Science and technology – June

Use of potassium bromate as food additive banned

  • The government  banned the use of potassium bromate as a food additive following a Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) study that found its presence in bread caused cancer.
  • FSSAI [Food Safety Standards Authority of India] has banned potassium bromate. A notification has been issued in this regard. As far as potassium iodate is concerned, it has been referred to a scientific panel.
  • Potassium iodate is also used as a food additive and it too is said to be carcinogenic.
  • A CSE study had found that 84 per cent of 38 commonly available brands of pre-packaged breads, including pav and buns, tested positive for potassium bromate and potassium iodate. The two food additives are banned in many countries and are listed as “hazardous” to public health.
  • According to CSE, potassium bromate typically increases dough strength, leads to higher rising and gives uniform finish to baked products. Potassium iodate is a flour treatment agent.

Golden Crescent

  • Investigations into  the main accused in the ephedrine racket busted by the Thane police earlier this year, have revealed that he is one of the main facilitators for drug lords in the Golden Crescent..
  • Golden Crescent includes Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is one of two principal areas of illicit drug production at the intersection of Central, South and West Asia, the other being the Golden Triangle comprising Myanmar, Laos and Thailand.

Over 65,000 children given IPV vaccine in Hyderabad

  • The Telangana government vaccinated more than 65,000 children as part of a special polio vaccination drive in State capital, aimed at preventing human infections with the virus. Around 2.5 lakh children are expected to receive a dose of Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV) during the week-long campaign.
  • The campaign became warranted after type 2 vaccine-derived polio virus was found in a sewage sample collected here last month.
  • Finding of polio virus in the environment mandates a response through rapid vaccination in areas around the spot where the virus is found. Since the virus was found in a drain that flows from north to southeast in Hyderabad, vaccination is being organised across the city. The campaign is being implemented through 2,231 vaccination booths.
  • India is currently using bivalent oral polio vaccine, which protects only against type 1 and type 3 polio virus types. The inactivated polio vaccine, however, protects against all three types. Consequently, unvaccinated children are now required to receive both the injectable and oral vaccines.
  • It was also learnt from the scientist that vaccine-derived P2 strain found in Hyderabad must have been around more than a year, since the virus had gathered 10 mutations. Polio virus that gathers six mutations during the course of replication in a vaccine recipient’s intestine is said to be around for a year and considered virulent.
  • Sewage samples are now being collected every week and sent for testing at Enterovirus Research Center in Mumbai.

Start-up, telecom officials spar over cloud telephony service

  • Knowlarity, a cloud telephony start-up backed by Sequoia and Mayfield Fund, is fighting an order by India’s telecommunications department that has directed telecom operators to stop the services of the  firm.
  • The company offers a technology to replace expensive communication hardware system with an affordable cloud-based telephony solution for small and large businesses.
  • The start-up approached the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) for redressal. The telecom department officials had told the company that it cannot run some of the features of their service like ‘call-forwarding.’
  • The current licences available from the Department of Telecommunications do not cover such a service.
  • The issues are regarding the legality of the company’s features such as virtual number, click-to-call and SuperReceptionist kind of solutions that use call-forwarding.

Cloud telephony

  • What, exactly, is it?
    Cloud telephony or VoIP stands for voice over Internet protocol.
  • In laymen’s terms, this means placing and receiving telephone calls that travel over the Internet — instead of through the landlines and satellites that normal service providers have constructed.
  • When you use Skype to make a call to someone’s phone, that’s an example on VoIP.
  • Because these companies are able to store your data — like contacts and/or messages — remotely, they’re a type of cloud play on telephony.

Excessive use of technology may play havoc with children’s studies: survey

  • Excessive use of technology is likely to interfere in the adolescent’s academics, participation in sports, socialising, and even on time spent time with family and friends, a survey by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) has found.
  • Nearly 73.5 per cent of the 200 adolescents interviewed for the survey reported dysfunction in one form or the other. The survey pointed out that adolescents reported attention problems, which led to a decline in academic functions.
  • However, dysfunction in activities was seen not only among those who were addicted to technology but also adolescents who used technology regularly

Deep space rocket booster tested

  • NASA performed its second and last test-fire of a rocket booster for the Space Launch System (SLS), a powerful engine that may one day launch astronauts to Mars
  • This is the last time the booster will be fired in a test environment before the first test flight of SLS with NASA’s Orion spacecraft, known as Exploration Mission-1 in late 2018.
  • The SLS will also carry 13 tiny satellites to test innovative ideas. These small satellite secondary payloads or ‘CubeSats’ will carry science and technology investigations to help pave the way for future human exploration in deep space.
  • SLS’ first flight, referred to as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), provides the rare opportunity for these small experiments to reach deep space destinations, as most launch opportunities for CubeSats are limited to low-Earth orbit.

A nano-camera that can explore human body

  • German engineers have created a camera no bigger than a grain of salt that could change the future of health imaging and clandestine surveillance.
  • Using 3-D printing, researchers built a three-lens camera, and fit it onto the end of an optical fibre the width of two hairs.
  • Such technology could be used as minimally-intrusive endoscopes for exploring inside the human body
  • It could also be deployed in virtually invisible security monitors, or mini-robots with “autonomous vision.”
  • 3-D printing — also known as additive manufacturing — makes three-dimensional objects by depositing layer after layer of materials such as plastic, metal or ceramic. The compound lens is just 100 micrometres (0.1 millimetres or 0.004 inches) wide, and 120 micrometres with its casing.
  • It can focus on images from a distance of 3.0 mm, and relay them over the length of a 1.7-metre (5.6-foot) optical fibre to which it is attached.
  • The “imaging system” fits comfortably inside a standard syringe needle allowing for delivery into a human organ, or even the brain.

New method can kill cancer cells in two hours, shows study

  • Researchers have developed a new, non-invasive method that can kill cancer cells in two hours
  • An advance that may significantly help people with inoperable or hard-to-reach tumours as well as young children stricken with the deadly disease.

Process

  • The method involves injecting a chemical compound, nitrobenzaldehyde, into the tumour and allowing it to diffuse into the tissue.
  • A beam of light is then aimed at the tissue, causing the cells to become very acidic inside and, essentially, “commit suicide”
  • Within two hours, up to 95 per cent of the targeted cancer cells are dead or are estimated to be dead
  • All forms of cancer attempt to make cells acidic on the outside as a way to attract the attention of a blood vessel, which attempts to get rid of the acid. Instead, the cancer latches onto the blood vessel and uses it to make the tumour larger and larger. Chemotherapy treatments target all cells in the body, and certain chemotherapeutics try to keep cancer cells acidic as a way to kill the cancer. This is what causes many cancer patients to lose their hair and become sickly.
  • Current method (Mr. Gdovin’s method), however, is more precise and can target just the tumour.
  • The method is being tested on drug-resistant cancer cells to make his therapy as strong as possible.
  • Also started to develop a nanoparticle that can be injected into the body to target metastasised cancer cells. The nanoparticle is activated with a wavelength of light that it can pass harmlessly through skin, flesh and bone and still activate the cancer-killing nanoparticle.

Significance

  • This non-invasive mthod will help cancer patients with tumours in areas that have proven problematic for surgeons, such as the brain stem, aorta or spine.
  • It could also help people who have received the maximum amount of radiation treatment and can no longer cope with the scarring and pain that go along with it, or children who are at risk of developing mutations from radiation as they grow older

Nilgiri wood pigeon reappears after 27 years

  • Birdwatchers from the nature lovers’ forum Warblers and Waders, along with Forest Department officers, had a pleasant surprise during their annual Induchudan commemoration bird-watching camp in the Arippa Ammayambalam Pacha reserve forest area bordering Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram districts
  • Nilgiri wood pigeon (Columba elphinstonii), an endemic and threatened bird species of the Western Ghats, was sighted at Arippa after a gap of 27 years
  • The last sighting was in 1989.
  • The Nilgiri wood pigeon is a forest bird of the higher elevation shola forests of the Western Ghats.

A daily dose of probiotics cuts breast cancer risk

  • Intake of probiotics may help increase the proportion of beneficial bacteria in the breast and thus aid in preventing the risk of breast cancer.
  • The findings showed Lactobacillus and Streptococcus, considered to be health-promoting bacteria, were more prevalent in healthy breasts than in cancerous ones. Both groups have anti-carcinogenic properties.
  • Conversely, women with breast cancer showed elevated levels of Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus epidermidis known to induce double-stranded breaks in DNA.
  • Double-strand breaks are the most detrimental type of DNA damage and are caused by genotoxins, reactive oxygen species and ionising radiation

Fighter jet Su-30 flies with BrahMos missile

  • The country’s military scientists for the first time test-flew the heavy BrahMos supersonic cruise missile fitted on a modified Air Force Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter
  • The missile, said to be the heaviest such, had its milestone demonstration flight for 45 minutes at the HAL Airport at Nashik.
  • The Su-30 MKI aircraft, modified to carry the BrahMos missile in combat, becomes a lethal weapon delivery platform for the Air Force.
  • BrahMos has undergone land and sea/submarine trials for the Army and Navy.

Multi-function antenna made for laptops

  • In a first, a British technology start-up has invented a multi-function antenna for laptops that combines Wi-Fi, GPS, bluetooth and 3G/4G LTE and WiGig — multi-gigabit per second wireless speed — in one unit.
  • The new SAT antenna fits into the extremely limited space of the hinge cavity and replaces as many as five separate antennas found in a standard laptop.
  • The conventional antennas cannot be located immediately next to each other because of signal interference which leads to reduced performance.
  • “Within the current laptop, the antennas for Wi-Fi or a mobile signal need to be separate so there is no interference of frequencies. If the laptop has a metal casing then it is impossible to embed an antenna on the top of laptop screen or motherboard and the antenna must sit in the hinge cavity

How do wasps find their way back home?

  • The Indian Paper Wasp (Ropalidia marginata), widely distributed throughout peninsular India, and whose social structure involves one reproductive female (called the queen) and several non-reproductive females (or workers) in each colony, became the subject of study members at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore. They focussed on the homing behaviour of individual wasps.
  • As per current knowledge, they certainly use proximal visual cues of the landscape (possibly among many other environmental cues like olfactory cue)
  • Investigating on comparatively simpler neural mechanisms, as the wasps have, provides us knowledge about the basic necessities of animal navigation and homing. The mechanism by which insects perform homing and navigation can be directly applied to robotics with simpler mechanism and circuits
  • The study could also help in pest management.

Start-up makes drones to explore the sea

  • A vast, largely unexplored world is being opened by hobbyists piloting robotic submarines capable of travelling hundreds of feet below the surface of lakes, rivers and oceans.
  • Styling themselves as citizen scientists, two young engineers have created OpenROV, a small start-up based in California, that builds submarine drone kits.

Key study links air pollution to over six million deaths

  • A sobering report released by the International Energy Agency says air pollution has become a major public health crisis leading to around 6.5 million deaths each year, with “many of its root causes and cures” found in the energy industry.
  • International Energy Agency
    • an energy security group based in Paris, which is expanding its mission under its executive director, Fatih Birol.
    • The agency, whose 29 members are wealthy, industrialised countries,
    • was founded in response to the Arab oil embargo in 1973 to coordinate international responses to energy issues.
    • Birol, an economist, argues that pressing concerns about climate change and the emergence of countries like China and India as major energy consumers and polluters mean that the agency needs to shift its strategy. The air pollution study is the first for the agency
  • Environmental issues are very important to emerging economies like India and China, whose cities are often plagued by choking smog.
  • Helping these countries solve problems through increasing energy efficiency or filtering out pollutants can make progress on climate change goals.

IISc scientists demystify lethal form of brain cancer

  • Glioblastoma, a highly aggressive and common form of brain tumour that occurs in adults, is known for being notoriously unresectable (not capable of being surgically removed) because to its high-metastasing capacity (the ability to travel to different parts of the body), which may involve important regions of the brain.
  • But what makes it so aggressively metastatic? – The role of a gene called fibromodulin (FMOD), which is among 350 genes unique to glioblastoma. It might serve as a potential target for developing therapeutic strategies in glioblastoma,
  • Researchers in Indian Institute of Science (IISc.), Bangalore, have made progress towards demystifying the biology of glioblastoma with their recent work
  • They used an integrated genome-wide DNA methylation (‘silenced’ state of promoter regions) analysis to compare differences of gene expression regulation between an aggressive form of glioblastoma (grade IV) and a lesser grade tumour (grade II). The group identified fibromodulin. In normal healthy individuals, this protein is seen in large amounts in connective tissue but very little in the normal brain. However, in glioblastoma, FMOD levels increase due to loss of promoter methylation.
  • They also conducted experiments which silenced FMOD expression and studied gene sets that were affected most profoundly by the protein’s absence. Their analysis revealed that elements of cellular cytoskeleton (proteins which form the mechanical structure of a cell) are most affected. This showed that FMOD may be needed for glioma cell migration.
  • The group also concluded that fibromodulin may be used as target for therapeutic intervention to improve survival in glioblastoma.

Indian women facing early menopause: Survey

  • Nearly 4 per cent of Indian women experience signs of menopause between 29 and 34 years of age, says a recent survey conducted by The Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC).
  • The figure goes up to 8 per cent in the case of women between 35 and 39 years of age.
  • What is shocking is that women around the world normally reach menopause between 45 and 55 years of age, with a mean age of around 51 years.
  • According to the study, women often notice an irregular menstrual cycle that suddenly ceases. This is when most of them approach a gynaecologist and are confronted with premature menopause.
  • One of the culprits could be Premature Ovarian Failure (POF) — a condition when the ovaries stop functioning normally before the age of 40. The cause of POF goes undetermined in majority of the cases, but changing food habits, work culture with increased stress are some of the reasons
  • Lifestyle choices like smoking, drinking, thyroid or auto-immune diseases, exposure to radiation, and poor nutrition can also cause premature menopause
  • Multiple studies, meanwhile, have shown that the age of menopause can be inherited. Also, a strong association has been observed between siblings, twins, mothers and daughters.
  • Further, menopause seems accelerated in women whose mothers experienced early menopause or premature ovarian failure. The study concluded that though heredity does play a role, the extent remains to be identified.

Bar coding of drugs soon

  • Bar coding for medicines, training for drug manufacturers and an integrated approach toward zero tolerance for sub-standard medicines in the country is on the anvil.
  • All this has been planned and is to be implemented with the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) claiming to be hard at work along with the Union Health Ministry, manufactures and its inspectors to ensure that the drugs made available to the common man has 100 per cent potency and isn’t sub-standard.
  • Bar coding of drugs is part of an integrated approach that we are adopting to ensure that the problem of sub-standard medicines is weeded out and we inch faster toward zero tolerance policy when it comes to setting quality standards for our drugs
  • The country has seen a steady fall in percentage of substandard medicines with the value now in the range of 4-4.5 per cent.
  • The fall has happened from 2002 when we were seeing a 10 per cent circulation of substandard drugs in our markets. We have to ensure stringent regulatory systems, invest in drug regulations, strengthening and training – but all of this has to be done in totality and not as isolated islands of initiatives
  • For India where 58.2 per cent of the total health expenditure is an out-of-pocket cost burden with medicines accounting for 70-77 per cent of this cost, according to World Health Organisation, sub-standard drugs are known to increase this cost burden besides harming the health of the population.
  • Through this new system the Ministry is also hoping to net the problem of over-charging of medicines.
  • With each drug sample having a unique identification code system, we are hoping that this technology driven initiative will allow the customers to simply check the barcode on the medicine and match it with the drug manufacturer’s details online thus eliminating any duplication or possible adulteration
  • Meanwhile, the DCGI recently released a list of medicines, which included commonly used painkillers such as Combiflam, antacid and painkillers that were found to be of substandard quality.

Hawking plans to map universe

  • Stephen Hawking, one of the world’s best-known physicists, is set to announce plans to map the entire known universe using a supercomputing centre he founded at Cambridge University.
  • The Cosmos computer will plot the position and movement of billions of galaxies, black holes, supernovas and other cosmic structures
  • It would use images of radiation from the Big Bang captured by the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite to draw up a map of the early universe. Planck gives us an amazing picture of the early distribution of matter and how that led to the structure of the modern universe.
  • The images will be augmented by data from the Dark Energy Survey, which has a 13-feet diameter telescope in Chile, to map hundreds of millions of galaxies and reveal the nature of the dark energy that is accelerating the expansion of the universe. The maps would improve when the European Space Agency’s Euclid probe is launched in 2020.

Doctors adopt new standard of care in diabetes management

  • Endocrinologists and diabetologists have adopted a new standard of care in diabetes management that reduces the risk of cardiovascular and renal disease in patients with type-2 diabetes.
  • The doctors are using a new molecule named ‘Empagliflozin’ on their patients and have found a good reduction in blood sugar levels during daytime.
  • The shift in management of the disease is based on the findings of the latest EMPA REG Outcome study that suggests a significant reduction in the risk of progressive kidney disease in adults with type 2 diabetes with established cardiovascular disease (CVD).
  • All the drugs available so far, including insulin, are primarily meant to reduce blood glucose levels to normal limits. But over the years, what we have seen is despite reducing blood sugar and controlling other risk factors like cholesterol, hypertension, weight and smoking, the risk of CVD remains high. That is why researchers took up a global study and the findings were presented at the recent annual conference of the American Diabetes Association (ADA)
  • The global study involving 7,020 type-2 diabetes patients included 163 patients from India, including 23 from Bengaluru
  • Kidney disease affects about 50 per cent of people with type-2 diabetes, and people with diabetes are two to four times more likely to develop CVD than people without it. This is because of factors such as such as high blood sugar, high blood pressure and obesity.

Conventional way

  • Have a glucose-centric approach
  • Result in weight gain or help it remain neutral
  • Hypoglycemia

New way

  • Glucose control and beyond
  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Lower risk of hypoglycemia
  • Reduce cardiovascular disease risk
  • Slow progression of kidney disease

Not all is bright and shining with LED light: Study

  • Excessive blue light emitted by light emitting diodes (LED) can adversely impact human health, according to a report recently released by the American Medical Association (AMA) Council on Science and Public Health. The report looked at LED street lighting on U.S. roadways.
  • While LED lighting has several advantages, the excessive blue light it emits can be harmful.
    • The human eye perceives the large amount of blue light emitted by some LEDs as white.
    • Blue light directly affects sleep by suppressing the production of the hormone melatonin, which mediates the sleep-wake cycle in humans. Compared with conventional street lighting, the blue-rich white LED street lighting is five times more disruptive to sleep cycle
    • Although more research is needed, evidence available suggests a long-term increase in the risk for cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and obesity caused by chronic sleep disruption due to exposure to blue light.
    • Vision
      • The excessive blue wavelength contributes to glare effects as a result of larger scattering in the human eye. Contrary to the popular notion that bright LED lighting increases road safety, the report says discomfort and disability glare caused by unshielded, bright LED lighting negatively impacts visual acuity, thus “decreasing safety and creating road hazards”.
      • The report also notes that unshielded LED lighting causes papillary constriction, leading to “worse night-time vision between lighting fixtures.
      • Intense blue spectrum can even damage the retina.
    • Unless blue-light emission from 4,000K LED street lighting is restricted, retrofits using these lamps could result in 2.5 times increase in lighting pollution, said a study (World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness) published in the journal Science Advances ,

Whats needed

  • The correlated colour temperature (CCT) of first-generation LEDs, which are currently used, is 4,000K. Higher CCT values indicate greater blue light emission, and in the case of 4,000K LED lighting, 29 per cent of the spectrum is emitted as blue light.
  • However, at 3,000K, the blue light emitted is only 21 per cent and appears “slightly warmer in tone”. While discomfort and disability glare is reduced, there is only a 3 per cent drop in energy efficiency compared with 4,000K LED lighting.
  • More attention should be paid to proper design, shielding and installation so that no light shines above 80 degrees from the horizontal
  • Strong consideration should be made for effective shielding and limiting CCT of outdoor lighting to 3,000 Kelvin or lower,” the AMA recommends.

Australia buys up cattle farm to help Great Barrier Reef

  • A huge cattle station that pours sediment into the Great Barrier Reef was bought by the government as efforts are stepped up to help the World Heritage site bounce back from mass bleaching.
    • Global warming has been wreaking havoc on the reef, contributing to an unprecedented bleaching event this year that saw much of it whiten and almost a quarter of corals die.
    • The reef, which teems with marine life, is also under pressure from farming run-off. Run-off from the land carries sediment to the reef where it blocks light, smothers marine organisms and reduces coral and seagrass growth.
  • Measures being taken includes stepping up effective erosion control measures on the gullies and rivers in far northern Queensland. It planned to remove all cattle from Springvale before rehabilitating the land to reduce erosion.
  • Scientists have said parts of the 2,300-kilometre long reef will take at least a decade to recover, and the World Wide Fund said good water quality was key to its survival.

PLUTO

 

  • Pluto may have a liquid ocean sloshing around under its icy crust, according to a new analysis of data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft.

New Horizons: The First Mission to the Pluto System and the Kuiper Belt

  • The New Horizons mission is helping us understand worlds at the edge of our solar system by making the first reconnaissance of the dwarf planet Pluto and by venturing deeper into the distant, mysterious Kuiper Belt – a relic of solar system formation.
  • New Horizons launched on Jan. 19, 2006;
  • it swung past Jupiter for a gravity boost and scientific studies in February 2007,
  • and conducted a six-month-long reconnaissance flyby study of Pluto and its moons in summer 2015, culminating with Pluto closest approach on July 14, 2015.
  • As part of an extended mission, pending NASA approval, the spacecraft is expected to head farther into the Kuiper Belt to examine another of the ancient, icy mini-worlds in that vast region, at least a billion miles beyond Neptune’s orbit. Kuiper Belt is a region of the solar system beyond the orbit of Neptune, believed to contain many comets, asteroids, and other small bodies made largely of ice.
  • Generally, New Horizons seeks to understand where Pluto and its moons “fit in” with the other objects in the solar system, such as the inner rocky planets (Earth, Mars, Venus and Mercury) and the outer gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune).
  • Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, belong to a third category known as “ice dwarfs.” They have solid surfaces but, unlike the terrestrial planets, a significant portion of their mass is icy material.
  • Using Hubble Space Telescope images, New Horizons team members have discovered four previously unknown moons of Pluto: Nix, Hydra, Styx and Kerberos.
  • A close-up look at these worlds from a spacecraft promises to tell an incredible story about the origins and outskirts of our solar system. New Horizons is exploring – for the first time – how ice dwarf planets like Pluto and Kuiper Belt bodies have evolved over time.
  • NASA’s New Horizons mission is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Human trial of Zika vaccine to start soon

  • The first Phase-1 human clinical trial of a vaccine for the Zika virus is set to begin in the coming weeks, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) green-lighting it.
  • The DNA vaccine (GLS-5700) developed by the U.S-based Inovio Pharmaceuticals and GeneOne Life Science, South Korea, has already been tested on animals and found to elicit “robust” antibody and T cell responses.
  • The human trial will be carried out on 40 healthy adults to evaluate safety, tolerability and immunogenicity and the interim results are expected before the end of the year. But it may take a couple of years to know if the vaccine works against Zika.
  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), four of the 14 companies working on a candidate vaccine have reached the preclinical stage.
  • It is a remarkable achievement to be in a position to carry out clinical trials on humans as the time taken to develop the experimental vaccine has been shrunk significantly. Though the current Zika outbreak began in Brazil in May 2015, the impetus and urgency to develop a vaccine came about only after February 1, 2016 when the WHO declared Zika as a global public health emergency of international concern.
  • A major lesson learnt from the Ebola epidemic is the overwhelming need to start vaccine trials quickly. Large-scale trials of the vaccine suffered as they began about a year after the outbreak was first reported and just as the number of people infected was reducing.
  • As of June 15, the Zika virus has already spread to 60 countries and territories. Even as it spreads geographically, there has been a decline in cases of infection in some countries or in parts of countries. It is unlikely that vaccine trials may suffer for want of infected people. At this stage, WHO does not see an overall decline in the outbreak
  • Yet, Zika vaccine development faces a huge hurdle that the Ebola vaccine did not. The candidate Zika vaccine has to be tested on pregnant women as some babies born to women infected with the virus during pregnancy suffer from microcephaly. Hence, testing a candidate drug/vaccine on pregnant women or women in the child-bearing age can take place only if the vaccine has been found to be very safe in men and non-pregnant women.
  • Also, safety data of vaccinated pregnant women and those about to become pregnant will be required before the vaccine gets approved for commercial use.

ISRO gears up to test scramjet engine

  • Flush with the success of the technology demonstration flight of its Reusable Launch Vehicle ISRO is gearing up to test a scramjet engine based on air-breathing propulsion.
  • The test flight of the indigenously developed scramjet engine is scheduled to take place from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota sometime in July.
  • Named Advanced Technology Vehicle (ATV), the test platform will comprise a scramjet engine hitched to a two-stage sounding rocket (RH- 560). The vehicle has been characterised and is being fabricated at the VSSC and the ISRO Propulsion Complex, Mahendragiri
  • The air-breathing engine will be released at a height of 70 km and ignited during the coasting phase. Apart from the hypersonic ignition at Mach 6, ISRO hopes to sustain the combustion for 5 seconds. The test is also expected to help us achieve good thrust value with the scramjet engine. Maintaining combustion in hypersonic conditions poses technical challenges.
  • The post-flight analysis of RLV-TD test flight had shown encouraging results. We could understand the hypersonic aerothermodynamics of the delta winged body, the Thermal Protection System worked well and the hypersonic re-entry, autonomous navigation and landing could be validated.

New drugs fail to crack resistance

  • Two new drug combinations, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for their efficacy in treating infections resistant to even third-generation antibiotics — carbapenems — have been found to have limited efficacy in India.
  • For close to two months, microbiologists at the Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore, have toiled to test the efficacy of two combination drugs — ceftazidime/avibactum and ceftolozane/tazobactum approved by FDA in February 2015 and December 2014 respectively — on samples collected from various hospitals from across the country.
  • The drugs were given to CMC to check the response to them in India, as part of a global efficacy study before they are launched in the market.

The reason

  • India’s worry is rooted in the enzyme that makes the bacteria resistant here to the strongest antibiotics — the contentiously named New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase-1 (NDM-1) and ‘Oxa-48-like-carbapenemase’. This is different from the resistance mechanism seen in the U.S. where the enzyme that makes the bacteria resistant to antibiotics is often KPC — Klebsiella Pneumoniae Carbapenemase. So while the combination drugs worked on KPC, they were not strong enough against the NDM-1 and Oxa-48-like carbapenemase.
  • These two combination drugs may add valuable options for treating bacterial infections in North America and European countries where KPC is the predominant mechanism of resistance. In India, NDM-1 followed by Oxa-48-like carbapenemase is the common resistance mechanism. Therefore, these drugs may not help in the Indian setting

Significance

  • Resistance to antibiotics has been rising in India, mainly because of their indiscriminate use to treat even routine infections.
  • The big concern is that carbapenems should be sparingly used to ensure they remain effective on infections resistant to the strongest antibiotics. There are no new antibiotics hitting the market so we have to reduce the use of carbapenem and for that we need better combination drugs (to treat these infections). The likelihood of death is higher in critically ill patients or those with suppressed immunity (following chemotherapy or organ transplants) if they acquire drug-resistant infections.
  • Earlier this year, economist Lord Jim O’Neill had said that India’s mounting drug-resistant infections could claim a million lives by 2050.
  • That India’s drug-resistance problem is a global concern became evident late last year when the U.S. government’s Global Health Security Agenda pumped in $8 million to map anti-microbial resistance and build capacities to tackle it better.

Use of potassium bromate as food additive banned

  • The government on Monday banned the use of potassium bromate as a food additive following a Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) study that found its presence in bread caused cancer.
  • FSSAI [Food Safety Standards Authority of India] has banned potassium bromate. A notification has been issued in this regard. As far as potassium iodate is concerned, it has been referred to a scientific panel.
  • Potassium iodate is also used as a food additive and it too is said to be carcinogenic.
  • A CSE study had found that 84 per cent of 38 commonly available brands of pre-packaged breads, including pav and buns, tested positive for potassium bromate and potassium iodate. The two food additives are banned in many countries and are listed as “hazardous” to public health.
  • According to CSE, potassium bromate typically increases dough strength, leads to higher rising and gives uniform finish to baked products. Potassium iodate is a flour treatment agent.

Massive giant planets found in star cluster

  • Scientists have discovered an unexpectedly large number of giant exoplanets in a cluster of stars called Messier 67 that is about the same age as the Sun.

New Chinese supercomputer is world’s fastest

  • A new Chinese computer system that can make 93 quadrillions calculations per second has claimed the top spot on the list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers.
  • The computer called Sunway TaihuLight developed by the National Research Centre of Parallel Computer Engineering and Technology (NRCPC) is built entirely using processors designed and made in China.
  • It is intended for use in engineering and research including climate, weather, life sciences, advanced manufacturing and data analytics.

TOP500 lists of supercomputers

  • The closely watched list is issued twice a year.
  • 2nd- Tianhe-2, an Intel-based Chinese supercomputer
  • 3rd- Titan, a Cray X40 system installed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory with 17.59 quadrillions of calculations per second.
  • 4th- Sequoia, an IBM BlueGene/Q system installed at DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
  • 5th- Fujitsu’s K computer installed at the RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science (AICS) in Japan
  • 6th- BlueGene/Q system called Mira in the U.S
  • 7th- a Cray X40 system known as Trinity
  • 8th- a Cray XC30 system called Piz Daint at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre.the most powerful system in Europe —
  • 9th- Hazel Hen installed at HLRS in Germany, Cray XC40 system
  • 10th- Shaheen II in King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia
  • The latest list marks the first time since the inception of the TOP500 that the U.S. is not home to the largest number of systems.
  • With a surge in industrial and research installations registered over the last few years, China leads with 167 systems and the U.S. is second with 165.
  • China also leads the performance category, thanks to the top two systems on the list.
  • Among countries with the most computers on the top 500 list, Germany was in fourth place with 26 systems, France was next with 18, followed by Britain with 12. The TaihuLight is due to be introduced Tuesday at the International Supercomputing Conference in Frankfurt.

PSLV-C34 with 20 satellites all set for new experiments

  • The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C34) will lift off at 9.25 a.m. on June 22 from Sriharikota
  • Apart from a Cartosat-2 series satellite, the rocket will also launch LAPAN-A3 (Indonesia), BIROS (Germany), M3MSat (Canada), SkySat Gen2-1 (U.S.), GHGSat-D (Canada), 12 Dove Satellites (U.S.), Sathyabamasat (Sathyabama University, Chennai) and Swayam satellites (College of Engineering, Pune).
  • The 725.5-kg Cartosat-2 series satellite will enhance Earth observation. The spacecraft is said to offer the best resolution of less than a metre on an Indian satellite, going as sharp as 60 cm. That is a measure of the smallest size of objects it can pick up on Earth.
  • The vehicle will not only put 20 satellites into the same orbit — the highest number of satellites to be put into orbit by a PSLV — but it will perform two tricky experiments of the same nature.
    • Fifty minutes after the satellites are injected into the orbit from the fourth stage of the vehicle, its engine will be re-ignited for five seconds.
    • Then it will be shut down for 50 minutes and re-ignited for another five secondsThe ISRO wants to master this complex manoeuvre so that it can put multiple satellites into different orbits using the same rocket. A forthcoming PSLV launch will put the ISRO’s SCATSAT-1, meant for forecasting weather and cyclone detection, and a foreign satellite in two different orbits.
  • On December 16, 2015, after the PSLV-C29’s fourth stage put six Singapore satellites into the same orbit, the ISRO re-started the fourth-stage engine for four seconds.
  • On June 22, eight minutes after the PSLV-C34 lifts off, the fourth stage engine will sizzle into life, taking the stage to an altitude of 514 km. The fourth stage engine will be cut off 16 minutes and 30 seconds after the lift-off. Over the next 10 minutes, 20 satellites will be injected into the same orbit from the fourth stage, one after another. After each satellite is injected into orbit, the vehicle will be re-oriented if required and the next satellite will be put into orbit with a varying velocity so that the distance between the satellites grows monotonically. We will do this to ensure that there is no collision of satellites. Then, after a huge gap of 3,000 seconds, PS-4 [the fourth stage] will be re-ignited for five seconds. Then, it will be switched off for another 3,000 seconds. It will be re-ignited for another five seconds.
  • On April 28, 2008, the PSLV-C9 deployed 10 satellites, but in the same orbit.

NASA to build quieter, battery-powered airplane

  • NASA is building a battery-powered, energy-efficient experimental airplane named ‘X-57’. 14 electric motors integrated in the wing turn the propellers.

Living bone grown in lab for the first time

  • In a first, scientists have grown a living bone in the lab to repair large defects in the head and face of patient, taking a step forward in improving treatments for people with craniofacial defects.
  • A new technique uses autologous stem cells derived from a small sample of the recipient’s fat and precisely replicates the original anatomical structure of the bone.
  • In a clinical-size porcine model of jaw repair, this bone, grown in vitro and then implanted, can seamlessly regenerate a large defect while providing mechanical function. The quality of the regenerated tissue, including vascularisation with blood perfusion, exceeds what has been achieved using other approaches. This is step forward in improving regenerative medicine options for patients with craniofacial defects=
  • The scaffold they built enabled bone formation without the use of growth factors, and also provided mechanical function, both of which are unique advantages for clinical application. They then isolated the recipient’s own stem cells from a small fat aspirate and, in just three weeks, formed the bone within a scaffold made from bone matrix, in a custom-designed perfused bioreactor.
  • An unexpected outcome was that the lab-grown bone, when implanted, was gradually replaced by new bone formed by the body, a result not seen with the implantation of a scaffold alone, without cells.
  • Researchers are now including a cartilage layer in the bio-engineered living bone tissue to study bone regeneration in complex defects of the head and face. Today, tissue engineering is truly changing the way we approach tissue repair, drug testing, disease modelling. We now can put the cells to work for us and make tissues, by providing bio-engineered environments that mimic their native milieu

Soon, smartphones can be used for eye-tracking

  • Scientists, including one of Indian-origin, have developed software that can turn any smartphone into an eye-tracking device.
  • Eye-tracking technology — which can determine where people are direct their gaze in a scene — has been widely used in psychological experiments and marketing research, but pricey hardware has kept it from finding consumer applications.
  • In addition to making existing applications of eye-tracking technology more accessible, the system developed by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and University of Georgia may enable new computer interfaces or help detect signs of incipient neurological disease or mental illness.
  • Researchers built their eye tracker using machine learning, a technique in which computers learn to perform tasks by looking for patterns in large sets of training examples.

ISRO to launch earth observation satellite on June 20

  • Satellite launch  on 20th of this month will see the Indian Space Research Organisation resuming its Earth Observation (EO) satellite activity after a gap of around three years.
  • The space agency has scheduled to fly Cartosat-2C
    • an Earth imaging satellite of sub-metre resolution and
    • meant purely for the Armed Forces,
    • on board the PSLV launcher
  •  It will also launch 19 other smaller external satellites, including two from Indian universities.
  • In the period since 2013, seven navigation spacecraft and a few communication satellites dominated the domestic space scene, with the exception of the Indo-French SARAL and the weather satellite INSAT-3D of 2013.

The upcoming EO (or remote sensing) satellites

  • Other earth observation satellites slated for release in this year
    • three more in the Cartosat-2 series and one of them will be for civil use.
    • Scatsat-1,
    • Resourcesat-2A and
    • Oceansat-3 [on the PSLV],
    • Insat-3DR on the GSLV
  • GISAT, a geo-imaging spacecraft of very high resolution and a higher orbit, is slated for 2018.
  • Speciality– They use of high-speed detection electronics components such as time delay integration devices, which would help to do continuous imaging of land areas.
  • Significance 
    • They would be three to four times more efficient than the older ones, providing sharper images of larger areas from about 600 km in space and repeat the view faster.
    • They would provide far more data of ground situations than the older ones, as they would re-visit a location more frequently than before.
    • This was required for the country’s crop forecasting and monitoring activities that need frequent observation and sharp images.

China launches 23rd navigation satellite

  • China has successfully launched its 23rd satellite to support its global navigation and positioning network which is being developed to rival the U.S

What’s new about the red planet?

  • MARS FACES SEASONAL DUST STORMS
  • NASA’s Mars Orbiters have for the first time found a seasonal dust storm pattern on the Red Planet — paving the way to improve scientists’ ability to predict hazards there.
  • Temperature records from Mars orbiters reveal a pattern of three types of large regional dust storms occurring in sequence at about the same time each year during the southern hemisphere spring and summer.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)

  • is a multipurpose spacecraft designed to conduct reconnaissance and exploration of Mars from orbit. It was launched August 12, 2005,and attained Martian orbit on March 10, 2006.
  • In November 2006, after five months of aerobraking, it entered its final science orbit and began its primary science phase. As MRO entered orbit, it joined five other active spacecraft that were either in orbit or on the planet’s surface: Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Express, 2001 Mars Odyssey, and the two Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit andOpportunity);
  • at the time, this set a record for the most operational spacecraft in the immediate vicinity of Mars. Mars Global Surveyor and theSpirit rover have since ceased to function; the remainder remain operational as of March 2016.
  • MRO contains a host of scientific instruments such as cameras, spectrometers, and radar, which are used to analyze the landforms,stratigraphy, minerals, and ice of Mars. It paves the way for future spacecraft by monitoring Mars’ daily weather and surface conditions, studying potential landing sites, and hosting a new telecommunications system.
  • MRO’s telecommunications system will transfer more data back to Earth than all previous interplanetary missions combined, and MRO will serve as a highly capable relay satellite for future missions

‘Ebola, zika can be predicted’

  • Scientists have developed a model that can predict the outbreak of diseases that spread from animals to humans — such as Ebola and Zika — based on environmental factors.

Time to go butterfly watching

  • The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) will soon publish Butterflies of India , a field guide compiled by naturalist-photographer Isaac Kehimkar, popularly known as ‘the Butterfly Man of India.’
  • The book covers more than 1,000 species and sub-species of butterflies found in India and also features over 1,800 colourful pictures of the insect from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar.
  • Mr. Kehimkar has already published two comprehensive field guides — Common Indian Wildflowers and the Book of Indian Butterflies for the BNHS.

BNHS-India

  • a pan-India wildlife research organization, has been promoting the cause of nature conservation for the past 132 years, since 1883.
  • BNHS Mission: Conservation of Nature, primarily Biological Diversity through action based on Research, Education and Public Awareness
  • BNHS Vision: Premier independent scientific organization with a broad based constituency, excelling in the conservation of threatened species and habitats.
  • Today, BNHS has a vibrant presence at dozens of places across India covering diverse habitats such as forests, grasslands, wetlands, mountains, deserts and marine areas. This includes work in the Global Biodiversity Hotspots such as Western Ghats and eastern Himalaya.
  • BNHS has been designated as a Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (SIRO) by Department of Science & Technology, Government of India and is the Partner of BirdLife International in India.

Time to update science textbooks: New names proposed for 4 elements

  • The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, the gatekeeper to the periodic table, has announced the proposed names for elements 113, 115, 117 and 118: nihonium, moscovium, tennessine and oganesson.
  • The new names for the four superheavy, radioactive elements will replace the seventh row’s uninspired placeholders of ununtrium, ununpentium, ununseptium and ununoctium.
  • IUPAC officially recognized the elements in December and gave naming rights to teams of scientists from the United States, Russia and Japan, who made the discoveries.
  • The proposed names had to follow IUPAC rules and are now available for public review. People have until November 8 to object to the proposals, and IUPAC has the final say.
  • Nihonium, symbol Nh, was discovered by scientists at the Riken institute in Japan. They are the first from Asia to earn the right to propose an addition to the table.
  • The name comes from “Nihon”, which is one of the two Japanese words for Japan.
  • The other word, “Nippon”, made its way to versions of the periodic table in 1908 as element 43, nipponium, but was never officially accepted. At the time, researchers were unable to replicate the experiments of Masataka Ogawa, a Japanese chemist who isolated the element. Two decades later, it was revealed that Mr. Masataka had in fact found a new element: element 75, by then already known as rhenium.
  • A trio of research institutions — the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR), in Russia; Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Tennessee; and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, in California — were given the right to propose names for elements 115 and 117. Moscovium, symbol Mc, is named for Moscow, which is near the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research. Tennessine, symbol Ts, gets its name from the state of Tennessee, where Oak Ridge National Laboratory is. After californium, it is the second element named for one of the 50 states.
  • Naming rights for element 118 belonged to the same Russian researchers and the Americans from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. They selected Oganesson, symbol Og, for Yuri Oganessian, who helped discover several superheavy elements.
  • If accepted, it will be only the second time that an element is named for a living person. The first was element 106, seaborgium, named for Glenn T. Seaborg. These new elements were discovered using the “hot fusion” approach, developed and implemented by Oganessian at JINR.

A ‘hot Jupiter’ that can spin its star discovered

  • An international team of astronomers has discovered a “hot Jupiter” exoplanet that is so massive and close to its parent star that it influences the star’s rotation with its gravity
  • The planet, called HATS-18b, is about 2,100 light years away
  • Hot Jupiters are giant exoplanets that orbit close to their parent stars. Also known as roaster planets, they orbit their stars in a short time and can be easily observed in transit.
  • The newly discovered exoplanet orbits its star in just 0.84 days, has a radius about 1.34 times that of Jupiter, and has twice the mass of the Jovian gas giant in our solar system
  • The high planet mass, combined with its short orbital period, implies strong tidal coupling between the planetary orbit and the star

Consumer awareness vital to hold drug prices

  • Patients must ask for generic drugs
  • A week after the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA), revised prices for 56 more lifesaving medicines
  • the biggest challenge in the ‘access to medicine’ debate in India was to get the consumer to be aware of his/her rights.
  • Doctors have an important role to play in making drugs affordable to the patients. But the real challenge is in getting every one to prescribe generic drugs. We have made a request to the health ministry that central government hospitals prescribe only generic drugs from now on. This is a start. Our hope is that soon, people will start asking doctors if there are generic options when doctors give branded medicines
  • The price revision is a part of the Drug price Control Order (DPCO) of 2013, which expanded India’s National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM) from 74 to 799 formulations. Despite facing pressure from domestic generic drug manufacturers, NPPA has been working on revising and lowering prices of NLEM in a phased manner, he said. “The objective of the government is to make the drugs on the NLEM as affordable as possible. In India, we do not have a system where the government insures or provides health care for everyone, like they do in United States. Till the time we evolve a system like that, we will have to cap prices on medicines. Pharmaceutical industry does not like any regulation but, in India, they have learnt to live with it. The truth is we control only a fraction of the market. There is a perception — rightly so — that pharmaceutical companies operate on huge profit margins.”
  • The DPCO was put in place after the Sino-Indian war of 1962 because companies started to profiteer and it became necessary to cap drug prices.
  • Over the years, it has been modified five times. The health ministry revises the NLEM list every three years, going by public health interests and the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) enforces it through DPCO. On March 10, the DoP notified the first schedule of drugs that will come under price control. Even after all prices have been revised, we only cover 17 per cent of the pharmaceutical market. The rest 83 per cent is not in our control,” Mr Singh said.
  • So far, NPPA has revised prices of 330 out of 799 formulations. The DoP is currently not looking at further expanding the NLEM, he said. “There are a few more medicines that need to be brought under price control but we won’t be expanding the list for now. The most expensive are cancer drugs and there is a need for price control on that front.