National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI)
Why in News?
- National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI) celebrated its 18th Foundation Day.
- NIXI, the first Internet Exchange of the country facilitate peering of ISPs among themselves for the purpose of routing the domestic traffic within the country, instead of taking it all the way to US/Abroad, thereby resulting in a better quality of service and reduced bandwidth charges for ISPs by saving international currency on International Bandwidth.
- NIXI is also the .IN Registry managing India’s country code top level domain (ccTLD) – .IN.
- NIXI also manages the National Internet Registry of the country delegating Internet Protocol addresses (IPv4 and IPv6) and Autonomous System numbers to the Indian Affiliates.
- National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI) is a not-for-profit organization working since 2003 for spreading the internet technology to the citizens of India through the following activities:
i) Internet Exchanges through which the internet data is exchanged amongst ISPs and CDNs.
ii) .IN Registry, managing and operation of .IN country code domain and. भारत IDN domain for India.
iii) IRINN, managing and operating Internet protocol (IPv4/IPv6).
NTPC among top 50 at Great Place to Work in India
Why in News?
- NTPC a Maharatna CPSU under Ministry of Power has been recognised as a Great Place to Work for the 15th year in a row by the Great Place to Work Institute.
- NTPC is the only PSU to consistently feature in India’s Top 50 Best Workplaces. This year NTPC ranked 38th up from 47th position last year.
- It also won it’s first-ever recognition of India’s Best Employers among Nation-Builders 2021.
Great Place to Work Certification (GPTW)
- Great Place to Work Certification is the most definitive ‘Employer-of-Choice’ recognition that organizations aspire to achieve.
- The Certification is recognized world over by employees and employers alike and is considered the ‘Gold Standard’ in identifying and recognizing Great Workplaces with High Trust and High Performance Cultures.
- The GPTW Institute’s evaluation is based on the audit of NTPC’s Human Resource practices and policies as well as anonymous feedback from employees on the organization culture covering dimensions of employee trust: respect, fairness, credibility, pride, and camaraderie.
- NTPC also won the CII HR Excellence Role model award in the month of March 2021, the highest award in the field of People Management in the country.
Coating carbon on lithium metal oxide electrode
Why in News?
- Researchers have developed a non-expensive way to coat carbon on lithium metal oxide electrodes for lithium-ion batteries.
- The life of the lithium-ion cells prepared using these electrode materials is expected to be doubled due to protective carbon coating.
About Lithium Ion Battery
- Lithium-ion batteries are the most commonly used power source for electric vehicles.
- However, its penetration to the daily usage against gasoline-based vehicles require drastic improvement in the lifetime and cost as well as mileage per charge.
- The active components of lithium-ion batteries are cathode, anode, and electrolyte.
- While commercial graphite is used as anode, lithium metal oxides or lithium metal phosphates are used as a cathode in Li ion battery.
- The electrolyte is a lithium salt dissolved in organic solvents.
- The capacity of the lithium-ion battery determines the mileage of the electric vehicle. Before the capacity reduces to 80%, the number of charging cycles determines the life of the battery.
- Carbon being inert to most chemicals and stable under the operating window is the best choice of coating material to improve the cyclic stability of the active materials.
- Carbon coating on the active materials can double the lifetime of the lithium-ion cells. However, coating carbon on lithium metal oxide is very challenging, because of the difficulty involved in coating carbon during the synthesis of lithium metal oxide material in a single step.
- To address this issue, researchers at the International Advanced Research Centre for Powder Metallurgy & New Materials (ARCI), have developed a technique to coat carbon in situ on lithium transition metal oxides in single step while synthesizing the oxide itself.
- Generally, carbon is coated on oxide materials using a second step, which is not uniform and is expensive as well.
- In ARCI method, a carbon precursor is trapped in between the transition metal hydroxide layers to minimize the reaction with oxygen even when heat-treated in the air during solid-state synthesis.
- Uniform carbon coating on the lithium transition metal oxides –LiNi0.33Mn0.33Co0.33O2 (NMC111) was achieved through this technique.
- The electrochemical performance of the lithium-ion cells constructed using carbon-coated NMC111 is at par with that of the commercial lithium-layered oxide cathodes.
- Superior cyclic stability of the carbon coated product with capacity retention of more than 80% after 1000 cycles of charging/discharging is demonstrated with an optimum carbon thickness matching commercial samples.
- The researchers at ARCI expect the electrochemical performance to improve further once the lab-scale batch process is replaced by the continuous process to enable the process to be commercially viable.
Therapeutic Effects of Yoga in Depression
Why in News?
- A new research suggests that Yoga in addition to standard antidepressant treatment can bring relief to patients with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)both clinically and biologically and can also bring about earlier remission.
- The research at National Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore has assessed the therapeutic effects of Yoga in Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) as well as its effect on associated neurobiological underpinnings.
- This work was supported under the ‘Science and Technology of Yoga and Meditation (SATYAM)’Programme of the Department of Science and Technology.
- Earlier studies conducted at NIMHANS, have shown promising results of Yoga in reducing MDD symptoms, associated stress hormone levels and improving levels of inhibitory neurotransmitter called Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain as well as autonomic functioning of the brain.
- In this research, the team assessed the effectiveness of yoga therapy on clinical symptoms of depression and its mechanism of action through assessment of various biomarkers associated.
- They estimated biomarkers like GABA activity (Transcranial magnetic stimulation -TMS), Blood biomarkers (Immune system abnormalities via Interleukin system), emotional processing & brain activity – functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) Autonomic functioning – Heart rate Variability (HRV) on 70 people through 3.5years.
Science and Technology of Yoga and Meditation (SATYAM)
- Department of Science and Technology (DST), in 2015, conceptualized a new research program- ‘Science and Technology of Yoga and Meditation’ (SATYAM)- under its Cognitive Science Research Initiative (CSRI).
- As Yoga and Meditation are interdisciplinary endeavors that interface with Neuroscience, Medicine, Psychology, Philosophy, and so on, therefore an interdisciplinary approach is needed to converge different & diverse disciplines as well as approaches & methods in the study of yoga and meditation.
- Thus comprehensive research on yoga and meditation is expected to address various challenges confronting physical and mental health.
- This new programme is aimed to foster scientific research on the effects of yoga and meditation on physical & mental health and on cognitive functioning in healthy people as well as in patients with disorders.
- Themes: Basic themes being covered under SATYAM include, among others,
(1) investigations on the effect of Yoga and Meditation on physical and mental health and well being, and
(2) investigations on the effect of Yoga and Meditation on the body, brain, and mind in terms of basic processes and mechanisms.
International Yoga Day
- International Yoga Day is celebrated annually on June 21.
- On December 11, 2014, the United Nations General Assembly declared June 21 as ‘International Day of Yoga’.
- This year, the theme is ‘Yoga For Wellness’.
When did International Yoga Day start
- On September 27, 2014, during his speech at the UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi put forth his suggestion for the occasion of a ‘Yoga Day’.
- The draft resolution proposed by India was then endorsed by a record 177 member states. The first International Day of Yoga was observed around the world on June 21, 2015.
Why is June 21 celebrated as Yoga Day
- June 21, also called summer solstice, is the longest day of the year. Therefore, it was decided that the International Yoga Day would be celebrated on this day.
Biotech KISAN Programme
Why in News?
- The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has issued a Special Call for North East Region as a part of its Mission Programme “Biotech-Krishi Innovation Science Application Network (Biotech-KISAN)”, with the aim to understand the local problems of the NER farmers and provide scientific solutions to those problems.
- Biotech-KISAN is a scientist-farmer partnership scheme launched in 2017 for agriculture innovation with an objective to connect science laboratories with the farmers to find out innovative solutions and technologies to be applied at farm level.
- Under this scheme, so far 146 Biotech-KISAN Hubs have been established covering all 15 agroclimatic zones and 110 Aspirational Districts in the country.
- The present call specifically focuses on the North East Region as it is predominantly agrarian with 70% of its workforce engaged in agriculture and allied sector for livelihood.
- The region produces merely 1.5 per cent of country‘s food grain and continues to be a net importer of food grains even for its domestic consumption.
- The NE region has untapped potential to enhance the income of the farming population by promotion of location specific crops, horticultural and plantation crops, fisheries and livestock production.
- The Biotech-KISAN will be implemented in the North East Region with objective of linking available innovative agriculture technologies to the farm with the small and marginal farmers, specially women farmers of the region.
- Under the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) enhances and improves the development of biotechnology in India, via its growth and application in agriculture, healthcare, animal sciences, environment, and industry.
Plan to put Lakshadweep under Karnataka High Court
Why in News?
- The Lakshadweep administration, which has been facing widespread protests over its policies, has mooted a proposal to shift its legal jurisdiction from the Kerala High Court to the Karnataka High Court.
- The jurisdiction of a High Court can be shifted only through an Act of Parliament, according to the law.
- “Parliament may by law constitute a high court for a Union Territory or declare any court in any such territory to be a high court for all or any of the purposes of this Constitution,” states Article 241 of the Constitution.
- Section 4 of the same article mentions that “nothing in this Article derogates from the power of Parliament to extend or exclude the jurisdiction of a high court for a State to, or from, any Union Territory or part thereof”.
NASA’s missions to Venus
- Venus is often referred to as Earth’s twin. Both the planets are almost alike in size, density and gravity. Despite similar physical makeup, the two worlds turned out to be drastically different from each other.
- While Earth is a heaven for life, Venus is a blistering hellscape. Venus has a thick, toxic atmosphere filled with carbon dioxide and at 850 degrees Fahrenheit, it is the hottest planet in the solar system.
- It has a crushing air pressure and is perpetually shrouded in thick, yellowish clouds of sulphuric acid.
- Though Venus was the first ever planet to be explored by a spacecraft (Russia’s Venera 1 in 1961), space agencies have largely ignored Venus in the last few decades and focussed on other planets, especially Mars.
- NASA, the U.S. Space Agency, announcing two robotic missions to Venus as part of the Discovery Program. Recent studies, one suggesting that the planet’s surface was habitable for several billion years, and another suggesting presence of microbes in Venusian skies, have reinvigorated an interest in Venus.
- Set to be launched in 2028-2030 time period, the NASA missions will include an orbiter called VERITAS and an atmospheric probe known as DAVINCI+.
What is DAVINCI+?
- Probe DAVINCI+, which stands for Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging, will gather more detail on the composition of Venus’ atmosphere to learn how it formed and evolved.
- The mission also seeks to determine whether the planet once had an ocean.
- A descent sphere will plunge through the dense atmosphere which is laced with sulphuric acid clouds. It will precisely measure the levels of noble gases and other elements to learn what gave rise to the runaway greenhouse effect we see today.
- DAVINCI+ will also beam back the first high resolution images of the planet’s ‘tesserae,’ geological features roughly comparable with Earth’s continents whose existence suggests Venus has plate tectonics.
- The results could reshape scientists’ understanding of terrestrial planet formation.
What is the objective of VERITAS?
- The other mission is called VERITAS, an acronym for Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy.
- This will aim to map the Venusian surface from orbit and delve into the planet’s geologic history.
- Using a form of radar that is used to create three-dimensional constructions, it will chart surface elevations and confirm whether volcanoes and earthquakes are still happening on the planet.
- It will also use infrared scanning to determine rock type, which is largely unknown, and whether active volcanoes are releasing water vapour into the atmosphere.
- While the mission is NASA led, the German Aerospace Center will provide the infrared mapper. The Italian Space Agency and France’s Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales will contribute to the radar and other parts of the mission.
WHAT are some of the previous missions to Venus?
- Russia (former Soviet Union) launched a number of missions to Venus under its Venera program between 1961 and 1984. Its Venus program achieved some of the greatest successes of human space exploration—including the first landing of spacecraft on another planet and the first photos from another world’s surface.
- The first one to launch was Venera 1, which made a flyby in May 1961, however no data returned due to communication failure. Subsequently, ten probes successfully landed on the surface of the planet, including the two Vega program and Venera-Halley probes, while thirteen probes successfully entered the Venusian atmosphere.
- Venera 13 survived the intense heat and crushing pressure of Venus’ surface for more than two hours, while others survived only for a few minutes. Most atmospheric information and surface data from Venus were collected by the Soviet Union.
- NASA’s Mariner 2 successfully flew by and scanned the cloud-covered world in 1962. NASA’s last Venus orbiter was Magellan, which arrived in 1990, and mapped the planet’s surface with radar. Since then, numerous spacecraft from the U.S. (and other space agencies) have flew by Venus as part of their missions to other destinations. These include Galileo to Jupiter in 1990, Cassini-Huygens to Saturn in 1998/99 and NASA’s MESSENGER mission to Mercury in 2006 and 2007.
- European Space Agency’s Venus Express Orbiter entered Venus orbit on April 2006 and the communication was lost in November 2014. Japan’s Akatsuki space probe tasked to study the atmosphere of Venus entered Venus orbit in 2015 and is still operational.
- Venus is the second closest planet to the Sun, orbiting at a distance of about 67 million miles. It falls under the habitable zone of the Sun.
- Venus rotates very slowly on its axis – one day on Venus lasts 243 Earth days. The planet orbits the Sun faster than Earth, however, so one year on Venus takes only about 225 Earth days, making a Venusian day longer than its year.
- Venus’ thick atmosphere traps heat creating a greenhouse effect. Its surface temperature is hot enough to melt lead.
- Venus rotates backward on its axis. This means the Sun rises in the west and sets in the east, opposite of what we see on Earth.
- The surface of Venus is dominated by volcanic features and has more volcanoes than any other planet in the Solar System
About Discovery Program
- The Discovery Program is a series of Solar System exploration missions funded by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) through its Planetary Missions Program Office.
- The Discovery Program was founded in 1990 to implement then-NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin’s policy of “faster, better, cheaper” planetary science missions.
Do spiders have sticky feet?
- Spiders do not have sticky or adhesive pads like frogs and lizards, instead, they have toe pads covered in tiny, branched hairs.
- Called ‘setae’, these hairs are also found in geckos and certain beetles. Each hair is just one-hundredth of one millimetre thick.
- The feet of wandering spider Cupiennius salei is made up of about 2,400 ‘setae’ and a study found that each hair showed unique adhesive properties.
- The research team studied how each hair sticks to rough and smooth surfaces, including sandpapers, glass, epoxy resin. They also looked at how the hairs stuck at different contact angles.
- The adhesion forces largely differed between the individual hairs, for example, one hair adhered best at a low angle with the substrate while the other one performed best close to a perpendicular alignment.
- This variety helps spiders climb different surfaces.
- They found that each hair was different and had previously unrecognised structural arrangements.
- Understanding spiders can help develop new and better residue-free artificial adhesives.
Assam temple turtles
Why in News?
- A major temple in Assam has signed a memorandum of understanding with two green NGOs, the Assam State Zoo cum Botanical Garden and the Kamrup district administration for long-term conservation of the rare freshwater black softshell turtle (Nilssonia nigricans).
- The temple, revered by both Hindus and Buddhists, is at Hajo, about 30 km northwest of Guwahati.
- Until sightings along the Brahmaputra River’s drainage in Assam, the black softshell turtle was thought to be ‘extinct in the wild’ and confined only to ponds of temples in northeastern India and Bangladesh.
- The International Union for Conservation of Nature had in 2021 listed the turtle as ‘critically endangered’. But it does not enjoy legal protection under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 although it has traditionally been hunted for its meat and cartilage, traded in regional and international markets.
- Various temple ponds in Assam such as that of the Hayagriva Madhava Temple harbour various threatened species of turtles. Since the turtles are conserved in these ponds only based on religious grounds.
Staple rice and wheat
Why in News?
- Rice, domesticated by humans over 10,000 years ago has now become the staple food for more than three billion people. But today’s rice does not have the same density of essential nutrients as those cultivated 50 years ago, notes a new study.
- Researchers found depleting trends in grain density of zinc and iron in rice and wheat cultivated in India.
- The team noted that zinc and iron concentrations in grains of rice cultivars released in the 1960s were 27.1 mg/kg and 59.8 mg/kg.
- This depleted to 20.6 mg/kg and 43.1 mg/kg, respectively in the 2000s. In wheat, the concentrations of zinc and iron — 33.3 mg/kg and 57.6 mg/kg in cultivars of the 1960s, dropped to 23.5 mg/kg and 46.4 mg/kg, respectively in cultivars released during the 2010s.
- There could be several possible reasons for such depletion: one is a ‘dilution effect’ that is caused by decreased nutrient concentration in response to higher grain yield.
- This means the rate of yield increase is not compensated by the rate of nutrient take-up by the plants. Also, the soils supporting plants could be low in plant-available nutrients.
- Zinc and iron deficiency affects billions of people globally and the countries with this deficiency have diets composed mainly of rice, wheat, corn, and barley.
- Though the Indian government has taken initiatives such as providing supplementation pills to school children, it is not enough.
Monoclonal antibodies & Covid
Why in News?
- An experimental monoclonal antibody cocktail, REGEN-COV2, has been found to be a life-saving treatment for some of the most severely affected Covid-19 patients, results of a clinical trial in the UK have shown.
What are monoclonal antibodies?
- To fight a viral infection, our bodies create proteins known as antibodies. Monoclonal antibodies are artificial antibodies that mimic the activity of our immune systems.
- They are produced through a process that involves extracting specific antibodies from human blood and then cloning them.
- These monoclonal antibodies are designed to target a virus or a specific part of one — for instance, REGEN-COV2 is a cocktail of two monoclonal antibodies developed to target the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.
- The monoclonal antibodies bind to specific parts of the spike protein, blocking its ability to infect healthy cells.
- Besides Covid-19, monoclonal antibodies have been used in the treatment of cancers as well as Ebola and HIV.
How important are they in Covid-19 treatment?
- Some monoclonal antibodies have shown the ability to retain activity against multiple variants of the virus.
- While a crucial and promising part of treatment, monoclonal antibodies also have limitations. So far, these therapies have shown the most success in high-risk groups with mild to moderate Covid-19.
- They are not approved for use in those hospitalised with severe Covid-19 and those requiring oxygen.
Why in News?
- The longest day of 2021 for those living north of the Equator is June 21.
- In technical terms, this day is referred to as the summer solstice, the longest day of the summer season. It occurs when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer, or more specifically right over 23.5 degree north latitude.
Why do we have summer solstice?
- Since Earth rotates on its axis, the Northern Hemisphere gets more direct sunlight between March and September over the course of a day, which also means people living in the Northern Hemisphere experience summer during this time.
- The rest of the year, the Southern Hemisphere gets more sunlight.
- During the solstice, the Earth’s axis — around which the planet spins, completing one turn each day — is tilted in a way that the North Pole is tipped towards the sun and the South Pole is away from it.
- This imaginary axis passes right through the middle of the Earth from top to bottom and is always tilted at 23.5 degree with respect to the sun. Therefore, the solstice, as NASA puts it, is that instant in time when the North Pole points more directly toward the sun that at any other time during the year. Solstice means “sun stands still” in Latin.
- According to NASA, the amount of incoming energy the Earth received from the sun on this day is 30 per cent higher at the North Pole than at the Equator.
- The maximum amount of sunlight received by the Northern Hemisphere during this time is usually on June 20, 21 or 22.
- In contrast, the Southern Hemisphere receives most sunlight on December 21, 22 or 23 when the northern hemisphere has its longest nights– or the winter solstice.
- ‘Delta plus’, an emerging form of the Delta variant of the novel coronavirus, which allows it to “escape” antibodies in recently approved treatment regime.
- Formally known as AY.1 or B.1.617.2.1, it’s a variant of Delta (B.1.617.2), which was first identified in India.
- It has an additional mutation called K417N, which has previously been identified in the Beta variant (first found in South Africa) and the Gamma variant (first detected in Brazil).
- These variants are characterised as being highly infectious and may reduce the potency of vaccines.
- According to a database of the CSIR Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (CSIR-IGIB), the mutation was associated with resistance to a newly developed antibody treatment drug, Casirivimab and Imdevimab, for those with moderate and severe disease but at high risk.
What is gain-of-function research?
- In virology, gain-of-function research involves deliberately altering an organism in the lab, altering a gene, or introducing a mutation in a pathogen to study its transmissibility, virulence and immunogenicity.
- It is believed that this allows researchers to study potential therapies, vaccine possibilities and ways to control the disease better in future.
- Gain-of-function research involves manipulations that make certain pathogenic microbes more deadly or more transmissible.
- This is done by genetically engineering the virus and by allowing them to grow in different growth mediums, a technique called as serial passage.
- There is also ‘loss-of-function’ research, which involves inactivating mutations, resulting in a significant loss of original function, or no function to the pathogen.
- When mutations occur, they alter the structure of the virus that is being studied, resulting in altered functions
- Some forms of gain-of-function research reportedly carry inherent biosafety and biosecurity risks and are thus referred to as ‘dual-use research of concern’ (DURC).
- This indicates that while the research may result in benefits for humanity, there is also the potential to cause harm — accidental or deliberate escape of these altered pathogens from labs may cause even pandemics.
- In India, all activities related to genetically engineered organisms or cells and hazardous microorganisms and products are regulated as per the “Manufacture, Use, Import, Export and Storage of Hazardous Microorganisms/Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells Rules, 1989.
- Last year, the Department of Biotechnology issued guidelines for the establishment of containment facilities, called ‘Biosafety labs’, at levels two and three.
- A major challenge in the treatment of neurological disorders is in getting past the blood-brain barrier.
- Now, in an article published online in Nature, scientists have imaged a transporter protein molecule called MFSD2A which pulls omega-3s across the blood brain barrier.
- The blood–brain barrier (BBB) is a highly selective semipermeable border of endothelial cells that prevents solutes in the circulating blood from non-selectively crossing into the extracellular fluid of the central nervous system where neurons reside.