13 December, 2020 - Daily Current Affairs Analysis & MCQs - The Daily News Simplified from The Hindu

  • PTS programme announcement
  • Bringing life back to Western Ghats grasslands (Environment & Ecology)
  • Bringing life back to Western Ghats grasslands (Environment & Ecology)
  • India set to exceed climate targets: Modi (Environment & Ecology)
  • Western Sahara on edge after Israel-Morocco deal - (International Relation)
  • A platform developed for diagnosing tuberculosis from urine samples - (Science & Technology)
  • How epigenetic alters inherited genetics message - (Science & Technology)
  • Question for the day (Science & Technology)

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    UPSC Current Affairs: Bringing life back to Western Ghats grasslands| Page 06

    UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper I – Geography | Prelims: Geography and Environment  

    Sub Theme: Types of climate |Montane climate| UPSC

    Tropical montane grasslands (TMG) in the Shola Sky Islands of the Western Ghats have suffered big reductions due to invasions by exotic trees such as acacias, pines and eucalyptus, shrinking the range sizes of endemic species, including plants, birds, amphibians and mammals. Some populations are being driven to local extinction.

    But researchers have now identified areas suitable for grassland restoration and conservation to reverse the decline.

    They focus on identifying grassland restoration sites using satellite images with a high spatial resolution (RapidEye), and have recommended careful removal of young and isolated exotic trees at the invasion front and restoring grasslands, instead of removing dense stands of mature exotic trees.

    Tropical montane grasslands

    • Grasslands are areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses.
      • The Grassland Ecosystem covers about 10 percent of the Earth's surface.
      • It is found where rainfall is about 15-75 cm per year not enough to support a forest, but more than that of true desert.
      • Typical grasslands are vegetation formations that are generally found in temperate climates.
      • Grasslands are ecotones. An ecotone is a transition area between two biological communities, where two communities meet and integrate.
      • The centre of growth for grasses in the root, unlike plants. Hence they regenerate very fast.
    • The term "montane" in the name of the biome refers to "high altitude".
    • Tropical montane paramos display striking adaptations to cool, wet conditions and intense sunlight.
    • TMG are high elevation grasslands forming only 2% of all grasslands in the world.
    • In India, TMG have even been classified as wastelands in forest management plans since they are unlikely to generate revenue, contrary to the timber (even if exotic) found in forests.
    • Grasslands are not wastelands. Though they are not being put to use, we are benefiting in other ways - such as serving as pasture. In the Sholas, they are responsible for hydrological recharge. They regulate the global carbon cycle.
    • In the Western Ghats, 23% of montane grasslands were reportedly converted into invasive exotic tree cover over a period of 44 years.

    Sky Islands

    The basic premise of an island, an isolated bit of land surrounded on all sides by an inhospitable substrate, occurs not only in the ocean—but in the sky too.

    "Sky islands" are the tops of tall mountains that become environmentally isolated from each other even if they are close together, geographically speaking.

    Shola forest

    One of the specific habitats unique to the sky islands of this area is a type of low-temperature, high-humidity tropical cloud forest full of stunted trees mixed with grasslands called the Shola.

    Mountaintops separated from each other by deep valleys are indeed much like islands of the ocean in terms of evolutionary processes because of their isolation.

    The peaks of the Western Ghats, ranging between 3,000 and 8,500 feet above sea level, host an almost unbelievable array of microclimates, looking like “patches of forests floating in a sea of grasslands”. As soon as one come out of the cold, wet montane environment, only 100 meters down, it is completely dry.

    They have very high water retention capacity. Most of the South Indian rivers originate in the Shola habitat. 

    These mountains were formed during the uplift of the Western Ghats, starting around 150 million years ago, where the high-elevation montane habitat, the shola (a mosaic of forest and grasslands), evolved.

    In fact, they are cradles of evolution. The formation of species here occurred over millennia, dictated by the geographic and climatic isolation of these mountain tops. And so what we have today is high endemism, that is, a concentration of species—birds, frogs, plants, and fish—that are found nowhere else in the world.

    The legacy of this separation between populations of one species that over time became multiple is due to a glaciation event around four million years ago. Aridity caused by glaciation drove species higher up the mountains for suitable habitat.

    Some national parks such as Eravikulam, Grasshills, and Mukurthi have the last vestiges of the shola grasslands, and they harbour specialist birds.

    Invasive species have impacted the landscape tremendously.

    • The scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius), a shrub native to western and central Europe, is invading large parts of the Nilgiris grasslands,
    • Wattle (Acacia sp.) is also transforming these grasslands into wooded areas.
    • In the shola forests, the Cestrum aurantiacum, a weed from South America, is invading the understorey.

    There is also an alarming level of fragmentation—of both forest and grasslands—from agriculture, timber plantations and commercial plantations, a phenomenon that is affecting the large sky islands of the Nilgiris and Anamalai-Palani hills. And with this, bird populations are getting split into smaller populations with reduced or no gene flow between them.

    Sholakili had a reduced gene flow on an east-west axis, between areas like Kodaikanal and Munnar. Even the songs (comparable to human language) of the Sholakili were different across this fragmented landscape, indicating cultural divergence, most likely driven by human activity.

     

    UPSC Current Affairs:India set to exceed climate targets: Modi | Page 01

    UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper I – Environment | Prelims: Environment 

    Sub Theme: Climate action | Global Warming | UPSC

    Context:

    • India was not only on track to fulfilling its climate commitments but would go further, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the Climate Action Summit on Saturday. However, he refrained from announcing enhanced ambitions or targets.

    Taking a closer look, India is on track to achieve two of the three components of its Paris target.

    • India’s performance so far:
      • India has already reduced emissions intensity by 21% given its target to reduce emissions intensity of GDP by 33-35% by 2030.
      • With 38% of non-fossil fuel capacity (includes renewables, large hydro and nuclear), India is just 2% short of its 2030 target of 40% of installed non-fossil fuel electricity capacity.
      • But on the third component, to achieve 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in forest cover by 2030, much more work is needed.
    • On the domestic front:
      • India aims to install an ambitious 175 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy by 2022 and 450 GW by 2030.
        • India already has 90 GW or renewable energy, representing 24% of total installed capacity.
        • In addition, India has some of the lowest solar tariffs globally, dropping to ₹2.36 ($0.0316)/kWh and thermal capacity has declined from 70% in 2015 to 61% in 2020.
      • The India Cooling Action Plan at the national level and progress on building efficient buildings and cool roofs at the state level are also driving efforts to save energy and reduce heat trapping hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
      • The government’s FAME-II scheme provides ₹10,000 crore ($1.4 billion) is moving forward with electric vehicles.
    • On the international front:
      • India is leading efforts with the International Solar Alliance (ISA),
      • Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol,
      • International Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI),
      • Leadership Group for Industry Transition.
      • India recently created an Apex Committee for Implementation of Paris Agreement (AIPA).
        • The aim of AIPA is to increase coordination among 14 key ministries and to engage business, stakeholders and the U.N. on delivery of the Paris Agreement.

     

    UPSC Current: Affairs Western Sahara on edge after Israel-Morocco deal | Page 09

    UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper II | Prelims: Map Locations

    Sub Theme: Israel-Palestine Deal | Morocco-Israel | UPSC

    Morocco has become the fourth Arab country to normalise ties with Israel in five months. U.S. President Donald Trump announced the deal, claiming that the series of normalisation agreements between Arab countries (the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and now Morocco) and the Jewish state was bringing peace to West Asia.

    In return for Morocco’s decision to establish formal ties with Israel, the U.S. has recognised Rabat’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, a disputed territory in north-western Africa, which has been under Moroccan control for decades. Morocco has long been campaigning internationally, using economic pressure and diplomacy, for recognition of its claims to Western Sahara. It got what it wanted from the deal with Israel, a country with which it had developed covert ties for decades.

    The dispute

    • This large, arid and sparsely populated region that shares borders with Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania and has a long Atlantic coast was a Spanish colony.
    • The region is home to the Sahrawi tribe.
    • In the 1970s, when international and local pressure mounted on Spain to vacate its colonies in Africa, Libya and Algeria helped found a Sahrawi insurgency group against the Spanish rule in Western Sahara.
    • The Popular Front started guerrilla warfare against Spanish colonialists.
    • In 1975, as part of the Madrid Accords with Morocco and Mauritania, Spain decided to leave the territory, which was then called Spanish Sahara. According to the accords, Spain would leave before February 28, 1976 and until then, the Spanish Governor General would administer the territory, with help from two Moroccan and Mauritanian Deputy Governors.
    • The Polisario Front and Algeria opposed the agreements.
    • Both Morocco and Mauritania moved troops to Western Sahara to assert their claims.
    • Polisario, backed by Algeria, continued the guerilla resistance, demanding their withdrawal.
    • On February 27, 1976, a day before Spain ended its presence, the Polisario Front declared the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in Western Sahara. The SADR has been recognised by several African countries and is a member of the African Union.
    • In 1974, the International Court of Justice was asked by the UN General Assembly to look into the legal ties, if any, that existed between Western Sahara and Morocco and Mauritania at the time of its colonisation by Spain in the 19th century. The court found no evidence “of any ties of territorial sovereignty” between the Western Sahara and either Morocco or Mauritania, but stated that there were “indications” that some tribes in the territory were loyal to the Moroccan Sultan. In its conclusion, the court endorsed the General Assembly Resolution 1541 that affirmed that to ensure decolonisation, complete compliance with the principle of self-determination is required.
    • But King Hassan II of Morocco hailed the court’s opinion as a vindication of Rabat’s claims and moved troops across the northern border to Western Sahara. Mauritania joined in later. It set the stage for a three-way fight with the Polisario Front resisting both countries.
    • The three-way conflict lasted for almost four years. In August 1979, Mauritania signed a peace treaty with Polisario, bringing the country’s military involvement in Western Sahara to an end. When Mauritanian forces withdrew from the southern part of the desert that they had occupied, Morocco swiftly advanced troops.
    • The war continued between Moroccan troops and the Polisario Front. In 1991, when a ceasefire was finally achieved, upon the promise of holding an independence referendum in Western Sahara, Morocco had taken control of about 80% of the territory. The war had forced almost 200,000 Sahrawis to flee the territory to neighbouring Algeria, where Polisario is running squalid refugee camps. The SADR is operating largely from the eastern flank of Western Sahara. Moroccan troops have built a huge sand wall called Berm, from the Atlantic coast to the mountains of Morocco, dividing the territories they control from that of Polisario. “It’s Africa’s last colony”, according to Polisario fighters.

    Impact of the deal

    The normalisation deal between Morocco and Israel itself will not have any direct bearing on Western Sahara. But the concession the U.S. has given to Morocco — Washington’s recognition of Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara — could flare up the conflict. The independence referendum, promised in the 1991 ceasefire, is yet to take place. Last month, Morocco launched an offensive into the UN-controlled buffer zone between the two sides, and in return, Polisario said it would resume armed conflict.

    After the Trump administration’s recognition of Morocco’s claim, Polisario said it would keep fighting until Moroccan troops are forced to withdraw. The U.S. move would upset Algeria, the biggest backer of Polisario. Among the nations that condemned the U.S. decision is Russia, which said the recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara “is a violation of international law”.

    Some important disputed region in the world

    • Nagorno-Karabakh
    • Doklam Plateau –
    • Eritrea and Djibouti’
    • Cyprus
    • Golan Heights, Gaza Strip, and West Bank

     

    UPSC Current: How epigenetics alters inherited genetics’ message | Page 11

    UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper III- Science and Tech | Prelims: Science and Technology

    Sub Theme: Epigenetics | DNA and Protein | UPSC

    How epigenetics alters inherited genetics’ message

    Epigenetics is the biochemical changes dictating expressivity of a gene in a cell.

    The functioning of cells and tissues in our body are controlled by thousands of proteins that regulate various cellular functions. These proteins are in turn encoded by the respective genes which are a part of our genome or the cellular DNA. Any minor or major changes to our inherited DNA (addition or mutation) can result in altered protein production, which in turn leads to defective cellular functions. This forms the basis for many heritable genetic disorders affecting the mankind.

    Apart from DNA or protein sequence level alterations, there are other biochemical changes that influence and dictate if a gene should be active or inactive in a given cell type. For example, the gene that encodes for the insulin protein is present in exact form, in every cell of the body. However, it is allowed to express only in the insulin secreting beta cells of the pancreas and is kept inactive in the rest of the cells of the body. This phenomenon is tightly regulated by a combination of regulatory proteins that changes the expressivity of the gene. Also, the histone proteins that bind the DNA and help to compactly wrap it inside the chromosomes can undergo chemical modifications such as methylations and acetylation on different lysine amino acids within the protein. These modifications both on the DNA and its associated proteins alter the chromosomal conformations and regulate gene expression. These changes can either unwind the DNA and allow gene expression or can compact the DNA and render the genes in the region inactive or silent.

    Such biochemical changes that dictate the expressivity of a gene in a particular cell are collectively termed “epigenetics.” Unlike DNA mutations that are permanent, such epigenetic changes are reversible and are mediated by regulatory proteins. These regulatory proteins can add or remove such modifications and can result in turning ON/OFF a specific gene in a tissue or organ specific manner. In the case of pancreatic beta cells, the insulin gene is maintained in an open or active conformation, thus allowing protein expression, while it remains silent in other cells. This normal epigenetic control on our genes can get altered during normal ageing, stress and disease conditions.

    This is well known in many cancers, where certain set of genes called tumour suppressors that regulate cell division get silenced either due to mutations or due to epigenetic alterations and result in uncontrolled proliferation of cells and tumour development. Similarly many messages or youthful genes are also turned off by epigenetic changes during our normal ageing process. RGCs help us the ability to see clearly and in colour. Ageing leads to a slow and progressive decline in this ability of RGCs to maintain and regulate the stability and constancy to function properly. In addition, external factors such as family or hereditary history, diabetes (both type 1 and 2) and others modify this homeostasis by inducing “epigenetic” alterations as explained above.

     

    UPSC Current: A platform developed for diagnosing tuberculosis from urine samples | Page 11

    UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper III- Disease | Prelims: Tuberculosis

    Sub Theme: TB | LAM  | UPSC

    Diagnosing TB usually involves using a sputum sample or a biopsy in the detection tests. This is not just time-consuming or expensive, there are also cases where getting a sputum sample is not easy or even possible, such as with small children or in the case of extrapulmonary TB.

    IIT Madras researchers are developing a point-of-care platform for early-stage TB screening and detection using urine samples. The platform is yet to be tested in clinical trials.

    How it works?

    The glycolipid lipoarabinomannan (LAM), an integral component of the cell wall and cell membrane of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), the disease-causing bacterium, has been explored as a biomarker for TB diagnosis. Since it is known that LAM is released into the blood stream during active infection and passed out in urine, it can be viewed as a potential biomarker for even cases other than pulmonary TB. In the test conducted by the group, the sample containing Mtb-LAM is mixed with gold nanoparticles and incubated for five minutes. Then a U-shaped fibre-optic sensor device with an LED and a photodetector attached to its two ends is dipped into the mixture. The results are generated in the next ten minutes, and the amount of Mtb-LAM present in the mixture can be read out.

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