bridge in a preserved forest
[O]ne day, you notice an old country woman crossing a downtown street, just about to put one foot down on the rails of the streetcar line. […] Suppose, now, that at the very moment she puts her foot on the rail a streetcar comes rushing down the tracks toward her. If the old woman does not notice the car and continues across the tracks nothing will happen. But if someone should happen to shout ‘Look out, old woman!’ what would be her natural reaction? […] she would suddenly become flustered and would pause to decide whether to go on or step back […] the mere words ‘Look out, old woman!’ would be as dangerous a weapon as any knife or firearm. […] the man who sounds the warning actually becomes a murderer!

Edogawa RANPO

Other years

Beyond re-emerging diseases a mysterious disease killing camel in Pakistan 2010-2011

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arrow 31 december 2011. Australia has set up a biosafety level 4 laboratory in november. And the first human case of avian flu in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, reminding us that the disease is stil a matter of concern. The most worrying concern is that the man infected, who died today, apparently did not have any contact with live birds.
arrow 21 december 2011. The SAR Hong Kong health authorities raise the avian flu alert to the "serious" level.After the discovery of infected chicken in a live poultry market the Hong Kong authorities published a press release on the attitude required to face the "serious" alert level
arrow 18 december 2011. Since november 3rd the SAR Hong Kong activated the alert response to avian flu. Several birds infected with the avian flu virus have been discovered dead in various places of the SAR Hong Kong. The last discovery was a black headed seagull found dead on december 15th in Yuen Long. It carried a virus with antigen H5. In another part of the planet the unknown disease killing seals in mass (cf october 16th) continues to spread in Alaska
arrow 23 octobre 2011. The findings of a new study of the world climate, triggered by climatoskeptics, are published. The debate triggered by the publication of many emails from climate scientists is about to come to a reliable conclusion. The first conclusions of the study project Berkeley Earth meant to get rid of possible biases in previous climante analyses confirms without ambiguity the existence of global warming to the same extent as that previously highlighted.
arrow 16 october 2011. Arctic ringed seals are decimated by a mysterious disease. For three months now ringed seals (Pusa hispida) and walruses from North-West Alaska and probably North-East Russia are affected by a serious epidemic. Seals are not usually in contact with humans, except during the hunting season, which is starting. They have diseases that may be transmitted to humans and from humans (such as flu). The present disease that makes their skin bleed does not seem to be related to the distemper virus that affected them in 2002.
arrow 25 september 2011. In a world dominated by financial speculation, cancer is cured again. For half a century there is no week without a novel cure to cancer. The trick is to announce progresses in percentage of improvement. For example, for advanced prostate cancer a new "cure" using radioactive radium has improved the survival of patients by 30%... This looks nice, but this means an average of survival of 14 months against 11 months in the control group, while the life expectancy at the average age of the patients should be 250 months. Hence the true improvement is 1%. Enough for financial speculation, but what about the patients' hopes?
arrow 11 september 2011. Eating wild animals is a potential source of emerging diseases. Pathogens have a tendency to adapt to their host and, in the course of years to become less virulent. The main danger of novel highly virulent diseases comes therefore from organisms that jump from a particular host to a different host. Just out these days, the movie thriller Contagion is based on this idea, illustrating what could happen with a variant of the Nipah virus. Emergence is particularly likely when hosts are related in terms of evolution but different species. The Simian Immunodeficiency Virus gave rise to the Human counterpart by an unknown route. But these days we should be careful about viruses that infect bats, as bats are close to primates, not to rodents. And in countries such as Laos, for example, bats remain a delicacy, with little action against this practice both unfortunate in terms of wildlife protection, and in terms of global health protection.
arrow 25 august 2011. Infecting mosquitoes with a symbiotic bacterium is used against dengue fever propagation. Dengue fever is a potentially fatal viral disease propagated by mosquitoes of the Aedes aegypti family. As a consequence of global warming and urbanisation these mosquitoes are rapidly spreading, transmitting the disease world wide. They also become resistant to pesticides. As a way to control their multiplication Australian scientists have thought to infect them with bacteria of the family Wolbachia, that are often found to be propagated from generation to generation in insects. This has a doubly rewarding effect: the mosquitoes get lower fertility, and they no longer can spread the dengue virus. A life size successful experiment has been conducted in the region of Cairns, North-East Australia.
arrow 23 august 2011. The European Union sends a team to Egypt to explore whether fenugreek seeds were contaminated with E. coli O104:H4. The EU has imposed a ban on seeds from Egypt after it was concluded that the German outbreak of EHEC O104:H4 strain came from germinated sprouts. This was however based on epidemiologic inference, not on straight proof. It should be noticed that it is now proven that many bacteria can multiply within plants (they are "endophytes") providing the plant with essential nutrients. It will not be unexpected to find a variety of bacteria on seeds. Whether the infamous strain is present is just a guess.
arrow 27 july 2011. Since yesterday the arctic eastern route to Asia is open. Much earlier than in 2010 the Eastern Arctic route to Asia is openarctic11
This happen at a time of a heat wave in the US and in Japan while Western Europe is cooler than usual.
arrow 23 july 2011. The genome sequence of the Münster 2001 strain is known and does not solve the riddle of the present outbreak. PloS ONE has published the much wanted sequence of the genome of the 2001 O104:H4 strain. It is a cousin of the 2011 strain. This does not solve the origin of the present outbreak.muenster
The most evident question when assuming that the source of contamination were fenugreek seeds is why there is apparently no epidemic in Egypt.
arrow 18 july 2011. The influenza virus H1N1 and H9N2 are able to reassort, and this promises fairly dangerous siblings. A recent study led by the University of Maryland found that reassortment of pieces of the flu virus between the virus responsible for the 2009 flu pandemic (H1N1) and a now common type of avian flu virus (H9N2) can produce live offspring with the potential for creating a new influenza pandemic. In the mean time, no public knowledge of the 2001 strain of O104:H4...
arrow 17 july 2011. The hypothesis that healthy carriers may propagate the E. coli O104:H4 strain is substantiated. Analysis of a German class where two students were showing symptoms of the virulent O104:H4 E. coli infection has shown that many more were carrying the microbe without showing signs of infection. This substantiates the hypothesis of healthy carriers that we proposed at the onset of the disease.
arrow 8 july 2011. The FDA considers any disease-causing strain of E. coli in food to be illegal!. This surprising sentence has appeared and disappeared from the FDA site. In the mean time several different genome sequences of the virulent bacteria have been published, still leaving out the 2001 strain. Authorities suspect fenugreek seeds from Egypt to have been contaminated, but no proof is yet found.
arrow 2 july 2011. And cholera is growing in Santo Domingo... . While cholera continues to wreak havoc in Haiti and Santo Domingo, a new case assigned to E. coli O104: H4 has been identified in Sweden, with no known relationship with the German case. So, the mystery deepens and it becomes urgent to know the genome sequence of the bacteria identified in Münster in 2001. The sequence is long overdue, and one can only wonder about the blackout that surrounds it. Indeed, the new cases found in France and in Sweden have two amazing characters: the presence of toxins, and a specific spectrum of resistance to antibiotics. This suggests that, despite their apparent lack of epidemiological links, the outbreaks seem to have been caused by the same strain.
arrow 25 june 2011. A small French company has developed a fast and reliable diagnosis test for the epidemic strain of Escherichia coli O104:H4 . As a new outbreak of the epidemic caused by E. coli O104: H4 appeared in France, a small French company developed as early as June 10 a specific growth medium to identify selectively the O104:H4 E. coli strain, named CHROMagar STEC-O104 with a success rate close to 100%. This medium could be very useful to study the distribution of strain or its neighbors in the environment.
arrow 19 june 2011. The exact origin of the German Escherichia coli O104:H4 strain is still not publicly known. According to various sources an E. coli strain related to the letal O104:H4 strain has been recovered from a stream near Frankfurt. This makes it particularly interesting to know more about the sequence of the genome of the strain discovered in 2001.
arrow 13 june 2011. H9N2 avian flu is slowly progressing. While the H104:H4 outbreak is slowly levelling off and some more knowledge collected about an origin of the disease via mungbean sprouts, other pathogens linger in the environment. Beside the infamous H5N1 virus, still quite prevalent, records of H9N2 carriers is on the increase. These viral strain generally do not cause severe diseases, but an increase in the reservoir results in a parallel increase in mutations, some which could become dangerous. Vaccines are under development.
arrow 11 june 2011. Bean sprouts again, but no proof yet. We will stop to give information on the epidemic O104: H4 until things become clearer. The latest developments show that the epidemic has stabilized. Facing a mystery it was important to offer a solution: the bean sprouts were again singled out, but only as a result of circumstantial evidence. This allows authorities to gain time and prepare a coordinated response in all possible cases. But the real culprit, the strain and its origin, remains a mystery, and that is the real question.
arrow 9 june 2011. German health authorities say that it will take long to understand what is behind EHEC strain O104:H4. Prof Mellmann in an interview yesterday in the Wall Street Journal has announced: "The culprit behind Europe's deadly Escherichia coli outbreak appears to be an evolved and extremely toxic version of a bug first identified in Münster". This was already evident from the article cited by us on june 4th. Data are presented in Germany in very cautious words. The scientists say that it will require a long time to understand what was happening. In fact, the basic question is to identify the exact genome differences between the 2001 and the 2011 strains. This would help immensely to understand the way this pathogen spread. The pattern of the epidemic, with women particularly affected is suprising, and suggests a contamination route that is more specific to general behaviour in developed countries.
arrow 7 june 2011. It is essential to understand the path of transmission of EHEC strain O104:H4. In an effort to help the international community the Beijing Genome Institute in Shenzhen has offered to speed up identification of strains related to the one responsible of the present outbreak. This is an interesting idea as the BGI being located far from Europe will not be affected by conflicts of interests. Analysis of the genome and of its properties will also bring about important information on the reasons behind this unexpected outbreak. The difficulty in identifying a particular source of contamination is reminiscent of the possibility of healthy carriers, a contamination process well documented for more than one century. It must be understood that with this kind of pathogenic bacteria, one needs to be careful not to use antibiotics inappropriately. Indeed they may increase the catastrophic effects of the secretion of toxins.
arrow 5 june 2011. The mystery of the EHEC O104:H4 deepens. The fact that the epidemic strain affecting Germany and northern Europe is not yet identified is mysterious. It looks most similar to a strain discovered in Münster in Germany in 2001, and somewhat to an African strain (55989) found in 2002. The surprise comes from the fact that O104 infections were very rarely associated to food. This suggests strongly a direct human, possibly animal, source. The BGI (Shenzhen, China) is calling for help to get as many samples of related strains to try and identify its origin. Despite the fact that previous infections with O104 strains have been rarely seen to be associated to vegetables, the German authorities suspect an origin in contaminated mung bean sprouts. This does not tell of the origin of the bacterium however.
arrow 4 june 2011. The XMRV virus that was thought to cause cancer of the prostate and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a recombinant retrovirus from laboratory mice. More questions about the EHEC outbreak. Following the arsenic scandal, another retraction of the scientific magazine Science : This magazine and others as famous magazines had published articles, quickly disputed, showing an association, possibly causal, between prostate cancer, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and a murine virus, the XMRV (Xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus, see August 25, 2010). It is now established that this novel virus is a recombinant virus, that originated in laboratory mice transformed by human tumor cells. We can only be worried by that type of recombination if xenotransplantation (transplantation of "humanized" animal organs) becomes common practice. The detractors of synthetic biology, and genetically modified organisms, instead of focusing on what is no immediate danger would do better to cry wolf where he is. Indeed human practice, each time it has the appearance of medical practices, raises no objection in the public, despite its great dangers. And unfortunately we are certainly ready to resume experiments similar to the mad experiments of Serge Voronoff (see April 21, 2010).
The origin (patient index) of the E. coli EHEC O104:H4 is not yet known. One may however remember that a strain with a similar surface antigen was isolated in Germany in 2001. Knowing the kinship between the present strain and the older one will be of the utmost importance.
arrow 3 june 2011. The Beijing Genome Institute sequences the genome of Escherichia coli EHEC serotype O104:H4. Helping Europe, the BGI, delocalized in Shenzhen (next to Hong Kong) sequences the genome of the deadly EHEC strain that affects Germany. This work will allow investigators to characterize the features that makes this strain so dangerous. It appears to be quite similar to a strain that affected a Korean patient in 2006, and the way it spread to Germany is a puzzling and interesting open question.
arrow 2 june 2011. The epidemic of Escherichia coli EHEC serotype O104:H4 is spreading. The origine is still unknown. The incubation period seems longer than one symptoms differ from what is already known in former E. coli epidemics. As the infamous O157:H7 strain, this new pathogenic variant produces a hemolytic uremic syndrome, with destruction of the kidney function, uremia and death. This bacterium was identified five years ago in Korea, with a similar hemolytic uremic syndrome. Most similar diseases have been caused by the infamous O157:H7 group of strains. The present pattern of infection is puzzling because children under 5 years of age (an age group that is highly sensitive to the latter strains) does not appear to be affected. This might indicate a route of infection that does not fit with the standard pattern of food intake in young children. Alternatively they might be protected for some unknown reason.
arrow 26 may 2011. A worrying epidemic of pathogenic Escherichia coli spreads in Germany. The exact origin of the disease is not well known but the cause is an enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC). Several hundred patients have been identified. The genome project ColiScope is meant to identify the genes involved in these pathogenic outbreaks.
arrow 14 april 2011. Since 2006 pinguins from the southern hemisphere loose their feathres. For many years, observers have noticed that penguins from South America and South Africa will not recover their plumage after moulting. This phenomenon seems to be on the increase, and this becomes a matter of concern. This condition is well known to bird breeders. Its cause is not identified, but it is probably caused by a pathogen such as a virus.
arrow 2 april 2011. A new Flavivirus infects ducks in China. Avian influenza is a disease of birds of the Anatidae family. It is therefore particularly important to monitor diseases of ducks in China, where the infection route to man follows the traditional organization of the traditional farm: the duck pond, the lair of the pigs and the family farmers. Over the past year a serious illness affected the ducks, that lose their eggs and become emaciated. The virus, Baiyangdian virus (BYDV), has been identified. It is a new virus of the Flavivirus family, related to the Tembusu virus (TMUV) isolated four decades ago in Thailand. Since Flaviviruses cause yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis or West Nile encephalitis, this new epidemic should be followed with great attention.
arrow 8 february 2011. In Vientiane (Laos) no birds, no songs. Is this an accident? Unfortunately not. The same is true almost everywhere in Laos and in Vietnam, despite the supposed extreme biodiversity of this part of South East Asia. The contrast with Hong Kong, despite its enormous human population, is extreme. Why is this so: the short answer is "cheap proteins". Every animal is eaten. And the local demographic explosion, without proper education, will transform this continent into a desert. Another concern is the present understanding that the H5N1 bird flu can be propagated by migrating birds — we noted this a long time ago : everything that flies is killed (with the danger that being made of proteins these birds are sometimes eaten up).
arrow 3 january 2011. Do not cry wolf, and remember invasive species. The nightmarish monsters invented by Mary Shelley, as well as special interest groups tend to hide real dangers. AIDS or SARS are from natural origin (but associated to novel human behaviours), and our awkward synthetic constructs will take long to reach the achievements of billions of years of natural evolution. Hong Kong is thus facing the ravages of Mikania micrantha (bittervine), a climbing weed originating from Central and Southern America. It climbs on indigenous plants and suffocates them by preventing their leafs to be reached by sun light. Even the huge banana tree leaves cannot escape this terrible fate. We should not forget invasive species and emerging diseases because we like fantasies!
arrow 31 december 2010. The most fascinating discovery of 2010: Homo sapiens is mixed-blood. One has long assumed that moder man, Homo sapiens sapiens, did not cross with its cousin Homo (sapiens) neanderthalensis. Genome analysis of the latter has shown that a significant number of genes of non African humans (europeans, asians and melanesians) was present in their genome, demonstrating that they cross-hybridised with H. neanderthalensis. It has how been discovered that a cousin of H. neanderthalensis, named "denisovan" from the name of the cave in the Altaï mountains where it has been discovered, has also been mixed with humans, as some of its genes are also present in the humans that conquered the islands of the Southern Hemisphere. While sub-saharan Africans are often quite distant genetically speaking (because H. sapiens was born there, leaving more time to evolution before a branch invaded the rest of the world), they do not carry these foreign genes that their cousins from the rest of the world carry. The importance of this fact will take long to be understood, but it may have consequences on the immune system, on behaviour and on a variety of other traits. In parallel a much advertised "discovery" told the world that arsenic had been found in the backbone of the genome of bacteria, despite the high school text-book knowledge that should have prevented investigators and scientific magazines to publish such fantasies. Looking for sensation in science has now reached a very dangerous point, where science will be loosing its credit.
arrow 19 november 2010. ICDDR,B emergency team arrives in Haiti to combat cholera epidemic. Cholera is expanding fast in Haiti. The ICDDR,B, from Bangladesh, is familiar with the disease and sent experts to help the Haitian people to fight the disease. This may face difficulties while rumors have been spread that people from Asia have carried the dangerous bacteria to Haiti.
arrow 18 november 2010. Mysterious die out of camels in Pakistan. More than 50 camels have died of a flu-like disease over the past 2 weeks, while some 1000 are suffering from the disease in the Thar region.
arrow 5 november 2010. An acute outbreak of poliomyelitis hits the Republic of Congo. The World Health Organisation is warning of an acute outbreak of polyomyelitis, with more than 120 cases and already 58 deaths, most cases coming from Pointe Noire. This is a sad drawback of the eradication programme that was supposed to be completed soon world-wide.
arrow 27 october 2010. Learning about human toxicity of pesticides via analysis of self-inflicted poisoning. Rodents are used to analyze toxicity of chemicals. Yet they are very far from humans, with a considerably different metabolism. When people attempt suicide they often use the chemicals they have at hand. There is also a considerable amount of accidental poisoning. A transcontinental study, based on work developed in Sri Lanka, Australia and UK shows that the effects are remarkably differing from those listed in the WHO recommendations (based on studies using rodents). This should be used as a basis to reassess the use of pesticides world-wide. A conclusion of this work is frightening: "From a public health perspective it seems irrational for pesticide formulations with estimated case fatalities of 21% (dimethoate EC40), 22% (endosulfan EC35), and 47% (paraquat 20%) to be in the same (moderately hazardous) WHO class as many pesticides with a 20-fold lower human case fatality".
arrow 10 october 2010. Biosafety and Biosecurity measures at ICDDR,B. Nature is much more efficient than artifice. The Research and Health Centers that cope with dangerous pathogens need to organize biosecurity and biosafety measures to prevent the intentional or accidental spread of bacteria, fungi and viruses. The ICDDR,B in Bangladesh is organizing courses and training to deal with cholera and the Nipah virus in order to build up a community of experts in the domain. This is particularly important at a time when special interest groups divert the attention of the public from dangerous natural invasive organisms toward the unlikely dangers of artificial constructs.
arrow 25 september 2010. Europe maps its soil biodiversity. The Land Management and Natural Hazards Unit of the EU’s Joint Research Centre has just released its most recent map of the evolution of soil biodiversity in Europe. The situation is a matter of concern, with salty soil in Southern Europe and altered soil in Northern Europe. Microbial diversity is strongly altered, with important consequences in terms of the quality of soil upper layers, animals and plants.
arrow 19 september 2010. Bangladesh is plagued by an outbreak of cutaneous anthrax. The oubreak was preceded by another one in the region of Omsk, Siberia. Cutaneous anthrax, when treated (usually with penicillins) is not fatal, but it is related to the infamous pulmonary form, that is most often fatal and is often considered as an important biowarfare agent.
arrow 11 september 2010. The alert response level for influenza pandemic is activated in Hong Kong. The government of the SAR of Hong Kong is not taking any chance with flu. It tries to raise the level of awareness of hongkongese people about three forms of influenza: seasonal influenza (which should begin in a few months time), avian influenza (H5N1, lingering in China and South-East Asia), and the recent swine flu pandemic (H1N1, until now benign for most people). Data suggest that the H3N2 seasonal virus and the H5N1 virus can reassort in pigs.
arrow 1 september 2010. Will an avatar of the small pox virus become an emerging disease? Monkey pox, caused by a virus related to that causing small pox in humans, is spreading in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In parallel a cholera epidemic has killed more than 130 persons in the north of Cameroon and more than 350 persons in northern Nigeria.
arrow 25 august 2010. Controversy about a new virus, XMRV. We have previously posted news about the virus recently identified, XMRV, that may be involved both in invasive prostate cancer and chronique fatigue syndrome. The controversy goes on, as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA publishes a paper where the connection is "proven" (this paper has been retracted), while Retrovirology demonstrates that there is no correlation between the symptoms and presence of the virus! The most remarkable here is that this is well-recognized laboratories that report these apparently contradictory observations.
arrow 20 august 2010. The arctic passage to Asia is open. Arctic ice has thawed considerably this year, and the passage north of Canada to Japan is open. A second passage north of Siberia should be opening within the next few days.arctic
arrow 19 august 2010. Scottish cars running on whisky by-products. According to BusinessGreen, biofuels made from whisky by-products could be available on Scottish roads within a few years time. The patent-protected approach aims at producing butanol (a much better substitute to oil than ethanol) using some of the 1,600 million litres of pot ale and 187,000 tonnes of draff produced by the Scottish malt whisky industry each year.
arrow 6 august 2010. Should chronic fatigue patients donate their blood? Blood is the natural physiological liquid closest to Man. Transfusions are ubiquitously practiced. Yet the more natural the more dangerous, contrary to widespread beliefs. The controversy (the work has been retracted) about the connection between the recently discovered Xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) and chronic fatigue syndrome and prostate cancer should, while we wait to get firm answers, trigger a ban on the use of blood from the affected patients. We should not repeat the situation that prevailed at the time of the onset of AIDS.
arrow 5 august 2010. Is dimethyl sulfone, a common additive acting against metastasis of cancer cells? A group of scientists from the University of Connecticut in the USA have studied this common compound, often found in plants and have studied its effect on aggresive melanoma metastatic cells. The rationale for their study is that this compound might interfere with microtubule polymerisation. Remarkably, but this must be confirmed, they found a very strong antimetastatic effect of the compound. They even venture to say that, because new agriculture pratice has lessened the content of dimethyl sulfone in food, this might have contributed to the increase of cancer in developed countries. We will wait with interest for developments of this study.
arrow 9 july 2010. Invasive species are dangerously developing because of the climate change. Living organisms are adapted to a particular environment. When conditions change some disappear and some become invasive, enhancing the deleterious effects of the disappearance of species adapted to former conditions. In the USA this importance has now been recognized, much more than in Europe. The fly Liriomyza huidobrensis is an extremely dangerous plant parasite that is spreading world wide, detroying a large number of crops.
arrow 24 june 2010. The cause of inflammatory bowel disease has been identified in model animals. A very large number of persons of european descent carry a variant gene that renders them susceptible to bowel inflammation (Crohn's disease), a disabilitating condition that often requires surgery. Scientists mostly from Washington University in Saint Louis, USA, demonstrate that the disease results from the variant gene, when associated to infection with a particular norovirus (a common family of viruses causing diarrhoea) and ingestion of an aggressive substance. This triggers a process that results in an unbalanced response of the gut to its own normal microbial flora. Remarkably, sterilisation of the intestine by massive use of antibiotics permits to revert the state of the gut to normal.
arrow 21 june 2010. Ten cases of poliomyelitis have been notified in Angola. For the WHO poliomyelitis should have been eradicated world-wide in 2000 or soon after that date. In 2008 thre remained only four countries, Afghanistan, India, le Nigeria and Pakistan where the disease was endemic. Unfortunately the situation did not improve much, and the disease is now present in Angola, where it was counted in 2002 for out of risk. The disease is present in other African countries as well, and probably spreading.
arrow 19 june 2010. H5N1 avian flu is still endemic at a low level in many countries. At a time when the usual diseases, dengue fever, cholera, influenza are at a fairly usual level world-wide, we should not forget that avian flu, with its deadly H5N1 virus is still endemic in several countries. China MInistry of Health reported the death of a pregnant woman in Hubei province at the beginning of the month, reminding us that we still need to follow the course of the evolution of the virus.
arrow 3 may 2010. Dengue fever is progressively invading tropical countries but a symbiote of mosquitoes might reverse the situation. Dengue fever is transmitted by mosquitoes of the genus Aedes, A. aegypti in particular. It is rapidly spreading, and its grave forms are more and more frequent. The discovery that a bacterial endosymbiont, that is transmitted over generations, Wolbachia, strongly reduces viral transmission is more than welcome. INdeed this bacteirum uses to multiply in its host functional circuits that are shared by the dengue virus. It is therefore possible to think of strategies to infect the mosquitoes with Wolbachia, in order to control the spread of dengue fever.
2 may 2010. Will carbon dioxyde shorten our lifespan? : Not entirely far-fetched. A remarkable study published in PLoS Biology shows that the destruction of a carbon dioxyde receptor in Drosophila flies shortens their lifespan considerably. A link between longevity and the nervous system of animals has been firmly established for some time, raising questions about the role of gazeous compounds in triggering responses for survival. Yet another effect of carbon dioxyde, far from greenhouse effects, but that may have had an important role in the past on the way the Earth has been populated by plants and animals. Another phenomenon of unknown cause, the colony collapse disorder (CCD) that killed a third of beehives for three years in a row in the USA could be caused by a threshold reached in carbon dioxyde. Indeed it seems clear that the disease is either contagious or the result of exposure to a common factor. This phenomenon becomes a matter of great concern as bees are responsible of a huge proportion of pollination.
arrow 22 april 2010. Caledonian crows use tools in a way only matching primates. Caledonian crows, Corvus moneduloides, explore holes in dead wood for insect larvae using tools. This has been observed for the first time under normal conditions in the wild, revealing a behaviour that is matched only by primates.
arrow 21 april 2010. An unexpected source for the origin of AIDS: ape's testicules graft on men? The origin of HIV is still a subject of interrogations. The virus is clearly derived from a common ancestor with its simian counterpart, SIV, and it may have originated from bush meat. Indeed, apes are sometimes eaten in regions where it is suspected that AIDS appeared first, probably many decades ago. But there are other possibilities. In particular it was once fashionable to graft ape testicles as an anti-age to men who wished to be young again. And in 1922 Dr Voronoff, set up in Africa with Dr Wibert an ape reservation meant to supply grafting material. This could very well have been a source of contamination of humans by ape viruses. Apparently no one was ever interested to investigate the case in-depth. While this looks unlikely, it is important to remember that xenographs are potentially extremely dangerous, especially because of the large content of retroviruses in animal genomes.
arrow 31 march 2010. A serious outbreak of Rift Valley fever is affecting South Africa. Relaying health authorities in South Africa the WHO has warned that a series of Rift Valley Fever outbreaks is affectiing the country.
arrow 21 march 2010. Success rate against tuberculosis levels off in Indonesia. Tuberculosis kills almost 100 persons a day in Indonesia. The ministry of health revealed the recent worrying figures of the fight against the disease.tuberculosis Multidrug resistant tuberculosis is now challenging seriously the efforts to control the disease, with a success rate of medication of a little more than 70% for the past four years.
arrow 19 march 2010. A new model of chikungunya disease in non-human primates. Research into chikungunya pathogenesis, vaccine development, and therapeutic design has been hindered by the lack of appropriate animal models. A meticulous study by Labadie and co-workers, coordinated at the Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique, reproduces the symptoms of the disease in macaques. This provides a novel way to discover cures of the disease, which is spreading fast.
arrow 3 march 2010. A cholera outbreak is arising in East Africa. As last year in Zimbabwe cholera is spreading in Zambia. This disease is relatively little contagious (as compared to other water-borne diseases) and this implies a very high level of water contamination in the region.
arrow 26 february 2010. Flu epidemics develop after periods of dry and cold weather. A retrospective study of the development of influenza in the USA, by the journal PLoS Currents Influenza (a model for our journal Symplectic Biology) shows that flu spreads fast as soon as humidity decreases in cold weather. This study is published again and extended in PLoS Biology without citing the previously published work, not a very ethical behaviour... 2013: Note that Google has discontinued "knol"
arrow 23 february 2010. Early development of meningitis in West Africa. Each year the end of the winter is marked in West Africa by the unfortunate development of a bacterial meningitis epidemic. This year it begins earlier than usual commence plus tôt que d'habitude, with a high number of fatalities and it extends much farther than its usual range.
arrow 22 february 2010. Orthogonal translation via evolution of a quadruplet-decoding ribosome. Jason Chin and his colleagues from the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Hills Road, Cambridge create an orthogonal translation system with synthetic ribosomes permitting tRNAs to read tetranucleotide codons instead of trinucleotide codons. Twenty amino acids make proteins as we know them. Two minor exceptions, selenocysteine and pyrrolysine expand the list in a limited way, using translation termination codons (UGA and UAG) placed in proper context. In a step towards expanding the genetic code, and translating messenger RNAs in a way that is controlled at will, Chin and his colleagues designed "orthogonal" ribosomes (named ribo-Q1) and transfer RNAs that are able to read termination codons as unnatural amino acids. They further expanded the triplet code to a quadruplet code, permitting decyphering of a further set of unnatural amino acids. Because ribo-Q1 can read quadruplets the new genetic code could theoretically be expanded to permit the making of proteins with more than 200 types of amino acids.
arrow 10 february 2010. The genome of an ancient human being living in the New World sequenced. Human bodies are preserved for hundreds of years under cold conditions. The DNA from hair follicles of an inhabitant of Greenland some 4,000 years ago has been sequenced. This permitted reconstruction of this ancient genome by a team of investigators from Copenhagen and the BGI in Shenzhen, Guangdong, China. This week's magazine Nature publishes the work, which shows that an unexpected migration had permitted people apparently unrelated to the previously known inhabitants of the New World to live in Greenland. It seems therefore more an more likely that many attempts by humans to colonize the Americas have been tried over thousands of years, most often without leaving a progeny. For the time being the genome analysis gives general traits to the human who lived there, suggesting dark skin and hair, as well as adaptation to cold conditions. It is likely that much more will be found with deeper investigation and correlation analysis when many more human genomes will have been sequenced, which should happen presently.
arrow 4 february 2010. An immunoglobulin class deficiency in susceptibility to pandemic H1N1? Humans code for the synthesis of four classes of immunoglobulins of the G type. While these antibodies are usually considered to interact preferentially with sugars coating proteins or other components, the second class, IgG2 may have a role in protecting patients against the dangerous form of H1N1 swine flu, as reported last september. A report published in Melbourne (Australia) appears to confirm this observation, explaining why the disease is innocuous to most people, while it can be letal to certain.
arrow 2 february 2010. Retraction of a paper that triggered a bitter anti-vaccination campaign. Back in 1998 Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues claimed in the famous medical journal The Lancet to have found that there was a link between the triple vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella and autism. This claim was based on wrong statistics and very poor experiments. Unfortunately, because it was published in a fashionable journal, it triggered a strong anti-vaccination reaction, which is still ongoing (rumors are difficult to stop). The Lancet has finally published a complete retraction of the paper, telling readers that the published flawed study should never have been made public.
arrow 30 january 2010. Biases in the behaviour of human groups during epidemics. We know for a long time that the reaction of populations to epidemics play an enormous role in their propagation. A retrospective study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology analyses population reactions in the course of the outbreak of SARS in 2003, avian flu (influenza A H5N1) and the recent swine flu pandemic (influenza A H1N1). As expected, the observed behaviours are typical of human groups according to age, sex, level of education or ethnic classification. Trust in the authors of health-related messages play a significant role, also as could be expected. As a consequence, it will be extremely important in the future management of epidemics to vary messages according to the groups to which they are addressed, in particular in following the observations made in the present study.
arrow 23 january 2010. Biomimetic studies inspire japanese urbanists. Atsushi Tero and his colleagues from Hokkaido University analysed the way the mould Physarum polycephalum invades a culture plate and compared it with the communication network of Tokyo and its suburbs. Then they created a mimick of the Tokyo region on a growth plate and left the mould invade it, monitoring the way the mould organises its food and reserve supplies. The picture was remarkably similar to that of Tokyo's commmunication network. polycephalumThe scientists then constructed an algorithm meant to represent the way the network is constructed, and they propose it as an optimised solution to urban growth, arguing that the enormous time course of evolution has probably endowed living cells with a particularly efficient communication algorithm.
arrow 22 january 2010. In UK the number of unsuspected patients infected by swine flu was ten times higher that previously estimated. This demonstrates that, at least for the first wave the disease was much milder than publicized.
arrow 20 january 2010. Swine flu caused a mild pandemic, do not forget avian flu. A research jointly conducted by Asian scientists has confirmed that highly pathogenic avian influenza A (H5N1) outbreak is closely related to small birds (passerine) migrations. This is in line with the ideas that prevailed a decade ago, when we suggested monitoring the role of predators as sentries for the presence of the disease.
arrow 16 january 2010. The plague of scientific misconduct. Several hundreds scientific articles have been "retracted" in 2009 alone. And the figure, which can sometimes be extracted from PubMed records is only the tip of the iceberg. The situation is not improving as in some cases, such as in several chinese institutions, the salaries of scientists is directly linked to the "Impact Factor" of the journals in which they publish! Associating direct profit to publications in journals, most of which are published by highly profitable companies, is extremely dangerous for the quality of science. It also indicates that our culture of advertisements, rather than of valuable contents is propagating fast in a domain where it should not exist. Furthermore there is some contagious property in scientific misconduct, and scientists caught in the act often relapse, because the academic institutions are extremely reluctant to take action.
arrow 13 january 2010. A human genome sequence for 10,000 US$. New sequencing machines will put the cost of a whole human genome in the 10,000 US$ range. The HuaDa Genome Centre located in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, is buying a large number of these sequencing machines.
arrow 8 january 2010. Non-retroviral virus sequences in mammalian genomes. A team of japanese scientists have identified sequences of bornavirus-like sequences in the genome of several mammals including humans. This comes out as a surprise as bornaviruses are not retroviruses. This discovery opens the possibility that other processes can copy RNA sequences into genome sequences. Bornaviruses are the only animal RNA viruses that achieve a highly cell-associated life cycle within the nuclear envelope. This process is both conceptually important - it suggests that RNA management may permit an entirely new way to manage the gene content in a genome, and important for emerging diseases, as it shows that viruses other than retroviruses may be revived from cell nuclei. This makes important to explore in details the diseases of the personnel which is associated with meat, butchers and slaughter-house workers.
arrow 5 january 2010. H1N1 vaccination polemic. The polemic is growing in France about swine flu. Let us remember that as early as may 2009, it was obvious that the epidemic caused by an influenza A H1N1 virus was not more severe than the average seasonal flu epidemics (noting in particular that they are often caused by H1N1 variants). It was therefore quite possible to react in a reasonable way at the time, without ordering, as done in France, an increadibly overevaluated number of vaccine doses.
1 january 2010. H1N1, a mild pandemic. For the time being, the death toll of the recent H1N1 form of the swine influenza virus (differing from the H1N1 form of "seasonal" flu) is much smaller than feared. This indicates that we should monitor with caution the possible development of the H3N2 form of the virus which runs in parallel, as well as the development of avian flu, which has been out the the mass media for some time.