How gene therapy could cure cancer
GS Paper 3: Developments in Science and Technology
Prelims exam: About CRISPR, Cas9
Mains exam: Significance of CRISPR CaS9
Why in News?
Scientists in the United Kingdom testing a new form of cancer therapy, reported success in a teenaged girl, Alyssia, with a form of cancer called T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
What happens in this form of cancer?
- T-cells, which are a class of white blood cells, equipped to hunt and neutralise threats to the body, turn against the body and end up destroying healthy cells that normally help with immunity.
- The disease is rapid and progressive and is usually treated by chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
What is ‘base editing?’
- A person’s genetic code is several permutations of four bases: Adenine (A), Guanin (G), cytosine (C) and thymine (T). Sequences of these bases, akin to letters in the alphabet, spell out genes that are instructions to produce the wide array of proteins necessary for the body’s functions.
- In Alyssia’s case, her T-cells perhaps because of a mis-arrangement in the sequence of bases had become cancerous.
- A way to correct this mis-arrangement could mean a healthier immune system.
- In the last two decades, the world of biomedical engineering has been enthused by a technique that allow genes to be altered and errors ‘fixed.’
- The most popular among these approaches has been the CRISPR-cas9 system.
- Inspired by how certain bacteria defend themselves against viruses, by snipping out and storing pieces of their genes, the CRISPR-cas 9 system, consists of an enzyme that acts like molecular scissors.
- It can be made to cut a piece of DNA at a precise location and a guide RNA can be used to insert a changed genetic code at the sites of incision.
- While there are a few ways to effect such changes, the CRISPR-cas9 system is believed to be the fast, most versatile system to effect such gene editing.
- David Liu, of the Broad Institute, Massachusetts has improvised on the CRISPR-cas9 system to be able to directly change certain bases: thus, a C can be changed into a G and T into an A.
While still a nascent technology, base editing is reportedly more effective at treating blood disorders which are caused by so-called single point mutations, or when a change in a single base pair can cause terminal disease.
How did base-editing work for Alyssia’s therapy?
- The objective of the gene therapy in the case of T-cell leukamia was to fix her immune system in a way that it stops making cancerous T-cells.
- First, healthy T-cells were extracted from a donor and put through a series of edits.
- The first base edit blocked the T-cells targeting mechanism so it would cease attacking Alyssa’s body, the second removed a chemical marking, called CD7, which is on all T-cells and the third prevented the cells being killed by a chemotherapy drug.
- Finally, the T-cells were programmed to destroy all cells cancerous or protective with CD7 marked on it. After spending a month in remission, she was given a second donor transplant to regrow her immune system that would contain healthy T-cells.
CRISPR (Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)
CRISPR Cascade protein (cyan) bound to CRISPR RNA (green) and phage DNA (red)
- CRISPR is a family of DNA sequences found in the genomes of prokaryotic organisms such as bacteria and archaea.
- These sequences are derived from DNA fragments of bacteriophages that had previously infected the prokaryote.
- They are used to detect and destroy DNA from similar bacteriophages during subsequent infections.
- Hence these sequences play a key role in the antiviral (i.e. anti-phage) defense system of prokaryotes and provide a form of acquired immunity.
- CRISPR is found in approximately 50% of sequenced bacterial genomes and nearly 90% of sequenced archaea.
- Cas9 (or “CRISPR-associated protein 9”) is an enzyme that uses CRISPR sequences as a guide to recognize and cleave specific strands of DNA that are complementary to the CRISPR sequence.
- Cas9 enzymes together with CRISPR sequences form the basis of a technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 that can be used to edit genes within organisms.
- This editing process has a wide variety of applications including basic biological research, development of biotechnological products, and treatment of diseases.
- The development of the CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technique was recognized by the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020 which was awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna.
- In 2022, based on evidence presented in Interference 106, 115, the PTAB tipped the scale for invention covering application of CRISPR-Cas9 in eukaryotic cells in favour of Feng Zhang, a professor of the Broad Institute.
India – China Trade
GS Paper 3: Growth
Prelims exam: Data about Trade between India & China
Mains exam: Significance of India-China Trade
Why in News?
India’s imports from China rose sharply after June 2020, despite the Galwan clash. While India’s top trading partners in recent years have been China and the US, there’s a big difference between the trade with the two.
- China is India’s second biggest trading partner after the United States.
- In 2021-22, India-China bilateral trade stood at $115.83 billion, which was 11.19 per cent of India’s total merchandise trade of $1,035 billion.
India’s Trading Scenario
- Till 20 years ago, China figured at the 10th position (2001-12) or lower (12th in 2000-01
- 16th in 1999-00, 18th in 1998-99)
- From 2002-03, it started an upward march and became India’s top trading partner in 2011-12.
- China bounced back and again became India’s top trading partner in 2013-14, and remained there till 2017-18.
- In (2018-19 and 2019-20), the US was at the top but in 2020-21, China again became India’s number trading partner.
- Apart from the US and China, the other eight countries and regions among India’s top-10 trading partners during 2021-22 were UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, South Korea, and Australia.
Sharp spike in trade deficit
- India’s trade deficit with China has increased from $1 billion to $73 billion in the past 21 years.
- Data show that imports from China have skyrocketed since the beginning of this century from $2 billion in 2001-02 to $94.57 billion in 2021-20.
- However, during this period, India’s exports to China have increased at a snail’s pace—from about $1 billion to $21 billion.
- Due to this surge in imports, India’s trade deficit with China has increased from about $1 billion in 2001-02 to $73 billion.
- During the first seven months (April-October) of the current financial year (2022-23), India’s trade deficit with China stood at $51 billion, which was 39 per cent higher than the figure ($37 billion) recorded in the corresponding period of the last fiscal.
- In fact, China alone accounted for over one-third of India’s total trade deficit ($191 billion) during 2021-22.
- The rising gap between imports and exports from China is evident from the fact that two decades ago, India’s imports accounted for about 60 per cent of the total bilateral trade between two countries, but now it is over 80 per cent.
Imports up significantly since Galwan clash
- An analysis of the trade data shows that the recent spike in trade with China is due to an unprecedented surge in imports from the neighbouring country in recent years.
- The monthly figure of imports from China, that hit a low of $3.32 billion in June 2020 during the Covid lockdown, started rising soon after easing of restrictions and rose to $5.58 billion in the following month (July 2020).
- Since then, it continued rising and scaled a new peak of $10.24 billion in July this year.
- The figure of average monthly imports from China has increased from $5.43 billion in 2020-21 to $7.88 billion in 2021-22.
- In the first seven months (April-October) of the financial year 2022-23, the figure reached $8.61 billion.
- In the pre-Covid times, the average monthly import figure stood at $5.43 billion during 2019-20.
- For the first time since June 2020, there has been a slight dip in imports from China in October 2022, with the figure coming down to $7.85 billion from $8.69 billion a year ago.
What India buys from China
- During 2021-22, 15.42 per cent ($94.57 billion) of India’s total imports ($613.05 billion) came from China.
- The top commodities that India bought included:
- Electrical machinery and equipment and parts thereof
- Sound recorders and reproducers,
- Television image and sound recorders and reproducers and parts;
- Nuclear reactors
- Machinery and
- Mechanical appliances and parts of thereof
- Organic chemicals
- Plastic and
- Plastic articles and
A look at the item-wise list of the imports shows that the most-valued Chinese item in the Indian import basket was the personal computer (laptop, palmtop etc), which accounted for $5.34 billion in 2021-22. It was followed by ‘monolithic integrated circuits-digital’ ($4 billion), lithium-ion ($1.1 billion), solar cells ($3 billion) and urea ($1.4 billion).
What China buys from India
- In 2021-22, India’s exports to China stood at $21.25 billion, which was 5 per cent of India’s total shipments ($422 billion).
- Among the top commodities China bought from India included:
- Slag and ash ($2.5 billion),
- Organic chemicals ($2.38 billion),
- Mineral fuels,
- Mineral oils and
- Products of their distillation,
- Bituminous substances,
- Mineral waxes ($1.87 billion),
- Iron and steel ($1.4 billion),
- Aluminum and articles of thereof ($1.2 billion) and
- Cotton ($1.25 billion).
Among single items, light Naphtha ($1.37 billion) was India’s most valued export item to China during 2021-22.
Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2021
GS Paper 2: Government policies and interventions for the development of various sectors
Prelims exam: About Wildlife Protection Act 1972
Mains exam: Significance of Recent Amendments in Bill
Why in News?
The Bill seeks to increase the species protected under the law, and implement the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The Bill also amends the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.
- Currently, the Act has six schedules for specially protected plants (one), specially protected animals (four), and vermin species (one).
- Vermin refers to small animals that carry disease and destroy food.
- The Bill reduces the total number of schedules to four by:
- reducing the number of schedules for specially protected animals to two (one for greater protection level),
- removes the schedule for vermin species, and
- inserts a new schedule for specimens listed in the Appendices under CITES (scheduled specimens).
Obligations under CITES
The Bill provides for the central government to designate a:
(i) Management Authority, which grants export or import permits for trade of specimens, and
(ii) Scientific Authority, which gives advice on aspects related to impact on the survival of the specimens being traded.
Every person engaging in trade of a scheduled specimen must report the details of the transaction to the Management Authority. As per CITES, the Management Authority may use an identification mark for a specimen.
The Bill prohibits any person from modifying or removing the identification mark of the specimen. Additionally, every person possessing live specimens of scheduled animals must obtain a registration certificate from the Management Authority.
Invasive alien species
- The Bills empowers the central government to regulate or prohibit the import, trade, possession or proliferation of invasive alien species.
- Invasive alien species refers to plant or animal species which are not native to India and whose introduction may adversely impact wild life or its habitat.
- The central government may authorise an officer to seize and dispose the invasive species.
Control of sanctuaries
- The Act entrusts the Chief Wild Life Warden to control, manage and maintain all sanctuaries in a state. The Chief Wild Life Warden is appointed by the state government.
- The Bill specifies that actions of the Chief Warden must be in accordance with the management plans for the sanctuary.
- These plans will be prepared as per guidelines of the central government, and as approved by the Chief Warden.
- For sanctuaries falling under special areas, the management plan must be prepared after due consultation with the concerned Gram Sabha.
- Special areas include a Scheduled Area or areas where the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 is applicable.
- Scheduled Areas are economically backward areas with a predominantly tribal population, notified under the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution.
- Under the Act, state governments may declare areas adjacent to national parks and sanctuaries as a conservation reserve, for protecting flora and fauna, and their habitat.
- The Bill empowers the central government to also notify a conservation reserve.
Surrender of captive animals
- The Bill provides for any person to voluntarily surrender any captive animals or animal products to the Chief Wild Life Warden.
- No compensation will be paid to the person for surrendering such items. The surrendered items become property of the state government.
- For ‘General violations’, maximum fine is increased from 25,000 to 1 lakh.
- In case of Specially protected animals, the minimum fine of Rs. 10,000 has been enhanced to Rs. 25,000.
Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972
- The Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted for protection of plants and animal species. Before 1972, India had only five designated national parks.
- Among other reforms, the Act established scheduled protected plant and hunting certain animal species or harvesting these species was largely outlawed.
- The Act provides for the protection of wild animals, birds and plants; and for matters connected therewith or ancillary or incidental thereto. It extends to the whole of India.
- It has six schedules which give varying degrees of protection.
- Schedule I and part II of Schedule II provide absolute protection -offences under these are prescribed the highest penalties.
- Species listed in Schedule III and Schedule IV are also protected, but the penalties are much lower.
- Animals under Schedule V, e.g. common crows, fruit bats, rats and mice, are legally considered vermin and may be hunted freely.
- The specified endemic plants in Schedule VI are prohibited from cultivation and planting.
- The hunting to the Enforcement authorities have the power to compound offences under this Schedule (i.e. they impose fines on the offenders).
- Up to April 2010 there have been 16 convictions under this act relating to the death of tigers.
CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species)
- CITES (shorter name for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as the Washington Convention) is a multilateral treaty to protect endangered plants and animals from the threats of international trade.
- It was drafted as a result of a resolution adopted in 1963 at a meeting of members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
- The convention was opened for signature in 1973 and CITES entered into force on 1 July 1975.
- Its aim is to ensure that international trade (import/export) in specimens of animals and plants included under CITES, does not threaten the survival of the species in the wild.
- This is achieved via a system of permits and certificates. CITES affords varying degrees of protection to more than 38,000 species.
Why are India’s slowing exports a cause for concern?
GS Paper 3: Growth
Prelims exam: About Current Scenario of India’s Export
Mains exam: Reasons of
Why in News?
India’s exports declined about 16.7% in October compared with the year-earlier period. This is the first slide reported for any month since February 2021.
How is the export sector faring?
- Engineering goods, which have lent a strong shoulder to India’s goods exports in recent years, slid 21%.
- The Engineering Export Promotion Council of India attributed the slowdown to high inflation in developed regions, falling demand in China, slowdown in the EU and the U.S. and the Russia-Ukraine war.
- The Commerce Ministry pointed out that for October, a decline of $2 billion worth of exports was seen in steel and allied products, highlighting the fact that the government had levied an export duty on these products to help increase local availability and hence temper local prices.
- The Ministry also highlighted that in the month of Diwali every year, workers tend to take leave, thus impacting output. Therefore, one should wait and see whether export decline was only a blip or whether it was a trend that would stay.
Is domestic demand enough?
- The monthly Finance Ministry review for October acknowledges a slowing export scenario but emphasizes that domestic demand will carry through.
- The report states that the global slowdown is driven by a ‘confluence of stubbornly high inflation, rising borrowing costs and geopolitical tensions’, but cites local demand as being ‘resilient’.
- It also expects a ‘re-invigorated’ investment cycle which will spur growth and job creation in the coming days.
- Ministry says that recently, inflation has been driven up more by local factors, including higher food prices, than imported reasons and that those pressures are set to dampen thanks to easing international commodity prices and the arrival of Kharif crop.
- (Retail inflation has been consistently above 7% these past few months, but stood at 6.8% in October).
- Sure enough, consumer inflation eased to 5.88% for November.
- In the monthly report, the Ministry also pinned hope on the fact that the last month saw the lowest sign-ons this year for the employment guarantee scheme MGNREGS. It is hoping that a spike in tractor sales in September and October reflects improved sentiment.
Positive Signal for the Economy
- The private sector capital expenditure is on track to touch six lakh crore this fiscal which would make it the highest of the past six years.
- Private capex typically depends on credit, or loans, from the banking system.
- And that has seen a healthy growth in the recent past touching a high of 18% last month.
What about our foreign reserves?
- India’s exports declined about 16.7% in October compared with the year-earlier period. This is the first slide reported for any month since February 2021.
- Vietnam, an export-dominated country, recorded a 4.5% growth in exports from a year earlier to $29.18 billion amid ‘sustained foreign demand’,
- For the week ended December 2, foreign exchange reserves stood at about $561 billion. If we take October imports at $56.7 billion (an eight-month low) as a benchmark, then we have roughly about 9-10 months’ worth of import cover which isn’t as healthy as the 14-to-15-month cover that we had seen during the pandemic.