I blame Chris Upton
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Africa is expected to be the next target of GM food companies, as European scientists and policymakers travel to Ethiopia to boost the prospect of growing more of the controversial crops on the continent.
Anne Glover, the chief scientific adviser to the European commission, and other prominent pro-GM researchers and policymakers from European countries including Germany, Hungary, Italy and Sweden will this week meet Ethiopian, Kenyan, Ghanaian and Nigerian farm ministers as well as officials from the African Union.
And that’ll go down REALLY well: European governments and policymakers pushing GM crops in Africa, when their own people don’t want them?
Whether those reasons are stupid or not, and whether or not it is a good idea to plant GM in Africa, I can see a knee-jerk anti-Europe response could well work to completely screw up just what it is they are trying to do.
Consider: Zimbabwe and Zambia resolutely oppose even the import of GM maize as FOOD, let alone allowing the planting of it. Africans have a history of being VERY suspicious of outsiders bearing gifts – because there is a history of dumping stuff in Africa, of everything from suspect pharmaceuticals to excess chickens.
I predict a lead balloon result for this conference and for the initiative. Time for Europe to listen to the Kenyans, Burkinabe and South Africans about the merits of growing GM – and not the other way around!
See on www.theguardian.com
Outbreak of foot and mouth disease four years ago largely due to collapse of state’s ability to manufacture vaccines
THE outbreak of foot and mouth disease four years ago, which cost South Africa R4bn a year in lost exports, was largely due to the collapse of the state’s ability to manufacture vaccines.
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson told a press briefing on Wednesday on the lifting the ban of red meat exports by the World Animal Health Organisation (WAHO). The removal of the boycott will not affect red meat producers significantly as South Africa usually imports the product to satisfy domestic demand. Only about 1% of red meat production, mainly venison, is exported. Other animal exports include hides and wool.
This is actually horrifying, in the context of what is SUPPOSED to be Africa’s most developed economy – and especially its most developed agricultural economy.
Really: it is a fact not much appreciated outside of the agricultural sector, that we have to get our FMDV vaccines from BOTSWANA.
That’s right – the country with the largest economy in Africa gets its FMDV vaccines from the Botswana Veterinary Institute, a factory set up by the French in a country with a total population about a quarter of that of Greater Johannesburg.
So, let us get this straight: the country that owns the Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute, where the legendary Sir Arnold Theiler pioneered virus and other vaccines from the 1890s on, cannot make its own FMDV vaccines any more?
The country that USED to make a whole range of animal vaccines via the state-owned facility that is now Onderstepoort Biological Products, is now struggling to make just a few?
The country that once built a state-of-the-art BSL4 facility dedicated to FMDV now cannot operate it, or even make old-style killed vaccines?
Don’t let me get started on human vaccines, because we now don’t make ANY – but the erosion of our capacity to make vaccines means our ability to look after human and animal health is now severely under threat.
See on www.bdlive.co.za
Scientists have for the first time sequenced an ancient RNA genome – of a barley virus once believed to be only 150 years old – pushing its origin back at least 2,000 years and revealing how intense farming at the time of the Crusades contributed to its spread.
This is a good report about a VERY interesting finding – with one flaw. They go on, apparently, about how BSMV is a "new virus": why would anyone think that? Since the late 1980s, Adrian Gibbs and others have pointed out that tobamoviruses are probably ancient; just because RNA CAN evolve fast doesn’t mean it does, in terms of encoding functional elements. Gibbs showed this for plant viruses; it has also been done for the HIV/SIV complex, where it is shown that a similar divergence in sequence among theses viruses to all animals since the Cretaceous, has led to NO changes in morphology, or gene function.
The simple fact is that having "plastic" genome in comparison to eukaryotic cells does NOT mean that ssRNA viruses may not be ancient.
Having said all that, it really is a tour de force to have sequenced a virus that old – aided by the fact, I am sure, that BSMV is hardy little beast, with a really stable vision.
Now, to find those hundred-year-old maize leaves put away with maize streak virus symptoms….B-)
Thanks to @Elsevier Microbiol* for pointing this out!
See on www.sciencedaily.com
Vaccines prevent infectious disease largely by inducing protective neutralizing antibodies against vulnerable epitopes. Several major pathogens have resisted traditional vaccine development, although vulnerable epitopes targeted by neutralizing antibodies have been identified for several such cases. Hence, new vaccine design methods to induce epitope-specific neutralizing antibodies are needed. Here we show, with a neutralization epitope from respiratory syncytial virus, that computational protein design can generate small, thermally and conformationally stable protein scaffolds that accurately mimic the viral epitope structure and induce potent neutralizing antibodies. These scaffolds represent promising leads for the research and development of a human respiratory syncytial virus vaccine needed to protect infants, young children and the elderly. More generally, the results provide proof of principle for epitope-focused and scaffold-based vaccine design, and encourage the evaluation and further development of these strategies for a variety of other vaccine targets, including antigenically highly variable pathogens such as human immunodeficiency virus and influenza.
Yes. Um. Well. I have just heard a lecture by the redoubtable Marc van Regenmortel (disclosure: my former mentor) pointing out how this strategy is highly UNLIKELY to be "the" way of generating antigens that are likely to be good immunogens – and I was convinced.
Um, he said. And…the MHvR arguments still stand, I think: why should something that supposedly looks like the thing that supposedly elicited a strongly neutralising antibody, elicit a strongly neutralising antibody?
OK, it apparently did here – but as a general rule? Do we KNOW what "good" neutralising epitopes look like in 3D? Because linear epitopes are really just an approximation to what real epitopes are, and epitopes are in fact just those things that BIND antibodies – NOT necessarily what ELICITS them.
Damn, I’m sounding like Marc – must be catching!
But seriously: antibodies are the membrane receptors of B cells; they are generated by random recombinations, and then selected by adventitiously binding another molecule that is not self; they are then further selected by repeated rounds of binding, while undergoing random mutations affecting their hypervariable regions, while weak binders are selected AGAINST by Tregs.
And end up both with higher affinity, and more broad binding to related "epitopes" as a result.
Incredibly hard to duplicate as general phenomenon, I would surmise.
See on www.nature.com
The world is at a tipping point in the fight against HIV/Aids with the number of people getting treatment set to be greater than those being newly diagnosed. But have we really reached the beginning of the end?
Considering the first World Aids Day took place 25 years ago in 1988, it’s a remarkable achievement. Today, there are about 35million people with HIV and Aids in the world, with 9.7million receiving treatment that can enable a long and healthy life.
Ten years ago, just 300,000 people received such treatment so it’s clear there have been major gains, and although experts, campaigners and health practitioners are buoyed the ‘tipping point’ is on the horizon, hard work lies ahead. Erin Hohlfelder, global health policy director of the One Foundation and author of its report The Beginning Of The End?’, feels reaching the tipping point will be a landmark in the fight against HIV and Aids. ‘The disease has been outpacing us for decades, with more new infections than people being added to treatment.
‘To use an analogy, if you had five cuts on your hand, we’ve only had one plaster to treat the cuts, so you’re still bleeding,’ she said.
‘The tipping point, where we have more people living healthy lives through treatment for HIV, than newly infected people, means we’ve caught up with the disease and begun to get ahead of it, so it’s a critical moment. It’s a marker that signals for the first time HIV and Aids is on a downward curve,’ said Ms Hohlfelder.
Great infographic – and potentially good news. But as I have told my students repeatedly since the mid-1980s, this is a long. slow pandemic – and we are only just over halfway through it.
There’s still a long way to go.
See on metro.co.uk
About 300 cases of H7N9 avian influenza have been confirmed in China, with more appearing every day.
Cases of the new H7N9 avian influenza in China are surging alarmingly, flu experts warned this week.
There are now about 300 confirmed cases, with more appearing every day. Roughly a quarter of the victims have died.
The first human cases were reported only last March. By contrast, the H5N1 influenza virus, another lethal strain that jumped from birds to people, first appeared in 2003 and took almost five years to reach the 300-case mark.
So THIS is the next one? Possibly? Good job they’re <a href="http://who.int/influenza/vaccines/virus/candidates_reagents/a_h7n9/en/index.html">already making vaccines</a>, then, isn’t it?
See on www.nytimes.com
Microorganisms inhabit virtually every possible niche on Earth, including those at the outer envelope of survival. However, the focus of most conservation authorities and ecologists is the ‘legs and leaves’ side of biology -the ‘macrobiology’ that can be seen with the naked eye. There is little apparent concern for the preservation of microbial diversity, or of unique microbial habitats. Here we show examples of the astounding microbial diversity supported by South Africa’s ecosystems and argue that because microbes constitute the vast majority of our planet’s species they should be considered seriously in the future protection of our genetic resources.
This is our stab at getting South African science funders to take microbial diversity seriously. I helped write it, obviously. And it’s Open Access!
See on www.scielo.org.za
The Scientist, in collaboration with Biosearch Technologies, invited Kary Mullis to reflect back on these 30 years in terms of his initial discovery, how things stand today, and where he thinks PCR is headed in the future.
I got into PCR sometime in around 1988 – and have since developed amplifications for multicopy genes, virus genes, whole virus genomes, and taught students to do the same. I have worked with papillomaviruses, HIV, geminiviruses, chicken infectious anaemia virus and potyviruses; my students do PCR for gene assembly and verification of cloned inserts, and do quantitative PCR and cDNA PCR for quantitation of gene expression and assay of virus replication in the presence of inhibitory constructs.
It revolutionised our work more than 30 years ago, and continues to be a fundamental workhorse technique in our labs today.
Viva, PCR, viva!
Kary Mullis – not so much. The man’s a HIV denialist, or has been, and I have no time for them.