Why are the Covid-19 vaccines a major milestone?

The Covid-19 disease is caused by a strain of positive-sense single-stranded RNA virus called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2, also known as SARS-CoV-2. It is responsible for the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic which has killed over 38 lakh people since it was first detected in December, 2019.

Vaccines are critical in the fight against Covid-19, along with safety measures such as proper hand and face hygiene, the use of face masks and social distancing.

Some of the vaccines approved by the World Health Organization as of June 2021 are as follows: AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, Johnson and Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer/BionTech, Sinopharm, Sinovac.

Covaxin, India’s first indigenous Covid-19 vaccine has been developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research and the National Institute of Virology.

The AstraZeneca Vaccine is being produced in India as Covishield. The Russian vaccine Sputnik V has also been approved for use in India amid the second wave of the pandemic.

The Covid-19 vaccines are safe for people above 18 years and older, including senior citizens and people with pre-existing conditions like hypertension, diabetes and asthma. As of now, Covid-19 vaccine trials for children have begun in the USA, Singapore, Japan, and parts of Europe. China has approved Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines for children as young as 3-years and above. In India too, clinical trials for children have begun at AIIMS, Delhi.

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Why is robotic surgery so precise?

In robotic surgery, a robotic system responds to the movements of the surgeon’s hands to perform complex surgeries, using miniaturized instruments and a three-dimensional camera.

It allows the doctor to perform minimally invasive procedures involving tiny incisions with more precision than possible conventionally. Typically a robotic surgical system will include a camera arm and mechanical arms with attached surgical instruments.

To understand better, think of video games. One can control the movements in the game using the console or keys available. In robotic surgery too, the surgeon performs precise, delicate movements using master controls while sitting at a nearby console.

The advantage of this type of surgery is that the surgeon is able to see a high-definition, magnified, 3-D view of the surgical field and has greater control and dexterity over the procedure. Also, the patient has a lesser risk of infection, smaller scars, lesser blood loss and a shorter hospital stay.

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What is the Human Genome Project?

The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international, collaborative research effort to determine the DNA sequence of the entire human genome (the complete genetic material present in the human organism). The project was launched in 1990 and was declared complete in 2003.

The HGP researchers deciphered the human genome in three major ways: determining the order or sequence of all the bases in our genome’s DNA; making maps that show the locations of genes for major sections of all our chromosomes; and producing what are called linkage maps, through which inherited traits (such as those for genetic disease) can be tracked over generations.

The HGP revealed that the human genome contained more than 2.85 billion nucleotides and that there are approximately 22,300 protein - coding genes in human beings.

The HGP has given the world a resource of detailed information about the structure, organization and function of the complete set of human genes.

As researchers learn more and more about the functions of genes and proteins, this knowledge is all set to have an even greater impact in the fields of medicine, biotechnology and life sciences.

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What is cloning and what are its implications?

Cloning is the process of generating a genetically identical copy of a cell or organism. The closest that we can see this occurring naturally, is in identical twins.

Scientists use two methods to get an exact, genetic copy of an organism. In the first, known as Artificial Embryo Twinning, scientists mimic the natural process of creating identical twins. The only difference being that in the natural process twinning takes place inside the womb and in the artificial twinning method, the splitting of the fertilized egg into two genetically identical embryos takes place in the lab.

The second method is called ‘Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer’ or SCNT. In this process a viable embryo is created using a body cell and an egg cell.

Scientists at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, UK made history on 5th July 1996, when they successfully cloned a sheep named Dolly using the SCNT method.

In this process of cloning, the scientists extract the DNA from an animal cell and implant it into an egg cell taken from another animal. Before implanting it, the DNA of the recipient cell is removed.

The idea of cloning can be exciting and frightening at the same time. Once the techniques are perfected, cloning may be used in preserving endangered species and for reviving extinct species as well.

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What is DNA profiling?

DNA profiling, also called DNA fingerprinting, is a test to identify a person’s DNA characteristics. The DNA test is called a ‘fingerprint’, because just as it is very unlikely that any two people would have the exact, same physical fingerprint, it is also very unlikely that any two people would have exactly the same DNA information.

Only a small sample of cells is needed for DNA fingerprinting. A drop of blood or strands of hair contain enough genetic material for DNA testing. The test is used to determine whether a family relationship exists between two people. It is also used to identify organisms causing a disease. It is also a forensic technique in criminal investigations and is an important and decisive component of solving crimes. For example, DNA isolated from dried blood, saliva or hair found at a crime scene can be compared to a DNA sample collected from someone suspected of a crime, to prove his or her innocence or guilt.

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