The HINDU Notes – 07th July 2019 - VISION

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Monday, July 08, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 07th July 2019

📰 Pink City Jaipur gets UNESCO World Heritage tag

The announcement was made after the 43rd Session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee examined the nomination of the Walled City of Jaipur for inclusion in the World Heritage list.

•The Walled City of Jaipur, known for its iconic architectural legacy and vibrant culture, on July 6 made its entry into the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

•“Just inscribed as @UNESCO #WorldHeritage Site: Jaipur City in Rajasthan, #India. Bravo,” UNESCO tweeted on July 6 afternoon.

•The announcement was made after the 43rd Session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee (WHC), underway at Baku (Azerbaijan) from June 30 to July 10, examined the nomination of the Walled City of Jaipur for inclusion in the World Heritage list.

•Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed happiness that the city has been recognised as a World Heritage Site.

•“Jaipur is a city associated with culture and valour. Elegant and energetic, Jaipur’s hospitality draws people from all over. Glad that this city has been inscribed as a World Heritage Site by @UNESCO,” Mr. Modi tweeted.

•A senior official said, ICOMOS (The International Council on Monuments and Sites) had inspected the city in 2018, post its nomination. The WHC in Baku examined the nomination and inscribed it in UNESCO World Heritage Site list, the official added.

•The historic walled city of Jaipur in Rajasthan, was founded in 1727 AD under the patronage of Sawai Jai Singh II. It serves as the capital city of the culturally-rich state of Rajasthan.

•“The city was proposed to be nominated for its value of being an exemplary development in town planning and architecture that demonstrates an amalgamation and important exchange of ideas in the late medieval period.

•“In town planning, it shows an interchange of ancient Hindu, Mughal and contemporary Western ideas that resulted in the form of the city,” UNESCO Office in New Delhi had earlier said.

•In addition, Jaipur City is an exceptional example of a late medieval trade town in South Asia and defined new concepts for a thriving trade and commercial hub. In addition, the city is associated with living traditions in the form of crafts that have national and international recognition, it said.

•“The World Heritage Committee is composed of representatives of 21 States Parties to the World Heritage Convention who meet annually. The Committee is in charge of implementing the Convention. To date, 1,092 sites in 167 countries have been inscribed on the World Heritage List,” it said.

📰 New rules mooted on drugs dispensed by doctors

Changes to Drugs and Cosmetics Rules mooted to ensure only generics are given to patients

•The Central Government is considering amendments to the Drugs and Cosmetic Rules, 1945 to ensure that registered medical practitioners dispense only generic medicines.

•The matter was recently brought before the Drugs Consultative Committee (DCC) of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO). “A proposal was received by the CDSCO committee wherein the DCC was apprised that registered medical practitioners can supply different categories of medicines including vaccines to their patients under the exemption provided, with certain conditions, under Schedule K of the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945. As of now there are no specified types of medicines which can be supplied by doctors to their patients,” a senior health official said.

•It is now proposed that registered medical practitioners shall supply generic medicines only and physicians samples shall be supplied free of cost.

•The Indian Medical Association (IMA) said that it is planning to meet the drug control authorities about the issue later this month.

•A senior Association member said: “While we welcome the move by the government to ensure that generic medicines are supplied, the government also has to ensure easy availability, unclogged supply chain, and strict quality control of generic medicines. We welcome the move to keep drugs affordable but we have to ensure availability and effectiveness also of generic medicines.”

•“If this amendment goes through, doctors would be violating the law by dispensing branded drugs. But this is not a simple issue. While I am not compelling my patients to get the drugs prescribed by me from my clinic they can avail the brands/generics of their choice from anywhere. The main concern is to offer the best medicines which are most effective so we should not be forced to prescribe in a particular manner,’’ said ophthalmologist Dr. Babu K.V. from Kerala who has also written to the drug controller to reconsider the matter.

•“In my clinical practice, many eye drops available at very low cost [generics], cause too much irritation to the eye compared to products that are a little costlier (branded). This is the feedback from my patients. The well-being and comfort of my patient is my priority. I am dispensing drugs mainly for this purpose,” he added.

•Echoing similar sentiments Delhi Medical Association member Dr. Anil Bansal said: “The government should keep strict price control on medicines and ensure that the highest quality medicines are given to the patients. All laws, checks and balances should be directed at giving the best possible treatment at the best cost. This differential treatment (in terms of medicines) does not work in the long run.”

📰 Union Budget 2019-20 foreign affairs outlay: The importance of being Thimpu

Bhutan received ₹2,802 crore, out of the total allocations for foreign affairs commitments.

•India-Bhutan relations received a big boost with the allocation of the lion’s share of the foreign affairs outlay in the Union Budget presented in Parliament on Saturday. That the budgetary allocation has been hiked successively over two years shows that following the 2017 Doklam crisis, India is according highest priority to the Himalayan country.

•Bhutan received ₹2,802 crore, out of the total allocations for foreign affairs commitments. This move has indicated that India is going to firm up its development commitments with the Himalayan country in the coming year which will also be crucial for ties with Beijing, with a new bilateral India-China summit being planned here.

High-profile visit

•Ties with Bhutan will receive the highest level of attention with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit which is expected shortly. Though the External Affairs Ministry is yet to announce the date, it is understood that Bhutan will be the third South Asian destination of the Prime Minister after his re-election following his June visit to the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

•Bhutan’s premier Lotay Tshering was one of the heads of government at the swearing-in of Mr. Modi for the second term. It is expected that top-level projects such as the Manghdechhu hydropower project and a multi-speciality hospital backed by India will be on the agenda during Mr. Modi’s visit.

•The Mangdechhu project is in its final stages and it is expected that the visit of the Indian PM could coincide with the inauguration of the high-capacity power project.

•Another high-profile project between the two countries is the South Asia Satellite programme. Dr. Tshering had told The Hindu that he expected more bilateral hydropower projects to take off.

•Ahead of Mr. Modi’s visit to Thimphu, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale paid a two-day visit to the Himalayan nation’s capital last week and held discussions with senior officials.

•Foreign Minister Lyonpo Tandi Dorji hosted a dinner in the honour of the Indian Foreign Secretary.

📰 Iran hints that it could enrich uranium to 5%

The nuclear deal caps it at 3.67%

•A top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader has hinted that Tehran could boost its uranium enrichment to 5% for “peaceful” aims, ahead of deadline it set for world powers to save a landmark 2015 nuclear deal.

•Iran is acting on its May 8 threat to suspend parts of the agreement in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s re-imposition of sanctions. The accord capped Iran’s enrichment maximum at 3.67%.

•Uranium enrichment “will increase as much as needed for our peaceful activities,” Ali Akbar Velayati, international affairs adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Friday. “For Bushehr nuclear reactor, we need 5% enrichment and it is a completely peaceful goal,” he added. Bushehr is Iran’s only nuclear power station and is currently running on imported fuel from Russia that is closely monitored by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency.

•On May 8, Iran announced it would no longer respect the limits set on the size of its stockpiles of enriched uranium and heavy water, and threatened to abandon further commitments, including exceeding the agreed uranium enrichment maximum from July 7.

📰 In talks with Hasina, China cites India’s role in economic corridor revival

During the talks, the Chinese side also appeared to demonstrate an urgency to tackle the Rohingya crisis on Dhaka’s request.

•: After flagging last month the revival of the Bangladesh China India Myanmar- Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC) during talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Kyrgyzstan capital Bishkek, Chinese President Xi Jinping joined visiting Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina to accelerate the project with New Delhi’s support.

•A statement on the Chinese foreign ministry’s website on Ms. Hasina’s talks with President Xi on Friday says that the Prime Minister pledged to “promote the construction of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor”.

•On Thursday, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang advocated that Beijing and Dhaka should “work together to build the BCIM- EC, in a bid to connect the market covering nearly 3 billion people…”

•The revival of Chinese interest in the BCIM-EC in coordination with India was evident when Mr. Xi singled out the project as an example of expanding the India-China ties, which had entered a “new phase” after the Wuhan informal summit held last year in April, following last month’s talks with Mr. Modi on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Bishkek.

•In tune with China’s intent to engage with India to spur the BCIM-EC, President Xi and Prime Minister Hasina acknowledged that “the initiative would have to be revived working together with India,” the United News of Bangladesh (UNB) reported on its website.

•After the Wuhan summit, China has been advocating “China-India Plus” cooperation, aimed at adopting a joint approach towards some of the major issues in the region, including the Rohingya refugee crisis along with possible initiatives in Nepal, Afghanistan and Iran.

•During talks with Ms. Hasina, the Chinese side appeared to demonstrate an urgency to tackle the Rohingya crisis on Dhaka’s request. “We’ll contact Myanmar political leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, to solve the Rohingya problem amicably and so that the repatriation of the first batch of the Rohingya starts as soon as possible,” the UNB quoted Song Tao, minister of the International Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC), as saying, following his meeting with Ms. Hasina.

•China’s decision to adopt a consultative approach with its BRI partners, including financing of specific projects, as announced during this year’s Belt and Road Forum (BRF), echoed in Ms. Hasina’s talks with the Chinese leadership.

Hasina’s plea on loan agreements

•According to media reports from Bangladesh, Ms. Hasina requested the Chinese President to ease the terms and condition of loan agreements, which were signed during Mr. Xi’s visit to Dhaka in 2016.

•Ms. Hasina also sought Chinese investments, with buyback arrangements, in the 100 economic zones that were slated to be opened up in the country, along with addressing the issue of trade imbalance between Bangladesh and the world’s second largest economy.

•Mr. Xi promised to take concrete steps to assuage Dhaka’s concerns, echoing his remarks at the BRF that the financial model for funding BRI projects had been revamped, countering criticism that its mega-connectivity undertaking was opening “debt traps” for enhancing its geopolitical influence.

•But the Chinese President sought Bangladesh’s support for building a “digital silk road”.

•Analysts say that the initiative could open the door for the introduction of Chinese game-changing 5G technology in BRI countries, including Bangladesh. The “digital silk road, earlier introduced by Chinese planners as the “Information Silk Road,” is an ecosystem of assets in space, land and seabed that would link the BRI countries with ultra-high speed Internet, enabling a large number of developing countries to bridge the digital divide.

•Though Ms. Hasina and President Xi listed “infrastructure construction” as a priority, there was no reference to the opening up of a deep water port in Bangladesh to Chinese investment. Bangladesh is developing the Matarbari deep water port near Cox’s Bazaar with funding from Japan, but Bangladeshi officials have been signalling that the nearby port of Sonadia, in which the Chinese have been apparently interested, is not, immediately, on their radar.

📰 Why does Nagaland want to draw up a list of all indigenous inhabitants?

The Register of Indigenous Inhabitants of Nagaland, seen as a localised version of the National Register of Citizens in Assam, will be the first official master list of Nagaland’s indigenous inhabitants.

•The story so far: The Nagaland government is initiating an exercise to prepare a master list of all indigenous inhabitants of the State. This list, called the Register of Indigenous Inhabitants of Nagaland (RIIN), is seen as a localised version of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) that Assam began updating four years ago and is scheduled to complete by July 31.

What is RIIN? How will it be prepared?

•Civil society groups in Nagaland have often conducted house-to-house surveys for listing non-Naga and IBIs (Illegal Bangladeshi Immigrants). The RIIN will be the first official master list of Nagaland’s indigenous inhabitants. Its objective, as stated in the Nagaland government’s June 29 notification, is to prevent people from acquiring fake indigenous inhabitants’ certificates. The list will be based on an extensive survey besides digging into official records of indigenous residents from villages and urban wards. The entire process under the supervision of the district administration would be completed within 60 days from the start on July 10. The notification also said designated teams of surveyors would be formed within a week from the date of its publication. These team comprising sub-divisional officers, block development officers, school headmasters and other nominated members, would visit every village and ward to make the list. Apart from Nagaland’s Chief Secretary and Home Commissioner, nodal officers of the rank of a Secretary will monitor the implementation without involvement in the adjudication process. The nodal officers are required to submit monthly updates to a permanent committee set up under the Home Department.

What are the steps of this exercise?

•The survey teams have been tasked with noting each family’s original residence, current residence and documents such as Aaadhar. Hard copies of the provisional list thus prepared will be provided to all villages and wards, and published on government websites by September 11. Claims and objections — a page taken from the NRC book — will be entertained till October 30. Based on official records and evidence produced, a district’s Deputy Commissioner will adjudicate on the claims and objections from respondents. The deadline for this process is December 10. Post-verification, the RIIN will be finalised and hard copies placed in all villages and wards while electronic copies will be stored in the State Data Centre. Everyone figuring in RIIN will be issued a barcoded and numbered Indigenous Inhabitant Certificate (IIC). The process will be dovetailed with the online system of Inner Line Permit (ILP). No IIC will be issued after RIIN is finalised except to babies born to indigenous inhabitants of Nagaland.

What is this permit?

•The ILP is a temporary travel document an Indian citizen has to possess to enter ‘protected’ areas of the Northeast. The Central government issues the ILP under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, which restricted the entry of ‘British subjects’ or Indians into these areas primarily to protect the British interest in tea and oil. The restriction continued for ‘Citizens of India’ after Independence to protect tribal cultures in the northeastern region and to regulate movement to certain areas near the international border. Apart from the entire State of Nagaland barring its commercial hub Dimapur, the ILP is applicable in Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram.

Who is an indigenous inhabitant?

•Nagaland has 16 recognised tribes — Angami, Ao, Chakhesang, Chang, Dimasa Kachari, Khiamniungan, Konyak, Kuki, Lotha, Phom, Pochury, Rengma, Sangtam, Sumi, Yimchungrü and Zeliang. The Kachari and Kuki are non-Naga tribes while the Zeliang comprises two Naga communities — Zeme and Liangmai. Entry in RIIN is virtually guaranteed for people belonging to these communities. Others such as the Gurkhas living in Nagaland prior to statehood (on December 1, 1963) have been recognised as indigenous. But the definition of ‘indigenous inhabitant’ has been elusive because of issues beyond the tribal-non-tribal divide. There have concerns over Nagas from other areas such as Manipur getting jobs by claiming to be indigenous besides IBIs (Illegal Bangladeshi Immigrants) “taking over” large swathes of agricultural lands. Another worry is the Naga custom of adopting new communities such as Sumiya – children of Muslim men and Sumi Naga women – who own large swathes of cultivable land. Organisations such as the Naga Students’ Federation have called for accommodating ‘Nagas by blood and not by adoption’. Some political parties have asked whether or not the “adopted non-Nagas” will be given indigenous rights. A pressure group called the Joint Committee on Prevention of Illegal Immigrants sought to end confusion and “prevent inconsistent enumeration” by suggesting December 1, 1963 as the cut-off date for considering people other than the recognised tribes of Nagaland as indigenous inhabitants.

📰 Why has Iran breached the limit on its enriched uranium stockpile?

•The story so far: Iran announced on Monday that it had breached the limits for stockpiling low-enriched uranium set by the 2015 nuclear deal. This was the first time the Islamic Republic was violating the terms of the multilateral agreement, which had set a 300-kg cap for Iran’s enriched uranium stock. A few days later, Iran announced that it would breach another crucial term of the deal: the enrichment limit. For now, Iran is allowed to enrich uranium to 3.67% purity. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has said that from July 7, Iran will enrich uranium “in any amount that we want”. These steps have angered the U.S., with U.S. President Donald Trump issuing fresh threats. Other signatories to the deal, including Russia, China and the European powers, have also expressed concern over Iran’s move, which endangers the survival of the very agreement in question.

Why is Iran breaching the terms of the deal?

•The current crisis was set off by Mr. Trump when, in May 2018, he unilaterally pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran. The deal had promised to lift all international sanctions on Iran in return for the country scuttling its nuclear programme. With sanctions by the U.S. back, Tehran turned to other signatories to save the deal. But over the past year, most foreign companies that had promised investments in Iran during the brief U.S.-Iran détente pulled out of the country fearing American sanctions. Countries that had stepped up buying Iranian oil after the deal was signed, including India, started cutting back on imports. As a result, Iran’s oil exports plummeted. Iran now exports about 230,000 barrels of crude a day, down from 2.5 million barrels a day in May 2018. Inflation has soared to 35%, while the rial, the Iranian currency, has fallen by 70% since early 2018.

•Faced with tough choices, Iran decided to confront the U.S. and put pressure on other signatories to take bold steps to save the deal rather than capitulating to American pressure. The nuclear deal is a crucial bargaining card, and Tehran has decided to use it as a pressure tactic. In May, Iran gave a 60-day deadline to other signatories to fix the deal and also vowed to keep unspent enriched uranium and heavy water with itself. As the deadline was almost over, Iran has announced that it has breached the uranium stockpile limit. The threat to breach the enrichment limit is the most serious one as highly enriched uranium can be used to build nuclear bombs.

Could Iran make the bomb?

•There are two paths to the bomb. One is using uranium and the other using plutonium. In the first, uranium is enriched to the weapons grade level using centrifuges. The high-purity uranium will then be converted into uranium metal that will be used for the bomb. In the second method, plutonium, produced as a waste material by heavy water reactors, will be reprocessed to enhance its purity. This pure plutonium will then be melted into a liquid form to be used for the bomb.

•Iran’s official position is that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes and that it never sought to build weapons, a claim which western governments and the International Atomic Energy Agency have challenged in the past. Iran had a functional uranium-centred nuclear programme and it was in the advanced stages of building a heavy water reactor at the time nuclear negotiations started. When the deal was signed in 2015, Iran had a stockpile of 11,560 kg of low-enriched uranium. It had also enriched uranium to 20% purity. According to nuclear experts, if Iran can produce uranium to 20% purity, it is possible for the country to make the weapons-grade fuel — at 90% purity. Iran had also possessed some 20,000 centrifuges in 2015. In Arak, it was building a heavy water reactor. The nuclear deal has substantially reduced these capabilities. It set the enrichment limit at 3.67% and the limits to the low-enriched uranium stockpile at 300 kg. Under the deal, Iran had also placed two-thirds of its 20,000 centrifuges in storage, besides removing the core of the Arak heavy water reactor and fill it with concrete. The plan was to enhance the break-out time (the time required to build a bomb if Iran resumes its nuclear programme in its full potential) to at least a year. Now that its stockpile of uranium is rising and it is threatening to enrich high purity uranium, at least in theory, the distance between Iran and the bomb is shrinking. If Iran continues to violate the deal, redeploying the centrifuges and resuming construction of the Arak facility could be its next steps. That would allow Iran to reload its nuclear programme in full capacity.

What is next?

•Both the U.S. and Iran are currently on a confrontational path, while other signatories to the deal call for a diplomatic solution to the crisis. The Trump administration wants Iran to return to talks on the U.S.’s terms. The reason Mr. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal was that he believed it was a “bad deal” that does not address Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its “subversive” activities in West Asia such as backing proxy militias. So Washington wants to negotiate an agreement that addresses all these issues. Iran, on the other side, sees the Trump administration as the main disruptor of the deal and instigator of tensions in the Gulf. It wants either the U.S. to return to the deal or other signatories to save it sans the U.S. But the American sanctions make it difficult for other countries to save the agreement unless they are ready to take on the U.S.’s economic might, which is unlikely. This has created a dangerous stalemate in the nuclear crisis. If either the U.S. or Iran fails to back off from the brinkmanship, another military conflict in the Gulf cannot be ruled out.

📰 Larger features of total solar eclipse match IISER Kolkata’s prediction

The team predicted the shape of the Sun’s atmosphere at the time of the eclipse using a two-step model

•Scientists from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Kolkata were in for a pleasant surprise as the total solar eclipse on July 2 proved their prediction correct in its major features. They joined solar physicists from India and several international researchers who had gathered in Argentina to view the eclipse.

•While their aim was to check whether their prediction of the shape of the corona had been realised, imaging the solar corona, or the Sun’s atmosphere was the motivation for many others. The corona can only be viewed during a total solar eclipse. This total solar eclipse was visible only within a narrow strip of land stretching over Chile and Argentina.

•Dibyendu Nandi’s group, from IISER Kolkata, had used a two-step model to predict first the shape of the solar magnetic field on the day of the eclipse and then extrapolate it to describe what the corona would look like. “Our predictions of two cross-equatorial streamers, or bright petal like structures the Sun's Corona were confirmed by the observations,” said Prof. Nandi in an email to The Hindu.

Space weather

•The model built up by the IISER Kolkata team can be used to predict space weather. It will also be useful in analysing data from the proposed Indian space mission - Aditya-L1 – which is meant to study the Sun’s corona. “We now know the basic theoretical premise of our computational modelling is correct. This work has given us confidence to utilise similar theoretical models for supporting the interpretation of data from India's Aditya-L1 solar space mission which is currently under development,” says Prof. Nandi.

•The path of the eclipse was known well in advance and hence a professional meeting was planned for solar physicists about a year earlier.

•“The local organisers looked at possible locations near San Juan (which is situated at the edge of the path). One needs to go to the central line for maximum duration of totality,” said Dipankar Banerjee, solar physicist from Indian Institute of Astrophysics who helped organise the meeting.

•“Special permission was needed to reach this place; apparently tourists are not allowed to these locations,” he added in his email to The Hindu.

•This eclipse offered an excellent opportunity to view and image the corona. Despite being hotter than the layers of the Sun that lie within, the corona has lower density of photons. For this reason, the inner layers of the Sun such as the photosphere outshine the corona, rendering it practically invisible. Except, that is, when the Moon totally occults the Sun. During a total solar eclipse, the Moon’s disc completely covers the region of the photosphere. This lends a moment of total darkness. But just before totality, light from the Sun reaches viewers, first as a brilliant spot of light known as the “diamond ring.” At this stage, you can see the chromosphere and solar prominences. The next instant, when the Moon’s disc covers the Sun, we see an uneven ring of light – the corona. This is seen only during the totality.

Details to be analysed

•The broad features of the corona are as predicted by the IISER Kolkata team. “We have to perform a detailed analysis to ascertain which fine scale features of the corona we got right and what aspects we did not. For this we have to wait for technically processed images and other scientific observations acquired during the eclipse by teams from the US National Science Foundation, regional observatories in Chile and Argentina and space-based satellites,” explains Prof. Nandi.

•Based on constraints set by these observations, the group plans to refine their models before translating these into operational space weather forecasting tools.

📰 University of Hyderabad’s inhibitor increases effectiveness of malaria drugs

The inhibitor blocks an enzyme that is crucial in repairing DNA damage in malaria-causing parasite

•A small inhibitor that blocks an enzyme (Rad51) that plays a crucial role in repairing DNA damage in malaria-causing parasite — Plasmodium falciparum— has been identified by researchers from the University of Hyderabad.

•Both strands of the malaria parasite DNA get broken naturally. When DNA repair is prevented it can lead to the accumulation of several double-strand breaks causing death of the parasites. Also, certain anti-malaria drugs such as artemisinin are designed to kill the parasites by causing such breaks in the DNA. So when the inhibitor is used along with such drugs, the effectiveness of the drugs increases drastically in both drug-sensitive and drug-resistant malaria.

•Plenty of DNA double-strand breaks occur naturally in malaria parasites due to errors during replication. Also, when the parasites infect the red blood cells, free radicals are generated (during haemoglobin detoxification). The free radicals produce numerous double-strand breaks.

•“In an earlier study we found that the parasites use a particular mechanism — homologous recombination — to repair DNA double-strand breaks. In the present study we demonstrated that the inhibitor targets and prevents the Rad51 enzyme from functioning. The Rad51 enzyme is essential for the homologous recombination repair mechanism,” says Prof. Mrinal Kanti Bhattacharyya from the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Hyderabad. Prof. Bhattacharyya is the corresponding author of a paper published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. The work was done in collaboration with Dr. Sunanda Bhattacharyya from the Department of Biotechnology and Bioinformatics, UoH.

Double-strand breaks

•The researchers created genome-wide double-strand breaks using a chemical. And they found that in the presence of the inhibitor the parasites were unable to repair the break, leading to death causing death. “The inhibitor blocks DNA repair in both drug-sensitive and drug-resistant malaria parasites,” says Pratap Vydyam from the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Hyderabad and first author of the paper.

•Artemisinin drug used for treating malaria is designed to generate more double-strand breaks. Similarly, chloroquine is also thought to produce more double-strand breaks by increasing the generation of free radicals inside red blood cells. “When the inhibitor is used together with the drugs the effect is pronounced leading to sharp reduction in parasite load,” says Prof. Bhattacharyya. “The inhibitor has a synergistic effect and so less concentration of the drugs is sufficient to kill the parasites.”

•In the case of drug-sensitive malaria parasites, the effectiveness of artemisinin to kill the parasites increases sharply when used together with the inhibitor. The synergistic effect is so pronounced that a 15-fold less concentration of artemisinin is sufficient to kill 50% of parasites. Compared with artemisinin, the synergistic effect of the inhibitor and chloroquine in killing the parasites is relatively less -- there is an 8-fold reduction in drug concentration to kill 50% of the parasites.

•In the case of drug-resistant parasites, when the inhibitor is used along with chloroquine, 6.48-fold less concentration of the drug is sufficient kill 50% of parasites, while it is only 4.6-fold reduction when the inhibitor is used together with artemisinin.

•“Reducing the concentration of drug used for treating a disease is desirable. So achieving several-fold reduction in the concentration of the drug to kill the parasites in the presence of the inhibitor, we have enhanced the effectiveness of the drugs,” says Prof. Bhattacharyya. “Importantly, we have increased the effectiveness of the drugs even in the case of drug-resistant malaria parasites.”

•There is increasing prevalence of malaria parasites that are resistant to artemisinin, a first-line drug. So increasing the effectiveness of the drug becomes important.

•The researchers will soon start testing the inhibitor on mouse malaria model.

📰 IITM Pune: Predicting heat waves three weeks in advance

No real-time prediction existed earlier, and this system can predict heat waves with 70% accuracy

•Real time prediction of heat waves two to three weeks in advance is now possible, thanks to the extended range prediction system developed by researchers at Pune’s Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM). The prediction system has shown promise in indicating the date of onset, duration and demise of heat waves, with a small spatial and temporal error.

Transferred to IMD

•It is only now that heat waves are being predicted in real time two-three weeks in advance. The system can predict heat waves with 70% accuracy, which is quite good considering that no real time prediction existed earlier. The prediction system has been successfully transferred to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), which has been using it since 2017. IMD used this system to predict heat waves this year.

•Based on observation data available from 1981 to 2017 and model-run data available from 2003, the researchers found that places in northwest India and southeast coastal regions are prone to heat waves conditions. Places in these two regions experience heat waves for more than eight days during summer. The study found that the southeast coast region has become more vulnerable to heat waves in the recent years.

•In India, heat waves are generally seen in Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, Delhi, west Madhya Pradesh, west and east Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Vidarbha, parts of Gangetic West Bengal, coastal Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. These regions experience heat waves for more than six days in a year.

‘From March 1’

•“The extended range forecast can predict heat wave condition two weeks in advance with 70% probability. The short-range forecast two-three days before the onset of heat wave condition can provide more reliable information about the time and location of the heat wave condition,” says Dr. Susmitha Joseph from IITM and co-author of a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports.

•“The heat wave forecast starts from March 1 till monsoon covers the whole country,” she says.

•A heat wave day is identified when the maximum temperature is above 44 degree C or when all the three following conditions are seen — when the region is facing unusually hot temperature, when the temperature is more than 36 degree C and when the departure from the normal temperature is more than 3.5 degree C.

•“While the IMD considers 45 degree C maximum temperature to classify it as heat wave, we used 44 degree C because we were using gridded data,” said Dr. A.K. Sahai from IITM Pune, corresponding author of the paper. “We also modified the criteria developed by the IMD to classify heat wave to fit for gridded data.”

Events identified

•Based on the new criteria, between 1981 and 2018, the researchers identified 22 heat wave events in northwest region, and 14 in southeast coastal region. In addition, the researchers found nine events in a new region called northwest-southeast — when heat wave spells in northeast and southeast regions have at least one day overlap.

•The researchers verified the model for heat wave using three select events in all the three heat wave regions. The model verified the onset, duration and end phase of heat wave events by the first three and last three consecutive days, and the total spell of the event.

Not precise location

•For the northwest region, the heat wave event of June 2-11, 2014 that caused more than 1,500 deaths was used. The model was able to capture the onset even a week in advance but not the intensity. It was able to correctly predict the duration and end of the heat wave event but not the precise location about three weeks in advance. The predicted location of the event was off to the observed location.

•For the southeast region the heat wave even of May 15-22, 2008 was taken for testing. The model could predict the onset of the heat wave even about two weeks in advance, and the duration and end of the event about a week in advance. Again, the model could predict the location of the event one week in advance.

•For the northwest-southeast region the May 18-31, 2015 event was chosen. The model could predict the onset about 10 days in advance. The duration and end phase of the event was also captured reasonably well.

📰 Is desalination realistically a help in harnessing potable water from the sea?

Is desalination realistically a help in harnessing potable water from the sea?
Desalination technology is not an esoteric idea — the city of Chennai already uses desalinated water. However, it only has a limited application, given the operation costs.

•The story so far: With warnings from India’s top policy-makers and reports of major cities in India struggling to stave off a water crisis, there’s talk about exploring technologies to harness fresh water. The one idea that’s been around for a while is desalination, or obtaining freshwater from salt water. Desalination technology is not an esoteric idea — the city of Chennai already uses desalinated water. However, it only has a limited application, given the operation costs.

What is desalination technology?

•To convert salt water into freshwater, the most prevalent technology in the world is reverse osmosis (RO). A plant pumps in salty or brackish water, filters separate the salt from the water, and the salty water is returned to the sea. Fresh water is sent to households.

•RO desalination came about in the late 1950s. While the principle is simple, engineering such plants have to factor in various constraints, for instance, salt levels in the source water that is to be treated, the energy required for the treatment and disposing of the salt back into the sea.

•Osmosis involves ‘a solvent (such as water) naturally moving from an area of low solute concentration, through a membrane, to an area of high solute concentration. A reverse osmosis system applies an external pressure to reverse the natural flow of solvent and so seawater or brackish water is pressurised against one surface of the membrane, causing salt-depleted water to move across the membrane, releasing clean water from the low-pressure side’. Seawater has Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) — a measure of salinity — close to 35,000 parts per million (ppm), or equivalent to 35 g of salt per one litre/kg of water. An effective network of RO plants reduce this down to about 200-500 ppm. There are about 18,000 desalination plants in the world across 150 countries and nearly half of Israel’s water is sourced through desalination.

How popular is it in India?

•Years of water crises in Chennai saw the government set up two desalination plants between 2010 and 2013. These were at Minjur, around 30 km north of Chennai, in 2010, and Nemmeli, 50 km south of Chennai, in 2013. Each supplies 100 million litres a day (MLD); together they meet little under a fourth of the city’s water requirement of 830 MLD. Buoyed by the success of these plants, the city’s water authorities are planning to install two more plants with capacities of 150 MLD (to be operational by 2021) and 400 MLD, at a cost of around ₹1,260 crore (funded by the German agency, KfW) and ₹4,000 crore (funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency), respectively.

•Last November, Gujarat Chief Minister, Vijay Rupani, announced plans of setting up a 100 MLD RO plant at the Jodiya coast in Jamnagar district. This would go a long way in ‘solving’ the water availability problems in the drought-prone Saurashtra region. Other plants of a similar size are expected to come up in Dwarka, Kutch, Dahej, Somnath, Bhavnagar and Pipavav, which are all coastal places in Gujarat. There are also a slew of desalination plants that cater to industrial purposes. For now, India’s real-world experience with desalination plants is restricted to Chennai.

What are the problems with RO plants?

•Because RO plants convert seawater to fresh water, the major environmental challenge they pose is the deposition of brine (highly concentrated salt water) along the shores. Ever since the Chennai plants have started to function, fishermen have complained that the brine being deposited along the seashore is triggering changes along the coastline and reducing the availability of prawn, sardine and mackerel. Environmentalists second this saying that hyper salinity along the shore affects plankton, which is the main food for several of these fish species. Moreover, the high pressure motors needed to draw in the seawater end up sucking in small fish and life forms, thereby crushing and killing them — again a loss of marine resource. Another unexpected problem, an environmentalist group has alleged, was that the construction of the RO plants required troves of groundwater. This was freshwater that was sucked out and has since been replaced by salt water, rendering it unfit for the residents around the desalination plants.

•On an average, it costs about ₹900 crore to build a 100 MLD-plant and, as the Chennai experience has shown, about five years for a plant to be set up. To remove the salt required, there has to be a source of electricity, either a power plant or a diesel or battery source. Estimates have put this at about 4 units of electricity per 1,000 litres of water. Therefore, each of the Chennai plants needs about 400,000 units of electricity. It is estimated that it cost ₹3 to produce 100 litres of potable water.

Is RO water healthy?

•In the early days of RO technology, there were concerns that desalinated water was shorn of vital minerals such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, sodium, potassium and carbonates. They are collectively referred to as TDS. Higher quantities of these salts in desalination plants tend to corrode the membranes and filtration system in these plants. So ideally, a treatment plant would try to keep the TDS as low as possible. Highly desalinated water has a TDS of less than 50 milligrams per litre, is pure, but does not taste like water. Anything from 100 mg/l to 600 mg/l is considered as good quality potable water.

•Most RO plants, including the ones in Chennai, put the water through a ‘post-treatment’ process whereby salts are added to make TDS around 300 mg/l. Several of the home-RO systems that are common in affluent Indian homes, too employ post-treatment and add salts to water.

Are there technological alternatives?

•The alternative desalination technology used is thermal energy sourced from the ocean. There is a low-temperature thermal desalination (LTTD) technique for instance which works on the principle that water in the ocean 1,000 or 2,000 feet below is about 4º C to 8º C colder than surface water. So, salty surface water is collected in a tank and subject to high pressure (via an external power source). This pressured water vapourises and this is trapped in tubes or a chamber. Cold water plumbed from the ocean depths is passed over these tubes and the vapour condenses into fresh water and the resulting salt diverted away.

•The National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), a research organisation based in Chennai, has been working on this technology for decades. In 2005, it set up a 100,000 litre-a-day plant in Kavaratti, Lakshwadeep islands and this has been providing water to about 10,000 residents. Other than the plant at Kavaratti, there are plants of similar capacity proposed at Minicoy and Agatti islands. There are also 1.5 lakh litres a day plants proposed at Amini, Androth, Chetlat, Kadamat, Kalpeni and Kiltan islands.

•However, the most ambitious research project is a 10 million litre a day plant that is proposed to be built in the deep ocean, 50 kilometres away from the Chennai coast. This exploits an approach called Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion. While the LTTD technique draws power from diesel sets, this massive new plant will draw power from the vapour generated as a part of the desalination process. This vapour will run a turbine and thereby will be independent of an external power source. While great in theory, there is no guarantee it will work commercially. For one, this ocean-based plant requires a pipe that needs to travel 50 kilometres underground in the sea before it reaches the mainland. The NIOT has in the past had significant problems in managing such a pipe. Then, RO is commercially proven and the dominant technology and therefore it could be hard to convince private players to invest in such a technology.

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