Icy research reveals primitive viruses in Tibetan glacier


Scientists recently revealed the existence of 28 never-before-seen virus groups at two ice cores from a Tibetan glacier. For the past 15,000 years, this glacier on the northwestern Tibetan Plateau of China played hosts to unusual guests: an ensemble of frozen viruses, many of them unknown to modern science. The findings have been posted in a paper of the bioRxiv database, an open-access preprint repository for the biological sciences.

Crux of the Matter
  • In 2015, when researchers embarked on an expedition to retrieve the oldest ice on the planet, they were doing it to look for clues about past climate and stumbled upon the Guliya ice cap in China’s Tibet.
  • The scientists retrieved the ancient viruses by drilling 50 meters deep into the glacier ice. To rule out any contamination, they developed an original method to study the microbes in the lab.
  • Out of the 33 groups of virus genuses or genera, 28 were previously undisclosed to science. The researchers reportedly wrote in the study how the microbes differed significantly across the two ice cores.
  • The critters they found represent the microbes that were present in the atmosphere at the time they were trapped in the ice, giving scientists a window to understanding the past climate and microbial evolution.
  • Chantal Abergel, a researcher in environmental virology at the French National Centre for Scientific Research said “We are very far from sampling the entire diversity of viruses on Earth.” As human-made climate change melts glaciers the world over, these viral archives could be lost.

Virus is a small infectious agent that replicates only inside the living cells of an organism. Viruses can infect all types of life forms, from animals and plants to microorganisms, including bacteria and archaea. Since Dmitri Ivanovsky’s 1892 article describing a non-bacterial pathogen infecting tobacco plants, and the discovery of the tobacco mosaic virus by Martinus Beijerinck in 1898 about 5,000 virus species have been described in detail, although there are millions of types. Viruses are found in almost every ecosystem on Earth and are the most numerous type of biological entity. The study of viruses is known as virology, a sub-speciality of microbiology. The shapes of these virus particles range from simple helical and icosahedral forms for some species to more complex structures for others. More Info

Hail Vyommitra! First Indian half-humanoid ready for space ride


ISRO presented its first ‘womanastronaut to an international gathering here on Wednesday. Seated at a desk in a uniform and sporting her name on a custom-made ISRO identity badge, Vyommitra, introduced herself to ISRO Chairman K. Sivan and Principal Scientific Adviser K. Vijay Raghavan at the symposium on human space flight in Bangalore.

Crux of the Matter
  • Most international space missions send mannequins or humanoids in test flights before actually launching a human being into a mission. The most famous of these is Ivan Ivanovich, who flew in the USSR’s Vostok spacecraft in 1961 before Yuri Gagarin.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi had mentioned about India’s human spaceflight mission in his Independence Day address in 2018.
  • Vyommitra gets her name from two Sanskrit words : Vyom which means space and Mitra, meaning friend. She will fly onboard the first two flights of the mission. Only the third Gaganyaan flight will have a ‘human’ crew.
  • Designed at ISRO’s Inertial Systems Unit in Thiruvananthapuram, Vyommitra is a half humanoid, which means she does not have legs. However, she is interactive enough and will be able to help check the systems in the crew module including temperature, pressure levels and oxygen availability.
  • The model on display is only a prototype of the robot lady who will fly out by the end of December 2020. She will have some level of autonomy to communicate with the ground station.

Human spaceflight or manned spaceflight is space travel with a crew or passengers aboard the spacecraft. Spacecraft carrying people may be operated directly, by human crew, or it may be either remotely operated from ground stations on Earth or be autonomous, able to carry out a specific mission with no human involvement. The first human in space was Yuri Gagarin, who flew the Vostok 1 spacecraft, launched by the Soviet Union on 12 April 1961 as part of the Vostok program. Humans have flown to the Moon nine times from 1968 to 1972 in the United States Apollo program, and have been continuously present in space for 19 years and 84 days on the International Space Station. All human spaceflight has so far been human-piloted, with the first autonomous human-carrying spacecraft under design starting in 2015. Russia and China have human spaceflight capability with the Soyuz program and the Shenzhou program. In the United States, SpaceShipTwo reached the edge of space in 2018; this was the first crewed spaceflight from the US since the Space Shuttle retired in 2011. More Info

Future of AI: Can Morals and Scientific Advancement Go Hand in Hand?

Deep researches have been going on in Artificial Intelligence (AI), its use in facial recognition and AI chatbots, etc. But this has also posed a threat to societal elements. Thus tech leaders have urged to set global standards on how to use Advanced Technology.

Crux of the Matter
  • Leading Tech giants like Microsoft, Tesla, IMB and Google had made a call on past Monday for change in the regulation policies related to Artificial Intelligence.
  • Taking into account the dark side of AI, Elon Musk CEO of SpaceX said that “If not regulated or controlled soon, AI could become an “immortal dictator” and there will be no escape for humans.”
  • Understanding the responsibility on his shoulder, Sunder Pichai CEO of Google and Alphabet, said, “There is no question that we need regulation and laws regarding AI at global level but how to approach it is bigger deal.”
  • He further added “Companies such as ours cannot just build promising new technology and let market forces decide how it will be used. It is equally incumbent on us to make sure that technology is harnessed for good and available to everyone”.
  • IMB chief Ginni Rometty said, “artificial intelligence regulations must be crafted with precise regulations and technology can’t flourish at the cost of social security.”
  • She further points out that technology is not an issue but the way it can be used is a potential threat for us.

Machine ethics (or machine morality) is the field of research concerned with designing Artificial Moral Agents (AMAs), robots or artificially intelligent computers that behave morally or as though moral. To account for the nature of these agents, it has been suggested to consider certain philosophical ideas, like the standard characterizations of agency, rational agency, moral agency, and artificial agency, which are related to the concept of AMAs. More Info

Ethical Tech – There is one technology in particular that could truly bring the possibility of robots with moral competence to reality. In a paper on the acquisition of moral values by robots, Nayef Al-Rodhan mentions the case of neuromorphic chips, which aim to process information similarly to humans, nonlinearly and with millions of interconnected artificial neurons. Robots embedded with neuromorphic technology could learn and develop knowledge in a uniquely humanlike way. Inevitably, this raises the question of the environment in which such robots would learn about the world and whose morality they would inherit – or if they end up developing human ‘weaknesses’ as well: selfishness, a pro-survival attitude, hesitation, etc. More Info

2019 Modi Mantra for Muslims

2019 has witnessed some reforms centered around the Muslims of India. If Triple Talaq and Education & Haj Schemes lifted the spirits of the Muslim Community, Abrogation of Article 370, Ram Janmabhoomi – Babri Masjid Land Dispute, and Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 may have balanced out the sentiments of the community. Let us dive deeper into how different policies, acts, and decisions shaped the outlook.

Crux of the Matter

Triple Talaq Criminalised
Family Affairs of the Muslim Community of India are governed by Muslim Personal Law. Triple Talaq or Talaq-e-biddat is a practice pronounced in the Sharia Law. Muslim marriages permit divorce if either spouse announces ‘Talaq’ thrice. There have been contentious issues revolving around the time that ought to be given between each announcement, the right of Muslim women to pronounce Triple Talaq, and the responsibility of the financial security of the family. Historically, Ulamas – Muslim scholars – have held opposing views about it. Some modern-day Muslim scholars have said that despite being hollow on legal grounds, this law is binding. We must note that Triple Talaq is banned in Islamic countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, etc.

Supreme Court, in 2017, rendered the practice of Triple Talaq unconstitutional. 2 members, who opposed the ban on Triple Talaq, of the 5-judge bench had, however, recommended that the decision be passed as a law in the Parliament. On 26 July 2019, Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill was passed. It stated that “instant Triple Talaq” announced in whatever form – written, spoken or via Email or SMS, will be considered illegal and stand void. The husband, who announced it, could be imprisoned up to three years.

Muslim women protesting Triple Talaq Bill

This law, on the grounds of constitutionality and human rights, was hailed by Muslim women of India. Muslim Scholars and Incumbents also welcomed the government’s decision. AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi objected to the imprisonment clause of the Bill and said that the Bill did not meet its primary objective of safeguarding women’s security, chiefly financial. The government stood their ground and said that the victimization of women would be reduced.

Abrogation of Article 370
Government of India scrapped Article 370 in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Article 370 of the Indian Constitution allowed J&K to formulate its own laws for self-administration. J&K had its own Constitution. Owning of property, getting local government positions, and availing educational scholarships in the state by outsiders was prohibited.

In a state where 67% of the population is Muslim, a chill ran across the community with the abrogation of Article 370. Some Muslims were apprehensive that scrapping of the Act would invite a lot of outsiders to settle in the state and were of the opinion that their privilege was lost in an unconstitutional manner. Whereas, some Muslims praised the decision of the government and asserted that the discrimination against them will no longer exist and their children will have access to better education and economy.

On a different note, the Indian government received criticism for the way in which the whole operation was carried out. Internet shutdown and curb on mobile and telephone services were major contentions for the government.

Do only Muslims live in Jammu and Kashmir? No Hindus? No Buddhists? Why is it viewed like that? It has been abrogated for veryone and not only for Muslims.

– Amit Shah on abrogation of Article 370

Ayodhya Land Dispute
The long-standing Ayodhya Land Verdict that divided Hindus and Muslims of India came in the year 2019 with the Supreme Court stating that the land would be given to Hindus for Ram temple construction and Muslims will get a 5-acre land at a different place to build a mosque.

AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi opposed the SC ordered and said, “There has been discrimination against Muslims and no one can deny it. We are fighting for our legal rights.”. Many Muslims were affirmative about upholding SC’s decision as it was based on evidence and rationale.

Citizenship Amendment Act
Interpretation of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 and the speculation of the National Register of Citizens by some has shaped apprehension that the process is a concentrated effort to drive out Muslims of the country. The Act now provides citizenship to illegal immigrants from certain religiously persecuted minorities.

Ruling party BJP has time and again asserted that the law will not affect the citizens of India. Home Minster Amit Shah said, “In this Bill, there is no proposal to touch the citizenship of any Muslim,”.

Government Policies
In the year 2019 BJP 2.0 has launched and revamped various policies for the upliftment of Muslims. In the Education sector, the government notified merit-cum-means, pre-matric, post-matric, and various other scholarships for minority communities that also include Muslims. The government also started trained more than 750 teachers from Madras so that they can also impart formal education. “Besides traditional teachings in Madrasa, Urdu, Arabic and other languages, Madrasa teachers are also being provided training for mainstream formal education like Hindi, Maths, English, Science, Computer, regional languages etc. These teachers are being provided training from reputed institutions of the country such as IIT, Aligarh Muslim University, Jamia Millia Islamia, Jamia Hamdard, Anjuman-e-Islam, Amity University and other reputed educational institutes,” said Union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.

Government also took interest in digitizing the entire Haj process so as to give the travelers a transparent process. India launched E-MASIHA, an acronym for E Medical Assistance System for Indian Pilgrims Abroad. It was a database of Indian pilgrims’ health conditions. A record-breaking 2 lakh Muslims had visited Haj in 2019.

Union Minister of Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi signing Hajj 2020 Agreement.

Waqf properties across India were also brought under digitization by the Indian government. Government has a target of geo-tagging as many as 6 lakh Waqf properties to ensure better utilization of them.


Triple talaq, also known as talaq-e-biddat, instant divorce and talaq-e-mughallazah (irrevocable divorce), was a form of Islamic divorce which has been used by Muslims in India, especially adherents of Hanafi Sunni Islamic schools of jurisprudence. It allowed any Muslim man to legally divorce his wife by uttering the word talaq (the Arabic word for “divorce”) three times in oral, written or, more recently, electronic form. More Info

The Hajj is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest city for Muslims. It is a mandatory religious duty for Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, and can support their family during their absence. More Info

A waqf, also known as hubous or mortmain property, is an inalienable charitable endowment under Islamic law, which typically involves donating a building, plot of land or other assets for Muslim religious or charitable purposes with no intention of reclaiming the assets. The donated assets may be held by a charitable trust. The person making such dedication is known as waqif, a donor. More Info

Justice delayed is justice denied: Govt to SC on death penalty laws

Ministry of Home Affairs has filed a petition to the Supreme Court regarding shortcomings in the rape law in the country. Centre took this decision after delay in the judgment of Nirbhaya Case.

Crux of the Matter
  • After the 2012 Nirbhaya case, there had been modifications in law and order pertaining to rape and sexual assault. Fast track courts were opened across the country to deliver speedy justice.
  • But the skewness of the law towards convicts in cases of death penalty has resulted in unnecessary delay in judgments.
  • Central Government wrote an application to the Supreme Court seeking changes in the ‘convict-centric’ guidelines. Center wants to bring in a seven-day time limit for convicts to use their last available legal options before execution in the death penalty cases.
  • The government also stressed upon reduction of time limit to seven-days to file a mercy petition by death row convicts. To eradicate delays, the government wants state-governments and jail officials to issue a new death warrant within seven days instead of fourteen days, after the rejection of mercy petition.
  • One of the convicts had filed a mercy petition after the announcement of first death warrant and said that he was a juvenile at the time of committing the heinous crime. It was rejected by SC saying that “we won’t listen to same thing again and again”.
  • After 7 years of wait, the Nirbhaya case closed with the judgment of the death penalty to be given to 4 convicts on 1st February.
  • Delhi, the center of Indian politics has given this case a shape of the political subject, as BJP accused AAP of prolonged delay in the judgment of heinous rape case of 2012.

Fast track Courts – As a result of the 2012 Delhi gang rape case, the Indian government implemented a fast-track court system to rapidly prosecute rape cases. The fast-track court system has been welcomed by some, but their fairness questioned by legal experts and scholars. The legal scholars state that the fast-track courts may not be fair in an impoverished country where millions of cases are backlogged, and there are an average of just 14 judges per million people – among the lowest in a United Nations study of 65 nations. Fast track courts divert limited judicial resources and add delays to prosecution of other crimes. They noted that Delhi state had instituted five fast-track courts in 2013 to handle rape cases, but there are no fast-track courts for murder. Mrinal Satish, of New Delhi’s National Law University said, “there is a risk that in this emotional response and clamor for immediate justice, we could end up putting innocent people in prison”. More Info