Chinese Scientists Explored Weaponising Coronavirus, Claims New Report

Early theories of Coronavirus being a man-made biological weapon have resurfaced again in the light of recent reports, which claim that China had first discussed the idea in 2015. However, US, which is alleged to have found that report, is also being linked to it. Let’s look at what’s going on.

Crux of the Matter

Recently
Reports in Australia have claimed that a 2015 document was obtained by US State Department while investigating origin of Coronavirus.

What DidThe Paper Say
The paper, titled “The Unnatural Origin of SARS and New Species of Man-Made Viruses as Genetic Bioweapons”, was reportedly written by scientist of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China.

As per the alleged paper, Chinese scientists labelled SARS coronavirus as new era of genetic weapons. The scientists also claimed that those viruses could be “artificially manipulated into an emerging human-disease virus, then weaponised and unleashed in a way never seen before”.

The News
The news has come after WHO investigation claimed that it was ‘unlikely’ the virus was man-made. However, the investigation was widely called ‘incomplete’ as China gave ‘limited access‘ to investigators. It has also brought the Wuhan Institute of Virology to forefront again, as the institute is associated with controversial gain of function research.

Gain Of Function Research
The research is also done in other countries, most notably in US. Several reports claim that it was banned under Obama, only to be allowed again under Trump. Some reports also claim that US has backed China’s ‘gain of function’ studies.

For example, as per Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, New York’s EcoHealth Alliance had “funded coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology”.

Take a look at what is Gain of Function research here: Why Is Gain Of Function Research Making News Amidst The Pandemic?

Curiopedia
  • Opened for signature on 10 April, 1972, Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) is a disarmament treaty banning biological and toxin weapons. 183 States have ratified or acceded to the treaty as of May, 2021.

Why Is Gain Of Function Research Making News Amidst The Pandemic?

Why Is Gain Of Function Research Making News Amidst The Pandemic?

Since the onset of Covid-19 pandemic, the scientific community is debating regarding the transparency of virus research. This is specifically regarding the federally funded research that involves making pathogens more deadly or more transmissible for research purposes. But is it worth it if it can risk the public health in case it escapes the lab environment? How do we make it more ethical? Let’s first understand the basics of Gain of Function research for this.

Crux of the Matter

What Is Gain Of Function?
GoF is a study that involves creation of pathogens with additional functionalities than occur in nature. This could even lead to creation of pathogens that are more transmissible and deadlier.

Why Would We Do That?
It is performed to understand the way in which a pathogen adapts to environmental pressures. This allows disease control measures to be better planned, and potential vaccines to be explored. Also research on bio-weapons and vaccines is carried out in case a malicious entity weaponises such pathogens.

Controversy With GoF
In 2012, a team worked on a paper, Airborne Transmission of Influenza A/H5N1 Virus Between Ferrets for genetically modifying H5V1 virus by creating a strain that was airborne in ferrets. This demonstrated that it was possible for the avian influenza virus to become transmissible in air and that the strain was sensitive to certain antiviral drugs.

Research Stopped
 The possibility of an accidental or intentional malicious release of such a virus caused the US to halt funding for GoF research relating to influenza, SARS, or MERS in 2014.

Research Restarted
In 2017, National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity concluded that very few such experiments posed a risk to public safety. So the ban was lifted and White House developed an ethical analysis white paper.

What’s In The White Paper

Transparency In Research
In such analysis, expert-panel members are not publicly available, nor are its reviews of study proposals.

We’re not trying to say the policy is wrong, we’re trying to say the policy is ambiguous

Marc Lipsitch, Harvard epidermiologist

Unknown Origins Of Covid-19
There have been theories about Covid-19 causing SARS-CoV-2 emerging as a result of Gain of Function research. That’s because the pandemic started in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, which also houses the Wuhan Institute of Virology, that conducts research on bat coronaviruses. Till date, we don’t know if Covid-19 originated in the wild or in the lab.

Curiopedia
  • The word Pathogenic came into existence in 1852 and the word Pathogen was derived from ‘Pathogenic’ during the 1880s. In Greek, the word Pathogenic means “origin of suffering“.
  • Antonie van Leeuwenhoek invented the first microscope in the 1600s. It was a single lens microscope made with a very small glass ball lens. With the help of that microscope he then rediscovered the red blood cells and Spermatozoa.
  • Fungi’s medicinal significance was discovered in 1928 by Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming. Fungi can also be eaten; for example, certain mushrooms, morels, and truffles are considered epicurean delicacies, and mycoproteins (fungal proteins) obtained from the mycelia of some fungi are used to produce high-protein foods.

How Is India Inc Helping The Nation Fight Covid?

How Is India Inc Helping The Nation Fight Covid?

While India is grappling with the second wave of Covid 19, Indian Corporate is stepping up and contributing to tackle it. In the past year, major aid came on social and humanitarian grounds. Whereas in 2021, funds are utilized to support the infrastructural demand. From big business houses to niche startups, each firm is donating its bit. Let’s look at some of them.

Crux of the Matter

In one of the most unprecedented times, the Corporate India is stepping up to support not only its employees but also other people. Let’s see how from conglomerates to startup, many companies are doing their bit to tackle Covid-19.

Startups To The Rescue

  • Paytm will continue to pay salary for the current fiscal to the families of its 8 employees who succumbed due to Covid.
  • Zomato will provide 100% of the income to the family of the deceased employees for 2 years.
  • Flipkart will give paid Covid Care Leave of 28 calendar days in case an employee is diagnosed with Covid.
  • Urban Company set up Mohit Agrawal relief fund of ₹1 crore in the memory of the company’s Director of Engineering who died due to Covid-19.
  • Byju’s formed a ₹20 crore fund to support Covid expenses of employees.
  • Unacademy raised $1million Covid Fund to avail free vaccinations to employees and educators.

Infrastructural Aid

  • JSW Steel is supplying 1000 MT of oxygen per day and plans to ramp it further.
  • Reliance Industries is supplying 700 MT of oxygen per day and plans to scale it up to 1000 MT/day.
  • Amazon India airlifted 8,000 oxygen concentrators and 500 bi-level positive airway pressure (BiPAP) machines from Singapore.
  • ITC Ltd airlifted 24 cryogenic ISO containers, 20 tonnes each from Asian countries. It is also setting up a 200 bed medical facility in Kolkata.
  • Adani Group imported 4 cryogenic tanks with 80 MT of liquid oxygen from Saudi Arabia.
  • ArcelorMittal Nippon Steel India is supplying 200 MT of liquid oxygen per day to Gujarat. They have also set up a 250-bed Covid hospital in Hazira in collaboration with the Gujarat government.

Financial Aid

Tata’s No Limit Covid Care
Tata Trust’s Chairman, Ratan Tata and Tata Group’s Chairman N Chandrasekaran directed to have no limit in Covid funding. The group and trust have collectively pledged ₹2000 crore to date for Covid Care.

Major initiatives include:

  • Converting 1500 hotel rooms in Indian hotels to hospital beds.
  • Tata Projects setting up labour camps with food and stay facilities for migrant workers.
  • Tata Steel supplying up to 800 MT of medical liquid oxygen a day.
  • Tata Trusts organising medical training programmes for volunteers.
  • Collaborating with Linde to airlift oxygen containers from Singapore, China and Dubai to India.

Curiopedia
  • Shah Rukh Khan is the current brand Ambassador of Byju’s. Former co-founder of Facebook, Eduardo Saverin Invested $1 billion in Byju’s in April, 2021. The current evaluation of Byju’s is around $15 billion.
  • Originally Zomato was known by the name of “FoodieBay”. The name of Zomato is a wordplay around the word Tomato.
  • Flipkart was founded by former Amazon employees Sachin and Binny Bansal in October 2007. In 2018, Walmart bought 77% stake in Flipkart for $16 Billion.

The Case Of Covid-19 Vaccine Patents Waiver

The Case Of Covid-19 Vaccine Patents Waiver

Amidst rising Covid-19 cases and a growing dearth of vaccines, discussions around removing intellectual property rights over vaccine have started again. With US making an official statement that it will waive off the patents for Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, many nations have shown support to the matter raised prominently last year by India and South Africa. There also have been arguments for and against patent waiver. Let’s understand what is happening.

Crux of the Matter

Back Story
In May 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) in order to share knowledge for rapidly scaling up the vaccine production proposed a Covid–Technology Access Pool. However, the initiative largely failed as vaccine companies refused to participate.

The Proposal
In October 2020, India along with South Africa, at World Trade Organization’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) council meet, proposed to temporarily suspend the protection of Intellectual Property (IP) rights pertaining to the Covid-19 vaccine and drugs.

Proponents To Relinquish IP Rights
The India-South Africa proposal was roughly backed by over 100 nations.

Fundamental Argument:

  • The patent holders have the exclusive right to manufacture, sell, and use the vaccine/drug for the entire term of 20 years from the date of its filing.
  • IP rights could restrict the supply of vaccines and drugs. Thus, only by suspending the TRIPS agreement a ‘fair, equitable and affordable access’ to Covid-19 products can be ensured.

At present, the annual global vaccine production capacity is 3.5 billion doses. While to vaccinate 70% of the world’s population,11 billion doses are required. A significant increase in production is the need of hour to control Covid 19.

As Reported In WSJ:
Pharmaceutical firms in developing nations like Bangladesh, India, South Africa, and Senegal say that they have the capacity to produce vaccines within a few months if Western manufacturers license or share their technology.

Opposition To Waiver

  • Vaccine makers which are already ramping up production believe that squashing IP will not work to overcome supply shortage in the short term.
  • Reason? Contract producers are not well versed with the new technology.
  • Ugur Sahin, CEO of BioNTech said that it would take a year to master the RNA technology and ensure quality control, with others saying that it would take away resources from existing vaccine production.

What About Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin?

  • Covaxin is indigenously developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and National Institute of Virology.
  • Covaxin is an Indian Intellectual Property and hence the scope of TRIPs is not applicable if India want to license it to other Indian firms.
  • So far, Indian government has granted the license to Haffkine Bio-Pharmaceutical Corp.
  • However, the firm will take at least a year to get the first Covaxin jab out of its factory owing to the mandatory ‘Biosafety level-3’ production facility required.

In News
On 6th May, 2021 the US finally agreed to temporarily suspend the IP rights. However, the statement released said that US will participate in ‘text based negotiations’ and ‘the entire process might take time’. Experts believe that the process will go on for so long that the emergency is over and there’s no longer a need to share IP.

Curiopedia
  • Jonas Salk was the creator of one of the world’s first successful Polio Vaccines. In order to increase distribution globally, he did not patent or make a profit out of the vaccine.
  • Edward Jenner created the smallpox vaccine, the first ever vaccine. He is often regarded as the Father of Immunology.
  • The term vaccine and vaccination from the words ‘Variolae vaccinae’. It mean ‘smallpox of the cow’.

Understanding Plasma Donation

Understanding Plasma Donation

With the second wave of Covid-19 looming upon us, the demand for the plasma of recovered patients has also gone up tremendously. However, many people still have inhibitions about donating plasma. Let’s understand some basics of plasma donation.

Crux of the Matter

What’s A Plasma?
It is a yellow coloured component that is 55% of your blood. Labs separate plasma from blood with special devices called plasma tubes via centrifugation.

Does It Contain Antibodies?
Yes. When your body has fought an infection, the antibodies produced are stored in the plasma. So if you have contracted SARS-COV-2 virus that causes COVID, then fighting antibodies will be present in your plasma.

How Is It Helpful For A Covid Patient?
The plasma taken from a person who has recovered from a disease is called convalescent plasma. Scientists state that injecting a Covid patient with convalescent plasma, from someone who has already recovered from COVID, can help the patient heal faster.

When Is It Most Needed?
Plasma transfusion should be done within 5-7 days of contracting COVID, to help patients with mild to moderate infection. However, it can’t help critical patients on ventilators.

So When Can You Donate?
Donating while you are Covid positive isn’t a good idea as enough antibodies haven’t been generated to kill the virus.  As per FDA, the best time to donate is about 2 weeks after you have completely recovered.

What If The Donor Gets Vaccinated ?
Well, the regulations in India state that a person cannot donate blood for 28 days after getting the Covid vaccine. Thus, blood banks have appealed to 18 to 44 year olds to donate blood before getting the vaccine.

Will The Donor Get Re-Infected With Covid?
With or without donating blood, your antibodies decrease over time. But on contracting Covid again, your body is able to respond and reproduce antibodies within a couple of hours. Infact, many people have donated blood 7-8 times.

Do’s And Don’ts While Donating Plasma:

  • Always carry a hard copy of the Covid-19 negative report within 4 months of the day of donation & your Aadhar Card.
  • Donate only after 14 days of a Covid-19 positive report if the person is asymptomatic or after 14 days of symptom resolution if the person is symptomatic.
  • Women who have ever been pregnant cannot donate Covid-19 convalescent plasma.
  • Person who has received Covid-19 vaccination will not be able to donate plasma for 28 days from the date of vaccination.
  • A person cannot donate if he/she gets rejected for the lack of adequate antibodies in the blood.

Curiopedia
  • The protein which gives red colour to the blood is called Haemoglobin (Hb). Present in the red blood cells, it is the iron-containing oxygen-transport metalloprotein.
  • Almost 7% of the human body weight is blood.
  • Blood of octopuses is blue in colour.