27, January 2017

1.World’s first stable semi-synthetic organism created

Source: Indian Express

Scientists have created the first stable semi-synthetic organism a single-celled bacterium that may play important roles in drug discoveries.

Every living thing has a genome composed of four natural bases (A, T, C, and G) that form two base pairs (A-T and C-G) on the DNA double helix, inserting synthetic X and Y bases into the genetic code of a single-celled bacteria

Life’s genetic code has only ever contained four natural bases. These bases pair up to form two base pairs – the rungs of the DNA ladder – and they have simply been rearranged to create all life as, from bacteria to humans.

  • Researchers have made a new ‘alien’ life-form with an expanded genetic code. The modified E.coli bacteria was made by scientists who introduced DNA molecules not found in nature to a common bacterium.
  • The E. coli bugs are able to grow and reproduce as normal despite containing two extra letters in their genetic code, paving the way for entirely new artificial life forms to be created.

The newly created bacteria now holds on to its human-created X and Y bases while it grows and divides, much like the natural A, C, G and T bases. The key, researchers say, was to tweak existing techniques.

Key facts:

  • They optimised a tool called a nucleotide transporter, which brings the materials necessary for the unnatural base pair to be copied across the cell membrane. The researchers discovered a modification to the transporter that that made it much easier for the organism to grow and divide while holding on to X and Y.
  • They then optimised their previous version of Y, creating a chemically different molecule that can be better recognised by the enzymes that synthesise DNA molecules during DNA replication. This made it easier for cells to copy the synthetic base pair.
  • Researchers then used gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 to design their organism to see a genetic sequence without X and Y as a foreign invader. A cell that dropped X and Y would be marked for destruction, leaving the scientists with an organism that could hold on to the new bases.

2.India signs oil storage pact with UAE

Source: Indian Express

India has signed a deal with United Arab Emirates (UAE), fifth biggest oil supplier as part of its quest for energy security and strategic reserve system.

As one of the fastest growing economies in the world, India needs massive investments in some key sectors, particularly infrastructure. India has signed a deal with United Arab Emirates (UAE), fifth biggest oil supplier as part of its quest for energy security and strategic reserve system.

  • The deal allows UAE’s Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. (ADNOC) to fill half (about 6 million barrels of oil) of an underground crude oil storage facility at Mangaluru, Karnataka.
  • India has already filled the other half of the Mangaluru storage in Karnataka state with six million barrels of Iranian oil. It also has filled a Vizag storage site in southern Andhra Pradesh with 7.55 million barrels of Iraqi oil and has invited bids from suppliers to fill an 18.3 million-barrel facility at Padur in Karnataka.

Background

  • As one of the fastest growing economies and world’s third-biggest oil consumer, India is building emergency storage in underground caverns to hold 36.87 million barrels of crude, or about 10 days of its average daily oil demand.
  • This move aims to hedge against energy security risks as it imports most of its oil needs.
  • In 2014, India already had started talks to lease part of its strategic storage to ADNOC.
  • Under those discussions, India was to have first rights to the stored crude in case of an emergency, while ADNOC will enable to move cargoes to meet any shift in demand.

Significance Strategic petroleum reserves have become indispensable to safeguard the economy and to help maintain national security in the event of an energy crisis.

These crude oil reserves (or stockpiles) can be held by the government of a particular country, as well as by private industry.

3.RBI stops investments to ‘non-cooperative countries’

Source Indian Express

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has prohibited Indian entities from making direct investments in any entity located in Non-Cooperative Countries and Territories (NCCT) as identified by Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

  • The prohibition is for aligning instructions under FEMA (Foreign Exchange Management Act) with the objectives of the FATF.
  • At present, there is no restriction on an Indian entity with regard to the countries where it can undertake Overseas Direct Investment (ODI).
  • The NCCT initiatives principal objective is to reduce the vulnerability of the financial system to money laundering by ensuring that all financial centres adopt and implement measures for the detection, prevention and punishment of money laundering according to internationally recognised standards.

FATF: by a Group of Seven (G-7) Summit in Paris.

  • The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) currently comprises two regional organisations and 35 member jurisdictions, including India, US, UK, China and the European Commission.
  • The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is an inter-governmental body established in 1989 by the Ministers of its Member jurisdictions mandate to establish international standards for combating money laundering and terrorist financing.
  • Its objectives are to set standards and promote effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to integrity of international financial system.
  • The FATF is therefore a “policy-making body” which works to generate the necessary political will to bring about national legislative and regulatory reforms in these areas.
  • In collaboration with other international stakeholders, the FATF works to identify national-level vulnerabilities with the aim of protecting the international financial system from misuse.
  • Initially it was only dealing with developing policies to combat money laundering. But in 2001 its purpose was expanded to act against terrorism financing.

4.Transparency puts India on list for failing to curb corruption: India in red zone on transparency list

Source: The Hindu

A major international index of corruption and transparency has placed India on the watch list for its inability to curb mega corruption scandals and petty bribery.

  • India has been ranked 79th out of 176 countries in the recently released Corruption Perception Index (CPI) for the year 2016 by the Berlin-based corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI). T
  • The index has been complied by using World Bank data, the World Economic Forum (WEF) and other institutions. It ranks countries on the score in the scale ranging from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

Key facts:

  • The annual index of Transparency International issued on for 2016 placed India with Brazil and China in the 40th position. India’s condition showed growth with inequality.
  • India’s ongoing poor performance with a score of 40 reiterates the state’s inability to effectively deal with petty corruption and large-scale corruption scandals.
  • The impact of corruption on poverty, illiteracy and policy brutality showed that not only was the economy growing but so was Due to lack of transparency in the system.

Inequality disastrous: South Asia had performed poorly. Bangladesh at 27th and Nepal at 29th positions were slotted in the highly corrupt section.

Pakistan, at 32, also came in the red zone. Afghanistan ranked 15th was in the “highly corrupt” list with South Sudan, North Korea and Libya.

5.Group housing scheme with PF funds

Source: The Hindu

EPFO proposal says it could be used to collectively buy land, build houses

The Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) has mooted a group housing scheme which will enable members to form cooperative housing societies and use their entire provident fund savings towards buying land, constructing homes or paying housing loan instalments.

Recent proposal:

  • In its recent proposal to the Labour Ministry, the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation has proposed addition of a “new paragraph 68BD as a group housing scheme.
  • So that Employees’ Provident Fund members forming a cooperative society of 10 or more employees may be given not only a one time Employees’ Provident Fund withdrawal but also an option to pay loan instalments towards housing loan to banks from the monthly contributions received in Employees’ Provident Fund Scheme, 1952.

Eligible:

  • Employees with at least three years’ subscription to the Employees’ Provident Fund scheme will be allowed to withdraw their savings for housing purposes, including repayment of loans from their monthly contributions.
  • The present Employees Provident Fund scheme is not being properly utilised to withdraw money for constructing flats or buying land.

Key facts:

  • There will be no cap on the amount of Employees’ Provident Fund savings that can be drawn for purchasing land, constructing a house or repaying housing loans, under the proposed scheme.
  • According to the proposal, members of an existing cooperative society formed under any present law can avail this scheme, provided at least 10 members of the housing society were subscribers to the Employees’ Provident Fund scheme.
  • At present, an employee who has completed five years of service is allowed to withdraw Provident Fund savings equivalent to 36 months of the member’s salary (basic salary and dearness allowance) for construction of a flat or 24 months of the salary for purchasing land.

6.Japan has successfully launched its first military communications satellite

Japan has successfully launched its first military communications satellite Kirameki-2 (kee-RAH-meh-kee 2) satellite.

It was launched on board of H-2A rocket that lifted off from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan. The satellite separated from the rocket and entered a designated orbit.

Key facts:

  • The Kirameki-2 satellite has been designed to upgrade Japan’s existing communication network in the face of China’s increasingly assertive maritime activity and North Korea’s missile threat.
  • It is the first of three satellites that will replace three civilian satellites currently used by Japan’s military.
  • The new satellites will allow military units to communicate on a high-speed and high-capacity network.
  • These satellites aimed at stepping up Japan’s emergency response capability in case of natural disaster, China’s maritime activity from southern Japanese waters to South China Sea, as well as missile threats from North Korea. They will be also used by Japanese troops operating overseas as part of international peacekeeping operations, including those off the Somali coast and in South Sudan.



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