Science and Technology May 2018

Humans causing cancer in wild animals
  • Human activities are changing the environment in a way that causes cancer in wild animal populations, according to a study published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.
  • We are changing the environment to be more suitable for ourselves, while these changes are having a negative impact on many species on many different levels, including the probability of developing cancer.
  • Human activities include chemical and physical pollution in our oceans and waterways, release of radiation into the atmosphere from nuclear plants, and the accumulation of microplastics in both land- and water-based environments. In addition, exposure to pesticides and herbicides on farmlands, artificial light pollution, loss of genetic diversity and animals eating human food are known to cause health problems.
Moon’s far side
  • China launched a relay satellite as part of a  programme to be the first to land a spacecraft on the far side of the moon later this year. The satellite, lofted into space aboard a Long March-4C rocket.
  • China hopes to become the first country to soft-land a probe on the moon’s far side, also known as the dark side because it faces away from the earth and is comparatively unknown
  • The satellite, named Queqiao, or “Magpie Bridge”, it was expected to arrive shortly at the Earth-moon Lagrange point 2, a gravitationally stable spot located 64,000 km beyond the far side of the moon. Without such a communications relay link, spacecraft on the far side would have to “send their signals through the moon’s rocky bulk.
memory transplant
  • Scientists have transferred a memory from one sea snail to another, the findings have been published in the journal, eNeuro.
  • Where memory resides in the brain is a key question in neuroscience research. Till now, scientists believed that the seat of memory was in the synapses, or connections, between neurons. But there was some evidence that it may lie within the Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) inside a neuron, a molecule that helps turn genes on and off.
Water fountains on Jupiter’s moon
  • scientists have detected a water fountain spraying out from Jupiter’s fourth-largest moon, Europa, which is considered one of the prime candidates for life in our solar system.
  • Scientists already know that Europa has water; it’s covered in a 25km-thick crust of ice that protects the liquid ocean beneath from the radiation that bathes its atmosphere. This radiation prevents space probes from getting close enough to study Europa’s oceans.
  • But when scientists re-examined data that NASA’s Galileo spacecraft had collected back in 1997, they found that a certain bend that it had seen in Europa’s magnetic field was actually evidence of a leak in the ice crust, through which water was spewed forth into the atmosphere.
  • NASA will get a close-up look from a new spacecraft during its Europa Clipper mission that could launch as soon as June 2022, providing a possible opportunity to sample plumes for signs of life, perhaps microbial, from its ocean.
  • Supersonic cruise missile BrahMos was successfully fired from a test range along the Odisha coast to validate some new features.
  • The missile, an Indo-Russian joint venture, was tested from a mobile launcher at Launch Pad 3 of the Integrated Test Range (ITR) at Chandipur.
  • The successful test will result in huge savings of replacement cost of missiles held in the inventory of the armed forces.
  • The two-stage missile — first being solid and the second one, a ramjet liquid propellant — has already been introduced in the Army and the Navy, while the Air Force version had witnessed a successful trial.
  • BrahMos variants can be launched from land, air, sea and under water.
  • India already successfully launched the world’s fastest supersonic cruise missile from a Sukhoi-30 MKI combat jet , at least two Su-30 squadrons with 20 planes each are planned to be equipped with the missile, which will be 500 kg lighter than the land/naval variants. The range of the three-tonne missile has been extended to 400 km. Further increasing the missile’s range from 400 km to further 800 km is now possible after India’s induction into the Missile Technology Control Regime.
  • The missile currently travels at mach 2.8 or 2.8 times the speed of sound
Gene variations can influence risk of obesity
  • A team of researchers from New Delhi have found an explanation for why one sibling may develop obesity faster than the other though brought up under similar home environment with almost similar diet and habits.
  • The team analysed the genetic variations in genes of over 3,500 urban school going children (11-17 years) and found certain alterations in two genes ARID1A and KAT2B  that can delay or hasten the process of obesity development with respect to the daily habits.
Royal Bengal tiger genome sequenced
  • The genome of the Royal Bengal tiger, an endangered big cat, has been sequenced as part of plans to generate a high-quality draft genome sequence of the animal.
  • Although endangered and threatened by various extinction risks, this tiger subspecies is the most populous one with the highest genetic diversity and the strongest chance of survival in the wild.
  • The high coverage genome sequencing and identification of genome variants in Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) were carried out by scientists from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CSIR-CCMB).
  • This genome was compared with the genome of Amur or Siberian tiger. These two subspecies occur in diverse environments and the new data also reveals major variations between the two. While Amur tiger occurs exclusively in sub-temperate and snow-covered habitats, the Bengal tiger occupies diverse tropical habitats ranging from Himalayan foothills to Central India plateau and the Western Ghats.
  • Study will reveal the changes triggered in the genes due to the adaptability to different environments in the evolutionary time scale.
ISRO making green propellant
  • Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) have reported progress in the development of an environment-friendly propellant to power satellites and spacecraft
  • The effort is to replace the conventional hydrazine rocket fuel, a highly toxic and carcinogenic chemical.
  • Initial tests by a research team at the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) here have shown promising results in the formulation and associated tests of a propellant blend based on hydroxylammonium nitrate (HAN).
  • The LPSC team formulated the HAN-based monopropellant, A monopropellant is a chemical propulsion fuel which does not require a separate oxidizer. It is used extensively in satellite thrusters for orbital correction and orientation control.
Gene editing
  • Scientists are using a powerful gene-editing tool to grow cacao trees that are more resistant to diseases.
  • It is done by using CRISPR technology to improve Theobroma cacao. CRISPR stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. It is a way to modify an organism’s genome by precisely delivering a DNA-cutting enzyme, Cas9, to a targeted region of DNA. The resulting change can delete or replace specific DNA pieces, thereby promoting or disabling certain traits.
  • Previous work in cacao identified a gene, known as TcNPR3, that suppresses the plant’s disease response. The researchers hypothesised that using CRISPR-Cas9 to knock out this gene would result in enhanced disease resistance.
Bouligand structure
  • Background: In the material sciences, the Bouligand structure is a way molecules arrange themselves in a twisted shape like in spiral staircases. This formation helps create strong flexible materials that are resistant to cracking. This is because the force of the impact is distributed over the many spiral staircases, thereby helping the material preserve its overall integrity.
  • In news: Recently, scientists have combined derivatives of two surplus materials (wood pulp and dried-up pieces of an invasive exotic pest called the tunicate or Styela clava) to form a new composite material that is flexible, sustainable, non-toxic and ultra-violet light-reflective. It does this by being able to exploit the strength of the Bouligand structure.
  • Application: The findings have been published in the journal, Advanced Functional Materials, could soon be used in food packaging, biomedical devices, building construction and the design of cars, trucks and boats.
peacock genome
  • Researchers from Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Bhopal, sequenced the whole genome of the bird. This the first time the complete genome of peacock has been sequenced.
  • Studying the complete set of genes gives crucial information regarding the development, physiology and evolution of the species.
  • After sequencing, the researchers compared peacock genes with those of five other related birds chicken, turkey, duck, flycatcher and zebra finch. Evolutionary analysis showed that peacock was a close relative of chicken.
  • It also revealed that the bird had suffered two bottlenecks (sudden decline in population) around 4,000 million and 450,000 years ago.
  • Recently, genome sequencing has been used for the possible revival of New Zealand’s indigenous Moa bird. Similarly, the genomic data of peacock generated in this study will also help save our species in case it declines.
Fungus that attacks frogs originated in East Asia
  • The chytrid fungus  which has caused amphibian declines worldwide and has been recorded in India too  possibly originated in east Asia, shows a study published in the international journal Science.
  • Scientists from 38 institutions across the world gathered samples of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd, also known as the chytrid fungus, which causes an infectious and fatal skin disease called chytridiomycosis) and compared the genomes of 234 of these pathogens to trace the origins of the fungus.
  • The scientists therefore recommend a ban on trade in amphibians from Asia, due to the high risk associated with exporting previously unknown strains of chytrid out of this region.
  • Though first reported in frogs in South America in 1997, the killer fungus has also been recorded from several frog species and populations in the Western Ghats. The first record was from the Ponmudi Hills of south Kerala in 2011.
Commission approves modern animal-free testing for drugs
  • In a step that would spare animals from suffering due to drug experiments, the Indian Pharmacopoeia Commission has approved modern, animal-free tests for drug manufacturers.
  • In the 2018 edition of Indian Pharmacopoeia, that provides guidelines on tests for drugs manufactured and marketed in India, the IPC has replaced the pyrogen test carried out on rabbits and the abnormal toxicity test carried out on guinea pigs and mice with tests that can be done in test tubes.
  • Present system : The pyrogen test is carried out to check impurity or substance that can can cause adverse side-effects. For the test, the drug is injected into a rabbit and the animal is closely observed for feverish symptoms.
  • The abnormal toxicity test is carried out to check potential hazardous biological contamination in vaccine formulations.
  • This batch test is done before the product is approved for marketing. In this, mice or guinea pigs are injected with the vaccine. The scientists observe if there is death of any animal.
  • New mandate: the pyrogen test will be replaced by a bacterial endotoxin test or a monocyte activation test which can be carried out in test tubes.
New norms for labelling : 
  • All packaged food with at least 5% content from genetically engineered sources need to be labelled so.
  • Foods that exceed norms of sugar and fat should carry ‘red’ and ‘green’ labels specifying the extent to which they do so, according to draft regulations by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
  • This is the first time that the Central government has laid down guidelines for labelling genetically modified (GM) food.
  • Current laws prohibit any GM food unless cleared by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee, a Environment Ministry body from being sold in the country.
What is Thalassemia?

May 8 is observed as World Thalassemia Day, Thalaseemia is a chronic blood disorder. It is a genetic disorder due to which a patient cannot make enough hemoglobin found in Red Blood Cells (RBC’s). This leads to anemia and patients also require blood transfusions every two to three weeks to survive.
Thalassemias are inherited disorders passed from parents to children through genes. Each red blood cell can contain between 240 and 300 million molecules of haemoglobin. The severity of the disease depends on the mutations involved in the genes, and their interplay.
Types of Thalassemia
  • Thalassemia minor: In Thalassemia minor, the hemoglobin genes are inherited during conception, one from the mother and one from the father. People with a Thalassemia trait in one gene are known as carriers or are said to have thalassemia minor. Thalassemia minor is not a disease and they have only mild anemia.
  • Thalassemia Intermedia: These are patients who have mild to severe symptoms.
  • Thalassemia Major: This is the most severe form of Thalassemia. This occurs when a child inherits two mutated genes, one from each parent. Patients Children with thalassemia major develop the symptoms of severe anemia within the first year of life. They require regular transfusions in order to survive or a bone marrow transplant and are at a grave risk of iron overload and other complications.
Thalassemia patients often suffer from:
  •  Anemia, Weak bones, Delayed or slow growth, Iron overload in the body,Poor appetite, Enlarged spleen or liver, Pale skin
Facts and figures
  •  India is the thalassaemia capital of the world with 40 million carriers and over 1,00,000 thalassaemia majors under blood transfusion every month.
  • Over 1,00,000 patients across the country die before they turn 20 due to lack of access to treatment.
  • The first case of thalassaemia in India was reported in 1938
  • Every year 10,000 children with thalassaemia major are born in India
NASA launches InSight spacecraft to Mars
  • NASA launched its latest Mars lander, InSight, designed to perch on the surface and listen for “Marsquakes” ahead of eventual human missions to explore the Red Planet.
  • The project aims to expand human knowledge of interior conditions on Mars, inform efforts to send human explorers there, and reveal how rocky planets like the Earth formed billions of years ago.
  • InSight, is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.
  • The key instrument on board is a seismometer, called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, made by the French Space Agency.
  • The second main instrument is a self-hammering probe that will monitor the flow of heat in the planet’s subsurface.
  • InSight aims to be the first NASA spacecraft to land on Mars since the Curiosity rover in 2012.
organophosphorous pesticide
  • Using three bacterial species isolated from domestic sewage, researchers from India have successfully removed chloropyrifos pesticide from both water and soil.
  • Chloropyrifos is an organophosphorous pesticide and is moderately toxic to humans. Poisoning from chlorpyrifos may affect the central nervous system, the cardiovascular system and the respiratory system.
eliminate malaria by 2030: WHO
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) today called on member countries to expand the reach of their national malaria programmes among disadvantaged or neglected communities, including tribal, migrant or mobile populations, to achieve the disease elimination target by 2030.
Graphene based concrete : 
  • Scientists have developed a new greener, stronger and more durable concrete using graphene.
  • The new composite material, which is more than twice as strong and four times more water resistant than existing concretes, can be used directly by the construction industry on building sites.
  • The graphene reinforced concentre material also drastically reduced the carbon footprint of conventional concrete production methods, making it more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Even small amounts of antibiotics can cause resistance in bacteria
  • According to a study. In the study published in the journal Nature Communications even low concentrations of antibiotics can cause high antibiotic resistance in bacteria.
  • During a course of antibiotics, a high proportion of the antibiotic dose is excreted in the urine in unchanged, active form, and can then spread into watercourses, lakes and soil in the wastewater. Consequently, these environments may contain low levels of antibiotics.
  • In some parts of the world, large quantities of antibiotics are used in meat production and aquaculture, where small doses of antibiotics are added to the animal feed to make the animals grow faster.
  • It was also found that the mutations in the bacterial DNA that cause resistance are of a different type than if they have been exposed to high doses.

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