Topic 1 : India’s Deep Ocean Mission
Why in news: The Deep Ocean Mission (DOM) is India’s ambitious quest to explore and harness the depths of the ocean.
About the Deep Ocean Mission (DOM):
- DOM is India’s ambitious programme for underwater exploration, chiefly implemented by the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES).
- DOM was approved by the Union Cabinet in 2021 at a cost of nearly ₹ 4,077 crore over a five-year period in a phased manner.
- The mission has six pillars:
- Technology development:
- Development of technologies for deep-sea mining and a manned submersible to carry three people to a depth of 6,000 metres in the ocean.
- The submersible will be equipped with a suite of scientific sensors, tools and an integrated system for mining polymetallic nodules from the central Indian Ocean;
- Advisory services:
- Development of ocean climate change advisory services, involving an array of ocean observations and models to understand and provide future climate projections;
- Exploration and conservation of oceans:
- Technological innovations for the exploration and conservation of deep-sea biodiversity;
- Sulphide mineralization:
- Deep-ocean survey and exploration aimed at identifying potential sites of multi-metal hydrothermal sulphides mineralisation along the Indian Ocean mid-oceanic ridges;
- Energy and freshwater:
- Harnessing energy and freshwater from the ocean; and
- Marine station for Ocean Biology:
- Establishing an advanced Marine Station for Ocean Biology, as a hub for nurturing talent and driving new opportunities in ocean biology and blue biotechnology.
- The ‘New India 2030’ document outlines a blue economy as the sixth core objective for India’s growth.
- The years 2021-2030 have been designated by the United Nations as the ‘Decade of Ocean Science’.
- DOM is one of nine missions under the Prime Minister’s Science, Technology, and Innovation Advisory Council(PMSTIAC).
Progress of the first pillar of DOM – Samudrayaan:
- It requires the development of technologies for deep-sea mining and a crewed submersible.
- The National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), an autonomous institute under MoES, has been entrusted with the development of indigenous technologies.
- As a part of DOM, India’s flagship deep ocean mission, ‘Samudrayaan’, was initiated in 2021 by the Minister of Earth Sciences.
- In ‘Samudrayaan’, India is embarking on a groundbreaking crewed expedition to reach the ocean bed at a depth of 6,000 m in the central Indian Ocean.
- This historic journey will be accomplished by Matsya6000, a deep-ocean submersible designed to accommodate a crew of three members.
- Matsya6000 boasts an operational endurance of 12 hours, which is extendable to 96 hours in the event of an emergency.
Search for polymetallic nodules:
- The Ministry is also working on an integrated system to mine polymetallic nodules of precious minerals from the central Indian Ocean bed.
- The minerals we can mine from the ocean bed in the central Indian Ocean region, allocated to us by the United Nations International Seabed Authority (ISA), include copper, manganese, nickel, and cobalt.
- NIOT has successfully conducted deep-sea locomotion trials on the seabed at a depth of 5,270 m using our underwater mining system, ‘Varaha’.
- This milestone is a step towards future exploration and harvesting of deep-sea resources.
Why has a depth of 6,000 m been chosen?
- India has committed to the sustainable extraction of valuable resources, including polymetallic nodules and polymetallic sulphides.
- ISA has allocated a 75,000-sq.-km in the central Indian Ocean and an additional 10,000 sq. km at 26° S to India for this.
- Polymetallic nodules, which contain precious metals like copper, manganese, nickel, iron, and cobalt, are found approximately 5,000 m deep, and polymetallic sulphides occur at around 3,000 m in the central Indian Ocean.
- Therefore, India’s interests span depths of 3,000-5,500 m.
- By equipping ourselves to operate at a depth of 6,000 m, we can effectively cater to both the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone and the central Indian Ocean.
Challenges of India’s DOM
- High pressure underwater:
- Exploring the depths of the oceans has proved to be more challenging than exploring outer space.
- The fundamental distinction lies with the high pressure in the deep oceans.
- While outer space is akin to a near-perfect vacuum, being one metre underwater puts as much pressure on an object of one square metre area as if it were carrying 10,000 kg of weight.
- Operating under such high-pressure requires the use of meticulously designed equipment crafted from durable metals or materials.
- Electronics and instruments find it simpler to function in a vacuum or in space.
- Conversely, inside the water, poorly designed objects collapse or implode.
- Soft surface of oceans:
- Landing on the ocean bed also presents challenges due to its incredibly soft and muddy surface.
- This factor renders it exceedingly difficult for heavy vehicles to land or manoeuvre, as they would inevitably sink.
- Extraction of materials:
- Extracting materials requires them to be pumped to the surface, an undertaking that demands a large amount of power and energy.
- Unlike controlling rovers on distant planets, remotely operated vehicles prove ineffective in the deep oceans due to the absence of electromagnetic wave propagation in this medium.
- Challenge of visibility:
- Visibility also poses a significant hurdle as natural light can penetrate only a few tens of metres beneath the surface, whereas space observations are facilitated through telescopes.
- Other challenges:
- variations in temperature,
- salinity, etc.
Where does this keep us on the global front?
- The Matsya6000 is India’s flagship deep-ocean human submersible that aims to reach the ocean bed at a depth of 6,000 m.
- Accompanied by three crew members, the submersible carries a suite of scientific tools and equipment designed to facilitate observations, sample collection, basic video and audio recording, and experimentation.
- The primary mission of Matsya6000 is exploration.
- Countries that achieved successful DOMs:
- The U.S.A.,
- France, and
- India is poised to join the ranks of these nations.
- Matsya6000 combines the best and most feasible features of remote operated vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous remote vehicles (AUVs).
- Although its sub-sea endurance is limited, it offers an excellent intervention mechanism and operates untethered.
- It is ideal for deep-sea observation missions.
- Build of Matsya 6000:
- Matsya6000 is designed to accommodate three humans travelling within a specialised sphere.
- The sphere will weigh approximately 28 tonnes and have a short-sleeved environment with life support, where oxygen is supplied and carbon dioxide is removed.
- Constructed from a titanium alloy, the sphere is engineered to withstand pressures of up to 6,000 bar.
- It is equipped with propellers enabling movement in all six directions and features three viewports that allow the crew to observe its surroundings.
- There will be about 12 cameras and 16 lights powered by lithium polymer batteries with an energy budget of 1 kWh.
- Communication will be through an acoustic phone and modem.
- It will not be actively lowered through sinking; instead, it will function as a free-floating system, for energy efficiency.
- It can move at a speed of about 5.5 km/hr using underwater thrusters, which is adequate.
- With Matsya, India will be the only country to have an entire ecosystem of underwater vehicles encompassing:
- deep-water ROVs,
- polar ROVs,
- deep-water coring systems, etc.
Topic 2 : MY Bharat Platform
Why in news: Prime Minister of India launches ‘Mera Yuva Bharat (MY Bharat)’ platform.
- About Mera Yuva Bharat (My Bharat):
- Mera Yuva Bharat (MY Bharat), an autonomous body will benefit the youth in the age group of 15-29 years, in line with the definition of ‘Youth’ in the National Youth Policy.
- Mera Yuva Bharat (MY Bharat) is ‘Phygital Platform’ (physical + digital) comprising physical activity along with an opportunity to connect digitally.
- It will empower young individuals to become catalysts for community transformation.
- They would act as “Yuva Setu,” linking the government with its citizens.
- ‘Mera Yuva Bharat (MY Bharat)’ is envisioned as a pivotal, technology-driven facilitator for youth development and youth-led development.
- It’s overarching goal is of providing equitable opportunities to empower the youth in realizing their aspirations and contributing to the creation of a “Viksit Bharat” (developed India), across the entire spectrum of the Government.
- It envisions a framework where the youth of our country can seamlessly connect with programs, mentors, and their local communities.
- This engagement is designed to deepen their understanding of local issues and empower them to contribute to constructive solutions.
- Need For Such Body:
- Establishing a framework for bringing youth from diverse areas under a single platform: Vision 2047 requires a framework that can bring rural youth, urban youth and Rurban youth on a single platform.
- The dynamic shifts in the urban-rural landscape have necessitated a re-evaluation of current approaches.
- It is imperative to create a framework that unites rural, urban, and rurban youth on a common platform. Mera Yuva Bharat will help to create such a framework.
- A technology-driven platform can connect youth to programmes that can help them improve their capabilities and also connect them with community activities.
- Leadership Development in the Youth
- Improve the leadership skills through experiential learning by shifting from isolated physical interaction to programmatic skills
- Investing in youth to make them social innovators, and leaders in the communities
- Better alignment between the aspirations of the youth and the community needs
- Enhanced efficiency through Convergence of existing programmes
- Act as a one-stop shop for young people and Ministries
- Create a centralized youth database
- Improved two-way communication to connect youth government initiatives and activities of other stakeholder that engage with youth
- Ensuring accessibility by creating a Phygital Ecosystem – a blend of physical and digital experiences.Topic 3 : India’s own CAR-T cell therapy
Why in news: The Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) granted market authorisation for NexCAR19, India’s first indigenously-developed CAR-T cell therapy, to ImmunoACT, a company incubated by IIT Bombay.
What is CAR-T cell therapy?
- CAR-T is a revolutionary therapy that modifies immune cells, specifically T-cells, by turning them into potent cancer fighters known as CAR-T cells.
- T-cells are special cells (white blood cells that find and fight illness and infection) whose primary function is cytotoxic, meaning it can kill other cells.
- In CAR-T therapy, T-cells are genetically modified into cancer-fighting cells.
- These supercharged cells are then put back into the body, and they go after cancer cells — especially in blood cancers like leukaemia and lymphomas.
How is it different from chemotherapy and immunotherapy?
- Chemotherapy and immunotherapy may add a few months or years to a cancer patient’s life.
- Cell-and-gene therapy is designed to cure and provide lifelong benefit.
- It makes treatment easier with a one-time therapy [unlike several sessions of chemotherapy] that can be truly transformative for a patient.
- It’s a lifeline for non-responsive cancer patients.
- NexCar19 is a type of CAR-T and gene therapy developed indigenously in India by ImmunoACT, which is a company incubated at IIT Bombay.
- The therapy is designed to target cancer cells that carry the CD19 protein.
- This protein acts like a flag on cancer cells, which allows CAR-T cells to recognise and attach themselves to the cancer cells and start the process of elimination.
- Even somedeveloped nationsdon’t have their own CAR-T therapies.
- They import them from the United States or Europe.
- India is now one of the first developing countries to have its indigenous CAR-T and gene therapy platform.
Who can get the NexCAR19 therapy?
- The therapy is for people with B-cell lymphomas who didn’t respond to standard treatments like chemotherapy, leading to relapse or recurrence of the cancer.
- The patient’s blood is extracted and the blood goes to the lab, where the T-cells are genetically modified.
- In a week to 10 days, these cells return to the clinic for patient reinfusion.
- Patients only need to give a blood sample at their clinic, and come back in 7-10 days for reinfusion.
- Recovery typically occurs within two weeks after one cycle of the treatment.
- Approximately 70% of patients respond to the treatment, with variations between leukaemia and lymphoma cases.
- About 50% of these responsive patients achieve a complete response.
Are children eligible for the therapy too?
- Although the therapy for children will not be any different, for now, ImmunoACT has received approval for use in patients aged 15 years and older.
Does it have side effects?
- I leads to significantly lower drug-related toxicities.
- It causes minimal damage to neurons and the central nervous system, a condition known as neurotoxicity.
- Neurotoxicity can sometimes occur when CAR-T cells recognise the CD19 protein and enter the brain, potentially leading to life-threatening situations.
- The therapy also results in minimal Cytokine Release Syndrome (CRS).
- CRS is characterised by inflammation and hyperinflammation in the body due to the death of a significant number of tumour cells, as CAR-T cells are designed to target and eliminate cancer cells.
How much will this treatment cost?
- Currently, the price range is Rs 30-40 lakh for CAR-T therapy.
- Even at this cost, it may not be accessible to everyone.
- The ultimate goal is to bring the cost down to Rs 10-20 lakh.
- As technology matures and manufacturing processes improve, it is anticipated that the cost will decrease.
Will the treatment be covered by insurance?
- When a therapy is approved by regulatory agencies, it typically should be covered by national insurance schemes and private insurance companies.
- However, since this is an expensive treatment, the extent of coverage and accessibility to insurance may vary.Topic 4 : Places in news: Kra Isthmus
Why in news: The Prime Minister of Thailand has reiterate the need for a land bridge across the Kra Isthmus.
- The project will reduce the sailing distance between the Indian Ocean Region and the waters of East Asia.
- The proposed route would cut across the Isthmus of Kra, and would provide an alternative to the longer and congested shipping route through the Strait of Malacca.
- Strait of Malacca is a narrow sea lane that passes between Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore, and carries 25% of the world’s traded goods.
- A land bridge is proposed across the 90-km-wide strip, with two large-capacity ports or shipping terminals on either side, joined by an east-west economic corridor including an oil pipeline.
- The earliest proposal to bringing the two seas of Thailand together came from the Thai monarch Narai the Great of the Ayutthaya Kingdom in 1677.
- Almost 200 years before the opening of the Suez Canal across the isthmus that joined Africa and Asia revolutionised the maritime commerce of Europe, King Narai had envisioned a canal across the Isthmus of Kra.
About the Kra Isthmus:
- The Kra Isthmus in Thailand is the narrowest part of the Malay Peninsula.
- The isthmus is bordered to the west by the Andaman Sea and to the east by the Gulf of Thailand.
- The Kra Isthmus marks the boundary between two sections of the mountain chain which runs from Tibet through the Malay peninsula.
- The southern part is the Phuket Range, which is a continuation of the Tenasserim Hills, extending further northwards beyond the Three Pagodas Pass.
- The Kra Isthmus is in the Tenasserim-South Thailand semi-evergreen rain forests ecoregion.
- Dipterocarps are the dominant trees in the region.