Author Archives: Ritesh R Jaiswal

Three Parent IVF / Three Parent Baby

three parents baby

Britain on 3 Feb 2014 became the first country in the world to allow ‘Three Parent – In Vitro Fertilisation (TP-IVF)’ or ‘Three Parent Babies’. This technique will help couples with mitochondrial diseases, an incurable conditions passed down the maternal line that affect around one in 6,500 children worldwide. But critics say the technique will lead to the creation of genetically modified ‘designer babies’.

The treatment is known as TP-IVF because the babies, born from genetically modified embryos, would have DNA from a mother, a father and from a female donor. Under current UK law, genetically altered embryos cannot be implanted into a woman. But in this case fertility clinics will be given license for TP-IVF.

What is the benefit of TP-IVF?

A small number of children each year are born with faults in their mitochondrial DNA which can cause diseases. Mitochondria are small structures present inside cells and provide energy. They have their own set of 37 genes which are separate from the 25,000 genes present in nucleus and does not affect human characteristics such as hair or eye colour, appearance or personality traits.

How do the faulty mitochondria affect people?

The parts of the body that need most energy are worst affected: the brain, muscles, heart and liver. Faulty mitochondria have also been linked to more common medical problems, including Parkinson’s, deafness, failing eyesight, epilepsy and diabetes. There are no cures for mitochondrial disorders.

How are mitochondrial disorders passed on?

Only mothers pass mitochandria on to their children. Because egg cells contribute nucleus as well as rest other cellular component including mitochondria whereas sperms contribute only nucleus during fertilization process.

How TP-IVF could prevent the mitochondrial diseases?

Scientists have developed two techniques to stop mitochondrial diseases being passed from mother to child.

The first is called mitochondrial spindle transfer (MST). In this, doctors use standard IVF procedures to collect eggs from the mother. They take the nucleus from one of the eggs and drop it into a healthy donor egg that has had its own nucleus removed. The reconstituted egg contains all the normal genes from the mother, but her faulty mitochondria are replaced by those from the healthy donor. The egg is then fertilised with the father’s sperm. The resulting embryo has the usual 23 pairs of chromosomes that hold the mother and father’s DNA, but the 37 mitochondrial genes, about 0.2% of the total, come from a third person, the donor.

TP-IVF

The second procedure is called pronuclear transfer. It is similar to MST, but both the mother’s and donor’s eggs are fertilised first with the father’s sperm. Before the eggs divide into early stage embryos, the parents’ chromosomes are removed from the mother’s fertilised egg and placed into the donor egg, which has had its own chromosomes removed.

Is mitochondrial transfer safe and effective?

Both procedures have been tested in animals and resulted in healthy offspring. Good results have also been seen in human cells, but treated embryos have not been implanted into a woman to achieve a pregnancy. A review of work on mitochondrial transfer by independent scientific panel concluded there was no evidence the procedures were unsafe.

What objections do people have to the TP-IVF procedure?

Mitochondrial transfer passes on genetic changes from one generation to another. That raises ethical concerns because any unexpected problems caused by the procedure could affect people who are not yet born. Mitochondria are not completely understood, and the DNA they hold might affect people’s traits in unknown ways. The Catholic church opposes because a fertilised egg from the mother is destroyed in pronuclear transfer process and mitochondrial transfer dilutes parenthood.

Is ‘three-parent’ babies a good description of children born to the procedure?

Three-parent baby is misnomer. Women who donate their mitochondria would remain anonymous and have no legal rights over the child. On a genetic level the donor only contributes mDNA, less than 0.2% of the total genetic material.

Will this change in law allow ‘designer’ babies?

Designer baby is a concept of modifying human characteristics such as eye, skin and hair colour and other defining traits by altering nuclear DNA or gene. The procedure of TP-IVF does not change this nuclear DNA. The ban on altering nuclear DNA remains in place.

IAF gets Tejas-LCA

HAL_TEJAS

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar handed over the indigenously built Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas to the Indian Air Force (IAF) in Bengaluru on 17th Jan 2015. The LCA has finally been handed over to the Air Force after Initial Operational Clearance-II, which signifies that the Tejas is airworthy in different conditions.

TEJAS – AN INTRODUCTION

Tejas is a single-seat, single-engine, multi-role light fighter being jointly developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for India. It is a tailless, compound delta wing design powered by a single engine. It came from the LCA programme, which began in the 1983 to replace India’s ageing MiG-21 fighters. It is supersonic and highly manoeuvrable, and is the smallest and lightest in its class of contemporary combat aircraft. Features like latest electronic warfare suite (tested few weeks back), mid-air refuelling among others will be fielded in the FOC aircraft.

OPERATIONAL CLEARANCES OF TEJAS

The Tejas was given Initial Operational Clearance-I in January 2011. It received the second of three levels of operational clearance on 20 December 2013. The Final Operational Clearance (FOC) is expected by the year-end and the first squadron of 20 aircraft is likely to be scheduled to enter service by 2017-2018. The entire project till induction is estimated at Rs. 30,000 crore.

TEJAS IN IAF STRIKE PACKAGE

LCA falls in the lower tier of the evolving conventional force structure of the IAF. At the upper end is the Su-30MKI, a heavy fighter. The middle rung will be formed by the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft likely to be the Dassault Rafale which India is currently negotiating with France. Tejas will form the lower end of the strike package complimenting the heavy Sukhoi’s and the medium Rafale’s. It is ideal for point defence and strikes at low to medium ranges.

INDIGENOUS CONTENTS & CONCERNS

Analysts say that despite 65 percent indigenous content, the scrapping of the indigenous Kaveri engine development and the critical dependence on the US-made GE engines to power the plane is a matter of concern. Presently, the LCA-I is flying with an underpowered GE-404 engine. Air Force officials said the Air Force was banking on advanced LCA Mk-II and equipped with greater thrust generated by GE-414 engines. But this also means critical dependence of one of the mainstays of the future IAF on the US.

Maiden Test-flight of Panchi UAV

PANCHI

Panchi, the wheeled version of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) Nishant, capable of taking off from and landing on small airstrips, had its maiden flight on December 24 from an airfield at Kolar in Karnataka. The flight lasted 25 minutes. The aim of the flight was to demonstrate that Panchi can take off and land on its wheels.

DEVELOPMENT OF PANCHI

Panchi was designed and developed by the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), a Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) facility at Bengaluru. Since the Army wanted a wheeled version of Nishant, the ADE quickly developed it with modifications to the hardware and software.

NISHANT Vs PANCHI 

Nishant, which has an underbelly airbag, is launched by a catapult i.e. Tatra-truck based Mobile Hydro-Pneumatic Launcher (MHPL) and can be recovered by a Parachute System, thus eliminating the need for a runway.

Panchi is capable of taking off from and landing on small airstrips. It has all the surveillance capabilities of Nishant, but it can stay in the air longer because it does not have to carry the airbag and the parachute systems. It is also a light vehicle with its body made of composite materials, and has a high degree of stealth because it has a low radar cross-section signature.

Nishant which had already been with the Army, was designed for battlefield surveillance and reconnaissance, tracking of targets and artillery fire correction. A sophisticated image processing system was used for analysing the images transmitted by it.

RELATED ARTICLE: CRPF TO USE UAV NISHANT IN NAXAL-HIT AREAS

GSLV Mk-III X : First Experimental Flight Successful

gslvmk3

The first experimental flight of India’s next generation launch vehicle GSLV Mk-III was successfully conducted on December 18, 2014 morning from Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota. Also known as LVM3, this suborbital experimental mission was intended to test the vehicle performance during the critical atmospheric phase of its flight and this carried passive (non functional) cryogenic upper stage.

THE SUCCESS TALE 

The mission began with the launch of GSLV Mk-III at 9:30 am IST as scheduled and about 5.4 minutes later, carried its payload – the 3.8 ton Crew Module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment (CARE) – to the intended height of 126 km. Following this, CARE separated from the upper stage of GSLV Mk-III and re-entered the atmosphere and safely landed over Bay of Bengal with the help of its parachutes about 20 minutes 43 seconds after lift-off.

The total budget of the experimental mission was Rs 155 crore, including the crew module, which cost Rs 15 crore. A few years back Isro had carried out a similar experiment, Space-capsule Recovery Experiment (SRE), on a smaller scale by PSLV in which the module had orbited around the earth for 15 days before entering back.

SIGNIFICANCE 

With this successful GSLV Mk-III X / CARE mission, the vehicle has moved a step closer to its first developmental flight with the functional C25 cryogenic upper stage. It will be the ISRO’s most powerful rocket, capable of putting four-tonne communication satellites into orbit. This launch was also an early test of a crew module being developed for human space flight.

RELATED ARTICLE : GSLV MARK III – ITS FIRST EXPERIMENTAL FLIGHT

National Supercomputing Mission

Supercomputer

India’s plans to be a world-class computing power are taking shape as the government lays out its strategy to build a vast supercomputing grid, comprised of 73 high-performance computing facilities. The project is expected to take seven years and comes with a price tag of Rs. 4,500-crore. It will have at least 3 petascale machines about 40-times faster than the country’s current record-holder.

India’s finance ministry panel authorized the National Supercomputing Mission, which is being jointly managed by the department of science and technology and the department of electronics and information technology. However, the project still has to clear the Indian cabinet before becoming official policy.

IMPACT OF NATIONAL SUPER-COMPUTING MISSION

Professor Rajat Moona, director general of Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), described the mission as the first step to have a supercomputer machine in the top 20 list. According to Professor Moona, it will have transformative impact on research quality and quantity by facilitating the training of Indian scientists and the development of indigenous applications in medicine, agriculture and technology.

The seven-year mission will take place in two phases: the first three years will see the construction of 73 networked systems at research and education sites across the country. In the remaining four years, the focus will be on application development to make the most of this investment.

CURRENT POSITION OF INDIA

India has only 9 systems on the Top500 list ranking, India’s fastest ‘Prithvi’ (IBM made) is at 71 rank and India’s second fastest ‘ParamYuva-II’ (C-DAC made) is at 131 rank. In this computer age nation’s international importance is often measured on the number and the size of supercomputers it runs. China has 61 supercomputers in the Top 500 compared to a whopping 231 in the US.

World’s Top Ten Supercomputers

supercomputer

Every six months, the Top500 Organization ranks the five hundred fastest supercomputers in the world. And for the fourth consecutive list, China’s Tianhe-2 is on top, performing at 33.86 petaflop/s. That is nearly twice as fast as the number two computer, Cray’s Titan supercomputer.

The 44th Top 500 list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, revealed during November’s International Supercomputing Conference (ISC) in New Orleans, contained only one new entry – a 3.57 petaflops Cray CS-Storm system installed at a secret US government facility.

INDIA IN TOP-500

India has only 9 systems on the Top500 list ranking, India’s fastest ‘Prithvi’ (IBM made) is at 71 rank and India’s second fastest ‘ParamYuva-II’ (C-DAC made) is at 131 rank. In this computer age nation’s international importance is often measured on the number and the size of supercomputers it runs.

China has 61 supercomputers in the Top 500, down from 76 since June’s list, compared to a whopping 231 in the US. However, the US has never had fewer in the Top 500 – a year ago it had 265.

THE TOP TEN

1 – Tianhe-2 : Placed at China’s National University of Defence Technology in Guangzhou, Tianhe-2 is the world’s top system with a performance of 33.86 petaflops. It is named after the Milky Way.

2 – Titan : A Cray system at the US Department of the Oak Ridge National Observatory at Harvard, Massachusetts, it is a 17.5 petaflop system for a range of science projects.

3 – Sequoia : A former top-ranker, at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, concentrates on extending the life of ageing nuclear weapons and conducting experiments on nuclear fusion. This IBM Blue Gene machine can sustain 17.1 petaflops.

4 – K computer : Fujitsu’s K computer sits in Japan’s RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science, where the machine uses its 10.5 petaflops to solve the energy, sustainability, healthcare, climate change, industrial and space related problems.

5 – Mira : Another IBM Blue Gene machine, the Mira supercomputer at Argonne National Laboratory, Illinois, is owned by the US Department of Energy (DOE). It’s of 8.58 petaflops.

6 – Piz Daint : It is housed at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre, this Cray system uses its 6.27 petaflops primarily for climate and weather modelling, though also for astrophysics, materials science and life science.

7 – Stampede : This Dell-made 5.1 petaflops system at the Texas Advanced Computing Center, available for open research, with projects including drug molecule construction to weather forecasting to astrophysics.

8 – Juqueen : This IBM Blue Gene machine boasts 5 petaflops and does neuroscience, computational biology, climate research and quantum physics at the Forschungszentrum Juelich, Germany.

9 – Vulcan : Almost identical to the Juqueen, this IBM BlueGene system runs 4.29 petaflops at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California.

10 – *Top secret* : It’s a 3.57 petaflops system by Cray, this US government-owned supercomputer lacks the usual name, and its whereabouts isn’t publicly known.

Stem Cells found in the Eyes can restore Vision

Eyes

Stem cells retrieved from the area between the white and black part of an eyeball can restore the sight in those who have lost their vision due to corneal blindness. It was tested and verified in a research carried out by doctors at the LV Prasad Eye Hospital in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, USA.

According to Dr Sayan Basu, Consultant Corneal Surgeon, at LV Prasad Eye Institute, the stromal cells were found in the area between the black and white portions of the eyeball known as the limbus. When these cells are applied to injured corneas, the corneas healed in a span of four weeks of treatment.

CORNEAL BLINDNESS

There are 1,40,000 cases of corneal blindness in India. This happens because of scarring or whitening of the cornea. This happens due to infection, poke in the eye, injury, accident or any other trauma to the eye. When this scarring happens, patients lose vision.

Currently, the treatment is corneal transplant where a donor cornea is required and 25 stitches in the eye are needed. The risk of infection and rejection by the body is very high. The cornea lasts for six to eight years as the body’s immune system later attacks it.

NEW HOPE, NEW TREATMENT

Due to these issues, scientists have been looking at stem cells. The first phase of trials is being carried out at present on 10 patients at the LV Prasad Eye Hospital and the results have been very encouraging. With phase 1 to be complete by March 2015, and the results being encouraging, the hospital will involve 50 people in phase II of human trials. The system, once standardised after these processes, will be available for the public in three years time.

WHO : Improve Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air pollution

Targeting 700 million people who use solid fuel for cooking in India, the World Health Organization conducted a meeting of 11 nations in New Delhi to target the implementation of the new guidelines for indoor air quality.

According to WHO, over 60% of homes in Southeast Asia still use solid fuels for cooking. Women and children pay the heaviest price, as they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from cooking stoves. Half the deaths due to pneumonia in children aged less than five years can be attributed to household air pollution making it a leading risk factor for childhood deaths.

Exposure to air pollutants, especially fine particulate matter, is a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases in adults, causing ailments including ischaemic heart disease, stroke, chronic pulmonary disease and lung cancer, making air pollution the main avoidable environmental cause of disease and premature death globally.

In 2012, around 7 million people died as a result of air pollution exposure, accounting for one in eight of total global deaths. An estimated 40% of the deaths from indoor air pollution and 25% of those attributed to outdoor air pollution occur in the 11 countries in southeast Asia.

NEW GUIDELINES & MULTI-SECTORAL APPROACH

A set of new guidelines was launched Nov 12 this year for indoor air quality, setting targets for reducing emissions of health-damaging pollutants from domestic cooking stoves, space heaters, and fuel-based lamps. The 11 member-nations that had a major role in forming the guidelines include India, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Maldives.

Member states of southeast have shown their commitment to reduce household air pollution as part of the regional action plan for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases 2013-20, which promotes a move to cleaner stove technologies and fuels, such as liquefied petroleum gas, solar coolers, electricity and low-fume fuels such as methanol and ethanol.

At the meeting, it was stressed that a multisectoral approach is needed at all levels to bring about improvements. The health ministry would need to work with the ministries of environment, urban development, transport, energy and natural resources to combat the situation.

Pinaka Mark -II Test Fired

Pinaka

An advanced version of the indigenously developed Pinaka Mark-II rocket was successfully test-fired on Tuesday, 9 Dec 2014 from a defence base in Odisha using a multi-barrel launcher. The advanced version Mark-II rocket with a range of more than 60-km and capable of acting as a force-multiplier, was developed to supplement artillery guns.

VITAL STATS OF PINAKA 

Pinaka is a multiple rocket launcher produced in India and developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for the Indian Army. The system has a maximum range of 40 km for Mark-I and 65 km for mark-II. With a battery of six launchers, the Pinaka system can fire a salvo of 12 rockets in 44 seconds and can neutralise a target area of 3.9 sq. km. The system’s capability for incorporating several types of warheads makes it deadly for the enemy as it can destroy solid structures and bunkers.

The quick reaction time and high rate of fire of the system would give the army an edge in low-intensity conflict situations. The system is mounted on a Tatra truck for mobility. Pinaka saw service during the Kargil War, where it was successful in neutralizing enemy positions on the mountain tops. It has since been inducted into the Indian Army in large numbers.

This unguided rocket system has undergone several tough tests since 1995. Eralier this year in May, 40 km-range Pinaka mark-I with rapid salvos successfully test-fired thrice from a multi-barrel launcher at an armament base near Balasore in Odisha. According to defence sources, some more rounds of test will be conducted in the next four days.

India Signs TMT Development Agreement

tmt

On 2nd Dec 2014, Science and Technology Department of India signed a multilateral agreement admitting India‘s participation in the development of the Thirty Metre Telescope (TMT) in Hawaii. India has agreed to spend Rs. 1299.8 crores over the next decade for this project. The telescope is expected to be completed by 2024.

Institutions from the United States of America, Canada, Japan and China are also participating in the construction of the world’s largest telescope on Mount Mauna Kea. This telescope, 4207 metres above sea level, may cost more than 1.47 billion US dollars.

INDIA’S PARTICIPATION 

TMT will contain 492 hexagonal mirror segments of 82 different kinds. These will behave like a single mirror with an aperture of 30 metre diameter. This large collecting area of 650 square metres is thrice as sensitive as the Hubble Space Telescope. India’s role will primarily be to create the control systems and software that keep the mirrors aligned and collects the data. These will be manufactured by General Optics (Asia) in Puducherry, Avasarala Technolgies and Godrej in Bengaluru respectively.

India will also manufacture 100 aspherical mirror segments in Hoskote, near Bengaluru. These thin glass slabs made in Japan have minimal expansion when heated. Indian scienticts will apply a protective layer and a reflective coating using technology from Caltech.

APPLICATION

Through it scientists hope to find answers to fundamental questions about the universe. These include, how and when the first galaxies were formed, does life exist outside the Earth, the constitution of black holes and the nature of the universe’s acceleration.

Besides learning about the universe, India will gain the technology to manufacture fine aspherical mirror segments from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). According to experts, this technology will form the basis of the next generation of spy satellites. They can resolve structures up to the size of man walking on the Earth.

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