Special Current Affair for IBPS Exams : Science & Technology Part - 10

Special Current Affair for IBPS Exam

Topic: Science & Technology Part- 10

2.2 Billion Year Old Fossils discovered

The latest study led by geologist Gregory Retallack of University of Oregon has presented the evidence for life on the earth, which dates back to 2.2 billion years, back. The team of Retallack in their study has mentioned about the 2.2 billion year old fossils of size of about the match stick head, which were connected in bunches by threads. The fossil was discovered from the ancient soil of South Africa and has been named Diskagma Buttonii, which means disc-shaped fragments of Andy Button. To verify and document and verify that the Diskagma buttonii was a fossil, X-ray imaging was performed. As a result of the X-ray imaging the researchers described the fossils as the strange, little hollow urn-shaped structures with a terminal cup and basal attachment tube.

Diskagma Buttonii fossils bear resemblance with three living organisms of present time. The organisms are:

  • Leocarpus fragilis found in Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness

  • Lichen Cladonia Ecmocyna gathered near Fishtrap Lake in Montana

  • Fungus Geosiphon pyriformis from near Darmstadt, Germany

It is also similar to the 2.8 billion year old Thucomyces lichenoides fossil in morphology and size. The Thucomyces lichenoides were also discovered in South Africa. The two fossils can be differentiated just with the chemical composition of each-other, which is completely different. The discovered fossil is four times as old as the previous fossilized evidence of land life, and nearly half as old as Earth itself. At present, it is unclear that what exactly the discovered fossils are as the ancient fossil resembles with the modern soil organism called Geosiphan. Geosiphan is a fungus with a central cavity filled with symbiotic Cyanobacteria. At present, a 0.3 to 1.8 mm long fossil represents the benchmark for the age of the land dwelling known fossil. Fossil soils that act as the host of the fossils are considered as evidence that marks for the rise of the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere at about 2.4 billion to 2.2 billion years ago. This is widely referred as the Great Oxidation Event. And at the time, when the latest discovered fossil, Diskagma Buttonii existed the air on earth rose about 5 percent oxygen, which is comparatively lower than the 21 percent oxygen content of present time. But, before the Great Oxidation Event, there hardly existed any oxygen on earth. The researchers believe that the fossils are the only promising candidate that supports the existence of the oldest known eukaryote. These were the organisms with cells that contained complex structures, and had a nucleus, within membranes. The research was published in a journal Precambrian Research.

Software tool to curb Dengue and Malaria developed

A software tool that can control and reduce the outbreak of Mosquito-borne diseases by data mining (Knowledge Discovering) has been developed by scientists of the CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT) Hyderabad. This IT tool has been validated by the Central Government and taken up for implementation by health authorities in five States of States Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Assam and Mizoram in the initial phase which will be extended to all other States in a phased manner. This technology has been developed by Dr. U.S.N. Murthy, Chief Scientist, Biology Division, CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT) and his team by improvising and customising Self Organising Map (SOM), a cluster technique in data mining.

SOM technology would enable health officials to prioritise control parameters in endemic zones at village level and initiate measures to minimise morbidity and mortality, caused by the onset of vector-borne diseases. SOM technology can help to alert health authorities to take up larval and adult spraying before the transmission of parasite by the mosquito. Mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, Japanese encephalitis and dengue are posing a serious public health problem in India and other South-East Asian Countries, with some of them were occurring in an epidemic form on a periodical basis.

The North East of India parts account for about 10.5 per cent of malaria cases and 20 per cent of the deaths. The technology works on two ways -one relating to the names of the villages and the second focusing on mosquito density, infection, infectivity and parasitic load. Based on these parameters, a complete mapping of the villages could be done in terms of prioritising control parameters.

Another Software for rapid diagnosis of Dengue

  • A software tool that can rapidly diagnose dengue fever based on symptoms and clinical parameters has been developed by scientists of the CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT) Hyderabad.

  • The Dengue Decision Support System (DDSS) has been developed by U.S N. Murty, Chief Scientist and Head of Biology Division of IICT.

  • DDSS would help health authorities in finding out the disease within 10-15 minutes, which was vital in saving the life of the patient.

  • Dengue is transmitted by the bite of an Aedes mosquito infected with any one of the four dengue viruses. It occurs in tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world. It is estimated that Dengue infects approximately 50-100 million people every year across the world.

‘Himalayan tsunami’ analysed

The recent torrential monsoon rains in Uttarakhand and the subsequent floods which left thousands dead and caused extensive damage to property and institutions in the region could have been caused, surprisingly, by the paucity of low-pressure systems (convective activity) in the Western Pacific Ocean. So, hypothesises Dr. M.R. Ramesh Kumar. Dr. Kumar is Chief Scientist, Physical Oceanography Division, National Institute of Oceanography, Goa.

Convective activity in Bay of Bengal and Eastern Equatorial Indian Ocean brings rainfall over the subcontinent while convective activity in the Western Pacific Ocean diverts rain-bearing winds away from the subcontinent. The monsoon advanced and covered the subcontinent a whole month ahead of usual and brought copious rainfall all over, including Uttarakhand. In the months of March, April and May there were very few convective systems in the Western Pacific Ocean while there was ample convective activity in the Bay of Bengal and Eastern Equatorial Indian Ocean.

Dr. Kumar explained in a telephone communication to this correspondent that convective activity is associated with low pressure systems and these attract moisture-bearing winds. In the ‘competition’ to attract moisture-bearing winds, Bay of Bengal came first due to high convectional activity followed by Eastern Equatorial Indian Ocean while the Western Pacific lost out due to low convection.

This brought about a rapid advance of the monsoon across the subcontinent by winds originating in the western Indian Ocean (including Arabian Sea). Another cause for heavy flooding of rivers, explains Dr. Kumar, was that it snowed heavily in the Himalayas in the pre-monsoon season (March, April and May).

By June, the snow started melting, thereby increasing the water levels in rivers which originate from the Himalayas or downstream of the Himalayas.

Another contributing factor was the intense rainfall events in the month of June, which actually helped in causing the snow to melt much faster. Explaining the role of rainfall in snow and ice melting, Dr. Kumar notes in an email to this correspondent: “Water, which has a higher heat capacity than air, helps in melting of snow or ice much faster when they come in contact with it even when both air and water have the same temperature.
The molecules in liquid water are more tightly packed than the molecules in air, allowing more contact with the snow or ice and a greater rate of heat transfer. This accelerates the process of snow and ice melting.”

Rare Saturn-Earth Photobomb Picture released

US space agency, NASA on 19 July 2013 has released a rare photo of the Earth and moon taken from the vantage point of the outer solar system, with Saturn’s rings in the shot.

The images were taken at a distance of 1.4 billion Kilometres away by the NASA’S Cassini spacecraft. The image is actually taken in its colour form.

The chance to photobomb another planet drew 20000 participants, although the Earth appears as just a tiny speck in the final image. It is important here to note that on 19 July 2013 Earth-imaging event marked the first time Earthlings and had advance notice that their portrait was being taken from interplanetary distances. The image is the first to capture the Saturn system with Earth in natural color, as human eyes would see it. It was also the first to capture Earth and its moon with Cassini’s highest-resolution camera. From Cassini’s point of view, Saturn’s rings are too wide to capture in a single image, so the spacecraft has taken a series of exposures. The image was taken when Sun had moved behind Saturn from the spacecraft’s point of view, which in turn has blocked out most of the light that would otherwise have damaged the camera’s delicate detectors.

About Cassini Spacecraft

Cassini Spacecraft is designed to explore the Saturnian system from orbit: the planet and its atmosphere, rings and magnetosphere, and its moons, particularly Titan and the icy satellites. Cassini also carried Europe’s Huygens probe to its rendezvous with Titan. After successfully completing the first in-depth, up-close study of Saturn and its realm from orbit, Cassini is on an extended mission to follow up on the many discoveries made during its primary 4-year mission. Among the most surprising discoveries were geysers erupting on Enceladus and the dynamic effects of it and other moons on Saturn’s rings. Cassini’s observations of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, have given scientists a glimpse of what our home planet might have been like before life evolved on Earth.

New four-quark particle at low energy found

There is excitement among particle physicists following evidence of the existence of a four-quark particle which has been seen in two experiments — the Belle particle detector in Japan and in BESIII detector in China. In two recently published papers in Physical Review Letters, M. Ablikim et al and Z.Q. Liu et al., of BESIII and Belle, respectively, describe the detection of a “new charged charmoniumlike” state. The particle, named Z{-c}(3900), is a composite of two quarks and two antiquarks. This arrangement differs from what is known about strongly interacting particles. Strongly interacting particles called hadrons are believed to exist in two varieties, three-quark states, named the “baryons” (protons, neutrons, etc) and quark-antiquark bound states called the “mesons” (pions, kaons, etc). These have been the only strongly interacting particles observed and considered by theorists for a long time.

Atoms and molecules arise from two kinds of electric charges: positive and negative. But quarks, which are bound together by strong interactions, have three kinds of charges which are characterised by a quantum number called colour (as three kinds of primary colours exist). The theory describing the strong interaction of quarks is called quantum chromodynamics or QCD.

Coloured quarks like the North or South Pole of a magnet can never be isolated, and all particles have to be colour-neutral. The simplest way to build up particles with these is to consider quark-antiquark pairs or states made of all three quarks. Now this new particle that has been discovered, which consists of two quarks and two antiquarks, is again a perfectly valid state, being colour-neutral. “The observation of unexpected resonances is not completely new, and some resonances have been seen in several of the experiments including ones at LHC,” says Dr Rahul Sinha, a member of the Belle collaboration, in Japan, and a theoretical physicist at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai. However, the discovery of the new quark particle at low energies shows that there is a lot to be understood about bound-state formation in QCD and the nature of hadrons. There is a debate about whether the particle is a “molecule” made up of two mesons or a true “tetraquark.” But Dr Sinha favours the tetraquark interpretation because the state is more stable than it would be had it been a loosely bound molecule.

Biosensor for Measuring Athletes’ Exhaustion Level Developed

Researchers from the UC San Diego developed a biosensor which can alert the athletes, marathoners, competitive bikers as well as extreme athletes when they are about to get exhausted. This biosensor should be applied to the human skin in order to receive alerts. The device can also be useful for the soldiers as well as other people engaged in intense kinds of exercises. This biosensor could also be used to monitor the fitness as well as stamina of the athletes. Researcher Joseph Wang as well as his colleagues from the UC San Diego explained sensor has the capability of monitoring lactate, which is a kind of lactic acid released in the sweat. Lactate is formed when the muscles require more energy than a human body can supply. In such a case, the human body shifts to anaerobic metabolism, thereby producing lactate as well as lactic acid. The researchers explained that this can help for a little while, but eventually when the lactate starts building up in the body; it causes a lot of fatigue as well as bonking out and compels the athlete to stop exercise.

The team of Joseph Wang wanted to develop such an approach which is better than the present methods because measurement of lactate is very difficult and requires blood samples. Also, there is a disadvantage that it does not provide immediate results. The researchers explained that the first human test of a biosensor for measuring lactate, when applied to skin was like a temporary tattoo. It sticks on the skin and flexes together with the body movements. Therefore, it is capable of measuring the lactate levels absolutely accurately during the sweat exercise. The researchers, in the meanwhile, also explained that the skin-worn metabolite biosensors could also be useful in providing insights into the physical performance as well as the complete physiological status of a person, thereby offering a promise for the diverse sport, biomedical applications as well as military. Research in the future in context with this, will further help in correlating sweat lactate levels with blood lactate levels, performance as well as fitness.

New Discovery may Explain Earth’s Origin

Scientists still have doubts over the theory that Earth arose from the collision of asteroids, as its composition does not resemble that of meteoroids — the small particles that break off from asteroids. The Earth’s mantle is missing an amount of lead found in meteorites whose composition has been analyzed following impact with the Earth. Much of the Earth is composed of rocks with a high ratio of uranium to lead (uranium naturally decays to lead over time). However, according to standard theories of planetary evolution, the Earth should harbour a reservoir of mantle somewhere in its interior that has a low ratio of uranium to lead, to match the composition of meteorites. But such a reservoir has yet to be discovered — a detail that leaves Earth’s origins hazy. Now researchers in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences have identified a “hidden flux” of material in the Earth’s mantle that would make the planet’s overall composition much more similar to that of meteorites. This reservoir likely takes the form of extremely dense, lead-laden rocks that crystallize beneath island arcs, strings of volcanoes that rise up at the boundary of tectonic plates. As plates subduct, material is pushed from the crust down into the mantle. At the same time, molten material from the mantle rises up to the crust, and is ejected via volcanoes onto the Earth’s surface. According to the MIT researchers’ observations and calculations, however, up to 70 per cent of this rising magma crystallizes into dense rock-dropping, lead-like, back into the mantle, where it remains relatively undisturbed. The lead-heavy flux, they say, puts the composition of the Earth’s mantle on a par with that of meteorites. “This has a lot of implications for understanding how the Earth evolved through history,” said Oliver Jagoutz, an assistant professor of geology at MIT.

Two molecular mechanisms causing glaucoma found

In a significant finding, scientists have identified two molecular level mechanisms that lead to glaucoma, the fourth main cause of blindness in India. Glaucoma is a slowly progressing disease and is more prevalent in the elderly. Besides old age, several risk factors cause it — family history, ethnic background, high intra-ocular pressure and high blood pressure. Long-term usage of steroids could also cause the disease. Unlike in cataract, which is the leading cause for blindness, loss of vision caused by glaucoma cannot be regained by therapeutic intervention, said Dr. Ghanshyam Swarup, scientist from the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), who studied the molecular mechanism of glaucoma in collaboration with L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad. Observing that mutations in certain genes are primarily responsible for glaucoma, Dr. Swarup said that in addition to genetic alterations, environmental factors too contribute. One of the mutated genes causing glaucoma was OPTN which codes for protein optineurin. An alteration in this gene (M98K) was earlier associated with glaucoma only in South Asian population.

OPTN was one of the genes associated with glaucoma where intra-ocular pressure was not involved. According to Dr. Subhabrata Chakrabarti, Associate Director of L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, the gene was studied in detail as the molecular mechanism of how it causes glaucoma was not known. Understanding the molecular mechanism would go a long way in devising strategies for treating and preventing further damage. “We have [now] determined the mechanism of how this alteration causes the disease,” Dr. Swarup noted. “The alteration induces cell death in retinal ganglion cells.” However, the mutation affected only the retinal ganglion cells and not other neuronal and non-neuronal cells. So by arresting ganglion cell death, further damage can be arrested and residual vision saved even after the onset of glaucoma. It was found that the cell death occurs due to enhanced autophagy (the process that removes damaged proteins and organelles in the cells by degradation). Any change in this — either increase or decrease — could lead to cell death. Dr. Swarup said the work also enhanced the understanding of the process of autophagy, which was essential to maintain healthy cells.

For instance, the scientists were able to stop cell death by blocking the enhanced activity of autophagy using chemical inhibitors. He said they were currently studying the role of optineurin in transporting materials like proteins and lipids from one cell compartment to another within the same cell (membrane vesicle trafficking) and in signalling involved in gene expression. “Our work showed that regulating one of the trafficking processes known as endocytic recycling was fundamental to the uptake of iron by the cell,” he noted. A mutation in optineurin (E50K) causes a defect in endocytic recyling and leads to death of retinal ganglion cells. Dr. Swarup said that their work would help in devising a therapeutic strategy to prevent cell death caused by mutation.

World’s first trip to Moon’s South Pole for installation of a Permanent Telescope in 2016

The World’s first mission to south pole of the Moon for installation of a permanent telescope on the lunar surface was announced in July 2013. This installation of telescope would aid in the professional and amateur researchers. The announcement was made during the NASA Lunar Science Institute conference at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. This is a private mission and has been announced by the International Lunar Observatory Association and Moon Express, jointly.

The International Lunar Observatory will set-up a 2 meter dish antenna and this would be the first instrument of the world that will conduct international astrophysical observations and communications from the surface of the moon. This will be helpful in providing commercial broadcasting and scientific research. It will also enable Galaxy 21st century education and citizen science in the moon. The ILO and its precursor will be the first private space telescope to operate from the lunar surface and will have an internet-based access and control system.

New Zealand launched Joint US-German Space Project

The world’s largest airborne observatory got off the ground from the New Zealand city of Christchurch on 17 July 2013 on a mission to explore the southern hemisphere skies. The flight is the first in the series of southern explorations for SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, a joint project between NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

A Smartphone App to Detect Breast Cancer Early Developed

Sanjay Sreekumar, the Indian-origin student in Australia developed a smartphone application which helps in detecting the breast cancer early. Sanjay Sreekumar is the software engineering undergraduate from Australian National University. The application was designed by him for the Young Adults Programme (YAP), the breast cancer awareness organisation. The application known as Yap app allows the individuals to monitor the early signs of breast cancer on their own. The primary aim of YAP is to provide additional information on breast cancer in order to save lives.

IT tool developed to curb dengue, malaria

A unique IT tool, developed to control and reduce the outbreak of mosquito-borne diseases by using data mining, has been validated and taken up for implementation by health authorities in five States.
The novel technology has been developed by Dr. U.S.N. Murthy, Chief Scientist, Biology Division, CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology and his team by improvising and customising Self Organising Map (SOM), a cluster technique in data mining. The technology comprises two dimensions — one relating to the names of the villages and the second focusing on mosquito density, infection, infectivity and parasitic load.
2020 Mars rover to explore if humans can be sent to Red Planet

The NASA rover to be sent to Mars in 2020 will look for signs of past life, collect samples for possible future return to Earth, and demonstrate technology for future human exploration of the Red Planet, it has been revealed.

A Distinct New horned Dinosaur Species discovered in Utah Desert

U.S. palaeontologists in month of July 2013 discovered the fossil of a previously unknown dinosaur — a bizarre horned beast that roamed on an island continent 76 million years ago. The new species has been named Nasutoceratops, which means big-nosed horned face. The giant creature discovered in the Utah desert was part of the ceratopsid group, which consists of plant-eating, rhinoceros-like dinos, including Triceratops. Nasutoceratops is only the second horned dinosaur unearthed in southern Laramidia. Its closest relative is Avaceratops lammersi, a species that lived in the northwest about 2 million years earlier.

Scientists Developed a Technique to Reverse Blindness in Humans

The team of scientists at Moorfields Eye Hospital and University College London revealed that the chances of reversing the blindness in humans made a significant leap.

It was found in the animal study that it was possible to repair the portion of the eye which detects light, with the help of the stem cells. The scientists explained that the human trials were possible for the very first time. The experts in the healthcare sector described this as a huge leap as well as significant breakthrough. There are Photoreceptors in the eyes. The Photoreceptors are actually the cells present in retina that react to light and then transduce it into electrical signal, which in turn is sent to the brain. However, in certain cases such as Stargardt’s disease or age-related macular degeneration these cells can die off. There are already ongoing trials in people in order to make use of the stem cells for replacing support cells in eye that can keep the photoreceptors alive.