1. WHY ARE ‘BREAKTHROUGH’ INFECTIONS A CONCERN?
UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Science and Technology |
Sub Theme: Immunity | Anti bodies | UPSC
Context: The rise in daily covid infections is primarily seen in Kerala and Maharashtra, which paradoxically are also among the States which have a high rate of vaccination. In this context, there are concerns about the rise in ‘breakthrough infections’ or confirmed infections in those who have got the second dose of the vaccine at least two weeks earlier.
Immunity & its Kinds
The overall ability of the host to fight the disease-causing organisms, conferred by the immune system is called immunity.
Innate immunity is non-specific type of defence, that is present at the time of birth. This is accomplished by providing different types of barriers to the entry of the foreign agents into our body. Innate immunity consist of four types of barriers:
- Physical barriers: Skin on our body is the main barrier which prevents entry of the micro-organisms. Mucus coating of the epithelium lining the respiratory, gastrointestinal and urogenital tracts also help in trapping microbes entering our body.
- Physiological barriers: Acid in the stomach, saliva in the mouth, tears from eyes–all prevent microbial growth.
- Cellular barriers: Certain types of leukocytes (WBC) of our body like polymorpho-nuclear leukocytes (PMNL-neutrophils) and monocytes and natural killer (type of lymphocytes) in the blood as well as macrophages in tissues can phagocytose and destroy microbes.
- Cytokine barriers: Virus-infected cells secrete proteins called interferons which protect non-infected cells from further viral infection.
Acquired immunity, on the other hand, is pathogen specific and is characterised by memory. This means that our body when it encounters a pathogen for the first time produces a response called primary response which is of low intensity. Subsequent encounter with the same pathogen elicits a highly intensified secondary or anamnestic response. This is ascribed to the fact that our body appears to have memory of the first encounter.
- The primary and secondary immune responses are carried out with the help of two special types of lymphocytes present in our blood, i.e., B-lymphocytes and T-lymphocytes.
- The B-lymphocytes produce an army of proteins in response to pathogens into our blood to fight with them. These proteins are called antibodies.
- The T-cells themselves do not secrete antibodies but help B cells produce them. Each antibody molecule has four peptide chains, two small called light chains and two longer called heavy chains. Hence, an antibody is represented as H2 L2 .
How does Vaccination work?
- The principle of immunisation or vaccination is based on the property of ‘memory’ of the immune system. In vaccination, a preparation of antigenic proteins of pathogen or inactivated/weakened pathogen (vaccine) are introduced into the body.
- The antibodies produced in the body against these antigens would neutralise the pathogenic agents during actual infection.
- The vaccines also generate memory – B and T-cells that recognise the pathogen quickly on subsequent exposure and overwhelm the invaders with a massive production of antibodies.
Active Immunity & Passive Immunity
- When a host is exposed to antigens, which may be in the form of living or dead microbes or other proteins, antibodies are produced in the host body. This type of immunity is called active immunity.
- Active immunity is slow and takes time to give its full effective response. Injecting the microbes deliberately during immunisation or infectious organisms gaining access into body during natural infection induce active immunity.
- Passive Immunity is induced when ready-made antibodies are directly given to protect the body against foreign agents, it is called passive immunity.
What are breakthrough infections?
- If a person gets infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus 14 days after the second shot of the vaccine, it is called a ‘breakthrough infection’.
- The two-week window is the time it takes for the body to produce necessary antibodies following a shot of the vaccine.
- A ‘breakthrough infection’ refers to the virus being able to penetrate the protective barrier of antibodies.
Does it mean that vaccines are not working?
- Covid vaccines helps the body to create antibodies against the corona virus. However, the role of vaccines is in their “drastic reduction” of hospitalisations, serious disease, and the need for oxygen or ventilators.
- Covid vaccines contain weakened or inactive parts of a particular organism (antigen) that triggers an immune response within the body. However, the efficacy of vaccines vary and it ranges from 70-95 per cent.
- So, any vaccine does not provide complete protection against the virus and there can be cases of disease among people who are fully or partially vaccinated. Now this does not mean that the vaccines are not working.
- What it does mean is that everyone receiving covid vaccines does not has 100 percent protection.
Which category of people are most vulnerable to breakthrough infections?
- Forefront Healthcare workers – doctors, nurse, staffs, hospital administration
- People having weak immune system – immunocompromised
- People in the old age group
- People residing in areas where transmission is very high.
How about the severity of breakthrough infections?
- From the data collected so far, it appears that breakthroughs are not translating into serious disease requiring hospitalisation.
- Data from Kerala – 151 were “mildly symptomatic” and four were asymptomatic.
- Studies from the CMC, Vellore, and PGIMER, Chandigarh – reported that between 1% and 10% of fully vaccinated healthcare workers had contracted the infection. Less than 5% needed hospitalisation and no lives were lost, indicating that vaccines were effective in preventing severe sickness and death.
- The bigger concern, however, is that those with a ‘breakthrough infection’, under the belief that they are fully protected, may be less stringent with using masks and could be carriers of infection.
- The U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the viral load in those with a ‘breakthrough infection’ can be as much as those unvaccinated, which is why mask mandates are back despite significant vaccination coverage.
2. PEACE DEAL INKED TO END KARBI UNREST
UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Polity & Governance | Mains: Security
Sub Theme: Karbi Anglong | Assam | UPSC
Context: Government of India signed the Karbi Anglong Agreement to end the decades old crisis ensuring Assam’s territorial integrity.
Three Objectives to be achieved for North-East
- Preserve and protect its dialects, languages, dance, music, food, culture and to create attraction for it all across India.
- End all disputes in the Northeast and make it a peaceful region.
- Make the Northeast a developed region and try to bring it back at par with the level of contribution made in pre-independence GDP.
Important Highlights of the Agreement
- Karbi Armed Groups abjuring violence – 5 militant organizations laid down arms and more than 1000 of their armed cadres have given up violence and joined the mainstream of society.
- People’s Democratic Council of Karbi Longri (PDCK),
- Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF),
- Karbi People’s Liberation Tigers (KPLT),
- Kuki Liberation Front (KLF) and
- United People’s Liberation Army (UPLA)
- Joining democratic process – The Karbi armed groups have agreed to abjure violence and join the peaceful democratic process as established by law of the land.
- Rehabilitation – The Agreement also provides for rehabilitation of cadres of the armed groups.
- Setting up Karbi Welfare Council – to be set up by Assam government for focussed development of Karbi people living outside the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (KAAC) area.
- Greater Autonomy to the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council – The agreement proposes greater legislative, executive, administrative and financial powers to KAAC established under Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. It will also help in protection of identity, language, culture, etc. of Karbi people and focussed development of the Council area, without affecting the territorial and administrative integrity of Assam.
- Financial Package to develop Karbi Areas – A Special Development Package of Rs. 1000 crores over five years will be given by the Union Government and Assam Government to undertake specific projects for the development of Karbi areas.
- Financial Help to KAAC – The Consolidated Fund of the State will be augmented to supplement the resources of KAAC.
- Achieving PM’s vision of vision of “Insurgency Free Prosperous North East” – help to bring peace and prosperity and all-round development of northeast region of India.
- Transitions from insurgents to stakeholders of democracy will be difficult to achieve.
- Fears of militant past cannot be wiped or erased easily from the records.
- Ensuring autonomy may not necessarily end demand for new state for districts of Karbi Anglong, West Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao.
- May lead to demand for more autonomy by other autonomous councils estab.lished under sixth schedule of the Indian Constitution.
3. HYCEAN WORLD
UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Science and Technology |
Sub Theme: Hycean | Exoplanets | UPSC
- A study published in The Astrophysical Journal identifies a new class of exoplanets – Hycean worlds that could support life different from that on Earth.
- Hycean worlds are composed of water-rich interiors with massive oceans underlying hydrogen-rich atmospheres; with densities between those of rocky super-Earths and larger mini-Neptunes, these exoplanets can be optimal candidates in the search for exoplanetary habitability and may be abundant in the exoplanet population.
- These planets are about 2.6 times the size of Earth, have temperatures about 200 degrees Celsius and planet-wide oceans. These could support microbial underwater life. Search in now on for their biosignatures.
4. ACCOUNT AGGREGATORS – NEW FRAMEWORK TO ACCESS, SHARE FINANCIAL DATA |
UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Account Aggregators |
Sub Theme: JJ act | Juvenile Justice| UPSC
What is the News?
- Recently, around 8 major Banks in India came together to join Account Aggregator (AA) network. The new network is considered as the “UPI” moment for the Banks.
- Just as how Unified Payment Interface (UPI) has increased the financial inclusion, the Account aggregator network would streamline the flow of financial information and enhance credit creation in the economy.
Understanding concept of Account Aggregator
- Let’s say, a person “X” wants to avail loan from a Bank. Presently, the person must provide all the necessary financial information such as investment in equities, mutual funds, pension fund, fixed deposits, tax paid etc. to show his credit worthiness to the Bank.
- Quite often, the person has to go to multiple financial institutions to avail physical copy of his financial position.
- Further, the Bank also looks at the credit score of a person before deciding on giving loans.
- This is a time-consuming exercise and tedious exercise. That’s where the account aggregators come into picture.
How will Account Aggregator Help?
- In this case, person “X” can authorise an account aggregator to gather all his financial information from various financial institutions and share this information with a particular bank.
- So, basically Account aggregators act as intermediaries which collect data from one financial entity and exchange it with another.
- For example, a bank which is processing a loan application can access details of the borrower’s savings, past loan repayment record, tax payment, mutual fund holdings and insurance holdings through an account aggregator.
Account Aggregators (AAs) in India
- The account aggregators are registered as NBFCs and are regulated by RBI. Some of the account aggregators which are presently registered with the RBI include Cookiejar, Cams financial information services etc.
- Account Aggregators cannot see the data; they merely take it from one financial institution to another based on an individual’s consent.
- The data AAs share is encrypted by the sender and can be decrypted only by the recipient. The end-to-end encryption and use of technology like the ‘digital signature’ makes the process much more secure than sharing paper documents.
Account Aggregator Network
- Recently, Eight Indian Banks decided to join account aggregator framework to share financial information with account aggregators.
- The network could revolutionize lending and give consumers greater access and control over their financial records.
Benefits of network:
- Reduce the time and efforts in giving loans by the Banks
- Help the Banks to assess credit worthiness of the borrower more efficiently
- Help the Banks to extend loans to MSMEs without collateral (i.e., banks can extend loans by taking a holistic look at the finances of MSMEs such as tax paid, total financial assets etc.)
- Improve the Credit creation
- Safe, secure and tamper-proof documentation due to digitisation.
5. CAN A SOLAR STORM DISRUPT YOUR INTERNET CONNECTION?
UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Science and Technology
Sub Theme: ACM SIGCOMM | Solar Storm | UPSC
The paper presented at the ACM SIGCOMM 2021 Conference last month noted that a powerful solar storm can cause a disruption of the internet, damage submarine cables and communication satellites. Previous studies have shown that there is a 1.6 to 2 per cent chance of an extreme space weather event happening within the next decade.
What is a Solar Storm?
A solar storm or a Coronal Mass Ejection as astronomers call it, is an ejection of highly magnetised particles from the sun. These particles can travel several million km per hour and can take about 13 hours to five days to reach Earth.
OTHER IMPORTANT CONCEPTS
CORONA – Our Sun is surrounded by a jacket of gases called an atmosphere. The corona is the outermost part of the Sun’s atmosphere. The corona is usually hidden by the bright light of the Sun’s surface. The corona reaches extremely high temperatures. However, the corona is very dim. This low density makes the corona much less bright than the surface of the Sun.
SOALR ACTIVITY – Solar flares, coronal mass ejections, high-speed solar wind, and solar energetic particles are all forms of solar activity. All solar activity is driven by the solar magnetic field.
SOLAR FLARES – A solar flare is an intense burst of radiation coming from the release of magnetic energy associated with sunspots. Flares are our solar system’s largest explosive events. They are seen as bright areas on the sun and they can last from minutes to hours. We typically see a solar flare by the photons (or light) it releases, at most every wavelength of the spectrum. The primary ways we monitor flares are in x-rays and optical light. Flares are also sites where particles (electrons, protons, and heavier particles) are accelerated. Solar flares are sometimes accompanied by a coronal mass ejection (CME for short). CMEs are huge bubbles of radiation and particles from the Sun. They explode into space at very high speed when the Sun’s magnetic field lines suddenly reorganize.
CORONAL MASS EJECTION – The outer solar atmosphere, the corona, is structured by strong magnetic fields. Where these fields are closed, often above sunspot groups, the confined solar atmosphere can suddenly and violently release bubbles of gas and magnetic fields called coronal mass ejections. A large CME can contain a billion tons of matter that can be accelerated to several million miles per hour in a spectacular explosion. Solar material streams out through the interplanetary medium, impacting any planet or spacecraft in its path. CMEs are sometimes associated with flares but can occur independently.
SUNSPOTS – are areas that appear dark on the surface of the Sun. They appear dark because they are cooler than other parts of the Sun’s surface. Sunspots are relatively cool because they form at areas where magnetic fields are particularly strong. These magnetic fields are so strong that they keep some of the heat within the Sun from reaching the surface.
Harmful Impact of CME or Solar Flare
- Solar flares impact Earth only when they occur on the side of the sun facing Earth. Because flares are made of photons, they travel out directly from the flare site, so if we can see the flare, we can be impacted by it.
- Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) – are large clouds of plasma and magnetic field that erupt from the sun. These clouds can erupt in any direction, and then continue on in that direction, plowing right through the solar wind. Only when the cloud is aimed at Earth will the CME hit Earth and therefore cause impacts.
- CME can also interfere in power utility grids, which at their worst can cause electricity shortages and power outages.
- disruption of the internet, damage submarine cables and communication satellites.
- Solar particles can interact with our Earth’s magnetic field, induce strong electric currents on the surface and affect man-made structures.
- Chances of electric shocks to people – At ground level, solar storm-induced geomagnetic variations can induce large currents in networks that can conduct electricity.
What needs to be done to prevent any damage?
A prior warning by space agencies along with a proper ‘shutdown strategy’ can help minimise the connectivity loss during and after a solar storm impact. Similar to how we power off power grids, a temporary Internet shutdown can protect our equipment during a solar event and ensure the continuation of services.
7. WHAT CHANDRAYAN-2 HAS SENT?
UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Polity & Governance | social issues
Sub Theme: JJ act | Juvenile Justice| UPSC
The Chandrayaan-2 was India’s first attempt to land on the lunar surface. Chandrayaan-2 is an integrated 3-in-1 spacecraft consisting of an Orbiter of the Moon, Vikram – the lander and Pragyan – the rover, all equipped with scientific instruments to study the moon.
ISRO had planned the landing on the South Pole of the lunar surface. However, lander and rover malfunctioned in the final moments and crash-landed, getting destroyed in the process. Its orbiter, which is still in the lunar orbit, has a mission life of seven years. In the two years since that setback, the various instruments on board have gathered a wealth of new information that has added to our knowledge about the Moon and its environment.
Earlier this week, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) released the information gathered by the scientific payloads till now, some of which were still to be analysed and assessed.
SOME OF THE MOST SIGNIFICANT RESULTS SO FAR
- WATER MOLECULE: The presence of water on the Moon had already been confirmed by Chandrayaan-1, India’s first mission to the Moon that flew in 2008. Before that, NASA missions Clementine and Lunar Prospector too had picked up signals of water presence. But the instrument used on Chandrayaan-1 was not sensitive enough to detect whether the signals came from the hydroxyl radical (OH) or the water molecule (H2O, which too has OH ).
Using far more sensitive instruments, the Imaging Infra-Red Spectrometer (IIRS) on board Chandrayaan-2 has been able to distinguish between hydroxyl and water molecules, and found unique signatures of both. This is the most precise information about the presence of H2O molecules on the Moon till date.
Previously, water was known to be present mainly in the polar regions of the Moon. Chandrayaan-2 has now found signatures of water at all latitudes, although its abundance varies from place to place. The IIRS characterised hydration features in the north polar region on the far side of the Moon and has also quantified the hydration within a crater.
- MINOR ELEMENTS: The Large Area Soft X-Ray Spectrometer (CLASS) measures the Moon’s X-ray spectrum to examine the presence of major elements such as magnesium, aluminium, silicon, calcium, titanium, iron, etc. This instrument has detected the minor elements chromium and manganese for the first time through remote sensing, thanks to a better detector. The finding can lay the path for understanding magmatic evolution on the Moon and deeper insights into the nebular conditions as well as planetary differentiation. CLASS has mapped nearly 95% of the lunar surface in X-rays for the first time.
Sodium, also a minor element on the Moon surface, was detected without any ambiguity for the first time. Scientists at ISRO believe that based on the CLASS findings with respect to sodium, “a direct link of exospheric sodium to the surface can be established (with global data)”, a correlation that remains elusive till date. The finding also opens up the avenue to explore processes causing the sodium to be present on the surface as well as the exosphere.
- STYUDYING THE SUN: One of the payloads, called Solar X-ray Monitor (XSM), besides studying the Moon through the radiation coming in from the Sun, has collected information about solar flares. XSM has observed a large number of microflares outside the active region for the first time, and according to ISRO, this “has great implications on the understanding of the mechanism behind heating of the solar corona”, which has been an open problem for many decades.
IMPLICATION OF DATA COLLECTED BY CHANDRAYAAN-2
Improving our existing knowledge of the Moon in terms of its surface, sub-surface and exosphere paves the path for future Moon missions. Four aspects —
- mineralogical and volatile mapping of the lunar surface
- surface and subsurface properties and processes involved
- quantifying water in its various forms across the Moon surface, and
- maps of elements present on the moon
will be key for future scope of work.
A key outcome from Chandrayaan-2 has been the exploration of the permanently shadowed regions as well as craters and boulders underneath the regolith, the loose deposit comprising the top surface extending up to 3-4m in depth. This is expected to help scientists to zero in on future landing and drilling sites, including for human missions. Such information will be helpful for other lunar missions like:
- Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)-ISRO collaboration Lunar Polar Exploration (LUPEX) mission scheduled for launch in 2023/2024.
- NASA’s Artemis missions plan to enable human landing on the Moon beginning 2024 and target sustainable lunar exploration by 2028.
- The Chinese Lunar Exploration Programme too plans to establish a prototype of the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) at the lunar south pole and build a platform supporting large-scale scientific exploration.
Chandrayaan-3, planned for next year, will hopefully demonstrate the technology to make a soft-landing in outer space. It is expected to have only a lander and rover, and no Orbiter. It will pick up additional information about the terrain, and composition and mineralogy. It will help prepare a more composite picture of the Moon.