INTERNATIONAL UPDATES

Male, white documentary directors dominate Academy Awards: study

The new study gives credence to the #OscarSoWhite controversy that has surrounded this year’s awards ceremony.— Photo: AFP
The new study gives credence to the #OscarSoWhite controversy that has surrounded this year’s awards ceremony
  • Reflecting a persistent lack of diversity in the genre and the global film industry, a new study has claimed that best documentary feature category in the Oscars consistently favours white, male documentary directors.
  • Released just days before the 88th Academy Awards 2016, which are set to be organised on February 28, the findings showed that 89 per cent of film directors shortlisted for the Academy Awards for Best Documentary Feature have been white, and 77 per cent have been male, over the past three years.
  • The researchers systematically gathered, archived, categorised and coded data for 45 films across 2014, 2015 and 2016 along the road to the Academy Awards.
  • A total of 56 formally-credited directors were examined for this analysis, as several films had more than one credited director.
  • With close investigation of the Oscar-shortlisted documentary films, the study brings to light what it takes to reach the highest level of achievement.
  • The findings titled ‘Journey to the Academy Awards: An investigation of Oscar-shortlisted and nominated documentaries (2014—2016)” showed that Academy Awards recognition of female documentary makers remain consistently rare.

Bees are vanishing: U.N. report

  • Many species of wild bees, butterflies and other insects that pollinate plants are shrinking toward extinction, and the world needs to do something about it before our food supply suffers, a new United Nations scientific mega-report warns.
  • The 20,000 or so species of pollinators are key to growing fruits, vegetables and cash crops. Yet two out of five species of invertebrate pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, are on the path toward extinction
  • Pollinators with backbones, such as hummingbirds and bats, are only slightly better off, with 1 in 6 species facing extinction.

Reasons

  1. the way farming has changed so there’s not enough diversity and wild flowers for pollinators to use as food;
  2. pesticide use,
  3. habitat loss to cities;
  4. disease, parasites and pathogens;
  5. and global warming.
  • The report is the result of more than two years of work by scientists across the globe who got together under several different U.N. agencies to come up with an assessment of Earth’s biodiversity, starting with the pollinators.
  • Everything falls apart if you take pollinators out of the game. If we want to say we can feed the world in 2050, pollinators are going to be part of that

Graphene set to revolutionise electronics

Graphene

  1. A fine sheet of pure carbon
  2. the skinniest material known
  3. it is 100 times stronger than steel,
  4. hugely pliable and
  5. can conduct electricity and heat better than anything else
  6. physicist Kostya Novoselov first isolated graphene in 2004,

Applications

  • Bendable mobile phones, quick-charge batteries and unbreakable touch screens…technology firms are racing to harness the potential of graphene, a wonder material which scientists say could transform consumer electronics.
  • Graphene is so pliable scientists predict it will one day make flexible phones possible.Graphene is so strong and thin that researchers believe they will one day be able to use it to make unbreakable screens for mobile devices.
  • Samsung, the world’s number one smartphone maker, has taken out the most graphene patents — over 490 — followed by China’s Ocean’s King Lighting and IBM.
  • The trade fair in Barcelona for the first time had a pavilion dedicated to graphene research centres and start-ups, a sign of the growing importance of the material to the mobile industry.

India moving U.N. to blacklist Masood

  • In its biggest diplomatic move after the Pathankot attack, India will approach the United Nations to include the Pakistan-based terror mastermind Maulana Masood Azhar on the list of globally designated terrorists
  • India will be moving the 1267 Sanctions Committee to also include the name of Masood Azhar on the sanctions list. Azhar remained unsanctioned though his group, though JeM, was included by the 1267 Sanctions Committee on the list of Foreign Terrorist Organisations in 2001.
  • The decision is significant since it is the second time in less than a year that India will attempt to isolate an international terrorist through the anti-terror committee. In June 2015, India moved the committee in the United Nations, demanding an explanation from Pakistan for its decision to release the 26/11 attack plotter Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi from jail.
  • The attempt to isolate Pakistan, however, failed at the last moment because of China’s opposition. Officials said that this year too, China’s attitude would be watched.
  • However, according to experts, the attempt to isolate Masood Azhar has a greater possibility to succeed at the 1267 Sanctions Committee.
  • India has already given actionable intelligence and technical intercepts that connect Masood Azhar’s organisation to the Pathankot attack. The technical inputs are likely to be presented before the UN committee
  • Pakistan’s recent action arresting individuals connected to the Pathankot attack might also be cited by India to strengthen the case against Masood.
  • India also had a better chance of getting more support at the U.N. Security Council from members like France who might help in convincing Pakistan’s strategic allies to understand the global threat posed by individuals like Masood Azhar.

40 tonnes of relief material airlifted to cyclone-hit Fiji

  • India extends $1 million in immediate assistance to Fiji after devastating Cyclone Winston hits
  • India dispatched relief material to cyclone-hit Fiji as part of its humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts in the neighbourhood.
  • A C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force took off from the Palam air station here to Fiji, via Chennai, with 40 tonnes of relief material. The consignment includes food, medicines and tents. Fiji was hit by the massive Cyclone Winston last Saturday, leaving at least 44 dead.
  • The island nation has requested foreign aid. India has already announced aid in the aftermath of the disaster.

Sunita’s visit to deepen space cooperation

  • Captain Sunita Williams, Astronaut with the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) of the U.S., will be in India on a two-day visit beginning
  •  even as a NASA team is holding discussions with their Indian counterparts to deepen space cooperation.
  • In Delhi, Capt. Williams has a series of engagements addressing students on her journey as an astronaut and women’s empowerment through Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education.
  • Coinciding with the visit a NASA team lead by the Deputy Administrator Dava Newman is at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) headquarters in Bengaluru for the third face-to-face meeting of the ISRO-NASA Mars Working Group.
  • The working group coordinates observations and science analysis between the NASA and the ISRO’s Mars spacecraft — including India’s Mars Orbiter Mission and the NASA’s MAVEN which arrived at Mars within days of each other in September 2014 – and explores potential cooperation on future missions to Mars

Passive Wi-Fi

  • While it’s become a necessity of modern life, Wi-Fi is also an energy hog, draining the batteries of all those connected devices surrounding us. That may change with the recent demonstration by University of Washington (UW) researchers of Wi-Fi transmissions generated using 10,000 times less power than conventional methods.
  • Known as Passive Wi-Fi, the system also uses 1,000 times less power than current energy-efficient wireless communication platforms, like ZigBee and Bluetooth LE.
  • The Passive Wi-Fi system uses just tens of microwatts of power, and is able to transmit at up to 11 megabits per second – that’s much less than the highest Wi-Fi speeds, but 11 times faster than Bluetooth.
  • The discovery also has positive implications for the “Internet of Things,” which would better enable connected devices and sensors in homes and on wearables without having to worry about a continual power drain.
  • Wi-Fi transmissions have both a digital and analog component. The digital side has become very energy efficient over the years, scaling along with Moore’s law, but the analog component continues to consume hundreds of milliwatts of power.
  • To achieve their low-power results, the researchers assigned the power-hungry analog portion to a single device plugged into an outlet. The signal sent out is then reflected by the remote device with its own data added to it. It works something like Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips using backscatter communication, and can communicate at a distance of up to 100 feet (30 m) in real-world conditions.
  • Essentially, the networking and power-consuming parts of the process are handled by the device plugged into the wall, while the passive Wi-Fi devices only have digital base band (no analog) and are reflecting and absorbing the signal from the plugged in device to generate the Wi-Fi packets of info.
  • The sensors can talk to any device with a Wi-Fi chipset, including routers, smartphones and tablets. The cool thing is that all these devices can decode the Wi-Fi packets we created using reflections so you don’t need specialized equipment
  • The research, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, UW and Qualcomm, will be presented in a paper next month at the USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation.

Source: University of Washington, UW Passive Wi-Fi

Excessive time on facebook is like drug addiction

  • Can spending excessive time on Facebook or other social media be as dangerous as addiction to cocaine or gambling?
  • Researchers from California State University, Fullerton, in the U.S. say yes.
  • They say social media obsession may lead to something akin to classical addiction. Excessive use triggers two key parts of the brain associated with rewards: amygdala, which is the integrative place for emotions, behaviour and motivation and striatum, part of the forebrain and a critical component of the reward system.
  • The findings, recently published in the journal Psychological Reports: Disability and Trauma showed that social media-related ‘addictions’ share some neural features with substance and gambling addictions.
  • The meteoric rise of the Internet usage and emergence of various social media platforms has left many young Indians socially isolated and lonely.
  • According experts, teenagers with Facebook addiction-like symptoms may “have a hyperactive amygdale-striatal system, which makes this ‘addiction’ similar to many other addictions.
  • Also preoccupation with social media leads to an interference in one’s social, occupational as well as other areas of functioning.

Influenza can hide from human immune system

  • Influenza, commonly known as “flu,” can hide itself undetected in an individual’s body by the person’s immune system, reveals a study.
  • The influenza virus that affects mainly the nose, throat, bronchi and occasionally lungs contains a protein that helps in outsmarting the immune system — which can track viruses and alert the body of the entry of foreign virus into the human cells to multiply.
  • The virus contains a protein that masks the virus entering the cell. In this way, the influenza virus can spread more easily before the immune system recognises that it is a virus and attempts to fight it
  • The little protein that is able to mask the influenza virus from the immune system can be used to combat autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis as well as the relatively rare disease lupus, which to a great extent affects young women. In autoimmune diseases, the immune system attacks healthy cells and tissues and creates chronic inflammation
  • The protein’s immunosuppressant effect can possibly be used to develop better treatments for these types of diseases, where the immune system is chronically overactive. By suppressing the immune system’s reaction, the symptoms can be reduced
  • The study was published in the scientific journal Nature Communications .

Brexit referendum campaign begins in U.K.

  • The campaign on Brexit has begun in the U.K., with Prime Minister David Cameron receiving early backing for his call for the country to remain in the European Union from opposite ends of British society.
  • Even as the pound, which had taken a plunge  in response to the Brexit uncertainty, slowly recovered ground, nearly 200 business leaders employing over 1.2 million people, and U.K.’s Trade Union Congress representing six million workers came out in support of the ‘Stay’ campaign.
  • The ‘Stay’ campaigners say If the Brexit camp gets their way, many vital workplace benefits that the EU has given – paid holidays, extra maternity rights and better conditions for part-time workers – could be for the chop. That may prove attractive to unenlightened business leaders, but it will not win the hearts and minds of working people buckling under the strain of insecurity and reduced living standards.
  • Leave campaigners allege that the business bosses – some of them Conservative Party funders – who have signed up to the letter comprise just a third of the FTSE 100 companies. Initiated by the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign and the Prime Minister’s Office, it includes heads of business houses like Marks and Spencer, British Telecom, Vodafone, and ASDA, although equally big businesses have not signed.
  • The ‘in-out’ referendum on Britain’s future in the EU will be held on June 23.

Assad regime agrees to Syria peace deal

  • Syria’s regime agreed to a ceasefire deal announced by the United States and Russia, but there were widespread doubts it could take effect by the weekend as hoped.
  • The agreement, announced, does not apply to jihadists such as the Islamic State group and the al-Nusra Front, putting up major hurdles to how it can be implemented on Syria’s complex battlefield.
  • The Syrian Foreign Ministry said the government would continue to fight both those groups as well as other “terrorists,” while agreeing to stop other military operations in accordance with the announcement.
  • The deal calls for a “cessation of hostilities” between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and opposition groups that would take effect overnight Friday-Saturday in Damascus.
  • The High Negotiations Committee — the leading Syrian opposition group — gave its conditional acceptance to the deal. But after several previous failed attempts, few had serious expectations for a lasting ceasefire.

Nepal lifts fuel restrictions

  • With significant improvement in fuel supplies from India, Nepal ended its five-month-long rationing of petroleum products imposed after the turbulence over the new Constitution that saw a crippling blockade of key border trade points in the landlocked country.
  • The move brought cheer to thousands of people in the Himalayan nation who, under the quota, were getting merely five litres of petrol for two-wheelers and 15 litres for four-wheelers at a time besides half-filled LPG cylinders.
  • Motorists will now get any amount of fuel, while households can buy fully filled cooking gas cylinders.
  • Supply of petroleum products from Indian Oil Corporation is increasing with every passing day

Obama pushes for Gitmo closure

  • President Barack Obama presented a long-awaited roadmap to close the controversial U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, also referred to as Gitmo, saying it was time to shutter a facility that betrayed U.S. interests and values.
  • Mr. Obama unveiled a plan that says the United States should continue to transfer low-risk detainees to other countries and which describes how 13 possible replacement facilities could save the U.S. taxpayer millions of dollars each year.
  • A total of 91 suspected jihadists remain at Guantanamo, a prison that once housed about 700 inmates at its peak and has become synonymous around the world with torture, indefinite detention and orange jumpsuits.
  • Mr. Obama has pushed for Guantanamo’s closure since taking office in 2009, but his efforts have been thwarted by Republican lawmakers, many of whom see it as a useful tool in combating terror. The U.S. President says the opposite is true, and that the facility feeds into anti-U.S., jihadist propaganda.
  • Mr. Obama also has faced opposition from within his own administration, with the Pentagon accused of slow-pedalling transfers and overstating closure costs.
  • The Guantanamo Bay closure plan, which took months to produce, gives few specifics on where a U.S. facility would be, but military officials have previously listed Fort Leavenworth, Kansas or the U.S. Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina among the possible destinations for inmates. Those locations, however, face objections from local politicians.
  • Mr. Obama has long argued that many Guantanamo prisoners should be transferred overseas and some tried by military courts

Indian delegation to visit Colombo

  • A delegation of officials from India will visit Colombo on March 4 to hold talks with Sri Lankan officials regarding the proposed Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA)
  • During the discussion, the two countries would exchange their draft, and Parliament and all parties would be taken into confidence before finalising the agreement
  • Unlike in the now-aborted Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), there would not be any provision in the ETCA for movement of natural persons [also known as Mode 4].
  • The new pact would cover areas such as financial services, promotion of trade and investment, e-commerce and tourism.
  • The proposed pact would pave the way for generation of employment opportunities and investment, he added. Later, when members of the Opposition raised questions why an Indian firm was roped in for implementing the Emergency Ambulance Health Protection Service [a variant of the 108 Emergency Response Services]

Internet by light promises to leave Wi-Fi in the shade

  • Connecting the smartphone to the web with just a lamp — that is the promise of Li-Fi, featuring Internet access 100 times faster than Wi-Fi with revolutionary wireless technology.
  • French start-up Oledcomm demonstrated the technology at the Mobile World Congress, the world’s biggest mobile fair, in Barcelona. As soon as a smartphone was placed under an office lamp, it started playing a video.
  • The big advantage of Li-Fi, short for “light fidelity”, is its lightning speed.
  • Laboratory tests have shown theoretical speeds of over 200 Gbps — fast enough to “download the equivalent of 23 DVDs in one second
  • Li-Fi allows speeds that are 100 times faster than Wi-Fi” which uses radio waves to transmit data
  • The technology uses the frequencies generated by LED bulbs — which flicker on and off imperceptibly thousands of times a second — to beam information through the air, leading it to be dubbed the “digital equivalent of Morse Code”.
  • It started making its way out of laboratories in 2015 to be tested in everyday settings in France, a Li-Fi pioneer, such as a museums and shopping malls. It has also seen test runs in Belgium, Estonia and India.
  • Dutch medical equipment and lighting group Philips is reportedly interested in the technology and Apple may integrate it in its next smartphone, the iPhone7, due out at the end of the year, according to tech media.
  • With analysts predicting the number of objects that are connected to the Internet soaring to 50 million by 2020 and the spectrum for radio waves used by Wi-Fi in short supply, Li-Fi offers a viable alternative, according to its promoters.
  • Li-fi has its drawbacks — it only works if a smartphone or other device is placed directly in the light and it cannot travel through walls. This restricts its use to smaller spaces

Vienna is world’s best city: survey

  • Austria’s capital Vienna is the best place in the world to live, according to an international survey on quality of life that has no Indian city in the top 100.
  • According to the 18th Mercer Quality of Life study which examined socioeconomic conditions of 230 global cities, Vienna, a city of nearly 1.8 million people, is the world’s best city, followed by Zurich, Auckland, Munich and Vancouver.
  • While famous cities such as London, Paris and New York failed to make a cut even in the top 30s, Baghdad was named the worst city in the world.
  • Among Indian cities, Hyderabad topped the rankings at 139th position, followed by Pune at 144, Bangalore at 145, Chennai at 150, Mumbai at 152, Kolkata at 160 and New Delhi at 161.
  • The study examined social and economic conditions, health, education, housing and the environment and is used by big companies to assess where they should locate and how much they should pay staff
  • German-speaking cities dominate the rankings, with Vienna joined by Zurich, Munich, Dusseldorf and Frankfurt in the top seven.
  • The social democratic government has a long tradition of investing in high-quality social housing, making Vienna almost uniquely affordable among major cities. According to the World Bank, Austria has one of the highest figures for GDP per head in the world, just behind the U.S. and ahead of Germany and Britain, the report said.
  • The European migrant crisis, which has seen large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers pass through Vienna en route to Germany, has had little impact on the city.

NASA makes Apollo ‘moon music’ public

  • NASA has made public the recording of the mysterious ‘outer-space music’ that Apollo 10 mission astronauts heard as their spacecraft flew around the far side of the Moon in 1969.
  • The transcript of the conversation between Apollo 10 astronauts Eugene Cernan and John Young mentioning the strange sound and the crew’s response to the phenomenon were released in 2008. However, the audio of the discussion and the sounds that the astronauts were referring to has just been made public. Out of radio contact with Earth and all alone on the far side of the Moon, the astronauts had not expected to hear anything on their instruments.

India’s risk of downgrade in Special 301 report 

  • Hectic lobbying is underway by the US-India Business Council (USIBC) to prevent the risk of a downgrade in the Special 301 report
  • Special 301 report identifies trade barriers to U.S. companies and products due to a foreign government’s intellectual property regime.
  • The office of the U.S Trade Representative (USTR) prepares the report annually
  • India,s current position is on the ‘priority watch list,’ which has ‘countries of major concern’ to the U.S. Government. There are two categories worse than this as per the Special 301 ranking and India’s faces the risk being downgraded. The lowest category will face U.S sanctions.

India’s stand

  • The Government of India does not engage with the process as it considers it an infringement on the country’s sovereignty.
  • India considers that the categorisation is arbitrary and mostly a political decision, in order to reward or punish a target country.
  • The USIBC, which has 350 companies investing India as members, is also part of the US Chamber of Commerce. It is now trying to avert a potential setback at the USTR. USIBC efforts are to ensure that the India retains its current position. It submitted lists of a series of measures by the Indian government that strengthened the IP regime in the country.

IP index

  • The U.S Chamber of Commerce International IP Index released recently had India at the lowest but one among 38 countries ranked.
  • Venezuela was the only country below India.

Berlin film festival

  • Italian film Fuocoammare ( Fire at Sea) , a harrowing documentary about Europe’s refugee crisis, clinched the Berlin film festival’s Golden Bear top prize from a jury led by Meryl Streep .
  • In other prizes, France’s Mia Hansen-Love won the Silver Bear for best director for her drama Things to Come .
  • Tunisia’s Majd Mastoura won the Silver Bear for best actor for his role in Hedi , a love story set in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, which also won best debut feature.
  • The Silver Bear for best actress went to Denmark’s Trine Dyrholm for her role as a wronged wife in Thomas Vinterberg’s The Commune , a semi-autobiographical take on his 1970s childhood.
  • Oscar-winning Bosnian director Danis Tanovic took the runner-up Grand Jury Prize among 18 contenders for Death in Sarajevo about the corrosive legacy of the 1990s Balkan wars.
  • A more than eight-hour-long historical epic by Filipino director Lav Diaz, A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery , claimed the Alfred Bauer Prize for a feature film that opens new perspectives in cinema.
  • Best screenplay went to Polish filmmaker Tomasz Wasilewski, his portrait of the pivotal 1989-90 period in his country as told by four women, played by some of Poland’s best-known theatre actresses, at crossroads in their lives.

Mini organs to produce insulin

  • Scientists have successfully developed ‘mini-organs’ that produced insulin when transplanted into the mice, an advance that could lead to patient-specific therapy for diabetes.

Details

  • Researchers have spent decades trying to replace the insulin-producing pancreatic cells, called beta cells, that are lost in diabetes.
  • Scientists, including those from Harvard University, have discovered that tissue from the lower stomach has the greatest potential to be reprogrammed into a beta-cell state.
  • They took samples of this tissue from mice and grew them into “mini-organs” that produced insulin when transplanted back into the animals.
  • The mini-organs’ stem cells also continued to replenish the insulin-producing cell population, giving the tissue a sustainable regenerative boost. Pylorus
  • The pylorus region connects the stomach to the small intestine. Cells in this area were the most responsive to high glucose levels, producing insulin to normalise mice’s blood sugar.
  • Researchers destroyed the mice’s pancreatic beta cells, forcing them to rely on the altered stomach cells.
  • Control animals, without tissue reprogramming, died within eight weeks. However, the experimental mice’s reprogrammed cells maintained insulin and glucose levels in their blood for as long as the animals were tracked, up to six months.

New device for digital security

  • Researchers have developed a digital “magic wand” hardware device to improve home healthcare and prevent hackers from stealing personal data.

Details

  • Wireless and mobile health technologies have great potential to improve access to care, reduce costs and improve health. But these new technologies, whether in the form of software for smartphones or specialised devices to be worn, carried or applied as needed, also pose risks if they’re not designed or configured with security and privacy in mind
  • One of the main challenges is that most people do not know how to set up and maintain a secure network in their home, which can lead to compromised or stolen data or potentially allow hackers access to critical devices such as heart rate monitors or dialysis machines.
  • In the new Dartmouth-based project in US, the researches developed “Wanda”, a small hardware device that has two antennas separated by one-half wavelength and uses radio strength as a communication channel.
  • The solution makes it easy for people to add a new device to their Wi-Fi network: they simply pull the wand from a USB port on the Wi-Fi access point, carry it close to the new device and point it at the device. Within a few seconds, the wand securely beams the secret Wi-Fi network information to the device.
  • The findings will be presented at the IEEE International Conference on Computer Communications in San Francisco in April.

India, Nepal sign seven accords

  • India and Nepal signed seven agreements at a summit meeting of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Nepal counterpart K.P. Sharma Oli
  • Both sides were determined to avoid the disruption of Nepal’s transit facilities as experienced over the past five months.
  • Though both the sides tried to address the grievances of the pro-blockade agitators by agreeing to build a road network in the Madhes region, the leaders of the Madhesis are planning more agitation.
  • United Madhesi Democratic Front is planning re-launch economic blockade demanding constitutional amendments
  • Meanwhile, more than two dozen Madhesi students from Nepal, arrested here on Friday night, were remanded in judicial custody in Tihar jail. The students were arrested by the Delhi police when they tried to reach the embassy of Nepal where Mr.Oli was attending a public reception.

A new way of healing large bone fractures

  • Researchers have successfully reprogrammed living bone cells that are implanted to treat large, non-healing bone fractures to enhance their capacity to regenerate even in harmful environment.
  • To support bone generation, researchers worldwide are developing living implants, consisting of cells seeded on supporting structures made of biological material.

Details

  • Human body can repair bone fractures by itself in most cases. However, the body’s repair capacity is not sufficient in large bone fractures or defects, which often fail to heal without help.
  • Often, only 30 per cent of the implanted bone cells will survive the first days. A major reason is that the blood vessels around the fracture, which deliver oxygen and nutrients to the cells, are also damaged. The ingrowth of new blood vessels into the implant takes time and until then, the cells are out of fuel since oxygen and nutrient supply is insufficient
  • At the same time, the starved bone cells produce harmful oxygen radicals and thereby disturb the natural balance between antioxidants and oxygen radicals. An excess of these oxygen radicals causes irreversible cell damage
  • Reprogramming bone cells obtained from patients might increase their survival rate from 30 per cent to 60 per cent, which will ultimately lead to better bone regeneration
  • Researchers tested in mice how they could better equip the bone cells for that crucial stage between implantation and ingrowth of the blood vessels.
  • They managed to switch on a survival mode in bone cells by inactivating the oxygen sensor PHD2 before implantation.
  • As a result, bone cells activate a dual defence mechanism. First, bone cells increase storage of an emergency fuel in the form of glycogen, which is in fact a sugar reservoir. In addition, bone cells start using glutamine — an amino acid — to produce more antioxidants to neutralise the increased production of harmful oxygen radicals
  • These two adjustments allow bone cells to be self—supporting in terms of energy generation and to protect themselves against an increased level of oxygen radicals
  • The oxygen sensor PHD2 can be inactivated via genetic engineering, and also by administering therapeutic molecules

Bat-inspired micro vehicles that can fly over long distances

  • Researchers led by an Indian-origin scientist have designed innovative membrane wings inspired by bats, paving the way for a new breed of unmanned Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs) that can fly over long distances and are more economical to run.
  • One emerging trend among MAV developers is to draw inspiration from the natural world to design vehicles that can achieve better flight performance and that offer similar levels of controllability to small drones but use the efficiency provided by wings to fly much further.
  • To inform and speed up the design process, they built innovative computational models and used them to aid the construction of a test MAV incorporating the pioneering ‘bat wings’
  • The findings were incorporated into a 0.5 metre—wide test vehicle, designed to skim over the sea’s surface and, if necessary, land there safely.

Details

  • The wings work such as artificial muscles, changing shape in response to the forces they experience and have no mechanical parts, making MAVs incorporating them easier to maintain
  • The unique design of the wings incorporates electro-active polymers that makes the wings stiffen and relax in response to an applied voltage and further enhances their performance.
  • By changing the voltage input, the shape of the electroactive membrane and, therefore, aerodynamic characteristics can be altered during flight. The proof of concept wing will eventually enable flight over much longer distances than currently possible.

Uses of MAVs

  • MAVs are increasingly used in a wide variety of civil and military applications, such as surveying remote and dangerous areas.

Modi to attend summit of EU, India in Brussels

  • Prime Minister will travel to Brussels for the EU-India summit on March 30, which is being held after a long gap of four years that have also seen the suspension of talks on the Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA)
  • Officials hope that the visit by Mr. Modi will also see an announcement on the resumption of talks on the BTIA, as the free trade agreement (FTA) is known.
  • Commerce will lead a delegation to Brussels on 23 Feb to meet her counterpart at the European Commission. There will be one more meeting on the FTA on March 30 at the level of Commerce Ministers on the sidelines of the PM’s visit.

Obstacles to FTA

  • India-EU FTA talks were suspended in 2013 after 16 rounds of negotiation.
  • The EU have asked India to substantially bring down the “high” duties on automobiles as a pre-condition for resumption of the FTA negotiations. India’s import duty on cars range from 60-120 per cent as against the EU’s 10 per cent.

India-U.S. carrier group concludes second meet

  • The India-U.S. working group on aircraft-carrier technology co-operation has held its second meeting
  • The group was one of the two constituted under the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative during U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to India in January last year.
  • At this meeting, various aspects of cooperation were discussed and a joint statement was signed. The discussions were spread over three days from February 15 to 18.
  • India envisages having a three-carrier Navy. It is carrying out feasibility studies for the second Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-II), and the design is expected to be finalised by year-end. The U.S. has offered India the Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) — now being developed by General Atomics — to be installed on IAC-II.
  • The second summit, between the PM of India and President of the US, was marked by a renewed 10-year defence partnership and the much-anticipated nuclear breakthrough.

India US – Defence cooperation:

  • India and the U.S agreed to extend the Defence Cooperation Agreement last year and identified four projects under the Defence Technology Trade Initiative (DTTI) for joint production and development and exploring cooperation for jet engines and aircraft carrier systems.
  • DTTI is an initiative which is within the defence framework. The significant project under DTTI is the plans for joint development and production of next generation Raven Mini UAVs, a device which the Indian Army was eyeing. If the joint manufacturing of the UAV happens, then India would be able to get a slice of the multi-billion order book for the world‘s most advanced hand-launched drone.

Pak files case against an unnamed terrorist group

  • India welcomed Pakistan’s move to file a case against an unnamed extremist group suspected of executing the January 2 attack on the Pathankot airbase.
  • The Pakistani police filed a case against a suspected terror group under the strict Anti Terrorism Act and the Pakistan Penal Code.
  • This is a clear hint of the two countries holding the Foreign Secretary-level talks soon
  • Immediately after the attack, India pointed the finger at the Jaish-e-Mohammed, which has its headquarters in Gujranwala, but did not receive a favourable response even after providing technical evidence of the involvement of members of this group.
  • The filing of the case under the Anti Terrorism Act has been interpreted by observers as a sign that the “actionable intelligence” given by India to Pakistan after the attack has begun to produce results.

New sanctions slapped on North Korea

  • U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law a piece of legislation imposing new sanctions on North Korea for refusing to stop its nuclear weapons programme.

Maldivian opposition leader in  jail

  • Imran Abdulla, Opposition leader in the Maldives and chief of the Ahdaalath Party, has been sentenced to 12-year imprisonment.
  • Mr. Abdulla was convicted by the Criminal Court for having “incited violence” at a demonstration on May 1 last year. Incitement to violence has been defined as an act of terrorism under Maldivian law
  • The Ahdaalath Party is described by the government as “religiously conservative”.
  • In March last year, former President Mohammed Nasheed was convicted for “ordering” the arrest of the chief judge of the Criminal Court and sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment. At present, he is on a “temporary leave” from prison for medical treatment in the U.K.

U.S., U.K. express concern

  • Both the U.S. and the U.K. have expressed concern over the arrest.
  • This is the second conviction of an opposition party leader in the Maldives on terrorism charges in the last year.
  • Both reiterated their governments’ call to the Maldives to end “politically motivated trials” and restore confidence in and commitment to democracy and human rights.

Cabinet approved ratification for Trade Facilitation Agreement

  • The Cabinet has approved a proposal for ratification of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) of World Trade Organization (WTO)
  • To facilitate domestic coordination and implementation of the TFA, the Cabinet also cleared the proposal to set up a National Committee on Trade Facilitation (NCTF) to be jointly chaired by the commerce and revenue secretaries.
  • These objectives are also in consonance with India’s “Ease of Doing Business” initiative

Trade Facilitation Agreement

  • TFA is aimed at easing customs rules for expediting global trade flow of goods.
  • The WTO member-countries in November 2014 adopted a “protocol of amendment” to incorporate the TFA on goods in the overall WTO Agreement. For the TFA to be operational, two-thirds (or 108) of the 162 WTO members will have to ratify it. However, only 69 countries have ratified it so far.
  • The TFA also contains measures for effective cooperation between customs and other appropriate authorities on trade facilitation and customs compliance issues.
  • Trade experts had said ratifying the agreement so early could lead to India losing a bargaining chip to secure its interests.
  • That includes finding a permanent solution to the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes and a mechanism to safeguard poor farmers from sudden import surge of farm products.

Oli visit may help repair bilateral ties

  • India and Nepal hope to begin repairing ties as Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli makes his first official visit to India on 19th of Feb.
  • But as Mr.Oli lands in Delhi on the six-day visit, the two sides are unlikely to dwell too much on the past few months of strain, choosing instead to focus on the earthquake reconstruction effort, Indian power projects in the pipeline and future cooperation.
  • In accordance with tradition, Mr.Oli is making India his first destination abroad after becoming Prime Minister in October 2015.
  • He will meet his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi and other leaders in Delhi besides visiting two of India’s worst earthquake-hit areas, looking at the hydropower station built in Tehri, Uttarakhand, and reconstruction projects in Bhuj, Gujarat.

Issues over Nepal’s constitution

  • Equally clear is the desire on both sides to put events since August 2015 behind them, when India and Nepal fought a public and blistering battle over the new Constitution.
  • India refused to welcome the Nepal Constitution passed in September 2015, as the statute ignored the concerns of groups in the southern Madhes region of Nepal that borders India, and demanded four amendments to be made: on reservations, constituency delimitation, demarcation of provinces and citizenship rights.
  • Nepal’s government, first headed by Sushil Koirala, and then by Mr.Oli, refused to accept amendments under pressure, accusing India of enforcing an economic blockade that crippled the country, and taking the issue to the U.N.

Oral bacteria linked to higher stroke risk: Study

  • In a study of patients entering the hospital for acute stroke, researchers have increased their understanding of an association between certain types of stroke and the presence of the oral bacteria (cnm-positiveStreptococcus mutans)
  • The cnm-positive S. mutans bacteria is found in approximately 10 percent of the general population, and is known to cause dental cavities (tooth decay).

Details

  • Strokes are characterized as either ischemic strokes, which involve a blockage of one or more blood vessels supplying the brain, or hemorrhagic strokes, in which blood vessels in the brain rupture, causing bleeding.
  • In the single hospital study, researchers at the National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center in Osaka, Japan, observed stroke patients to gain a better understanding of the relationship between hemorrhagic stroke and oral bacteria.
  • The authors hypothesize that the S. mutans bacteria may bind to blood vessels weakened by age and high blood pressure, causing arterial ruptures in the brain, leading to small or large hemorrhages.

Significance

  • This study shows that oral health is important for brain health.
  • Multiple research studies have shown a close association between the presence of gum disease and heart disease, and a 2013 publication revealed how the bacterium responsible for gum disease worsens rheumatoid arthritis.

Iran in the Belt and Road loop as first train from China arrives

  • The first train from China’s trading hub of Yiwu has arrived in Tehran signalling Iran’s firm integration in the Beijing led-Belt and Road connectivity initiative along the New Silk Road.
  • The train ferrying 32 containers completed its 14-day journey, covering over 10,399 km, after passing through the arid landscape of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in Central Asia.
  •  Compared to the railway option, cargo ships, setting sail from Shangahi take nearly 45 days to arrive at the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.
  • Analysts point out that by joining China on the railway map, Iran was establishing solid structural linkages with Eurasia along the Silk Road Economic Belt.
  • Iran is currently in desperate need of investment for infrastructure construction. However, as oil prices are low now, Iran’s revenue in this sector has seen sharp decrease. At the same time, China is promoting the belt and road initiative. Iran is expected to become one of the major participants of that initiative

Iran’s strategic importance to China

  • Iran is strategically located underscored by its common borders with 15 nations, and sea channels on its northern and southwestern coasts
  • The country is expected to play a crucial role in the Belt and Road as an energy hub and access to extensive delivery routes connecting to the Middle East and Eurasia.
  • During the sanctions phase, China’s energy giants Sinopec and China National Petroleum Corporation had provided technical support to Iranian firms for the development of the giant South Pars gas fields and the oil fields of Yadavaran and North Azadegan
  • China’s ongoing technical support is likely to further reduce the rail transit time between China and Iran.
  • China-led consortium has started electrifying the rail track between Tehran and Mashaad, a major pilgrimage city.
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Tehran last month appears to have energised Iran’s integration in the Eurasian fold

Top global producers agreed to freeze oil output

  • Top global producers Saudi Arabia and Russia agreed to freeze oil output
  • The announcement followed a closed-door meeting in Doha between Saudi Arabia — the de facto leader of OPEC — Venezuela, Qatar and Russia, which does not belong to the oil cartel. Following the meeting, all four countries are ready to freeze oil production at January levels, if other major producers do the same
  • The announcement marked the first move between OPEC and non-cartel producers to stem the price fall since it began nearly 19 months ago.
  • Saudi Arabia and other OPEC producers have been refusing to reduce output in a bid to drive less-competitive players, in particular U.S. shale oil producers, out of the marke
  • This was done to shore up prices after a 70 per cent drop due to chronic oversupply since mid-2014.
  • Further talks involving Iran and Iraq are due in Tehran

Cobra Gold

  • A 12-member team of the Indian Army is participating in the “Cobra Gold” multilateral exercises being hosted by Thailand, along with its counterparts from China and Pakistan.
  • India has been invited to the exercises as an “observer plus” country. This is in keeping with the recent trend of India’s increasing regional interoperability with a series of multi-lateral exercises on land and sea.
  • The theme of the exercise, involving 35 countries, is humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The 35th edition of the exercises, considered Asia’s largest multinational drill, started on January 20 and will end on February 18.
  • The Thai government has said that this year, 8,564 personnel from Thailand, the U.S., Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea and other nations are playing various roles in the exercises. These exercises come in the backdrop of increased tensions over China’s land reclamation in the South China Sea and informal discussions between India and the U.S. over joint naval patrols

Cancer researchers claim ‘extraordinary results’ using T-cell therapy

  • Scientists are claiming “extraordinary” success with engineering immune cells to target a specific type of blood cancer in their first clinical trials.
  • In one study, 94 per cent of participants with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) saw symptoms vanish completely. Patients with other blood cancers had response rates greater than 80 per cent, and more than half experienced complete remission.
  • To administer the T-cell therapy, doctors remove immune cells from patients, tagging them with “receptor” molecules that target a specific cancer, as other T-cells target the flu or infections. They then infuse the cells back in the body
  • T-cells are a living drug, and in particular they have the potential to persist in our body for our whole lives
  • Tests so far have only targeted certain blood cancers, and the researchers acknowledged they needed to work on tumours and track how long patients would remain in remission. Cancer cells can sometimes hide unnoticed by the body’s defences, or simply overwhelm them and throw the immune system into overdrive.
  • T-cell therapy is often considered an option of last resort because reprogramming the immune system can come with dangerous side-effects, including cytokine release syndrome (sCRS) — and overload defence cells. Twenty patients suffered symptoms of fever, hypotension and neurotoxicity due to sCRS, and two died, but the researchers noted that chemotherapy had failed in all the patients who participated in the new trials.

New 2D semiconductor discovered

  • A team at the University of Utah led by an Indian-origin engineer has discovered a new kind of 2D semi-conducting material for electronics that opens the door for much speedier computers and smartphones that consume a lot less power.
  • The semi-conductor, made of tin and oxygen or tin monoxide (SnO), is a layer of 2D material only one atom thick, allowing electrical charges to move through it much faster than conventional 3D materials such as silicon.
  • This material could be used in transistors, the lifeblood of all electronic devices such as computer processors and graphics processors in desktop computers and mobile devices.

Significance

  • Transistors and other components used in electronic devices are currently made of 3D materials such as silicon and consist of multiple layers on a glass substrate. But the downside to 3D materials is that electrons bounce around inside the layers in all directions.
  • The benefit of 2D materials is that the material is made of one layer the thickness of just one or two atoms. Consequently, the electrons can only move in one layer so it’s much faster.
  • Because the electrons move through one layer instead of bouncing around in a 3D material, there will be less friction, meaning the processors will not get as hot as normal computer chips
  • They will also require much less power to run, a boon for mobile electronics that have to run on battery power.
  • This could be especially important for medical devices such as electronic implants that will run longer on a single battery charge.

Creating a computer voice that people like

  • The challenge of creating a computer “personality” is now one that a growing number of software designers are grappling with as computers become portable and users with busy hands and eyes increasingly use voice interaction.
  • Machines are listening, understanding and speaking, and not just computers and smartphones. Voices have been added to a wide range of everyday objects like cars and toys, as well as household information “appliances.”
  • A new design science is emerging in the pursuit of building what are called “conversational agents,” software programs that understand natural language and speech and can respond to human voice commands.
  • However, the creation of such systems, led by researchers in a field known as human-computer interaction design, is still as much an art as it is a science.
  • It is not yet possible to create a computerized voice that is indistinguishable from a human one for anything longer than short phrases that might be used for weather forecasts or communicating driving directions.
  • Most software designers acknowledge that they are still faced with crossing the “uncanny valley,” in which voices that are almost human-sounding are actually disturbing or jarring. The phrase was coined by the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970. He observed that as graphical animations became more humanlike, there was a point at which they would become creepy and weird before improving to become indistinguishable from videos of humans.
  • The same is true for speech

Scientists at CERN recreate the universe’s ‘primordial soup’

  • Scientists have recreated the universe’s ‘primordial soup’ in miniature format by colliding lead atoms with extremely high energy in the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN.

Details

  • The primordial soup is a so-called quark-gluon plasma and researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark, among others, have measured its liquid properties with great accuracy at the LHC’s top energy.
  • A few billionths of a second after the Big Bang, the universe was made up of a kind of extremely hot and dense primordial soup of the most fundamental particles, especially quarks and gluons. This state is called quark-gluon plasma.
  • By colliding lead nuclei at a record-high energy of 5.02 TeV in LHC, the 27 km-long LHC at CERN in Geneva, it has been possible to recreate this state in the ALICE experiment’s detector and measure its properties.
  • The analyses of the collisions make it possible, for the first time, to measure the precise characteristics of quark-gluon plasma at the highest energy ever and to determine how it flows
  • The focus has been on the quark-gluon plasma’s collective properties, which show that this state of matter behaves more like a liquid than a gas, even at the very highest energy densities.
  • The new measurements make it possible to determine the viscosity of this  fluid with great precision.

Antarctica influencing weather in tropics

  • Scientists at the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement West Antarctic Radiation Experiment (AWARE) project are coming to grips with how weather in Antarctica is influencing climate as far away as the tropics. The study examines the physics of the clouds over Antarctica.
  • The project gains importance as it studies the skies above Antarctica for answers to questions such as how climate change and associated atmospheric physics are affecting Antarctica and how the ripple effects of these phenomena are being felt thousands of miles away in the mid latitudes and the tropics.
  • The project by the United States is located at Mc Murdo station in Antarctica.

Details of the project:

  • The temperature gradient between the equator and the poles essentially drives the atmospheric circulation in the southern hemisphere in the form of three north-south systems: the polar cell, the mid-latitude Ferrel cell and the tropical Hadley cell. These cells are dynamically linked together.
  • The project will observe how climate change affects the polar region as it has been determined that when the polar region warms, the location of the boundary between the polar and Ferrel cells will change, along with the strength of circulation in both cells.
  • This in turn will influence the strength of tropical circulation on the other side of the Ferrel cell. These linkages between polar regions and mid- and tropical latitudes are known as teleconnections.
  • During the study, scientists have observed that a change in Antarctic cloud properties that led to a warming of Antarctica weakened the Southern Hemisphere Ferrel cell, and allowed the Hadley Cell on the other side to strengthen, which in turn resulted in more rainfall due to increased latent heat release over Southern Hemisphere tropical regions.
  • An expanding Hadley cell is generally expected to result from a globally warming atmosphere, so the Antarctic warming from cloud property change is a positive feedback on a warming climate.
  • Another important feature being studied is the winds that traverse in the form of storm tracks across Antarctica’s atmosphere and their effect on Antarctica’s climate. However, one established trend due to global warming is the slight southward shift of the storms and the intrusion of warm air which led to the breaking away of a large ice-shelf. Also, the frequency of warm and moist air intrusions over West Antarctica generated by storms in the Ross and western Amundsen Seas, is a hypothesis under study by AWARE.
  • Antarctica acts as a global heat sink. Near the equator the Sun is highest in the sky and insolation (solar radiation reaching the surface) is larger than thermal radiation loss to space. At the South Pole during winter there is no insolation and the Antarctic continent loses energy to space. Energy and warmth transported over the Antarctic continent by global circulation patterns is lost to space by radiative cooling.

Indian may become U.S. apex court judge

  • The death of a serving judge of the U.S. Supreme Court has set off acrimonious exchanges between the Democrats and the Republicans on whether President Barack Obama should nominate a new judge in the last year of his presidency.
  • Mr. Obama has declared that he would nominate a replacement for Antonin Scalia who died on Saturday at 79, ending a controversial tenure through which he steered the court towards the right with a series of pronouncements.
  • Srikanth Srinivasan, 49, whose family came to the U.S. from a village in Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu figures as the most probable choice to succeed Scalia, according to media reports

U.S. sale of F-16 sale to Pak.

  • U.S. has announced to sell eight more F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan
  • The State Department’s contention was that the sale was in the U.S.’s “vital national security interests”
  • The F-16 fighting Falcon is the most modern fourth generation aircraft in service, and over 4,400 aircraft have been produced so far and are in service with 25 countries.
  • The Indian Air Force has a large number of fourth generation-plus Sukhoi-30 aircraft which can more than handle the F-16
  • The F-16 was in the race for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contract but lost to the French Rafale. The U.S. has still been pitching the aircraft for the Indian Air Force under the Make in India initiative.

Historical background

  • The sale of the aircraft to Pakistan, a major cold war ally of the U.S. in South Asia, is not new.
  • It dates back to 1982 when the Regan administration sold the first batch of aircraft when General Zia-ul Haq was the military ruler.
  • Forty fighter jets were transferred when the Pressler amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act stalled further sales because of concerns over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme.
  • However, following the 9/11 terror attacks on the U.S. and Pakistan emerging as the number one ally in the war on terror, the sales resumed.
  • A deal for 18 F-16 Block C/D aircraft was signed in 2006 with an option for more. The US also gave 14 used F-16 aircraft free of cost in 2012. In 2013, Pakistan announced its decision to buy 13 second-hand F-16 from Jordan, and the delivery started last year.
  • Compared with the older version, the latest F-16 Block C/D is an entirely new aircraft with significant new capabilities.

Experts talk

  • The U.S. decision to sell F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan will not alter the military balance in the region, but it will reinforce the centrality of Pakistan’s Army
  • India has consistently opposed the transfer of F-16s to Pakistan, as opposed to the transport planes C-130, because of their lethal capabilities, ever since the U.S. began supplying them to the neighbouring country in the 1980s

Farewell to Philae as Rosetta probe goes into ‘eternal hibernation’

  • The Philae space probe has gone into “eternal hibernation” as ground controllers have given up attempts to re-establish contact with the craft.

IISER’s contribution in gravitational waves

  • Scientists from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Thiruvananthapuram, who contributed to the historic discovery of gravitational waves from colliding black holes, are gearing up for a greater role in the international project that promises to open a new window to the cosmos.
  • The Gravitational Wave Group at the School of Physics, IISER, Thiruvananthapuram, was part of the Indian Initiative in Gravitational-wave Observations (IndIGO) comprising scientists from nine institutions working under the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC).
  • The group, which focusses on novel gravitational wave detection algorithms, directly contributed in testing general relativity with the black hole binary termed GW150914. With extensive computational analysis, the study found that the emitted signal is consistent with the predictions of general relativity.
  • The work is relevant now in the context of the discovery and with more advanced detectors scheduled to come up in the next few years, a press note issued by IISER said.
  • The current LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) network that detected gravitational waves, confirming the prediction of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, consists of two U.S.-based detectors designed to detect tiny vibrations from passing gravitational waves.
  • The data from the detectors was analysed by an international team of scientists.

Power generation from walking

  • Scientists have developed an innovative energy-harvesting technology that can capture the power of human motion to charge mobile electronic devices such as smartphones and laptops.
  • The energy harvesting and storage technology developed by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (U-W Madison) in U.S. could reduce our reliance on the batteries in our mobile devices, ensuring we have power for our devices no matter where we are.

The Technology – Reverse Electrowetting

  • Human walking carries a lot of energy. Theoretical estimates show that it can produce up to 10 watts per shoe, and that energy is just wasted as heat. A total of 20 watts from walking is not a small thing, especially compared to the power requirements of the majority of modern mobile devices
  • Tapping into just a small amount of that energy is enough to power a wide range of mobile devices, including smartphones, tablets, laptop computers and flashlights. For example, a typical smartphone requires less than two watts
  • The new technology takes advantage of ‘reverse electrowetting’, a phenomenon that researchers pioneered in 2011. With this approach, as a conductive liquid interacts with a nanofilm-coated surface, the mechanical energy is directly converted into electrical energy.
  • The reverse electrowetting method can generate usable power, but it requires an energy source with a reasonably high frequency — such as a mechanical source that is vibrating or rotating quickly.
  • Researchers developed a ‘bubbler’ method, which combines reverse electrowetting with bubble growth and collapse.
  • The bubbler device — which contains no moving mechanical parts — consists of two flat plates separated by a small gap filled with a conductive liquid. The bottom plate is covered with tiny holes through which pressurised gas forms bubbles.
  • The bubbles grow until they are large enough to touch the top plate, which causes the bubble to collapse.
  • The speedy, repetitive growth and collapse of bubbles pushes the conductive fluid back and forth, generating electrical charge.

Significance

  • The technology could enable a footwear-embedded energy harvester that captures energy produced by humans during walking and stores it for later use
  • Power-generating shoes could be especially useful for the military, as soldiers currently carry heavy batteries to power their radios, Global Positioning System (GPS) units and night-vision goggles in the field.
  • The advance could provide a source of power to people in remote areas and developing countries that lack adequate electrical power grids.

World Development Report (WDR) ‘Digital Dividends’

  • The World Bank’s recently released World Development Report (WDR) ‘Digital Dividends’
  • The WDR finds that digital technologies have spread rapidly throughout much of the world, but their digital dividends — the broader development benefits from using these technologies — have lagged behind. In many instances digital technologies have boosted growth, expanded opportunities, and improved service delivery. Yet their aggregate impact has fallen short and is unevenly distributed.
  • The report argues that for digital technologies to confer their full benefit on society, it is vital to close the digital divide, especially in Internet access. But greater digital adoption will not be enough. To get the most out of the digital revolution, countries also need to work on its “analogue complements” — by strengthening regulations that ensure competition among businesses, by adapting workers’ skills to the demands of the new economy, and by ensuring that government institutions and others are accountable.
  • Measuring the performance of India and China with the WDR metrics of connectivity and complements shows why India has not yet taken full advantage of the digital revolution.

The contrast with China – Digital divide

  • At the end of 2014, India had 227 million Internet users, compared to 665 million in China. Fewer than two out of every five Indian businesses had an online presence compared to almost two-thirds of firms in China.
  • The cost of a 1 Mbit/s residential broadband service in India is 6-10 times higher than in China. And by most accounts, the digital divide across age, gender, geography and income within India is significantly higher than in China. Thanks to its successful digital ID programme, Aadhaar, India scores higher than China in digital adoption by governments, but the need now is to use the platform that Aadhaar provides more widely and effectively.
  • Amartya Sen has written extensively on the idea of human ‘capability’. This concept has large applications in the digital world. Unfortunately, not only does India have a higher digital access gap, it also has a bigger digital capability gap. The capability gap, according to the WDR, arises from two main sources: the overall business climate and the quality of human capital.
  • Despite some commendable improvements in cutting bureaucratic costs faced by small and medium enterprises, India scores considerably below China in doing business indicators. It is important for India to create space for creativity and enterprise and to promote competition.
  • The slow pace of improvement of the quality of basic infrastructure — expressways, logistics, storage, postal delivery system and reliable supply of electricity — have also hampered the growth of e-commerce in India. And the excessively cautious approach of Indian regulators towards disruptive technological innovations such as mobile money or ride-sharing services has made it difficult for digital start-ups to enter new markets and achieve scale.
  • While Indian technology workers and entrepreneurs excel in Silicon Valley in the United States, the skills level of the average Indian worker remains significantly behind his or her Chinese counterpart. India has made considerable strides in improving its human capital, but a vast majority of its population still lacks the skills to meaningfully participate in the digital economy.
  • Around 25 per cent of India’s adult population cannot read and write compared to fewer than 5 per cent in China.
  • There is also major difference in quality of education: The latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) test scores in rural India show that 10 per cent of children aged 16 and below cannot identify single-digit numbers consistently. Fewer than one in five can do a subtraction, performing considerably below their grade level.
  • Clearly, India’s challenge to becoming a digital economy remains formidable. The government has announced a slew of new initiatives: Digital India; Make in India; Start-up India; and innovative applications of Aadhaar such as JAM (Jan-Dhan Yojana-Aadhaar-Mobile trinity) and Digital Lockers. Successful and accelerated implementation of these programmes can make up for some of the lost time. But India also needs to do more by strengthening the basic foundations of its digital economy.
  • Making the Internet accessible, open and safe for all Indians is an urgent priority. The cost of mobile phone access is already low by international standards. And with a supportive policy environment involving smart spectrum management, public-private partnerships, and intelligent regulations of Internet markets, the same can be achieved for Internet access. Zero-rated services for mobile data access have become controversial, though they could be an intermediate step to fully open and affordable Internet access for the poorest, provided that the choice of selecting services is transparent and inclusive.

Basic requirements are utmost important

  • Access, however, is only one part of the agenda. An important lesson from the WDR is that even the most sophisticated technologies are no substitute for tackling long-standing shortcomings in other areas — most importantly basic health, education and a regulatory ethos that encourages competition and enterprise.
  • When the World Bank adopted in 2013 “shared prosperity” as one of its mission goals, it was the first time that combating inequality was being set up as a target. There was a lot of initial opposition because while the battling of poverty seems like a fairly impersonal goal, the goal of “sharing” makes many uncomfortable.
  • Fortunately, the way the shared prosperity goal is formalised has deep conceptual roots. This goal is now increasingly being recognised as vital for a better world. The aim of ending the digital divide discussed in our most recent WDR stems from this same basic idea and is an urgent need of our times.
  • India wrote one of the early success stories of the digital revolution when it became a global powerhouse for software development and information services. Its Aadhaar digital ID system has become a model for many other countries, helping governments to become more efficient and more inclusive in expanding services to those who had been left behind.
  • Whether the new initiatives will generate even greater and more widely shared digital dividends — faster growth, more jobs, and better services — depends not only on expanding affordable access to all, but also on making long overdue progress on the analogue complements of digital investments.

Climate change helping Zika spread

  • The outbreak of Zika virus in Central and South America is a glimpse of the sort of public health threats that will unfold due to climate change for some experts
  • Whenever the planet has faced a major climate change event, man-made or not, species have moved around and their pathogens have come into contact with species with no resistance.
  • It’s still not clear what role rising temperatures and altered rainfall patterns have had on the spread of Zika, which is mainly spread by mosquitoes; the increased global movement of people is probably as great an influence as climate change for the spread of infectious diseases.
  • But the World Health Organization (WHO), which declared a public health emergency over the birth defects linked to Zika, is clear that changes in climate mean a redrawn landscape for vector and water-borne diseases. According to WHO, a global temperature rise of 2-3 degree C will increase the number of people at risk of malaria by around 3-5 per cent, which equates to several hundred million.
  • In areas where malaria is already endemic, the seasonal duration of malaria is likely to lengthen. Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that carries Zika and other diseases, is expected to thrive in warmer conditions.
  • As climate change reaches almost every corner of the Earth’s ecology, different diseases could be unleashed. Increased precipitation will create more pools of standing water for mosquitoes, risking malaria and rift valley fever.
  • Deforestation and agricultural intensification also heightens malaria risk while ocean warming, driven by the vast amounts of heat being sucked up by the oceans, can cause toxic algal blooms that can lead to infections in humans.
  • We know that warmer and wetter conditions facilitate the transmission of mosquito-borne diseases so it’s plausible that climate conditions have added the spread of Zika

Moscow’s military action has changed the shape of Syrian conflict 

  • For months now the U.S. has insisted there is no military solution to the Syrian civil war, only a political accord between President Bashar Al-Assad and the fractured, divided opposition groups that have been trying to topple him.
  • But after days of intense bombing that could soon put the critical city of Aleppo back into the hands of Mr. Assad’s forces, the Russians may be proving the U.S. wrong.
  • The Russian military action has changed the shape of a conflict that had effectively been stalemated for years. Suddenly, Mr. Assad and his allies have momentum, and the U.S.-backed rebels are on the run.
  • If a ceasefire is negotiated here, it will probably come at a moment Mr. Assad holds more territory, and more sway, than since the outbreak of the uprisings in 2011.
  • Mr. Kerry enters the negotiations with very little leverage: The Russians have cut off many of the pathways the CIA has been using for a not-very-secret effort to arm rebel groups, according to several current and former officials.
  • Without a political solution or a stepped-up military effort, the U.S. is not only left with little influence over the course of the Syrian civil war, but without a viable strategy to bring all of the warring parties together to fight the Islamic State.
  • An open breach erupted with the Turks, who charge that the U.S. is empowering the Kurds, with whom Turkey believes it is in an existential struggle.
  • At the core of the U.S. strategic dilemma is that the Russian military adventure has been surprisingly effective in helping Mr. Assad reclaim the central cities he needs to hold power, at least in a rump-state version of Syria.

India, UAE sign nine agreements

  • Following discussions held at the Hyderabad House between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the visiting Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) signed nine agreements covering cooperation in the fields of currency swap, culture, investments in the infrastructure sector, renewable energy, space research, insurance supervision, cyber security, skill development and commercial information sharing.
  • However, the much anticipated agreement on India accessing UAE’s Sovereign Fund was not declared UAE requires India to carry out some structural changes in its economy to facilitate such an agreement.The structural changes the UAE government has been pressing for include single-window clearance and simplification of “cumbersome and complex processes”. The SWFs wanted the Indian government to be a “strategic partner for safety” of their investments, besides an assurance of a conducive business environment.
  • India and the UAE had begun a dialogue that would firm up a Free Trade Agreement between India and the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Gravitational waves reach earth

  • The highly elusive ‘gravitational waves’ have finally been detected.
  • Albert Einstein had predicted their presence  exactly 100 years ago
  • After decades of search for these ripples in space-time, scientists working with the gigantic optical instruments in the U.S. called LIGO [Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory], have detected signals of gravitational waves emanating from two merging black holes 1.3 billion light years away arriving at their instruments on the Earth.
  • That is to say, this cataclysmic event of two black holes merging occurred 1.3 b yrs ago, when multi-cellular organisms were just beginning to form on the Earth, the gravitational waves from which are being received now on the Earth.  

The discovery

  • Although indirect evidence for the existence of gravitational waves had been seen from the decaying orbital period of objects called binary pulsars — which Russel Hulse and Joseph Taylor discovered in 1974 and for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1993 — a direct detection of gravitational waves had till now proved to be extremely difficult.
  • This required enormous advances in technology to enable instruments with sensitivity sufficient to detect distortions of space-time as tiny as 10-18 m, which is a thousandth of the diameter of a proton, and less. That is like measuring the distance between the Earth and the nearest galaxy Andromeda, which is 2.5 million light years away, to hair-width precision.
  • This is what the upgraded or advanced LIGO, which began its first run only in September 2015, achieved and within days it made this spectacular literally earth-shaking discovery.
  • The gravitational wave signal struck the detector on September 14, 2015, and the signal had the unmistakable stamp of a black-hole binary merger, a phenomenon that has been extensively studied through simulations.
  • The LIGO is the most precise instrument that has ever been built. It consists of two identical L-shaped laser interferometer systems, one at Hanford in Washington and one at Livingston in Louisiana. There are two systems to ensure that detection at both the instruments that are about 3000 km apart with the calculated time delay ensures that the detected signal is not due to any spurious seismic signal or any other local vibration.
  • Each of the arms of the L is a 4 km tunnel in which laser beams bounce back and forth between two highly sensitive suspended mirrors. The laser beams are tuned to be perfectly in opposite phase so that there is total interference when the beams arrive at the intersection of the arms and no light passes through the beam splitter at the intersection into the photo-detector behind. But when a gravitational wave passes through the detector, the space-time gets distorted much like a squeezed ball, oscillating between the two states compressed in one direction and elongated in the other. So the effect of this oscillatory compression of one arm and elongation of the other is that there is no total cancellation of the interfering laser beams and a net signal gets through to the photodetector.
  • The total signal lasted for about 0.4 s with the “ringing down” that is characteristic of two orbiting black holes in-spiralling towards each other, shrinking of the orbit, merger of the two, coalescence and finally settling down as a single black hole
  • The data is consistent with one black hole with 36 solar masses merging with another of 29 solar masses giving rise to a single black hole of 62 solar masses. A total energy of 1049 watts, equivalent to the missing 3 solar masses, has been radiated away as gravitational waves. This would be the most luminous astronomical source ever observed . The probability of it being a false alarm is less than 2×10-7.
  • The announcement was beamed across all the laboratories of the world participating in the LIGO Science Collaboration (LSC). LSC comprises about 1000 scientists from 16 countries
  • The announcement was received with thunderous applause here too because it was a proud moment for the Indian gravitational wave community as well.
  • Groups at IUCAA and the Raman Research Institute (RRI), Bangalore, have made significant contribution in the analysis of the LIGO data. As many as 34 Indian scientists are contributing authors in the landmark paper about the discovery
  • The biggest victory for the Indian gravitational wave astronomy community as a result of Thursday’s discovery has been the in-principle approval from Prime Minister Narendra Modi for setting up of the Indian component of the advanced LIGO, which has been hanging fire for more than three years since the proposal was approved by the National Science Foundation (NSF), U.S.

‘Art of Living’ diplomacy next on MEA’s agenda

  • After projecting yoga and Baba Ramdev through the International Day of Yoga, the government is now set to highlight the ‘Art of Living’ of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar at a mega festival from March 11-13 in the Capital
  • The collaboration between the Ministry of External Affairs and the Art of Living Foundation is unprecedented as the MEA has never supported an event of this scale by a single private party.
  • Highlighting the ‘Art of Living’ has also raised questions about promoting more contemporary forms of spirituality, which are different from classical cultural traditions like Buddhism and yoga.
  • The event — World Culture Festival — is also drawing criticism from those who oppose mixing diplomacy with new age spirituality.
  • Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s inclusion in the MEA’s agenda is backed by the international standing that he enjoys. The Art of Living founder recently met with Deputy Prime Minister of Nepal Kamal Thapa, which reportedly helped in creating a breakthrough between the leadership of India and Nepal.
  • Sri Sri Ravi Shankar also emerged as a unique connector between India and Pakistan because of the popularity of ‘Art of Living’ in Lahore and Islamabad. (Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz is reported to have attended Art of Living meetings in Pakistan.)
  • Consultations have begun between the volunteers and the MEA officials on how to ensure an incident-free festival, which will feature CEO of Afghanistan Abdullah Abdullah, former President of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa, former Pakistan PM Yousaf Raza Gilani and a host of other dignitaries.

U.S. sends more troops to Afghanistan

  • Hundreds more U.S. troops are headed for Afghanistan’s strife-torn Helmand province to shore up security forces who have struggled in the face of sustained Taliban attacks
  • The core of the new force will provide more security and act as advisers to the Afghan army’s 215th Corps
  • Security forces in the southern province have been plagued by high desertion and casualty rates, corruption, and leadership problems, and the army corps recently saw more than 90 general officers replaced in a major shakeup
  • The NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan declared its combat mission over at the end of 2014
  • the new troops in Helmand would be there “to train, advise, and assist our Afghan counterparts, and not to participate in combat operations
  • Regular military advising is largely limited to the corps level and above, but coalition special operation advisers are still embedding at the tactical level with Afghan commandos, sometimes blurring the lines between advising and fighting.
  • American Special Forces advisers on the ground in Helmand have found themselves increasingly drawn into combat, with one Green Beret killed in January during a heavy fire-fight with Taliban insurgents. U.S. warplanes conducted 12 air strikes during that fight.
  • Roughly 9,800 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, but President Barack Obama’s initial plan to withdraw forces by 2017 has already been scrapped, and top commanders are calling for an increased presence for at least five more years.
  • Helmand was one of the deadliest provinces for thousands of mostly British and American troops who fought there for more than a decade.
  • Helmand was one of the deadliest provinces for thousands of mostly British and American troops who fought there for more than a decade.

India-UAE ties: A roadmap for deeper cooperation

India UAE

  • In a departure from protocol, Prime Minister Narendra Modi received Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan at the airport as he arrived in New Delhi for a three-day state visit
  • Hours after his arrival, Al Nahyan expressed his keenness to the strengthen strategic relationship between the two countries.
  • The Crown Prince, who is an influential leader in the UAE and is also the country’s Deputy Supreme Commander of the armed forces, had received PM Modi at the Abu Dhabi airport, along with his five brothers, during the PM’s visit last August
  • Hours before the Crown Prince’s arrival, India also announced its willingness to extend help to the UAE to achieve its Mars Mission in 2025.
  • Al Nahyan is accompanied by three of his brothers, one of whom is the Interior Minister
  • The delegation also includes several top ministers and over 100 business tycoons, along with CEOs of top companies
  • During the dialogue, the two sides are touch upon sectors from security to space, defence to nuclear energy. Over a dozen pacts are also expected to be signed
  • UAE has deported about a dozen Indians with suspected links to the terror group.
  • Officials said that joint production of defence equipment is another focus area, and under this initiative, UAE may make investments for manufacturing in India.

India to store oil for UAE

  • The United Arab Emirates’ national oil company – Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) – has in the first deal of its kind agreed to store crude oil in India’s maiden strategic storage and give two-third of the commodity to it for free.
  • India, which is 79 per cent dependent on imports to meet its crude oil needs, is building underground storage facilities at Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, and Mangalore and Padur in Karnataka to store about 5.33 million tonnes of crude oil to guard against global price shocks and supply disruptions.
  • Adnoc is keen on taking half of the 1.5 million tonnes Mangalore facility
  • It will stock 0.75 million tonnes or 6 million barrels of oil in one compartment of Mangalore facility. Of this, 0.5 million tonnes will belong to India and it can use it in emergencies. Adnoc will use the facility as a warehouse for trading its oil.
  • The 1.33 million tonnes Visakhapatnam storage and 2.5 million tonnes Padur stockpile together with the 1.5 million tonnes Mangalore storage will be enough to meet nation’s oil requirement of about 10 days.

India near bottom of intellectual property index

  • India was ranked 37 out of 38 countries, with only Venezuela scoring lower, in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce-International Intellectual Property Index.IPR_2731581f
  • The report, comes at a time when the government is close to finalising a National Intellectual Property policy to improve the IP regime, increase IP awareness and strengthen enforcement of rules.
  • The U.S. was ranked first, followed by the UK, Germany, France and Sweden.
  • India’s peers in the BRICS grouping were all ranked ahead with Russia ranked 20th, China (22nd), South Africa (26th) and Brazil (29th).
  • The 38 economies benchmarked in the 2016 Index accounts for nearly 85 per cent of the global GDP.
  • The Index — produced by the Chamber’s Global Intellectual Property Center (GIPC) — is based on 30 criteria critical to innovation including patent, copyright and trademark protections, enforcement, and engagement in international treaties
  • India remains at the bottom of the Index for the fourth year in a row
  • It said patent protection in India remains outside of international best practices, adding that Indian law does not provide adequate enforcement mechanisms to effectively combat online piracy.
  • India’s score would have increased if the government had not suspended implementation of Final Guidelines for Computer Related Inventions (CRI)
  • The GIPC report found that among India’s key areas of weakness was the use of compulsory licensing (CL) for commercial and non-emergency situations, and the expanded use of CL being considered by the Indian government.
  • CL relates to the government allowing entities to manufacture, use, sell or import a patented invention without the permission of the patent-owner.
  • Another area of weakness was “poor application and enforcement of civil remedies and criminal penalties
  • The report said Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, and Russia introduced or maintained policies that tie market access to sharing of IP and technology. Such forced-localization policies tend to undermine the overall innovation ecosystem and deter investment from foreign IP-intensive entities, it said.

Ninth session of the Joint Commission between India and Sri Lanka

  • India has come forward to host a workshop later this month in Colombo on the proposed Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement to address concerns on the side of Sri Lanka.
  • This was one of the outcomes of the ninth session of the Joint Commission
  • Foreign Ministers of India and Sri Lanka, Sushma Swaraj and Mangala Samaraweera, were present.
  • The workshop would also address issues concerning regulations and procedures, Renu Pall, Joint Secretary (Indian Ocean Region) in the Ministry of External Affairs of the Indian government
  • The initiative of India was in response to criticism from certain quarters that the proposed agreement would take away jobs of Sri Lankan professionals
  • In early December, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe informed Sri Lankan Parliament of his government’s reservations about allowing Indian professionals into Sri Lanka under any new agreement. Later that month, Commerce Secretaries of the governments of the two countries met in New Delhi and held preliminary discussions.
  • Sampoor project: Ms Pall announced that the 500-MW Sampoor thermal power project, a joint venture involving Sri Lanka and India, was granted environmental clearance a few days ago.
  • On the rehabilitation of the Kankesanthurai (KKS) harbour in the conflict-devastated Northern Province,four phases had been completed [by the Indian authorities] and the RITES would send a delegation to Sri Lanka very soon.
  • The issue of setting up a special economic zone in Trincomalee for India was also raised, adding that the reconstitution of CEOs’ forum, a mechanism on trade and investment linkages between the two countries, was underway.

U.S. considers re-merger of India, Pakistan desksP1-US-India_2718606a

  • Seven years after the State Department was restructured to ‘de-hyphenate’ U.S. relations with India and with Pakistan, it is considering a reversal of the move.
  • De-hyphenating refers to a policy started by the U.S. government under President Bush, but sealed by the Obama administration, of dealing with India and Pakistan in different silos, without referring to their bilateral relations.
  • It enabled the U.S. to build closer military and strategic ties with India without factoring in the reaction from Pakistan, and to continue its own strategy in Afghanistan with the help of the Pakistan military without referring back to India.
  • A proposal to re-merge the office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) back with the Bureau of South and Central Asia (SCA) that handles India, the rest of the subcontinent and Central Asian republics is under “active” consideration
  • The re-merger proposal is ostensibly timed with the international troops pullout from Afghanistan.
  • The de-hyphenation policy of the U.S. was crystallised when the SRAP was set up in 2009 soon after President Barack Obama had taken over, with the appointment of Richard Holbrooke.
  • At the time, Mr. Holbrooke had hoped to include India in his mandate, and even to discuss the resolution of Kashmir as a means to extract greater cooperation from Pakistan. India had strongly opposed the move.

Russia encouraging Provinces to develop ties with India

  • In a bid to take ties with India beyond the defence sector, Russia is giving more freedom to its Provinces to engage with Indian States directly
  • There is growing competition among Province like Astrakhan, Mordovia, and Bashkortostan to take advantage of the positive trend in India-Russia ties
  • Russia under President Vladimir Putin has been showcasing developments taking place in its Provinces, said Mr. Mazov, highlighting that some of the recent initiatives like the July 2015 Ufa summit of the BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Council (SCO) was aimed to attract attention to the Provinces far from Moscow.
  • Moscow handles defence and strategic ties with India, but provinces have been given free hand to deal with India in the fields of agriculture, health, education, cultural cooperation
  • India and Russia had, during the inter-governmental discussion in October 2015 agreed to ramp up bilateral investment from $15 billion to $30 billion by 2025.

Army band performance in Dhaka scuttled by red tape

  • The 35-member martial band of the Army was all decked up, ready to impress foreigners in Dhaka on Indian Republic Day. With ceremonial dresses and musical instruments, the band reached Kolkata to cross into Bangladesh by road well in advance, and awaited the final clearance.
  • The band kept waiting, as the bureaucratic red tape in New Delhi strangled yet another military diplomatic effort for better neighbourhood relations.
  • The tradition of exchanging military bands was agreed upon as part of the military-to-military cooperation between the two countries and has been in effect at least since 2009. While an Indian band plays in Dhaka on January 26 as part of the celebrations hosted by the Indian High Commission there, a military band from Bangladesh plays at the mission in India on their national day. The three services take part on a rotation basis and it was the Army’s turn this year.
  • The finance wing turned down the proposal saying that it was “too costly” and sent the file to the Defence Secretary on January 23 which took two more days, only to reject the proposal and returned the file on January 25. The band, comprising two officers, one junior commissioned officer and 32 jawans, was to reach Dhaka on January 24 and was positioned in Kolkata to be quickly transported by road. However, after the proposal was turned down, the team returned to Delhi.

Important social event

  • There was a break in 2014 when the Indian team was not sent due to technical issues following which the Indian High Commission in Dhaka wrote a letter to the Defence Ministry in October of the same year, stressing the importance of the ceremonial event.
  • The letter had stated that the Indian Republic Day parade is a “much awaited and sought after social event in Dhaka” and attended by people from various walks of life. Following this, the Defence Ministry in December 2014 gave the approval for the practice to continue.

Britain grants first licence for genetic modification of embryos

  • Britain granted its first licence for the genetic modification of human embryos as part of research into infertility and why miscarriages happen, in a move likely to raise ethical concerns.
  • “Our licence committee has approved an application from Dr Kathy Niakan of the Francis Crick Institute to renew her laboratory’s research licence to include gene editing of embryos,” the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said in a statement.
  • Niakan has said she is planning to modify the embryos using a technique known as CRISPR-Cas90.
  • The embryos will not become children as they must be destroyed within 14 days and can only be used for basic research.
  • She plans to find the genes at play in the first few days of fertilization when an embryo develops a coating of cells that later become the placenta.
  • The embryos to be used in the research are ones that would have been destroyed, donated by couples receiving In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) treatment who do not need them.
  • The project should “assist infertile couples and reduce the anguish of miscarriage,”

Indian likely to become CFO of AIIB

  • India is likely to bag the post of Chief Financial Officer (CFO) in the newly launched Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) — the multilateral bank, whose formation was steered by China in order to boost infrastructure development in Asia.
  • The Vice-President from Germany would serve as the Chief Operating Officer, while his peer from India would become the bank’s first CFO.
  • The Chief Administrative Officer would be from Indonesia, while the South Korean Vice-President would be handle risk affairs. The British Vice-President is expected to head the communications department.
  • Analysts say that the Chinese have made a decision to run the bank according to international best practices, which include tapping into the experience of European bankers.
  • The AIIB along with the upcoming New Development Bank (NDB) of the Brazil-Russian-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) grouping and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) are likely to anchor funding for the Eurasian Land Corridor or the China-proposed Belt and Road connectivity initiative, along with opening up a new channel of financial flows for the Global South.
  • The three institutions have been established outside the framework of the Bretton Woods Charter, which led to the post-war emergence of the western-back International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
  • The run up to the formation of the bank opened cracks within the Atlantic Alliance. Despite U.S. objections, European countries including Britain, France and Germany joined the AIIB. Australia and South Korea — top U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific — also decided to participate in the development bank as its founding members.

Julian Assange’s detention illegal, says UN panel

  • A United Nations panel has ruled as ‘unlawful detention’ the three-year period of political asylum sought by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
  • The ruling by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that will be formally communicated to Mr. Assange tomorrow will be a major boost to the long fight mounted by Mr. Assange and his supporters against the Swedish and British governments’ efforts to arrest and extradite him to Sweden.
  • The Australian human rights campaigner was arrested in London in 2010 under a European arrest warrant issued by Sweden on charges of sexual assault and rape.
  • Assange sought political asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 when the UK Supreme Court upheld the extradition orders. He has remained confined within the Embassy for the last three-and-a-half years with a posse of policemen on 24-hour vigil outside to arrest him if he stepped out.
  • Assange has strongly denied the charges of which two were dropped but not that of rape. He refused to be tried in Sweden fearing that he would be extradited to the United States, where he faces official secrecy charges for the publication by Wikileaks of thousands of classified documents
  • The working group is the highest authority on detention in the UN, globally respected for their trials of high profile cases. The starting point is that the countries [Sweden and Britain] participated in the process and submitted evidence to the panel.
  • Though decisions of the panel are not binding, it will affect the international credibility of both governments if they ignored the decision of the panel

Sri Lanka celebrates I-Day by rendering national anthem in Tamil too

  • Marked by symbolism of high degree, the 68th Independence Day of Sri Lanka was celebrated with an uncommon element – the rendering of the Tamil version of the national anthem at the government’s main event of the day.
  • As in the previous years, the might of security forces of the country was demonstrated at the event on the Galle Face Green which lasted nearly two and a half hours.
  • According to several Ministers, this happened after a long gap and it exemplified the present government’s efforts towards national reconciliation and ethnic harmony
  • The State-controlled English newspaper, “Daily News,” in a report on its website, stated that the national anthem was sung in Tamil since 1949.

Constitutional validity

  • However, the government’s move has triggered a debate on its constitutional validity.
  • Uday Gammanpila, leader of the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya, contends that there has to be a constitutional amendment in view of the provisions in Article 7 and the Third Schedule of the 1978 Constitution, dealing with the national anthem.According to him, only the Sinhala version can be rendered
  • However, Vickramabahu Karunarathne, general secretary of the Nava Sama Samaj Party, counters his view that after the 13th Amendment of the Constitution in 1987, Tamil has become another official language.

Sexually transmitted Zika case confirmed in Texas

  • A person in Texas has been infected with the Zika virus — the first case of the virus being transmitted in the U.S. during the current outbreak of Zika which has been linked to birth defects in the Americas.
  • The Zika virus is usually spread through mosquito bites, but investigators have been exploring the possibility of the virus spreading through sexual contact.
  • The CDC says it will issue guidance in the coming days on prevention of sexual transmission of Zika virus, focusing on the male sexual partners of women who are or may be pregnant. The CDC has already recommended that pregnant women postpone trips to more than two dozen countries with Zika outbreaks, mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean, including Venezuela. It also said other visitors should use insect repellent and take other precautions to prevent mosquito bites.
  • 80% of infected never experience symptoms
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global emergency over the rapidly spreading Zika virus, saying it is an “extraordinary event” that poses a threat to the rest of the world.
  • The declaration was made after an emergency meeting of independent experts called in response to a spike in babies born with brain defects and abnormally small heads in Brazil since the virus was first found there last year.
  • WHO officials say it could be six to nine months before science proves or disproves any connection between the virus and babies born with abnormally small heads.
  • Zika was first identified in 1947 in Uganda. It wasn’t believed to cause any serious effects until last year; about 80 per cent of infected people never experience symptoms.
  • The most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting several days to a week. Symptoms usually start two days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

India, Thailand firm up maritime cooperation

  • India’s Vice-President Hamid Ansari told the leadership of Thailand that India-Thailand collaboration is necessary to ensure freedom of navigation and connectivity in the Southeast Asian region.TH04-KALLOL-ANSARI_2722814f
  • “As maritime neighbours, we have a shared interest in the security of international sea lanes of communication and commerce. Our resolve to strengthen our bilateral engagement in the areas of security and defence will help the region as a whole and promote regional economic integration and connectivity,” Mr. Ansari said while addressing the state banquet hosted in his honour by the Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha.
  • During the ongoing tour of Southeast Asia, the Indian delegation led by Mr. Ansari has expressed Indian concerns about freedom of navigation in the region due to growing maritime disputes between China and several other regional countries over South China Sea

Cobra Gold 2016

  • India will participate in Cobra Gold 2016 [multilateral amphibious exercise] and Operation Maitri [counter-insurgency] operations
  • India and Thailand recently held a joint task force meeting in Delhi to deepen maritime and defence cooperation which covers a range of issues, including ocean safety, disaster management and anti-terror drills. The delegations also confirmed that India and Thailand will soon hold naval exercises in the Andaman Seas.
  • That apart, both sides agreed to fast track the ongoing trilateral land corridor project connecting Thailand-Myanmar and India.
  • These bilateral and multilateral infrastructure and security projects will receive further boost in the coming months when the entire top brass of the Thai leadership, including Prime Minister Gen. Chan-o-cha, is expected to visit New Delhi.

Bangladesh to ‘soon’ grant India access to Chittagong port

  • Addressing a long pending demand by India, Bangladesh will “soon” grant India direct access to its Chittagong port even as both sides work on forward linkages.
  • Bangladesh is working on a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) which will ensure India direct access to the port, which is significant in boosting bilateral and intra-regional trade.
  • India had been asking for a direct access to the Chittagong Port for nearly five years. Once approved, this will help Indian industry and exporters save millions of dollars by sending direct shipments to Bangladesh and by using the Chittagong port as a transit hub to access other Southeast Asian destinations.
  • Last year, both neighbours had signed an MoU on use of Chittagong and Mongla ports.

Joint task force

  • India and Bangladesh are expected to discuss India’s access to the Chittagong port as part of their discussions under the joint task force set up to deepen maritime cooperation
  • During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Dhaka in June last year, the two countries had signed two Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) on “blue economy and maritime cooperation in the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean” and on “use of Chittagong and Mongla ports”.

Pact on coastal shipping

  • Following this, the two countries signed a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in November to operationalise the agreement on coastal shipping.
  • China had earlier offered to develop the Chittagong port, raising concerns in India which sees it as an encirclement move by Beijing under its “string of pearls” strategy.

India, Brunei discuss South China Sea dispute

  • Brunei held discussion with an Indian delegation led by Vice-President Hamid Ansari on Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea which has the potential to affect free maritime traffic in Southeast Asia.
  • “Brunei briefed us on the negotiation under way for the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea. India supports a negotiated settlement of Brunei’s maritime dispute with China,” said Mr. Anil Wadhwa, Secretary (East), following the conclusion of a bilateral defence agreement between India and Brunei.
  • The pact is aimed at ensuring uninterrupted energy lanes between India and Southeast Asia.
  • An Indian military source in Brunei said the defence cooperation will provide both sides the institutional foundation for more collaborative work on maritime security and secure India’s energy lanes to Brunei.
  • Brunei’s main port, Muara — one of the main ports in Southeast Asia through which the bulk of the country’s oil and gas exports to India take place — is in the South China Sea region and will become a major component of India’s growing maritime partnership with Brunei.
  • South China Sea that Brunei claims is largely “unexplored” and might contain hydrocarbon reserves vital for the country’s economy.

U.S. tax authorities approve signing of bilateral APAs with India

  • The U.S. Internal Revenue Service announced that, starting February 16, its Advance Pricing and Mutual Agreement office will begin accepting requests for bilateral advance pricing agreements between the U.S. and India.
  • This marks a big step forward to ensure tax certainty between the two countries, according to experts.
  • The U.S. has historically been slow to move on bilateral APAs, and so many companies chose the unilateral APA route. The fact that the US has agreed to begin accepting bilateral APAs with India is good news for Indian companies
  • This hesitation to enter into bilateral APAs might have been due to the large number of pending transfer pricing cases between the US and India, according to some experts. The two countries had around 200 cases pending for the last 4-5 years, 100 of which were resolved recently, according to the Indian government.
  • Real progress in resolving these cases was made following the signing of the framework agreement between the Indian and the U.S. tax authorities in January 2015 as part of the Mutual Agreement Procedure (MAP) provision contained in the India-U.S. Double Taxation Avoidance Convention (DTAC).
  • This is an important step forward in strengthening ties between the two governments in the area of taxation of multinationals, especially post the roll out of BEPS Action Plans by the OECD. Bilateral APAs provide the much needed certainty for doing business in each country