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Vaccine For Covid-19 Could Get Seriously Delayed As New Strain Detected In India

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A new mutation of coronavirus sampled by the National Institute of Virology from a patient from Kerala, India has the potential to upend all the research performed by scientists and deal a massive blow to the development of COVID-19 vaccine.

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A new study published by researchers from Taiwan and Australia said that the new mutation leads to a “weaker receptor binding capability” in the novel coronavirus, which is a proof that change has occurred in the part of the spike protein that allows the virus to bind with human cells.

 

With the new mutation, the scientific research done could prove futile as scientists were working on creating antibodies for ACE2 cells as the novel coronavirus had been targeting this particular receptor cells.

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The antibodies are produced inside the human body in response to a vaccine or an infection and work by binding themselves to specific spots on a virus called an antigen. If random viral mutations alter the shape of an antigen, it can make a vaccine less effective against the virus.

Most of the research for developing a vaccine has been aimed at stopping the action of the viral spike (S) protein that the virus uses to enter human cells, where it replicates to cause infection. “The observation of this study raised the alarm that Sars-CoV-2 mutation with varied epitope [something an antibody attaches itself to] profile could arise at any time,” Wei-Lung Wang from the National Changhua University of Education in Taiwan, and his collaborators from Murdoch University in Australia wrote in a paper released on preprint review site biorxiv.org on Saturday, April 11.

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“[This] means the current vaccine development against Sars-CoV-2 is at a great risk of becoming futile,” they added, reports the South China Morning Post (SCMP). The findings of the study are yet to be peer-reviewed and will need further verification.

There is also a possibility that the mutation was caused by a technical error during the sequencing process and there is also a chance that the results produced by the computer simulation were misleading according to a researcher who spoke to SCMP on the condition of anonymity.

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The researchers said that they had identified a mutation that led to weaker receptor binding capability, from a Sars-CoV-2 sample collected on 27th January 2020 from India. The study found that the mutation occurred in the spike protein’s receptor-binding domain (RBD) which as per computer simulations showed it could remove a hydrogen bond from the spike protein which is essential for the virus to bind itself to ACE2 or angiotensin-converting enzyme-2, which is found in the lungs and other organs.

A Hindustan Times report quoted Dr. T Jacob John, professor emeritus and former head of virology at Christian Medical College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu saying that the lower receptor fit may make the virus less efficient in transmission, but then it is equally important to watch out for a change in virulence also.

But if the results are indeed accurate, they will hinder the creation of a long-lasting vaccine that is already in the clinical trial stage in China and the USA.

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All viruses evolve over time, accumulating mutations as they replicate imperfectly inside a host’s cells. According to scientists, the genetic structure of the new coronavirus looks pretty much the same everywhere and there is no evidence suggesting that some strains are deadlier than others.

However, some researchers speculate that sampled and sequenced strains are just the tip of the iceberg and there may be newer mutations that would require newer vaccines.

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Anti-China ‘QUAD Alliance’ Between US, India, Australia & Japan Could Soon Be A Reality

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The QUAD alliance could soon be a reality as India is prepared to allow Australia to join the annual trilateral Malabar naval exercise involving India-Japan-USA. With Australia joining in, this could cement the QUAD alliance which Beijing considers as an anti-China grouping.

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The latest decision to allow Australia to be a part of exercise comes at the heels of Chinese aggression in Ladakh, South China Sea (SCS) and the Strait of Taiwan. According to experts, the arrival of Australia could re-activate the Quadrilateral Alliance (QUAD) between Australia-India-Japan-USA.

Defence officials speaking to The Hindu said that while a decision to on whether to extend the invitation is expected “soon”, it was unlikely to be announced during today’s “virtual summit” between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison.

The summit will focus on cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region and strengthening of defence ties between New Delhi and Canberra. The long-pending Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) is also likely to be concluded as part of the measures to elevate the strategic partnership.

The signing of MLSA would allow reciprocal use of each other’s military bases in exchange for fuel and provisions to simplify logistical support and improve operational turnaround. New Delhi and Canberra have been working on finalising the MLSA since last year but the deal could not go through due to unavoidable circumstances such as COVID-19.

In a bid to solidify their Indo-Pacific friendship, both countries are also working on a maritime cooperation agreement with an emphasis on Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA). Such an agreement makes sense as they share common military platforms.

The QUAD

If India does formally invite Australia, it could reshape the Indo-Pacific region. As reported by EurAsian Times earlier, QUAD was an informal security dialogue established to counter growing Chinese influence in the Indian and Pacific Ocean. Although never formalised, the group could not work since China issued all four partners a demarche after it was announced.

Experts at EurAsian Times believe that India’s decision to allow Australia to participate at Malabar 2020 could lead to a re-activation of the QUAD. Since member countries were earlier hesitant to get on the wrong side of Beijing, QUAD did not really take-off. The last time Australia participated in the naval drill was in 2007 along with Singapore.

Australia did requests to India to join the Malabar drill in the past but New Delhi rejected it in a bid to not strain its ties with China. However, the recent India-China tensions at the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh may have brought more flexibility to the decision-making process.

Japan and the US are unlikely to oppose Canberra’s inclusion in the exercise since Chinese aggression in the India and Pacific Ocean have only increased. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, China has made provocative moves to test the response of neighbouring countries and allies in the SCS, India Ocean region and the Strait of Taiwan.

Malabar 2020 will be held in Japan in either July or August. The exercise started in 1992 between New Delhi and Washington and was expanded to include Tokyo in 2015. The arrival of Canberra will be a welcome break and would suggest the growing seriousness and synergy among four key Indo-Pacific powers and re-activation of QUAD.

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Education

Jio Institute – Mukesh Ambani’s ‘Institute of Eminence’ To Revolutionize Indian Education System

Jio Institute, which will be located in Navi Mumbai was to hire university staff and complete the academic curriculum by October this year, however, experts believe that things might get delayed due to coronavirus

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Jio Insitute, Mukesh Ambani’s ambitious institute for reshaping the Indian education system is expected to commence operation in 2021. Will the ‘Institute of Eminence’ – Jio Institute get impacted by Covid-19 is uncertain for now.

Jio Institute – Overview

The Shailesh Kumar led Jio Insitute will start its academic session in 2021. Numerous undergraduate courses will on offer including courses in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, data sciences machine learning, digital media and marketing.

It is also expected that Mulhern of Northwestern University will be facilitating the Marketing Communication program while Kumar would teach Artificial Intelligence courses. The modern Jio Digital Library project will be headed by Keller from Stanford.

Jio Institute of Eminence

Jio institute has also set up a seven-member global advisory board. According to media reports, the board will consist of Jean-Lou Chameau, president emeritus of California Institute of Technology (Caltech); Michael Keller, vice provost of Stanford University; Rick Levin, former president of Yale University; Subra Suresh, president of Singapore’s Nanyang Technology University. Nadhmi A Al-Nasr, CEO of Saudi Arabia’s futuristic habitat project NEOM; Frank J Mulhem and Vinayak P Dravis of Northwestern University.

Mukesh Ambani, his wife Nita and daughter Isha will also be on the advisory board. The institute is one of the institutes in the country to be awarded the tag of ‘eminence’ by the Human Resource Ministry even before its completions.

Experts at EurAsian Times believe that the tag of ‘eminence’ was given due to the future prospects of the Institute. As of August 2019, ten institutions have been selected by the Institutes of Eminence, which includes Banaras Hindu Univesity, Indian Institute of Science, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay, IIT Delhi, IIT Kharagpur, IIT Madras, University of Delhi, University of Hyderabad, Anna University and Jadavpur University.

Jio Institute Location & Key Details

Jio Institute, which will be located in Navi Mumbai was to hire university staff and complete the academic curriculum by October this year, however, experts believe that things might get delayed.

Students at Jio institute would not only get an opportunity to study at the sprawling 800 acres campus in Navi Mumbai but could also be taught by professors from prominent universities across the world.

The advance studies at the institute will also provide merit-based scholarships worth 38 crores during the first academic year.

Mukesh Ambani aims to make Jio University ranked in top 500 on Times Higher Education and QS World University Rankings. To achieve this feat Jio Institute is in talks universities like Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Stanford University, Northwestern University and Nanyang Technological University and aims to recruit expert faculty and mentors for the institute.

Reliance Jio and the Telecom Revolution

Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd popularly known as Jio in India is a mobile network operator owned by Reliance industries. Jio was the brainchild of Mukesh Ambani and was launched in 2015 in honour of the 83rd birth anniversary of Dhirubhai Ambani, the founder of Reliance Industries.

Since its launch, the network has become immensely popular with Indians as it made internet accessible and affordable. The introduction of Jio revolutionised the telecom industry and made 4G data available pan-India at the lowest rate in the world. Jio Platforms compares with large global digital ecosystem platforms that are largely debt-free like Alphabet, Tencent and Alibaba.

Success at home has caught the eye of investors abroad. With 5 confirmed deals in May and another investment incoming, Jio is now valued at over $65 billion. The investors, all based in the US, include social media giant Facebook, private equity firm Silver Lake, Global investment company Vista, American private equity firm General Atlantic and US-based private equity company KKR.

Collectively, all the deals are worth $10.3 billion or Rs 78,562 crore, which RIL plans to use in order to pay off $44 billion worth of its debt.

Microsoft, the tech giant founded by Bill Gates, is also in talks with Jio to purchase a 2.5% stake at the cost of $2 billion. Abu Dhabi state fund Mubadala, another investment company, is also in talks to invest about $1 billion in Jio platforms.

Within a short span, Mukesh Ambani and Jio have achieved what other companies have not been able to for decades. With the establishment of Jio Institute, India’s most influential businessman has ensured that the company he birthed would be looked after by Jio’s very own.

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Coronavirus In Tibet: Limited Impact Of COVID-19 In High Altitude Regions Like Tibet?

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Scientists are now investigating the link between COVID-19 and high altitude regions like Tibet after a study published in the journal Respiratory Physiology and Neurobiology suggested that there is a decrease in prevalence and impact of COVID-19 in populations living at higher altitudes. 

The study takes into consideration the COVID-19 cases in Tibet and high-altitude regions of Bolivia and Ecuador in comparison to the low lying regions. It suggested that the population in Bolivia, Ecuador and Tibet living above 3,000 meters (9,842 feet) reported significantly lower levels of confirmed infections than their lowland counterparts.

In the plateau region of Tibet, Qinghai and part of Sichuan, with a population of 9 million, there are only 134 confirmed cases which are drastically low in comparison to the number of cases in rest of China.

Ecuador is one of the worst-hit countries by COVID-19 in South America with more than 40,000 confirmed cases and over 3,000 deaths. The centre of the virus is the Pacific port of Guayaquil. There are fewer infected cases in the capital Quito, which is about the same size but is 2,800 metres above sea level.

Similarly, Bolivia has over 10,000 positive cases with over 300 deaths. The cases are concentrated in Santa Cruz which is 400 metres above sea level. It is home to about 15% of the population of the country but accounts for two-thirds of the virus cases. Whereas, in La Paz and its surrounding area, which is a highland area in Bolivia, has about 500 positive cases.

The reason explored by the study includes environmental factors including dry mountain air, high levels of UV radiation and the possibility that lower atmospheric pressure reduces the virus’s ability to linger in the air.

“The reason for decreased severity of the global COVID-19 outbreak at high altitude could relate to both environmental and physiological factors,” states the study.

“At sea-level, when people get coronavirus and their lungs get destroyed, it is as if they are climbing Mount Everest in just a couple of days, without oxygen,” said Gustavo Zubieta-Calleja, one of the authors of the study published in the journal Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology. But “the low rate of infection in Bolivia’s high-altitude population is remarkable and clearly does not follow the often exponential infection rates reported in many countries”, concluded the scientists.

However, experts have questioned these factors. “The virus likes people. It doesn’t care about altitude,” says Peter Chin-Hong, who studies infectious diseases at the University of California at San Francisco. “But we’re still learning so much about this disease, and this does provide us with some good clues to try and understand its progression,” he added.

According to Clayton Cowl, a pulmonologist at the Mayo Clinic and a former president of the American College of Chest Physicians, that the trend might be related to acclimatization, the body’s ability to adjust temporarily to altitude, than to DNA.

Just three populations in the world have been found to have genetic adaptations to altitude: Himalayans, Ethiopian highlanders and Andeans. This is why the coronavirus is exploding on Peru’s Pacific coast, particularly Lima, where most residents descend from Andean ancestors, while the country’s mountain communities are thus far not greatly affected by the virus.

Andrew Luks, professor of medicine at the University of Washington, said that while the proposed link was “intriguing”, it “by no means establishes that high-altitude residence or high-altitude locations are protective against coronavirus”.

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