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15th October Current Affairs

Nobel Prize in Chemistry

In News:

2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry Awarded for CRISPR/Cas9 ‘Genetic Scissors’.

Details:

Emmanuelle Charpentier and American Jennifer Doudna share the prize for developing the CRISPR/Cas9 tool to edit the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with precision.

It is possibly the only time in the history of Nobel Prize that two women have been declared the sole winners.

What is CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats)?

How it works?

It locates the specific area in the genetic sequence which has been diagnosed to be the cause of the problem, cuts it out, and replaces it with a new and correct sequence that no longer causes the problem.

Details (For better understanding- need not mug up):

An RNA molecule is programmed to locate the particular problematic sequence on the DNA strand, and a special protein called Cas9 (genetic scissor) is used to break and remove the problematic sequence.

A DNA strand, when broken, has a natural tendency to repair itself. But the auto-repair mechanism can lead to the re-growth of a problematic sequence. Scientists intervene during this auto-repair process by supplying the desired sequence of genetic codes, which replaces the original sequence.

It is like cutting a portion of a long zipper somewhere in between, and replacing that portion with a fresh segment.

What is the significance of this technology?

It’s simple: Its simplicity has often been compared to the ‘Cut-Copy-Paste’ mechanism in any word processor (or probably, the equally common ‘Find-Replace’ mechanism).

Potential applications: Its uses can potentially transform human beings, and all other life forms. It can potentially eliminate genetic, and other, diseases, multiply agricultural production, correct deformities, and even open up the more contentious possibilities of producing ‘designer babies’, and bringing cosmetic perfection.

Efficient: Because the entire process is programmable, it has a remarkable efficiency, and has already brought almost miraculous results. Genetic sequences of disease-causing organisms can be altered to make them ineffective.

For Agriculture: Genes of plants can be edited to make them withstand pests, or improve their tolerance to drought or temperature.

Ethical Concerns involved:

2018 Designer Babies: In November 2018, a Chinese researcher claimed that he had altered the genes of a human embryo that eventually resulted in the birth of twin baby girls. This was the first documented case of a ‘designer babies’ being produced using the new gene-editing tools like CRISPR, and this raised ethical concerns.

In the case of the Chinese twins, the genes were edited to ensure that they do not get infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This special trait would then be inherited by their subsequent generations as well.

What was the concern then?

The concerns were over the ethics of producing babies with particular genetic traits.

The problem in this case, potential infection to HIV virus, already had other alternative solutions and treatments. What made matters worse was that the gene-editing was probably done without any regulatory permission or oversight.

Besides, CRISPR technology wasn’t 100 per cent accurate, and it is possible that some other genes could also get altered by mistake.

Google to face antitrust case in India

In News:

Google is facing a new antitrust case in India. It is alleged to have abused its Android operating system’s position in the smart television market.

Details:

The case is Google’s fourth major antitrust challenge in India.

Besides, Google is also facing antitrust challenges in the U.S., and a potential antitrust probe in China.

What are anti-trust laws?

Also referred to as competition laws.

They are developed to protect consumers from predatory business practices.

They ensure that fair competition exists in an open-market economy.

They guard against would-be monopolies and disruptions to the productive ebb and flow of competition.

India’s Anti-Trust Regulation Framework:

The Competition Act, 2002 is India’s antitrust law. It replaced the Monopolistic and Restrictive Trade Practices Act of 1969.

The Act prohibits: anti-competitive agreements; abuse of dominant position by enterprises; and regulates combinations (Mergers and Acquisition), which causes or likely to cause an appreciable adverse effect on competition within India.

Under the provisions of this act, the central government has established Competition Commission of India in 2003 which acts as a watchdog of free market economy.

Natural Gas Marketing Reforms

In News:

The Cabinet has approved the reforms to push the usage of Natural Gas.

The reforms:

The government will initiate standardised e-bidding for bringing transparency in the price of Natural Gas in the country.

Affiliate companies will be allowed to participate in the bidding process in view of the open, transparent and electronic bidding. This will facilitate and promote more competition in marketing of gas.

Marketing freedom will be granted to the Field Development Plans (FDPs) of those Blocks in which Production Sharing Contracts already provide pricing freedom.

About Natural Gas:

Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuels among the available fossil fuels.

It is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon gas mixture consisting primarily of methane, but commonly including varying amounts of other higher alkanes, and sometimes a small percentage of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, hydrogen sulfide, or helium.

It is a potent greenhouse gas itself when released into the atmosphere, and creates carbon dioxide during oxidation.

 Uses:

It is used as a feedstock in the manufacture of fertilizers, plastics and other commercially important organic chemicals as well as used as a fuel for electricity generation, heating purpose in industrial and commercial units.

Natural gas is also used for cooking in domestic households and a transportation fuel for vehicles.

Air Quality Index

In News:

Delhi’s air quality has entered the ‘poor’ zone on the Central Pollution Control Board’s air quality index — the first time since June 28.

What is the National Air Quality Index?

Launched in 2014 with outline ‘One Number – One Color -One Description’ for the common man to judge the air quality within his vicinity.

The measurement of air quality is based on eight pollutants, namely: Particulate Matter (PM10), Particulate Matter (PM2.5), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Sulphur Dioxide (SO2), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Ozone (O3), Ammonia (NH3), and Lead (Pb).

AQI has six categories of air quality. These are: Good, Satisfactory, Moderately Polluted, Poor, Very Poor and Severe.

It has been developed by the CPCB in consultation with IIT-Kanpur and an expert group comprising medical and air-quality professionals.