Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Species in news: Super mushroom “Cordyceps militaris”Prelims OnlySpecies in News


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.
Posted on | The Hindu
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

[pib] Iron-Manganese based Biodegradable AlloyPIB


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.


  • 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 NongladewSpecies in News


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”PIB


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.


  • 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 TowerPIB


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.


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 benefitsPrelims Only


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.


  • 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-implantationPrelims Only


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’Prelims Only


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.


  • 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 SystemPIB


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 microbeop-ed snap


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.


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.


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-19op-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- Vaccine development and trials.


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.


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


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 FunctionsPrelims Only


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 VarietyPIB


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.


  • 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.


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?Priority 1


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 hypothesisPrelims Only


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 StentsPIBPriority 1


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 SalminicolaPrelims Only


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 ProjectPriority 1


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.


  • 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)Prelims OnlyPriority 1


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.


  • 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.


  • 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?Prelims Only


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.


  • 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 MappingIOCRPriority 1


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 SwarupiaePrelims OnlySpecies in News


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 (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 RhinosSpecies in News


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 VenomPriority 1


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.


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 DNAPriority 1


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

OrganoidsPriority 1


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 farmingPriority 1


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 DetectionPrelims Only


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.



  • 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 stressPrelims OnlyPriority 1


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 signalsMains OnlyPriority 1


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.
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

[op-ed snap] Manufacturing drugs on demandop-ed snap


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | developments & their applications & effects in everyday life

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: 3D printing, Drug API

Mains level: Scope of small drug manufacturing facility via 3D printing


Changes in manufacturing processes

  1. Unlike in the days before the Industrial Revolution when shoemakers, tailors, carpenters and other artisans made every last bit of their products by hand, very few production facilities today are capable of producing the entire finished product from scratch
  2. The process of modern manufacturing at industrial scale involves the establishment of multiple production facilities designed to individually produce vast quantities of components that are themselves designed to be combined, in even larger assembly lines, into the final finished product
  3. While this approach has given us the ability to manufacture products at a scale that was completely inconceivable before the invention of these industrial machines, it has left us at the mercy of the vast intercontinental supply chains that feed into these production facilities so that minor variations in quality and unpredictable disruptions in production anywhere in the chain of suppliers can have a devastating effect up the line

How these changes impact pharma industry

  1. This is of particular concern in the context of the pharmaceutical industry where non-continuous, “batch” processes are the heart and soul of the drug manufacturing process
  2. Most manufacturers produce the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) using molecular fragments obtained from different sources
  3. The API is then mixed with excipients in a separate facility and the final drug product is formulated at yet another plant
  4. Due to this complex multi-stage process, it can take up to 12 months to produce the final finished product and manufacturing units throughout the supply chain are required to maintain large inventories of intermediates at all steps along the way
  5. This sort of a manufacturing process is particularly susceptible to variations in quality and supply—a fact that could literally mean the difference between life and death in the event of an epidemic when the production of life-saving drugs needs to be accelerated rapidly

The scope of 3D printing in the pharma sector

  1. 3D printing and desktop manufacturing will revolutionise industrial production, making it possible to produce small-batch custom designs at affordable prices
  2. Recently the excitement has begun to build up around the possibility of a similar approach to the manufacture of pharmaceuticals
  3. It is likely that machines like this will be able to synthesize many drugs—eventually, in time, all the drugs on the World Health Organization’s essential list

Advantages of a desktop manufacturing system

  1. It allows medical staff in small patient populations to only produce those pharmaceuticals that are necessary to meet patient needs
  2. For drugs with a short shelf life, the ability to manufacture the active ingredient on demand removes the requirement to include complex formulations that are included to improve their long-term stability
  3. In a country like India, where healthcare benefits need to reach the far corners of this vast country, machines that can manufacture essential drugs on demand in rural medical facilities will be invaluable

Impediments in applying this technology

  1. Producing drugs this way runs contrary to everything our existing regulatory framework says we should do
  2. Our laws, like those of countries around the world, are designed to monitor large centralized pharmaceutical facilities through tests and periodic inspections
  3. Our regulators simply do not have the tools to deal with distributed manufacturing of small-dose pharmaceuticals

Way forward

  1. Given the apparent benefits of this new technology, the government would do well to figure out how to redesign regulations to facilitate its adoption
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

[op-ed snap] Genetic modification goes beyond ethicsop-ed snap


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | developments & their applications & effects in everyday life

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: CRISPR

Mains level: Potential harms of gene editing technology and the need of an ethical framework for its regulation


Gene modification technology usage

  1. Ever since researchers at the University of Alicante in Spain came up with the revolutionary new gene-editing tool CRISPR, the chance to play god and the temptation to do it have been beckoning scientists
  2. Now, Shenzhen-based Chinese researcher He Jiankui has claimed that he had created the world’s first genetically edited babies by altering their DNA using CRISPR
  3. His claim is still unverified and, in fact, Southern University of Science and Technology, which hosts his lab, later said his work “seriously violated academic ethics and standards”

How does gene modification work?

  1. At the heart of Jiankui’s work is CRISPR (short for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats), the gene editing tool
  2. This tool allowed geneticists and researchers to edit parts of the genome by removing, adding or altering sections of the DNA sequence, much more efficiently than earlier techniques did

Consequences of this technology

  1. Tinkering with the variability of a gene pool can have disastrous consequences given that genes are connected and for one single character many of them have to work in unison
  2. There is also the issue of human germline editing
  3. The germline is the sequence of cells that develop into eggs and sperm, and any changes made in it are likely to be passed down to future generations

Scientific endeavours gone wrong

  1. The atom bomb is a great example of this
  2. What started with the simple statement that a small amount of matter could release a lot of energy built upon Niels Bohr’s atomic model morphed into the most destructive discovery mankind has ever seen
  3. That one discovery still influences our lives and society in massively negative terms
  4. In the race to create defences against nuclear weapons, arms budgets of some of the poorest nations in the world now far exceed their spends on education or health

Science has also proved to be a boon

  1. When scientists in the 1970s discovered how to fertilise human eggs in test tubes there was the apprehension that this might lead to people cherry-picking only high-quality parents for their children
  2. As it turned out those fears were unfounded and the discovery became one of the greatest boons for people who were infertile and couldn’t have children

Problems with evolution and need of gene editing

  1. Genetics is a bit of a stab in the dark and in strictly game theory terms, evolution is open-ended and, therefore, painful and wasteful
  2. It is multidirectional and not always progressive with many inadvertent mutations as a result of which we are saddled with an imperfect replication mechanism
  3. One fallout of this has been that, instead of Malthusian natural factors to keep populations balanced, we have had statist interventions that snuff out people through genocides and wars
  4. Hayekian market proponents would say the market demands genetic interventions
  5. Human civilization has always progressed by interfering with the natural evolutionary process

Way forward for India

  1. India does not have a comprehensive gene editing policy in place, though germline gene editing is banned in line with international norms
  2. Yet, in the face of persisting diseases and crippling human conditions, divine intervention may sometimes need to be supplemented with genetic ones in a carefully regulated environment
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

[op-ed snap] Why India wants to study human microbiomePrelims Only


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Everything about human microbiome

Mains level: Read the attached story



  1. From November 19 to 22, Pune hosted an international conference on microbiome research- a field of study that is still in its infancy in India.
  2. That could be set to change, with a proposed project that would study and map the human microbiome across the country.

What is human microbiome?

  1. The human body carries diverse communities of microorganisms, which are mainly bacterial. These are referred to as “human microbiome”.
  2. These organisms play a key role in many aspects of host physiology, ranging from metabolism of otherwise complex indigestible carbohydrates and fats to producing essential vitamins.
  3. Not all microbiomes are harmful. They help maintaining immune systems and acts as a first line of defense against pathogens.

Scope for Research

  1. Research on the human microbiome has thrown light on various aspects how different parts of the human body are occupied by characteristic microbial communities.
  2. It throws light on how various factors contribute in shaping the composition of the microbiome, including the genetics, dietary habits, age, geographic location and ethnicity.
  3. These studies laid a strong foundation to decipher the microbiome’s implications on health and a wide range of diseases.

Indian Microbiomes are Unique

  1. Scientists at NCSS have conducted a meta-analysis on intestinal microbiota (community of commensal, symbiotic and pathogenic microorganisms) of healthy Indian individuals and compared it with that of individuals from other parts of the world.
  2. It shows that the Indian population harbours a distinct gut microbial community, which, scientists calls for an in-depth investigation of the Indian microbiome.

Need for Research

  1. India has a large number of tribal populations largely unaffected by “modern” diet and lifestyle.
  2. India provides for a wide range of research with more than 4,500 ethnic groups and presence of two global biodiversity hotspots (Himalayan range and Western Ghats).
  3. The prevalence of lifestyle-related disorders such as obesity and diabetes has been known to be significantly lower compared to the non-tribal (urbanized) populations across the globe.
  4. Hence, scientists say, a study on the tribal population would help improve knowledge of evolution of the mutualism between gut microbiota and the host.

A country-wide project in making

  1. Various research groups in the country are working on the human microbiome.
  2. What India lacks is a national microbiome initiative similar to those in other countries.
  3. Now, a high-level committee at the Department of Biotechnology has shown a keen interest in the proposed project.
  4. The project will include collection of saliva, stool and skin swabs of 20,000 Indians across various ethnic groups from different geographical regions.
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

A universal flu vaccine identified


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Flu virus, potential vaccine

Mains level: Incidence of flu, the reasons behind it and possible remedies

Potential vaccine for flu

  1. Scientists have identified a potential universal influenza vaccine that could protect people against most strains of the virus
  2. The candidate vaccine elicited a strong antibody response to a structure on the surface of flu viruses, called the hemagglutinin (HA) stalk
  3. It has the potential to be developed into a universal flu vaccine, which — unlike the current seasonal flu vaccines — could be given a few times over a lifetime to provide protection potentially similar to a tetanus vaccine

Current usage of vaccines

  1. Modern viral vaccines typically use lab-grown viral proteins to elicit an immune response that protects people against future exposures to a virus
  2. Seasonal flu vaccines provide temporary protection against the flu
  3. This is why they need to be updated every year
  4. On the whole, this approach has not worked well against influenza viruses
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

[op-ed snap] The whole pictureop-ed snapPriority 1


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Hybrid pixel detector technology (Medipix3), Large Hadron Collider

Mains level: LHC experiment key findings and avenues that it has opened up for further research


The next wave in medical imaging

  1. The hybrid pixel detector technology which the Large Hadron Collider used to track accelerated particles has been used to produce the first three-dimensional colour images of the human body
  2. A chip of the Medipix family developed by CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, has been used to take colour see-through images of body parts which are a generation ahead of the currently available technology

Current technologies and their shortcomings

  1. The traditional radiological practices are complementary
  2. Techniques based on X-rays suffer from the deficit that they can sharply visualise only hard tissues
  3. The shadows of soft tissues are less precise
  4. Blood vessels and other conduits are imaged with invasive dyes
  5. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides a slightly different picture, based on the difference in water and fat content in tissues
  6. Positron emission tomography (PET) finds widest use in oncology

New Technology and its advantages

  1. The Medipix3 promises a single solution superior to its predecessors
  2. Using algorithms to model very accurate spectroscopic data in three dimensions, it shows all tissues with equal clarity, in colour
  3. In the case of a fracture, for instance, not only would it show physical damage to a bone — which is what an X-ray depicts — but it would also reveal trauma to surrounding tissue and reveal if blood and nerve supply is compromised
  4. Also, it would depict structures exactly as they are, and not all of us are built exactly the same
  5. In the near future, when medical care will be customised to the individual, this exactitude would make a difference to the efficacy of care
  6. If a complete image of a human were taken by a future iteration of this technology, it might even be possible to 3D print a lost limb or a malfunctioning organ
  7. Researchers have already used Medipix to image cancerous tissue, bones and joints and the blood supply to the heart
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Rajasthan institute comes up with new sheep insemination technique


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Germplasm

Mains level: Importance of the new technique


New insemination technique for sheep

  1. Scientists at the Central Sheep and Wool Research Institute (CSWRI), Avikanagar, have come up with a new laparascope-assisted insemination technique for sheep

Why important?

  1. The new technique has resolved the difficulties involved in freezing of semen and inability to transit the tortuous reproductive tract of the ruminant mammals kept as livestock
  2. The success with frozen semen in the sheep was earlier very low because of its poor freezability

How can the new technique help?

  1. The new technique would help achieve up to 60% survival in the birth of lambs and would have an immense potential for rapid multiplication of elite germplasm
  2. As many as 40 females can be inseminated from a single ejaculate using the technique
  3. The new technique’s invention would be of great help in the breed improvement programmes



  1. Germplasm are living genetic resources such as seeds or tissues that are maintained for the purpose of animal and plant breeding, preservation, and other research uses
  2. These resources may take the form of seed collections stored in seed banks, trees growing in nurseries, animal breeding lines maintained in animal breeding programs or gene banks, etc.
  3. Germplasm collections can range from collections of wild species to elite, domesticated breeding lines that have undergone extensive human selection
  4. Germplasm collection is important for the maintenance of biological diversity and food security
Posted on | The Hindu
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

IIT-Roorkee scientists develop app to monitor patients at risk of heart failure


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Name of the app and its working

Mains level: India has about 10 million patients at risk of heart failure. These kinds of innovations are very much needed.


Mobile app for monitoring Heart Failure

  1. IIT Roorkee have developed a mobile app that can remotely monitor patients at risk of heart failure and provide them with medical assistance
  2. Name of the app: ‘Dhadkan’ 

Particulars of the app

  1. It can automatically send notifications to both the doctor and the patient, in case of any drastic changes in patient’s data indicating possibility of imminent heart failure
  2. The mobile app has been designed to be ‘easy-to-use’ so that people in rural areas can also benefit
  3. The app also provides for two-way communication between doctors and patient
  4. In addition, patients have the freedom to send ECG reports to the doctor if needed


  1. It collects patient’s data (at any desired interval) on blood pressure, heart rate, and weight, and transmits it to the authorized caregiver (a doctor, nurse or paramedic) who is linked to the patient during the initial registration
Posted on | Live Mint
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Scientists report previously-unrecognised anatomical structure in the human body

Image source


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | developments & their applications & effects in everyday life

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Collagen, elastin

Mains level: Research in Medical sciences

Connective tissue proteins discovered

  1. Researchers have reported a previously unrecognised structure in the human body which may have implications in the mechanisms of major diseases
  2. The study reveals that layers below the skin’s surface, which were long thought to be dense, connective tissues are instead interconnected, fluid-filled compartments
  3. This series of spaces, supported by a meshwork of strong (collagen) and flexible (elastin) connective tissue proteins, may act like shock absorbers that keep tissues from tearing as organs, muscles, and vessels squeeze, pump, and pulse as part of daily function

How is this new find helpful?

  1. These anatomic structures may be important in cancer metastasis, oedema, fibrosis, and mechanical functioning of many or all tissues and organs
  2. This finding has potential to drive dramatic advances in medicine, including the possibility that the direct sampling of interstitial fluid may become a powerful diagnostic tool
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

In Haryana, the making of an Indian brain template


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | developments & their applications & effects in everyday life

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Indian Brain Template (IBT), glutathione, Alzheimer’s disease, National Brain Research Centre (NBRC)

Mains level: New developments in medical sciences and their effects

Database of brain images

  1. A group of scientists is preparing a one-of-its-kind database of brain images that, when compiled together, could result in a so-called Indian Brain Template (IBT)
  2. The research is being carried out at National Brain Research Centre (NBRC)

Usefulness of IBT

  1. It will serve as a guide to neuroscientists and surgeons, who have so far based their knowledge of intricate brain anatomy on Caucasian models
  2. Scientists will be looking out for the quantity of a molecule called glutathione, an antioxidant known to help repair cell damage
  3. Reduced glutathione concentrations in the parietal cortical region — near the back of the brain near where the skull bulges — may help predict Alzheimer’s disease


National Brain Research Centre (NBRC)

  1. The National Brain Research Centre is a neuroscience research group, situated in Haryana, India
  2. It is an Autonomous Government Institute accredited with the deemed university status and is a nodal centre under Department of Biotechnology of the Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India
  3. The centre is dedicated to provide infrastructural facilities and a coordinated multidisciplinary team to work at the frontiers of neuroscience research and network the existing groups
  4. Research carried out at NBRC encompasses the breadth of neuroscience from Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience, Developmental Neuroscience, Systems and Cognitive Neuroscience to Computational Neuroscience and Brain Imaging
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Electricity from soil bacteria and reading lights from plants

Image source


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | developments & their applications & effects in everyday life

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Microbes, Plant microbial fuel cells, photochemistry, electrochemistry, luciferin, nanoparticles

Mains level: Alternative ways to generate electricity

Generating electricity from plants and microbes

  1. A group of researchers at the Wageningen University in the Netherlands has hit upon a method that generates electricity from living plants and the microbes
  2. These microbes live beneath plants in the soil, where the plants drop their roots

Plant microbial fuel cells

  1. The plant does photosynthesis, using sunlight, water, and atmospheric carbon dioxide, generating food in the form of carbohydrates and oxygen for our breathing
  2. The microbes in the soil use some of this organic material coming out of the plants into the ground, metabolize them and, in the process, generate carbon dioxide and hydrogen ions and electrons
  3. While the plant above the ground does photochemistry, the bacteria beneath do electrochemistry, generating positive and negative ions
  4. Scientists have placed positive and negative electrodes in appropriate positions and obtained an electric current, just as we do with batteries
  5. This method of producing electricity is through what is termed as plant microbial fuel cells (PMFC)


  1. The method is completely natural and environment-friendly
  2. It needs no externally added material and is part of a cyclic process in nature

Making plants glow

  1. A firefly glows because it has an enzyme that converts a molecule called luciferin into oxyluciferin, and the energy released in this reaction comes out in the form of visible light
  2. The enzyme is called luciferase
  3. Plants do not have luciferin or luciferase
  4. If we can somehow inject into a plant luciferin and luciferase, perhaps the plant too will emit light
  5. The technology of nanoparticles is being experimented to do this



  1. A nanoparticle (or nanopowder or nanocluster or nanocrystal) is a microscopic particle with at least one dimension less than 100 nm
  2. Nanoparticles are of great scientific interest as they are effectively a bridge between bulk materials and atomic or molecular structures
  3. Nanoparticles exhibit a number of special properties relative to bulk material
  4. Size-dependent properties are observed such as quantum confinement in semiconductor particles, surface plasmon resonance in some metal particles and superparamagnetism in magnetic materials
  5. The properties of materials change as their size approaches the nanoscale and as the percentage of atoms at the surface of a material becomes significant
  6. Nanoparticles have a very high surface area to volume ratio
  7. This provides a tremendous driving force for diffusion, especially at elevated temperatures
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

[op-ed snap] Quest for innovationop-ed snap

Image Source


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Need to invent new innovative medications to counter rising cases of diabetes in India.

Level of diabetes in India

  1.  A large, nationally representative study of diabetes in India has found that more than 10% of Indians living in urban areas are affected with the disorder
  2. However, the more worrisome fact is that half the population living with diabetes has absolutely no knowledge of it

Drive to invent medication for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes

  1. There is a relentless global drive to invent fresh, life-saving and life-improving treatments to counter diabetes
    India’s situation
  2. Our government has a long way to go in order to integrate world innovation with health policies and tackle an epidemic such as diabetes
  3. This is pertinent as the country’s productive segment of the population(its youth) is increasingly being exposed to non-communicable diseases (NCDs)
  4. Thus, without a proper policy to integrate global innovation into the India’s health-care realm, the nation’s development is in jeopardy

Effect of diabetes on people

  1. People living with diabetes, nearly every aspect of their life gets affected
  2. This includes special dietary concerns and the necessary lifestyle alterations, along with daily medicines and regular check-ups
    Right time to introduce innovations
  3. There is a huge opportunity to introduce new global innovations in our country and bring about a positive change in the lives of those with diabetes

Importance of the IPR policy

  1. Medical innovation and IPR also go hand in hand
  2. Health care is one of the few sectors that calls for ongoing investment and persistent research, innovation and development
  3. This is because delivering pioneering medicines to tackle the ever-increasing occurrence of new diseases, is central to health care and pharmaceuticals
  4. While there are numerous medicines under development for the disease, the clamour for a strong IPR in the country needs more intensity if we are to fortify our efforts to tackle diabetes
  5. Therefore, a robust world-class IPR policy is needed
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

New nano technology to diagnose and treat cancer

Image source


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Details of new therapy, cyber-knife

Mains level: Advancements in biotechnology leading to treatment of previously untreatable diseases

Safer and cheaper diagnosis of cancer

  1. Under a project funded by the department of biotechnology, scientists have turned nano-particles of calcium phosphate into fully biodegradable radio frequency (RF) agents
  2. These can be imaged in MRI and CT scans
  3. Calcium phosphate is a biomineral naturally found in human bones

Present methods of treatment

  1. The most common treatment for cancer involves radiation and use of gamma rays to kill cancer cells
  2. This inflicts collateral damage as healthy cells also get destroyed along with cancer cells
  3. Radiation treatment with a cyber-knife is much more precise but very expensive

Advantage of Calcium phosphate

  1. Human body does not treat it as foreign material
  2. This leads to minimum toxicity and immune rejection compared to other engineered nanoparticles which are non-biodegradable
  3. It can be guided precisely to cancer tumors, which will enable their treatment under image guidance
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

[op-ed snap] Towards a genomics revolution

Image source


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | indigenization of technology & developing new technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: DNA, Gene editing, human genome project, CRISPR, GenomeAsia 100K Initiative, endogamy

Mains level: Using gene sequencing knowledge for tackling health issues in India


Age of genomics-informed medicine

  1. The structure of the molecule — DNA — that stores our hereditary information and gets transmitted from parents to children over generations was deciphered in 1953
  2. The human genome has around 3 billion base pairs and in 1953 it wasn’t possible to imagine extracting genetic information on the molecular scale and of this collective size
  3. Technological advances in sequencing methods have made the possibility glimpsed 60 years ago a reality today

Sequencing Human genome

  1. By 2001 the human genome project showed that an entire genome could be sequenced
  2. There has been discovery of new gene-editing techniques, such as CRISPR

GenomeAsia 100K Initiative

  1. Based in Singapore, it plans to sequence 100,000 Asian genomes, including some from South Asia

Implications of these developments for India

  1. To gain fully from the genomics revolution, India needs to collect information about the genetics of its population and train manpower capable of interpreting it
  2. This would allow actual physical manifestations relevant to health, e.g. specific illnesses, to be related to features in the genome
  3. The information that is needed has to come from a large and sustained collection of data — fully sequenced individual genomes along with medical histories for the individuals who volunteer for this effort

Genetic diversity in India

  1. India is much more genetically diverse — with something like 5,000 ethnolinguistic and religious groups (castes and others)
  2. All of which probably have some degree of genetic distinctiveness
  3. The genetic distinctiveness of different Indian groups is in part the result of endogamy
  4. Endogamy is the practice of marrying within a specific social group, class or ethnic group, rejecting those from others as unsuitable for marriage or other close personal relationships.

Decreasing disease burden

  1. Such a survey of Indian genetic diversity will be an important asset
  2. This knowledge could be quickly applied to the task of managing diseases in genetically diverse groups
  3. There are likely to be many recessive diseases stemming from single genes specific to individual groups that can be identified
  4. The knowledge could be used for genetic counseling that could reduce their incidence in future generations
  5. It could be used to identify genetic risk factors related to common diseases (such as heart disease that stem from many genes) that affect the health of many more individuals

What then is to be done?

  1. The time is ripe for India to begin its own genomics revolution
  2. A coherent push is needed at the national level that involves government, academic institutions, the existing health-care industry, the IT industry and the nascent biotechnology industry
  3. This coherent push should aim to set an ambitious but realistic objective of creating an Indian genetic data bank
  4. Also, to promote academic programmes that train scientists, technicians, and doctors in this area
  5. And to create a regulatory framework that promotes broad objectives for both public and private sectors without being self-defeating


Read all about genetic engineering in a detailed blog here

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Particle accelerator for art revs up

Image source


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: AGLAE particle accelerator, ancient forum of Bavay

Mains level: Use of technology in analysing art

World’s only particle accelerator dedicated to art

  1. The world’s only particle accelerator dedicated to art was switched on at the Louvre in Paris
  2. It will help experts analyse ancient and precious works

About the accelerator

  1. The 37-metre AGLAE accelerator housed underneath the huge Paris museum will be now be used for the first time to routinely study and help authenticate paintings and other items made from organic materials
  2. It can determine the chemical make-up of objects without the need to take samples
  3. The AGLAE works by speeding up helium and hydrogen nuclei to speeds of between 20,000 to 30,000 km per second and then bombarding the object, which emits radiation that can be captured and analysed

Objects being tested

  1. Among the first objects to be tested by the newly configured accelerator were Roman votive statues of the household gods
  2. They were uncovered from the ancient forum of Bavay close to the border with Belgium
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

World’s first three-parent baby born- I

  1. Where? Mexico
  2. The baby is reported to be healthy at five months of age
  3. The boy’s mother carries genes for Leigh syndrome, a fatal disorder that affects the brain, muscles and nerves of developing infants
  4. Genes for the disease reside in DNA in the mitochondria, which provide energy for our cells.
  5. Three of the 4 earlier children of the couple were born with the same disorder
  6. Thus they decided to take help of this technique
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Indian scientists unlock preterm birth mystery

  1. News: Indian researchers have made a major discovery by understanding the mechanisms by which preterm births occur
  2. Preterm birth: Between 28 and 32 weeks of gestation
  3. At 35%, India accounts for the highest burden of preterm births in the world
  4. How it happens? Gram-positive Group B Streptococcus (GBS) bacteria produce small balloons called membrane vesicles
  5. These vesicles contain toxins that kill both foetal and maternal cells and destroy the collagen that binds the cells together
  6. GBS bacteria: Normally found in human vagina and their numbers can shoot up in some pregnant women
  7. These have been associated with premature rupture of amniotic membrane and preterm birth
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

First-of-its-kind multiple organ transplant in U.S.- II

  1. The experience may open the way to further procedures combining vascularised composite allotransplantation (VCA) with organ transplants
  2. This is done in patients who have already accepted the need for lifelong immunosuppressive therapy
  3. VCA: Transplant procedures combining different types of tissues, such as skin, muscle, blood vessels, nerves, and bone
  4. Examples: Face transplantation is the best-known type, also hand transplantation
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

First-of-its-kind multiple organ transplant in U.S.- I

  1. Context: In a first-of-its-kind procedure, doctors in the U.S. have successfully transplanted multiple organs in a 55-year-old patient
  2. Transplants: A composite skull and scalp flap, along with kidney and pancreas
  3. The patient was suffering from a non-healing scalp defect and declining organ kidney and pancreas function
  4. Drawback: The need for immunosuppressive drugs to prevent the recipient’s immune system from rejecting the transplant
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Virtual heart tool to predict sudden cardiac death Risk- II

  1. Earlier: In such condition, doctor needed to implant small defibrillator to save life
  2. It is difficult to decide which patients truly need the invasive, costly electrical implant
  3. New VARP technology is better than old one
  4. Technique: Computer-Modelling and MRI scanner to built digital replica of organ
  5. Uses: Prevent sudden cardiac deaths, allow patients to avoid unnecessary defibrillator implantation
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Virtual heart tool to predict sudden cardiac death Risk

  1. Context: A new technique which helps doctor to decide risk related to heart rhythm is developed by scientists
  2. It is a non-invasive, 3-D virtual assessment tool
  3. Helps doctor to determine whether a patient faces a risk of life-threatening arrhythmia
  4. Arrhythmia: It is a condition when heart rhythm is abnormal or irregular
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Artificial comet decodes life’s origin on Earth

  1. News: Researchers have shown that ribose may have formed in ice on comets
  2. Significance: Ribose is a key step in understanding the origin of RNA and of life
  3. The genetic material of all living organisms on Earth, as well as of viruses, is made up of nucleic acids, DNA and RNA
  4. Ribose: It is a sugar that is one of the building blocks of genetic material in living organisms
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Dept. of Biotechnology launches fund to tackle anti-microbial resistance

  1. News: The Dept. of Biotechnology to start an India-focussed seed fund to help groups in India to compete for UK’s Longitude Prize
  2. Agency: Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council
  3. Reason: To encourage biotechnology start-ups as well as tackle the threat faced by India from resistance to antimicrobial drugs
  4. Future: The National Biotechnology Development Strategy, laid down in Dec 2015, seeks to build a $100-billion industry by 2025
  5. The strategy expects to launch 4 missions in healthcare, food and nutrition, clean energy and education
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Dept. of Biotechnology launches fund to tackle anti-microbial resistance


  1. News: Department of Biotechnology (DBT) — through Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) has invested an initial $1,00,000
  2. Why? To start an India-focussed seed fund to help groups in India compete for the Longitude Prize
  3. Longitude Prize: This is a £ 10 million prize offered by Nesta, a U.K. charity, to any individual group anywhere in the world
  4. That develops an affordable, effective diagnostic test to detect resistance to microbes
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

World’s first food grade DNA/RNA stain

  1. Context: Azooka Life Sciences has built the world’s first food-grade DNA/RNA stain
  2. Benefit: This might cut the time taken to diagnose conditions such as HIV to a day, from 45 days at present
  3. Azooka Life Sciences: A science start-up, incubated at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru
  4. Present method: Diagnostic labs need to culture bacteria in a blood test to identify disease & this can take from 3 to 45 days
  5. Once the bacteria is identified, doctors start the treatment with the right medication
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

World’s largest database for cancer drug discovery goes 3D

The database has already collated billions of experimental measurements mapping the actions of one million drugs and chemicals on human proteins.

  1. Scientists have revolutionised the world’s largest database for cancer drug discovery.
  2. By adding 3D structures of faulty proteins and maps of cancer’s communication networks, paving the way for more effective treatments.
  3. The new version of canSAR database uses artificial intelligence to identify nooks and crannies on the surface of faulty cancer.
  4. It allows scientists to identify communication lines that can be intercepted within tumour cells, opening up potential new approaches for cancer treatment.
  5. The growing database now holds the 3D structures of almost three million cavities on the surface of nearly 110,000 molecules.
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Centre counts on Big Data to grow biotech

The National Biotechnology Development Strategy, by 2020, expects to launch 4 missions in healthcare, food and nutrition, clean energy and education; create a technology development and translation network.

  1. By harnessing the power of Big Data and promoting the manufacturing of laboratory equipment.
  2. Department of Biotechnology (DBT) expects biotechnology to be at the foundation of a $100-billion industry by 2025.
  3. Two critical pieces of legislation championed by the DBT — the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill and the Human DNA Forensic Bill — are yet to make it to Parliament.
  4. The BRAI Bill is hanging fire over doubts whether the body would be a disinterested arbitrator of genetically modified products.
  5. The DNA Bill over controversies it has caused about violating individual privacy.
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Asian elephant has a gene known to inhibit cancer

The captive elephant from Bandipur National Park provided blood samples, which Indian scientists used to sequence the entire genome of the Asian elephant for the very first time.

  1. A closer look at genes revealed that like their African counterparts, elephants in subcontinent, too, have a particular gene known to inhibit cancer.
  2. Most mammals have only a single copy of this gene, making them more susceptible to cancer.
  3. Among the more interesting observations was that the Asian elephant’s smell was keener than that of the dog.
  4. There are over 4,000 olfactory receptors in the Asian elephant, double that of a dog which is considered to have the sharpest sense of smell.
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Anti-cancer molecules ‘discovered’ by varsity in MP

In a major breakthrough in cancer treatment which is inspired by the all-time tested properties of turmeric.

  1. A state-run varsity in Bhopal claimed to have discovered anti-cancer molecules which will bring a revolution in fighting the dreaded disease in an effective manner.
  2. This molecule targets and destroys only cancerous cells and caused no damage to other vital cells of the body.
  3. The molecules code named CTR-17 and CTR-20 elicits anticancer activity through a mechanism which involves obstruction of cancer cell division by inhibition of tubulin.
  4. The molecules also showed strong synergistic effects in combination with paclitaxel (an anti-cancer drug in clinical use) on multidrug-resistant cells.

This is a significant discovery when cancer has become world’s dreaded killer disease accounting for 8.2 million deaths (around 13 per cent of all deaths) in 2012 as per the World Cancer Report.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

World’s first biologically powered chip created

The advance has opened the door to creating new artificial systems that contain both biological and solid-state components.


  1. Researchers at Columbia Engineering have harnessed the molecular machinery of living systems to power an integrated circuit.
  2. They achieved by integrating a conventional solid-state complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) integrated circuit with an artificial lipid bilayer membrane containing adenosine triphosphate (ATP)-powered ion pumps.
  3. In living systems, ATP is used to transport energy from where it is generated to where it is consumed in the cell.
  4. In combining a biological electronic device with CMOS, to create new systems not possible with either technology alone.
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Detecting cancer with proton therapy

  1. The multi-national research team is working on the Proton Radiotherapy Verification and Dosimetry Applications project.
  2. An instrument that will produce the detailed 3-D images of a patient’s anatomy, using protons rather than x-rays.
  3. It will use the same high energy particles that are used to destroy a tumour during proton therapy treatment.
  4. As compared to x-rays, protons cause less damage to healthy tissue in front of the tumour greatly reducing the side effects of radiation therapy.
  5. Proton therapy is rapidly gaining momentum as a cancer treatment.
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

World’s deadliest superbugs

A new superbug gene called mcr-1 was found to be widespread in Enterobacteriaceae (a bacterial strain) taken from pigs and patients in south China

  1. Chinese researchers discovered a new superbug gene called mcr-1.
  2. That enables bacteria to be highly resistant to polymyxins, the last line of antibiotic defence the world has left.
  3. The researchers found strains with epidemic potential.
  4. The polymyxins were last class of antibiotics in which resistance was incapable of spreading from cell to cell.
  5. Until now, colistin resistance resulted from chromosomal mutations, making the resistance mechanism unstable and incapable of spreading to other bacteria.

Some of antibiotic resistant genes discovered over the years, MRSA and Penicillin Resistance, New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase-1 (NDM-1), MDR Salmonella Typhi.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Blood-based biopsy to improve cancer detection

A new blood-based biopsy that requires analysing a sample equivalent to one drop of blood can make cancer detection a lot simpler.

  1. Using this new method for blood-based RNA tests of blood platelets, researchers able to identify cancer with 96 per cent accuracy.
  2. It proves that blood-based biopsies have an immense potential to improve early detection of cancer.
  3. Blood platelets could constitute a complete and easily accessible blood-based source for sampling.
  4. Hence, it used in diagnosing cancer and in the choice of treatment method.
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Scientists developed 3-D printing method to produce embryonic stem cells.

New method used extrusion-deposition based 3-D printing technology to produce a grid-like 3-D (three dimensional) cell structure to grow embryoid body.

  1. Scientists from China and US have developed a 3-D printing method to produce highly uniform ‘blocks’ of embryonic stem cells.
  2. This 3D printed embryoid body demonstrated cell viability and rapid self-renewal for 7 days by maintaining high pluripotency.
  3. Cells are capable of generating all cell types could be used as the ‘Lego bricks’ to build larger structures of tissues , tissue constructs and even micro-organs.
  4. Technique can be enhanced for providing the basic building blocks for tissue regeneration and for drug screening studies.
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Indian scientists seek to prove genetic basis of Ayurvedic Prakriti

Study shows phenotypic classification by traditional Indian medicine has a genetic basis and ancient medicine in a way is personalized medicine

Previous efforts to link Prakriti classification with genetic information and variations have not made much way. Photo: Laxman

  1. Researchers conducted a genomewide Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP), analysis on 262 men.
  2. A thorough assessment of normal individuals and put one million genetic markers to analyse and segregate on the basis of Prakriti.
  3. Vata, Pitta and Kapha are based on physical, psychological, physiological and behavioural traits.
  4. In Ayurveda, a person’s treatment is based on her Prakriti.
  5. A gene called PGM1 correlates with the phenotype of Pitta, as is described in the ancient Ayurvedic text of Charak Samhita.

Ayurgenomics is a nice marriage to use old knowledge and define it further using modern tools.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Researchers learn how to steer the heart with light

Using computer-generated light patterns, researchers were able to control the direction of spiralling electrical waves in heart cells.

  1. Researchers first time used light to precisely control electrical waves that regulate the rhythm of our heartbeat.
  2. Both cardiac cells in the heart and neurons in the brain communicate by electrical signals, and these messages of communication travel fast from cell to cell as ‘excitation waves’.
  3. For heart patients there are currently two options to keep these waves in check: electrical devices (pacemakers or defibrillators) or drugs (eg beta blockers).
  4. A protein called channelrhodopsin was delivered to heart cells using gene therapy techniques so that they could be controlled by light.
  5. Now models can compare to experiments with real cells, potentially improving our understanding of how the heart works.

Optogenetics uses genetic modification to alter cells so that they can be activated by light. Until now, it has mainly been used to activate individual cells or to trigger excitation waves in tissue.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Stem-cell therapy for foetuses to fight brittle-bone disease

Brittle-bone disease is genetic in origin and it is caused by a defect in a gene that produces collagen, a fibre-like protein crucial for strengthening bone.

  1. Foetuses burdened with a crippling form of brittle-bone disease will receive stem-cell treatment.
  2. Stem cells will be injected into the foetuses to help strengthen bones.
  3. Children with severe forms of the condition, called osteogenesis imperfecta, suffer repeated fractures throughout the skeleton, leading to painful disability.
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Nobel Prize in Chemistry for DNA repair studies


Mapped how several of DNA repair systems function at a detailed molecular level.

  1. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2015 is awarded to Tomas Lindahl (UK) , Paul Modrich (USA) and Aziz Sancar (USA)
  2. Tomas Lindahl discovered a molecular machinery, base excision repair, which constantly counteracts the collapse of our DNA.
  3. Aziz Sancar has mapped nucleotide excision repair, the mechanism that cells use to repair UV damage to DNA.
  4. Paul Modrich has demonstrated how the cell corrects errors that occur when DNA is replicated during cell division.
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Mao-era project helped Tu discover artemisinin

Ms Tu’s research involved finding an alternative cure for malaria as the standard chloroquine treatment was fast losing effectiveness to the parasites which developed a resistance

  1. Youyou Tu on became the 12th woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Medicine for her discovery of a novel treatment for Malaria.
  2. She started work in the 1960s, during China’s Cultural Revolution and zeroed in on a plant called Artemisia annua, commonly known as sweet wormwood.
  3. The effect of herb on fever was well established 1,700 years ago.
  4. Ms. Youyou Tu is the first one to elucidate and extract the biologically active component from the herb.
  5. Method still involves conventional culturing of the plant Artemisia annua, and the other involves a semisynthetic step (photoactivation and crytallisation) to get better concentration of the drug.
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

USFDA approves ‘breakthrough’ drug to fight lung cancer

US authorities approved a “breakthrough” drug to treat advanced non-small cell lung cancer, signalling a paradigm shift in the way the deadliest of all cancers is treated.

  1. The drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab) was tested on approximately 500 patients with non-small cell lung cancer.
  2. Keytruda, a drug that has proven to extend the lives of people with advanced melanoma, is an antibody that targets the protein PD-1, which is expressed by immune cells.
  3. When it binds to another protein called PD-L1, PD-1 acts as an immune checkpoint, dampening the immune system’s T cells which otherwise could attack cancer cells.

The Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) is a federal agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, one of the United States federal executive departments.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Nobel Prize for Medicine 2015

  1. Campbell and Ōmura win for their work on a therapy against roundworm.
  2. Shared the prize with Tu for her work on a therapy against malaria.
  3. Youyou Tu discovered one of the most effective treatments for malaria while working on a secret military project during China’s Cultural Revolution.
  4. The Nobel award for medicine is given to persons whose discoveries have significantly enhanced the understanding of life or the practice of medicine.


Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

How genetically modified mosquitoes fight dengue

India is the worst in the world in terms of dengue cases. This mosquito (Aedes aegypti) is by far the most prevalent in India.

  1. Oxitec Ltd, a UK-based biotechnology firm, has been working with India’s privately held health and agriculture firm GBIT since 2011 on a UK-India funded project, ‘Sustainable Dengue Prevention’, under the India-UK Collaborative Industrial Research and Development Programme.
  2. The biotechnology evaluated by these two companies now awaits the approval of the genetic engineering approval committee (GEAC) under the ministry of environment, forest and climate change.
  3. Situation is getting worse because insects are becoming resistant to chemicals. But also, the species is very invasive.
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Indian scientists decode Tulsi plant genome

  1. The plant synthesises a wide range of bioactive compounds, known for anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-pyretic and anti-cancer properties.
  2. Entire genetic make-up of Tulsi deciphered,a herb widely used for therapeutic purposes.
  3. These compounds are metabolites,used for plant self-defence.
  4. These metabolites are very poorly understood because of lack of genomic information.
  5. “The sequence reveals the interesting pathways used by Tulsi to make ursolic acid, a medically important compound.
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Researchers one step closer to cracking Alzheimer’s puzzle

  1. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive form of dementia that is characterised by loss of short-term memory, deterioration in behaviour and intellectual performance.
  2. It may occur in middle age or in old age.
  3. Scientists have caught a glimpse of the molecule during its attempt to enter a cell membrane, using a new method involving laser light and fat-coated silver nanoparticles.
  4. It is a rare protein and is difficult to probe.
  5. It was slightly fortuitous that we found it, using a modified version of Raman Spectroscopy.
  6. Usually the signal from this is weak, but we mimicked the cell’s outer layer by encasing silver nanoparticles in a fat membrane.

What is Raman Spectroscopy?

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Victory over Ebolaop-ed snap


  1. The research communities eagerness to find a safe and efficacious vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus has borne fruit.
  2. WHO sponsored vaccine has shown 100% efficacy after 10 days of vaccination.
  3. The clinical trial used “Ring methodology” to provide vaccination to high risk population.
  4. The ebola virus killed many, devastated economies and caused the health-care systems to collapse in the 3 countries.
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Vaccine developed to fight Ebola

  1. The vaccine has been developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the trials were conducted in Guinea which showed 100% efficacy.
  2. A dummy virus (vesicular stomatitis virus, or VSV) was designed with diluted elements of Ebola.
  3. This risk-free virus when injected into the human body alarms the immune system, which kills the VSV as well as the deadly ebola virus.

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