Today's Headlines

Today's Headlines - 21 July 2023

The ‘good viruses’ fight bacteria

GS Paper - 3 (Health and Diseases)

Scientists now talk of a virome — all the different types of viruses we host in our bodies which contribute to health, much like the bacterial microbiome. This virome is huge. You have 380 trillion virus particles living (or existing) in or on your body right now — 10 times more than the number of bacteria. These viruses lurk in our lungs and blood, live on our skin and linger inside the microbes in our guts. They’re not all bad, however: There are viruses that kill cancer cells and help break down tumors, others that train our immune system and help them fight pathogens, and even some that control gene expression in pregnancy.

Bacteriophages: Anti-bacterial guard dogs

  • The vast majority of viruses inside us are bacteriophages — viruses that kill bacteria in our microbiomes.
  • Bacteriophages, also known as phages, are harmless to human cells as they do not recognize them as their bacterial prey.
  • They work by hunting down bacteria and attaching themselves to the surface of a bacterial cell, before injecting viral DNA material into the cell.
  • The viral DNA then replicates inside the bacteria, sometimes by borrowing the DNA replication hardware of the bacteria.
  • Once enough new viruses have been created inside the bacterial cell, the cell then bursts to release the new viral particles.
  • All this takes just 30 minutes, meaning one virus can become many in a couple of hours.

Phage therapy

  • The ability of phages to take down bacteria had scientists pondering whether they could be used to treat bacterial infections in the early 20th century, but when antibiotics like penicillin came along, that research faded away.
  • But antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria are now on the rise, with experts saying antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest medical challenges facing global communities.
  • As a result, scientists are racing to find new forms of antibiotic agents, putting phages back on the menu as agents to fight bacterial infections.
  • The advantages of phages lie in their effectiveness against every multi-resistant pathogen.
  • Phages are extremely precise in their elimination of bacterial strains — so much so that you don’t disturb the gut microbiome, as is the case with antibiotics.
  • In theory, then, phages could be a huge boon in our fight against antibacterial resistance.


Supreme Court list marital rape petitions

GS Paper - 2 (Polity)

The Supreme Court said it would list a batch of petitions before it that pertain to matters related to marital rape‘Marital rape’ refers to the act of forcible sexual intercourse by a man with his wife without her consent. While rape is a serious crime in India, marital rape is not illegal.

What are the issues in the petitions?

Ø  There are four different matters before the Supreme Court related to the subject.

  • An appeal against a split verdict by a two-judge Bench of the Delhi High Court on a challenge to the constitutional validity of the ‘marital rape immunity’ in the Indian Penal Code
  • An appeal against a judgment by the Karnataka High Court that allowed the prosecution of a man for raping his wife.
  • PILs challenging the ‘marital rape exception’ allowed under IPC Section 375 which defines rape.
  • Various intervening petitions on the issue

What was the Delhi High Court case?

  • On 11 May 2022, a two-judge Bench of Justices Rajiv Shakdher and C Hari Shankar delivered a split verdict on a batch of petitions challenging the exception provided to marital rape in the IPC.
  • Justice Shakdher held that the exception is unconstitutional, while Justice Hari Shankar upheld its validity, saying the exception was “based on an intelligible differentia”. Since substantial questions of law were involved, the judges granted leave of appeal to the Supreme Court.

What exactly is this ‘exception’ to the rape law?

  • IPC Section 375 defines rape and lists seven notions of consent that, if vitiated, would constitute the offence of rape by a man.
  • The crucial exemption is this: “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under eighteen years of age, is not rape.”
  • This exemption essentially allows a marital right to a husband, who can with legal sanction exercise his right to consensual or non-consensual sex with his wife. The challenge to the exception is based on the argument that it undermines the consent of a woman based on her marital status, and is, therefore, unconstitutional.

What was the Karnataka ruling that is under challenge?

  • On 23 March 2022, the Karnataka High Court had refused to quash charges of rape brought by a wife against her husband. The judgment defied the exception provided in the rape law—and while the court did not explicitly strike down the marital rape exception, it allowed the prosecution to go ahead.
  • The husband had moved the High Court after a trial court took cognizance of the offence under Section 376 (rape).

What is the basis for the exception being in place?

The marital rape exception is premised on broadly two assumptions:

  • Consent in perpetuity: This is the assumption that once married; a woman gives her permanent consent, which she cannot retract. This concept in the colonial-era law is rooted in the idea that a woman is the ‘property’ of the man who marries her.
  • Expectation of sex: This is the assumption that a woman is duty-bound or is obligated to fulfil sexual responsibilities in a marriage, since the aim of marriage is procreation. And since the husband has a reasonable expectation of sex in a marriage, the provision implies that a woman cannot deny it.

What are the main arguments against the exception to the IPC section on rape?

  • It has been argued that the marital rape immunity stands against the light of the right to equality, the right to life with dignity, personhood, sexual, and personal autonomy — all of which are fundamental rights protected under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution respectively.
  • In the Delhi case, the petitioners argued that the exception creates an unreasonable classification between married and unmarried women and, by corollary, takes away the right of a married woman to give consent to a sexual activity.
  • They also argued that since courts have recognised that consent can be withdrawn even during or in between a sexual act, the assumption of “consent in perpetuity” cannot be legally valid. On the issue of “reasonable expectation of sex”, the petitioners argued that even though there is a reasonable expectation of sex from a sex worker or other domestic relationships as well, consent is not irrevocable.
  • The petitioners also argued that since the provision was inserted before the Constitution came into force, the provision cannot be presumed to be constitutional.
  • In 2013, the J S Verma Committee, set up to look into criminal law reforms following the brutal gangrape and murder of a 23-year-old paramedic in Delhi in 2012, had recommended removing the marital rape exception. But the then government did not change the law on marital rape.


Unlock mysteries of the cosmos

GS Paper - 3 (Space Technology)

The United States and India have jointly unveiled plans to construct a Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in India, a major scientific alliance aimed at unravelling the mysteries of the universe.  The mega astronomy project, projected to cost Rs 2,600 crore, will study gravitational waves, which are often described as changes in the ‘fabric’ of the universe. The new observatory was among the US-India partnership initiatives.

More about the observatory

  • The LIGO observatory in India will be built in Maharashtra’s Hingoli district, near the city of Aundha.
  • The government has acquired 174 acres of land to set up the observatory, which is expected to be operational by 2030.
  • This will be the third LIGO site in the world. The first two are both in the USone in the state of Washington and the other in Louisiana.
  • Other similar instruments that detect gravitational waves include KAGRA in Japan and Virgo in Italy, both of which are smaller than LIGO and have 3-km arms.
  • The LIGO-India project is a joint collaboration between the Government of India’s departments of atomic energy (DAE) and science and technology (DST)the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the United States, and several other national and international research and academic institutions.
  • In India, the four institutions leading the project include IUCAAGandhinagar’s Institute of Plasma Research (IPR)Indore’s Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology (RRCAT), and the Directorate of Construction, Services & Estate Management (DCSEM) under the DAE.

Why are gravitational waves important?

  • Gravitational waves are invisible ripples in spacetime that travel at the speed of light. They were first detected in September 2015 by both the LIGO observatories in the US. Before that, most inferences about the universe were based on observations of electromagnetic energy.
  • The study of gravitational waves dates back to 1916, when Albert Einstein proposed their existence in his theory of general relativity.
  • He suggested that massive objects in the sky, such as black holes or neutron stars, can disrupt space-time due to the emission of waves that would be ejected from the source.
  • Studying gravitational waves can help uncover the history of the universe and understand many more complex mechanisms.
  • For example, earlier this year, Indian scientists proposed that gravitational waves emitted from black holes could help determine the rate of expansion of the universe.
  • They suggested that the multiple gravitational waves released from binary black holes reach Earth at various time stamps, which can be used to calculate the expansion rate of the universe.

How does LIGO work?

  • LIGO is essentially a massive L-shaped instrument, with each arm being 4 km long. Each arm encases a steel vacuum tube called an interferometer.
  • Laser pulses are shot through each arm and bounced back off a mirror at each end. A detector monitors the timing and movement of these pulses.
  • When a gravitational wave passes through the detector, the pulses will not return on time. Scientists can use this and other such signals to study gravitational waves. LIGO is highly sensitive and can detect gravitational waves from distant galaxies, hundreds of millions of light years away.
  • For instance, the first gravitational wave observed by LIGO in 2015, according to the estimates of scientists, was caused by the collision of two black holes about 1.3 billion years ago.

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