• The year 2018 is ending with spectacular success of Indian scientists and technologists in the space and defence sectors, with a series of high impact missions.
• Several scientific developments, new techniques and promising technologies in fields ranging from nanotechnology to space weather made headlines during the year.
Key highlights of the important findings
• A gel that can protect farmers from toxic pesticides: It is a protective gel—poly-Oxime—that can be applied on skin and can break down toxic chemicals into safe substances, preventing farmers from going deep into the skin and organs like the brain and the lungs.
• World’s thinnest material with novel technique: It is a material that is 100,000 times thinner than a sheet of paper. Researchers synthesized a two-dimensional material of just one-nanometre in thickness using Magnesium diboride—a compound of boron. This is said to be the world’s thinnest material. It can find a range of applications—from next-generation batteries to ultraviolet absorbing films.
• Gene editing applied to banana genome: Using the gene editing technique—CRISPR/Cas9—researchers at the National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute, Mohali, edited the banana genome. This is the first such work in any fruit crop in India. Banana is the fourth most important food crop after wheat, rice and corn in terms of gross value of production. Gene editing could be deployed to improve nutritional quality, agronomical important traits as well as pathogen resistance in banana.
• Faster diagnostic tests for tuberculosis: Scientists have developed highly sensitive and rapid tests for detection of tuberculosis infection in lungs and surrounding membranes. Unlike current tests that use antibodies for detection of bacterial proteins in sputum samples, new tests use Aptamer Linked Immobilized Sorbent Assay (ALISA) and Electrochemical Sensor (ECS) for detection of a bacterial protein in the sputum.
• New tool developed for autism screening: In many cases, autism is misdiagnosed as mental retardation and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Early identification and interventions may help children with autistic disorders. To help this process, scientists have developed an Indian tool for screening children for autism.
• Hope for Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s patients: Scientists at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, have figured out the way memory deficit develops in early stages, resulting in Alzheimer’s disease. They have found that early breaking down of a protein, fibrillar actin or F-actin, in the brain leads to disruption in communication among nerve cells and consequently memory deficits.
• Green technique can address plaster of Paris pollution: A team of scientists at Pune-based National Chemical Laboratory (CSIR-NCL) has developed a technique that helps recycle plaster of Paris waste from hospitals in an eco-friendly and economical way. The new technique disinfects waste and converts it into useful products like ammonium sulphate and calcium bicarbonate. The technique can also be used to disintegrate PoP waste from idols immersed in water bodies.
• Stone Age tools, genetic studies throw new light on early civilisation in India: The Stone Age tools discovered in a village near Chennai suggest that a Middle Palaeolithic culture was present in India around 385,000 years ago—roughly the same time that it is known to have developed in Africa and in Europe. The discovery pushes back the period when populations with a Middle Palaeolithic culture may have inhabited India, and challenges popular theory that the Middle Palaeolithic was brought to India by modern humans dispersing from Africa only around 125,000 years ago or later.
• Sikkim gets real-time landslide warning system: A real-time landslide warning system has been set up in the Sikkim-Darjeeling belt of north-eastern Himalayas which is highly vulnerable to landslides. The warning system consists of over 200 sensors that can measure geophysical and hydrological parameters like rainfall, pore pressure and seismic activities. The system is capable of warning about 24 hours in advance. It has been deployed by researchers of Kerala-based Amrita University and Sikkim State Disaster Management Authority.
• Computing capacity for weather forecasting gets a boost: During the year, the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) upgraded its computing capacity for weather forecasting and climate monitoring, taking its total high-performance computing (HPC) power to as high as 6.8 Petaflop. With this, India rose to the fourth position, next only to United Kingdom, Japan and USA in terms of dedicated capacity for HPC resources for weather and climate proposes.
• Scientists use silk polymer to develop artificial vertebral disc: Scientists at Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, developed a silk-based bioartificial disc that may find use in disc replacement therapy in future. The group has developed a fabrication procedure for a silk-based bioartificial disc adopting a “directional freezing technique”. The disc mimics internal intricacy of human disc and its mechanical properties too are similar to those of the native ones. The use of a silk biopolymer to fabricate a biocompatible disc can reduce the cost of artificial discs in future.
• Transgenic rice with reduced arsenic accumulation: To address the problem of arsenic accumulation in rice grains, researchers at Lucknow- based CSIR-National Botanical Research Institute developed transgenic rice by inserting a novel fungal gene, which results in reduced arsenic accumulation in rice grain. They cloned Arsenic methyltransferase (WaarsM) gene from a soil fungus and inserted it into rice genome.
• Flowering mustard: TERI School of Advanced Studies has developed an early flowering transgenic variety of mustard.
Mains Paper 3: Science and Technology | Achievement of Indians in science & technology
Prelims level: Read the attached story
Mains level: The attached story provides a quick recap of all significant developments which were less highlighted in news