Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

What are the Diatoms?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Diatoms

Mains level : Not Much

The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad has relied on a forensic test known as diatom tests for leads in an alleged murder case of a person inviting high stage political drama.

What are Diatoms?

  • Diatoms are photosynthesizing algae that are found in almost every aquatic environment including fresh and marine waters, soils, in fact, almost anywhere moist.
  • Diatoms have cell walls made of silica, each species has a distinct pattern of tiny holes in the cell wall (frustule) through which they absorb nutrients and get rid of waste.
  • A diatom is a photosynthetic, single-celled organism which means they manufacture their own food in the same way plants do.

Diatoms are important as they:

  • provide the basis of the food chain for both marine and freshwater micro-organisms and animal larvae
  • are a major source of atmospheric oxygen responsible for 20-30% of all carbon fixation on the planet
  • can act as environmental indicators of climate change
  • form the basis of some household goods such as pest/mite prevention and mild abrasive

Never underestimate UPSC. Try this PYQ before you reach any conclusion.

Q.Which one of the following is the correct sequence of a food chain?

(a) Diatoms-Crustaceans-Herrings

(b) Crustaceans-Diatoms-Herrings

(c) Diatoms-Herrings-Crustaceans

(d) Crustaceans-Herrings-Diatoms

What is a diatom test?

  • Diagnosis of death by drowning is deemed as a difficult task in forensic pathology.
  • A number of tests have been developed to confirm the cause of such deaths with the diatom test emerging as one of the most important tests.
  • The test entails findings if there are diatoms in the body being tested.

The science behind

  • A body recovered from a water body does not necessarily imply that the death was due to drowning.
  • If the person is alive when he enters the water, the diatoms will enter the lungs when the person inhales water while drowning.
  • These diatoms then get carried to various parts of the body, including the brain, kidneys, lungs and bone marrow by blood circulation.
  • If a person is dead when is thrown in the water, then there is no circulation and there is no transport of diatom cells to various organs.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

[pib] What is Artificial Photosynthesis?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Artificial Photosynthesis

Mains level : Carbon sequestration through AP

Scientists have found a method to mimic nature’s own process of reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, namely photosynthesis, to capture excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Artificial Photosynthesis

  • Artificial photosynthesis (AP) is a chemical process that mimics the natural process of photosynthesis to convert sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates and oxygen.
  • The term artificial photosynthesis is commonly used to refer to any scheme for capturing and storing the energy from sunlight in the chemical bonds of fuel (a solar fuel).
  • Photocatalytic water splitting converts water into hydrogen and oxygen and is a major research topic of artificial photosynthesis.
  • Light-driven carbon dioxide reduction is another process studied that replicates natural carbon fixation.

Try this PYQ:

Which of the following adds/add carbon dioxide to the carbon cycle on the planet Earth?

  1. Volcanic action
  2. Respiration
  3. Photosynthesis
  4. Decay of organic matter

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 and 3 only

(b) 2 only

(c) 1, 2 and 4 only

(d) 1, 2, 3 and 4

Challenges in AP

  • Research on this topic includes the engineering of enzymes and photoautotrophic microorganisms for microbial biofuel and biohydrogen production from sunlight.
  • This AP harnesses solar energy and converts the captured carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide (CO), which can be used as a fuel for internal combustion engines.
  • In AP, scientists are essentially conducting the same fundamental process in natural photosynthesis but with simpler nanostructures.
  • However, there are plenty of hurdles to overcome as a successful catalyst to carry out AP.

What have Indian researchers achieved?

  • Indian researchers have designed and fabricated an integrated catalytic system based on a metal-organic framework (MOF-808) comprising of a photosensitizer that can harness solar power and a catalytic centre that can eventually reduce CO2.
  • A photosensitizer is a molecule that absorbs light and transfers the electron from the incident light into another nearby molecule.
  • The scientists have immobilized a photosensitizer, which is a chemical called ruthenium bipyridyl complex ([Ru (bpy)2Cl2]) and a catalytic part which is another chemical called rhenium carbonyl complex ([Re(CO)5Cl]).
  • They have fabricated it inside the nano space of a metal-organic framework for artificial photosynthesis.

Outcomes of the research

  • The developed catalyst exhibited excellent visible-light-driven CO2 reduction to CO with more than 99% selectivity.
  • The catalyst also oxidizes water to produce oxygen (O2).
  • The Photocatalytic assembly, when assessed for CO2 reduction under direct sunlight in a water medium without any additives, showed superior performance of CO production.
  • Being heterogeneous, the integrated catalytic assembly can be reused for several catalytic cycles without losing its activity.

Back2Basics:  Photosynthesis

  • It is the process by which green plants and certain other organisms transform light energy into chemical energy.
  • It is a process used by plants and other organisms to convert light energy into chemical energy that, through cellular respiration, can later be released to fuel the organism’s metabolic activities.
  • This chemical energy is stored in carbohydrate molecules, such as sugars, which are synthesized from carbon dioxide and water – hence the name photosynthesis.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Genetics of Eye Color

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Human eye and the applied genetics

Mains level : NA

Researchers from London have found that eye colour in Asians with different shades of brown is genetically similar to eye colour in Europeans ranging from dark brown to light blue.

Human Eye Colour

  • Human eye colour ranges from black, brown to blue, green, and even red.
  • Eye colour is primarily determined by melanin abundance within the iris pigment epithelium, which is greater in brown than in blue eyes.
  • There are two forms of melanin – eumelanin and pheomelanin – and the ratio of the two within the iris as well as light absorption and scattering by extracellular components are additional factors that give irises their colour.
  • Absolute melanin quantity and the eumelanin–pheomelanin ratio is higher in brown irises, while blue or green irises have very little of both pigments and relatively more pheomelanin.

Try this PYQ:

Q.Recently, LASIK (Lasser Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis) procedure is being made popular for vision correction. Which one of the following statements in this context is not correct?

(a) LASIK procedure is used to correct refractive errors of the eye

(b) It is a procedure that permanently changes the shapes of the cornea

(c) It reduces a person’s dependence on glasses or contact lenses

(d) It is a procedure that can be done on the person of any age

What has the research found?

  • Previously a dozen genes (mainly HERC2 and OCA2) were found to influence eye colour.
  • The researchers have now identified 50 new genes for eye colour.
  • Genetic analysis of nearly 0.2 million people across Europe and Asia helped the researchers to identify the new genes.
  • The findings collectively explain over 53% of eye colour variation using common single-nucleotide polymorphisms.

Outcome of the research

  • Overall, the study outcomes demonstrate that the genetic complexity of human eye colour considerably exceeds previous knowledge and expectations.
  • These findings will help improve our understanding of eye diseases such as pigmentary glaucoma and ocular albinism where pigment levels play a role.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Novel Open Reading Frames (NORF)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : nORF

Mains level : Not Much

A team from the University of Cambridge set out to find whether new genes emerge in the genome of living organisms and if they do, how they do so. They have now catalogued 1,94,000 novel regions.

Genes/Genomes/DNA/RNA is all-time favourite of UPSC. You can easily find 1-2 questions every year since 2017 in Prelims.

Novel genomic regions

  • The ‘novel’ genomic regions cannot be defined by our current ‘definition’ of a gene.
  • Hence, researchers call these novel regions – novel Open Reading Frames or as nORFs.
  • Researchers found that the mutations in nORFs do have physiological consequences and a majority of mutations that are often annotated as benign have to be re-interpreted.

What novel did the researchers find?

  • nORF regions were uniquely present in the cancer tissues and not present in the control tissue.
  • They found that some nORF disruptions strongly correlated with the survival of patients.
  • nORFs proteins can form structures, can undergo biochemical regulation like known proteins and be targeted by drugs in case they are disrupted in diseases.
  • The researchers also identified these nORFs in Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite which causes the deadliest form of malaria.

Connected to disease

  • The research found that these regions are also broadly involved in diseases.
  • The nORFs were seen as dysregulated in 22 cancer types.
  • Dysregulated is a term which means that they could either be mutated, upregulated, or downregulated, or they could be uniquely present.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

What is Intentional Genomic Alteration?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Intentional Genomic Alteration

Mains level : Gene Editing

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a first-of-its-kind intentional genomic alteration (IGA) in a line of domestic pigs referred to as GalSafe pigs.

Try this PYQ:

Q.What is Cas9 protein that is often mentioned in news?

(a) A molecular scissors used in targeted gene editing

(b) A biosensor used in the accurate detection of pathogens in patients

(c) A gene that makes plants pest-resistant

(d) A herbicidal sub

What is Intentional Genomic Alteration?

  • Intentional genomic alteration in animals’ means making specific changes to the genome of the organism using modern molecular technologies.
  • These are popularly referred to as “genome editing” or “genetic engineering”. However, there are other technologies that can be used to make IGAs in animals.
  • Such changes in the DNA sequence of an animal may be carried out for research purposes, to produce healthier meat for human consumption and to study disease resistance in animals among other reasons.
  • One example is of using IGAs to make an animal more susceptible to certain diseases such as cancer, which helps researchers get a better understanding of the disease and develop new therapies to treat it.

What does FDA’s recent approval mean?

  • The FDA made the announcement this week and allowed IGA in GalSafe pigs to eliminate a type of sugar found in mammals called alpha-gal.
  • This sugar is present on the surface of these pigs’ cells and when they are used for products such as medicines or food.
  • The sugar is found in red meats such as beef, pork and lamb, the sugar makes some people with Alpha-gal Syndrome (AGS) more susceptible to developing mild to severe allergic reactions.
  • IGA will help eventually free these products from detectable alpha-gal sugar, thereby protecting their human consumers from potential allergies.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Hydroponics: the art of soil-less farming

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Hydroponics

Mains level : Hydroponics and its utility

This newscard is an excerpt from the original article published in TH.

Many questions related to agricultural techniques are being asked in the Prelims. UPSC has done away with traditional crop-related questions for the past two years. 

For example, see this question from CSP 2020:

Q.What are the advantages of fertigation in agriculture?

  1. Controlling the alkalinity of irrigation water is possible.
    2. Efficient application of Rock Phosphate and all other phosphatic fertilizers is possible.
    3. Increased availability of nutrients to plants is possible.
    4. Reduction in the leaching of chemical nutrients is possible.

Select the correct answer using the code given below:
(a) 1, 2 and 3 only

(b) 1,2 and 4 only

(c) 1,3 and 4 only

(d) 2, 3 and 4 only

What is hydroponics?

Hydroponics is the cultivation of plants without using soil.

  • Hydroponic flowers, herbs, and vegetables are planted in inert growing media and supplied with nutrient-rich solutions, oxygen, and water.
  • This system fosters rapid growth, stronger yields, and superior quality.
  • When a plant is grown in soil, its roots are perpetually searching for the necessary nutrition to support the plant.
  • If a plant’s root system is exposed directly to water and nutrition, the plant does not have to exert any energy in sustaining itself.
  • The energy the roots would have expended acquiring food and water can be redirected into the plant’s maturation. As a result, leaf growth flourishes as does the blooming of fruits and flowers.

Why Hydroponics?

  • Plants sustain themselves by a process called photosynthesis. But they do not need soil to photosynthesize.
  • They need the soil to supply them with water and nutrients.
  • When nutrients are dissolved in water they can be applied directly to the plant’s root system by flooding, misting, or immersion.
  • Hydroponic innovations have proven direct exposure to nutrient-filled water can be a more effective and versatile method of growth than traditional irrigation.

How does hydroponics work?

  • Hydroponic systems work by allowing minute control over environmental conditions like temperature and pH balance and maximized exposure to nutrients and water.
  • It administers nutrient solutions tailored to the needs of the particular plant being grown.
  • They allow you to control exactly how much light the plants receive and for how long.
  • pH levels can be monitored and adjusted. In a highly customized and controlled environment, plant growth accelerates.

Components of Hydroponics

To maintain a flourishing hydroponic system, we need to become acquainted with a few components that make it run efficiently.

(1) Growing media

  • Hydroponic plants are often grown in inert media that support the plant’s weight and anchor its root structure.
  • Growing media is the substitute for soil, however, it does not provide any independent nutrition to the plant.
  • Instead, this porous media retains moisture and nutrients from the nutrient solution which it then delivers to the plant.

(2) Air stones and air pumps

  • Plants that are submerged in water can quickly drown if the water is not sufficiently aerated. Air stones disperse tiny bubbles of dissolved oxygen throughout your nutrient solution reservoir.
  • These bubbles also help evenly distribute the dissolved nutrients in the solution. Air stones do not generate oxygen on their own.
  • They need to be attached to an external air pump via opaque food grade plastic tubing

(3) Net pots

  • Net pots are mesh planters that hold hydroponic plants. The latticed material allows roots to grow out of the sides and bottom of the pot, giving greater exposure to oxygen and nutrients.
  • Net pots also provide superior drainage compared to traditional clay or plastic pots.

Benefits

By controlling the environment of the plant in hydroponics, many risk factors are reduced:

  • Plants grown in gardens and fields are introduced to a host of variables that negatively impact their health and growth. Fungus in the soil can spread diseases to plants.
  • Wildlife like rabbits can plunder ripening vegetables from your garden.
  • Pests like locusts can descend on crops and obliterate them in an afternoon. Hydroponic systems end the unpredictability of growing plants outdoors and in the earth.
  • Without the mechanical resistance of the soil, seedlings can mature much faster.
  • By eliminating pesticides, hydroponics produces much healthier and high-quality fruits and vegetables. Without obstacles, plants are free to grow vigorously and rapidly.

Various limitations

  • A hydroponic system isn’t cheap
  • Constant monitoring is required
  • Micro-organisms that are water-based can creep in rather easily
  • Growing a hydroponic garden demands an expertise
  • Production is limited compared to field conditions
  • If a disease appears, all plants in the system will be affected
  • Without soil to serve as a buffer if the system fails plant death will occur rapidly

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

How epigenetics alters inherited genetics’ message

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Epigenetics

Mains level : Genetics and human health

Researchers have found the cause of vision impairment due to ageing as the accumulation of “epigenetic noise” that disrupts gene expression patterns leading to changes in inherent DNA function

Genetics is an all-time favourite of UPSC. Every year you can find a question in prelims. Try this one from CSP 2020:

 

Q.Consider the following statements:

  1. Genetic changes can be introduced in the cells that produce eggs or sperms of a prospective parent
  2. A person’s genome can be edited before birth at the early embryonic stage.
  3. Human-induced pluripotent stem cells can be injected into the embryo of a pig.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 2 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

What is Epigenetics?

  • Epigenetics is the study of how your behaviours and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work.
  • Unlike genetic changes, epigenetic changes are reversible and do not change your DNA sequence, but they can change how your body reads a DNA sequence.
  • Environmental stimuli can cause genes to be turned off or turned on.
  • This determines a cell’s specialization (e.g., skin cell, blood cell, hair cell, liver cells, etc.) as a fetus develops into a baby through gene expression (active) or silencing (dormant); and nurture.
  • This normal epigenetic control on our genes can get altered during normal ageing, stress and disease conditions.

Cellular regulators

  • The functioning of cells and tissues in our body are controlled by thousands of proteins that regulate various cellular functions.
  • These proteins are in turn encoded by the respective genes which are a part of our genome or the cellular DNA.
  • Any minor or major changes to our inherited DNA (addition or mutation) can result in altered protein production, which in turn leads to defective cellular functions.
  • This forms the basis for many heritable genetic disorders affecting mankind.

A trigger for various inactivities

  • Apart from DNA or protein sequence level alterations, there are other biochemical changes that influence and dictate if a gene should be active or inactive in a given cell type.
  • For example, the gene that encodes for the insulin protein is present in the exact form, in every cell of the body.
  • However, it is allowed to express only in the insulin-secreting beta cells of the pancreas and is kept inactive in the rest of the cells of the body.
  • This phenomenon is tightly regulated by a combination of regulatory proteins that changes the expressivity of the gene.
  • Also, the histone proteins that bind the DNA and help to compactly wrap it inside the chromosomes can undergo chemical modifications such as methylations and acetylations on different lysine amino acids within the protein.
  • These modifications both on the DNA and its associated proteins alter the chromosomal conformations and regulate gene expression.
  • These changes can either unwind the DNA and allow gene expression or can compact the DNA and render the genes in the region inactive or silent.

Epigenetics and the human eye

  • The human (and mammalian) eye is a remarkable organ in the course of evolution which has allowed us to “see” the external world clearly and in colour.
  • Earlier forms, such as microbes and plants, reacted to light in other ways (for absorption and use, such as photosynthesis).
  • The front part of the human eye (cornea, lens and the vitreous humour gel) is transparent, colourless and helps focus the incoming light into the retina, helping us see colour.
  • It is the retina that sends the message to the brain.
  • Its main component, called the retinal ganglion cells (RGC) are the ones that help in this process of sending the message in the form of electrical signals, called neurons or nerve cells.
  • Thus, RGCs are the ones that convert optics into electronics.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Plasmodium Ovale and Other types of Malaria

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Plasmodium parasite

Mains level : Malaria in India

A not very common type of malaria, Plasmodium Ovale, has been identified in a jawan in Kerala.

Try this PYQ:

Q. Widespread resistance of malarial parasite to drugs like chloroquine has prompted attempts to develop a malarial vaccine to combat malaria.

Why is it difficult to develop an effective malaria vaccine?

(a) Malaria is caused by several species of Plasmodium

(b) Man does not develop immunity to malaria during natural infection

(c) Vaccines can be developed only against bacteria

(d) Man is only an intermediate host and not the definitive host

What is Malaria?

  • Malaria is caused by the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito if the mosquito itself is infected with a malarial parasite.
  • There are five kinds of malarial parasites — Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium vivax (the commonest ones), Plasmodium malariae, Plasmodium ovale and Plasmodium knowlesi.
  • Therefore, to say that someone has contracted the Plasmodium ovale type of malaria means that the person has been infected by that particular parasite.
  • Malaria is treated with prescription drugs to kill the parasite. Chloroquine is the preferred treatment for any parasite that is sensitive to the drug.

Plasmodium Ovale

  • P ovale rarely causes severe illness and there is no need for panic.
  • Symptoms include fever for 48 hours, headache and nausea, and the treatment modality is the same as it is for a person infected with P vivax.
  • P ovale is no more dangerous than getting a viral infection.
  • It is termed ovale as about 20% of the parasitised cells are oval in shape.

Burden of Malaria in India

  • In 2018, the National Vector-borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP) estimated that approximately 5 lakh people suffered from malaria.
  • 63% of the cases were of Plasmodium falciparum.
  • The recent World Malaria Report 2020 said cases in India dropped from about 20 million in 2000 to about 5.6 million in 2019.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Zebrafish and its heart regeneration capacity

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Zebrafish

Mains level : Not Much

Indian scientists have used the Zebrafish model and identified its genes that can promote heart regeneration.

Try this PYQ:

Q.With reference to India’s Biodiversity, Ceylon frogmouth, Coppersmith Barbet, Gray-chinned minivet and White-throated redstart are-

(a) Birds

(b) Primates

(c) Reptiles

(d) Amphibians

Zebrafish

  • Zebrafish is a small (2-3 cm long) freshwater fish found in the tropical and subtropical regions.
  • The fish is native to South Asia’s Indo-Gangetic plains, where they are mostly found in the paddy fields and even in stagnant water and streams.
  • The fish become adults at three months and survive 2-3 years in a laboratory condition.
  • Its unique characteristics lie in its transparency during its embryonic stages, allowing observing all organs, including beating heart and blood circulation.

Ability to heal their heart

  • The ability of Zebrafish to heal their heart after injury makes them an attractive model to investigate mechanisms governing the regenerative process.
  • Researchers worldwide are actively working to understand the mechanism behind the heart regeneration in Zebrafish for the last two decades.
  • Years of efforts have helped them identify the cellular communication network factor 2a (ccn2a), a gene that can promote heart regeneration by enhancing cardiomyocyte proliferation.
  • They have also observed that this gene resolves the transient collagenous fibrotic scar resulting in faster regeneration.

Significance for humans

  • Cardiovascular diseases are the number 1 cause of deaths globally, taking an estimated 17.9 million lives each year, according to the World Health Organisation.
  • Humans cannot regenerate their hearts upon myocardial damage and a person who suffered a heart attack cannot functionally heal the damaged heart muscle, resulting in reduced pumping efficiency.
  • While on the other hand, this unique fish has the full potential to regenerate its heart and restore its function after injury.
  • Till now, there is no treatment available to restore the damaged heart function in humans. Hence scientists have sought to decode the heart regeneration processes using this model animal.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

What is Federated Learning?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IoT , AI

Mains level : AI and its applications

An improvement in a Machine Learning (ML) model, called ‘federated learning’, is said to enable companies to develop new ways of collecting anonymous data without compromising their privacy.

Data privacy is the right of a citizen to have control over how personal information is collected and used. Data protection is a subset Right of Privacy under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

What is ‘federated learning’?

  • Federated learning is an ML method used to train an algorithm across multiple decentralised devices or servers holding data samples.
  • It doesn’t exchange data with the devices, meaning there is no central dataset or server that stores the information.
  • Standard ML models require all data to be centralised in a single server. Implementation of federated learning eliminates the need for maintaining a storage hub.
  • The term was first introduced in a 2016 Google study titled ‘Communication-efficient learning of deep networks from decentralized data.’
  • Google emphasised mobile phones and tablets, stating that modern devices contain special features like speech recognition and image models that can store large amounts of data.
  • Since then, Google has used the technique is various products, including Gboard, which provides text and phrase suggestions to the keyboard.

How this works

  • Federated learning aims to train an algorithm, like deep neural networks, on multiple local datasets contained in local nodes, without explicitly exchanging data.
  • The general principle involves simply exchanging parameters between these nodes. Parameters include a number of federated learning rounds, the total number of nodes, and learning rate.
  • The distinct advantage of the model is its ability to reduce privacy and security risks by limiting the attack surface to only the device, rather than the device and the cloud, Google stated in the study.

Why need such technology?

  • Smart home devices like speakers and smartwatches collect and share data with other devices and systems over the network.
  • These Internet of Things (IoT) devices are equipped with sensors and software that store a user’s private information like body measurements and location.
  • This large chunk of stored data is used by the device makers to improve their products and services.

Applications

  • Federated learning is said to have application in healthcare, where hospitals and pharmaceutical companies can exchange data for treating diseases without sharing private clinical information.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Community Cord Blood Banking

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Cord Blood Banking

Mains level : Stem Cells Therapy

Community Cord Blood Banking, a stem cell banking initiative, has recently helped save the life of a girl child making it India’s first dual cord blood transplant through an unrelated donor.

Must read:

What is Cord Blood Banking?

  • Community Banking is a new sharing economy model of stem cell banking that was pioneered by LifeCell in India.
  • Parents who choose to store their child’s cord blood in a community bank will have access, in the event of medical need, to all of the other cord blood units in the bank.
  • A community bank is like a public cord blood bank in that the members are supporting each other, but it is also like a private bank because the members pay for this service and outsiders cannot participate.
  • It can fill an unmet health need in a country like India, where there is no national network of public banks and the population has unique genetics that are not covered by banks elsewhere in the world.
  • It is different from “hybrid” banking where both public and family banks share a laboratory, because in hybrid banks the pubic and family sides operate separately.
  • In a community bank the public and family functions are blended.

Benefits of cord blood

  • It gives protection to a baby against all conditions treatable using stem cells (own & donor).
  • It gives protection to the baby’s siblings, parents and grandparents (maternal & paternal) by providing unrelated donor stem cells.

Back2Basics: Stem Cell Therapy

  • It is a type of treatment option that uses a patient’s own stem cells to repair damaged tissue and repair injuries.
  • It is used to treat more than 80 disorders including neuromuscular and degenerative disorders. Eg. Bone-marrow transplant is used in Leukemia (blood cancer), sickle-cell anemia, immunodeficiency disorders.
  • Stem cells are usually taken from one of the two areas in the patient’s body: bone marrow or adipose (fat) tissue in their upper thigh/abdomen.
  • Because it is common to remove stem cells from areas of stored body fat, some refer to stem cell therapy as “Adipose Stem Cell Therapy” in some cases.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Anomaly over Normal Body Temperature

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : “Normal” body temperature

Mains level : NA

For several years now, doctors and researchers have known that 98.6°F is not really the gold-standard “normal” body temperature it was once considered to be.

The “normal” body temperature

  • In 1851, Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich pioneered the use of the clinical thermometer.
  • It was a rod a foot long, which he would stick under the armpits of patients at the hospital attached with Leipzig University, and then wait for 15 minutes for the temperature to register.
  • He took over a million measurements of 25,000 patients, and published his findings in a book in 1868, in which he concluded that the average human body temperature is 98.6°F.
  • Most modern scientists feel Wunderlich’s experiments were flawed, and his equipment inaccurate.
  • Another study concluded that the average human body temperature is closer to 98.2°F, and suggested that the 98.6°F benchmark be discarded.

The anomaly

  • Studies in the US and Europe have found average body temperatures declining over time.
  • In recent years, however, different studies have found the human body temperature averaging out differently, including at 97.7°, 97.9° and 98.2°F.
  • One of the largest such studies, published last year, found that body temperatures among Americans have been declining over the last two centuries.

Now try this PYQ based on health sciences

Q.Which of the following diseases can be transmitted from one person to another through tattooing?

  1. Chikungunya
  2. Hepatitis B
  3. HIV-AIDS

Select the correct answer using the codes given below:

(a) Only 1

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Discovering the Tubarial Glands

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Tubarial glands

Mains level : Not Much

Researchers from the Netherlands have discovered a new location of salivary glands.

Try this PYQ:

Q.With references to the scientific progress of ancient India, which of the statements given below are correct?

  1. Different kinds of specialized surgical instruments were in common use by 1st century AD.
  2. Transplant of internal organs in the human body had begun by the beginning of 3rd century AD.
  3. The concept of sine of an angle was known in 5th century AD.
  4. The concept of cyclic quadrilaterals was known in 7th century AD.

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 3 and 4 only

(c) 1, 3 and 4 only

(d) 1, 2, 3 and 4

Tubarial Glands

  • The salivary gland system in the human body has three paired major glands and over 1,000 minor glands that are spread throughout the mucosa.
  • These glands produce saliva necessary for swallowing, digestion, tasting, mastication and dental hygiene.
  • When researchers were studying scans from about 100 people, they found a bilateral structure at the back of the nasopharynx and these glands had characteristics of salivary glands.
  • Researchers have proposed the name “tubarial glands” for their discovery.
  • The researchers believe that these glands would qualify as the fourth pair of major salivary glands.
  • The proposed name is based on their anatomical location; the other three glands are called parotid, submandibular and sublingual.

Why are these glands being discovered only now?

  • The location of these glands is at a poorly accessible anatomical location under the base of the skull, which is an area that can only be visualized using nasal endoscopy.
  • Further, conventional imaging techniques such as a CT scan, MRI and ultrasound have not allowed the visualization of these glands.
  • For the scans done on the 100 patients, a new type of scan called the PSMA PET/CT scan was used, which was able to provide the high sensitivity and specificity required to detect these glands.

What is the purpose of these glands?

  • So far, researchers suspect that the physiological function of the glands is to moisten and lubricate the nasopharynx and the oropharynx.
  • However, this interpretation needs to be confirmed with additional research.

Significance of this discovery

  • The discovery is potentially good news for some cancer patients with head and neck cancers.
  • Patients with head and neck cancers and tumours in the tongue or the throat are treated with radiation therapy that can damage the new salivary glands, whose location was not previously known.
  • Oncologists will be able to circumvent these areas and protect them from the side effects of radiation which can lead to complications such as trouble speaking, swallowing and speaking.
  • Some patients may even face an increased risk of caries and oral infections that can significantly impact their life.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Need for guidelines for gene-editing research in India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CRISPR-Cas9

Mains level : Paper 3- CRISPR-Cas9-Important tool in gene editing

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2020 has been awarded for the discovery of CRISPR Cas9. The two scientists have pioneered the use of CRISPR  – Cas9 (CRISPR-associated protein 9) system as a gene-editing tool.

Background of discovery of CRISPR

  • In 1987a group of Japanese researchers observed an unusual homologous DNA sequence bearing direct repeats with spacing in a eubacterial gene.
  • In subsequent years CRISPR was discovered and showed to be a bacterial adaptive immune system and to act on DNA targets.
  • A notable discovery on the use of CRISPR as a gene-editing tool was by a Lithuanian biochemist, Virginijus Šikšnys, in 2012.
  • Šikšnys showed that Cas9 could cut purified DNA in a test tube, the same discovery for which both Charpentier and Doudna were given the credit.
  • Thus, the exclusion of Siksnys from this year’s Nobel is going to raise discussions.

Issue of gene-edited babies

  • The world was alarmed by such a mission in 2018 when Chinese scientist edited genes in human embryos using the CRISPR-Cas9 system which resulted in the birth of twin girls.
  • The incident became known as the case of the first gene-edited babies of the world.
  • Following the incident, the World Health Organization formed a panel of gene-editing experts.
  • The expert panel suggested a central registry of all human genome editing research in order to create an open and transparent database of ongoing work.

Guidelines and regulations in India

  • In India, several rules, guidelines, and policies are notified under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 to regulate genetically modified organisms.
  • The above Act and the National Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical and Health Research involving human participants, 2017, by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), and the Biomedical and Health Research Regulation Bill implies regulation of the gene-editing process.
  • This is especially so in the usage of its language “modification, deletion or removal of parts of heritable material”.
  • However, there is no explicit mention of the term gene editing.

Consider the question “What is CRISPR-Cas9? How it helps in the gene-editing? What are the concerns with use of it for gene-editing?”

Conclusion

It is time that India came up with a specific law to ban germline editing and put out guidelines for conducting gene-editing research giving rise to modified organisms.


Back2Basics: What is CRISPR?

  • CRISPRs: “CRISPR” stands for “clusters of regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.”
  • It is a specialized region of DNA with two distinct characteristics: the presence of nucleotide repeats and spacers.
  • Repeated sequences of nucleotides — the building blocks of DNA — are distributed throughout a CRISPR region.
  • Spacers are bits of DNA that are interspersed among these repeated sequences.
  • In the case of bacteria, the spacers are taken from viruses that previously attacked the organism.
  • They serve as a bank of memories, which enables bacteria to recognize the viruses and fight off future attacks.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

FELUDA test for Covid-19

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : FELUDA, CAS9, CRISPR

Mains level : CRISPR technology

Union Health Ministry will soon roll out the FELUDA paper strip test for SARS-CoV-2 diagnosis.

Try this PYQ:

Q.What is Cas9 protein that is often mentioned in news?

(a) A molecular scissors used in targeted gene editing

(b) A biosensor used in the accurate detection of pathogens in patients

(c) A gene that makes plants pest-resistant

(d) A herbicidal substance synthesized in genetically modified crops

FELUDA test

  • FELUDA is the acronym for FNCAS9 Editor Linked Uniform Detection Assay.
  • It uses indigenously developed CRISPR gene-editing technology to identify and target the genetic material of SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes Covid-19.
  • According to CSIR, the test matches accuracy levels of RT-PCR tests, considered the gold standard in the diagnosis of Covid-19, has a quicker turnaround time and requires less expensive equipment.
  • It is also the world’s first diagnostic test to deploy a specially adapted Cas9 protein to successfully detect the virus.

How does it work?

  • The Feluda test is similar to a pregnancy test strip that will just change colour upon detection of the virus and can be used in a simple pathological lab.
  • The Cas9 protein is bar-coded to interact with the SARS-CoV2 sequence in the patient’s genetic material.
  • The Cas9-SARS-CoV2 complex is then put on the paper strip, where using two lines (one control, one test) makes it possible to determine if the test sample was infected.

Back2Basics: CRISPR technology

  • CRISPR is a short form for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.
  • It is a gene-editing technology and finds its use in correcting genetic defects and treating and preventing the spread of diseases.
  • The technology can detect specific sequences of DNA within a gene and uses an enzyme functioning as molecular scissors to snip it.
  • It also allows researchers to easily alter DNA sequences and modify gene function.
  • Moreover, the technology can also be configured for detection of multiple other pathogens in the future.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

[pib] Bio-Pesticide Formulation using Verticillium Lecanii

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Verticillium lecanii

Mains level : NA

Indian researchers have successfully developed new Aqueous Suspension formulation technology of bio-pesticide based on entomopathogenic fungus Verticillium lecanii.

Try this PYQ:

Q.Recently, there was a growing awareness in our country about the importance of Himalayan nettle (Girardinia diversifolia) because it is found to be a sustainable source of

(a) anti-malarial drug

(b) biodiesel

(c) pulp for paper industry

(d) textile fibre

Verticillium lecanii

  • This bio-pesticide formulation has been found very effective in controlling various insects in seed spice crops (fenugreek, cumin, and coriander).
  • It has a good shelf life, safe to user & environment and it may be effectively used for controlling different agricultural insects especially in seed spice crops.
  • This bio-pesticide may be used as a safer alternative to chemical pesticides to minimize pesticide residue problem.
  • Besides, it may be used as a key input for crop protection from insects pest in organic agriculture and Integrated Pest Management.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

2020 Nobel for Hepatitis C Virus discovery

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Hepatitis

Mains level : Not Much

Americans Harvey J Alter and Charles M Rice, and British scientist Michael Houghton were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology on Monday for the discovery of the hepatitis C virus.

Try this PYQ:

Q.Which one of the following statements is not correct? (CSP 2019)

(a) Hepatitis B virus is transmitted much like HIV.

(b) Hepatitis B. unlike Hepatitis C, does not have a vaccine.

(c) Globally, the number of people infected with Hepatitis B and C viruses arc several times more than those infected with HIV.

(d) Some of those infected with Hepatitis B and C viruses do not show the symptoms for many years.

Hepatitis C Virus

  • Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a bloodborne virus and causes liver diseases. It refers to an inflammatory condition of the liver.
  • The novel virus caused several deaths in the 1960s and 1970s — but remained unknown until its discovery in the late 1980s.

What are other Hepatitis Viruses?

  • Before the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus, two other viruses were known to cause hepatitis in patients.
  • The Hepatitis A virus was known to spread mainly through contaminated food and water and caused a relatively milder form of liver inflammation.
  • Hepatitis B, discovered in the 1960s, was known to transmit mainly through infected blood and caused a more serious form of the disease.
  • Incidentally, the discovery of the Hepatitis B virus too was rewarded with a Nobel Prize in Medicine, given to Baruch Blumberg in 1976. There are vaccines available for this disease now.

How Hepatitis C came to observation?

  • The discovery and identification of the Hepatitis B virus facilitated the development of a diagnostic test to detect its presence in blood.
  • Thereafter, only blood sanitized from this virus would be given to patients, but it was observed that even this sanitized blood was able to prevent only 20% of the blood-borne hepatitis cases.
  • It was then that the search for the new virus began.

How is Hepatitis C treated?

  • Presently there is no vaccine available for HCV. However, it can be treated with antiviral medication.
  • Hepatitis A and B are preventable by vaccine.

Back2Basics:

In news: Nobel Prize

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

What is Ketogenic Diet?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Ketogenic Diet

Mains level : Not Much

Ketogenic or Keto Diet is popularly followed as a weight loss diet across the world.

Try this PYQ:

Q.Regular intake of fresh fruits and vegetables is recommended in the diet since they are a good source of antioxidants. How do antioxidants help a person maintain health and promote longevity? (CSP 2014)

(a) They activate the enzymes necessary for vitamin synthesis in the body and help prevent vitamin deficiency.

(b) They prevent excessive oxidation of carbohydrates, fats and proteins in the body and help avoid unnecessary wastage of energy.

(c) They neutralize the free radicals produced in the body during metabolism.

(d) They activate certain genes in the cells of the body and help delay the ageing process.

What is Ketogenic Diet?

  • The Keto Diet is one of the most popular weight-loss diets the world over.
  • It consists of a high-fat, moderate-protein and low-carb diet.
  • It helps in weight loss by achieving ketosis — a metabolic state where the liver burns body fat and provides fuel for the body, as there is limited access to glucose.

What constitutes a keto diet?

  • A classic keto generally requires that 90 per cent of a person’s calories come from fat, 6 per cent from protein and 4 per cent from carbs.
  • But there are many versions doing the rounds since this one was designed for children suffering from epilepsy to gain control over their seizures.

How does it impact the body?

  • If we starve the body of carbohydrate, after burning out the glucose, the liver starts breaking down fats for energy.
  • Ketosis is common in all kinds of fasting, but in a keto diet, when one is feeding it by giving a lot of fats from outside without carbs, it can become mildly toxic.
  • It may lead to many nutrient deficiencies such as carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins (especially vitamin A, D, E, & K) and minerals like calcium, phosphorus, sodium.
  • Extreme carbohydrate restriction can lead to hunger, fatigue, low mood, irritability, constipation, headaches, and brain fog, which may last days to weeks

What impact does it have on our kidneys?

  • Even the moderate increase in protein needs to be carefully monitored, especially in those who are already suffering from chronic kidney disease, as it could lead to kidney failure.
  • One should get a thorough assessment and make sure they have normal kidney function before choosing this diet.
  • This diet could lead to increased stress on the kidneys and result in kidney stones, as they are made to work overtime.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

What is CBD Oil?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Cannabidiol

Mains level : Not Much

These days, there are diverse opinions rising regarding the legalization of CBD oil in India after recent controversy rose after the alleged suicide of an actor.

What is CBD oil?

  • CBD oil is an extract from the cannabis plant.
  • The two main active substances in it are cannabidiol or CBD and delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
  • The high that is caused by the consumption of cannabis is due to THC.
  • CBD, however, does not cause a “high” or any form of intoxication.
  • CBD oil is made by extracting CBD from the cannabis plant, then diluting it with a carrier oil like coconut or hemp seed oil.

What are the effects of Cannabidiol?

  • Cannabidiol has effects on the brain, preventing the breakdown of a chemical that aggravates the pain and affects mood, and mental function. It can reduce pain and anxiety.
  • It also reduces psychotic symptoms associated with conditions such as schizophrenia as well as epilepsy.

Is it legal in India?

  • The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act) outlaws the recreational use of cannabis.
  • The NDPS Act, however, does not apply to the leaves and seeds of cannabis plants. In case the CBD is extracted from the leaves of the cannabis, then technically it is not illegal.
  • CBD oil manufactured under a licence issued by the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 can be legally used.
  • However, the use of cannabis as a medicine is not much prevalent in India.

Now try this PYQ:

Q. Widespread resistance of malarial parasite to drugs like chloroquine has prompted attempts to develop a malarial vaccine to combat malaria. Why is it difficult to develop an effective malaria vaccine?

A) Malaria is caused by several species of Plasmodium

B) Man does not develop immunity to malaria during natural infection

C) Vaccines can be developed only against bacteria

D) Man is only an intermediate host and not the definitive host

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

CBD Oil

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NA

Mains level : Research and development is medical science

Context- Earlier this week, late actor Irrfan Khan’s wife Sutapa Sikdar made an appeal to legalise CBD oil in India for its potential to treat cancer. Her appeal followed the criticism of actor Rhea Chakrabaorty after it was reported that she had administered CBD oil, used as a pain reliever for some, to Sushant Singh Rajput when he was alive.

About CBD oil ?

  • CBD oil is an extract from the cannabis plant. The two main active substances in it are cannabidiol or CBD and delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
  • The high that is caused by the consumption of cannabis is due to THC. CBD, however, does not cause a “high” or any form of intoxication.
  • CBD oil is made by extracting CBD from the cannabis plant, then diluting it with a carrier oil like coconut or hemp seed oil.
  • Cannabidiol can reduce pain and anxiety. It also reduces psychotic symptoms associated with conditions such as schizophrenia as well as epilepsy.
  • There is not enough robust scientific evidence to prove that CBD oil can safely and effectively treat cancer.
  • CBD oil manufactured under a license issued by the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 can be legally used. However, the use of cannabis as a medicine is not much prevalent in India.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

What is Raman Spectroscopy?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Scattering of light

Mains level : Paper 3- Raman spectroscopy

Mumbai-based researchers have turned to Raman Spectroscopy to detect RNA viruses present in saliva samples.

Try this question from CSP 2017
Q.Which Indian astrophysicist and Nobel laureate predicted rapidly rotating stars emit polarized light?
(a) Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar
(b) CV Raman
(c) Ramanujan
(d) Amartya Sen

The Raman Spectroscopy

  • Raman spectroscopy is an analytical technique where scattered light is used to measure the vibrational energy modes of a sample.
  • In 1928, Raman discovered that when a stream of light passes through a liquid, a fraction of the light scattered by the liquid is of a different colour.
  • While Raman was returning from London in a 15-day voyage, he started thinking about the colour of the deep blue Mediterranean.
  • He wasn’t convinced by the explanation that the colour of the sea was blue due to the reflection of the sky.
  • As the ship docked in Bombay, he sent a letter to the editor of the journal Nature, in which he penned down his thoughts on this.
    Subsequently, Raman was able to show that the blue colour of the water was due to the scattering of the sunlight by water molecules.
  • By this time he was obsessed with the phenomenon of light scattering.

How does it work?

  • The Raman Effect is when the change in the energy of the light is affected by the vibrations of the molecule or material under observation, leading to a change in its wavelength.
  • Significantly, it notes that the Raman effect is “very weak” — this is because when the object in question is small (smaller than a few nanometres), the light will pass through it undisturbed.
  • But a few times in a billion, light waves may interact with the particle. This could also explain why it was not discovered before.
  • In general, when light interacts with an object, it can either be reflected, refracted or transmitted.
  • One of the things that scientists look at when light is scattered is if the particle it interacts with is able to change its energy.

Applications

  • Raman spectroscopy is used in many varied fields – in fact, any application where non-destructive, microscopic, chemical analysis and imaging is required.
  • Whether the goal is qualitative or quantitative data, Raman analysis can provide key information easily and quickly.
  • It can be used to rapidly characterize the chemical composition and structure of a sample, whether solid, liquid, gas, gel, slurry or powder.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

What is Gynandromorphism?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Gynandromorphism

Mains level : NA

Recently, a rare biological phenomenon called Gynandromorphism was observed in dragonflies at Kole wetlands of Kerala.

Gynandromorphism is a core biology concept. We can expect a prelims question in a rare scenario.

Try this question from CSP 2013:

Q.Improper handling and storage of cereal grains and oilseeds result in the production of toxins known as aflatoxins which are not generally destroyed by normal cooking process. Aflatoxins are produced by

(a) Bacteria (b) Protozoa (c) Moulds (d) Viruses

Gynandromorphism

  • Gynandromorphs are individual animals that have both genetically male and female tissues and often have observable male and female characteristics.
  • They may be bilateral, appearing to divide down the middle into male and female sides, or they may be mosaic, with patches characteristic of one sex appearing in a body part characteristic of the other sex.
  • Gynandromorphs occur in insects, spiders, crustaceans, and other arthropods as well as in birds, but they are extremely rare, and discovering one in the field or in the laboratory is a major event.
  • Estimating how frequently they occur is difficult because they usually go unnoticed in species where sexual dimorphism is less pronounced.
  • Gynandromorphs have been reported in mosquitoes, fruit flies, and in other insects, but they are most dramatic in those butterfly species in which the male and female wing colours and patterns are dramatically different.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Celebrating the contributors to agriculture

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Various personalities that contributed to India's food reaserch

Mains level : Paper 3- Contributors to the India's agri-research

This article introduces us to the Indian winners of the prize that is considered as the Nobel for research in food. Their contribution has benefited agriculture immensely.Here, we’ll get a brief idea about their work.

Word Food Prize

  • The World Food Prize is often described as the Nobel for research in food.
  • It was set up by Ñorman Borlaug.
  • Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1972 for his work on hybridisation of wheat and rice.
  • His work led to the Green Revolution in the mid-1960s.

Indian winners of the award

  • The awards to eight Indians of the total of 50 given so far are a tribute to the country’s agricultural university education and research system.
  • The country should celebrate their achievements unabashedly when 7-10 million new productive jobs need to be created annually.
  • And when it accounts for a third of global undernourished.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has made job creation and improved nutrition and health more urgent than ever.

Let’s look at the contributions made by these personalities

 Rattan Lal

  • Rattan Lal was awarded for developing and mainstreaming a soil-centric approach to increasing food production.
  • This approach also restores and conserves natural resources and mitigates climate change.
  • His research has shown that growing crops on healthy soils produces more food from less land area, less use of agrochemicals, less tillage, less water, and less energy.

M S Swaminathan

  • Swaminathan’s vision transformed India from a “begging bowl” to a “breadbasket” almost overnight.
  • His work helped bringing the total crop yield of wheat from 12 million tonnes to 23 million tonnes in four crop seasons.
  • Which helped in ending India’s dependence on grain imports.

Verghese Kurien

  • Kurien, received the prize in 1989 for India’s white revolution.
  • Under his leadership, milk production increased from 23.3 million tonnes (1968-69) to 100.9 million tonnes (2006-07).
  • And now it is projected to reach 187 million tonnes for 2019-20.
  • This helped in bringing millions of small and marginal farmers, including women into the marketplace.

 Ramlal Barwale

  • Barwale, a small farmer and entrepreneur, received the award in 1996.
  • He made selling seeds of okra and sorghum “hip” and founded the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company.
  • The Crop Science Society of America has called him father of the seed industry in India.
  • He introduced hybrid rice from China to India.

Surinder Vasal

  • Vasal was given the prize in 2000 for developing quality protein maize (QPM).
  • Integrating cereal chemistry and plant breeding techniques, Vasal and Villegas of Mexico collaborated to work on “opaque-2” maize variety using molecular biology techniques.
  • In the mid-1980s, they produced a QPM germplasm with hard kernel characteristics and taste like that of the traditional grain.
  • But it has much higher quality levels of lysine and tryptophan, thereby enhancing the nutrition value.

Mododugu Gupta

  • Gupta received the award in 2005 for starting a blue revolution.
  • He developed two exceptional approaches for increasing fish harvests among the very poor.
  • This helped in increasing the protein and mineral content in the diets of over one million of the world’s most impoverished families.
  •  Gupta’s aquaculture technologies boosted Bangladesh’s fish yields from 304 kg per hectare to over 2,500 kg per hectare in less than a year — including 1,000 kg per hectare harvests in the dry season.

Sanjaya Rajaram

  • Rajaram, who won the prize in 2014.
  • He succeeded Borlaug in leading CIMMYT’s wheat breeding programme.
  • There he went on to develop an astounding 480 varieties that have been widely adopted by both small and large-scale farmers.
  • Rajaram was born near a small farming village in Uttar Pradesh and received his master’s degree from IARI.

Decreasing government support

  • The awardees all come from the time of the green and rainbow revolutions (of dairy and aqua-culture).
  • It was also the time when India invested heavily in agricultural science education and research and Indian scientists shone brightly in the global galaxy of science.
  • Government support for state agricultural universities, and research conducted by the ICAR and the departments of science and technology and biotechnology has slipped in recent years.
  • Today, not a single Indian university is counted among the top 100 in the world.
Consider the question asked by the UPSC in 2019 “How was India benefitted from the contributions of Sir M.Visvesvaraya and Dr M. S. Swaminathan in the fields of water engineering and agricultural science respectively?”

Conclusion

Students and faculty at ICAR and state agricultural universities can follow in their footsteps and achieve scientific excellence, if they receive the resources and their work is supported with incentives.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

What is Foldscope?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Foldscope

Mains level : NA

Indian researchers have explored and validated the clinical utility of Foldscope in the diagnosis of diseases using various patient samples.

Though trivial, Foldscope is a significant invention with most crucial applications. It somehow offers an alternative to costly microscopes for some basic diagnosis.

What is Foldscope?

  • Foldscope is an affordable origami-based microscopy device composed of a series of paper clippings.
  • Upon assembly, the device can hold a specimen slide for observation, and this specimen can be viewed via a mobile phone camera attached to it.

How does it work?

  • Foldscope can be assembled using paper clips and mounted on a cell phone using coupler and glue drops.
  • To do the assessment, a patient sample like urine is smeared on a transparent glass slide and visualized under a Foldscope mounted on a cell phone.
  • Sample images can be enlarged using the zoom function of the mobile, which can be stored on the mobile memory card for later reference/patient records.
  • Foldscope visualizes calcium oxalate crystals, which are a major cause of kidney stones.

Utility of Foldscope

  • Foldscope is particularly convenient to diagnose urinary tract infection (UTI) and monitor kidney stone.
  • The study evaluated the use of Foldscope in the clinical diagnosis of oral and urinary tract infections.
  • Using this tool, one can easily monitor own-kidney stone status at home with a simple glass-slide, a Foldscope and a phone in hand.
  • Such monitoring could perhaps avoid kidney stone reaching a painful state or surgery in recurring cases.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Crystalline Rubrene for Optoelectronic Devices

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Piezo-electric crystals

Mains level : Not much

Indian scientists have found a new process for synthesizing crystalline rubrene for the development of optoelectronic devices and also for preparation of Electronic Skin (E-Skin).

Note the difference between the Pyro-electric/ Piezo-electric/ Pyro-photonic effects. UPSC may shuffle the meaning of such terms in statement based prelims question.

What is crystalline rubrene?

  • Crystalline rubrene is a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon-based thin film.
  • It is a water-free, solvent-free, environmentally friendly one-step plasma process.
  • It demonstrated optoelectronic properties (which detect and control light).
  • A highly uniform pin-hole-free thin film can be deposited by this process, which is useful for the fabrication of high-end devices.

Working principle

  • Devices made of pyro-electric materials (that generate electric charge when they are heated or cooled) and piezo-electric materials (that generate electric charge under the effect of mechanical pressure), can help detect change in temperature and pressure.
  • Pyro-electric materials also show pyro-phototronic effect where pyro-electricity is associated with the change in temperature of a material when it absorbs photons.
  • Pyro-electric infrared detectors are well known for application in infrared sensing for space research, defense, remote sensing, and household appliances.

Principle application: Human Skin

  • These kinds of materials are available in biological systems such as – human skin, plant cellulose leading to their significance in the understanding of basic science of biological systems and also in their huge application prospect.
  • The rubrene crystal has a thin amorphous oxide layer formed over the crystalline film.
  • This induces surface layer polarization effect leading to pyro-phototronic effect.

Significance of the research

  • Since last few years, scientists from around the world are working on the synthesis of organic materials for electronic applications.
  • The conventional process for synthesis of organic electronic materials based on chemical processes provides very good quality materials, but the stability of the materials is not very good, and it requires use of solvents.
  • Moreover, multiple steps are required for material synthesis and film deposition.

Applications

  • This novel process developed by the Indian team is useful for developing advanced optoelectronic devices and preparation of Electronic Skin (E-Skin).
  • It may prove to be useful tool for laboratory simulation of different biological systems for probing the organization and dynamics of those systems.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Rare-earth based Magnetocaloric materials for cancer treatment

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Magnetocaloric Effect

Mains level : Magnetocaloric Effect and its application in Cancer treatment

Indian scientists have developed a rare-earth-based magnetocaloric material that can be effectively used for cancer treatment.

Magnetocaloric Effect does have other applications like in the field of medical implants but for use in energy field, it is still in nascent stage.

From exam perspective, do understand what principles lies behind this effect.

What is Magnetocaloric Effect?

  • Magnetocaloric effect (MCE) is a phenomenon where the application and removal of a magnetic field cause certain materials to get warmer and cooler, respectively.
  • This effect normally occurs near its Curie temperature where the application of the field makes the material to warm up and cools up when the field is removed.

Issue of hyperthermia in cancer treatment

  • Advancements in magnetic materials led to the development of magnetic hyperthermia to try to address the issues of side effects of cancer treatment like chemotherapy.
  • In magnetic hyperthermia, magnetic nanoparticles are subjected to alternating magnetic fields of few Gauss, which produce heat due to magnetic relaxation losses.
  • Usually, the temperature required to kill the tumour cells is between 40 and 45°C.
  • However, the drawback in magnetic hyperthermia is the lack of control of temperature, which may damage the healthy cells in the body and also have side effects like increased BP, hair losses etc.

Here comes in, Magnetocaloric materials

  • This hypothermia can be avoided by using magnetocaloric materials, as it can provide controlled heating.
  • The advantage of magnetocaloric materials which heat up or cool down with the application and removal of the magnetic field, respectively is that as soon as the magnetic field is removed, the cooling effect is generated.
  • The team at ARCI chose rare-earth-based alloy for studies as some of the rare earth materials are human body compatible.
  • The heating capacity would increase with the increase in the magnetic field.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Serotonin Hormone causes Locust to form Swarms

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Serotonin

Mains level : Locusts invasion and its threats

Scientists have attempted to answer an important scientific question of how and why locusts collect together by the thousands in order to make a swarm.

Quite often, Oxytocin hormone is seen in the news for its commercial uses and associated ethical concerns. Kindly go through Oxytocin and issues over its commercial use

What causes Locusts to form huge swarms?

  • When lone locusts happen to come near each other (looking for food) and happen to touch each other, this tactile stimulation, even just in a little area of the back limbs, causes their behaviour to change.
  • This mechanical stimulation affects a couple of nerves in the animal’s body, their behaviour changes, leading to their coming together.
  • The central nervous system of the locust, the most important among them being serotonin which regulates mood and social behaviour is the mystery behind swarms.
  • Their coming together triggers a mechanical (touch) and neurochemical (serotonin) stimulations to make crowding occur.

What is Serotonin?

  • It is a monoamine neurotransmitter.
  • It has a popular image as a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness.
  • Its actual biological function is complex and multifaceted, modulating cognition, reward, learning, memory, and numerous physiological processes such as vomiting and vasoconstriction.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Species in news: Super mushroom “Cordyceps militaris”

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Cordyceps militaris

Mains level : NA

A university in Assam has developed a fungal powder to help people boost their immunity to disease.

Try this question from CSP 2019:

Q.) Recently, there was a growing awareness in our country about the importance of Himalayan nettle (Girardinia diversifolia) because it is found to be a sustainable source of

(a) anti-malarial drug

(b) bio-diesel

(c) pulp for paper industry

(d) textile fibre

A similar question related to Cordyceps militaris can be asked. UPSC may ask whether it is a Fungi, Algae, a Moss or a Lichen.

Cordyceps militaris

  • The powder is from a parasitic but rare “super mushroom” called Cordyceps militaris.
  • The militaris underwent powdering through lyophilisation or freeze-drying at –80°C.
  • The earth has more than 400 species of Cordyceps, a fungus parasitic on insects as well as other fungi.
  • Often referred to as a super mushroom, Cordyceps known for its anti-ageing, anti-viral, energy and immunity-boosting effect.
  • Natural Cordyceps is hard to get and if dried, costs at least ₹8 lakh per kg.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

[pib] Iron-Manganese based Biodegradable Alloy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Iron-Manganese based Biodegradable Alloy

Mains level : Affordable medical devices and implants in India

Indian scientists have jointly developed new generation Iron-Manganese based alloys for biodegradable metal implants for use in humans.

Do you remember the Johnson and Johnson’s faulty hip implants case?? The alloy mentioned in the newscard can prove to be a gamechanger in the field of medical implants.

Iron-Manganese based Biodegradable Alloy

  • Biodegradable materials (Fe, Mg, Zn, and polymer) can participate in the healing process and then degrade gradually by maintaining mechanical integrity without leaving any implant residues in the human body.
  • They are better alternatives to currently used metallic implants which remain permanently in the human body and can cause long-term side effects like systemic toxicity, chronic inflammation, and thrombosis.
  • The ARCI team employed both conventional melting and powder metallurgy techniques in the manufacturing of the new Fe-Mn based biodegradable alloys.
  • The alloy Fe-Mn (having Mn composition of more than 29% by weight) is a promising biodegradable metallic implant which exhibits a single austenitic phase (a non-magnetic form of iron) with MRI compatibility.

Easy degradation

  • The alloy also showed a degradation rate in the range of 0.14-0.026 mm per year in the simulated body fluid.
  • It means that the Fe-Mn alloy exhibits mechanical integrity for 3-6 months and completely, disappears from the body in 12-24 months.
  • During the degradation process, calcium phosphate deposits on the implant due to local alkalization and saturation of calcium and phosphate, allow cells to adhere onto the surface to form tissues.

Benefits

  • The Fe-Mn alloy produced at ARCI exhibited 99% density with impressive mechanical properties and behaved as a nonmagnetic material even under a strong magnetic field.
  • These properties are comparable to presently used permanent Titanium (Ti) and stainless-steel metallic implants (which is very costly).

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Species in news: Quinine Nongladew

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : HCQ, Quinine Nongladew

Mains level : NA

Quinine, the most primitive antimalarial avatar of Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), has made a village in Meghalaya latch on to its past for a curative future.

Relate Quinine Nongladew with the following question. Such peculiar names are very important.

Q. Recently, there was a growing awareness in our country about the importance of Himalayan nettle (Girardinia diversifolia) because it is found to be a sustainable source of (CSP 2019)

(a) anti-malarial drug

(b) bio-diesel

(c) pulp for paper industry

(d) textile fibre

Quinine Nongladew

  • The herb Quinine Nongladew is the alkaloid quinine extracted from the bark of cinchona, a plant belonging to the Rubiaceae family and classified as either a large shrub or a small tree
  • The tree is named after a village about 70 km south of Guwahati, on the highway to Meghalaya capital Shillong.
  • The cinchona nursery was raised in the 19th century, probably around 1874, when Shillong became the British administrative headquarters for Assam Province.
  • Large swathes of Meghalaya used to be, and still are, malaria-prone.
  • The British had the foresight to start the plantation to combat malaria and other diseases caused by mosquitoes.

Back2Basics: Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ)

  • HCQ is an oral tablet used as an anti-malarial drug. It is used to treat malaria, lupus erythematosus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • It may be used as part of a combination therapy where it is taken with other drugs.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

[pib] BiPAP Non-Invasive Ventilator “SwasthVayu”

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SwasthVayu

National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) Bangalore, a constituent of the lab of CSIR has developed a Non-Invasive BiPAP Ventilator ‘SwasthVayu ’in a record time of 36 days to treat COVID-19 patients.

The name ‘SwasthVayu’ can be tricky to guess, specially after some days. In prelims, UPSC may throw some options related to air pollution.

SwasthVayu

  • A ventilator is a machine that provides mechanical ventilation by moving breathable air into and out of the lungs, to deliver breaths to a patient who is physically unable to breathe, or breathing insufficiently.
  • BiPAP (Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure) Non-Invasive ventilator is a microcontroller-based precise closed-loop adaptive control system.
  • It is a built-in biocompatible “3D printed manifold & coupler” with HEPA filter (Highly Efficient Particulate Air Filter).

Benefits of SwasthVayu

  • The major advantage of this machine is that it is simple to use without any specialized nursing, cost-effective, compact and configured with the majority of indigenous components.
  • This is ideal for treating COVID -19 patients in Wards, Makeshift Hospitals, dispensaries and home in current Indian COVID 19 scenario.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

[pib] UV Blaster: A UV Disinfection Tower

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : UV germicidal irradiation

Mains level : Can always be used as an example

The DRDO has developed an Ultra Violet (UV) Disinfection Tower for rapid and chemical-free disinfection of high infection-prone areas.

GYAN:

We have a UV filter in our home based water filter.  Ever wondered, how do UV rays kill viruses/bacteria?

UV Blaster

  • The UV blaster is a UV based area sanitizer designed and developed by Laser Science & Technology Centre (LASTEC), the Delhi based premier laboratory of DRDO.
  • It is useful for high tech surfaces like electronic equipment, computers and other gadgets in laboratories and offices that are not suitable for disinfection with chemical methods.
  • The product is also effective for areas with a large flow of people such as airports, shopping malls, metros, hotels, factories, offices, etc.

How does it work?

  • The UV based area sanitizer may be used by remote operation through laptop/mobile phone using wifi link.
  • The equipment has six lamps each with 43 watts of UV-C power at 254 nm wavelength for 360-degree illumination.
  • For a room of about 12 x 12 feet dimension, the disinfection time is about 10 minutes and 30 minutes for 400 square feet area by positioning the equipment at different places within the room.
  • This sanitizer switches off on the accidental opening of a room or human intervention.

Back2Basics: UV germicidal irradiation

  • UV irradiation is a disinfection method that uses short-wavelength ultraviolet rays to kill or inactivate microorganisms by destroying nucleic acids and disrupting their DNA, leaving them unable to perform vital cellular functions.
  • UVGI is used in a variety of applications, such as food, air, and water purification.
  • UVGI devices can produce strong enough UVC light in circulating air or water systems to make them inhospitable environments to microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, moulds, and other pathogens.
  • UVGI can be coupled with a filtration system to sanitize air and water.
  • It has been used primarily in medical sanitation and sterile work facilities.
  • Increasingly, it has been employed to sterilize drinking and wastewater since the holding facilities are enclosed and can be circulated to ensure a higher exposure to the UV.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Reverse Vaccinology and its benefits

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Reverse Vaccinology

Mains level : Coronovirus and the hunt for its vaccine

The Tamil Nadu Dr. MGR Medical University has developed a vaccine candidate against SARS-CoV-2 through ‘reverse vaccinology’.

A definition based prelims question can be expected on Reverse Vaccinology. Ex. Which of the following statements best describes ‘Reverse Vaccinology’?

Reverse Vaccinology

  • Reverse vaccinology is an improvement on vaccinology that employs applied bioinformatics.
  • The basic idea behind it is that an entire pathogenic genome can be screened using bioinformatics approaches to find genes.
  • Some traits that the genes are monitored for may indicate antigenicity.
  • Those genes are filtered for desirable attributes that would make good vaccine targets such as outer membrane proteins.
  • Once the candidates are identified, they are produced synthetically and are screened in animal models of the infection.
  • Since then, it has been used on several other bacterial vaccines.

Benefits

  • Earlier researchers had to do a viral culture in the laboratory to develop a vaccine, and this was time-consuming.
  • The major advantage for reverse vaccinology is finding vaccine targets quickly and efficiently.
  • Traditional methods took decades to unravel pathogens and antigens, diseases and immunity
  • With ‘reverse vaccinology’ scientists know what molecules make the genomic sequence.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Anastomosis surgery for re-implantation

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Anastomosis Surgery

Mains level : Not Much

The chopped off-hand of a Punjab Police officer has been successfully re-implanted after hours of surgery.

Anastomosis is a general term in surgical sciences used to join amputated limbs or organs. The term has made headline due to its recent application. A piece of general information regarding novelties of medical sciences should be known to the aspirants.

Anastomosis Surgery

  • A surgical Anastomosis is a surgical technique used to make a new connection between two body structures that carry fluid, such as blood vessels or bowel.
  • It involves conjoining various parts of the arm and the hand — bones, muscles, tendons, arteries, veins as well as nerves.
  • Both radial and ulnar arteries, accompanying nerves and the dorsal vein were anastomosed successfully, allowing for the hand to receive adequate circulation.
  • The bones are attached using K wires (used for orthopaedic surgery) which can be removed once the bones conjoin organically.

In which cases is re-implantation possible?

  • When a surgeon makes that decision, the factors that he or she considers include how much time has elapsed since the injury.
  • The condition of the severed organ and the nature of the injury are also taken into account.

Can a reattached hand get its function restored?

  • That is the goal of doing such surgery. The extent of restored function, however, can vary from case to case.
  • While a successful surgery can result in the good return of motor function, studies have shown that sensory recovery can often be poor.
  • Whether the blood circulation is optimum after surgery can only be observed within the next few days.
  • The patient also needs to attend regular physiotherapy sessions for total restoration of motor movement and sensation in his hand.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

TB diagnostic kit ‘Truenat’

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : TrueNat

Mains level : Not Much

‘Truenat’, a diagnostic machine used to test drug-resistant TB has now been approved by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) for conducting Covid-19 tests.

Truenat

  • The Truenat TB test is a new molecular test that can diagnosis TB in one hour as well as testing for resistance to the drug rifampicin.
  • This test for TB uses a sputum sample taken from each patient.
  • It is a small battery operated device which requires minimal training and is usable even in smaller settings such as the Primary Health Centre.
  • It uses a chip-based technology and takes just up to 60 minutes for a test, screening or confirmatory.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

[pib] Chitra Acrylosorb Secretion Solidification System

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Acrylosorb

Mains level : Advanced materials and thier applications

Scientists at Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST) have designed and developed a highly efficient superabsorbent material for liquid respiratory and other body fluid solidification and disinfection for the safe management of infected respiratory secretions.

 Chitra Acrylosorb Secretion Solidification System

  • It is a highly efficient superabsorbent material for liquid respiratory and other body fluid solidification and disinfection.
  • AcryloSorb can absorb liquids at least 20 times more than its dry weight and also contains a decontaminant for in situ disinfection.
  • Containers filled with this material will immobilize the contaminated fluid by solidifying it (gel-like), thus avoiding spillage and will also disinfect it.
  • The canister containing the solidified waste canister can then be decomposed as all other biomedical waste by incineration.

How it works?

  • In the developed system, suction canisters, disposable spit bags have been designed with “AcryloSorb” technology.
  • They are lined inside with the AcryloSorb material.
  • The AcryloSorb suction canisters will collect the liquid respiratory secretions from ICU patients or those with copious secretions treated in the wards.
  • The container will be spill-proof and can be sealed after use, making it safe and fit for disposal through the usual incineration system for biomedical wastes.

Significance of Acrylosorb

  • Sealable and disposable spit bags can be provided for solidifying the sputum and saliva of ambulant patients with respiratory infections, which can then be incinerated.
  • Thus it reduces the risk for the hospital staff, the need for personnel for disinfecting and cleaning the bottles and canisters for reusing them and makes the disposal safer and easier.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Man versus microbe

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Techniques used for detecting virus: RT-PCR, CRISPR and serological tests.

Mains level : Paper 3- Various techniques used in tests used to detect Covid-19 and their advantages.

Context

The present COVID-19 outbreak has brought to light the old struggle between humans and viruses.

The constant struggle between humans and viruses

  • Hijacking the cell machinery of the host: Microbes, particularly viruses, have only one goal — to find a suitable host and multiply. Viruses, however, do not multiply by themselves. They need the cell machinery of the host for replication.
  • Around two-thirds of all infections in humans are caused by viruses.
  • The current COVID-19 outbreak caused by a coronavirus, SARS-CoV2, has brought this struggle to light once again.
  • Coronavirus has the upper hand now: The virus seems highly successful because it spreads rapidly from human to human and has a lower rate of mortality.
  • Humans have faced new viruses at regular intervals. These include the Ebola, Zika, HIV, the Flu virus H1N1, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)the latter two are from the coronavirus family.
  • Animal to humans: These viruses have all appeared in the last few decades, having jumped from their animal reservoirs to humans.
  • Many of these viruses have a much higher mortality rate than the SARS-CoV2 that caused COVID-19.
  • Victory would be at huge costs: Like before, humans will come out of the present crisis as winners but that will happen at a huge cost, in every sense of the word.
  • The loss would include untimely loss of human lives, economic losses and a general loss of confidence in the human ability to deal with a tiny unknown enemy.

Steps involved in dealing with the virus

  • It involves dealing with any new viral outbreak is to be able to accurately test, detect and track the spread of the virus, and isolate the infected persons to stop further spread.
  • Knowing the genetic makeup of virus matters: In order to implement the first step, it is important to obtain information on the genetic makeup of the virus, which forms the basis of developing highly specific diagnostic tests.
  • Three types of tests are being used which have different advantages associated with them and are based on different technologies. These are described below-

1. What is the RT-PCR technique?

  • Currently, the most reliable and widely-used test is based on a technique called RT-PCR (Reverse Transcription Time Polymerase Chain Reaction).
  • This test aims to detect the viral RNA, the genetic material of SARS-CoV2.
  • The testing begins with the careful collection of swabs taken from the nose or the back of the throat of the patient and extraction of the viral RNA.
  • However, this extracted viral RNA from the swab is too tiny an amount for direct detection.
  • Amplification: The RT-PCR, through many different reactions that include the conversion of viral RNA to DNA — its amplification and detection — makes it possible to confirm the presence or absence of the virus.
  • The testing kits contain all chemicals and materials required for carrying out the RT-PCR based tests, which are performed by government-approved laboratories such as India’s National Institute of Virology.
  • However, many more testing centres, including those run by private players, have now been allowed to carry out the tests in many countries to bridge the huge demand and supply gap.
  • Why testing matters? It is now clear that countries which were able to scale up the testing of the virus in patients at an early stage were able to control the spread of the disease far better than those which did not.
  • Only viable control measure: Given that there is no cure or vaccine for the control of COVID-19, testing of infected patients much more quickly and tracking their contacts to isolate them till they clear off the virus is currently the only viable control measure.

2. How CRISPR is proving helpful in scaling up the testing?

  • There is good news of a relatively new but powerful technology called CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats).
  • CRISPR is highly specific in directly detecting viral RNA and confirming the presence or absence of the virus.
  • Interestingly, viruses also attack bacteria and the discovery of CRISPR itself was based on understanding how bacteria cut off the viruses.
  • What are the advantages of CRISPR-based test? The CRISPR-based test is quick and circumvents the need for both expert handling as well as PCR machines and can be done at multiple locations in about half an hour.
  • It can also fend off delays and other logistic problems in collection and transportation of test samples.
  • These tests are being validated and readied for approval.
  • Two companies, separately founded by the two scientists who discovered the CRISPR technique, have also announced that they are ready with their CRISPR-based test for validation and approval.
  • Test in 10 minutes: They have claimed that these tests can be performed within 10 minutes and can be conducted by using a paper strip format.
  • Test in 5 minutes: Another company, Abbott Laboratories, has recently announced the approval of their portable test for coronavirus, which the company claims can provide the results in five minutes.
  • Such a point of care test will not only greatly enhance the speed of large-scale testing but will also relieve the tremendous pressure faced by frontline healthcare providers.

3. Serological tests to detect the realistic information on the spread of the virus

  • Why we need serological tests? The above described RT-PCR and the newly developed CRISPR based tests are needed for scaling up the testing.
  • But many individuals infected with the virus do not show symptoms of the disease and recover completely.
  • How to test these cases to gather realistic information on the spread of the virus?
  • Such information will be necessary for designing future control strategies.
  • How serological tests work? This is done with serological tests, which are carried out in blood samples collected from a large population and are based on the detection of antibodies that are produced in response to the viral infection.
  • Advantage of the serological tests: These tests are relatively easier to develop and use, less expensive, and also do not need much sophisticated infrastructure or highly trained manpower.
  • Serological tests for COVID-19 have already been developed by many groups and are already in use.
  • India also plans to carry out serological tests to examine the actual spread of the disease in different parts of the country.

Conclusion

Lockdowns are essential to control the disease but long-term strategies to deal with the disease would be based on the knowledge of its actual spread. The newly-developed point of care tests should be successfully able to bridge the existing gap in the testing of the virus. This will also assist in gearing up facilities to treat the severely sick as well as relieve and protect frontline health providers. Meanwhile, hopefully, efficient drugs therapies and efficacious vaccines against COVID-19 will also be discovered soon.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

The race to find a cure for COVID-19

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- Vaccine development and trials.

Context

The world is dealing with an unprecedented and unimaginably serious crisis. Therefore, the speed of vaccine development is crucial.

Speeding up the vaccine development

  • Availability of rationale and information: The race for developing an anti-COVID-19 vaccine has begun. Reasonable scientific rationale and the information needed for vaccine development are available to all stakeholders in academia and industry.
  • Vaccine platforms: A large number of candidate vaccines based on different vaccine platforms, including delivering the virus genetic materials (RNA, DNA) or using synthetic biology to produce key viral proteins, have already been developed.
  • Phase-I safety trials of an experimental vaccine, jointly developed by scientists at the National Institute of Health and at Moderna, a biotechnology company, has already been administered to healthy volunteers for its safety and immunogenicity.
  • The speed with which the experimental vaccine has entered safety trials is unprecedented.
  • Another vaccine jointly developed by China’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences and CanSino Biologics has reportedly been cleared for early-stage clinical trials.
  • Development in India: The Serum Institute of India has also recently announced its readiness to start safety trials following animal experiments.
  • According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, more than 20 vaccine candidates are in advanced stages of development and will be ready for Phase-I safety trials.
  • However, it is also clear that it will not be possible to roll-out any efficacious vaccine for at least another year.

Questions that need to be answered

  • While these developments are encouraging, several questions will need to be answered for this vaccine development to move further.
  • Triggering immune response safely: Although it is quite evident that humans mount a strong immune response and clear the viral load, the nature of the immune response and how to trigger it safely through vaccination will be key questions to address.
  • Duration of the acquired immunity: How long the acquired immunity in humans will last is another important question to be asked before experimental vaccines move forward.
  • We will need to know this because if the immunity is transient, then humans will be susceptible to reinfections.
  • Ensuring no disease enhancement: Before moving to Phase-II trials in a large number of healthy volunteers, we also have to ensure that the immune response induced by vaccination does not lead to any disease enhancement.

Repurposing the already available drugs

  • Therapeutic interventions, not only for curing severe cases of the disease but also for protecting all front-line healthcare workers, are urgently needed.
  • Using already approved drugs: Since developing new drugs is a complex and lengthy process, scientists and pharmaceutical companies have rushed to investigate and use drugs that have already been approved by regulatory authorities.
  • Using available molecular and structural biology information on the virus, a group of scientists have analysed all interactions of the viral proteins with human proteins that are crucial for the virus to enter human cells and use the host cell machinery to rapidly reproduce itself.
  • Of the nearly 70 short-listed molecules that may interrupt these key interactions, 24 happen to be already approved drugs which can now be tested in laboratory animal models as well as humans.
  • However, the re-purposing of several drugs, alone or in combinations to treat COVID-19 patients, have already been reported.
  • More confusion than hope: There are many success stories of curing patients of COVID-19 doing the rounds in different parts of the world, but these have managed to create more confusion than hope.
  • Without any appropriate controls, careful dosing and safety concerns, such small experiments can only do more harm than good.

Controlled randomised trials

  • Given the urgency of finding a cure, it is absolutely necessary to find out unequivocally what works well and what does not. For that conducting carefully controlled randomised trials is the only way to go.
  • In a welcome move, the WHO has announced clinical trials called the ‘Solidarity Project’.
  • Under this project four drugs or drug, combinations will be tested in many countries around the world.
  • These candidates include the anti-Ebola drug, Remdesivir, Chloroquine, anti-HIV drugs, and the Ritonavir/Lopinavir combination, with or without Interferon-beta.
  • The European counterpart of the trial, Discovery, will conduct these trials in countries including France, Spain, Germany and the U.K.
  • The pharma company Roche has also decided to initiate large, randomised Phase-III trials of its arthritis drug Actemra for its safety and efficacy in adult patients with severe COVID-19 pneumonia.
  • It is complex and tedious to conduct randomised, large multi-centric trials.
  • Quickly getting all the stakeholders together is laudable and underscores the notion that everyone needs to fight the deadly virus together. Hopefully, these trials will lead to tangible drug therapies against COVID-19.

Conclusion

It is most heartening to see scientists in academia and industrial partners coming together to fight a monumental public health crisis. The battle between pathogens and humans will continue but let us hope that we win the present one sooner than later.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

[pib] How lipids play critical roles in infectious diseases

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Lipids, Non-polar compounds

Mains level : Not Much

A researcher from IIT Bombay is using biologically active lipid molecules as chemical biology tools to elucidate their biological disease-causing function.

About the research

  • The research is focused to explore how lipids play critical roles in infectious diseases by intervening in cellular signaling, membrane trafficking, and protein function all of which are intimately involved in host-pathogen interplay.
  • The research works with lipids from Mycobacteria tuberculosis (Mtb), which synthesizes atypical lipids predisposed on its surface to interact with the human host membrane.
  • Using Mtb lipids as tools, the research elucidates a direct correlation between human host lipid membrane modification and modulation of associated signaling pathways by these exogenous Mtb lipids.

What are Lipids?

  • A lipid is a biomolecule that is soluble in nonpolar solvents.
  • Non-polar solvents are typically hydrocarbons used to dissolve other naturally occurring hydrocarbon lipid molecules that do not (or do not easily) dissolve in water, including fatty acids, waxes, sterols, fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins A, D, E, and K), monoglycerides, diglycerides, triglycerides, and phospholipids.
  • The functions of lipids include storing energy, signaling, and acting as structural components of cell membranes.
  • Lipids have applications in the cosmetic and food industries as well as in nanotechnology.

Role of Lipids

  • Lipids are important components of living cells and are responsible for maintaining the integrity of our cell membrane, which allows nutrients and drugs to pass through the cell.
  • These are commonly breached during infection and in diseases.
  • Lipids play a major role in altering cell membrane properties modulating lipid and protein diffusion and membrane organization.
  • Thus, changes in membrane properties control the proper functioning of cells and are harnessed by pathogens for their survival and infection.
  • Lipids critically dictate the molecular interactions of drugs with membranes influencing drug diffusion, partitioning, and accumulation, thereby underpinning lipid-composition specificity.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Role of Glucose in Regulating Liver Functions

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SIRT1

Mains level : NA

A study by researchers from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai (TIFR) has revealed that glucose in the body controls the function of SIRT1 enzymes directly.

What is SIRT1?

  • SIRT1 is an enzyme that deacetylates (removal of acetyl) proteins which contribute to cellular regulation.
  • A shortage or absence of the control by glucose may lead to a diabetic-like state, while excess feeding and sustained low levels of SIRT1 can lead to obesity and enhanced ageing.
  • This information is expected to tackle lifestyle disorders and ageing-related diseases.

How do they function?

  • In normal healthy individuals, SIRT1 protein levels are known to increase during fasting and decrease during the feed, which is essential to maintain a balance between glucose and fat metabolism.
  • The glucose controls the functions of a protein SIRT1 which in turn maintains everyday feed-fast cycles and is also associated with longevity.
  • The feed-fast cycle is a basic pattern and the metabolism-related to this is largely taken care of by the liver.
  • Thus, the study shows that both over-activation and under-activation of SIRT1 can lead to diseases.
  • Glucose puts a check on the activity of SIRT1 in the fed state. In the absence of this check, SIRT1 activity increases and results in hyperglycemia in a fasted state, mimicking diabetic state.
  • The constant feeding or high-calorie intake that leads to a sustained reduction in the levels of SIRT1 by glucose which is associated with ageing and obesity.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

[pib] ARI-516 Grape Variety

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ARI-516

Mains level : Not Much

 

Pune’s Agharkar Research Institute (ARI), an autonomous institute of the DST has developed a hybrid variety of grapes which is resistant to fungal diseases, high yielding and has excellent juice quality.

ARI-516

  • The hybrid variety ARI-516 has been developed by interbreeding of two species from the same genus — Catawba variety of Vitis labrusca and Beauty seedless variety of Vitis vinifera.
  • It is a result of collaboration between Maharashtra Association for the Cultivation of Science (MACS) and ARCI and can benefit farmers, the processing industry and consumers.
  • This variety of grapes is resistant to fungal diseases, high yielding and has excellent juice quality.
  • The fungal resistance of ARI-516 has been derived from Catawba, which is an American grape variety.

Commercial benefits

  • It is also suitable for preparation of juice, raisin, jam and red wine and farmers are enthusiastically adopting the variety.
  • It has superior quality fruits and higher yield per unit area.
  • An early ripening hybrid, it matures in 110 – 120 days after pruning.
  • Being moderately resistant to a majority of fungal diseases, its cost of production is lower.

Back2Basics

Grape production in India

  • India ranks twelfth in the world in terms of grape production.
  • About 78% of grape production in India is utilized for consumption, 17-20 % for raisin production, 1.5 % for wine and 0.5 % for juice.
  • Maharashtra leads in the production of grapes in India with a share of 81.22 %. A negligible share of grapes is used for juice production.
  • A majority of farmers in Maharashtra cultivate ‘Thompson seedless’ and its clones for table purpose or raisin making.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

How plants dissipate excess sunlight as heat?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Read the attached story

Mains level : Not Much

Photosynthesis is a life-sustaining process by which plants store solar energy as sugar molecules. However if sunlight is in excess it can lead to leaves being dehydrated and damaged.

What is Photosynthesis?

  • Photosynthesis is the process used by plants, algae and certain bacteria to harness energy from sunlight and turn it into chemical energy.
  • There are two types of photosynthetic processes: oxygenic photosynthesis and anoxygenic photosynthesis.
  • The general principles of anoxygenic and oxygenic photosynthesis are very similar, but oxygenic photosynthesis is the most common and is seen in plants, algae and cyanobacteria.
  • During oxygenic photosynthesis, light energy transfers electrons from water (H2O) to carbon dioxide (CO2), to produce carbohydrates.
  • Ultimately, oxygen is produced along with carbohydrates. Oxygenic photosynthesis is written as follows:

6CO2 + 12H2O + Light Energy → C6H12O6 + 6O2 + 6H2O

Here, six molecules of carbon dioxide (CO2) combine with 12 molecules of water (H2O) using light energy. The end result is the formation of a single carbohydrate molecule (C6H12O6, or glucose) along with six molecules each of breathable oxygen and water.

How do plants dissipate heat?

  • To prevent such damage, plants dissipate extra light as heat.
  • While this was known there has been a debate over the past several decades over how plants actually do so.
  • Now for the first time researchers have directly observed one of the possible mechanisms through which plants dissipate extra sunlight.
  • The new research has been able to determine–by using a highly sensitive type of spectroscopy–that excess energy is transferred from the pigment chlorophyll, which gives leaves their green colour, to other pigments called carotenoids.
  • The carotenoids then release the energy as heat. After the carotenoids accept excess energy, most of it is released as heat, thus preventing damage to the cells.

Why does plant dissipate light?

  • During photosynthesis, light-harvesting complexes play two seemingly contradictory roles.
  • They absorb energy to drive water-splitting and photosynthesis, but at the same time, when there’s too much energy, they have to also be able to get rid of it.
  • Plants quickly adapt to changes in sunlight intensity. Even in very sunny conditions, only 30 per cent available sunlight is converted into sugar, and the rest is released as heat.
  • The excess energy, if not released, leads to the creation of free radicals that can damage proteins and other important cellular molecules.

Significance of the research

  • So far, it had been difficult to observe the heat dissipation phenomenon, given that it occurs on a very fast time scale, in femtoseconds or quadrillionths of a second.
  • Using the new technique, researchers could observe that chlorophylls absorb red light and carotenoids absorb blue and green light, thus being able to monitor energy transfer.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Unguarded X hypothesis

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Unguarded X hypothesis, Chromosomes

Mains level : NA

Men outnumbered women by 37 million in the 2011 Census of India, but among those over the age of 60, there were more than 1 million more women than men. In general, men live shorter lives than women worldwide. This is due to the chromosomal differences between the two, points’ new study.

What are Chromosomes?

  • The human body is made up of cells, and in the centre of each cell is the nucleus. Chromosomes, which are located inside the nucleus, are structures that hold the genes.
  • It is the genes that determine the various traits of an individual including eye colour, blood type — and sex.
  • The human cell has 23 pairs of chromosomes. One pair is of the sex chromosomes, named X and Y, which determine whether an individual is male or female.
  • A female has two X chromosomes (XX) while a male has one X and one Y (XY).

Unguarded X hypothesis

  • This hypothesis suggests that the Y chromosome in XY is less able to to protect an individual from harmful genes expressed on the X chromosome.
  • In a male, as the Y chromosome is smaller than the X chromosome, it is unable to “hide” an X chromosome that carries harmful mutations, which may later expose the individual to health threats.
  • On the other hand, the hypothesis goes, there is no such problem in a pair of X chromosomes (XX) in a female.
  • If one of the X chromosomes has genes that have suffered mutations, then the other X chromosome, which is healthy, can stand in for the first, so that the harmful genes are not expressed.
  • This maximizes the length of life, according to the hypothesis. And this is what the UNSW researchers set out to examine.

Testing the hypothesis

  • In a statement issued by UNSW, PhD student and study first author Zoe Xirocostas said the
  • Unguarded X hypothesis appears to stack up, after examining the lifespan data available on a wide range of animal species.
  • Researchers studied lifespan data in not just primates but mammals and birds, but also reptiles, fish, amphibians, arachnids, cockroaches, grasshoppers, beetles, butterflies and moths among others.
  • It was found that across that broad range of species, the heterogametic sex (XY in humans) does tend to die earlier than the homogametic sex (XX in humans).

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

[pib] CHITRA Flow Diverter Stents

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CHITRA stents

Mains level : Affordable medical devices and implants in India

The Sree Chitra Thirunal Institute of Medical Science and Tech. Thiruvanthapuram an Institute of National Importance under the Department of Science and Technology has developed an innovative intracranial flow diverter stent for the treatment of aneurysms of the blood  vessels of the brain.

What is Aneurysms?

  • Intracranial aneurysm is a localized ballooning, bulging or dilation of arteries in the brain caused by progressive weakening of the inner muscles of the wall of the blood vessels.
  • Spontaneous rupture of the aneurysm can result in bleeding into the space around the brain resulting condition called a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) which can lead to paralysis, coma or death.
  • Most often a ruptured brain aneurysm occurs in the space between the brain and the thin tissues covering the brain.

How to avert risks of Brain Aneurysms?

  • Flow diverters stents when deployed in the artery in the brain bearing the aneurysms, diverts blood flow away from the aneurysm.
  • This reduces the chances of its rupture from the pressure of blood flow.
  • The Surgical treatment of an aneurysm involves opening the skull and a clip on the neck of aneurysm, so that it is cut off from the path of blood flow.
  • There are three non surgical, minimally invasive endovascular treatments of aneurysms of the brain.
  • In two of these procedures, the aneurismal sacis filled with platinum coils or occluded using high viscosity liquid polymer which solidifies when released into the sac thus sealing the sac.
  • All these techniques have some limitation or the other.

Why are flow diverter stent preferable?

  • A more attractive third minimally invasive option is deploying a flow diverter stent to bypass the segment of the blood vessel which has the aneurysm.
  • Flow diverters have the advantages of being flexible and adaptable to the shape and course of the vessel.
  • Also flow diverters promote healing of the vessel wall by removing the constant stress of blood flow on it.

What is CHITRA flow diverter?

  • The Chitra flow diverter is designed to have better grip on the walls of arteries of complex shapes in order to reduce the risk of migration of the device.
  • The unique design is in its weave also makes this stent resistant to kinking or twisting, when it is placed in tortuous arteries and those with complex shapes. Even a 180 degrees bend does not occlude the lumen of the stent.
  • Portion of the wires is made radio opaque for better visibility in X –Rays and fluoroscopy thus aiding accurate delivery of the diverter in the blood vessel.
  • Nitinol, a super elastic alloy with shape memory was acquired from National Aero Space Laboratories, Bengaluru (CSIR-NAL).
  • When the device is deployed at the site, it is released from its crimped locked position and assumes the desired and originally designed shape because of the shape memory property of Nitinol.

Benefits of CHITRA

  • The imported Flow diverter stents costs Rs 7-8 lakhs and is not manufactured in India.
  • With the availability of the indigenous CHITRA, a well established industry would be able to manufacture and sell at a much lower price.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Species in news: Henneguya Salminicola

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Henneguya Salminicola

Mains level : NA

 

 

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have discovered a non-oxygen breathing animal, which significantly changes one of science’s assumptions about the animal world — that all animals use aerobic respiration and therefore, oxygen.

Henneguya Salminicola

  • The organism is Henneguya salminicola, a fewer-than-10-celled microscopic parasite that lives in salmon muscle.
  • It relies on anaerobic respiration (through which cells extract energy without using oxygen).
  • In the case of this non-oxygen breathing organism, evolution turned it into a simpler organism that shed “unnecessary genes” responsible for aerobic respiration.
  • Other organisms such as fungi and amoebas that are found in anaerobic environments lost the ability to breathe over time.
  • The new study shows that the same can happen in the case of animals, too.

What is Aerobic respiration?

  • Animals, including humans, need energy to perform the various tasks that are essential for survival.
  • Aerobic respiration is one such chemical reaction through which organisms take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
  • Through this mechanism, energy is transferred to cells, which can use it for multiple purposes — for instance, to burn food.
  • Mitochondria is the “powerhouse” of the cell, which captures oxygen to make energy — its absence in the H. salminicola genome indicates that the parasite does not breathe oxygen.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Genome India Project

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Genome India Project

Mains level : Applications of Gene mapping

 

The Union Govt. has given clearance to an ambitious gene-mapping project, estimated to be worth Rs 238 crore.

Genome India Project

  • The Genome India Project has been described by those involved as the “first scratching of the surface of the vast genetic diversity of India”.
  • It involves over 20 scientists from institutions including the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru and a few IITs.
  • One of the most comprehensive genome mapping projects in the world is the Human Genome Project (HGP), which began in 1990 and reached completion in 2003.
  • The international project, which was coordinated by the National Institutes of Health and the US Department of Energy, was undertaken with the aim of sequencing the human genome and identifying the genes that contain it.
  • The project was able to identify the locations of many human genes and provide information about their structure and organisation.

What is Genome Mapping?

  • According to the Human Genome Project, there are estimated to be over 20,500 human genes.
  • Genome refers to an organism’s complete set of DNA, which includes all its genes and mapping these genes simply means finding out the location of these genes in a chromosome.
  • In humans, each cell consists of 23 pairs of chromosomes for a total of 46 chromosomes, which means that for 23 pairs of chromosomes in each cell, there are roughly 20,500 genes located on them.
  • Some of the genes are lined up in a row on each chromosome, while others are lined up quite close to one another and this arrangement might affect the way they are inherited.
  • For example, if the genes are placed sufficiently close together, there is a probability that they get inherited as a pair.
  • Genome mapping, therefore, essentially means figuring out the location of a specific gene on a particular region of the chromosome and also determining the location of and relative distances between other genes on that chromosome.

Applications

  • Significantly, genome mapping enables scientists to gather evidence if a disease transmitted from the parent to the child is linked to one or more genes.
  • Furthermore, mapping also helps in determining the particular chromosome which contains that gene and the location of that gene in the chromosome.
  • Genome maps have been used to find out genes that are responsible for relatively rare, single-gene inherited disorders such as cystic fibrosis and Duchene muscular dystrophy.
  • Genetic maps may also point out scientists to the genes that play a role in more common disorders and diseases such as asthma, cancer and heart disease among others.
  • Researchers from several international institutions mapped the handful of genes whose mutation causes several different kinds of cancers.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

New rice variety: Muktoshri (IET 21845)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Muktoshri

Mains level : Arsenic poisoning through food, Rice Fortification

Researchers have developed and commercialized a rice variety that is resistant to arsenic.

Muktoshri

  • The new rice variety, Muktoshri — also called IET 21845 —, was developed jointly by the Rice Research Station at Chinsurah coming under West Bengal’s Agriculture Department and the National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow.
  • A gazette notification for the commercial use of Muktoshri was made by West Bengal last year.
  • During our multilocational trials, it was found that this variety uptakes very less amount of arsenic from soil and water in comparison to other varieties of rice.
  • The rice is long and thin, and aromatic. Across the State, thousands of farmers have started cultivation, even in areas where arsenic in groundwater is not an issue, because of the aroma and the yield.

Significance

  • West Bengal is among the States with the highest concentration of arsenic in groundwater, with as many as 83 blocks across seven districts having higher arsenic levels than permissible limits.
  • Several studies have shown that arsenic from groundwater and the soil can enter the food chain through paddy.
  • According to the WHO, long-term exposure to arsenic, mainly through drinking water and food, can lead to poisoning. Skin lesions and skin cancer are the most characteristic effects.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

What is Fermentophone?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Fermentophone

Mains level : NA

 

Fermentation, the chemical breakdown of a substance by microorganisms such as bacteria or yeasts, results in some of the most delicious foods and beverages, including cheese, chocolate and wine.  Now, research has shown it can result in music, too.

Fermentophone

  • The chemical processes of fermentation can be used to create spontaneous tunes.
  • Researchers has built multiple art exhibits called Fermentophone to showcase how fermentation can make music.
  • First, different fruits and veggies are placed in glass jars and fermented.
  • As the fermentation kicks off, the yeast — or bacteria — present in the food chows down on the foods’ sugars, which results in the release of carbon dioxide bubbles.
  • The release of these bubbles creates a tiny sound, which is picked up by underwater microphones.
  • A computer processes the sounds and, with the help of algorithms plugged in, electronic music is created.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Cancer Gene Mapping

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Mutation, Gene mapping

Mains level : Rising incidences of cancer in India and its prevention

 

A series of new papers in the journal Nature has revealed the most comprehensive gene map ever of the genes causing cancer. It shows departures from normal behaviour i.e. mutations trigger a cascade of genetic misbehaviours that eventually lead to cancer.

What is Mutation?

  • A mutation is a change that occurs in our DNA sequence, either due to mistakes when the DNA is copied or as the result of environmental factors such as UV light and pollution etc.
  • Structural variations mean deletion, amplification or reorganization of genomic segments that range in size from just a few bases to whole chromosomes.
  • Bases are the structural units of genes.
  • Over a lifetime our DNA can undergo changes or ‘mutations’ in the sequence of bases A, C, G and T.

Why study cancer?

  • Cancer is known to be a disease of uncontrolled growth.
  • The growth process, like all other physiological processes, has genetic controls so that the growth is self-limiting. When one or more genes malfunction, the growth process can go out of hand.
  • Not just cancer, there are many other diseases with a genetic link in varying degrees.
  • Just a handful of “driver” mutations could explain the occurrence of a large number of cancers, the researchers said, raising hopes of a cancer cure being nearer than ever.

How big is the cancer burden?

  • Cancer is the second most-frequent cause of death worldwide, killing more than 8 million people every year; incidence of cancer is expected to increase by more than 50% over the coming decades.
  • 1 in 10 Indians will develop cancer during their lifetime, and one in 15 Indians will die of cancer, according to the World Cancer Report by WHO.
  • The Northeastern states, UP, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Haryana, Gujarat, Kerala, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh account for 44% of the cancer burden in India, says a recent analysis, published in The Lancet.

Is the genetic link to cancer well established?

  • Yes, it is. One such association, for example, is of breast cancer with the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes; the actress Angelina Jolie, who discovered that she carried the former gene, chose to undergo a preventive double mastectomy.
  • This is personalised therapeutics where, instead of traditional toxic medications like chemotherapy, drugs that specifically target the delinquent genetic mutation are already being used.
  • Such therapy, however, remains very expensive.

What is the new study that has oncologists around the world excited?

  • It is a major international collaboration called the Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes (PCAWG), in which researchers has published a series of papers after analysing some whole-cancer genomes and their matching normal tissues across 38 tumor types.
  • They concluded that on average, cancer genomes contained 4-5 driver mutations when combining coding and non-coding genomic elements.
  • This is the largest genome study ever of primary cancer.
  • Various kinds of cancers required to be studied separately because cancers of different parts of the body often behave very differently from one another; so much so that it is often said that cancer is not one disease but many.

Breakthrough achievement of the study

  • The mutations identified by the team have been catalogued. Identification and cataloguing of the genes is a very crucial step and has taken science’s understanding of cancer and its genesis ahead by several leaps.
  • The catalogue, which is already available online, allows doctors and researchers from all over the world to look things up, consult and find information about the cancer of a given patient.
  • The study has discovered causes of previously unexplained cancers, pinpointed cancer-causing events and zeroed in on mechanisms of development, opening new vistas of personalized cancer treatment to strike at the root of the problem.
  • When it comes to drug development, however, the gene mapping is but a first step.

The next step

  • The process of drug development will have to now kick in with pharmaceutical companies first identifying the compound(s) that target these gene mutations and then it being subjected to the rigours of clinical trials to prove its safety and efficacy.
  • That could take anything from a few decades to a few years to cover all the mutations identified.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Species in news: Natrialba Swarupiae

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Natrialba Swarupiae, Sambhar Lake

Mains level : Not Much

  • Scientists at the National Centre for Microbial Resource — National Centre for Cell Science (NCMR-NCCS) in Pune have reported a new archaeon (a kind of microorganism), which they discovered in Sambhar Salt Lake in Rajasthan.
  • The new archaeon has been named Natrialba swarupiae, after Dr Renu Swarup, secretary, Department of Biotechnology, for her initiative in supporting microbial diversity studies in the country.

Archaea

  • Archaea (singular archaeon) are a primitive group of microorganisms that thrive in extreme habitats such as hot springs, cold deserts and hypersaline lakes.
  • These slow-growing organisms are also present in the human gut, and have a potential relationship with human health.
  • They are known for producing antimicrobial molecules, and for anti-oxidant activity with applications in eco-friendly waste-water treatment.
  • Archaea are extremely difficult to culture due to challenges in providing natural conditions in a laboratory setting.
  • As archaea are relatively poorly studied, very little is known about how archaea behave in the human body.
  • The organism has potential gene clusters that helps maintain the metabolism of the archaea to survive in extreme harsh conditions.

Search and discovery

  • Sambhar Lake has been poorly studied for microbial ecology studies.
  • With a salt production of 0.2 million tonnes per annum, it is also a hypersaline ecosystem which provides an opportunity for microbial ecologists to understand organisms that thrive in such concentrations.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

IVF of White Rhinos

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : In-vitro fertilization, White Rhinos

Mains level : Ethical issues surrounding IVF

Researchers had created another embryo — the third — of the nearly extinct northern white rhino. This is seen as a remarkable success in an ongoing global mission to keep the species from going extinct.

What is IVF?

  • IVF is a type of assisted reproductive technology used for infertility treatment and gestational surrogacy.
  • A fertilised egg may be implanted into a surrogate’s uterus, and the resulting child is genetically unrelated to the surrogate.
  • Some countries have banned or otherwise regulate the availability of IVF treatment, giving rise to fertility tourism.
  • Restrictions on the availability of IVF include costs and age, in order for a woman to carry a healthy pregnancy to term.
  • IVF is generally not used until less invasive or expensive options have failed or been determined unlikely to work.

IVF process

  • In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is a process of fertilization where an egg is combined with sperm outside the body, in vitro (“in glass”).
  • The process involves monitoring and stimulating a female ovulatory process, removing an ovum or ova (egg or eggs) from the female ovaries and letting sperm fertilise them in a liquid in a laboratory.
  • After the fertilised egg (zygote) undergoes embryo culture for 2–6 days, it is implanted in the same or another female uterus, with the intention of establishing a successful pregnancy.

Types of Rhinos

  • The northern white is one of the two subspecies of the white (or square-lipped) rhinoceros, which once roamed several African countries south of the Sahara.
  • The other subspecies, the southern white is, by contrast, the most numerous subspecies of rhino, and is found primarily in South Africa.
  • There is also the black (or hook-lipped) rhinoceros in Africa, which too, is fighting for survival, and at least three of whose subspecies are already extinct.
  • The Indian rhinoceros is different from its African cousins, most prominently in that it has only one horn.
  • There is also a Javan rhino, which too, has one horn, and a Sumatran rhino which, like the African rhinos, has two horns.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Genome Sequencing of Cobra Venom

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Antivenom

Mains level : Genome sequencing and its applications

This week, an international team of researchers reported that they have sequenced the genome of the Indian cobra, in the process identifying the genes that define its venom.  This has provided a blueprint for developing more effective antivenom.

Big four in Snake bites

  • India alone accounts for about 50,000 deaths annually, and these are primarily attributed to the “big four”.
  • The challenge has been producing antivenom for the species known collectively as the “big four” — the Indian cobra (Naja naja), common krait (Bungarus caeruleus), Russell’s viper (Daboia russelii), and saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus).
  • In India, common antivenom is marketed for the treatment of bites from the “big four”, but its effectiveness is questionable.
  • While the common antivenom worked as marketed against the saw-scaled viper and the common cobra, it fell short against some neglected species and also against one of the “big four” — the common krait.
  • Accidental contact with snakes leads to over 100,000 deaths across the world every year.

What is antivenom?

  • Antivenom is currently produced by a century-old process — a small amount of venom is injected into a horse (or a sheep), which produces antibodies that are then collected and developed into antivenom.
  • This is expensive, cumbersome and comes with complications. Some of the antibodies raised from the horse may be completely irrelevant.

Why has production of effective antivenom been challenging?

  • Venom is a complex mixture of an estimated 140-odd protein or peptides.
  • Only some of these constituents are toxins that cause the physiological symptoms seen after snakebite.
  • But antivenom available today does not target these toxins specifically.

Issues with present antivenom

  • The horse also has a lot of antibodies floating in its blood that have nothing to do with the venom toxins.
  • One more problem with horse antibodies — our immune system recognises it as foreign and when antivenom is given our body mounts an antibody response. This leads to what is called serum sickness.
  • Also, next time if one is unlucky and has a snakebite incident (even if it is a different snake) and they are given a horse-derived antivenom, the body is going to have a severe allergic reaction.

How does decoding the genome help?

  • In the Indian cobra genome, the authors identified 19 key toxin genes, the only ones that should matter in snakebite treatment.
  • They stress the need to leverage this knowledge for creation of antivenom using synthetic human antibodies.
  • Targeting these 19 specific toxins using synthetic human antibodies should lead to a safe and effective antivenom for treating Indian cobra bites.

Back2Basics

Genome Sequencing

  • Genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes.
  • Each genome contains all of the information needed to build and maintain that organism. In humans, a copy of the entire genome—more than 3 billion DNA base pairs—is contained in all cells that have a nucleus.
  • Genome sequencing is figuring out the order of DNA nucleotides, or bases, in a genome—the order of As, Cs, Gs, and Ts that make up an organism’s DNA.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Mitochondrial DNA

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Mitochondrial DNA

Mains level : Evolution of modern man


  • A recent paper in the prestigious journal Nature claims to show that modern humans originated about 200,000 years ago in the region around northern Botswana.

About the study

  • The scientists studied genetic data from many individuals from the KhoeSan peoples of southern Africa, who are thought to live where their ancestors have lived for hundreds of thousands of years.
  • The researchers used their new data together with existing information about people all around the world to reconstruct in detail the branching of the human family tree.

Mitochondrial DNA

  • Mitochondrial DNA is the small circular chromosome found inside mitochondria.
  • These organelles found in cells have often been called the powerhouse of the cell.
  • The mitochondria, and thus mitochondrial DNA, are passed almost exclusively from mother to offspring through the egg cell.
  • The study focused just on mitochondrial DNA. This means it isn’t mixed up with DNA from fathers and so is easier to track across the generations.
  • The new study doesn’t tell about the origin of the human genome but the place and time where our mitochondrial DNA appeared.

Why Mitochondrial DNA was studied?

  • The fact that mitochondrial DNA comes almost only ever from mothers also means the story of its inheritance is much simpler than the histories of other genes.
  • This implies that every bit of our genetic material may have a different origin, and have followed a different path to get to us.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Organoids

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Organoids

Mains level : Stem cells and their applications


  • Scientists have raised ethical concerns over growing of mini-brains or organoids in the laboratory that can perceive or feel things.

What is an Organoid?

  • Organoids are a group of cells grown in laboratories into three-dimensional, miniature structures that mimic the cell arrangement of a fully-grown organ.
  • They are tiny organ-like structures that do not achieve all the functional maturity of human organs but often resemble the early stages of a developing tissue.
  • Most organoids contain only a subset of all the cells seen in a real organ, but lack blood vessels to make them fully functional.
  • In the case of brain organoids, scientists have been able to develop neurons and even make specific brain regions such as the cerebral cortex that closely resemble the human brain.
  • The largest brain organoids that have been grown in the laboratory are about 4 mm in diameter.

How are organoids grown in the laboratory?

  • Organoids are grown in the lab using stem cells that can become any of the specialised cells seen in the human body.
  • They could be grown from stem cells taken from the organ or adults cells that have been induced to behave like stem cells, scientifically called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC).
  • Stem cells are provided with nutrients and other specific molecules to grow and become cells resembling a specific organ.
  • The growing cells are capable of self-organising into cellular structures of a specific organ and can partly replicate complex functions of mature organs.
  • Organoids of the brain, small intestine, kidney, heart, stomach, eyes, liver, pancreas, prostate, salivary glands, and inner ear to name a few have already been developed in the laboratory.

Significance of Organoids

  • Organoids offer new opportunities to studying proteins and genes that are critical for the development of an organ.
  • This helps in knowing how a mutation in a specific gene causes a disease or disorder.
  • Researchers have used brain organoids to study how the Zika virus affects brain development in the embryo.
  • Scientists are already using stem cells taken from tumours to grow organoids that are poised to develop cancer.
  • The ability to grow organoids using cancer stem cells allows researchers to study the genes, proteins and signalling pathways that cancer cells use to develop and grow.
  • They are also using healthy organoids to identify and verify the gene mutations that cause cancer.

Why are scientists concerned?

  • Researchers have turned to generating organoids using stem cells. They have been successful in generating organoids of increasing “complexity and diversity”.
  • Since the organoids closely resemble mature tissues, it opens up new vistas.
  • Organoids can be used to study the safety and efficacy of new drugs and also test the response of tissues to existing medicines.
  • Organoids will bring precision medicine closer to reality by developing patient-specific treatment strategies by studying which drugs the patient is most sensitive to.
  • Since the use of animals during drug development studies is becoming increasingly difficult, the focus has been on refining, reducing and replacing them.

What are the ethical challenges of growing organoids?

  • Scientists argued that the largest brain that has been grown in the laboratory is only 4 mm in diameter and contains only 2-3 million cells.
  • In comparison, an adult human brain measures 1,350 cubic cm, and has 86 billion neurons and another 86 billion non-neuronal cells and a similar number of non-neuronal cells.
  • The authors argue that organoids do not have sensory inputs and sensory connections from the brain are limited.
  • Isolated regions of the brain cannot communicate with other brain regions or generate motor signals.
  • Thus, the possibility of consciousness or other higher-order perceptive properties [such as the ability to feel distress] emerging seems extremely remote.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Genome sequencing of bacteria to help with biocontrol in farming

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Biocontrol

Mains level : Read the attached story


Bacteria with antimicrobial properties

  • Scientists in Kerala have completed the whole genome sequencing of a rare bacterium capable of producing antifungal and insecticidal compounds.
  • This has opened up the potential to develop a new line of products for biocontrol applications in agriculture.

Obtained from soil

  • Researchers isolated some strains of actinomycetes (a kind of hairy bacteria) from the forest soils of the Neyyar wildlife sanctuary, one of the 12 mega diversity centres in the world.
  • One of the isolates was identified as Streptosporangium nondiastaticum reported to have antimicrobial properties.

Helping Biocontrol

  • Bioinformatics analysis showed that the genome contained a plant chitinase, an enzyme capable of degrading fungi and insect exoskeleton.
  • The scientists have cloned the gene and engineered the recombinant protein.
  • The strain can produce metabolytes that are toxic to plant pathogens, making it a candidate for biocontrol applications.
  • Across the world, fungal phytopathogens cause significant agricultural crop loss, both in farmlands and post-harvest storage conditions.
  • The use of micro organisms to control phytopathogens and pests offers an important alternative to chemical fungicides and pesticides which result in environmental pollution and development of resistance in fungal pathogens.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

New paper-based test kit for Malaria Detection

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : About the test, Mosquirix

Mains level : Malaria and its incidence in India


  • With over one million reported cases in 2017, malaria still continues to be a burden for India and most countries of Southeast Asia.
  • Now, a group of researchers from IIT Guwahati has developed a simple detection method that uses an instrument when in the lab or a piece of chromatographic paper when in the field.

Paper Test Kit for Malaria

  • The kit can be used to detect Plasmodium parasite, which causes malaria and also specifically detect Plasmodium falciparum, a notorious species.
  • Using an ordinary syringe fitted with a small magnet, magnetic beads and few chemicals inside, the researchers were able to specifically capture the antigen released by the parasites in the blood of malaria patients.
  • As the blood has many interfering agents, the kit used magnetic bead–tethered aptamers (two small DNA molecules), which capture only the specific antigens and separate these from the blood serum to perform the reaction.
  • This kit also has high stability in hot and humid conditions.

Working mechanism

  • When the captured antigens interact with specific substrates inside the syringe, the blue dye turns pink. The dye is then adsorbed over a modified chromatographic paper.
  • The formation of pink colour on the paper is a direct indication of the presence of parasites in the blood serum. The intensity of the colour increases when the concentration of antigen is high.
  • The intensity of the colour change is measured using a spectrophotometer. This gives a quantitative measurement and can detect very low level of the antigen in blood.

Back2Basics

Malaria

  • Malaria is a potentially life-threatening parasitic disease caused by the parasites Plasmodium viviax (P.vivax), P.falciparum, P.malariae, and P.ovale transmitted by the female Anopheles mosquito.
  • World’s first Malaria Vaccine RTS,S (Mosquirix) was recently unveiled.

Incidence of Malaria in India

  • India ranks very high in the list of countries with a serious malaria burden.
  • In 2018, 3,99,134 cases of malaria and 85 deaths due to the disease were reported in the country, according to data from the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme.
  • Six states — Odisha (40%), Chhattisgarh (20%), Jharkhand (20%), Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, and Mizoram (5-7%) — bear the brunt of malaria in India.
  • These states, along with the tribal areas of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, account for 90% of India’s malaria burden.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Indian scientists discover how serotonin helps brain cells cope with stress

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Serotonin

Mains level : Serotonin and its uses

  • Indian scientists have discovered that serotonin boosts energy production in brain cells and helps them survive under stress. This new knowledge can potentially be used to develop anti-stress drugs in future.

Role of Serotonin

  • Serotonin is a chemical that relays information from one part of the brain to another and is known to play a key role in a number of functions ranging from sleep to social behaviour.
  • The study by scientists at the Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) has found that the neurotransmitter boosts the number of mitochondria in brain cells.
  • Mitochondria in brain cells generate energy to carry out cellular functions and play a role in survival of brain cells under stress.
  • In addition, serotonin also increases production of energy by mitochondria.
  • This role of serotonin in regulating neuronal energetics was not known till now.

Benefits of Serotonin

  • Serotonin reduces toxic reactive oxygen species in neurons, boosts anti-oxidant enzymes and buffers neurons from the damaging effects of cellular stress.
  • The study has uncovered an unprecedented role of serotonin in energy production in neurons, directly impacting how neurons handle stress.
  • It has also identified novel therapeutic targets for the treatment of neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders.

Energy boosting function

  • Researchers have also found out the mechanism through which serotonin carries out its energy boosting function.
  • It has emerged that generation of new mitochondria in neurons by serotonin is accompanied by increased cellular respiration and energy chemical ATP.
  • These effects of serotonin involve the serotonin2A receptor and master regulators of mitochondrial generation – SIRT1 and PGC-1a.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Scientists create speech from brain signals

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Synthetic Specch

Mains level : Read the attached story

  • Scientists have created a virtual vocal tract – completes with lips, jaw and tongue – that can generate natural-sounding synthetic speech by using brain signals.
  • The brain-machine interface is created by neuroscientists at University of California, San Francisco in the US.

Synthetic Speech

  1. The apparatus comprised:
  • two “neural network” machine learning algorithms:
  • a decoder that transforms brain activity patterns produced during speech into movements of the virtual vocal tract, and
  • a synthesizer that converts these vocal tract movements into a synthetic approximation of the participant’s voice.
  1. The algorithms produced sentences that were understandable to hundreds of human listeners in crowdsourced transcription tests.

How it works

  • Patients are implanted with one or two electrode arrays: stamp-size pads, containing hundreds of tiny electrodes that were placed on the surface of the brain.
  • As each participant recited hundreds of sentences, the electrodes recorded the firing patterns of neurons in the motor cortex.
  • The researchers associated those patterns with the subtle movements of the patient’s lips, tongue, larynx and jaw that occur during natural speech.
  • The team then translated those movements into spoken sentences.Native English speakers were asked to listen to the sentences to test the fluency of the virtual voices.
  • As much as 70 percent of what was spoken by the virtual system was intelligible, the study found.

Utility of the project

  • The interface could one day restore the voices of people who have lost the ability to speak due to paralysis and other forms of neurological damage.
  • Many people with epilepsy do poorly on medication and opt to undergo brain surgery.
  • Stroke, traumatic brain injury, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis often result in an irreversible loss of the ability to speak.
  • We can hope that individuals with speech impairments will regain the ability to freely speak their minds and reconnect with the world around them coming days.

Overcoming challenges

  • The biggest clinical challenge may be finding suitable patients: strokes that disable a person’s speech often also damage or wipe out the areas of the brain that support speech articulation.
  • Still, the field of brain-machine interface technology, as it is known, is advancing rapidly, with teams around the world adding refinements that might be tailored to specific injuries.
  • Before operating, doctors must first locate the “hot spot” in each person’s brain where the seizures originate which may take weeks.
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