The creation of the HKU-Pasteur Research Centre
Ltd (not to be mixed up with the "Pole" using a similar name) in Hong
Kong allowed its director to create a page to communicate information
relevant to scientific matters in relation to the activity of the
This page would go on continuously for many
years. It permitted an authentic view of the public during the SARS
episode in 2002-2003, without any correction after the fact.
- 29 august 2002. A
new case of cholera is discovered in Hong Kong.
- 10 august 2002. At
least 374 people died from flu in Madagascar since the
beginning of June. More than 5,000 cases of infection have been
reported over the last two months. The disease started in
Fianarantsoa in Madagascar's central highlands, the poorest
province in the country, 350 kilometers south of the capital
july 2002. A letal outbreak of
legionellosis in the east of France (Meaux) emphasizes the
risk of air-conditioning systems. Co-factors for the infection
(perhaps Amoebae) are suspected to carry important inocula to the
lung of patients.
- 18 june 2002. The
government of Mongolia reports several cases of anthrax. Two
herders have been infected by Bacillus anthracis in the
Khuvsgul aimag, both recovered after episodes of high fever. They
were recognized as infected by anthrax after veterinaries
discovered that cows that were skinned by these herders had died
under suspicious conditions. Tests conducted on 870 animals in the
quarantine zone have shown that 23 had been infected by B.
anthracis, and ten died after the diagnosis. An emergency
vaccination program is underway to prevent the spread of the
- 15 june 2002. The
United Nations warns China about a major AIDS epidemics if
no appropriate social measures are taken recognizing explicitely
the various causes of the disease, in particular widespread
promiscuous sex practices and lack of control over blood supplies.
- 13 june 2002. Because
no precautions have been taken to destroy the reserves of the
smallpox virus and beause the sequence has unfortunately
been made public, it cannot be considered as eradicated. Western
countries are therefore considering suggesting the population to
undergo vaccination on a voluntary basis....
- 20 march 2002. The
Gabonese Ministry of Health reported 60 confirmed Ebola
fever cases, including 50 deaths.
- 18 march 2002. France
is free of rabies. Since december 1998 no new case of
rabies has been diagnosed in France; one can therefore consider
that this terrible disease, which has contributed to the fame of
Louis Pasteur is no longer a danger in France. However it remains
present in many parts of the world, and cannot be counted as a
disease that could be eradicated.
- 18 february 2002. An
outbreak of plague is affecting India in villages in
Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal. This is the first significant
outbreak since the epidemy of 1994. The plague is still active in
many parts of the world, in particular in Madagascar, where the Institut
Pasteur de Madagascar is developing a research program on
this deadly disease.
- 3 february 2002. 100,000
chicken are slaughtered in Hong Kong after ten thousand
died, in fear of a new epidemics of bird's flu. The disease is
spreading in the subsequent days.
- 31 January 2002. First
understanding on the presence of boron in living organisms. An
accidental discovery has just been made by pure serendipity. It
has significant implication for work with microbes since it
demonstrates that boron is an important element in quorum
sensing (i.e. the way organisms measure how many they are in a
given environment)! The function of the gene mtnN
nucleosidase) yields homocysteinyl-riboside, that either is
spontaneously cleaved into ribose and homocysteine (in the yrrT
mtnA yrhAB operon of B. subtilis) or is metabolised
by the LuxS product, making the quorum sensor named AI-2.
Scientists working on the receptor of AI-2 found that the crystals
had, trapped in a molecule with a strange structure. ultimately
they found that it contained the boron atom!
- 22 January 2002. Dr
Craig Venter, the US scientist who led the private effort to
decode the human genome, after creation of The Institute for
Genomic Research, has quit as boss of his company Celera Genomics.
- 15 January 2002. A
rampant epidemy of Yellow Fever is spreading in West Africa. This
is not yet publicly recognized, but is a matter of concern, since
this frightening disease transmitted by mosquitoes is rapidly
December 2001. The origin of the terrorist anthrax agent
in the United States appears to be of US military origin.
Experiments are organised to investigate the real possibility to
contaminate humans with aerosols.
2001. Legionella pneumophila is not only in
Paris: people are infected in Hong Kong, but the source of
contamination has not been identified.
- 23 November 2001. In addition to Borrelia
burgdorferi, the infectious agent of Lyme disease, the Ixodes
tick mayharbor at least a dozen other microbes. Investigators are
only now beginning to uncover the connection between tick-borne
coinfection and inexplicable illness.
- 8 November 2001. A limited epidemic of
dengue is spreading in Macau (more than 1000 cases since
August). The disease has not yet spread to Hong Kong where the
campaign against mosquitoes is closing.
- 6 November 2001. Governments are
implementing new policies for handling potential biological
- Early October 2001. The world is fearing
particular, anthrax caused by a bacterium very similar to Bacillus
subtilis, is rightly perceived as a menace: however,
fortunately, defences exist, and much is known about its toxins.
One of these, cloned
at the Institut Pasteur, is related to that of a well known
pathogen, which is the cause of whooping cough. The worst effect of
such attacks will be that, once launched in the environment spores
of the bacteria will remain there dormant, but prone to be revived,
for centuries. This means that the irresponsible terrorists who
would use it will in fact attack their own people. 120
years ago Pasteur created the first vaccine against the
- 16 September 2001. Hong Kong witnesses
its 35th case of cholera since the beginning of the year.
- 7 September 2001. The H5N1 virus which
infected Hong Kong patients in 1997 has been
reconstituted by a Japanese/American team, providing insights
about the ways a new pandemic could happen.
- July 2001. Legionella pneumophila
still plagues the ultra-modern Hospital Georges Pompidou in Paris.
The origin of the contamination is not clearly established, despite
some evidence, it is not clear that it comes from the Hospital
- July 2001.
Professor Janet Thornton is nominated has Head of the European
Bioinformatics Institute (Hinxton, UK). This will reinforce the
know-how of the EBI in terms of protein sequences and structures,
already at the highest level through its collaboration with
SwissProt and the Brookhaven structural protein data library.
- 12 July 2001. An eleventh case of
cholera is discovered in Hong Kong.
- 6 July 2001. A new virus of H5N1 bird's
flu in Hong Kong (not infective to humans) has been discovered
in a dead chicken.
- 4 July 2001. The Director General of Science
Foundation Ireland was announced by the Tánaiste, Ms.
Mary Harney, T.D., and Minister for Science, Technology and
Commerce, Mr. Noel Treacy, T.D. in conjunction with Forfás. He is
Dr. William C.Harris (Vice President for Research at the University
of South Carolina).
- 23 June 2001. The dangerous Escherichia
coli strain O157 H7 ("Ohne Haar", without fimbriae, or
"smooth", as are most pathogens) has been identified in beef meat,
in parallel with another case of cholera in Hong Kong. This
demonstrates both the excellent surveillance in the area, and the
need to improve hygiene.
- 11 June 2001. Hong Kong is witnessing an
outbreak of endemic cholera. Six patients have been admitted
to hospitals in the city, but the origin of the disease has not yet
been identified. It has to be noted that Vibrio cholerae is
usually found in salty water, and that sea food may have been at the
origin of the outbreak.
- 29 May 2001. The Institute for
Scientific Information states "Based on total citations to
papers indexed from 1991 through February 2001, the University of
Paris 6 (Pierre et Marie Curie) is most cited worldwide in
Mathematics, while the Pasteur Institute, is second in Microbiology
and eighth in Immunology. The INRA (Institut Nationale de la
Recherche Agronomique) ranks second worldwide in Agricultural
Sciences and fourth in Plant & Animal Sciences. "
- 16 May 2001.
A new outbreak of H5N1 bird's flu in Hong Kong (not infective to
humans) called for immediate action of the SAR government.
Professor Kennedy Shortridge and his team have established that this
new outbreak comes from the swapping of one of the RNA segment of
the virus from the usual chicken type to a goose type segment. This
type of event, although not frequent, happens regularly between the
different segments which make the virus genome, and reassort
segments from different organisms. It is generally accepted that
recombination within segments is not possible, leaving only
reassortment as a mechanism for increasing diversity in addition to
mutation. However a recent controversy about the 1918-1919 deadly
epidemy is most easily interpreted as the result of recombination
within one of the RNA segments of the virus. The 1997 epidemics is
supposed to have involved reassortment with a quail virus segment.
Links with wild birds are not yet established. It may be noted
however that the Hong Kong Black Kites (Milvus migrans) which
used to fly between the sky scrapers have recently almost
disappeared. Being scavengers, they are probably the first to be
affected when the virus comes in wild areas, and they might be
interesting sentries to monitor the coming in of the deadly virus.
- May 2001. The European commission (DG
XII) received 80 grant applications from European consortia
and retained and ranked 42 for further assessment. Among those, only
those which were related to: bioinformatics, mouse as a model
system, epidemiology of common diseases, structural genomics,
functional genomics of cancer, host-pathogen interactions centered
on host response were retained for the final vote.
- May 2001. The number of HIV carriers in
China reaches one million. In southern China ten percent of
AIDS patients are infected with Penicillium marneffei.
- April 2001. The genomes of Staphylococcus
aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes are finally
sequenced (or at last made public). The corresponding
sequencing programs started more than five years ago. The main
difficulty was not obtaining 90% of the sequence, but to close the
gaps. This is due to the fact that AT-rich bacteria have DNA which
is toxic in Escherichia
coli, the host use to amplify templates for sequencing.
This problem was discovered and solved several years ago in Bacillus
subtilis, the genome of which was sequenced in 1997.
- March 28th, 2001. Global
warming is likely to spread (re)emerging diseases.
In this context the recent volte face of the USA President Bush is
a matter of concern. We should remember this excerpt from the
famous astrophysicist Fred Hoyle:
- What's to stop the various governments
throughout the world from building the same sort of equipment?
Stupidity and inertia. As usual nothing will be done until the
crisis is on us. My one fear is that the politicians will be so
The Primer Minister was angry with the scientists at
"Then let me put the position more plainly. When this matter of
the Cloud was first broached, the immediate concern of your
Government, and indeed of all governments so far as I am aware,
was to prevent the relevant facts becoming known to the people.
The real object of this supposed secrecy was, of course, to
prevent the people from choosing a more effective set of
From The Black Cloud, 1957; a science fiction where life
on Earth was threatened by alteration of the climate.
- Mid-march 2001. Foot-and-Mouth disease:
the spreading of the disease is mainly due to the policy of its
eradication, which prevents farmers to vaccine animals (it becomes
impossible to tell whether an animal has been vaccinated or whether
it has been infected). The problem is therefore much less of a
concern where this policy has not been enforced: foot-and-mouse
disease is endemic in Hong Kong and in China, but animals are
vaccinated, so that the fear of contamination has not spread there.
With the easy communication systems we are witnessing it is likely
that the eradication policy is not appropriate if it is not enforced
world-wide. Why not return to vaccination?
- Mid-march 2001. Waiting list: A
bill to establish the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and
Bioengineering at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) passed
both the White House and Senate in the final hours of the 106th
Congress (last december). The new institute — the creation of which
the NIH opposed — is designed to centralize all biomedical imaging
and bioengineering activities throughout the NIH and other federal
- 22 february 2001. The genome sequence
of Mycobacterium leprae is published by a team lead by
Pr Stewart Cole, from the Institut Pasteur.
- Mid-february 2001. At a moment when the
Human Genome Sequence is said to be
completed, the number of public complete microbial
genome sequences reaches 41.
- 26-27 january 2001. Pathogenic Escherichia
coli O157H7 sequenced in Japan. While Nature publishes
the sequence of this dangerous bug (responsible for outbreaks in
Scotland, in the USA and in Japan in particular) by an American
team, a Japanese team has submitted the complete sequence to a
Japanese journal (announced at the International Symposium on
Functional Genomics of Bacillus subtilis 26-27 january 2001
in Tokyo. Once again, this underscores the lack of cooperation
between Japan and the USA in E. coli genomics, a sad and
- Mid-january 2001. Two patients died at
Tuen Mun Hospital in Hong Kong from Vancomycin resistant
Enterococci (abbreviated VRE), mid-january 2001. This is not
unexpected. In june 1996, the first patients infected by Vancomycin
Resistant Staphylococcus aureus or Enterococci species had
already been identified in Beijing hospitals (the information was
given during a visit - to which the Director of the HKU-Pasteur
Centre participated - of scientists involved in research on
pathogenic bacteria and visiting microbiology departments throughout
China and Mongolia). The
first patients were identified in HK in 1999. As stressed by
Pr KY Yuen, control of antibiotic use by patients and veterinary
medicine is extremely important to prevent spreading of such letal
microbes. In parallel, it becomes more and more important to develop
the study of bacteria and fungi to be able to react when resistant
pathogen will be spreading. The human memory is very short: formerly
people died less often of cardio-vascular diseases or cancer, but
this is only because they died before the time when they could be
affected by these diseases! In fact, most people (in
particular children, women when they gave birth and people in their
fifties) died of infectious diseases. The world-wide desaffection of
interest for microbiology is therefore a matter of concern. Watch
out for new disastrous epidemics!
- December 2000. Legionella
pneumophila at the brand new Georges Pompidou Hospital in
Paris. This may seem far away from China. But L.
pneumophila infection is typical of the new infections
plaguing the most modern buildings. All cities with buildings with
central air-conditioning, heating and water system are at risk. Note
also that in a global world, there is no region in the world which
is not somehow connected to the rest of the world. Any disease,
occuring at any remote place is therefore a matter of concern.
- November 2000. In his book, Can
Bacteria Cause Cancer?, David Hess, Ph.D., a professor and
chair of the Department of Science and Technology Studies at
Renesselear Polytechnic Institute, Albany, suggests that bacterial
theories of cancer development have been largely overlooked. A study
developed by Pr SK Lam and his co-workers in villages of Northern
China analyses the relationship between prevalence of Helicobacter
pylori strains and gastric cancer.
- Infection of citrus- and lime-trees by Xylella
fastidiosa. The disease is spreading, and is a
major concern in Brasil and in the United States. Recently outbreaks
on other fruit trees have been monitored in Taiwan. The University
of California at Davis is concerned by the spreading of the insect
vector of this disease. T he government of Sao Paulo has supported
the genome sequencing program of this organism, and is supporting
its functional analysis.
- Black Death in Madagascar and China. Yersinia pestis,
the causative agent of plague, is still a pathogen of concern for
mankind. It is slowly spreading in the island of Madagascar (where
it is monitored by the Institut Pasteur de Madagascar), and it is
endemic in China. A
survey of Yersinia spp, as related to plague control,
conducted by a Japanese team, was made in Haiyuan of Ganning loess
plateau plague focus, Yanchi of Inner Mongolia plateau plague focus,
and Yinchuan city, as a control area, in Ningxia, China. The team
showed that a related, but much less dangerous parent of Yersinia
pestis, Y. enterocolitica O9 was frequently infecting
rodents and other animals. The authors conclude that the residential
area in Haiyuan may be protected against Y. pestis by the
domestic animals and rodents which acquired cross-protection against
Y. pestis by infection with Y. enterocolitica O9, but
this is not the case in the Yanchi district.