Today's Headlines

Today's Headlines - 05 April 2023

UN to start allowing deep sea mining operations

GS Paper - 3 (Environment)

The UN’s decision to take deep-sea mining applications comes when there is no mining code in place. Several countries have insisted that industrial undersea mining should require strict rules. After two weeks of negotiations, the International Seabed Authority has decided that it will start taking permit applications in July from companies that want to mine the ocean’s floor.

  1. What
  2. The undersea mining will be conducted to extract key battery materials — cobaltcoppernickel, and manganese — from potato-sized rocks called “polymetallic nodules” found at depths of 4 kilometers to 6 kilometers (about 2.5 miles to 3.7 miles).
  3. The Jamaica-based ISA was established under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
  4. It holds authority over the ocean floors outside of its 167 member states’ Exclusive Economic Zones.

The mining code is missing

  1. The draft decision of ISA’s governing council allows companies to file permit applications from 9 July.
  2. In a virtual meeting to be held before July, the governing council will debate whether permission to applications can be delayed.
  3. In the absence of a mining code, which has been under discussion for nearly 10 years, the 36-member council is uncertain about the process it should adopt for reviewing applications for mining contracts.
  4. In 2021, Nauru invoked a clause that allowed it to demand a mining code be adopted within two years.

Mounting concerns

  1. Voicing their concerns, several nationals called for a moratorium on industrial mining at the ISA’s council meeting.
  2. Non-governmental organizations and experts have warned against the damaging repercussions of deep-sea mining.
  3. Deep-sea mining would go beyond harming the seabed and have a wider impact on fish populationsmarine mammals, and the essential function of the deep-sea ecosystems in regulating the climate.
  4. Several countries including CanadaAustralia and Belgium have insisted that mining cannot begin without strict rules.

Mice created with two biological fathers

GS Paper - 3 (Biotechnology)

Japanese scientists have created mice with two biological fathers after they generated eggs from male cells for the first time — an advancement which has the potential to radically alter the course of reproductive biology. The details of the study, ‘Generation of functional oocytes from male mice in vitro’, were published in april 2023 in the journal Nature. The research was led by Katsuhiko Hayashi of Kyushu University (Japan) and his team of 15 other scientists.

What are the details of the study?

  1. For the experiment, the scientists first took skin cells from the tail of a male mouse, which, just like male humans, contained both an X and Y chromosome, and then converted them into induced pluripotent stem cells or iPSCs — they can be transformed into any kind of cell.
  2. During this process, a slight percentage of the cells lost their Y chromosome, generating “XO” cells.
  3. The scientists then cultured the XO cells in the lab and treated them with a drug called reversine.
  4. This helped them duplicate the existing X chromosome in these cells, creating an XX set.
  5. Then embedded the XX cells in an artificial ovary — also created by the use of stem cells — to generate eggs, which were fertilised with the sperm of another male mouse to obtain hundreds of embryos that were implanted into the uterus of surrogate female mice.
  6. Only seven out of 630 implanted embryos produced living pups. According to the scientists, the baby mice had a normal lifespan and they went on to have their own babies as adults.

Can the technique be used in humans?

  1. Given the one per cent success rate of the method used by the scientists to create mice with two biological fathers, although it is theoretically possible to produce babies from male human couples, it would take around a decade to do so.
  2. Besides the technical aspect, the technique being used in the case of humans also poses a wide range of ethical questions.

India’s push for semiconductors

GS Paper -3 (Technology)

The Union Government has disbursed around 1,645 crore in performance-linked incentives (PLI) for electronics manufacturers so far, as part of its efforts to bring in more of the electronics supply chain to India. The push for semiconductors, or integrated circuits, is far more pressing, as these chips are found in practically every modern electrical appliance and personal electronics devices.

More about the news:

More and more nations are trying to turn away from China’s dominance in space, following geopolitical pressures to de-leverage themselves from supply chain vulnerabilities.

Government effort in encouraging semiconductor manufacturing:

About fabs:

  • Semiconductor fabrication units, or fabs, turn raw elements such as silicon into integrated circuits that are fit to be a part of practically all electronic hardware in the world.
  • Fabs are highly capital-intensive undertakings, costing billions of dollars for large facilities.
  • Semiconductor fabs help in building circuits, but they require highly reliable and high-quality supply of water, electricity, and insulation from the elements, reflecting the high degree of precision, cost and capital needed to make the sophisticated circuits.

Status in other countries:

  • According to a report by the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), China pulled ahead of Taiwan last year, in terms of share of global sales from fabs.
  • The U.S. passed the CHIPS Act last August, providing upwards of $280 billion in subsidies and investments to manufacturers opening fabs and making semiconductors in the U.S.

Fabs status in India:

  • The government’s Invest India agency estimates that electronics manufacturing as a whole will be worth $300 billion by the financial year 2025–26.
  • While,facilities for assembling finished products have been growing in number steadily, fabs for making chipsets and displays, which are crucial parts of the manufacturing process for many electronics, are rarer.
  • Minister of Electronics and Information Technology said that the first semiconductor manufacturing fab would be announced in the coming weeks.
  • For India to produce both semiconductors and finished products:
  • The SIA, which represents the bulk of semiconductor manufacturers in the U.S. and elsewhere, said in a report with APCO Worldwide in February that India should lean on its strength in the electronics manufacturing value chain.
  • “Foundry companies”, which turn silicon into semiconductors, require investments upwards of 35% of revenues, the SIA warned, and entry costs run into billions of dollars.
  • Thecompanies that specialise in Outsourced Semiconductor Assembly and Test (OSAT) are less expensive to set up, and generate better margins.

Advantage that India have:

  • large part of semiconductor manufacturing involves design and intellectual labour. India has a large portion of semiconductor design engineers globally who are either Indian or Indian-origin.
  • The chip-making firms such as Intel and NVIDIA have large facilities in India that are already flush with Indian talent working on design problems.

India’s semiconductor ambition and way forward:

  • The opening of display and semiconductor fabs is one of the strategic and economic goals of India’s electronics manufacturing incentive programmes, and breaking new ground on ambitious plans connected to popular brands such as Apple is something that the Union government and States are equally eager to accomplish.
  • The government appears to be developing the parts of the ecosystem that have promise for sustainable growth and fiscal feasibility.
  • The electronics value chain would have to be an international undertaking among nations with common values to be effective.