Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Why Africa can’t afford to have an outbreak of the Zika virus

10 February, 2016

With limited laboratory capacity and a lack of experts and funding, an outbreak of the Zika virus in Africa could be problematic.

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Yeah…sure.  It could be Bad.


BUT: as South African epidemiologists have pointed out, it’ll only be a problem IF the mosquito that transmits it elsewhere, comes here – because our local A aegypti doesn’t have the same behaviour, and will vastly outnumber and possibly outcompete any import variety.


And it’s endemic in tropical Africa – meaning many people are immune already.


So scaremongering about Zika in Africa is possibly a little irresponsible – unless it’s being used as a stalking horse for an agenda for setting up continent-wide arbovirus surveillance, or spurring on efforts to set up an African CDC.  Which I would heartily endorse.


The stuff about lack of reagents is spot-on: which is why we have a proposal in the works to provide just such, using plants to it.  Watch this space….

See on Scoop.itVirology News

Zika: a realistic view of what we know

2 February, 2016

“As you’ve probably seen, unless you’ve been living in a cave, Zika virus is the infectious disease topic du jour. From an obscure virus to the newest scare, interest in the virus has skyrocketed just in the past few weeks:   I have a few pieces already on Zika, so I won’t repeat myself here.…”

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Nice, cautious piece by Tara Smith.  I have been trying, via Twitter, to damp some of the hysteria and hype about Zika – but who cares about one cautious voice?  So there should be MORE – and this is one such.

Zika virus is a flavirirus related to dengue and yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis and West Nile viruses, and like them, is mosquito-transmitted.  In fact, it is transmitted by the same “yellow fever mosquito” – Aedes aegypti – as transmits YFV and dengue, and like them, has been spread around the tropics of the planet along with the mosquito vector.

The mosquito is an interesting beast, because it is hardy, can breed in very small deposits of water, such as are found in urban areas in flower vases, uncovered barrels, buckets and such, likes preying on humans, and flies during the day – unlike most of its relatives.  It also has a penchant for breeding in places like discarded car tyres, and it turns out that a LOT of these are literally shipped around the developing world from developed countries like Japan and the USA, which has resulted in the mosquito going worldwide from its African origins.

The Zika virus is nothing like as nasty as dengue or YFV or JEV: there are apparently no deaths of children or adults that can be attributed to infection with it, unlike the case with its relatives.  Where it is potentially dangerous is the apparent linkage – in naive populations – with microcephaly, and also a stronger link with the paralytic Guillain-Barre syndrome.

I stress “in naive populations”: the virus was discovered in Uganda’s Zika Forest in 1947, and is endemic over large swathes of tropical Africa, where it is not associated with anything other than mild and often inapparent infections, easily confused with influenza.  Its endemicity also means that literally everyone that can be infected will have been AS A CHILD – and presuming that like YFV, exposure leads to lifelong immunity, adults will be immune to the virus AND the purported side effects.  It is interesting that the African subspecies of A aegypti – which has apparently NOT left Africa – does not like to bite humans and is probably a less efficient vector.

What will probably happen in Brazil and the South, Central and North American countries that it has spread to or is in the process of doing so, is that it will become endemic there – especially if it adapts to being spread by other mosquitoes such as the much more common Culex spp., which may have already happened.  When that happens, the African experience will become the norm – and hopefully the hype and hysteria will die away.

Until then – well, a vaccine would be nice!  It may help that one of the best characterised and safest attenuated vaccines known is the 17D strain of the genetically similar yellow fever virus – and that unlike dengue, there are no distinct or non-cross-protecting strains or types of Zika virus, meaning only one vaccine should be necessary. And a simple thing to do would be to replace one or both of the membrane proteins of 17D with the Zika equivalents.  Remember who told you…B-)

See on Scoop.itVirology News

EPO Revokes Monsanto Patent On Virus-Resistant Melon

26 January, 2016

The European Patent Office on 20 January revoked a patent held by Monsanto on virus-resistant melons for technical reasons, much to the glee of opponents of patents on conventional plants. [updated…

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Now this is NOT a victory for anti-GMO activists, but more for folk who are against the patenting of natural genomes – which this is, in fact, as "Monsanto was claiming melons with a natural resistance to plant viruses."  Which is not a good thing, in my mind, because it would mean companies could mine germ plasm collections for useful traits and then patent them.

See on Scoop.itVirology News

MCB Honours Blog Project

22 January, 2016

So: you’ve just been told that as part of the teaching requirements for your MCB Honours degree, you have to do an at-least monthly blog (=weblog).

No! you cry.  Yes, Vernon Coyne and Ed Rybicki insist, kindly but firmly.

How?! you ask.

Like this:

  1. Go here (
  2. Click “Create Website”Create_an_account_—_WordPress_com
  3. Choose a themeCreate_an_account_—_WordPress_com
  4. Type “MCB” in the “Enter a domain” slotCreate_an_account_—_WordPress_com
  5. Select the FREE option offered:Create_an_account_—_WordPress_com
  6. And get to work!!mcb9847
  7. …with this as your composition screenNew_Post_‹_mcb9847_—_WordPress_com
    You want to blog on this paper here that you have just found.  Write as your title:
    Trans-packaged virus-like particles as vaccines” then copy and paste the abstract into the body of your post.  Position the cursor within the text, then click the indicated “Quote” control.Edit_Post_‹_mcb9847_—_WordPress_com
  9. This will show the text as being quoted – as in, not yours – and you can then add commentary.Edit_Post_‹_mcb9847_—_WordPress_com
    Here’s the link to the test page.
  10. This is the WHY of the exercise: we want to see that you can both select papers of interest to you and the Honours group, AND that you can write a concise and intelligent commentary to it – pointing out why it is cool / uncool / wrong / so right it’s awe-inspiring / etc.Like this example from my blogs.  To which I linked using the chain symbol at the top of the editing screen, and the URL of that specific blog post.“Online_‘recipes’_for_bird_flu_virus_add_to_bioterrorism_threat_”_No__No__they_don’t____ViroBlogy

What this exercise will hopefully teach you is (1) how to read quickly and analytically, (2) how to succinctly share your insights with others, (3) how to gain an entirely new means of scientific and social expression.

Oh, and we’re going to mark both the frequency with which you do this, and the quality of your contribution, AND the quality (and number) of the comments you make on your colleagues’ pages.

Have fun!  Please email your URL once you have created your site to both Vernon Coyne and Ed Rybicki.  May the Force be with you.

ViroBlogy: 2015 in review

30 December, 2015

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.  I thank The Guru Cann for being one of the top referrers to this site!

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 37,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 14 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Toward Eliminating Poliovirus In the Lab

18 November, 2015

As the world inches closer to polio eradication, laboratories studying the virus will have to bolster biosafety standards. Eventually, most will need to stop working with the pathogen entirely.

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EVENTUALLY.  I note smallpox is still in freezers; so too is rinderpest – we have vaccines against both of them…oh, wait – we have vaccines against polio too!

Nice thing about rinderpest and polio – not so sure about smallpox – is that they COULD be recreated as needed from synthesised cDNA.

However, we really need to do that ONLY after there’s been significant sequencing of all known variants, just in case we missed something.

See on Scoop.itVirology News

Engineered bat virus stirs debate over risky research 

13 November, 2015

An experiment that created a hybrid version of a bat coronavirus — one related to the virus that causes SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) — has triggered renewed debate over whether engineering lab variants of viruses with possible pandemic potential is worth the risks.

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You know something?  I reiterate my stance on engineered flu viruses.  Which is that it is NOT known that these coronaviruses will have pandemic potential; that they ARE being worked with under stringent containment, and no other similar NATURAL virus has escaped in recent memory; they DO provide valuable information on what is needed for such viruses to infect humans.

Which is all good, right?!

See on Scoop.itVirology News

“Set your phages to stun”

3 November, 2015

Engineered phage viruses show promise as targeted assassins – genetic manipulation might make it easier for them to gain regulatory approval

Many phage infect and replicate inside bacteria, killing them. This makes phages a possible alternative to antibiotics as resistance to these drugs grows. What’s more, most phages infect only one species or even a few strains within a species; antibiotics aren’t so selective.

But that specificity is a problem: it might not be clear which pathogenic bacterial strain is present in an infection, so a cocktail of several phages might be needed to guarantee effective treatment. Each may have to pass regulatory approval separately.

Timothy Lu and his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology aim to get round this by making a single phage modifiable with bacteria-attacking machinery from other phages. In theory, that could reduce regulatory hold-ups.

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Couldn’t resist that byline – it’s part of the article – so that I could get some mileage out of something mildly upsetting.

It’s just that someone else has yet AGAIN had my good idea before I did.

There I was, reading about and blogging on bacteria co-opting phage tail assemblies as weapons against other phages, and dreaming up ways of using them creatively – and someone else had gone and done it.

That is, used an engineered phage genome and presumably head structure with a variety of tail assemblies (which determine the binding specificity) in order to target as many bacterial types as possible.

Very clever!  It’s what may make phage therapy into a science instead of an art.

See on Scoop.itVirology News

Algal Virus Can Infect Mammalian Cells

30 October, 2015

The virus may also infect humans and affect the brain.

It’s relatively uncommon for viruses to infect organisms from different kingdoms of life. But now, scientists have determined that a particular virus known to infect green algae can also infect mouse macrophages, a type of immune cell. University of Nebraska-Lincoln researcher David Dunigan says that it’s the only known virus to be able to infect algal and mammalian cells.

In a study published this month in the Journal of Virology, Dunigan and his colleagues found that the virus, ATCV-1, was capable of entering and infecting mouse macrophages, and increasing in mass, suggesting that it was making copies of itself. Following introduction of the virus, the scientists witnessed other cellular changes consistent with infection including cell death, Dunigan says.

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Apparently Vincent Racaniello says "…finding a virus that can infect organisms in different kingdoms is quite unusual and not something you see every day, though it’s not unheard of.”

I think it is seriously unheard of: apart from reports implicating amoebae-infecting mimiviruses in pneumonia, which is not as great a phylogenetic divide as green algae and humans, I can’t think of anything infecting organisms that are so diverse, UNLESS one of them preys on the other.

Like insects and plants, for example: there are insect- and plant-infecting rhabdoviruses and reoviruses and bunyaviruses.  However, these viruses infect insects and plants that have been bound up in a predator-prey relationship for many millions of years, and which have consequently shared their nanobiota.

This does NOT apply to this case, where there is no obvious link between free-living green algae and humans – as in, the algae do not colonise human skin or internal organs.

Just more proof – if we needed any – that viruses are awesome B-)

See on Scoop.itAquatic Viruses

Chinese government, Cansino start clinical trials of Ebola vaccine

15 October, 2015

By Shannon Ellis
Staff Writer
SHANGHAI – China has announced that it will be initiating phase I trials for Ad5-Ebov, a recombinant adenoviral Ebola vaccine co-developed by the Bioengineering

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Finally!  All one can find is "Ebola vaccine" from most reports, with very little information as to WHAT vaccine.  And it’s an adenovirus 5 vectored Ebola envelope glycoprotein.

And it’s developed by the Chinese military…which makes them the third (and possibly 4th, if you believe rumours from South Africa pre-1994) military link to Ebola work, after the US and USSR/Russia.

Which may not be as sinister as it sounds, given the Chinese military has huge industrial interests – but still, the fact that they had a vaccine pretty much ready to go in a region with no exposure to the virus, means they are still thinking "bioweapon".

Which is a good thing in this instance, right? 

See on Scoop.itVirology News


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