Current Affairs May 19

International Museum Day

  • International Museum Day is observed on May 18 every year to raise awareness among people about the museums. Museums are an important means of cultural exchange and the development of mutual understanding, cooperation, and peace among people.

International Museum Day 2021: Theme

  • The theme for International Museum Day 2021 is “The Future of Museums: Recover and Reimagine.”


  • International Museum Day was first held in 1977. Since then it has gained increasing attention.

India Today



New multiplex RT-PCR kit with novel gene targets

Why in News?

  • A newly developed multiplex RT-PCR kit has a higher accuracy of detecting covid19 across the various mutant strains of the virus responsible for the global pandemic.
  • Even though coronaviruses make far fewer errors than other RNA viruses, the mutations in S, R, and N genes often interfere with RT-PCR assay.
  • For example, the “variant of concern” B1.1.7 (also known as the UK variant) has a 69-70del, due to deletion of 6 bases in the RNA, which resulted in S gene drop out from RT-PCR assay.


  • The new multiplex RT-PCR kit developed Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST) targets two SARS CoV2 genes: RdRp and ORFb-nsp14, and the human RNAse P gene as the internal control to help detect a range of mutant strains.
  • Various studies have shown that RdRp and ORF1b-nsp14 genes are more sensitive in detecting Covid19.
  • In order to target the multiple variants in the second wave, using two highly accurate confirmatory genes like RdRp and ORF-nsp14, can give precise results.
  • The new kit is based on multiplex Taqman chemistry, amplifying all three genes in a single reaction.
  • The amplification time for the assay is 45 minutes, apart from the time required for the RNA isolation from nasopharyngeal swab samples.
  • Multiplexing two confirmatory genes will help shortlist possible new variants if one of the genes fails to amplify and can be marked for sequence analysis.




Machine learning helps pick out stars in a crowd

Why in News?

  • Indian Astronomers have developed a new method based on Machine Learning that can identify cluster stars– assembly of stars physically related through common origin, with much greater certainty.
  • The method can be used on clusters of all ages, distances, and densities.
  • The method has been used to identify hundreds of additional stars for six different clusters up to 18000 light-years away and uncover peculiar stars.
  • A star cluster is a great place to study stars.
  • All stars in a star cluster have approximately the same age and chemistry, so any differences seen can be attributed to the peculiarities in individual stars with certainty.
  • As the clusters are part of the Milky Way, there are many stars between us and the cluster, so it isn’t easy to identify and select the stars of a particular cluster.
  • A team of Astronomers from Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA) used European Space Agency (ESA)’s recently released Gaia Early Data Release 3 (EDR3)
      • which gives very accurate information about the brightness, parallax, and proper motion of more than a billion stars with an accuracy of 1 milli-arc-second (equivalent to seeing a person standing on the moon) to pick out the stars that are cluster members.
  • IIA team identified the crucial measurements for this task and understood the complex relationship between these parameters, using a machine learning technique called Probabilistic Random Forest.
  • This uses a combination of parallax, proper motion, temperature, brightness and other parameters to classify each star as a cluster member or a non-member.
  • The IIA team trained their algorithm using the most likely members from a model called the Gaussian Mixture Model, which can identify clumps of co-moving stars.
  • The Probabilistic Random Forest algorithm then learns how to identify a typical cluster member star and efficiently takes out stars that share only similar proper motions or only similar velocities as the cluster itself.
  • IIA team used the catalogue of members to identify the hottest stars in the six clusters using ultraviolet images from Ultra-Violet Imaging Telescope (UVIT) on the Indian space observatory ‘AstroSat’.
  • Their work has already resulted in discovering hot subdwarf-B type stars (compact stars that are very rare) in open cluster King 2.





Why in News?

  • A team of Japanese scientists has shown it is possible for mammals to absorb oxygen via the anus.
  • Intrigued by how certain sea creatures breathe through their intestines in emergencies, researchers were able to prove the same was true under experimental circumstances for mice, rats and pigs.
  • The finding might also apply to humans who are in respiratory distress when ventilators are not available or inadequate.
  • For higher order animals, respiration involves breathing in oxygen and excreting carbon dioxide using lungs or gills.
  • Some species however have evolved alternate ventilatory mechanisms. Loaches, catfish, sea cucumbers and orb-weaving spiders can also use their hindgut to oxygenate to survive in emergencies.
  • This is called enteral ventilation via anus, or EVA.
  • The rectum has a mesh of fine blood vessels just beneath the surface of its lining, which means that drugs administered through the anus are readily absorbed into the bloodstream.




Arctic fires, thawing permafrost pose growing threat to climate

Why in News?

  • The warming Arctic tundra will make it harder for the world to curb climate change, as thawing permafrost and wildfires release greenhouse gases that are not fully accounted for in global emissions agreements.
  • As temperatures rise and permafrost thaws, carbon dioxide and methane trapped within the long-frozen soil are released.
  • Siberia saw its highest-ever recorded temperature last summer, when the far north town of Verkhoyansk hit 38℃.
  • Also last year, unprecedented wildfires in the region released about 35% more carbon dioxide than in 2019, which saw the highest emissions from Russian fires since 2003.
  • However, emissions levels estimated from the gradual thaw of permafrost — which covers 25% of the Northern Hemisphere — do not account for the wildfires and abrupt thawing recently observed, and so are likely too low.
  • While more research is needed to measure the emissions coming from permafrost, the researchers estimate that fires along with abrupt thawing events could increase carbon emissions up to 40% by the end of the century unless fossil fuel emission are drastically reduced.





  • The only Muslim-dominated town of Punjab, Malerkotla, has been in the news recently after Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh announced on Eid that the former princely state would be the 23rd district of the state.

How did the Malerkotla princely state come into being?

  • Historically, Malerkotla owes its foundations in the 15th century to Sufi saint Sheikh Sadrauddin Sadar-i-Jahan, also known as Haider Sheikh.
  • The initial beginnings were humble with the settlement being called ‘Maler’ which was bestowed by the Behlol Lodhi to the Sheikh whose lineage too was Afghan, as was Lodhi’s, and they were said to be distantly related.
  • ‘Kotla’, meaning Fortress, was added later in 17th century with a collection of villages which formed a jagir which was awarded to Bayzid Khan, a descendant of Haider Sheikh, by Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan.
  • Bayzid Khan supported Aurangzeb against his brother Dara Shikoh and thus gained favour with the emperor and added permanency to the rule of his family.
  • A hereditary succession began thereafter.
  • After the decline of the Mughal empire, Malerkotla’s rulers exercised greater independence and at the time of the invasion of India by Ahmad Shah Abdali from Afghanistan, they aligned with him.

How were the relations of Malerkotla with neighbouring states?

  • ‘Punjab’s Muslims’, after Maharaja Ranjit Singh consolidated his rule in Northern Punjab in the early 19th century, Malerkotla aligned itself with the neighbouring Sikh states like Patiala, Nabha and Jind which too were feeling threatened by Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s consolidation of the Sikh empire.
  • These cis-Sutlej states accepted British protection in 1809 and were free from interference from the Sikh Maharaja.
  • Malerkotla continued under the British protection and the alliance with the neighbouring Sikh states till 1947 when it became the only Muslim majority Sikh state in East Punjab.
  • After the dissolution of the princely states in 1948, Malerkotla joined the new state of PEPSU or Patiala and East Punjab States Union (PEPSU).
  • PEPSU itself was dissolved in 1954 and Malerkotla became a part of Punjab.



New storage conditions for Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

Why in News?

  • The European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended a change to the approved storage conditions of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine which changes the way these vaccines are handled in vaccination centres across the European Union (EU).
  • In February, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had allowed undiluted vials of the vaccine to be stored at conventional temperatures for a period of up to two weeks. Recently, the US and Singapore approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use in children between the ages of 12-15 years.

What is the change in the storage of these vaccines?

  • With the new recommendations, an unopened thawed vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can be stored between 2-8 degrees Celsius for up to a month, which means that it can be stored in a regular refrigerator once it has been taken out of the deep freeze. Before this, an unopened thawed vaccine vial could be kept in a regular refrigerator for a period of only up to five days.

Why do mRNA vaccines need to be stored at such low temperatures?

  • mRNA vaccines need to be stored at much lower temperatures than some other kind of COVID-19 vaccines because RNA is much less stable than DNA, which is due to the sugars that their molecules are made up of.
  • The second reason for the relative instability of RNA is because of its shape, which is a single strand, while DNA is expressed as a double-stranded helix.

How does the vaccine work?

  • One of the essential ingredients of this vaccine is the messenger RNA or mRNA, which carries instructions to create the SARS-CoV-2 virus’s so-called spike protein, which makes it easy for the virus to bind to cells in the body.
  • Once the mRNA vaccine is injected into the body, it instructs the body’s cells to create copies of this spike protein. The idea is to trigger the body’s immune system response similar to if the individual had actually been infected by the virus.
  • Therefore, once the vaccine is able to trigger this response, the immune system should be able to produce the antibodies necessary to fight the infection, thereby potentially protecting the individual.




India, Israel and Palestine

  • Recently, India’s permanent representative to the United Nations, T S Tirumurti, made a carefully crafted statement at the UN Security Council “open debate” on the escalating Israel-Palestine violence, striving to maintain balance between India’s historic ties with Palestine and its blossoming relations with Israel.
  • India’s policy on the longest running conflict in the world has gone from being unequivocally pro-Palestine for the first four decades, to a tense balancing act with its three-decade-old friendly ties with Israel.
  • In recent years, India’s position has also been perceived as pro-Israel.

From Nehru to Rao

  • The balancing began with India’s decision to normalise ties with Israel in 1992, which came against the backdrop of the break-up of the Soviet Union, and massive shifts in the geopolitics of West Asia on account of the first Gulf War in 1990.
  • That year, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) lost much of its clout in the Arab world by siding with Iraq and Saddam Hussein in the occupation of Kuwait.
  • The opening of an Indian embassy in Tel Aviv in January 1992 marked an end to four decades of giving Israel the cold shoulder, as India’s recognition of Israel in 1950 had been minus full diplomatic ties.
  • PM Jawaharlal Nehru’s reasoning for the decision to recognise Israel was that it was “an established fact”, and that not doing so would create rancour between two UN members. But for long, all there was to show for the bilateral relationship was a consulate in Mumbai, established in 1953, mainly for issuing visas to the Indian Jewish community, and to Christian pilgrims.
  • This too shut down in 1982, when India expelled the Consul General for criticising India’s foreign policy in a newspaper interview. It was permitted to reopen only six years later.
  • In 1948, India was the only non-Arab-state among 13 countries that voted against the UN partition plan of Palestine in the General Assembly that led to the creation of Israel.

India and PLO

  • The relationship with Palestine was almost an article of faith in Indian foreign policy for over four decades. At the 53rd UN session, India co-sponsored the draft resolution on the right of the Palestinians to self-determination. In the 1967 and 1973 wars, India lashed out at Israel as the aggressor.
  • In the 1970s, India rallied behind the PLO and its leader Yasser Arafat as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
  • In 1975, India became the first non-Arab country to recognise the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, and invited it to open an office in Delhi, which was accorded diplomatic status five years later.
  • In 1988, when the PLO declared an independent state of Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem, India granted recognition immediately. Arafat was received as head of state whenever he visited India.
  • Four years after the Narasimha Rao government established a diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv, India opened a Representative Office in Gaza, which later moved to Ramallah as the Palestinian movement split between the Hamas (which gained control of Gaza) and the PLO.
  • New Delhi remained firmly on the side of the PLO, which was seen as ready for a political solution, and had accepted the two-state solution.
  • India voted in favour of the UN General Assembly resolution in October 2003 against Israel’s construction of a separation wall. It voted for Palestine to become a full member of UNESCO in 2011, and a year later, co-sponsored the UN General Assembly resolution that enabled Palestine to become a “non-member” observer state at the UN without voting rights.
  • India also supported the installation of the Palestinian flag on the UN premises in September 2015.

Changes after 2014

  • For two-and-a-half decades from 1992, the India-Israel relationship continued to grow, mostly through defence deals, and in sectors such as science and technology and agriculture. But India never acknowledged the relationship fully.
  • In 2000, L K Advani became the first Indian minister to visit Israel, and in the same year Jaswant Singh visited as Foreign Minister. That year, the two countries set up a joint anti-terror commission.
  • And in 2003, Ariel Sharon became the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit India.
  • It was during NDA-2 that the government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to take full ownership of the relationship with Israel.
  • The first indication of the new phase came with an abstention by India at the UN Human Rights Council on a resolution welcoming a report by the HRC High Commissioner. The report said it had evidence of alleged war crimes committed by Israeli forces and Hamas during the 2014 airstrikes against Gaza that killed over 2000.
  • The abstention was conspicuous because in 2014, India had voted for the resolution through which the UNHRC inquiry was set up. In 2016, India abstained again at on a UNHRC resolution against Israel.




Long Work Hours to More Deaths

Why in News?

  • Long working hours led to 7.45 lakh deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29% increase since 2000, according to the latest estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) published in Environment International.
  • The pandemic is accelerating developments that could feed the trend towards increased working time. The number of people working long hours is increasing and this trend puts even more people at risk of work-related disability and early death.
  • In a first global analysis of the loss of life and health associated with working long hours, WHO and ILO estimate that in 2016, 3.98 lakh people died from stroke and 3.47 lakh from heart disease as a result of having worked at least 55 hours a week.
  • Between 2000 and 2016, the number of deaths from heart disease due to working long hours increased by 42%, and from stroke by 19%.
  • This work-related disease burden is particularly significant in men (72% of deaths occurred among males), people living in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions, and middle-aged or older workers.
  • Most of the deaths recorded were among people dying aged 60-79 years, who had worked for 55 hours or more per week between the ages of 45 and 74 years.
  • With working long hours now known to be responsible for about one-third of the total estimated work-related burden of disease, it is established as the risk factor with the largest occupational disease burden.
  • The study concludes that working 55 or more hours per week is associated with an estimated 35% higher risk of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35-40 hours a week.




Africa’s Sudano-Sahelian Zone

Why in News?

  • The Sudano-Sahelian Zone, which comprises 16 countries in Africa, is the most vulnerable to climate change. The associated risks have pushed food crop as well as livestock production outside safe climatic space (SCS), in turn jeopardising food security in the region, a new study has warned.
  • The region, one of the poorest in the world, is characterised by fluctuating rainfall and droughts.


  • As much as 20 per cent of the world’s current crop production and 18 per cent of global livestock production are at risk of falling outside the safe climatic space.
  • The researchers define safe climatic space as the areas where 95 per cent of global food crop production takes place due to favourable weather conditions, temperature, rainfall, etc.
  • The Sudano-Sahelian region lies outside SCS.
  • More than a third of global food crop production as well 34 per cent of livestock production would be at risk by 2081-2100 if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at the current rate.
  • South and southeast Asia too have been identified as the most vulnerable to climate change effects.
  • The study deployed two future scenarios of climate change: One wherein carbon dioxide emissions were significantly reduced, limiting global warming to 1.5-2 degrees Celsius, and the other wherein emissions continued to increase.
  • The boreal forest that grows in regions of the northern hemisphere with cold temperatures — and which stretches across northern North America, Russia and Europe — would shrink to 14.8 million square kilometres from 18 million square kilometres by 2100.




 Snow Leopard Habitat

  • More than 70 per cent habitat of the snow leopard, over 12 Asian countries, remains unresearched, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) claimed in a recent report.
  • Snow leopard research intensified in the 1970s and studies on snow leopards have continued to increase exponentially since then. However, just four hotspots of snow leopard research (sites with continued multi-year research) have emerged, with less than 23 per cent of the snow leopard range being researched.
  • Nepal, India and China had conducted the most snow leopard research, followed by Mongolia and Pakistan.
  • Globally, there could be as few as 4,000 snow leopards left in Asia’s high mountains and this remaining population faces continued and emerging threats.
  • Increased habitat loss and degradation, poaching and conflict with communities have contributed to a decline in their numbers and left the species hanging by a thread in many places.




Ozone-depleting chemicals

  • MIT scientists have found that ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, stay in the atmosphere for a shorter amount of time than previously estimated.
  • CFCs, were globally phased out in 2010.
  • New, illegal production of CFCs has likely occurred in recent years. Specifically, the analysis points to new emissions of CFC-11, CFC-12, and CFC-113.
  • These emissions would be in violation of the Montreal Protocol, the international treaty designed to phase out the production and consumption of CFCs and other ozone-damaging chemicals.

Banking on lifetimes

  • Prior to their global phaseout, CFCs were widely used in the manufacturing of refrigerants, aerosol sprays, chemical solvents, and building insulation. When they are emitted into the atmosphere, the chemicals can loft to the stratosphere, where they interact with ultraviolet light to release chlorine atoms, the potent agents that erode the Earth’s protective ozone.
  • Today, CFCs are mostly emitted by “banks”—old refrigerators, air conditioners, and insulation that were manufactured before the chemical ban and have since been slowly leaking CFCs into the atmosphere.




Why in News?

  • While examining the prevalence of listeria in agricultural soil throughout the U.S., scientists have stumbled upon five previously unknown and novel relatives of the bacteria.
  • The discovery, will help food facilities identify potential growth niches that until now, may have been overlooked—thus improving food safety.
  • One of the novel species, L. immobilis, lacked motility, or the ability to move.
  • Listeria move a lot. Among scientists, motility was thought to be common among listeria closely related to L. monocytogenes, a well-known foodborne pathogen—and used as a key test in listeria detection methods.
  • As listeria species are often found co-existing in environments that support the growth of L. monocytogenes, food facilities will monitor for all listeria species to verify their sanitation practices.
  • Listeria monocytogenes can have profound pathogenic influence on food processing plants and those plants must be kept clean. Listeriosis has a mortality rate of 20% to 30%, even with a patient taking antibiotics.