Experimental delivery of Covid-19 Vaccines
Why in News?
- Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) and Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) have granted conditional exemption for drone deployment to the Government of Telangana.
- The drone usage permission has been granted for conducting experimental delivery of Covid-19 vaccines within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) Range using drones.
The grant of these permissions is intended to achieve the dual objectives of faster vaccine delivery & improved healthcare access by:
- Ensuring primary healthcare delivery at the citizen’s doorstep
- Limiting human exposure to COVID congested or COVID prone areas through aerial delivery
- Ensuring access to health care to the last mile, especially in remote areas
- Possible integration into the middle mile of medical logistics for long range drones
- Improving medical supply chain, especially with a third vaccine expected to be commissioned and millions of doses to be transported across India
Codex Committee on Spices and Culinary Herbs (CCSCH)
Why in News?
- The Codex Committee on Spices and Culinary Herbs (CCSCH) has finalised and recommended quality standards for four spices; cloves, oregano, basil, and ginger, during its fifth session.
- The committee forwarded these four new standards to the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) for adoption at final step 8, as full -fledged Codex standards.
- These standards will shortly join the ranks of the other four standards adopted earlier, to form a body of reference for world spice trade and for member countries to align their national regulations.
- The committee also took up the following new work items: to develop Codex standards for small cardamom and turmeric, and to develop the first group standard for spices that fall under the class ‘dried fruits and berries’.
- CCSCH is the youngest of the Codex Commodity Committees. The Committee is Chaired by India and Spices Board India is its Secretariat.
- This committee is mandated to elaborate worldwide, science-based quality standards for spices and culinary herbs, in accordance with the Codex principles of consumer protection and fair trade practices.
- Dr M.R. Sudharshan is the current Chairman of the Committee.
- Normally the Committee meetings are held once in 18 months.
- In its past four sessions, the committee developed and finalized Codex standards for four spices, viz. dried or dehydrated forms of black/white/green pepper, cumin, thyme, and garlic.
- Set up in 1963, the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) is an intergovernmental body established jointly by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), within the framework of the Joint Food Standards Programme to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in the food trade.
Government of India to provide Rs 15,000 crore to States for Capital Expenditure
Why in News?
- The Ministry of Finance, has decided to provide an additional amount of upto Rs 15,000 crore to States as interest free 50 year loan for spending on capital projects.
- The Department of Expenditure has issued fresh guidelines in this regard on the “Scheme of Financial Assistance to States for Capital Expenditure” for the financial year 2021-22.
- The Finance Minister had in her budget speech announced that the Centre would take measures to nudge States to spend more on infrastructure and to incentivize disinvestment of their public sector enterprises.
- Capital expenditure creates employment, especially for the poor and unskilled, has a high multiplier effect, enhances the future productive capacity of the economy, and results in a higher rate of economic growth.
The Scheme for Special Assistance to States for Capital Expenditure for 2021-22 has three Parts:
- Part-I: This part of the scheme is for the North-East and Hill States and an amount of Rs.2,600 crore has been earmarked for this part. Out of this, Assam, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand will get Rs 400 crore each while remaining States in this group have been allocated Rs 200 crore each.
- Part-II: This part of the scheme is for all other States not included in Part-I. An amount of Rs 7,400 crore is earmarked for this part. This amount has been allocated amongst these States in proportion to their share of central taxes as per the award of the 15th Finance Commission for the year 2021-22.
- Part-III: This part of the scheme is for providing incentives to States for monetization/recycling of infrastructure assets and disinvestment of the State Public Sector Enterprises (SPSEs). An amount of Rs.5,000 crore is allocated for this part of the scheme. Under this part, States will receive interest free 50 years loan ranging from 33% to 100% of the amount realised by them, through assets monetization, listing and disinvestment.
Shri Satyajit Ray (2nd May, 1921- 23rd April, 1992)
Why in News?
- In homage to the legendary filmmaker, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting will organise year-long centenary celebrations of late Shri Satyajit Ray across India and abroad.
- Shri Satyaji Ray was a renowned filmmaker, writer, illustrator, graphic designer, music composer. He started his career in advertising and found inspiration for his first film, Pather Panchali, while illustrating the children’s version of the novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay.
- He was also a prolific writer, making the famous sleuth Feluda and scientist Professor Shonku, a popular part of Bengali Literature. The Government of India honoured him with the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award, in 1992.
- In recognition of the auteur’s legacy, “Satyajit Ray Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Cinema” has been instituted from this year to be given at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) every year starting from this year. The Award consists of a cash prize of 10 lakh rupees, a certificate, Shawl, along with a Silver Peacock medal and a Scroll.
Cosmic rays propagating through Milky Way
Why in News?
- High energy particles are generally lower in number in the cosmic universe. But the excess number of high energy particles of the antimatter counterpart of the electrons, called positrons have intrigued scientists for long. Now they have found an explanation for this mystery.
- Over the years astronomers have observed an excess of antimatter counterpart of the electron or positrons having an energy of more than 10 giga-electronvolts, or 10 GeV.
- Researchers from the Raman Research Institute (RRI), Bengaluru, have resolved the mystery.
- Their proposal is simple –– cosmic rays while propagating through the Milky Way galaxy interact with matter producing other cosmic rays, primarily electrons and positrons.
- Argue that these new cosmic rays are the origin of the ‘positron excess’ phenomenon.
- The Milky Way consists of giant clouds of molecular hydrogen.
- They are the seats of the formation of new stars and can be as massive as 10 million times the Sun’s mass.
- They can extend up to 600 light-years, the distance that would take light 600 years to travel.
- Cosmic rays, produced in supernovae explosions propagate through these clouds before they reach the Earth.
- Cosmic rays interact with molecular hydrogen and can give rise to other cosmic rays. As they propagate through these clouds, they decay from their original forms and intermix, lose their energy by energising the clouds, and may also get re-energised.
- The researchers from RRI studied all these astrophysical processes via a code they set up on the computer, using a publicly available code.
- The code considers 1638 molecular hydrogen clouds in the Milky Way that other astronomers have observed across different wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum.
- The combined catalogue consists of ten molecular clouds in the immediate neighbourhood of our Sun. These galactic clouds provide the astronomers a crucial input –– the number of giga-electronvolt cosmic rays. These help them determine the excess number of positrons that reach the Earth.
Why in News?
- The World Health Organization said it had listed the anti-COVID-19 Moderna vaccine for emergency use.
- The listing procedure helps countries unable to assess a vaccine’s effectiveness themselves, providing them with access as quickly as possible and allowing the Covax vaccine sharing scheme and other partners to distribute to poorer countries.
- The U.S. vaccine is the fifth jab to earn WHO’s emergency listing.
- WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) had found the Moderna vaccine to have an efficacy of 94.1%.
- The other vaccines listed for emergency use by WHO are Pfizer BioNTech; AstraZeneca; Serum Institute of India; and Janssen.
P-8I patrol aircraft
Why in News?
- The U.S. State Department approved the proposed sale of six P-8I patrol aircraft and related equipment, a deal estimated to cost $2.42 billion.
- In November 2019, the Defence Acquisition Council, chaired by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, approved the procurement of the long-range maritime surveillance aircraft manufactured by Boeing.
- The original proposal was for 10 more aircraft but was cut down to six due to budgetary constraints as well as because the Navy had adopted some fleet rationalisation measures and was considering long-endurance unmanned platforms.
- The Government of India has requested to buy six (6) P-8I Patrol aircraft; eight (8) Multifunctional Information Distribution System-Joint Tactical Radio Systems 5 (MIDS-JTRS 5) (6 installed, 2 spares);
- Forty-two (42) AN/AAR-54 Missile Warning Sensors (36 installed, 6 spares); and fourteen (14) LN-251 with Embedded Global Positioning Systems (GPS)/Inertial Navigations Systems (EGIs) (12 installed, 2 spares).
- Also included are CFM56-7 commercial engines; Tactical Open Mission Software (ITOMS) variant for P-8I; Electro-Optical (EO) and Infrared (IR) MX-20HD;
- AN/AAQ-2(V)l Acoustic System; ARES-1000 commercial variant Electronic Support Measures; AN/APR-39D Radar Warning Receiver;
- AN/ALE-47 Counter Measures Dispensing System; support equipment and spares; publications; repair and return; transportation; aircraft ferry; training; U.S. Government and contractor engineering, software, technical, and logistics support services; and other related elements of logistical and program support.
- The Indian Navy is currently in the process of inducting the four P-8Is contracted under the offset clause in 2016. The Navy had procured eight P-8Is in a $2.2-billion deal in 2009 with the optional clause for four more. The aircraft are part of the 312A Naval Air Squadron based at Arakkonam in Tamil Nadu.
- With India having signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) foundational agreement with the U.S., the six aircraft will come fitted with encrypted systems.
- These systems were replaced with commercial off-the-shelf systems in the earlier deals.
- The P-8I is based on the Boeing 737 commercial aircraft and India was its first international customer.
Coronavirus spike protein has key role in illness
Why in News?
- Scientists have known for a while that SARS-CoV-2’s spike proteins help the virus infect its host by latching on to healthy cells. Now, a major new study shows that the spike proteins also play a key role in the disease itself.
- Aso finds that Covid-19 is a vascular disease, demonstrating exactly how the SARS-CoV-2 virus damages and attacks the vascular system (comprising the blood vessels) on a cellular level.
- A lot of people think of it as a respiratory disease, but it’s really a vascular disease. That could explain why some people have strokes, and why some people have issues in other parts of the body.
- In the new study, the researchers created a “pseudovirus” that was surrounded by SARS-CoV-2 classic crown of spike proteins, but did not contain any actual virus.
- Exposure to this pseudovirus resulted in damage to the lungs and arteries of an animal model—proving that the spike protein alone was enough to cause disease.
- Tissue samples showed inflammation in endothelial cells lining the pulmonary artery walls.
- The team then replicated this process in the lab, exposing healthy endothelial cells (which line arteries) to the spike protein.
- They showed that the spike protein damaged the cells by binding ACE2 (a human protein).
- This binding disrupted ACE2’s molecular signalling to mitochondria (organelles that generate energy for cells), causing the mitochondria to become damaged and fragmented.
- Previous studies have shown a similar effect when cells were exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but this is the first study to show that the damage occurs when cells are exposed to the spike protein on its own.
- If we remove the replicating capabilities of the virus, it still has a major damaging effect on the vascular cells, simply by virtue of its ability to bind to this ACE2 receptor, the S protein receptor.
Why many people with Covid-19 symptoms have been testing negative
- As India struggles to cope with the unprecedented demand for RT-PCR tests, reports suggest that up to 20% symptomatic Covid-19 patients are testing negative.
Why false negatives
- RT-PCR tests, considered the gold standard in the diagnosis of Covid-19, are not meant to be perfect.
- The minimum sensitivity (ability to detect positives) demanded by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) for validating an RT-PCR test is 95%. That means up to 5% false negative results are expected.
- In theory, four broad factors determine the accuracy of an RT-PCR test: the viral load in the person, the quality of sample collection and processing, the efficacy of the test kit itself, and also the benchmark for test interpretation.
- VIRAL LOAD: Typically, Covid-19 manifests adequately by the fifth day of an infection cycle. Tested any sooner post exposure, an infected person may turn out Covid-negative. This may not be a major factor behind the recent false negative trend as certain Covid-19 mutants apparently show early symptoms.
- A number of symptomatic patients who tested false negative in RT-PCR assays have subsequently been confirmed Covid-positive in Bronchoalveolar Lavage (BAL) tests that collect samples from the lower respiratory tract through a bronchoscope.
- This has led to conjectures that certain mutants bypass the upper respiratory tract to target the lung — a scenario that may deny an RT-PCR test, based on sample collected from the nasal cavity and throat, the viral load required for an accurate result.
- HUMAN ELEMENT: Tests can go wrong at various stages — from bad sample collection and storage to faulty extraction and amplification. All RT-PCR kits include an internal control (IC) to safeguard against a scenario when no RNA is extracted/amplified, leading to a false negative.
- The IC can be exogenous or endogenous. It is exogenous when an artificial RNA template molecule is added to each sample before RNA extraction.
- The test is considered void when the synthetic RNA is not detected post-extraction and a re-test is prescribed. And, an endogenous control uses a human ‘house-keeping’ gene present in the sample; its non-detection after the RNA extraction procedure invalidates the test.
The Ct value
- An RT-PCR test amplifies the nucleic acid extracted from the sample to detect the one specific to the Covid-19 virus. The amplification happens in cycles with a threshold (Ct) value. Clearly, the higher the viral presence/load, the lower the Ct value or the number of amplification cycles required to make it detectable.
- ICMR set the Ct value at 35 for negative results. Beyond this, any trace of virus potentially present is deemed negligible and the sample is ruled Covid negative.
Lag B’Omer festival
Why in News?
- At least 44 people were crushed to death in a stampede as tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered in northern Israel to celebrate the annual Lag B’Omer festival.
What is the Lag B’Omer festival?
- Lag B’Omer is an annual Jewish festival observed during the Hebrew month of Iyar.
- It is celebrated on the 33rd day of the Omer, the 49-day period between Passover and Shavuot. Lag B’Omer is the only day during the 49-day period when celebration is permitted. Hence, it is common for Jews to schedule weddings on this day every year.
- Young boys, who have reached the age of three, are also traditionally brought here for their first hair cut.
- To mark the occasion, tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jewish pilgrims make their way to the base of Mount Meron every year, to pay their respects to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a second century sage and mystic, who is believed to have died on this day. The Rabbi’s tomb is a much revered holy site in Israel.
Brazilian Amazon released more carbon than it absorbed over past 10 years
- The Brazilian Amazon released nearly 20% more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the past decade than it absorbed, according to a startling report that shows humanity can no longer depend on the world’s largest tropical forest to help absorb manmade carbon pollution.
- From 2010 through 2019, Brazil’s Amazon basin gave off 16.6bn tonnes of CO2, while drawing down only 13.9bn tonnes.
- Deforestation – through fires and clear-cutting – increased nearly four-fold in 2019 compared with either of the two previous years, from about 1m hectares (2.5m acres) to 3.9m hectares (9.6m acres).
- Terrestrial ecosystems have been a crucial ally as the world struggles to curb CO2 emissions, which topped 40bn tonnes in 2019.
- Over the past half-century, plants and soil have consistently absorbed about 30% of those emissions, even as those emissions increased by 50% over that period. Oceans have also helped, soaking up more than 20%.
- The Amazon basin contains about half of the world’s tropical rainforests, which are more effective at soaking up and storing carbon than other types of vegetation.
- If the region becomes a net source rather than a “sink” of CO2, tackling the climate crisis will be that much harder.
- Degraded forests were a more significant source of planet-warming CO2 emissions that outright deforestation.
- Over the same 10-year period, degradation – caused by fragmentation, selective cutting, or fires that damage but do not destroy trees – caused three times more emissions than outright destruction of forests.
- Brazil holds about 60% of the Amazonian rainforest.