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Current Events 21 May 2016



21 MAY 2016


Ordinance cleared to keep States out of NEET this year

Facing pressure from the State governments, the Union Cabinet  cleared an ordinance bypassing the Supreme Court’s decision on the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET), a common test for admission to medical and dental courses.

NEET Phase II will still be held for Central government and private medical colleges. And the States will be allowed to conduct their own entrance exams for this academic session. The ordinance, if promulgated, will apply to State government seats, depending on which State has how many seats in the State quota.


Largest gene database of Indians soon

In a step to create one of the largest repositories of Indian genomes, Bangalore-based Medgenome has teamed up with a southeast Asian consortium that has committed to sequence 100,000 Asian genomes. Were it to work to plan this could mean a consolidated storehouse of at least 30,000 Indian genomes and could help understand the wide genetic variety in India’s various ethnic groups and midwife customized medications for cancer and heart disease as well as identify possible new genetic aberrations that cause untreatable diseases.

The project will develop in phases with an initial 1000 genomes, consisting of India and East Asian populations, sequenced within this year and the entire database to be ready by 2020. Medgenome already has a bank of 200 Indian genomes.

$120 million project

The project will cost $120 million (approx. Rs 800 crore) though only about half of that has been firmed up. Other key collaborators in the project are Singapore’s Nanyang Technological Institute, Singapore and Macrogen, a genetics diagnostic company in Seoul. Nearly 60 petabytes of data—equivalent to 30 trillion pages of text—are expected to be churned out in this study. Though all this data would be publicly available to researchers, access to it would be staggered. “We will release it all over 3-4 years but the main contributors to the project would access this earlier,” Pratapneni told The Hindu.

Though human genome sequencing is a frontier area of biotechnology, it was prohibitively expensive. Technology advancement has made prices dramatically drop, enabling several companies to offer genome sequencing services. Experts however say that while the cost of sequencing has fallen it’s the analysis of genes that adds value and that would mean being able to access and compare huge datasets.

While many diseases are linked to genes going awry, afflictions such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer etc are usually the result of several genes malfunctioning, and often in a domino-like effect. Identifying such culprits are impossible without comparing genes, across individuals and population groups, in large numbers. Thus BRCA 1 and BRCA 2—genes associated with breast cancer—are found in as many as one-third of women. Several of them go on to live without ever contracting the cancer. These genes come in several varieties that can very on the level of families as well as ethnicities. Genome sequence studies are effective in studying such variations.


Iran, Qatar, U.S. on Modi’s next itinerary

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will make a series of visits in the next few weeks, with the main stops being Iran, Qatar and the U.S., the External Affairs Ministry announced .He is expected to travel to Afghanistan before going to Qatar and the U.S. in June, sources confirmed.

Game changer

The trilateral agreement using Chabahar-Zahedan-Zaranj as a corridor will be a game changer for regional connectivity, especially for Afghanistan, to find an assured and reliable alternative access to India via sea. The route will also significantly enhance prospects for India’s connectivity with Afghanistan, Central Asia and beyond through synergies with other initiatives such as North South Transport Corridor.

Sources said the outstanding issue of fixing the channel for India to repay approximately $6.5 billion to Iran for previous oil dues was also resolved, and was likely to be announced after the bilateral meetings between Mr. Modi and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Among the other agreements expected to be discussed are the one to develop the Chabahar port and the ongoing negotiations for the Farzad-B oilfields. “

Mr. Modi was expected to travel to Afghanistan for the inauguration of the $300- million Salma Dam built by India .

Obama farewell

Mr. Modi and Mr. Obama are expected to wrap up several pending agreements. Officials say the final details are still being negotiated for the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement that would help Indian and U.S. militaries access each others’ bases and key installations.


40 million Indians at risk from rising sea levels: UN report

Nearly 40 million Indians will be at risk from rising sea levels by 2050, with people in Mumbai and Kolkata having the maximum exposure to coastal flooding in future due to rapid urbanisation and economic growth, according to a UN environment report.

The ‘Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-6): Regional Assessments’ said the worst impacts of climate change are projected to occur in the Pacific and South and South-East Asia.

It said focussing on the population at risk from sea-level rise by 2050, seven of the 10 most vulnerable countries worldwide are in the Asia Pacific region.

India tops chart

India tops the chart with nearly 40 million people in the country projected to be at risk from rising sea levels, followed by more than 25 million in Bangladesh, over 20 million in China and nearly 15 million in the Philippines.

It said changes in settlement patterns, urbanisation and socio-economic status in Asia have influenced observed trends in vulnerability and exposure to climate extremes.

The report said in many coastal areas, growing urban settlements have also affected the ability of natural coastal systems to respond effectively to extreme climate events, rendering them more vulnerable.

“Some countries, such as China, India and Thailand, are projected to face increased future exposure to extremes, especially in highly urbanised areas, as a result of rapid urbanisation and economic growth,” it said.

It listed Mumbai and Kolkata in India, Guangzhou and Shanghai in China, Dhaka in Bangladesh, Yangon in Myanmar, Bangkok in Thailand, and Ho Chi Minh City and Hai Phong in Vietnam as projected to have the largest population exposure to coastal flooding in 2070.

The report, published ahead of the UN Environment Assembly taking place in Nairobi next week, said the worst impacts of climate change are projected to occur in the Pacific and South and Southeast Asia.

On coastal areas highly exposed to cyclones and typhoons, the poor tend to be more exposed to natural disasters because they live on land open to hazards.

Combined impact

Evidence suggests that climate change and climate variability and sea-level rise will exacerbate multi-dimensional poverty in most developing countries.

By 2050, areas of storm surge zones are expected for Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines, with a combined total of over 58 million people at risk.

The UN report further said global urban populations are projected to increase by 2.5 billion by 2050, with nearly 90 per cent of the increase in Asia and Africa.


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