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Indian scientists begin a voyage to map the Indian Ocean genome

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BY S VENKAT NARAYAN

Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, March 12:

A 30-member team of scientists and researchers from the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) in Panaji (Goa) and another 30 crew members onboard its research vessel Sindhu Sadhana were flagged off at Visakhapatnam (also known as Vizag) in Andhra Pradesh on Thursday on a first-of-its-kind research project in this country to map the Indian Ocean genome.

They will spend the next three months traversing the course of over 10,000 nautical miles in the Indian Ocean on a research project to reveal the internal working of the body of the ocean at a cellular level.

The research project is aimed at understanding the biochemistry and the response of the ocean to climate change, nutrient stress and increasing pollution. Conceptualised over the last two to three years, the research project has been undertaken at a cost of INR 250 million and will take three years to complete, NIO Director Sunil Kumar Singh said.

The scientists and researchers, including six women, will sail across the Indian Ocean from India’s east coast, all the way to Australia, then onward towards Port Louis in Mauritius and up to the border of Pakistan, off India’s west coast. They will gather samples for genome mapping of microorganisms in the Indian Ocean. They will collect samples from various stretches of the ocean at an average depth of about 5 km.

Just like gene-mapping is carried out on blood samples collected from humans, the scientists will map these in the bacteria, microbes found in the ocean. The mapping of the Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and Ribonucleic acid (RNA) will show the nutrients present in them, and also those lacking in different parts of the ocean.

NIO Director Singh says this will help scientists understand the internal working of the ecosystem of the Indian Ocean. The research will enable scientists to identify the factors controlling the changes in RNA, DNA in the oceans, and various stressors impacting them.

The ocean has several micronutrients like nitrates, sulphates and silicates, minerals like iron ore and zinc, and trace metals like cadmium or copper. The genome mapping will show the presence of which these microbes have adapted to, in addition to their reaction to atmospheric carbon dioxide. This will help in identifying which part of the ocean has a greater concentration of which mineral or element.

The scientists will then use these as tracers to tackle the causative factors for excess or lack of a certain mineral or element and suggest possible solutions for their mitigation. In addition, the large pool of RNA, DNA library of the oceans will be utilised for using the Indian Ocean to human benefit in the future.

According to the NIO, rapid advances in sequencing technologies and bioinformatics have enabled exploration of the ocean genome. “Exploring the ocean genome will enable an increase in the growing number of commercial biotechnology applications, extending from multiple anticancer treatments to cosmetics and industrial enzymes, to antiviral molecules… Exploration of the ocean at a genetic level will result in new insights into taxonomy and adaptive capacity that can help optimize conservation efforts,” the NIO said in its project abstract.

Trace metals like cadmium or copper are supplied to oceans via continental run-offs, atmospheric deposition, hydrothermal activities and continental shelf interaction. They are essential for ocean productivity. Scientists say that it is important to understand the interactions of trace metals with marine biota “for having a holistic understanding about nutrient cycling and productivity of the oceans”.

Apart from their reactions on marine life, isotopic forms of trace metals can be utilised to track the movement of water masses responsible for ocean circulation and as tools to study the biological, geochemical and ecosystem processes and food web analyses.

The NIO’s project is expected to generate new information about trace metals from underexplored regions of the Indian Ocean, the third largest water body in the world, covering about 20 per cent of the Earth’s water surface.

The team of scientists will stay aboard their research vessel for about 90 days with refuelling scheduled at Mauritius. The route is from Visakhapatnam to the mouth of the Ganga then down the ocean to Australia, then westward to Mauritius and up to the Pakistan border. At various stages and stretches, samples will be collected by lowering a Kevlar cable of up to 8 km with a set of 24 teflon coated bottles to collect samples. They have a capacity of 12 litres.

The Kevler cable and the Teflon coating are to ensure that metals are not inadvertently introduced into the water by the vessel itself. The samples will be collected and the bacteria will be stored at -60 degrees Celsius with the help of liquid nitrogen. While some samples will be tested at six laboratories on board the vessel, several samples will be brought back to NIO for study and analysis over the next three years.



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Opposition threatens to move no-faith motion against Speaker over OSB

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Speaker Abeywardena

By Saman Indrajith

Opposition and SJB leader Sajith Premnadasa told Parliament yesterday that the Online Safety Bill had been passed in violation of the law and unless remedial action was taken, a no-faith motion would be brought against Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena.

Premadasa said that Article 123(4) of the Constitution says, “Where any Bill, or the provision of any Bill, has been determined, or is deemed to have been determined, to be inconsistent with the Constitution, such Bill or such provision shall not be passed except in the manner stated in the determination of the Supreme Court.”

Premadasa said: “It is illegal to pass a Bill without adhering to this constitutional provision. There were nine instances where the government overlooked the Supreme Court determination on the Bill. The Speaker allowed that to happen despite our protests. The Justice Minister, too, has admitted that there are flaws in the Act. How could that happen? Rectify them immediately, or we will bring a no-confidence motion against the Speaker.”

Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said that even if the Supreme Court determined that a section or clause of a draft Bill was inconsistent with the Constitution, a Bill could be passed by Parliament. It could be done with either a two-thirds majority or two-thirds majority plus people’s approval from a referendum. A case cannot be filed against the way the Speaker or an MP behaved in this House as they have immunity. Former Speaker Anura Bandaranaike, too, has given a ruling on this issue and we still consider it as a precedent to be upheld. With regard to the Online Safety Bill, the Attorney General has instructed Public Security Minister Tiran Alles to incorporate some amendments as per the Supreme Court determination and to bring other recommended amendments in the form of a separate Amendment Bill. I was not a party to that discussion. This Amendment Bill was presented to the Cabinet and approval was granted and now is at the Legal Draftsman’s Department. Thereafter, it would be referred to the Cabinet again and with that approval we can have it here in this House for consideration,” the Minister said.

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Teheran expects enhancement of bilateral ties in all fields

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Following Iranian FM’s visit

The Foreign Ministry said yesterday that Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, during high level meetings in Colombo this week, expressed hope that with this trip, the bilateral ties in all fields, including political, economic, commercial, and tourism, would be expanded.

Amirabdollahian was here at the official invitation of the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC. During his meeting with Sabry, Amirabdollahian referred to the good and friendly relations between the two countries and the continuous consultations between them on bilateral, regional, and international issues.

The Iranian also considered scientific and technological issues as areas to which the two countries pay attention for cooperation.

Amirabdollahian appreciated the invitation of the President of Sri Lanka to the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, to visit this country and stated: “We hope that this trip will be on the agenda at the right time.”

He also appreciated Sri Lanka’s positions in supporting the people of Palestine and Gaza in international forums, including the United Nations.

In this meeting, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry also warmly welcomed his Iranian counterpart and described his trip to Tehran last summer as memorable, stating: “During my trip to Iran, I witnessed the high morale of the Iranian people in the social arena. I observed production and life.”

The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister emphasized: “The two countries have good relations with common areas and shared values.”

Referring to Sri Lanka’s transition from previous economic conditions and economic growth and prosperity in this country, Ali Sabry expressed hope that the relations between the two countries would expand even more in the new era.

Referring to the industrial and economic capabilities of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka emphasized the readiness of his country to host Iranians to implement economic projects in Sri Lanka.

The issue of developing cooperation between the two countries in the field of tourism was one of the other topics discussed by the foreign ministers of the two countries, and the parties expressed hope that Iranian and Sri Lankan tourists would mutually choose the two countries more and more as tourist destinations.

In this regard, the parties emphasized the necessity of establishing direct flights between Iran and Sri Lanka, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said.

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Only 50,000 out of 7 mn buildings have rooftop solar systems

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Great potential to increase solar power generation

by Rathindr5a Kuruwita

Rooftop solar power generation in Sri Lanka has exceeded 750 megawatts by the middle of February 2024, Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) media spokesman Noel Priyantha said on Wednesday.

Priyantha added that Sri Lanka has great potential in solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy.

Sri Lanka has around seven million buildings, but only 50,000 of them have installed rooftop solar systems, and there is a great potential to increase rooftop solar power generation exponentially, he said.

The CEB now buys a unit of electricity from rooftop solar power producers for 37 rupees, and these producers can recover their initial costs in five years, Priyantha said.

The CEB is also talking to state-owned banks to introduce a concessional bank loan for those interested in installing rooftop solar power units, he said.

The Sri Lankan government has set a goal of achieving 70 percent renewable energy generation by 2030 and becoming carbon-neutral by 2050.

The total installed capacity of the national power grid is over 5,000 megawatts, and the daily energy consumption in February 2024 is about 46 gigawatts per day, Priyantha said .

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