Posts Tagged ‘Virus’

Sex and mosquitoes – transmitting the Zika virus

// April 8th, 2011 // 5 Comments » // Recent Research, Sex and Reproduction

Senegal. Image by Mathieu Dammon

When Brian Foy returned home to America from a field trip in Senegal, Africa, he didn’t know he was infected with the mosquito spread Zika virus.

But just a few days later he was sick with extreme fatigue and joint pain, and so was his wife Chilson. A new study coauthored by the pair and colleagues suggests that this is the first documented case of an insect-borne disease being transmitted sexually.

Though the paper lists the patients as Anonymous, in an interview to Science Brian revealed he was patient 1, and his wife was patient 3.

The lucky person who was patient 2 was Brian’s PhD student Kevin Kobylinski, who had been collecting mosquitoes with him as part of his malaria research. Being bitten came with the job, so they were vaccinated against some of the major disease, including Dengue fever.

The symptoms, when they arrived, seemed to suggest they had nonetheless caught Dengue fever. Headaches, torso rashes and fatigue all round lasting for a week, then muscle pains which lingered longer. They sent blood samples to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who ran a number of antibody tests. The tests showed that all three had antibodies against Zika virus, which infects monkeys and humans in Africa and Asia.

But Brian’s wife, Chilson, has never travelled to Africa or Asia. The cool climate of Colorado supports different mosquito species to those tropical varieties which spread Zika. In fact, Zika had never been recorded in the Western Hemisphere.

They concluded that Zika had been transmitted human to human, and probably sexually, as their four children didn’t get the disease.

If Zika virus can be spread by sexual transmission, it could change the way the disease is prevented. Zika is considered an emerging pathogen, having infected about 70% of the people on Yap Island in the Pacific during 2007.

ResearchBlogging.orgFoy, B. (2011). Probable Non–Vector-borne Transmission of Zika Virus, Colorado, USA Emerging Infectious Diseases DOI: 10.3201/eid1705.101939 (pdf)

Microbes, photographic film and a self portrait

// November 4th, 2010 // 1 Comment » // Science Art

Image by Erno-Eric Raitanen

This art is made of film degraded by bacteria.

It’s a self-portrait of the artist Erno-Eric Raitanen. The bacteria was harvested from his own body and cultivated on the gelatin surface of photographic film.

It’s a similar process to growing bacteria on a plate of agar. As the bacteria gnaw away at the gelatin, the film starts to degrade and creates some interesting patterns. He calls them bacteriograms.

I recommend you flick through his online gallery. I like to think I could make some myself one day, except with added science. Maybe add some antibacterials to part of the film and influence the pattern. OR add a mild antibacterial to the whole surface and make a picture of antibiotic-resistant bacteria!

I know I’ve got some scientist readers out there who are into bacteria. What would you make a bacteriogram of? What about virologists, how could you get some viral action happening on film?

Notes on the virus, pirate of the cell

// December 13th, 2009 // Comments Off on Notes on the virus, pirate of the cell // How Things Work


Viruses are on the cusp of life and non-life. On one hand they have genetic material and use it to make more of themselves and evolve, on the other hand they don’t do anything outside of a host cell, they don’t breathe, grow, or move. If we count them as living, they are the most primitive form of life on Earth, but they certainly evolved after other forms of life because their existence depends on other cells. Viruses are custom designed to invade archaea, bacteria, animals and everything in between. In humans they are responsible for the common cold, chicken pox, influenza, polio and a host of sexually transmitted diseases like genital warts, HIV, herpes, and plenty others.

They are made of genetic material (single stranded or double stranded DNA or RNA) wrapped up in proteins. On their own, a virus can’t replicate themselves, they don’t have the machinery, the energy, or the building blocks. They get around this by sneaking into a cell and holding it at ransom, forcing it to make more and more viruses until they break the cell apart or sneak out one by one to infect other cells. Instead of a lust for gold, viruses have a lust for machinery and energy. They will board, hijack, rape, ravage and destroy to get what they want.

Cells aren’t fond of viruses, after all they screw up the well-organised operations that a good cell is proud of, so if a virus was to knock on the membrane and say “Hey, I’m a virus, can I come in please” the cell would likely sound an alarm for the immune system to come and kick some viral ass. Good thing for viruses (and not us) they are crafty indeed, and will decorate themselves with proteins that say “Hi, I’m full of food, come and eat me” or “Hi, I bear an important message from the brain. Let me in and I’ll tell you all about it” or they say nothing, just dock onto the outside of the cell and inject their genetic material. After all, it’s the genes that are important, the external proteins are just the boat.

Bacteriophages are viruses that infects bacteria, and there are buttloads of them, around 900 million bacteriophage in a milliliter at the surface of the sea, where bacteria are busy exhaling oxygen as they sun themselves. T4 (which infects e-coli) does it through the last method, and does it very effectively. They also look like a spider from Mars.

I’m gonna eat you. Yee!

Those legs attach to the outside of the bacteria, then it screws down and breaks through the membrane where it pumps out the genetic matter located in the head. Once inside the virus may either go lytic – launch a full attack, take over cellular process and devote all energy to making more viruses until SPLOOF! the cell ruptures and releases all the babies to start the process again, or go lysogenic – the viral DNA will slip into the bacterial chromosome and act like it belongs, hiding in plain sight and being carried through the generations until it launches a mutiny and starts the lytic cycle again. Some viruses just go for the lytic cycle all the way, and they be the truest pirates of the cell (the others being ninja pirates.)

So next time ye are coughing and sickly with a viral infection, be glad ye are not e-coli with a big spider thing attached to you, and spare a thought for the pirates of the cell. Though they may not be strictly alive, they are just making a living and don’t mean to make you ill, after all a dead host is no use to them. We wage war against the pirates near every day, getting sick is nothing more than collateral damage.

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