THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 10 January 2020 (Indian Cobra Genome Decoded (Indian Express))

Indian Cobra Genome Decoded (Indian Express)

Mains Paper 3: Science and Tech
Prelims level : Cobra Genome
Mains level : Challenges in production of effective anti-venom


  • An international team of researchers have sequenced the genome of the Indian cobra, in the process identifying the genes that define its venom.

Major significance:

  • This genome sequence can provide a blueprint for developing more effective anti-venom.
  • The cobra genome sequence is of really high quality.
  • Sequence information of the genes that code for venom proteins is very important for the production of recombinant anti-venoms.

Existing anti-venoms not effective enough:

  • Their efficacy varies, besides producing side effects.
  • In India, the challenge has been producing anti-venom for the species known collectively as the “big four”, The Indian cobra (Naja naja), Common krait (Bungarus caeruleus), Russell’s viper (Daboia russelii), and Saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus).
  • Common anti-venom is marketed for the treatment of bites from the “big four”, but its effectiveness came under question in a recent study.
  • The common anti-venom worked against the saw-scaled viper and the common cobra.
  • But this anti-venom fell short against some neglected species and also against one of the “big four” - the common krait.
  • Facts - Accidental contacts with snakes lead to over 100,000 deaths across the world every year.
  • India alone accounts for about 50,000 deaths annually, and these are primarily attributed to the “big four”.

Challenges in production of effective anti-venom:

  • Venom is a complex mixture of an estimated 140-odd protein or peptides.
  • Only some of these constituents are toxins that cause the physiological symptoms seen after snakebite.
  • But anti-venom available today does not target these toxins specifically.
  • Anti-venom is currently produced by a century-old process.
  • In this process, a small amount of venom is injected into a horse or sheep, which produces antibodies that are then collected and developed into anti-venom.

Issues with this ‘horse technique’

  • This is expensive, cumbersome technique and comes with complications.
  • Some of the antibodies raised from the horse may be completely irrelevant.
  • The horse also has a lot of antibodies floating in its blood that have nothing to do with the venom toxins.
  • One more problem with horse antibodies is that our immune system recognises it as foreign and when anti-venom is given our body mounts an antibody response. This leads to what is called serum sickness.

Decoding the genome:

  • In the Indian cobra genome, the researchers have identified 19 key toxin genes, the only ones that should matter in snakebite treatment.
  • They stress the need to leverage this knowledge for creation of safe and effective anti-venom using synthetic human antibodies.
  • The next step would be obtaining the genomes and the venom gland genes from the other three of the “big four” and the deadly African species.

Way forward:

Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the new energy performance standards for Room Air Conditioner (RACs), consider the following statements:
1. The Indian Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (ISEER) will range from (3.30 - 5.00) for split and (2.70 – 3.50) for window air conditioners, which will be applicable from 1st January 2021 onwards.
2. ISEER (Indian Seasonal Energy efficiency ratio) is the energy performance index used for Room Air Conditioners (RACs) and its assessment is based on the bin hours defined in ISO 16358.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: C
Mains Questions:

Q.1) Why has production of effective anti-venom been challenging? What are the issues with this ‘horse technique’?