'Mini-brains'--Iastoppers
Current Affairs Analysis

27th & 28th October 2019 Current Affairs Analysis -IASToppers

'Mini brains' created from human tissue; Odisha Integrated Irrigation Project for Climate Resilient Agriculture; Excavation at a site near Naidupeta in Andhra Pradesh; Institutions of Eminence scheme; 19th IORA Council of Ministers meeting; Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA); Organoids; Blockchain technology; Fly ash; Difference between fly ash, ESP ash, bottom ash and pond ash; etc.
By IT's Current Affairs Analysis Team
October 28, 2019

Contents

Issues related to Health & Education

  • DU defers decision to accept eminence tag

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

  • World Bank Project to Support Climate Resilient Agriculture in Odisha
  • SC notice to Centre, others on plea for ban on dumping of fly ash in water bodies

Bilateral & International Relations

  • Indian Ocean Rim ministerial meet in Abu Dhabi

Art & Culture

  • 2,000-year-old trade centre discovered in Andhra’s Gottiprolu

Science & Technology

  • Blockchain to help digitise tea marketing
  • Concerns over the ‘mini brains’ created from human tissue

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Issues related to Health & Education

DU defers decision to accept eminence tag

The decision to accept the Institute of Eminence (IOE) status for Delhi University has been deferred following protests from council members.

DU-defers-decision-to-accept-eminence-tag

What are the concerns?

  • The scheme would result in increased privatisation of the university. It would also be a huge burden on the university as it called for “world-class” infrastructure, provisions for foreign faculty with differential pay scales and removed caps on fee structures among other issues.

About the Institutions of Eminence scheme:

  • The scheme of Institutions of Eminence was rolled out by University Grants Commission(UGC).

Institutions of Eminence scheme

  • It aims to help 20 higher educations (10 publics and 10 private) institutionsfrom country break into top 500 global rankings in 10 years, and then eventually break into top 100 over time.

Who can apply?

  • Only higher education institutions, currently placed in the top 500 of global rankingsor top 50 of National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF), are eligible to apply for eminence tag.
  • The private Institutions of Eminence can also come up as greenfield ventures provided sponsoring organisation submits convincing perspective plan for 15 years.

Benefits of Institutions of Eminence

  • Government Institutions to get additional funding upto 1000 Cr.
  • The selected Institutions under IoE shall have complete academic, finical and administrative
  • Academic collaborations with foreign higher educational institutions (in top 500) would be exempt from government approvals.

Freedom to,

  • Hire personnel from industry.
  • Recruit faculty from outside India (limit of 25% of its faculty strength for public institution).
  • Enter into academic collaborations with other Institutions within the country.
  • Have own transparent merit based system for admission of students.
  • Admit additionally foreign students on merit subject to a maximum of 30% of the strength of admitted domestic students.
  • Fix and charge fees from foreign students without restriction as well as determine the domestic student fees,
  • Offer courses within a program as well as to offer degrees in newer areas.
  • Offer online courses as part of their programmes with a restriction that not more than 20% of the programme should be in online mode.
  • Have flexibility in fixing of curriculum and syllabus, with no UGC mandated curriculum structure.

Can granting the Institute of Eminence status make a difference?

  • If IoEs want to be really competitive globally, they should internationalise higher education. It implies that these institutions should give importance to “enhanced international cooperation and capacity building”.
  • It is also important for the institutions to have constant exposure to international standards. Research and innovation should be the focus of such institutions and funds should be utilised for these purposes.
  • They should lead the way in all aspects including teaching, research and innovation and inspire other institutions of higher education.
[Ref: The Hindu]

 

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

World Bank Project to Support Climate Resilient Agriculture in Odisha

The Government of India, Government of Odisha and the World Bank signed a US$165 million loan agreement to support smallholder farmers strengthen the resilience of their production systems as well as diversify and improve the marketing of their produce, for increased income.

World-Bank-Project-to-Support-Climate-Resilient-Agriculture

About Odisha Integrated Irrigation Project for Climate Resilient Agriculture

  • It is a collaborative project between Government of India, Government of Odisha and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD).
  • This project will be implemented in rural areas vulnerable to droughts and largely dependent on rainfed agriculture.

World-Bank-Project-to-Support-Climate-Resilient-Agriculture-1

  • The project will strengthen the resilience of smallholder farmers against adverse climate by improving access to resilient seed varieties, diversifying towards more climate-resilient crops, and improving access to better water management services.

Objective

  • Support the rehabilitation of water tanks
  • Support farmers to reduce the current emphasis on food grains (especially paddy and wheat)
  • Increase the share of high-value and more nutritious products like fruits and vegetables
  • Provide marketing support to farmers who are able to generate a marketable surplus.
  • Disseminate improved aquaculture practices and post-harvest management.

Need for such project

  • In recent years, climate variability has seriously affected agriculture in Odisha, where farming is largely dominated by farmers with landholdings of less than 2 hectares.
  • Since 2009, the frequency of droughts in the state has increased from 1 in 5 years to 1 in 2 years. Today, about 70 % of total cultivated area is prone to droughts compared to 40 % in the 1970s.
  • Since 2013, floods are now devastating areas beyond the traditional flood zone. Drier areas are projected to become drier, while wetter areas will become wetter.
  • Agriculture is also a major source of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions in Odisha, responsible for about 25 % of the GHG emissions in the state.
[Ref: PIB]

 

SC notice to Centre, others on plea for ban on dumping of fly ash in water bodies

Supreme Court seeks response from the Centre and others on a plea seeking directions to restrain thermal power plants in Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh, and Sonebhadra, Uttar Pradesh, from disposing fly ash, toxic residue and industrial waste in the Rihand reservoir and other water bodies.

Supreme-court-agencies-1-iastoppers

What’s the issue?

  • A petition was filed in the court after more than 35 lakh metric tons of fly ash entered into the Govind Vallabh Pant Sagar ‘Rihand Reservoir‘ from NTPC station in Singrauli.
  • The reservoir is the only source of drinking water for the people of Singrauli and Sonebhadra districts, and the entire water has been contaminated, making it unfit for consumption.
  • The damage has been caused to the environment in various contexts viz ground water damage, damage of standing crops and the agricultural land have become unfertile.

About Fly Ash

  • Fly ash is a by-product of burning pulverized coal in a coal based thermal power plants.
  • It is also known as “flue ash”or ‘pulverised fuel ash’.

Fly Ash

Fly ash is normally produced from burning anthracite or bituminous coal.

  • Depending upon the source and composition of the coal being burned, the components of fly ash vary considerably, but all fly ash includes substantial amounts of silicon dioxide (SiO2), aluminium oxide (Al2O3) and calcium oxide (CaO).
  • It is also a valuable resource of important plant nutrients, e.g., Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg), Pottasium (K), Phosphorus (P), Sulphur (S), Boron (B), Iron (Fe), Copper (Cu) and Zinc (Zn).

Difference between fly ash, ESP ash, bottom ash and pond ash

  • When pulverized coal (bituminous/lignite) is burnt in the boiler of a thermal power station, a part of ash falls down at the bottom of the boiler and is known as bottom ash.
  • Whereas, the major portion of the ash comes out along with the flue gases and is collected through electro static precipitator before allowing the exhaust gases through escape the chimney, this part of ash is generally known as ESP ash.
  • The un-utilised ESP ash and bottom ash are taken to lagoons known as ash ponds for deposition. The ash deposited in the ash pond is known as pond ash. 
  • In some cases, this ash is deposited in the form of a mount or hillock and is known mound ash.
  • Fly ash or pulverized coal ash in general term represents all types of ashes produced in the thermal power station.

Usages:

  • Fly ash is a proven resource material for many applications of construction industries and currently is being utilized in manufacturing of Portland Cement, bricks/blocks/tiles manufacturing, road embankment construction and low lying area development,
  • The four most relevant characteristics of fly ash for use in concrete are loss on ignition (LOI), fineness, chemical composition and uniformity.
  • The utilization of fly ash in replacing the cement in concrete mixture decreases both energy and CO2 emitted during production.
  • It is most commonly used as a pozzolan in the Portland cement concrete (PCC) pavement. Pozzolans are siliceous or siliceous and aluminous materials used to produce cementitious compounds.
  • At present, 63 per cent of the fly ash is being utilized in India.

Environmental benefits

  • Increasing the life of concrete roads and structures by improving concrete durability.
  • Net reduction in energy use and greenhouse gas and other adverse air emissions when fly ash is used to replace or displace manufactured cement.
  • Reduction in amount of coal combustion products that must be disposed in landfills, and
  • Conservation of other natural resources and materials.
  • Addition of 2%–5% of fly ash to calcareous soils has resulted in better plant growth compared to normal soils. However, when the application exceeds 5%, the crop growth was significantly reduced.

Types

  • There are two common types of fly ash: Class F and Class C.
  • Class C are often high-calcium fly ashes with carbon content less than 2%; whereas, Class F are generally low-calcium fly ashes with carbon contents less than 5% but sometimes as high as 10%.
  • In general, Class C ashes are produced from burning sub-bituminous or lignite coals (low quality coal) and Class F ashes bituminous or anthracite coals (high quality coal).
  • Many Class C ashes when exposed to water will react and become hard just like cement, but not Class F ashes. Most, if not all, Class F ashes will only react with the byproducts formed when cement reacts with water.

Concerns

  • Air pollution and groundwater contamination, due to the leaching of metals from the ashes, especially the accumulation of the very fine particles of fly ash.
  • Leaching of traceable and hazardous elements.
  • Uncontrolled land disposal of coal fly ash is likely to cause unnecessary transformation in soil conditions, including contaminating the soil.
  • Depending on where the coal was mined, coal ash typically contains heavy metals like arsenic, lead, mercury, which if eaten, drunk or inhaled, these toxicants can cause cancer and nervous system impacts such as cognitive deficits, developmental delays and behavioural problems.
  • For an equal amount of electricity generated, fly ash contains a hundred times more radiation than nuclear waste secured via dry cask or water storage.
  • The breaching of ash dykes and consequent ash spills occur frequently in India, polluting a large number of water bodies.
  • The destruction of mangroves, drastic reduction in crop yields, and the pollution of groundwater in the Rann of Kutch from the ash sludge of adjoining Coal power plants has been well documented.
  • They can also cause health problems such as heart damage, lung disease, respiratory distress, kidney disease, reproductive problems, gastrointestinal illness, birth defects, and impaired bone growth in children.
[Ref: Economic Times]

 

Bilateral & International Relations

Indian Ocean Rim ministerial meet in Abu Dhabi

The 19th IORA Council of Ministers meeting will be held on November 7 in Abu Dhabi with the theme of “Promoting a Shared Destiny and Path to Prosperity in the Indian Ocean”.

19th IORA Council of Ministers meeting Current Affairs Analysis

Significance of the meeting:

  • The meeting is important as two of India’s important partners, the United Arab Emirates and Bangladesh, will take charge as the new chair and vice-chair of one of the largest regional maritime organisations for the duration of 2019-21.

What is IORA?

The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), formerly known as the Indian Ocean Rim Initiative and Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC), is an international organisation consisting of coastal states bordering the Indian Ocean.

IORA

  • The Indian Ocean Rim Association was established on 7 March 1997.
  • The vision for IORA originated during a visit by late President Nelson Mandela of South Africa to India in 1995.
  • It underpinned the Indian Ocean Rim Initiative in March 1995, and the creation of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (then known as the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Co-operation) two years later, in March 1997.
  • The Coordinating Secretariat of IORA is located at Ebene, Mauritius.
  • It is aimed at strengthening regional cooperation and sustainable development within the Indian Ocean region through its 22 Member States and 9 Dialogue Partners.
  • It is a regional forum, tripartite in nature, bringing together representatives of Government, Business and Academia, for promoting co-operation and closer interaction among them.
  • It is based on the principles of Open Regionalism for strengthening Economic Cooperation particularly on Trade Facilitation and Investment, Promotion as well as Social Development of the region.

Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) has identified six priority areas, namely:

  1. maritime security,
  2. trade and investment facilitation,
  3. fisheries management,
  4. disaster risk reduction,
  5. academic and scientific cooperation and
  6. tourism promotion and cultural exchanges.

Significance of IORA:

  • The existence of IORA is a reminder of the untapped potential of Indian Ocean regionalism.
  • Nearly five decades ago, in the aftermath of decolonisation, the attempt to bring together the Indian Ocean states faltered amidst deep divisions within the littoral and due to the negative impact of the Cold War.
  • Today, the IORA underlines the region’s agency in shaping its own future.
[Ref: The Hindu]

 

Art & Culture

2,000-year-old trade centre discovered in Andhra’s Gottiprolu

A maritime trade centre based out of a fortified settlement near the banks of the Swarnamukhi river in Andhra Pradesh’s Gottiprolu may have had a trade guild with its own army to protect its interests

flourishing-port-2000-years-ago

About the excavation

  • In 2018, Archaeological Survey of India started the excavation at a site near Naidupeta in Andhra Pradesh.

The excavation found,

  • A huge settlement surrounded by a brick enclosure with a moat around it. A moat is a deep ditch, filled with water, that surrounds a castle to protect it from enemies. The brick-built structures are in elliptical, circular and rectangular shapes. The size of bricks (43 to 48 cm) are similar to those used in the Satavahana/Ikshvaku period structures in the Krishna valley.
  • A tall sculpture of four armed Vishnu, dated back to the Pallava period (8th Century CE).
  • A series of broken terracotta pipes that fit into each other, pointing towards a form of drainage.
  • Molded female terracotta figurine with two hands lifted upwards
  • Conical jars, which were widely distributed in Tamil Nadu and considered to be imitated variety of Roman Amphorae jars.
  • The findings of assorted stone tools of Palaeolithic and Neolithic ages suggesting that prehistoric people also occupied this area.
  • Copper and lead coins, iron spear head, stone celts, ear stud in semi-precious stone, black and red ware, rouletted sherds, russet coated ware etc.
  • Explorations conducted in and around Gottiprolu found fortified early historic settlement at Puduru, Sunbrahmanya temple at Mallam, unique rock cut laterite stepped well at Yakasiri and Vishnu temple at Tirumuru.

What does these excavations suggest?

flourishing-port-2,000-years-ago-1

  • The proximity of the site to the seacoast suggests that the site could have served as a strategic settlement involved in maritime trade.
  • Trade guilds used to control such centres and they used to have their own armies to protect their interests. A guild is an association of merchants who oversee the practice of their trade in a particular area.
  • The two fortified townships within the gap of 15 km during early historic times indicates the significant strategic location was preferred by the early historic people for trade in the region keeping in view of proximity of the sea, River and Lake (Pulicat).

 [Ref: The Hindu, PIB]

 

Science & Technology

Blockchain to help digitise tea marketing

The Tea Board of India is keen to harness latest technologies such as blockchain to help end-consumers track the supply chain of tea of Indian origin, by digitising Indian tea marketing channels.

Blockchain-technology

What is Blockchain technology?

Blockchain is a sort of distributed ledger or decentralized database that keeps records of digital transactions.

Blockchain technology

  • Blockchain technology was first developed in 2009 by Satoshi Nakamoto.
  • Since its inception, it has been used as the basis for several cryptocurrencies from around the world, including Bitcoin and Bitshares.
  • Once a transaction is entered in the blockchain, it cannot be erased or modified.
  • Blockchain removes the need for using a trusted third party such as a bank to make a transaction by directly connecting the customers and suppliers.
  • Each transaction is recorded to the ledger after verification by the network participants, mainly a chain of computers, called nodes.

Advantages of blockchain technology:

  • A blockchain is anonymous, protecting the identities of the users. This makes blockchain a more secure way to carry out transactions.
  • The algorithm used in blockchain reduces the dependence on people to verify the transactions.
  • Blockchains, like Bitcoin and Ethereum, have not yet been hacked. They are considered to be very secure.
  • It is very challenging, almost impossible, to change any transaction information once it is validated and becomes part of a block.
  • Bitcoin is commonly referred to as digital gold. Referring to bitcoin as insecure or unsafe is like calling gold insecure or unsafe.

Disadvantages of blockchain technology:

  • Blockchain is still relatively a new technology. There are ongoing concerns about privacy in the settlement and storage of securities – blockchain providers are working hard to address.
  • Banks are also at threat with blockchain, since more and more firms (using their IT service providers from India and elsewhere) will build systems that can create and exchange ‘blocks’ with one another completely legally, without ever having to use the banks as a financial intermediary.

Blockchain is not bitcoin.

  • Bitcoin is digital money, a virtual currency that was the first successful blockchain product. Blockchain is the technology that enables cryptocurrency like bitcoin. While they go hand-in-hand, there are other use cases for blockchain besides bitcoin.

Regulation of blockchain technology in India:

blockchain technology in India

  • The current debate in India has, unfortunately, focused too heavily on trading and speculation, looking at cryptocurrencies as an investment tool, rather than understanding the potential of core blockchain technology and the basic role of cryptocurrencies as an incentive mechanism to secure decentralized transactions.
  • Prevailing cyber laws in India touch almost all aspects of transactions and activities involving the internet, www and cyber space (IT Act 2000 and amended in 2008, section 463 of IPC, and section 420). But in today’s techno-savvy environment the world is becoming more and more digitally sophisticated and so are the crimes. India’s cyber laws are lacking in this respect.
  • There are sufficient global examples of countries that have taken nuanced and cautious steps in regulating the technology, and are focusing on stopping illegal activity without hurting innovation.
[Ref: The Hindu]

 

Concerns over the ‘mini brains’ created from human tissue

Experts have expressed concerns over growing mini-brains or organoids in the laboratory that can perceive or feel things.

Concerns over the 'mini brains' created from human tissue

  • In the last few years, we have heard a lot about organoids, the so-called “brains in a dish” created in labs by neuroscientists.

 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.

organoid

  • They are tiny (typically the size of a pea) 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.

How are organoids grown in the laboratory?

Grown in the lab using stem cells that can become any of the specialised cells seen in the human body, or 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 — physiological processes to regeneration and being in a diseased state.
  • 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 in understanding of diseases:

  • 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.
  • For example, Researchers have used brain organoids to study how the Zika virus affects brain development in the embryo.
  • Since the organoids closely resemble mature tissues, it opens up new vistas. These include studying the complex arrangements of cells in three-dimension and their function in detail, and understanding how cells assemble into organs.
  • 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.

Ethical challenges of growing organoids:

  • In some cases, scientists have already transplanted such lab-grown brain organoid to adult animals. The transplanted organoid had integrated with the animal brain, grown new neuronal connections and responded to light. Similarly, lung organoid transplanted into mice was able to form branching airways and early alveolar structures. These are seen as a step towards potential “humanisation” of host animals.
  • Scientists 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.
[Ref: The Hindu]

 

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