Current Affairs Apr 17

DuroKea Series

Why in News?

  • Union Minister of Education launched “World 1st affordable and long-lasting hygiene product DuroKea Series”, developed by IIT Hyderabad researchers.
  • This next generation DuroKea antimicrobial technology starts at Rs. 189, kills 99.99% of germs instantly and leaves behind the long-lasting protective nanoscale coating up to 35 days till next wash.
  • The unique property of DuroKea range is to ensure instant killing (within 60 sec) and prolonged protection.




Gender Samvaad event

Why in News?

  • Gender Samvaad event, a joint attempt between DAY-NRLM and the Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) to create a common platform to share experiences emerging from this effort, was organised by the Ministry of Rural Development.
  • The attempt is to generate greater awareness on gender related interventions under DAY-NRLM across the country and best practices, with a focus on hearing voices from the states and the field.

Gender Samvaad provides states with opportunities to:

  • Understand best practices/initiatives that other states have been undertaking to improve women’s agency (e.g. facilitating women’s access to land rights, their engagement in farmer producer organizations (FPOs), best practices around Food, Nutrition, Health and Water and Sanitation (FNHW), in establishing strong institutions for public service delivery, and in protecting and providing redress to vulnerable groups within women (e.g. to victims of witch hunting));
  • Understand gender interventions globally;
  • Engage with experts and other colleagues on suggestions regarding how to handle issues/implementation barriers;
  • Contribute to creation of a ‘gender repository’ with resource materials on best practices for gender interventions across the country/other countries; and
  • Build advocacy around the need to focus on gender issues across SRLMs and the NRLM.




ROPAX Jetty Project

Why in News?

  • Ministry of Ports, Shipping & Waterways (MoPSW) has accorded administrative approval for developing all-weather ROPAX (Roll-on/Roll-off Passenger)Jetty and allied infrastructure connecting Kaninali in Bhadrak district &Talachua in Kendrapara district, Odisha under the Sagarmala initiative. The Government of Odisha will fund 50% cost of the project.
  • This project will reduce travel time for passengers from 6 hours by road to 1 hour by waterway.
  • Kaninali in Bhadrak district and Talachua in Kendrapada district, are located on the northern and southern banks of River Dhamra respectively.
  • The people of Talachua and nearby villages largely depend upon Dhamra port for their livelihood, which is approximately 4 kms from Kaninali Ghat.
  • Since there is no connectivity through roads, the local population depends upon passenger ferries at ghats of Kaninali and Talachua to cross the river (a stretch of 7 Km).




U.S. Treasury Currency Monitoring List

Why in News?

  • India is one of 11 countries on the U.S. Treasury’s ‘Monitoring List’ with regard to their currency practices as per the April 2021 edition of the (normally) semi-annual report.
  • India was on the list in the previous report from December 2020 as well.
  • The Report on Macroeconomic and Foreign Exchange Policies of Major Trading Partners of the United States, which is submitted to the U.S. Congress, reviews currency practices of the U.S.’s 20 biggest trading partners.
  • Three criteria are used to review partners : a significant (at least $20 billion) bilateral trade surplus, a material current account surplus and ‘persistent one-sided intervention’ in forex markets.
  • Taiwan , Switzerland and Vietnam met all three criteria.
  • The other ten countries on the Monitoring List with India that merit “close attention to their currency practices” according to the U.S. Treasury, are China, Japan, Korea, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Mexico.
  • All of these, except Ireland and Mexico, were on the December 2020 list.
  • India met two of the three criteria according to the report – the trade surplus criterion and the “persistent, one-sided intervention” criterion.




Turkey bans use of cryptocurrencies for payments

Why in News?

  • Turkey’s central bank banned the use of cryptocurrencies and crypto assets to purchase goods and services, citing “irrepairable” possible damages and significant risks in such transactions.
  • A growing boom in Turkey’s crypto market had gained further pace recently, with investors hoping to both gain from bitcoin’s rally and shelter against inflation.
  • A weaker Turkish lira and inflation pressures also have driven up demand for the cryptocurrency.
  • These assets were “neither subject to any regulation and supervision mechanisms nor a central regulatory authority.
  • Turkey’s annual inflation climbed above 16% in March.




Reasons why coronavirus transmission is primarily airborne

Why in News?

  • Since last year, several studies have found that the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 spreads mainly through the air. Yet there have also been other studies, including a recent one funded by the World Health Organization, that have found the evidence inconclusive.
  • Now, a team of experts has looked at available research and published that there is strong, consistent evidence that the primary transmission route of SARS-CoV-2 is indeed airborne.

What are the implications of the assessment?

  • If transmission is airborne, public health measures would need to take that into account.
  • Measures that focus solely on large-droplet-borne transmission, but fail to treat the virus as predominantly airborne, would leave people unprotected.

How did the experts reach this conclusion?

  • Reviewing existing research, the six experts from the UK, US and Canada identified 10 streams of evidence that collectively support the hypothesis that SARS-CoV-2 primarily transmits through the airborne route.
  1. Super-spreading events account for substantial SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Indeed, the authors wrote, such events may be the pandemic’s primary drivers. Detailed analyses of human behaviours and other variables in concerts, cruise ships etc have shown patterns “consistent with airborne spread of SARS-CoV-2 that cannot be adequately explained by droplets or fomites”.
  2. Long-range transmission of SARS-CoV-2 between people in adjacent rooms has been documented in quarantine hotels, but never in each other’s presence.
  3. Asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic transmission from people who are not coughing or sneezing is likely to account for at least a third, and perhaps up to 59%, of all transmission globally and is a key way SARS-CoV-2 has spread around the world, indicating a predominantly airborne mode of transmission.
  4. Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is higher indoors than outdoors and is substantially reduced by indoor ventilation. Both observations support a predominantly airborne route of transmission, the authors wrote.
  5. New infections have been documented in healthcare organisations where there have been strict contact-and-droplet precautions and use of PPE designed to protect against droplet but not aerosol exposure.
  6. Viable SARS-CoV-2 has been detected in the air. In laboratory experiments, SARS-CoV-2 stayed infectious in the air for up to 3 hours. In one study, viable SARS-CoV-2 was identified in air samples from rooms occupied by Covid-19 patients in the absence of aerosol-generating procedures; in another study, it was detected in air samples from an infected person’s car.
  7. SARS-CoV-2 has been identified in air filters and building ducts in hospitals with Covid-19 patients; such locations could be reached only by aerosols.
  8. Studies involving infected caged animals that were connected to separately caged uninfected animals via an air duct have shown transmission of SARS-CoV-2 that can be adequately explained only by aerosols.
  9. There is limited evidence to support other dominant routes of transmission—ie, respiratory droplet or fomite.





Why in News?

  • Just as the virtual currencies Bitcoin and Ethereum have surged in value this week, so has Dogecoin– a cryptocurrency started in 2013 as an internet parody.
  • Based on the “Doge” meme and started as a “fun” alternative to Bitcoin, Dogecoin’s value has risen phenomenally this week– adding around $19.9 billion in the last 24 hours, and now valued at $34 billion.

What is Dogecoin?

  • The digital token was created in 2013 by software engineers Billy Markus and Jackson Palmer as a faster but “fun” alternative to Bitcoin.
  • It was started as a satire on the numerous fraud crypto coins that had sprung up at the time, and takes its name and logo from a Shiba Inu meme that was viral several years ago.
  • Unlike Bitcoins, whose maximum possible number is fixed at 21 million (a figure that is estimated to be reached by 2040), Dogecoin numbers do not have an upper limit, and there are already more than 100 billion in existence.

 So, what is behind Dogecoin’s rise?

  • The main reason believed to be behind Dogecoin’s meteoric surge is the same that has propelled the value of Bitcoin and Etherem– this week’s listing of Coinbase, the most popular virtual currency exchange in the US.
  • Coinbase’s market cap briefly hit $100 billion after it went public recently, and the values of Bitcoin and Etherem touched $64,000 and $2,500, respectively, during the week.




CitiBank is selling its India business

Why in News?

  • US banking major Citigroup, a leading foreign bank in India, on Thursday announced its exit from the consumer banking business in the country (along with 12 other countries) as part of a global strategy to focus on institutional business.
  • The bank has, however, said that it will continue with its wealth management and institutional business in India.

What is the scale of Citibank’s business in India?

  • Having started its India operations in 1902, Citibank serves 2.9 million retail customers with 1.2 million bank accounts. It has 2.2 million credit card accounts with around 6 per cent market share of retail credit card spends in the country.

Why is Citi selling its consumer banking business?

  • Many feel the reason for selling the consumer banking business is that the profits of the consumer banking business have been under stress and a lot more capital was needed to run that business.

What did Citi bring to India?

  • Citibank popularised the concept of credit cards and ATMs in India in the ‘80s.




Rare Earth Minerals

  • There are an estimated 1.4bn cars on the world’s roads today. Around 78m new cars are sold every year. To head off the worst effects of climate change, every single one will need to go electric eventually.
  • In each car, for instance, there is roughly a kilogram of magnet providing the motion needed to fire engines and electrify windows. Roughly 30% of this material is made up of rare earth material known as neodymium and praseodymium (NdPr).
  • This material is three times stronger and a tenth the size of conventional magnets – and essential to the process. In 2016, Japanese car manufacturer Honda tried and failed to build a hybrid vehicle without rare earths.
  • Over the next decade the use of NdPr in electric vehicle magnets alone is projected to soak up 40% of total demand.

Rare earths 101

  • Rare earths are a clutch of 15 minerals from the lanthanide series of the periodic table, though this number is extended to include scandium and yttrium.
  • These are minerals that occur in low concentrations and in geological formations that can make extracting them costly.
  • A rare earth like neodymium begins life as a mineral encased in another mineral.
  • Once pulled from the ground, the rock has to be crushed and cracked – a process that involves heating the material to break the chemical bonds that bind it together.
  • After that comes “leaching”, where a chemical wash is used to dissolve the rare earth so it can then be gathered up as a concentrate. From there is refined into a pure oxide ready for manufacture.
  • Australia contributed 17,000 tons of rare earths to the global supply last year.
  • That is nothing compared to the world’s largest supplier, China, which produced a whopping 140,000 tons of rare earths.
  • Alone, China accounts for 58% of the world’s supply and the majority of the world’s refining capacity, thanks to its control of the intellectual property around the process and ability to run these industrial operations cheap and dirty.
  • The only other refinery outside of mainland China is found in Malaysia and is operated by the Australian company Lynas Resources.





Human cells grown in monkey embryos

  • Monkey embryos containing human cells have been produced in a laboratory, a study has confirmed, spurring fresh debate into the ethics of such experiments.
  • The embryos are known as chimeras, organisms whose cells come from two or more “individuals”, and in this case, different species: a long-tailed macaque and a human.
  • In recent years researchers have produced pig embryos and sheep embryos that contain human cells – research they say is important as it could one day allow them to grow human organs inside other animals, increasing the number of organs available for transplant.
  • The word chimera comes from a beast in Greek mythology that was said to be part lion, part goat and part snake.
  • The study reveals how the scientists took specific human foetal cells called fibroblasts and reprogrammed them to become stem cells. These were then introduced into 132 embryos of long-tailed macaques, six days after fertilisation.




Protection Rules For Exotic Animals Not Included In WPA

  • The Delhi High Court issued an order directing the Centre to take a decision on framing rules to confer protection for exotic animals that are currently not under the purview of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
  • The court’s order came in response to a petition filed by animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India about the status of a male hippopotamus rescued from the Asiad Circus in Uttar Pradesh.
  • Through its petition, the group also requested that the court direct the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to expand the Central Zoo Authority’s purview to include all exotic wild animals, including hippos, birds, and others who aren’t currently protected under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.




Fresh water is turning saltier

  • Introducing salt into the environment — for de-icing roads, fertilising farmlands and other purposes — releases toxic chemicals that pose a threat to freshwater supply system.
  • This is known as freshwater salinization syndrome (FSS) or the effects of introduced salts can poison drinking water and increase chloride concentrations over time,.
  • The research claimed that an increase in concentration of chloride on a global scale: Passaic river in New Jersey has turned saltier in 30 years.

According to the research, FSS is caused by:

  • Road salts
  • Human-accelerated weathering of infrastructure, rocks and soils
  • Sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion
  • Evaporative concentration of salt ions from hydrologic modifications and climate
  • Disturbance of vegetation and local groundwater hydrology
  • Up to 220 million people globally are at risk of exposure to elevated levels of arsenic in groundwater, which can also be mobilised by saltwater intrusion primarily in Asia.
  • The study noted the risks of exposure to co-occurring, multiple heavy metals in drinking water in developing countries.
  • More than 57 per cent of India’s groundwater was contaminated with nitrate, fluoride and arsenic, according to an analysis of the government data in the State of India’s Environment in Figures, 2020.
  • Groundwater in at least 249 districts in 18 states and Union territories was found to be saline
  • Approximately 70 per cent of the Earth is covered by water; only about 2.5 per cent of that is fresh water.




A new super-Earth detected orbiting a red dwarf star

  • In recent years there has been an exhaustive study of red dwarf stars to find exoplanets in orbit around them.
  • These stars have effective surface temperatures between 2400 and 3700 K (over 2000 degrees cooler than the Sun), and masses between 0.08 and 0.45 solar masses.
  • In this context, a team of researchers has discovered a super-Earth orbiting the star GJ 740, a red dwarf star situated some 36 light years from the Earth.
  • The planet orbits its star with a period of 2.4 days and its mass is around 3 times the mass of the Earth.
  • Because the star is so close to the Sun, and the planet so close to the star, this new super-Earth could be the object of future researches with very large diameter telescopes towards the end of this decade.
  • “This is the planet with the second shortest orbital period around this type of star. The mass and the period suggest a rocky planet, with a radius of around 1.4 Earth radii, which could be confirmed in future observations with the TESS satellite.
  • The Kepler mission, recognized at one of the most successful in detecting exoplanets using the transit method (which is the search for small variations in the brightness of a star caused by the transit between it and ourselves of planets orbiting around it), has discovered a total of 156 new planets around cool stars.
  • From its data it has been estimated that this type of stars harbors an average of 2.5 planets with orbital periods of less than 200 days.
  • Cool stars are also an ideal target for the search for planets via the radial velocity method. This method is based on the detection of small variations in the velocity of a star due to the gravitational attraction of a planet in orbit around it, using spectroscopic observations.
  • The main difficulty of this method is related to the intense magnetic activity of this type of stars, which can produce spectroscopic signals very similar to those due to an exoplanet.