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Current Affairs 20 March 2023

CONTENTS

  1. Shanghai Cooperation Organisation
  2. Late-life depression
  3. Enzyme Laccase
  4. Generative AI
  5. Cyrtopodion Vindhya
  6. Trichrysis poseidonia

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation


Context:

Recently, India mooted an action plan to mark 2023 as the year of tourism development in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)  region at the tourism ministers’ conference in Varanasi. “India has assumed the SCO chairship for 2023.

Relevance:

GS II- International relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is the SCO? 
  2. Organizational structure of SCO
  3. How is this relevant to India? 
  4. Is it about countering the West? 

Conference in Varanasi Focuses on Improving SCO Tourism: Key Outcomes

Joint Action Plan Finalised:

  • The conference concluded with the finalisation and approval of a joint action plan for implementing the agreement between the Member States on cooperation in the tourism sector. The plan includes the following points:
    • Promotion of the SCO tourism brand
    • Promotion of the cultural heritage of member states
    • Sharing of information and digital technologies in tourism
    • Promotion of mutual cooperation in medical and health tourism

Joint Activities Planned:

  • The member countries have also planned to undertake various activities jointly, including:
    • SCO tourism exhibition
    • SCO Food Festival
    • Webinars and seminars on tourism
    • Conference and expert sessions on the promotion of tourism in the region

Action Plan for ‘Year of Tourism Development in the SCO Space in 2023’:

  • The meeting adopted an action plan for the ‘Year of Tourism Development in the SCO Space in 2023’. The plan identifies a list of activities and events to promote and showcase tourism products of SCO member states.

Varanasi Declared as the First Tourism and Cultural Capital of SCO:

  • The document also declared Varanasi as the first tourism and cultural capital of SCO, thereby putting the city on the map as a major tourist destination.

What is the SCO? 

  • Founded in June 2001, it was built on the ‘Shanghai Five’, the grouping which consisted of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
  • They came together in the post-Soviet era in 1996, in order to work on regional security, reduction of border troops and terrorism.
  • They endowed particular focus on ‘conflict resolution’, given its early success between China and Russia, and then within the Central Asian Republics.
  • Some of their prominent outcomes in this arena entail an ‘Agreement on Confidence-Building in the Military Field Along the Border Areas’ (in 1996) between China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which led to an agreement on the mutual reduction of military forces on their common borders in 1997.
  • It would also pitch in to help the Central Asian countries resolve some of their boundary disputes. 
  • In 2001, the ‘Shanghai Five’ inducted Uzbekistan into its fold and named it the SCO, outlining its principles in a charter that promoted what was called the “Shanghai spirit” of cooperation.
  • The precise assertion, combined with some of the member states’ profiles, of building a “new international political and economic order” has often led to it being placed as a counter to treaties and groupings of the West, particularly North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
Member states
  • India, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
  • The SCO also has four observer states — Afghanistan, Iran, Belarus and Mongolia — of which Iran and Belarus are now moving towards full membership. 
Main goals
  • Strengthening mutual trust and neighbourliness among the member states;
  • Promoting their effective cooperation in politics, trade, economy, research and technology, and culture.
Focus areas:
  • Education, energy, transport, tourism and environmental protection.
  • It also calls for joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region; and the establishment of a democratic, fair and rational new international political and economic order.

Organizational structure of SCO

The SCO secretariat has two permanent bodies —

  • SCO Secretariat based in Beijing 
  • Executive Committee of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) based in Tashkent.

Other than this, the grouping consists of

Heads of State Council (HSC):

  • It is the supreme decision-making body of the organisation.
  • It meets annually to adopt decisions and guidelines on all important matters relevant to the organisation.

Heads of Government Council (HGC):

  • The HGC (mainly including Prime Ministers) also meets annually to zero in on the organisation’s priority areas and multilateral cooperation strategy.
  • It also endeavours to resolve present economic and cooperation issues alongside approving the organisation’s annual budget. 

Foreign Ministers Council:

  • The Foreign Ministers Council considers issues pertaining to the day-to-day activities of the organisation, charting HSC meetings and consultations on international problems within the organisation and if required, makes statements on behalf of the SCO. 

How is this relevant to India? 

  • India acquired the observer status in the grouping in 2005 and was admitted as a full member in 2017.
  • Through the years, the SCO hosts have encouraged members to use the platform to discuss differences with other members on the sidelines.
  • India is also a part of the ‘Quadrilateral’ grouping with the U.S., Japan and Australia.
  • Its association with the grouping of a rather different nature is part of its foreign policy that emphasises on principles of “strategic autonomy and multi-alignment”. 

Is it about countering the West? 

  • The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) noted in 2015 that decades of rapid economic growth had propelled China onto the world’s stage, whereas Russia found itself beset with economic turmoil following the Crimean annexation in 2014 and ejection from the G8 grouping.
  • Most recently, Russia’s action in Ukraine caused it to be subjected to sanctions on multiple fronts by the West.
  • China, in what could be referred to as ‘distance diplomacy’, had held that security of one country should not be at the expense of another country — blaming the West (specifically referring to NATO) for the entire episode.
  • Thus, the organisation spearheaded by both Russia and China does not find its supporters in the West. 
  • The Iranian leadership has often stressed that the country must “look to the East”.
  • This is essential not only to resist its economic isolation (by addressing the banking and trade problems on account of U.S. sanctions) from the West, but also find strategic allies that would help it to reach a new agreement on the nuclear program.
  • In other words, using its ties with China and Russia as a leverage against the West. Additionally, it would help it strengthen its involvement in Asia. 
  • The same premise applies for Belarus, which lent its support to Russia for its actions in Ukraine. An association with the SCO bodes well for its diplomacy and regional stature.

-Source: Indian Express


Late-life Depression


Context:

Late-life depression (LLD) is caused by multiple factors working together. It has three broad risk factors — biological, psychological, and social.

Relevance:

GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Biological Risk Factors for Late-Life Depression
  2. Psychological Risk Factors for Late-Life Depression
  3. Social Risk Factors for Late-Life Depression
  4. Clinical Assessment of Depression
  5. Approaches to Treating Late-Life Depression

Biological Risk Factors for Late-Life Depression

Late-life depression (LLD) is a complex mental health disorder that affects many elderly people. Although the causes of LLD are not fully understood, research has identified several biological risk factors associated with the condition. Here are some of the key biological risk factors for LLD:

  • Lack of Candidate Biomarker: Scientists have not yet identified a candidate biomarker for LLD that could serve as a clear sign of the disease process.
  • Genetic Contribution: Studies have found some evidence of genetic contribution to LLD. Hypotheses involving the genes that code for serotonin synthesis, norepinephrine transporter, and the neurotrophic factor have been advanced, but require further testing.
  • Vascular Depression: A subset of LLD, called vascular depression, is associated with cerebrovascular lesions. This theory is based on the observation that depression is a frequent outcome in people who have had a stroke. Vascular depression is associated with brain lesions, which appear as bright spots on brain scans, called white matter hyperintensities, disrupting brain signalling and circuits.
  • Cortisol Secretion: Stress that accumulates over one’s life leads to a sustained secretion of cortisol, the hormone that regulates the body’s stress response. Increased cortisol levels lead to the loss of brain cells in the hippocampus, which is implicated in memory and learning.
  • Physical Illness: LLD is often associated with physical illnesses such as heart attacks, heart conditions, diabetes, and hip fractures. Depressive symptoms can also manifest if a person doesn’t optimally recover from physical illnesses.

Psychological Risk Factors for Late-Life Depression

  • Neuroticism: Neuroticism is a personality trait characterized by a tendency to experience negative emotions, anger, irritability, and emotional instability. Research has consistently implicated neuroticism in LLD, with some depressed individuals overreacting to life events or misinterpreting them.
  • Recent Adverse Life Events: Depressed elderly people often report recent adverse life events, such as job loss or bereavement, more frequently than non-depressed older adults.
  • Locus of Control: Locus of control refers to the degree to which an individual feels a sense of agency in their life. Individuals with an external locus of control tend to feel that external forces, such as random chance or the actions of others, are more responsible for the events that occur in their life. Research has found that having an external locus of control predicts the emergence and persistence of depressive symptoms in older adults.

Social Risk Factors for Late-Life Depression

  • Lower Socioeconomic Status: Research has found that individuals with lower socioeconomic status are more likely to experience depression across the life cycle, including in late-life.
  • Social Support: Social support includes the perception of support, the structure of the social network, and the tangible help and assistance available. Perceived social support has been found to be the most robust predictor of LLD symptoms. However, it is important to note that while older adults’ social networks may thin out over time, many new ones may emerge.

Other social risk factors for LLD include living alone, social isolation, and the loss of a spouse or partner. By understanding these social risk factors, healthcare professionals can develop more effective prevention and treatment strategies for older adults with LLD.

Clinical Assessment of Depression

Clinical assessment of depression involves evaluating various aspects of the patient’s medical history and current symptoms. Here are some key steps in the assessment process:

  • Evaluate Duration and Course of the Current Episode: This involves assessing the duration of the current depressive episode, screening for previous episodes, and evaluating the course of previous episodes.
  • Rule Out Substance Misuse: Substance misuse can lead to symptoms of depression. Therefore, it is important to rule out any substance misuse in the patient.
  • Evaluate Response to Previous Interventions: Assessing the patient’s response to previous interventions can inform the treatment plan going forward.
  • Assess Family History: Looking at the family history of depression and/or suicide can inform the diagnosis and treatment of the patient.
  • Evaluate Cognitive Status: Assessing the patient’s cognitive status is important in older patients with depression. Screening scales like the Mini Mental-State Examination can be helpful.
  • Thorough Physical Examination: A thorough physical examination of all systems is important in the assessment process.
  • Order Relevant Tests: This may include tests for thyroid and metabolic panel, vitamin B12, folate and vitamin D levels, and other biochemistries. Brain scans may also be ordered to rule out other pathologies.

By conducting a thorough clinical assessment, healthcare professionals can make an accurate diagnosis and develop an effective treatment plan for patients with depression.

Approaches to Treating Late-Life Depression

Psychotherapy: Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) helps identify maladaptive thought patterns and restructure them to help cope and feel better.

  • Therapists seek evidence in support of negative thoughts and offer alternative perspectives.
  • CBT sessions typically last 30-60 minutes, with six to 20 sessions.

Medications: Safe and effective drugs are available to treat geriatric depression. Antidepressants are often taken for six to nine months after the remission of a depressive episode.

  • Combining medication with talk therapy increases efficacy.
  • Prescribing medication to older adults starts low and goes slow.

Brain Stimulation: Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is used to treat severe depression, suicidality, and psychotic depression.

  • ECT is the most effective treatment for severe major depressive episodes.

Family Therapy: Working with families is critical for the successful outcome of treatment.

  • Educating family members about the depressive disorder and potential risks of geriatric depression is essential.
  • Family members can assist clinicians by observing behavioural changes, removing potential implements of suicide and administering medications to non-adherent individuals.
  • LLD is treatable, and taking care of the elderly is a shared responsibility.

-Source: The Hindu


Enzyme Laccase


Context:

Recently, researchers from S. N. Bose National Center for Basic Sciences (SNBNCBS), Kolkata, tested the efficacy of the laccase enzyme in degrading some standard dye molecules.

Relevance:

GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What are enzymes?
  2. Laccase Enzyme for Dye Effluent Treatment
  3. Enzyme promiscuity

What are enzymes?

  • Enzymes are biological molecules, typically proteins, that act as catalysts in living organisms.
  • They regulate the rate at which chemical reactions occur without being consumed or permanently altered in the process.
  • Enzymes are involved in various metabolic processes, including digestion, respiration, and the synthesis of complex molecules like DNA and proteins.
  • They play a crucial role in maintaining the chemical balance within cells and are essential for life.
  • Enzymes are highly specific in their action and are able to catalyze specific chemical reactions by binding to specific substrates, or reactant molecules.

Laccase Enzyme for Dye Effluent Treatment

The laccase enzyme, produced by certain fungi, has the ability to degrade hazardous organic dye molecules found in water bodies polluted by textile industry effluents. This characteristic, known as substrate promiscuity, has significant potential for developing enzyme-coated cassettes to treat heavily dye-polluted water.

Key points:
  • Laccase is generated by certain fungi and is known for its ability to degrade various organic molecules.
  • Laccase contains 4 copper atoms in two different oxidation states and degrades substrates through redox reactions, producing only water and non-virulent or less virulent oxides of carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur.
  • The substrate promiscuity of laccase allows for the degradation of various organic dye molecules with varying kinetics, charge, size, and shape.
  • The combination of UV/Visible spectroscopy and computer simulations has shown the potential for laccase to be used in the development of technology to treat and degrade dye effluents from textile industries.
  • The substrate promiscuity of laccase offers immense biotechnological potential as a broad-spectrum degrader for industrial dye effluents.

Enzyme promiscuity

  • Enzyme promiscuity refers to the ability of an enzyme to catalyze reactions other than its primary function.
  • Enzymes are highly specific in their substrate binding, and they typically catalyze one or a few reactions with a high degree of selectivity.
  • However, many enzymes have been found to exhibit promiscuous behavior, meaning they can also catalyze additional reactions with other substrates.
  • This promiscuity can have important implications in biotechnology, as these enzymes can be repurposed for new applications beyond their original function.

-Source: The Hindu, PIB


Generative AI


Context:

Generative artificial intelligence has become a buzzword this year, capturing the public’s fancy and sparking a rush among Microsoft and Alphabet to launch products with the technology they believe will change the nature of work.

Relevance:

GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is generative AI?
  2. What is it good for?
  3. What’s wrong with that?

What is generative AI?

  • It learns how to take actions from past data and creates new content based on that training.
  • ChatGPT, a chatbot by Microsoft-backed OpenAI, is a well-known application that uses generative AI.
  • GPT-4, a newer model, can perceive not only text but images as well.

What is it good for?

  • It is useful for creating a first draft of marketing copy, summarizing customer reviews, taking notes during a virtual meeting, drafting and personalizing emails, and creating slide presentations.

What’s wrong with that?

  • Potential abuse of technology, such as students turning in AI-drafted essays, and generating disinformation by bad actors and governments.
  • The technology is prone to making mistakes, such as factual inaccuracies and erratic responses.

Is this just about Google and Microsoft?

  • They are at the forefront of research and investment in large language models and widely use generative AI in their software.
  • Other large and small companies are also creating their own competing AI or packaging technology from others to give users new powers through software.

-Source: Indian Express


Cyrtopodion Vindhya


Context:

Recently, a new species of naked-toed gecko (Cyrtopodion) has been discovered in Dahod and Panchmahals districts in Gujarat.

Relevance:

GS III: Species in News

Newly Discovered Naked-Toed Gecko: Cyrtopodion Vindhya

  • The newly discovered reptile is named ‘Cyrtopodion Vindhya.’
  • It is the fifth endemic species of reptile described in the last fifteen years from Gujarat, India.
  • The new species is named after the Vindhya hill ranges.
  • The Palearctic naked-toed geckos of the genus Cyrtopodion are distributed across the arid regions of north Africa, Arabia, and Central Asia to northwestern India.
  • The taxonomic history of the genus Cyrtopodion has been unstable, and 23 species are currently recognized, with the diversity concentrated in Pakistan and Iran.
  • Cyrtopodion Vindhya is a nocturnal species and is associated with granite boulders.
  • It is mostly rupicolous, which means it lives among rocks, but it can also be found on the ground.

-Source: The Hindu


Trichrysis Poseidonia


Context:

A research team of the Shadpada Entomology Research Lab, Christ College, Irinjalakuda, has discovered a new species of cuckoo wasp from southern India.

Relevance:

GS III: Species in News

About Trichrysis poseidonia:

  • Trichrysis poseidonia is a new species of cuckoo wasp.
  • The wasp was collected from Tamil Nadu and Madayipara in Kannur, as well as from Nepal.
  • The specific name “poseidonia” is derived from Poseidon, the Greek God of the Sea, because the species has three sharp and pointed apical abdominal teeth reminiscent of Poseidon’s trident.
  • Cuckoo wasps are part of the Chrysididae family and are known for their kleptoparasitic behavior, stealing food from other wasps and bees similar to the cuckoo bird.
  • The Chrysididae family of wasps is more active in warm areas and is heliophilic, meaning they are more active in sunlight.
  • The Madayipara laterite plateau is rich in biodiversity and is a suitable habitat for these wasps.

-Source: The Hindu


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