A virus is nature's efficient little killer. It can invade a cell, take over its inner machinery, trick it into making more virus DNA and escape with a new posse of virus children (often killing the host in the process). They're really good at what they do, and we've been able to harness their skills to learn about – and potentially improve – human health in several ways.
War and the ensuing health system breakdowns in the Islamic State (IS)–occupied Syria and Iraq significantly increase the risk of a new wave of infectious disease epidemics in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Proactive engagement to enable health system capacity and resilience—including expanding immunization programs and building biotechnology capacity for vaccines that specifically target diseases in the region—would help minimize the impact if and when outbreaks occur. A program of vaccine science diplomacy with selected countries in the MENA region could help to avert an international public health crisis possibly similar in scope and magnitude to the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa.
September 2015 saw the release of two papers detailing the taxonomy1 , and geological and taphonomic2 context of a newly identified hominin species, Homo naledi – naledi meaning ‘star’ in Sesotho. Whilst the naming and description of a new part of our ancestral lineage has not been an especially rare event in recent years,3-7 the presentation of Homo naledi to the world is unique for two reasons. Firstly, the skeletal biology, which presents a complex mixture of primitive and derived traits, and, crucially, for which almost every part of the skeleton is represented – a first for an early hominin species. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, this taxon provides evidence for ritualistic complex behaviour, involving the deliberate disposal of the dead.
Novavax Inc said data from a mid-stage study showed that immunizing pregnant women with its RSV vaccine was safe for fetuses and could protect infants against the common respiratory virus. The Maryland-based biotechnology company, whose stock jumped about 8.5 percent in...
Over the last two decades, scientists have argued back and forth on whether or not ultra-small bacteria exist. The argument has been fueled, in part, by the1996 find of ultra-tiny fossil microorganisms on a meteorite from the planet Mars. But earlier this year, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have captured detailed cryogenic electron microscopy images of ultra-small bacteria. These cells are now believed to be as small as a cell can get and still possess sufficient internal material needed to sustain life.
The first author of the study, Birgit Luef, is now a researcher at NTNU’s Department of Biotechnology. The publication was the result of her postdoctoral work at UC Berkeley. The researchers found several kinds of bacteria from three microbial phyla that are poorly understood. The bacteria were in groundwater and are thought to be quite common. But what surprised Luef and her colleagues was that the bacteria were close to and in some cases smaller than what many scientists have long considered the lower size limit of life. They reported the findings in the spring in the journal Nature Communications.
The cells had an average volume 0.009 ± 0.002 cubic microns, meaning 150 of the bacteria would fit inside a single cell of Escherichia coli.
We've all heard of friendly bacteria, but a friendly virus? Called the pegivirus, catching it doesn’t make you sick. Instead, it can help the immune system to keep HIV infections in check. Discovered in 1995, scientists do not understand how it works, but that could soon change. Researchers at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Centre recently discovered baboons have their own pegivirus strain, offering a new way to study the oddball virus. Their investigation, published in Science Translational Medicine in September, may inspire new ways to tackle HIV.
Measles has not been an epidemic in the United States since the beginning of the twenty-first century, but the Global Virus Network (GVN) warned of a startling rise in cases detected in the first eight months of 2013.
A virus that killed more than 8 million baby pigs in 2013 and 2014 nearly matches the DNA of a virus found in China and was likely carried into the United States on reusable tote bags — the same bags used to carry pet treats such as chicken jerky and pig ears.
Ed Rybicki's insight:
Internationalisation is the problem here - and specifically the lack of compatible standards.
And it'll happen again, and again, and again...with pig, avian and cattle viruses.
The current Ebola outbreak poses a threat to individual and global public health. Although the disease has been of interest to the scientific community since 1976, an effective vaccination approach is still lacking. This fact questions past global public health strategies, which have not foreseen the possible impact of this infectious disease. To quantify the global research activity in this field, a scientometric investigation was conducted. We analyzed the research output of countries, individual institutions and their collaborative networks. The resulting research architecture indicated that American and European countries played a leading role regarding output activity, citations and multi- and bilateral cooperations. When related to population numbers, African countries, which usually do not dominate the global research in other medical fields, were among the most prolific nations. We conclude that the field of Ebola research is constantly progressing, and the research landscape is influenced by economical and infrastructural factors as well as historical relations between countries and outbreak events.
Scientists find evidence of cannabis in tobacco pipes dug up in legendary playwright's garden.
Ed Rybicki's insight:
I knew Francis Thackeray, from the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits, when we were both in University residence in 1974. He was a serious sort of chap even then, but with a playful side - and he encouraged me in my writing of an account of how the Taung Child fossil skeleton may have come to be (https://edrybicki.wordpress.com/2015/08/24/tragedys-children/). So I am quite happy to believe that Old Bill may have puffed the sacred herb B-) And nice that it got published in SA Journal of Science, of all places!
Found in a frozen prehistoric squirrel's nest, scientists make intriguing discovery.
Ed Rybicki's insight:
Yah. Sure. Dig something up out of the tundra and use it to kill amoebae causing an eye disease. Why not use viruses isolated from the present? Oh - because they probably won't work, and may in fact be implicated in human disease. Just like this one might be.
The ministry of Health has centralized viral load testing, a technique which measures precisely the amount of virus per milliliter in a patient’s blood.
The test, conducted with the aid of Samba II machines, is to ensure that those on antiretroviral therapy (ART) achieve and maintain undetectable levels of HIV in their blood.
Unlike the CD4 test which is currently in use for monitoring patients’ immunity, viral load (VL) testing accurately calculates the amount of virus in one’s blood, allowing a health practitioner to detect right away how well antiretroviral treatment is working. The first VL is taken six months from when one started ART and consequently after a year.
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