13&14, August 2017

1.Environment Minister launches ‘Gaj Yatra’ to mark World Elephant Day 2017- AUGUST 12

Source: PIB

Union Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, launched ‘Gaj Yatra’ here today, a nationwide campaign to protect elephants on the occasion of World Elephant Day.

The campaign is planned to cover 12 elephant range states.

To the need to broad-base the movement for conservation of elephants and to involve people from all walks of life in the conservation of elephants and other wildlife.

WORLD ELEPHANT DAY: BACKGROUND

  • World Elephant Day is an annual global event celebrated across the world on August 12, dedicated to the preservation and protection of elephants.
  • The goal of World Elephant Day is to create awareness about the plight of elephants and to share knowledge and positive solutions for the better care and management of captive and wild elephants.
  • African elephants are listed as “vulnerable” and Asian elephants as “endangered” in the IUCN Red List of threatened species. As per the available population estimates, there are about 400,000 African elephants and 40,000 Asian elephants.
  • World Elephant Day is celebrated to focus the attention of various stakeholders in supporting various conservation policies to help protect elephants, including improving enforcement policies to prevent illegal poaching and trade in ivory, conserving elephant habitats, providing better treatment for captive elephants and reintroducing captive elephants into sanctuaries.
  • The elephant is part of India’s animal heritage and the Government celebrates this day to spread awareness about the conservation of the species.

Project Elephant

  • Project Elephant was launched in 1992 by the Government of India Ministry of Environment and Forests to provide financial and technical support of wildlife management efforts by states for their free ranging populations of wild Asian Elephants.
  • The project aims to ensure long-term survival of viable conservation reliant populations of elephants in their natural habitats by protecting the elephants, their habitats and migration corridors. Other goals of Project Elephant are supporting research of the ecology and management of elephants, creating conservation awareness among local people, providing improved veterinary care for captive elephants.

Objectives

Project Elephant (PE) was launched by the Government of India in the year 1992 as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme with following objectives

  • To protect elephants, their habitat & corridors
  • To address issues of man-animal conflict
  • Welfare of captive elephants

2.India, China to join Indian Ocean exercise

Source: The Hindu

Despite growing tensions with China, official sources said the Indian Navy would join the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in a maiden maritime search and rescue exercise to be chaired by Bangladesh at the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) in November this year.

Key facts:

  • Bangladesh, the current Chair, is scheduling a maiden International Maritime Search and Rescue Exercise (IMMSAREX) in November in the Bay of Bengal to be attended by ships and aircraft of the members and observers of the IONS.
  • The exercise comes at a time of intensifying competition among regional navies for dominance in the Indian Ocean — navies of China and Japan, presently observers, in addition to member states like India, France, Iran and the U.K.
  • Under the charter of business adopted in 2014, the grouping has working groups on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR), Information Security and Interoperability (IS&I) and anti-piracy now renamed as maritime security.
  • India has considerably expanded its engagement with countries to further its own interests as well as to check the rapid expansion of Chinese naval forays in the Indian Ocean. Other countries in the region are also engaged in rapid expansion of their military capabilities.

INDIAN OCEAN NAVAL SYMPOSIUM (IONS)

The IONS is a regional forum of Indian Ocean littoral states, represented by their Navy chiefs, launched by India in February 2008.

The ‘Indian Ocean Naval Symposium’ (IONS) is a voluntary initiative that seeks to increase maritime co-operation among navies of the littoral states of the Indian Ocean Region by providing an open and inclusive forum for discussion of regionally relevant maritime issues.

  • In the process, it endeavours to generate a flow of information between naval professionals that would lead to common understanding and possibly cooperative solutions on the way ahead.

There are 35 members – navies of the IONS which have been geographically grouped into the following four sub-regions:-

  1. South Asian Littorals –   Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Pakistan, Seychelles and Sri Lanka
  2. West Asian Littorals –   Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Yemen
  3. East African Littorals –   Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Eriteria, France, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan and Tanzania
  4. South East Asian and Australian Littorals –   Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Timor Leste

Principal Objectives for the IONS Construct

  • To promote a shared understanding of the maritime issues facing the littoral nation-states of the Indian Ocean and the formulation of a common set of strategies designed to enhance regional maritime security.
  • To strengthen the capability of all littoral nation-states of the Indian Ocean to address present and anticipated challenges to maritime security and stability.
  • To establish and promote a variety of trans-national, maritime, cooperative-mechanisms designed to mitigate maritime-security concerns within the Indian Ocean.
  • To develop interoperability in terms of doctrines, procedures, organisational and logistic systems and operational processes, so as to promote the development of regional naval capacities for speedy, responsive and effective Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) throughout the Indian Ocean region.

3.GIS-enabled portal maps land-related information

Source: The Hindu

The Geographic Information System-enabled database also has details of close to 3,000 industrial parks/clusters, as well as area-wise availability of agricultural/horticultural crops, and mineral production.

Key facts:

  • It currently has specific area-wise details in each state on industrial parks/clusters, the focus sectors, common facilities available for industry, industrial land in use and available industrial land, approved and pending projects, infrastructure including state/national highways, airport, ports and railway stations and electricity, Central/state government incentives, investment/employment-targets and what has been achieved, range of land sale price and lease/rent rates, waste disposal facilities, and contact details of nodal officials.
  • Data is available on agricultural crops such as fibre crops, food grains, oilseeds, plantation crops, pulses and spices, and horticultural crops, including most fruits and vegetables.
  • Also available are the details of mineral production including that of agate, apatite, bauxite, chromite, copper, diamond, flint stone, fluorite, garnet, gold, graphite, iron ore, kyanite, lead and zinc ore, lead, limeshell, limestone, magnesite, manganese ore, moulding sand, phosphorite, selenite, sillimanite, silver, sulphur, tin, vermiculite, wollastonite and zinc.
  • The database is being developed by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) and the National e-Governance Division in the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology as well as the BISAG – an institute for space applications and geo-informatics under the Gujarat Government.

Boosting employment

  • The development comes in the backdrop of the Centre firming up a new industrial and manufacturing policy to push up the contribution of the manufacturing sector in India’s GDP to 25% by 2020 from the current level of about 16%.
  • The aim is to make India a global manufacturing hub and in the process generate employment locally. The details on the database about government-approved technical institutions will indicate the availability of skilled and semi-skilled talent.
  • The Centre will soon hold workshops with other states to make them understand the importance of the database in attracting investments into the manufacturing sector and boost employment.

4.What is genome editing?

Source: The Hindu

What is it?

  • In a first, researchers from the Oregon Health and Science University along with colleagues in California, China and South Korea repaired a mutation in human embryos by using a gene-editing tool called CRISPR-Cas9.
  • The mutation seen in the MYBPC3 gene causes a common heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is marked by thickening of the heart muscle.
  • The mutation is seen in about one in 500 people and can lead to sudden death later in life.
  • It is an inherited cardiac disease and the presence of even one copy of the gene can cause symptoms, which usually manifest as heart failure. Correcting the mutation in the embryo ensures that the child is born healthy and the defective gene is not passed on to future generations. There is currently no cure for the condition.

How did it come about?

  • CRISPR-Cas9 is a system used by bacterial cells to recognise and destroy viral DNA as a form of adaptive immunity. Using components of the CRISPR system, researchers can remove, add or alter specific DNA sequences in the genome of higher organisms.
  • The gene editing tool has two components — a single-guide RNA (sgRNA) that contains a sequence that can bind to DNA, and the Cas9 enzyme which acts as a molecular scissor that can cleave DNA.
  • The genetic sequence of the sgRNA matches the target sequence of the DNA that has to be edited. In order to selectively edit a desired sequence in DNA, the sgRNA is designed to find and bind to the target.

Upon finding its target, the Cas9 enzyme swings into an active form that cuts both strands of the target DNA.

  • One of the two main DNA-repair pathways in the cell then gets activated to repair the double-stranded breaks. While one of the repair mechanisms result in changes to the DNA sequence, the other is more suitable for introducing specific sequences to enable tailored repair. In theory, the guide RNA will only bind to the target sequence and no other regions of the genome.

Why does it matter?

  • Along with sperm from a man with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the gene-editing tool was also introduced into eggs from 12 healthy women before fertilisation.
  • In normal conditions, a piece of DNA with the correct sequence serves as a template for the repair to work, although the efficiency can be significantly low. Instead of the repair template that was provided by the researchers, the cells used the healthy copy of the DNA from the egg as a template. This came as a big surprise.
  • Normally, if sperm from a father with one mutant copy of the gene is fertilized in vitro with normal eggs, 50% of the embryos would inherit the condition. When the gene-editing tool was used, 42 out of the 58 embryos did not carry the mutation. The remaining 16 embryos had unwanted additions or deletions of DNA.
  • Thus the probability of inheriting the healthy gene increased from 50 to 72.4%. There was no off-target snipping of the DNA. According to Nature, “the edited embryos developed similarly to the control embryos, with 50% reaching an early stage of development (blastocyst). This indicates that editing does not block development.”

What next?

  • Clinical trials are under way in China and in the U.S. to use this tool for treating cancer. In May this year, it was shown in mice that it is possible to shut down HIV-1 replication and even eliminate the virus from infected cells.
  • In agriculture, a new breed of crops that are gene-edited will become commercially available in a few years. In February this year, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the National Academy of Medicine said scientific advances make gene editing in human reproductive cells “a realistic possibility that deserves serious consideration.”

5.Increased hunting of waterbirds leads to reduced diversity

Source: The Hindu

Hunting, apart from being a serious threat, is also one of the least studied causes of diversity loss

  • What used to be low-intensity, subsistence hunting has now transformed into a commercial, lucrative livelihood option.
  • A recent study shows that increased hunting of wild waterbirds is decreasing bird numbers as well as drastically altering bird communities in some of the country’s wetlands.

Report:

  • India’s wetlands — natural and manmade — account for nearly 4.7% of the country’s total geographic area. They provide numerous ecosystem services, including serving as refugia for nearly one-fifth of the country’s biodiversity, such as migratory birds. However, many of these waterbirds are hunted illegally in wetlands.
  • Scientists documented waterbird communities and their habitats in 27 wetlands in Tamil Nadu’s Kanchipuram district and interviewed 272 practising hunters to know the species hunted, hunting intensities and motivations for hunting.
  • Of the 53 bird species recorded in these 27 wetlands, 47 are hunted. Hunters usually preferred to poach larger birds, thus altering bird communities by skewing it towards smaller species
  • The large waterbirds hunted include Black-headed ibis, Asian openbill, Eurasian spoonbill, glossy ibis, great egret, painted stork and spot-billed pelican.
  • Birds even in protected wetland sites were not spared — hunting was prevalent in one (Karikilli bird sanctuary) of the two protected wetland sites. Nearly 1,750 waterbirds are hunted per wetland each season every year. The hunting is primarily between December and April and at dawn and dusk when birds are more active.

Karikilli bird sanctuary

  • Karikili Bird Sanctuary is one of the famous bird sanctuaries located in Kanchipuram District in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
  • It is situated close to the small town of Padalam and is almost 86 Kms from Chennai in Madurantakam Taluk of Chengai Anna District.
  • The sanctuary is spread over an area of 61.21 ha and comprises of two rain fed irrigation tanks. The sanctuary is one of the most beautiful and tranquil place to visit. The sanctuary is a habitat for many migratory birds like billed storks that arrive here during the months from September and October. It is also a haven for ducks and waders.

6.Indian Coast Guard ship ‘Shaurya’ commissioned in Goa

Source: Indian Express

Indian Coast Guard ship “Shaurya”, the fifth in the series of six 105-metre offshore patrol vessels (OPVs), was recently commissioned in Goa.

Key facts:

  • The OPV, which draws 2,350 tonne and is propelled by 9100 kilowatt diesel engine, has been designed and built indigenously by Goa Shipyard Ltd and is fitted with state-of-the-art navigation and communication equipment, sensors and machineries.
  • The features include 30mm CRN 91 Naval Gun, integrated bridge system, integrated machinery control system, power management system and high-power external fire fighting system.
  • The ship is designed to carry one twin engine light helicopter and five high-speed boats, including two quick reaction inflatable boats for swift boarding operations, search and rescue, law enforcement and maritime patrol. The ship is also capable of carrying pollution response equipment to contain oil spill at sea.



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