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Today's Headlines - 03 October 2023

Nobel Prize in Medicine 2023

GS Paper - 3 (Health and Diseases)

The 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has gone to scientists Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman, whose work enabled the development of mRNA vaccines against Covid-19. Through their groundbreaking findings, which have fundamentally changed our understanding of mRNA interacts with our immune system.

What are mRNA vaccines?

  • Traditionally, vaccines have depended on introducing dead or weakened viruses into the human body, so it can develop antibodies against them.
  • Thus, when the actual virus infects someone, their body is prepared to fight it. As technology evolved, instead of the whole virus, just a part of the viral genetic code, instead of the whole virus, began to be introduced through vaccines.
  • But the large-scale development of such vaccines requires cell culture (growing of cells under controlled conditions) and takes time.
  • During the Covid-19 outbreak, time was of the essence in finding a weapon against the deadly and fast-spreading virus. This is where mRNA technology proved crucial.
  • This technology had been known since the 1980s, but had not been perfected enough to create vaccines at a viable scale.
  • Basically, instead of putting an inactivated virus in the body to activate an immune response, vaccines using this technology use messenger Ribonucleic Acid, or mRNA, to deliver a message to the immune system.
  • Genetically engineered mRNA can instruct cells to make the protein needed to fight a particular virus. Since RNA is already present in cells, this method does away with the need for cell culture.

What Kariko and Weissman did

  • Karikó and Weissman realised that the problem with such genetically engineered mRNA is that the body’s dendritic cells [which have important functions in immune surveillance and the activation of vaccine-induced immune response] recognise them as a foreign substance, and release inflammatory signaling molecules against them.
  • Karikó and Weissman knew that bases in RNA from mammalian cells are frequently chemically modified, while in vitro transcribed mRNA is not.
  • They wondered if the absence of altered bases in the in vitro transcribed RNA could explain the unwanted inflammatory reaction.
  • To investigate this, they produced different variants of mRNA, each with unique chemical alterations in their bases, which they delivered to dendritic cells.
  • The results were striking: The inflammatory response was almost abolished when base modifications were included in the mRNA.

Bihar caste survey data out

GS Paper - 2 (Polity)

The Bihar caste survey was released by the state government on 2 October 2023, revealing that Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs) constitute more than 63% of the population of Bihar.  The numbers stand in contrast to the quantum of reservation, which is 27% that the OBC population gets in government jobs and admissions to educational institutions.

The Journey of survey

  • The journey of the caste survey wasn’t smooth, though. Soon after its second phase began on 15 April 2023, the Patna High Court stayed the survey in May, saying the state wasn’t competent to conduct the caste survey.
  • Around three months later, the same court termed the survey “perfectly valid”.

The grounds for the challenge

  • The caste survey was challenged under two significant grounds: that it violated a citizen’s fundamental right to privacy and that the state had no power to carry out such a survey.
  • Privacy argument: Petitioners opposed the survey, saying the right to privacy of those being surveyed will be infringed due to the queries concerning their religion, caste, and monthly income.
  • But the court referred to the triple-requirement test laid down in the 2017 ‘Justice KS Puttaswamy vs Union of India’ case, reiterating that permissible restrictions can be imposed on the fundamental right, in the state’s legitimate interests, provided they are proportional and reasonable.
  • Over the security concerns raised in the interim order (which had stayed the survey), the court accepted the Bihar government’s counter-affidavit, saying that the survey has a foolproof mechanism with no chance of any kind of data leakage.
  • Adding that the disclosures were “voluntary” and aimed at “bringing forth development schemes for the identified backward classes”, the court clarified that the data collected was not for “taxingbrandinglabelling or ostracising individuals or groups” but to “identify the economic, educational and other social aspects of different communities/classes/groups, which require further action by the State” for their upliftment.
  • Competence: The petitioners claimed that only the Union government could conduct a “census”. The legislative, and by extension, executive, powers of the Centre and states are divided into three lists found in the Constitution’s Seventh Schedule.
  • Among these, Entry 69 of the Union List contains the Centre’s exclusive power to conduct a “census”, the petitioners said.
  • They also relied on Article 246, which deals with the Parliament’s power to exclusively legislate “on any of the matters enumerated in List I in the Seventh Schedule”.
  • Meanwhile, the Bihar government argued that even in 2011, a caste census was conducted by the Centre, the details of which weren’t disclosed, under Article 73, which states that the Centre’s power extends to matters on which Parliament has the power to make laws.
  • It also pointed out thatEntry 45 of the Concurrent List, containing subjects over which both the Centre and the states can legislate, is similar to Entry 94 of the Union List, as both confer powers to collect statistics for verifying details, to achieve the economic and social planning goals listed under Entry 20 of the Concurrent List.
  • In its final order, the Patna HC noted: “We find the action of the State to be perfectly valid, initiated withdue competence, with the legitimate aim of providing ‘Development with Justice’; as proclaimed in the address to both Houses and the actual survey to have neither exercised nor contemplated any coercion to divulge the details and having passed the test of proportionality, thus not having violated the rights of privacy of the individual especially since it is in furtherance of a ‘compelling public interest’ which in effect is the ‘legitimate State interest’”.

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