Daily Current Affairs 07.05.2023 ( Proposed oil refinery project leaves villages in the Konkan belt fuming, Scientists identify mutations in DNA for early diagnosis of drug resistant bacteria for TB , . Recent rain likely to expand cotton farming in the north , Scientists help find new kind of molecular motor )

Daily Current Affairs 07.05.2023 ( Proposed oil refinery project leaves villages in the Konkan belt fuming, Scientists identify mutations in DNA for early diagnosis of drug resistant bacteria for TB , . Recent rain likely to expand cotton farming in the north , Scientists help find new kind of molecular motor )


1. Proposed oil refinery project leaves villages in the Konkan belt fuming

Facing the heat: Protests began on April 25, with nearly 1,000 people showing up at the work site every day. 

The lush greenery of mango orchards and jackfruit trees offers a welcome relief from the blazing May sun on the Rajapur laterite plateau of Maharashtra’s coastal Ratnagiri district.

Yet, amid the serene surroundings, residents of six villages — Barsu, Solgaon, Devache Gothane, Shivne, Goval, and Dhopeshwar — have been at odds for the past two weeks over two major issues: environment and development.

A section of villagers supports the proposed multibillion-dollar Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd. (RRPCL) project discreetly, believing that it will create much-needed employment in the Konkan region. Others oppose it, voicing concerns about its impact on the environment and the local community’s livelihoods and land rights.

“We don’t want such poisonous projects in Konkan. Nature comes first for us. The government is promising to provide jobs to locals in that refinery, but every year we are providing work to hundreds,” said Kashinath Gorle, 60, from Shivne village, adding that people from other States and even Nepal come to work here. Despite not owning any land, Mr. Gorle has emerged as the face of the protests.

The Konkan region is ecologically sensitive, with several species of flora and fauna endemic to the area. Apart from agriculture — cashew and paddy plantations are part of the landscape — fishing is critical to the local economy. The concern is that this ecosystem will be disrupted.

At Barsu, people reacted to the commencement of soil-testing work on April 25 by staging protests that are still on, with about 1,000 people showing up daily.

Police presence

A police force that at its height reached 1,800 personnel came out to maintain order. On the first day, over 700 protesters were detained, and cases booked against 111 people under sections relating to rioting, unlawful assembly, and disobedience to public order.

“They are trying to take our lands by using police force. We are not ready to surrender our precious lands so that they can ‘murder’ nature. The movement has become a freedom struggle for the Konkani people,” said Prakash Gurav, 46, from Solegoan, waiting to interact with former Chief Minister and Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Uddhav Thackeray, on the outskirts of their village.

Mr. Thackeray had suggested Barsu as an alternative site for the project instead of the initial proposal at Nanar in the same taluk, after he became Chief Minister in 2019. He now claims he was misled by “some people” (in an indirect reference to his rival and Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and some MLAs from the Konkan region).

“Do you think I would succumb to their pressure and betray the people of Konkan? At that time, I was told that the people of Konkan want this project for the development of the region. Based on their suggestion I wrote to the Centre suggesting Barsu as an alternative site. Clearly, I was misled,” he said, responding to a question from The Hindu. The coastal Konkan region is the Sena’s traditional bastion. Seen against the 2024 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, the party cannot afford to anger voters.

2. Scientists identify mutations in DNA for early diagnosis of drug resistant bacteria for TB

Tuberculosis (TB) is a treatable disease, but drug resistance is now a major public health concern exacerbated by the emergence of multi and extensively drug-resistant TB. India has the highest burden of Multi-Drug Resistant-TB (MDR-TB) bacteria with the World Health Organisation (WHO) putting the figure at 0.39 million cases worldwide and highlighting the need to stop its spread.

If long treatment, higher drug toxicity, and costly drug treatment make the MDR and extensively drug-resistant (XDR) TB challenging to treat, a group of scientists led by CSIR-Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology (CCMB) director Vinay Kumar Nandicoori has, in a new study, established that mutations in DNA repair genes could be used for the early diagnosis of MDR/XDR-TB.

The study identified a ‘compromised DNA repair’ as one of the novel mechanisms for the evolution of drug resistance in Mycobacterium Tuberculosis (Mtb) which causes Tuberculosis (TB) in humans.

MDR-TB bacteria are resistant to first-line anti-TB drugs and extensively drug-resistant (XDR) when it becomes resistant to first-line TB drugs.

Since the evolution of drug resistance in India has not been studied, scientists started analysing the genome sequence of bacteria isolated from TB patients from other parts of the world to understand the unknown mechanisms and bridge the gap between early diagnosis and treatment of MDR-TB.

With the help of whole genome sequencing of bacteria, it was successfully shown that perturbed DNA repair aids in the acquisition of drug resistance in Mtb, said Dr. Nandicoori.

3. Recent rain likely to expand cotton farming in the north

The increase in soil moisture would benefit the cotton crops and bring down the use of groundwater. 

Government has set a target to cover seven lakh hectares this summer in Haryana and three lakh hectares in Punjab; parts of Rajasthan could also see a switch from bean and pulses cultivation

Agriculture experts have predicted an increase in the acreage for cotton plantations this year in the northern States as a result of the recent untimely rain.

In Haryana, cotton — a key summer (kharif) crop — has so far been sown on 3.5 lakh hectares. The government has set a target to sow cotton on 7 lakh hectares this summer. According to data released by the government, cotton was planted on 5.74 lakh hectares in Haryana last summer.

In Punjab, cotton has been sown on 30,000 hectares so far and the government aims to cover 3 lakh hectares as against 2.48 lakh hectares last year.

Ram Pratap Sihag, Joint Director of the Haryana Agriculture Department, told The Hindu, “The recent rain is a good sign as it will prevent the problem of ‘burning’ due to high temperatures. Last year, we saw a substantial loss in cotton acreage due to this burning. Rain also helps in pacing up the sowing, especially in those regions which lack irrigation facilities. We are hopeful that the area under cotton would surpass last year’s acreage as the government is discouraging sowing of water-guzzling rice and going for crop-diversification this year.”

Gurvinder Singh, Director of the Punjab Agriculture Department, said, “The recent spell of rain has been unusual but it’s not bad. The rain will help in increasing the soil moisture content, which eventually would benefit the crop. The groundwater usage will also be less. The overall input cost is bound to go down which would be a benefit for farmers.”

In Punjab and Haryana, Bt cotton is sown in over 95% of the total area under cotton cultivation, with the remaining 5% of the cultivable area used for indigenous cotton varieties. Cotton is usually planted from mid-April to late-May in most parts of Punjab and Haryana.

Rakesh Rathi, former president of the India Cotton Association Limited (ICAL), said that cotton acreage is also likely to increase in north Rajasthan this year in comparison to last year.

“In Haryana and Rajasthan, farmers are likely to shift to cotton from crops like guar (cluster bean) and pulses such as moong (green gram) as cotton is expected to fetch a better price. In Punjab, we are hopeful that the cotton acreage would be close to last year’s,” he said.

4. Scientists help find new kind of molecular motor

The molecular motor does not produce a back-and-forth action, as most motors do, but allows a molecule to change its flexibility between two states

An international team of researchers, including from the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru, has reported a new kind of molecular motor. The finding, significant in its own right, opens the door to previously unanticipated cellular processes and potential applications in biology and medicine.

Each cell in the body is a complex soup of electrochemical reactions that produce energy, but they are not enough. Cells also need to move things, such as pull two organelles together, move cargo towards and away from the nucleus, and power the movement of subcellular molecules. Many of these actions are driven by molecular motors, which use biochemical energy to do mechanical work.

“Disruption or deregulation in these processes can lead to deleterious effects which can manifest as different diseases,” Saikat Chowdhury, a senior scientist at the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, said in an email. He wasn’t involved in the new study.

In a2016 paper, researchers from Australia and Germany reported that when an enzyme called Rab5 binds to a long protein calledEEA1,the protein loses its taut and rigid shape and becomes floppy. This ‘collapse’ pulls two membranes inside a cell closer to each other.

In the new study, researchers have reported that EEA1regains its rigid shape in another mechanism so that it can become floppy again to pull the membranes closer,creating a new kind of two-part molecular motor.

When the 2016 paper was published, it was unclear whether EEA1 could resume its rigid shape, so that the whole process could repeat itself without the help of other proteins.

The researchers reasoned that it had to resume its stiffer shape because EEA1 works on thousands of membranes, and creating a molecule as big as the protein for every membrane pair would be wasteful.At more than 200 nm, EEA is more than 100x longer than typical proteins.

According to Dr. Chowdhury, a long-standing question in the field is how EEA1-like molecules go back to their elongated conformation, which has been addressed for the first time.

The researchers of the latest study reported thatEEA1 draws energy from a reaction called GTP hydrolysis to become rigid again. The GTP hydrolysis is mediated by enzymes called GTPases. Rab5 is one such.

“Due to the ubiquitous pairing of small GTPases with such long molecules in eukaryotic cells, we believe this will mark a new class of molecular machines that operate as motors in a unique way and with novel collective effects,” Shashi Thutupalli, from the Simons Centre for the Study of Living Machines, NCBS, and a coauthor of the study, said in an email.

His collaborators are with the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, and the Cluster of Excellence Physics of Life, TU Dresden (both in Germany).

They have reported several novelties in their findings. The motor does not produce a lever-like back-and-forth action, as most motors do, but allows a molecule to change its flexibility between two states. Also, most molecular motors get their energy from another molecule called ATP, whereas the Rab5-EEA1 motor uses GTP.

“Almost all the other motors that we know ‘walk’: they go one way,” Dr. Thutupalli said, whereas “this motor… collapses and extends again, in the same place”.

EEA1 can have one of several trillion shapes when it is floppy, but it can have only one (rod-like) shape when it is stiff.The floppy state has more entropy and is “entropically favoured”, according to Dr. Thutupalli.

So when it goes from stiff to floppy, it exerts an entropic force on the membranes that it pulls.

“No other motor uses this force,” he said.

Elucidating how a single molecule moves inside a cell is difficult, Dr. Thutupalli said two students, Anupam Singh and Joan Antoni Soler, found a “clever” way. Instead of studying the whole protein, they attached a small fluorescent molecule to one end of EEA1, “like a fly atop the Qutub Minar”.

Then, they used fluorescence correlation spectroscopy to track how the fluorescent molecule moved as Rab5 and EEA1 interacted. They combined these observations with a concept in mechanics that lets engineers calculate the stiffness of an object by observing just one end.

Aside from throwing light on membrane fusion by EEA1, the study “also provides a general mechanism applicable for many such mechanochemical proteins or assemblies which harness the chemical energy of nucleotide hydrolysis for mechanical work in the cell,” Dr. Chowdhury said.

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