biodiversity: kapok tree in Hong Kong

故聖人之事,廣之則極宇宙,窮日月, 約之則無出乎身者也。

呂 不韋

What the sage does, considered in terms of its breadth, reaches to the ends of the universe, to the very limit of where the sun and moon shine, but when considered in terms of its essential features, it does not go beyond its own self.


Other years

The curse of fakes in science, mistaken assessment of the severity of the H1N1 flu 2008-2009

These pages are provided "as is", in the form they had when they were created, except for typographic corrections when found. Links are periodically checked for validity. Unfortunately, the memory of the WWW is very short, and links become obsolete fast. In this case they are deleted. This implies that original information is progressively lost, exactly as in human memory...

20 december 2009. Influenza is for some persons a very dangerous disease, which needs to be taken seriously. It causes a number of fatalities every year. Yet, because this number is usually low in proportion of the number of affected persons, flu outbreaks can be judged as benign, mild or severe. The present outbreak of an H1N1 strain is a mild outbreak (once again this does not say that the disease is not serious for some persons, but only that the number of serious cases is low). The WHO, which monitors the development of the pandemic notes that the pattern of the disease in the Northern Hemisphere did not change from what it was during our summer in the Southern Hemisphere. The pandemic is therefore on the mild side. We need to remember this when the so-called seasonal flu will spread, as the H3N2 virus which will probably dominate, it will not cause a milder outbreak but possibly a significanly more severe outbreak.
19 december 2009. All domains of biology are the theater of unethical behaviour. This is particularly so, unfortunately, for work published in fashionable magazines (see underlying reasons for this otherwise surprising behaviour). This would not be a matter of great concern if this had no consequence in the domain of health for example. The case of H. M. Krishna Murthy, which is under investigation, is of particular concern, as it dealt with an improbable domain of science as a subject to fakes, that of crystallographic data describing the structure of proteins, and in particular of a protein of the dangerous dengue virus. All the work of this scientist in this domain has been retracted by the Journal of Biological Chemistry. It will be important to monitor the faite of other articles of this author in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and Nature, as they deal with important topics for medicine, atherosclerosis and innate immunity.
10 december 2009. While experts from all over the world discuss the present climate changes, few dare to name the first cause of the phenomenon, the enormous increase of the world population. Malthus is seen as the devil. Only China, which for decades became aware of the danger of an ever increasing population, dares to say that no solution will be sustainable if the world population is not rapidly under control (and, in fact, decreasing). Indeed, beside climate, this process is at the root of the general modification of ecosystems, and of what is becoming the sixth mass extinction of living species. Many reasons account for this blind spot in our perception, and also for the wrong idea that an ageing population is more costly to the society than a population of young people. The cult of the triangular age pyramid is perhaps one of the most dangerous ideas plaguing our societies of the biblical "grow and multiply". And one must wonder about programmes meant to alleviate hunger that only take into account an elusive present and do not provide, as itis done in China (even if the methods used there have been and still are often crual), the deserved hope for the children which are today saved for a brieef period, to benefit from a happy life, by teaching their parents how to control their birth rate.
5 december 2009. The difference between mild seasonal flu episodes and the present H1N1 pandemic is mostly in the peak date of the disease and in the fact that older persons are affected to a lesser extent. Overall the by the WHO shows that the disease is already levelling off in most European countries. This is consistent with what has been observed in the Southern hemispher last summer. If no mutation towards a more pathogenic form occurs in the near future, the disease will have been quite mild as compared to previous influenza outbreaks.
2 december 2009. There is much agitation around the present flu pandemic, and one may wonder about the underlying interests in our world where the only value is venal. The most concerning feature of the present epidemic is the way it is managed, not the severity of the disease. The risk is that laypersons would forget about the real dangers of some types of influenza, so that when a new pandemic happens the population would be reluctant to be vaccinated. We no longer know in details the fate of the H5N1 virus. In the same way an infection with a type A H9 influenza virus has been recently identified in Hong Kong, and it is important to monitor the spread of the virus. Cases have already been noted in Hong kon in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2008.
1 december 2009. Among the most interesting features of Synthetic Biology is the ability to express proteins which harbour amino acid residues that do not belong to the standard family of the twenty amino acids found in all proteins. The laboratory of Peter Schultz at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California is among the most famous ones in this domain. Unfortunately, Schultz and his colleagues just retracted several articles that described remarkably interesting experiments (showing ncorporation of glycosylated aminoacids in proteins) and in particular the reference article published in 2004 in the manazine Science, because they were unable to reproduce the corresponding results. The tentation to publish too fast is increasing, in particular because of the inappropriate weight given to magazines considered as prestigious (such as Nature and Science) where the popular dimension of mass media communication is favoured. One observes indeed that a large number of articles published in these magazine describe results which cannot be reproduced.
27 november 2009. Much inaccuracies or plainly wrong information plagues news about the present H1N1 pandemic. In this context it may be interesting to have a look at Peter Osborn site, where careful compilation provides information only a few days late. The best vaccine in the world, the vaccine against the virus causing Yellow Fever is used in a multicountry vaccination campaign as the disease is back in West Africa. 12 million people are targeted for vaccination.
20 november 2009. Facing the indiscriminate way mass media spread rumors, the WHO just published a briefing note about a mutation of the H1N1 swine flu, which appears sporadically and has been found in a few fatalities. Nothing can tell, at this time, whether the mutant viruses are particularly prone to spread, nor whether they are responsible for the dangerous symptoms.
15 november 2009. Safe drinking water is a luxury. Countries such as Bangladesh and India (some regions of China also, and regions immediately downstream of mines such as Carnoulès in France) are heavily contaminated with arsenic. Work in progress tries to understand how using the microbial flora could improve water contamination by arsenic. Another hardship associated to water pollution is the ubiquitous spread of cholera in regions with poor sanitation. 120,000 people to receive oral cholera vaccine in Bangladesh. An epidemic is active in Congo-Kinsasha.
11 november 2009. As a controversy about global warming is stirred up by persons fond of their own promotion by mass media we should be concerned by the extent of the area of a dangerous virus, Crimean-Congo virus, often transmitted by ticks, and the cause of a letal hemorrhagic fever. This virus has recently been the cause of a casualty in the American troops in Afghanistan.
8 november 2009.
Information about the nature of the new disease agent XMRV (based on fake work this has been retracted) can be found at the Wittemore Peterson Institute. It is important to remember how diseases can spread from animals to humans. Unfortunately there is always a tendency to explore dangerous borders, often with the support of the general public when apparent immediate personal interest is at stake. Today some scientists crave of doing human/chimeras, and this is of course not new. In the 1920s, in a vision to Africa, supported by the Soviet government, the Academy of Science and the Institut Pasteur, the renowned specialist Ilya Ivanov went about this strange project by artificially fertilizing chimpanzee females with human sperm – without success, as should have been expected anyway. Serge Voronoff, starting in the early 1920s and for many years, grafted ape and monkey testicles to old men to enhance their longevity. Working at the Collège de France, he was supported by his rich second wife who made a donation to this institution that is still active. And today many in the world have undertaken similar types of experiments with human cells and embryos, not without general support from individual in the public. Yet, even human tissues may be dangerous, as can be seen with cornea grafts or the use of human growth hormone leading to Creutzfeld-Jakob disease.
1 november 2009. The new H1N1 influenza "swine" virus is spreading in the Northern Hemisphere as a fairly mild disease. In this context it is important to monitor the fate of the H5N1 avian virus, and it seems puzzling that it has apparently more or less disappeared from the picture, the last confirmed case being reported in Egypt by the WHO on september 24th. We need to remember that patients can be infected by several flu viruses at the same time, and that this is during such events that reassortments of virus segments can happen. A reassorted H1N1 / H5N1 virus might be particularly dangerous. The lack of report could be due to inappropriate diagnostic in apparently severe cases attributed to H1N1.
25 october 2009. The first general outbreak of the influenza H1N1 virus expanded rapidly to the Southern Hemisphere at a time when it was winter there. As winter favours influenza it may be useful to analyse the pattern of the disease in Australia, New Zeland, South Africa and South America to help predicting what will now happen in the Northern Hemisphere. The Eurosurvellance network just released a thorough analysis of this situation. The conclusion of this study is that, as expected, the most vulnerable patients are those immunocompromized (including AIDS patients), with pre-existing respiratory diseases, those with morbid obesity and pregnant women. The pattern of infection suggest a greater susceptibility of persons younger than 60. It is also clear that children younger than 5 years are more at risk than adult. The situation is somewhat difficult to analyze because two H1N1 A viruses are circulating concomitantly with somewhat similar symptoms. The seasonal H1N1 virus (which propagates also in parallel with a H3N2 A virus) has a mean peak of infectivity for people aged around 27, while the new pandemic H1N1 A virus has a peak for persons ten years younger. Overall, however, the symptoms of the disease are not considerably different in both cases. This analysis sugests that, if the pandemic virus does not mutate towards a more dangerous form, the present outbreak should not disrupt the health care systems in the Northern Hemisphere.
21 october 2009. With all the hype about the influenza H1N1 A virus it is important to understand how it works. In a blog for computer scientists or people familiar with computers bunnie's blog gives an excellent illustration of what a virus is. In this context it is useful to understand that this H1N1 virus is but a variant (a significant one) of the seasonal flu which infected us for many years. Vaccines which are made following the old recipes, with the new virus, should have no more and no less harmful consequences than the ordinary seasonal flu vaccine. The questions should be whether this is the case of the vaccine which is proposed to you. If the MD can answer, and gives you this specific answer, no problem. Otherwise you may have good reasons to refuse to be vaccinated. Note however that the present virus seems to have affinity to younger people, so that it may well be wise to be vaccinated if you are young (or have young children).
16 october 2009. New studies do not substantiate the association between the XMR Virus and prostate cancer (note that the work is fake and has been retracted). However the specialists of the domain remain cautious. It is indeed quite difficult to characterize this virus. Let us remember that at the time when the SARS virus was discovered the first studies suggested that it was a metapneumovirus while it was a coronavirus, of a quite different family. In general it remains difficult to establish the causality relationship between viruses and cancer, so that we do not know exactly how many cancers are caused by viruses (probably at least 25% of all cancers).
10 october 2009. In january 1983 we delivered a conference in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso, then Upper Volta) on the potential dangers of body fluids, blood in particular, in view of the emergence of a novel disease which appeared to preferentially affect homosexuals. At the time not many people showed great concern about this kind of event. We are possibly facing a similar event today with the identification of a novel blood borne viral pathogen, the xenotropic murine leukemia virus, XMRV. This retrovirus is now proposed (2011: this work has been retracted) to be connected to two major diseases, the most aggressive forms of prostate cancer, and an enigmatic disease which affected many soldiers in the first Irak war, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. This observation suggests that these diseases and in particular the aggressive form of prostate cancer maybe transmitted through transfusions, and may belong to sexually transmitted diseases. This is a signal that we should be extremely cautious when using blood derivatives and cell cultures. In this context, the idea of preparing vaccines using cell cultures (which generally require complex media for growth and many shed unwanted viruses) should be monitored with the utmost care, and in particular use recognized methods for virus inactivation.
2 october 2009. With the H1N1 flu developping it is important to remember a few terms and facts. Mass media, curiously, speak about influenza A as different from seasonal flu! In fact the major component of seasonal flu this year is an influenza A virus, of the subtype H3N2. The virus possess an RNA genome that encodes ten genes. It is divided into eight segments, each containing only one or two genes. Two of the gene products, haemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA), usually elicit an antibody response from its host, as they are seen by its immune system. The virus comes in a variety of "flavours" or rather "subtypes" referring to the specific HA and NA alleles: 'Spanish flu’, a variety of H1N1 virus, H3N2 ‘1968 Hong Kong flu’, H5N1 ‘avian flu’. So far, 16 HA and 9 NA antigenic subtypes have been identified. Several subtypes are a great matter of concern, especially H5N1 and H9N2. The major reservoir of viruses is birds of the Anatidae family (ducks, geese and similar birds), where it is generally innocuous and transmitted, not as in humans, by the oro-fecal route. As other organisms the influenza virus mutates (i.e. changes the spelling of the text of its genome). It has also another means of variation, named reassortment. This permits it to exchange entire segments among the eight which makes its genome. A cell which is infected by two viruses can therefore reassort its genome: say that a cell is infected by both type A H1N1 and H7N7, it can generate a virus of type H7N1. This type of change has often been at the origin of pandemics. The present status has been summarized earlier. It is also important to note that a new A flu subtype H3N2 is spreading rapidly at present and is not recognized by the seasonal flu vaccine that is now distributed!
24 september 2009.
A buzz ripples the WWW with an interesting study showing that much false positive results can be generated in one uses statistics without proper care in cognition studies of the brain. Bennett and colleagues showed that an experiment using a dead salmon could convincingly (for uncautious readers) mimick brain activity showing cognitive properties !
23 september 2009. Almost 40,000 persons are injected with a vaccine against the flu H1N1 virus in Beijing. This trial should show whether the vaccine can protect health personnel and persons at risk. The first observations did not show major negative side effects.
12 august 2009. The University of Hong Kong recently published two interesting studies, in collaboration with other laboratories in the world. At the Department of Biochemistry an explanation of missing bones in fingers was found to be related to a mutation in a regulatory gene, Ihh. This may be due to an alteration of binding of the gene product to its receptor and also to alteration of its diffusion. In parallel, a study at the Department of Microbiology showed that the present swine flu virus had a long history, especially in pigs. Tracing back its history the scientists highlight the need for increased surveillance in pigs. Once again this points out the importance of pig breeding in shifting the host of the virus from birds to humans.
2 august 2009. A new source of HIV, the AIDS virus, coming from gorillas (SIVgor) is at the origin of a human case detected in France. A still highly controversial hypothesis states that bats are cousins of primates. These mammals, which play a considerable role in pollinisation of many tropical plants as well as distribution of their seeds in the environment, are indeed the reservoirs of many viruses which infect humans. Rabies is probably the most infamous one, but the SARS coronavirus was also found in bats, where it is probably fairly widespread. And the haemorrhagic fever Marburg virus is also infecting, but not causing much disease in the common fruit bat Rousettus aegyptiacus, which is eaten by humans in some quarters. Other viruses potentially dangerous for humans (Hendra and Nipah viruses) are also widespread in bats, such as Eidolon helvum, the African Straw-coloured fruit bat.
24 july 2009. Birds do not sweat, and this poses a physiological problem when the weather is warm, as well as in tropical areas. It is not rare to see sparrows (or storks if one has the opportunity) that stay with they beak open to evacuate heat. For a long time the enormous beak of the toucan has been an enigma: was is a sexual attractant, a device meant to select for birds apt to survive with such a disadvantage, an instrument to peel fruits? Glenn Tattersall and his colleagues at Brock University in the province of Ontario, Canada have found the solution. The toucan's beak is a radiator which permits the bird to adapt their body temperature to outside temperature in tropical forests. This solution is typical of the tinkering specific to the absence of design in the evolution of life.
23 july 2009. Many persons were affected by a variety of troubles after swimming on the beaches in Algeria. The symptoms are reminiscent of those caused by Ostreopsis ovata, a marine dinoflagellate living in tropical and subtropical areas but recently frequently found in the Mediterranean Sea, possibly as a consequence of global warming.
22 july 2009. It was thought for a long time that despite the similarity (and ancestry) of the parent of the HIV virus, the virus SIVcpz did not cause disease in chimpanzees. Yet a long observation of chimpanzees in the wild showed that some animals did die younger than others, and that this corresponds to those infected by SIVcpz. Beatrice Hahn and her colleagues at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (USA) established that the animals indeed display symptoms similar to those of AIDS. This could not be established earlier because the disease needs time to be established, as in humans.
9 july 2009. Despite the old age of the Chinese civilisation, which should have precluded invasion from western fads and fallacies, a lobby has tried to introduce teaching creationism and intelligent design in Hong Kong schools.Fortunately this was unsuccessful and the government of Hong Kong ruled that evolution should be taught at school, in particular making reference to the theories of Charles Darwin and Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck.
30 june 2009. The number of deaths due to swine flu (A H1N1) has largely topped those caused by avian flu (A H5N1). Yet, the former is much less severe than the latter. But it seems to be extremely contagious at least in people younger than about 50. Because of this situation, some people have tried to organise "swine flu parties" where they would catch the disease in order to be vaccinated. This is a very wrong idea, not for individual persons, but for the whole health care system: if flu were to spread extremely fast, it would, despite its fairly innocuous symptoms, create a number of severe cases which might flood the health care systems... We need to think collectively!
26 june 2009. From the medical standpoint Iran is located at a crucial position for the spread of diseases between the Eastern and the Western part of the Asian-European continent. It is most important the the country remains as open as possible. The present situation of control of the media by the government despite the major use of Twitter with the #iranelection tag is a matter of concern. To get an idea of the background political situation In terms of statistics, it is interesting to see the analysis performed by Dr Walter Mebane using Benford's law. It is now extremely difficult to monitor the situation, in particular in hospitals. Fortunately the type A flu H1N1 does not seem, for the time being, to be a dangerous form of the disease.
20 june 2009.
Bubonic plague is endemic in many parts of the world, associated with rodents and occasionally affecting humans. An epidemic recently affected the region of Tobruk (Tubruq), in Lybia with more than 30 persons catching the disease (which is fortunately sensitive to antibiotics if taken early enough).
14 june 2009.
A study published in Nature with the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine of Hong Kong,H1N1_evolution the University of Arizona and the University of Oxford substantiates the idea, developed repeatedly, that the flu virus tends to reassort between birds, pigs and humans. The present outbreak is typical of this situation.
12 june 2009.
The new pandemic of H1N1 flu will require billions of vaccine doses. As the common practice is producing vaccine by growing the virus on fertilised hen's eggs this will pose an enormous logistic hurdle. Some companies are starting to produce the virus on animal cells, but this may be very dangerous, as these cells may yield infective prions. A deep analysis is therefore needed before this approach can be used. Any mistake in the domain would result in spongiform encephalopathies after decades, as in the case of the mad cow's disease. To be updated daily on viruses H5N1 and H1N1 see AIDaily.
10 june 2009. Autumn is starting in the South hemisphere, and it is expected that this is where swine flu could develop. Australia has indeed reached 1,200 cases of H1N1 flu. This demonstrates person-to-person contagion independent of the initial source, the exact definition of the beginning of a pandemic.
2 june 2009. Among the great many explanations proposed for the vanishing of flight AF447, one stressed the possible "innovative" behaviour of computers. As we wrote at the end of our presentation in French of synthetic biology, "who would like to fly in a plane that innovates in its behaviour?", it may be what happened. During particularly violent turbulences, the plane computers might have taken the upper hand, without leaving to the pilots the possibility to react intelligently... Will we know, ever, the answer?
30 may 2009. A new member of the Arenaviridae, viruses comprising the infamous Ebola and Lassa viruses has been discovered recently in South Africa. It has been provisionally named Lujo virus (LUJV) in recognition of its geographic origin (Lusaka, Zambia, and Johannesburg, South Africa). This is the first discovery of this family after three decades. The virus seems highly letal, as his counterparts, and is spread by direct contact or body fluids, which limits its transmission. Its genome has been sequenced. The origin of the virus is, as yet, unknown.
29 may 2009. As unfortunately expected with all chemical treatments the WHO has warned that malaria parasites begin to evolve to forms resistant to the most efficacious drug, artemisinin. This resistance is building up at the frontier between Cambodia and Thailand, and seems to be spreading.
19 may 2009. Now that the H1N1 flu is spreading in Japan, without direct contact with the original source of the virus it is likely that the epidemic will spread fairly rapidly, and reach the highest level of pandemic contagion according to the WHO classification. Fortunately, for the time being, while the virus seems to be extremely contagious, its symptoms are generally fairly mild. Further evolution is utterly unpredictable. One of the difficulties to monitor the spread of the disease is that many viral diseases have early symptoms similar to those of flu. Chikungunya, for example, is active at present in India and in Malaysia.
16 may 2009. Swine flu is expanding. In an interesting move demonstrating how far the link between diseases and social behaviour goes, the name of this particular strain of the influenza A virus shifted from mexican, to swine, to H1N1 or simply A influenza. All kinds of special interest groups are involved, suggesting that it will be difficult to trace back exactly the history of the virus. Fortunately, for the time being, the symptoms of the disease are fairly similar to those of routine flu, which causes many deaths every year anyway. A study published in the Journal of Neurovirology shows that the large population of cognitively impaired HIV-infected patients (about half of the total population) is due to white matter tract injury. This advocates for treatments that would pass the blood-brain barrier in HIV-infected persons.
2 may 2009. Born in a polish family famous for its poets, scientists and musicians, Piotr Slonimski, one of the fathers of molecular genetics died on april 25th. He was one of the few pioneers of genomics in France. Working with Boris Ephrussi, he played a seminal role in the difficult development of genetics in a country where this science always had an ambiguous status. His contribution to the genetics of mitochondria (remains of previously symbiotic bacteria, which manage energy in the cell) is considerable.
1 may 2009. The various sequences of the new H1N1 swine flu virus are available at GISAID. As usual with flu, the virus evolves both by mutations and by reassortment. In the present case a triple reassortment event, is likely to have occurred some ten years ago (in 1998) assorting avian, human, and swine viruses components which combined in pigs. At the present time all segments of the current virus seems to be of pig origin. In terms of protection, masks are quite ambiguous as it is necessary to use ones hands to put them on. Hand hygiene is the most important protection, and one should rigorously avoid touching ones face, mouth, nose and eyes in particular. New studies contradict two decades of studies on the way the HIV penetrates cells. The virus does not directly fuse with the cell's membrane, but is internalised first in vesicles.
26 april 2009. In contrast to the SARS episode, when not much was known about the cause of the epidemic, we know much about flu outbreaks and even pandemics. The profile of the patients is somewhat atypical in Mexico (20-40 years of age) and this is one of the reasons of concern. Yet, the main problem is social control of the spread of the disease. Knowing, unfortunately, is not enough to prevent people from moving and having irrational behaviour. A strict hygiene is absolutely necessary. The next few days will say how much we have learnt from previous experience. We need at least two months to create a vaccine, but at least one of the present antiflu drugs are effective.
25 april 2009. Many influenza virus types are spread in the world, and while the avian flu virus H5N1 has been the object of much concern, the more usual H1N1 type (a variant of which caused the infamous 1918-1919 pandemic) is lingering. The World Heath Organization released yesterday an alert on an epidemic developing in Mexico and in the USA. The disease appears to have started in pigs, a common relay between the natural hosts of the virus, Anatidae birds, and humans.Hong Kong authorities step up control measures at the border to monitor swine flu (the population of pigs is huge in China, and there is sometimes diseases that are not understood). Interestingly, the recommended hygiene rules are the same as those during the SARS episode.
9 april 2009. Shrimp is bred in aquaculture world-wide. This means high local concentration of animals, so that many parasites may affect them. Microsporidia are a known plague of shrimp farms. A virus, the white spot syndrome virus is also a plague of these farms. A taiwanese group of investigators identified a protein coded by the virus, ICP11, and showed that it mimicks DNA in its binding to histones, creating havoc in the shrimp tissue. This is a remarkable observation that should trigger more work on nucleic acids mimicking proteins.
4 april 2009. Pr Chen Zhu (陈竺), the ministry of health of China has stated that his services had recently identified more than 200 cases of the extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR) in the Mainland.
23 march 2009.
It is well-known that locusts form dangerous swarms, eating out everything on their passage. One of the seven Egypt plagues, they still exist and are carefully monitored by the FAO. One long wondered why these animals, which are usualy shy and look for solitude, avoiding contact with others, can suddenly form swarms with several tens of thousands individuals. This is now understood. Investigators from Oxford, Cambridge and Syndney (Australia) have shown that when locusts are forced to stay together for more than two hours the firing pattern of their neuronal circuitsis  completely changed while, their behaviour is suddenly drastically altered as they become gregarious. The change is due to a universal neuromediator, serotonin (known to be involved in many brain processes in Man, including depression), which distributes in a completely novel pattern. Much remains to be understood, but it is perhaps somewhat unconfortable to remark that a gregarisation can be induced under crowding conditions, and could give birth to collective irrepressible behaviours...
19 march 2009. The historian of sciences and physician Mirko Grmek would certainly have largely commented upon the sayings of the pope about AIDS and condoms. He had proposed the concept of pathocenosis (formed as biocenose a central concept in Karl Möbius ecology) to show how diseases are as due to social behaviour as to microbes. Who would today ask about the reasons that led Africa (where HIV comes from, and where it was present for many decades without detectable epidemies) to be the "priviledged" continent where this terrible disease spreads? His History of AIDS, published in French in 1989 and subsequently translated into English, would be very helpful in understanding, but who remembers that work and its ideas?
17 march 2009.
We often forget it, but biological warfare does not exist only in our imagination. In a recent book Patrick Berche reminds us, alas, how Ian Smith and his government used cholera in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) against its population, and we must wonder of possible consequences till now. It is not impossible that the memory of the past is coming with a revenge: in Mozambique, personnel from the Red Cross has just been attacked (with several deaths) because of a rumor attributing the present outbreak of cholera there to this organisation...
11 march 2009. Facing the huge increase in the world population many developing countries begin to turn to growth of genetically modified plants, with, for the time being, much success.gmcrops2008The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) published the detail of the development of transgenic plants during year 2008. Cultivation of such plants grew for more than 10%, corresponding to a value of some 750 millions US dollars (cf pdf).

10 march 2009.
At a time when enthusiasm for stem cell therapy is building up it must be reminded that much research needs to be developed before going - if ever - to applications. In particular it is of extreme concern that work on humans appears often to predate extensive work on animals. Joerg Huelsken thus begins an analysis of the problem: "Importantly, stem cells can be transformed to form benign or cancerous lesions by the action of only one oncogene or the loss of one tumor suppressor gene. This demonstrates that the regenerative capacity of stem cells comes at a price: an increased hazard of cancerogenesis." And we have reminded the cancer has indeed been observed in a patient after stem cell transplantation.
9 march 2009. rotavirusVaccines against rotaviruses, one of the leading causes of diarrhoea are systematically being tested by the ICCCR,B. The results are promising, at a time when further tests are ongoing.
5 march 2009.
Members of the teams of the ICDDR,B from Dakha, Bangladesh, have been monitoring the progression of cholera in Zimbabwe. The disease is still progressing as the number of contaminated wells is considerable. HIV is progressing in people aged 50 and more world-wide, in particular in developing countries (but also in developed countries, as advertisements for improvement of sexual activities is widely spread there) and this corresponds often to new contatiminations.
4 march 2009. The pattern of the distribution of avian flu this year looked a bid unusual, as Indonesia had apparently suddenly disappeared from the picture: not so. The health authorities of the country now recognize that four persons died of the disease during the past two months.
28 february 2009.The company Baxter confirmed that it released flu virus material contaminated with live H5N1 avian flu viruses from a plant in Austria to companies in three countries, Czech Republic, Slovenia and Germany. This was discovered when an experimental laboratory in Czech republic discovered that ferrets injectected with the sample, supposed to be H3N2 human virus, died after injection, while they should have stayed alive and developed a strong immune response. This is a very serious incident as it is known that the flu virus can reassort (it is made of several independent pieces or RNA), so that simultaneous conatmination of cells with different viruses is supposed to be the major possible cause of initiation of a pandemic.
19 february 2009. The popular belief that what is natural is potentially less dangerous than what is artificial (illustrated in the reluctance for genetically modified plants, but not animals) is at the root of the idea of stem cell therapy. However almost by definition, stem cells could be at the root of cancer. This has unfortunately been demonstrated in a report of a human brain tumor complicating neural stem cell therapy. The Eurosurveillance network substantiates the role of pigs as intermediary hosts in flu.
11 february 2009. China monitors carefully morbidity and mortality in the pig population as these animals might be intermediary hosts for human avian flu. More than 1,000 piglets died in the Shanxi province, according to the Xinhua agency, but the cause of their death is not yet known.
7 february 2009.
Liberia has recently been invaded by swarms of caterpillars which eat out wild and cultivated plants. A popular interpretation has been that these were members of the infamous army worms, known for their considerable destructive power. Georg Goergen — an entomologist at International Institute for Tropical Agriculture in Benin — identified them as the tree-dwelling caterpillars of another moth, Achae catocaloides rena. If this is confirmed we will need to understand their shift of ecological niche. Part of the reason could be the massive destruction of forests in the region.
3 february 2009. Several outbreaks of avian flu are affecting mainland China, and a high proportion of dead birds washing ashore in Hong Kong are infected by the H5N1 virus. This situation needs to be carefully monitored as it may indicate that the disease is developing to a level without much precedent in China.
29 january 2009. Two European Union white papers reports concerns about research intensity in Europe, which lags far behind efforts in Japan and in the USA. China R and D efforts are growing very fast and will soon reach the European level in terms of proportion of the GDP. France, Italy, UK and Germany appear to be poor investors in R and D, and this should have harmful consequences in the medium / long term for their economy. A man has been infected by the Ebola Reston pig virus in the Philippines. This is a matter of concern as the scenario of contagion to humans is similar to that of avian flu, where the pig could be an efficient intermediate for adapation of viruses to humans.
27 january 2009. A dangerous outbreak of dengue fever affects the north of Queensland in Australia. China is the victim of several outbreaks of bird flu, with already five casualties, more than in 2008 as a whole. The disease is also present in Egypt, Bangladesh, and Vietnam.
22 january 2009.
The pattern of avian flu outbreaks differs from that of last year, with significant foci (and human deaths) in China. The cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe, far from being under control is now reaching villages, and the death toll will soon reach 3,000.
20 january 2009.
Back in 2003, Algeria witnessed a brief re-emergence of plague, showing that what Albert Camus described is still relevant. It seems that a real outbreak is developing in the region of Tizi Ouzou, perhaps in a terrorist group operating in the region.
15 january 2009.
Synthetic Biology is a buzzword that spreads like fire to describe new approaches in endeavours to reconstruct living organisms. As usual this is associated to far-fetched promises, but some are really in the process of being actualised. Victor de Lorenzo and his colleagues from Madrid, for example, have just published a paper: Tracing explosives in soil with transcriptional regulators of Pseudomonas putida evolved for responding to nitrotoluenes, where they give hints about ways to help in decontaminating mine fields... If successful this would be a positive counterpart to the highly destructive tendency of Mankind.
14 january 2009.
In a move showing unusual openness the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that 1,200 Chinese citizens died of infectious diseases in december (remember that the population is of 1.3 billion people). H5N1 avian flu recently killed a patient in China, while a child is infected in Egypt. Many of the "traditional" places where the disease develops have cases of bird infections.
31 december 2008. While 2008 ends up with an avian flu H5N1 contamination record lower than the three preceding years and matching that of 2004, a two-months old baby from Shenzhen has been contaminated by the H9N2 form, a rare occurrence in humans. Only a few cases have been recorded in recent years, but most suggested that the virus piecemeal genome had been reassorted between different kinds of domestic birds' viruses. This indicated an ongoing evolution process that needs close monitoring.
30 december 2008. Zimbabwe finally decided to recruit physicians from Bangladesh in an attempt to control the spread of cholera (some 30,000 persons have already been infected).
29 december 2008.
This has been suspected for a long time: plasticware is not innocuous. In fact, we apparently live in an ocean of chemicals associated to plastics and many leach out and contaminate our environment,  our food in particular. This interferes with many of our enzymes, with drugs and with standard molecular mediators of our normal life. The consequence is enormous, in particular in terms of the outcome of clinical trials for testing new drugs, which are affected in a completely uncontrolled way by plastic associated chemicals. A recent publication in the magazine Science should sound as an alarm clock.
16 december 2008. Year 2008 will end with a situation on the front of avian flu which is back to the 2004 level. While this is good news, recent human cases resulting in deaths shows that we  should not consider the episode over. Cambodia, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Hong Kong have recently seen new cases in birds and twice in humans. Mass slaughter of fowl is underway to contain the spread of the disease. The situation for cholera in Zimbabwe is extremely serious, but almost impossible to monitor correctly, and is extending to neighbouring countries. The WHO is trying to prevent the spread of the disease. A few weeks ago an outbreak of Ebola virus, Reston subtype emerged in the Island of Luzon in the Philippines. The scare triggered by this event stopped export of pork meat to Singapore.
2 december 2008. Water supply has been cut off in centre Harare, Zimbabwe, in an attempt to stop the spread of cholera. On the bird flu's front the situation has improved to the level reached five years ago. Unfortunately two recent episodes in Bangladesh and India, where thousands of chicken had to be slaughtered needs to be monitored closely.
23 november 2008. The world-wide free market creates a new kind of colonisation: compagnies, and even countries can rent or buy foreign land where they develop their own activities, in particular by growing crops and collecting water. Cholera is dangerously spreading in Zimbabwe.
18 november 2008. Cholera is endemic in many places in the world. It begins to take epidemic proportions at places ruined by war, such as the republic of Congo, or political unrest, such as Zimbabwe, where the epidemic toll is underreported.
17 november 2008. We tend to think that paper is more environmental-friendly than oil derivatives. Unfortunately this may not be so. Indeed, making paper world-wide might emit much more carbon dioxide than global aviation...
16 november 2008. The number of insect species is rapidly dwindling in Europe. It is now more and more difficult to see on the wing butterflies which were until recently quite common, and this will have considerable consequences not only on our landscapes but also on agriculture. Most urban dwellers are entirely unaware of this fact, as they never saw most butterfly species in the wild, and it is therefore unlikely that much effort will be devoted to insect protection.
9 november 2008. The EMBO (European Molecular Biology Organisation) Science and Society programme hosted a conference on Systems and Synthetic Biology, where the scientific questions were debated in parallel with societal interrogations. Among the remarkable lectures at the conference was that presented by Lee Hood, on the future of Systems Biology, illustrated by the work developed at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle. A plan for the construction of a sister Institute in Luxembourg has been unveiled.
29 october 2008. A fifth case of an infection caused by a mysterious virus in South Africa has been reported yesterday. Preliminary analyses suggest that it could be a member of the arenaviruses.
8 october 2008. More than a hundred persons who came into contact with three persons who died of an unknown kind of viral haemorrhagic fever remain under observation in Johannesburg. They all appear to be fine. The seasonal influenza season is approaching. The 2008-2009 trivalent vaccine virus strains recommended by the WHO are A/Brisbane/59/2007 (H1N1)-like, A/Brisbane/10/2007 (H3N2)-like, and B/Florida/4/2006-like antigens. Luc Montagnier present in Abidjan for the inauguration of the conference «Cissida 08», was congratulated by president Gbagbo, who emphasized the effort of Ivory Coast in the domain.
1 october 2008. Diseases which should be eradicated such as leprosy surface again in Senegal. More than 50 new cases have been recently identified, some 30 of which in the region of Kaolack.

Previous years at the HKU Pasteur Research Centre

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