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Posted in Science on 08/03/2014
French scientists say they have revived a giant but harmless virus that had been locked in the Siberian permafrost for more than 30,000 years.
Wakening the long-dormant virus serves as a warning that unknown pathogens entombed in frozen soil may be roused by global warming, they said.
The virus, Pithovirus sibericum, was found in a 30-metre-deep sample of permanently frozen soil taken from coastal tundra in Chukotka, near the East Siberia Sea, where the average annual temperature is -13.4 degrees Celsius.
The team thawed the virus and watched it replicate in a culture in a petri dish, where it infected a simple single-cell organism called an amoeba.
Radiocarbon dating of the soil sample found that vegetation grew there more than 30,000 years ago, a time when mammoths and Neanderthals walked the Earth, according to a paper published in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
P. sibericum is, on the scale of viruses, a giant. It has 500 genes, whereas the influenza virus has only eight.
It is the first in a new category of viral whoppers, a family known as Megaviridae, alongside two other categories that already exist.
The virus gets its name from “pithos,” the ancient Greek word for a jar, as it comes in an amphora shape.
At 1.5 millionths of a metre, it is so big it can be seen through an optical microscope, rather than a more powerful electron microscope.
Unlike the flu virus, though, P. sibericum is harmless to humans and animals, and only infects a type of amoeba called Acanthamoeba, the researchers said (Virus as therapy? Some Acanthamoeba can cause pretty nasty neurological disease in snakes (and humans) FB).
The work shows that viruses can survive being locked up in the permafrost for extremely long periods, France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) said in a press statement.
“It has important implications for public-health risks in connection with exploiting mineral or energy resources in Arctic Circle regions that are becoming more and more accessible through global warming,” it said.
“The revival of viruses that are considered to have been eradicated, such as the smallpox virus, whose replication process is similar to that of Pithovirus, is no longer limited to science fiction.
“The risk that this scenario could happen in real life has to be viewed realistically.”
Posted in Science on 19/02/2014
How good would this be? According to a recent TED talk by Mark Kendall it could soon become reality (http://www.ted.com/talks/mark_kendall_demo_a_needle_free_vaccine_patch_that_s_safer_and_way_cheaper.html).
Instead of using a needle and syringe the vaccine is applied via a patch that is placed on the skin. The patch contains thousands of projections that release the vaccine into the top layers of the skin. As well as being pain free the administration of the vaccine into the skin, rather than the muscle, also generates a more powerful immune response. This means that much less vaccine is required (up to one hundredth of the traditional dose) lowering the cost and decreasing the possibility of undesirable side effects.
The vaccine that coats the patch is in a dry form. Therefore, it does not need to be refrigerated, unlike traditional vaccines, and will retain its potency at 23 C for up to a year. This makes it much more feasible to use in countries where electricity and refrigeration are difficult to guarantee, such as Papua New Guinea which has only 800 refrigerators. Patch trials are due to start there soon.
Dr. F. Bunny
Posted in Science on 14/02/2014
February 11, 2014 – News Release
Once the snow melts, Canada’s bee population will be back in business — pollinating, making honey and keeping busy doing bee things. For at least two urban bee species, that means making nests out of plastic waste.
A new study by a University of Guelph graduate and a U of G scientist reveals that some bees use bits of plastic bags and plastic building materials to construct their nests. The research was published recently in the journal Ecosphere.
It’s an important discovery because it shows bees’ resourcefulness and flexibility in adapting to a human-dominated world, says lead author Scott MacIvor, a doctoral student at York University and a 2008 U of G graduate.
“Plastic waste pervades the global landscape,” said MacIvor. Although researchers have shown adverse impacts of the material on species and the ecosystem, few scientists have observed insects adapting to a plastic-rich environment, he said.
“We found two solitary bee species using plastic in place of natural nest-building materials, which suggests innovative use of common urban materials.”
Figuring out that the bees were using plastic in place of natural materials took some detective work by U of G’s Andrew Moore, supervisor of analytical microscopy at Laboratory Services.
Moore analyzed a grey “goo” that MacIvor discovered in the nests of one kind of bee, Megachile campanulae, which uses plant resins to build its nests,
“Scott thought it might be chewing gum originally,” Moore said. His team uses a scanning electron microscope to take highly detailed pictures of items, x-ray microanalysis to determine the elements in the sample and infrared microscopy to identify polymers. They can distinguish the finest detail on the surface of an animal hair.
Turns out that M. campanulae was occasionally replacing plant resins with polyurethane-based exterior building sealant, such as caulking, in its brood cells–created in a nest to rear larvae.
The researchers also discovered another kind of bee, Megachile rotundata, an alfalfa leafcutter, was using pieces of polyethylene-based plastic bags to construct its brood cells. The glossy plastic replaced almost one-quarter of the cut leaves normally used to build each cell.
Markings showed that the bees chewed the plastic differently than they did leaves, suggesting that the insects had not incidentally collected plastic. Nor were leaves hard to find for the bees in the study.
“The plastic materials had been gathered by the bees, and then worked – chewed up and spit out like gum – to form something new that they could use,” Moore said.
In both cases, larvae successfully developed from the plastic-lined nests. In fact, the bees emerged parasite-free, suggesting plastic nests may physically impede parasites, the study said.
The nests containing plastic were among more than 200 artificial nest boxes monitored by MacIvor as part of a large-scale investigation of the ecology of urban bees and wasps, a project involving numerous citizen scientists.
The nest boxes are located in Toronto and the surrounding region in backyards, community gardens and parks and on green roofs. They are used by a variety of bee species.
“The novel use of plastics in the nests of bees could reflect the ecologically adaptive traits necessary for survival in an increasingly human-dominated environment,” MacIvor said.
Andrew Moore Laboratory Services firstname.lastname@example.org 519-823-1268, Ext. 57234
Scott MacIvor email@example.com 416-844-8093
Unfortunately zoos all over the world generate surplus animals. What they don’t do is kill healthy 18 month old giraffes, like Marius at the Copenhagen zoo (http://www.euronews.com/2014/02/10/slaughter-of-marius-the-copenhagen-giraffe-prompts-online-outrage/).
Organisations such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in North America and the Zoo and Aquarium Association in Australasia develop studbooks for their species to regulate breeding to maximise genetic diversity. If an animal’s genes become over represented in the zoo population that animal can be contracepted. There is nothing unique about giraffes. They can be castrated like any other animal or animals can be separated to avoid inappropriate pairings. The issue with Marius really started over two years ago. If his genes were over represented why were his parents allowed to breed, and why wait until the giraffe is 18 months old before euthanasing him?
Zoos are too small to be treated individually. Instead they form part of a global collective that constantly moves animals around to maximise breeding effectiveness. Zoos regularly release lists of animals that they want and that they have on surplus. The zoos I have worked for frequently move their surplus animals to other zoos that want them. I do not understand why this could not have been done with Marius as a British zoo made a place available to him.
Many animals become surplus because of their advancing years. The other members of the group kick them out or they are no longer reproductively viable and so are removed to live out the rest of their years in isolation off display. In the wild they would be killed by predators. The zoos I have worked for no longer have a policy of management euthanasia, unless animal welfare is at stake. This does, however, raise a difficult point when it comes to herd animals. Is it better to keep them in social isolation for the rest of their lives, or is it better to euthanase them?
This was hardly the case with Marius and a more enlightened solution to the “problem” caused by a young healthy giraffe could surely have been found.
Dr. F. Bunny
Scientific research relies on rigorous systematic testing that involves treatment and control groups and extensive peer review to prove or disprove hypotheses. That way we can be confident in the result, regardless of what the findings may be. In reality this is not always the case, people believing what they want to believe regardless of the evidence. Look at the trouble Copernicus and Galileo had trying to convince people that the Earth revolved around the Sun. Sadly, despite being scientifically trained, I am not really any different.
As an example, coffee is a marvellous drink proven, through scientific research, to increase energy levels, improve physical performance, and lower the risk of developing type II diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, liver cancer and colorectal cancer. Much more spurious research that obviously needs to be repeated with a larger data set seems to link coffee to sleep disturbance, increased blood pressure and raised levels of cholesterol.
The research is similarly biased when it comes to alcohol consumption. I like nothing more than to sit back with my very full glass of red and read how the resveratrol in my Shiraz keeps my heart healthy and further protects me against diabetes and Alzheimer’s. All that nonsense about depression, cancer, cirrhosis and memory loss is surely just that?
The list goes on. Any research that supports an activity I engage in and enjoy is sound while anything that contradicts it is suspect. Science even has a name for this, confirmation bias. I suppose religions would call it faith.
Dr. F. Bunny