would happen to the crypto market, innumerable self-styled crypto traders, financial analysts, fintech engineers, crypto influencers, and statisticians claim they can predict the price trajectory of Bitcoin with the help of cryptocurrency models and metrics, but investors should know these are all educated guesses at best. 
  • Many Bitcoin investors and watchers also reference a recurring four-year cycle that hinges on the halvings, or even claim that prices spike after the halvings. But in reality, the coin’s journey has been far more unpredictable and difficult to map out. 
  • Every halving in Bitcoin’s history has been wildly different due to an eclectic mix of blockchain-related factors, increasing regulation by lawmakers worldwide, more awareness about cryptocurrency investments, greater adoption of Bitcoin, and diverse geopolitical events or economic shocks. 
  • Bitcoin is an asset whose price is largely steered by investors’ emotions, with there even being a ‘Fear and Greed’ indicator to help investors understand how prices could suddenly shift. 
  • While the next Bitcoin halving will be a fascinating episode to witness, it is best for crypto watchers to rely on their own research and decide what the halving means to them personally. 

6 . Facts for Prelims


MIMO

  • MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) is an advanced radio technology that creates the data capacity of a narrowband network without requiring more spectrum. 
  • Modern MIMO usage often refers to multiple data signals sent to different receivers (with one or more receive antennas) though this is more accurately termed multi-user multiple-input single-output (MU-MISO). 

GARBHINI GA 2

  • The Garbhini-GA2 is the first late-trimester GA estimation model to be developed and validated using Indian population data. 
  • Accurate ‘Gestational Age’ (GA) is necessary for the appropriate care of pregnant women and for determining precise delivery dates
  • The model has been designed by researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras and the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, Faridabad. 
  • It is part of an interdisciplinary group for advanced research on birth outcomes — DBT India initiative (GARBH-Ini) programme. 
  • It accurately estimates the foetus’ age, reducing error by almost three times. 
  • Most important benefits of this GAmodel include
    • Currently, the age of a foetus (‘Gestational Age’ or GA) is determined using a formula developed for Western population
    • They are likely to be erroneous when applied in the later part of pregnancy due to variations in the growth of the foetus in the Indian population
    • The newly developed ‘Garbhini-GA2’ accurately estimates the age of a foetus for the Indian population, reducing error by almost three times.
    • This GA model can improve the care delivered by obstetricians and neonatologists, thus reducing maternal and infant mortality rates in India.

Viruses

  • A virus is a submicroscopic infectious agent that replicates only inside the living cells of an organism. 
  • Viruses infect all life forms, from animals and plants to microorganisms, including bacteria and archaea. 
  • Viruses are found in almost every ecosystem on Earth and are the most numerous type of biological entity. 

Viroids

  • Viroids are small single-stranded, circular RNAs that are infectious pathogens. Unlike viruses, they have no protein coating. 
  • All known viroids are inhabitants of angiosperms (flowering plants),and most cause diseases, whose respective economic importance to humans varies widely. 

obelisks

  • Obelisks have a circular single-stranded RNA genome and no protein coat but, like viruses, their genomes contain genes that are predicted to code for proteins. 
  • All obelisks so far described encode a single major protein known as obulin, and many encode a second, smaller obulin. 
  • Obulins bear no evolutionary resemblance, or “homology”, to any other protein found, and there are few clues as to their function. 

Leave a comment

error: DMCA Protected Copying the content by other websites are prohibited and will invite legal action. © iassquad.in