Table of Contents
1. WOLBACHIA BACTERIUM
TAG: GS 3: SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
THE CONTEXT: Scientists from the World Mosquito Program conducted research in which they introduced Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes into an Indonesian city.
- This intervention resulted in a 77% reduction in dengue cases and an 86% reduction in hospitalizations among residents in areas with these infected mosquitoes.
- It is a promising development in the fight against mosquito-borne diseases, particularly dengue, by using a bacterium called Wolbachia.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE RESEARCH:
- Efficiency of Mosquitoes as Disease Transmitters:
- Mosquitoes are highly efficient disease transmitters, responsible for causing over one million deaths annually due to diseases like dengue, Zika, chikungunya, and yellow fever.
- Role of Wolbachia:
- Wolbachia is a type of bacteria that, when introduced into mosquito populations, has shown to significantly reduce the transmission of various viruses.
- It prevents these viruses from replicating in the mosquito’s body, thereby reducing their ability to transmit the diseases to humans.
- Method of Wolbachia Transfer:
- The researchers worked on developing a method to introduce Wolbachia into the mosquito population that transmits these diseases.
- Once introduced, the infected mosquitoes bred with wild mosquitoes, passing on Wolbachia naturally and maintaining its presence.
- Impact on Disease Transmission:
- The introduction of Wolbachia into mosquito populations seems to be highly effective in reducing the transmission of diseases, with the potential for even greater impact than the measured reductions.
- Community Engagement:
- The success of this intervention also involved engaging with and addressing the concerns of the local community.
- Communities were generally supportive of the initiative due to the fear of dengue and its impact on public health.
LIMITATIONS AND COMPLEMENTARY APPROACHES:
- While Wolbachia shows promise, it may not be the sole solution to completely eliminate diseases like dengue.
- Combining multiple tools and concerted efforts will likely be necessary to make significant progress in reducing the burden of these diseases.
- Mosquito-borne diseases affect millions of people each year.
- The need for the scaling up of initiatives like the one using Wolbachia to benefit more communities. This will likely take many years due to the scope of the problem.
- Wolbachia is a genus of intracellular bacteria that infects mainly arthropod species, including a high proportion of insects, and also some nematodes.
- It is one of the most common parasitic microbes and is possibly the most common reproductive parasite in the biosphere.
Wolbachia has a variety of effects on its hosts, including:
- Cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI):
- This is the most common effect of Wolbachia infection.
- CI is a reproductive incompatibility that occurs when an infected male mates with an uninfected female, or when two males infected with different strains of Wolbachia mate with the same female.
- CI can lead to embryonic death, female sterility, or male sterility.
- Wolbachia can feminize its hosts, meaning that it can cause males to develop into females. This has been observed in a number of insect species, including mosquitoes and butterflies.
- Increased resistance to pathogens:
- Wolbachia can increase its hosts’ resistance to a variety of pathogens, including viruses, bacteria, and fungi. This has been observed in a number of insect species, including mosquitoes and fruit flies.
2. PRADHAN MANTRI GARIB KALYAN ANNA YOJANA (PMGKAY)
TAG: GS 2: POLITY AND GOVERNANCE
THE CONTEXT: Prime Minister has announced the extension of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) for an additional five years.
- The Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana was introduced in 2020 as a pandemic relief measure.
- It provided 5 kg of free food grains per beneficiary per month in addition to the 5 kg of subsidised food grain they were entitled to under the National Food Security Act, 2013.
- In December 2022, as PMGKAY came to an end after multiple extensions, the Union Cabinet decided to make NFSA rations free for one year.
- It will now be extended further for five years.
PRADHAN MANTRI GARIB KALYAN ANNA YOJANA (PM-GKAY):
- This scheme is part of Atmanirbhar Bharat to supply free food grains to migrants and poor.
- The program is operated by the Department of Food and Public Distribution under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution. But the nodal ministry is Ministry of Finance
- Phase-I and Phase-II of this scheme was operational from April to June, 2020 and July to November, 2020 respectively.
- Phase-III of the scheme was operational from May to June, 2021.
- Phase-IV of the scheme during July-November, 2021 and Phase V from December 2021 till March, 2022.
- The PMGKAY scheme for Phase VI was during April-September, 2022 with an estimated additional food subsidy of Rs. Rs. 80,000 Crore.
- More than 81.35 crore people will be provided 5 kg free wheat/rice per person / month along with 1 kg free whole chana to each family per month.
- Wheat has been allocated to 6 States/UTs, – Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Chandigarh, Delhi and Gujarat and rice has been provided to the remaining States/UTs.
- This is over and above the regular monthly entitlements under National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA).
- The primary aim of PMGKAY is to provide essential food grains to economically disadvantaged individuals.
3. HELICOBACTER PYLORI
TAG: GS 3: SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
THE CONTEXT: Researchers from the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (ICMR-NICED) in Kolkata have developed a two-step PCR-based assay that allows for the rapid detection of H. pylori infection and the identification of clarithromycin-resistant and drug-sensitive strains.
- It is a significant development in the field of diagnosing and addressing drug-resistant Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infections.
- This method significantly reduces the time required for diagnosis and drug-sensitivity testing.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE RESEARCH:
- H. pylori:
- pylori is a bacterium that can cause asymptomatic infections but is also linked to peptic ulcer disorders and stomach cancer.
- In India, a significant portion of the population is affected by H. pylori infections, making effective diagnosis and treatment crucial.
- Drug Resistance Issue:
- One of the challenges in treating H. pylori infections is the increasing trend of clarithromycin-resistant bacteria.
- The use of clarithromycin for treatment is common, but resistance to this antibiotic is a major cause of treatment failure.
- Genomic Study:
- The research team turned to genome sequencing to identify the root cause of clarithromycin resistance.
- It was found to be a specific point mutation in the 23S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) gene of the bacteria.
- Molecular-Based Technique:
- The researchers developed a molecular-based assay that amplifies and detects the presence of the point mutation associated with drug resistance.
- This technique is capable of distinguishing between resistant and sensitive strains.
- Binding Affinity:
- Bioinformatics analysis revealed that the drug-resistant strains had weaker binding affinity to clarithromycin compared to drug-sensitive strains.
- This weaker binding results in the drug being less effective in killing the bacteria, confirming the role of the point mutation in resistance.
- PCR-Based Assay:
- The developed assay involves a two-step PCR process, with the initial step amplifying the 617 base-pair segments containing the point mutation.
- In the second step, allele-specific primer sets are used to differentiate between resistant and sensitive strains based on the presence of the point mutation.
- Validation and Sensitivity:
- The two-step PCR method was validated against conventional drug sensitivity testing and sequencing analysis, demonstrating 100% sensitivity and specificity.
- It is a common type of bacteria that grows in the digestive tract and tends to attack the stomach lining.
- It is adapted to live in the harsh, acidic environment of the stomach.
- This infection usually happens during childhood.
- Its infections are usually harmless, but they’re responsible for most ulcers in the stomach and small intestine.
- This bacterium can change the environment around it and reduce the acidity, so it can survive more easily.
- The spiral shape of H. pylori allows it to penetrate the stomach lining, where it’s protected by mucus and the body’s immune cells can’t reach it.
4. ZIKA GENOME
TAG: GS 3: SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
THE CONTEXT: In this article we will have a deep insight into the Zika genome, mutations, its evolution, genetic epidemiology, and molecular underpinnings of transmission.
- The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne flavivirus that has been associated with outbreaks and health concerns.
- It’s known for its role in the 2015-2018 outbreak in the America, which saw an increase in microcephaly cases in newborns.
- The outbreak was characterised by an alarming increase in the number of microcephaly cases in newborns, prompting the World Health Organisation to declare it a public health emergency of international concern in early 2016.
- From Africa, the Zika virus has spread to Asia, Pacific islands, to the America, and beyond.
- The disease has of late been in the headlines with multiple outbreaks in the last few years in multiple Indian states, including, more recently, Kerala and Karnataka.
- The dengue virus and the Zika virus, together infect up to around 400 million people every year.
- The Zika virus has an RNA genome with a high potential for mutations.
- Genomic studies have revealed that it has two lineages, African and Asian.
- Researchers have used genetic surveillance and sequencing to track the virus’s evolution and genetic epidemiology, which can aid in understanding and responding to outbreaks.
- Diagnosis and antibody cross-reactivity:
- Diagnosis of Zika virus infection relies on genetic testing.
- Because antibody-based tests can be complicated due to cross-reactivity with antibodies from other related viruses like dengue, yellow fever, and West Nile.
ZIKA AND MICROCEPHALY:
- One of the major concerns related to Zika virus infection is the association with microcephaly in newborns.
- Researchers have been investigating the genetic factors responsible for this complication, including a mutation in one of the precursor membrane proteins (prM) of the virus.
- However, the relationship between Zika and microcephaly is complex.
- Factors like viral load and preexisting antibodies against dengue also play a role.
- Microcephaly is a condition where a baby’s head is much smaller than expected.
- During pregnancy, a baby’s head grows because the baby’s brain grows. Microcephaly can occur because a baby’s brain has not developed properly during pregnancy or has stopped growing after birth, which results in a smaller head size.
- Research has shown that Zika virus infection can increase the risk of severe dengue, and the presence of antibodies from prior Zika or dengue infections can enhance the severity of dengue.
- This finding has public health significance, especially since both Zika and dengue viruses are circulating globally.
- A study indicated that Zika and dengue infections can influence the growth of specific microbes on the skin, which produce volatile molecules attracting mosquitoes.
- This interplay between viruses, microbes, and mosquitoes can have implications for transmission and control.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND GENOMIC TECHNOLOGIES:
- As climate change contributes to the spread of vector-borne diseases and environmental conditions that favour them, genomic technologies and molecular pathogenesis insights become critical for understanding and combating these viruses in an evolving world.
5. AI REGULATION
TAG: GS 2: GOVERNANCE, GS 3: SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
THE CONTEXT: Vice President Kamala Harris outlined the US plan for AI regulation, emphasizing the importance of protecting the public from potential harm and ensuring responsible AI development.
- The US aims to establish itself as a global leader in AI, leveraging its dominance in AI innovation.
- The United States is taking a prominent role in shaping AI policy by emphasizing the importance of AI safety and responsible development.
- US Executive Order on AI:
- The US government issued an executive order on AI, proposing new guardrails on advanced AI technologies.
- The order focuses on AI safety and oversight, requiring AI companies to conduct safety tests, known as “red teaming,” before introducing new AI capabilities to consumers.
- This approach aims to ensure that AI products do not pose threats to users.
- US AI Safety Institute:
- The United States plans to launch an AI safety institute to evaluate risks associated with AI models.
- This initiative could align with the UK’s efforts to establish a United Kingdom Safety Institute, suggesting potential collaboration between the two countries.
- EU AI Legislation:
- The European Union has proposed the AI Act, which categorizes AI based on use cases and risk levels.
- This regulatory approach emphasizes different requirements for AI systems, depending on their invasiveness and potential risks.
- However, the EU has not yet reached an agreement on several aspects of the AI legislation.
- UK Light-Touch Approach:
- The UK is adopting a “light-touch” approach to AI regulation, with a focus on fostering innovation in the field.
- This approach aims to balance regulation with the promotion of AI development and adoption.
- Diverse AI Regulatory Responses:
- Different jurisdictions are taking diverse approaches to AI regulation, reflecting their priorities and objectives.
- While the EU seeks to create comprehensive AI legislation, the US is emphasizing safety and oversight, and the UK is aiming for a flexible and innovation-friendly approach.
CONCERNS DRIVING AI REGULATION:
- The concerns driving AI regulation include privacy issues, system bias, and violations of intellectual property rights.
- Policymakers are responding to these concerns by crafting regulations tailored to their regions’ needs and priorities.
- Global Impact of AI Regulation:
- It underscores the importance of global action in regulating AI, as AI developed in one country can impact people worldwide.
- This emphasizes the need for international cooperation and shared regulatory frameworks.
- Industry Engagement:
- The US government has engaged extensively with leading AI companies to develop responsible AI practices.
- This collaboration aims to establish a minimum baseline for responsible AI use and development.
- AI’s Existential Threat:
- Many circumstances highlight the existential threats posed by AI, such as algorithmic discrimination, data privacy violations, deep fakes, and the potential harm caused by AI systems.
- These challenges underscore the need for robust AI regulation.