Researchers discover a new family of viruses swimming in the ocean

January 25, 2018 by  
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Scientists at MIT and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York have identified a new family of ocean-dwelling viruses that can’t be detected using standard lab tests. Despite their previously hidden existence, these tail-less viruses are quite common. Scientists suspect they may be abundant everywhere. “We don’t think it’s ocean-specific at all,” MIT environmental microbiologist and study leader Martin Polz told ScienceAlert . The discovery adds a key missing piece to our understanding of viral ecosystems and may lead to developments in human health, medicine, and bio-sciences. The most common variety of viruses on Earth are double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) viruses, the most well-known of which is the Caudovirales order, also known as the “tailed” viruses. The newly discovered tail-less viruses were first identified in a new study published in the journal Nature , in which scientists incubated the viruses from seawater collected along the coast of Massachusetts and sequenced their DNA . The scientists have dubbed the tail-less viruses  Autolykiviridae, in honor of Autolykos (“the wolf itself”), a character in Greek mythology known for its ability to avoid detection and capture. Related: Scientists harness tobacco plants to produce polio vaccine Autolykiviridae viruses have shorter genomes than tailed viruses and are notably more aggressive in their predation of bacteria , playing a major consumer role in microscopic ecosystems. “They caused about 40 percent of the bacterial killing observed, despite comprising just 10 percent of the viruses that we isolated,” study co-author and microbiologist Libusha Kelly told ScienceAlert . Now that a utolykiviridae have been identified, scientists have determined their presence in human digestive systems. “We’ve found related viral sequences in the [human] gut microbiome,” said Kelly , “but we don’t yet know how they influence microbial communities in the gut or how important they are for health.” While more research is necessary and forthcoming, this discovery alone is significant. “In a practical sense, it also shows how we need to alter some commonly used methods in order to capture these kinds of viruses for various studies,” Jed Fuhrman, a marine biologist at University of Southern California unaffiliated with the study, told ScienceAlert . “I’d say it is an important advance in the field.” Via ScienceAlert Images via Kaufmann et al. and Depositphotos

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Researchers discover a new family of viruses swimming in the ocean

US to lift restrictions on making viruses deadlier and stronger

December 21, 2017 by  
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The United States National Institute of Health (NIH) announced on Tuesday that it will soon end a three-year moratorium on funding research projects that aim to make pathogens more powerful than they are naturally. The restrictions were put in place during the Obama Administration while the NIH created a more comprehensive system of risk-benefit analysis for the research. Now that such a system has been developed, the NIH is moving forward with its plans to develop more dangerous forms of deadly viruses . The goal is to study these lab-grown super-viruses to determine how these viruses might evolve in the real world, enabling experts and institutions to prepare antiviral medicines or other public health responses. Projects that engineer super viruses in the hopes of learning their weaknesses are called “gain-of-function” studies. Scientists seek to learn how a virus interacts with its hosts may change based on evolution . While research involving highly dangerous pathogens is strictly regulated, the potential cost from a mistake or malicious action could be devastating. Former CIA director John Brennan recently highlighted biological weapons, like a weaponized form of the ebola virus , as one of the most pressing existential threats facing the United States. Related: Scientists harness tobacco plants to produce polio vaccine Between 2003 and 2009, there were 395 reported incidents in which human error created a situation in which people were at risk of infection from these deadly viruses. Only seven infections resulted from these 395 events. Although this research is ostensibly to serve the public’s interest, some scientists question whether the risks are worth any potential reward. Gain-of-function studies have “done almost nothing to improve our preparedness for pandemics, yet they risked creating an accidental pandemic , said Marc Lipsitch, epidemiologist at Harvard University, according to Nature . It would seem that the NIH did its due diligence in preparing a comprehensive policy concerning the research of deadly pathogens. Hopefully it is enough to keep these super viruses behind tightly closed doors. Via Motherboard Images via NIAID   (1)  

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Stanford scientist develop a blood-separating centrifuge out of paper

January 12, 2017 by  
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If you were a kid before the age of smartphones, you probably played with a whirligig at least once. The design for this simple toy, which will spin twine threaded through a button at rapid speeds with only a gentle pull, inspired Stanford University researchers to create a cheap and effective medical tool for countries in need. The “paperfuge” is, quite literally, a centrifuge made out of paper . The human-powered device can separate blood in just 90 seconds and costs only $.20 to make. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPePaKnYh2I There are still many parts of the world without access to the medical technology necessary to properly diagnose and treat disease. Stanford bioengineers hope to change that by providing a cost effective centrifuge to affected regions so medical professionals can detect deadly diseases , such as malaria, HIV, African sleeping sickness and tuberculosis. With the paperfuge, there is no need for electricity, as it is powered by human touch. Related: Shining lasers on human blood could help detect tumors The engineers behind the design say the device can spin at speeds up to 125,000 rpm. The paperfuge can also exert centrifugal forces of 30,000 Gs and separate blood in just a minute and a half. “To the best of my knowledge, it’s the fastest spinning object driven by human power,” said Manu Prakash, a Stanford bioengineering assistant professor. Prakash’s lab is also responsible for creating a “ foldscope ” miscroscopy instrument that costs lest than one dollar to produce and a tiny chemistry kit inspired by children’s music boxes. + Stanford University Via Stanford University Images via Youtube (screenshot)

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Stanford scientist develop a blood-separating centrifuge out of paper

Scientists may have finally found a cure for the common cold

November 29, 2016 by  
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Could the common cold soon be a thing of the past? Scientists have created a breakthrough nasal spray that could block the virus as it tries to enter through the nose, where more than 90% of pathogens get in. The vaccine is called SynGEM , and it treats Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), one of three viruses that cause 80% of common colds. According to Mucosis , the Dutch company developing SynGEM, around 200,000 people die from RSV each year. RSV is especially dangerous for the elderly and children . The vaccine works for rats and mice, and researchers are beginning human trials at Imperial College London . Researchers say if the humans currently testing SynGEM develop antibodies, the scientists will be able to know the vaccine is truly working. Related: 44-year-old British man could be first to receive HIV cure Imperial College London professor of experimental medicine Peter Openshaw said in a statement, “We will first test whether the vaccine induces the right sort of immunity in humans, and, if it does, then test whether it will prevent infection in adult volunteers. Previous research has shown that boosting immunity in the nose and lungs may be the best way of increasing defense against RSV, blocking the virus from gaining entry to the body.” Openshaw has been researching colds and the flu for 30 years, and according to The Independent is hopeful the vaccine could be a major breakthrough. The second trial phase, which could occur in 2017, will test the vaccine in even more people. 54 adults would receive SynGEM in the second trial and 54 would receive a placebo. Via The Independent Images via anna gutermuth on Flickr and Claus Rebler on Flickr

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Scientists may have finally found a cure for the common cold

Twisting carbon-absorbing skyscraper nears completion in Taipei

November 29, 2016 by  
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Vincent Callebaut Architectures’ extraordinary Agora Garden —a DNA-inspired carbon-absorbing eco-tower—just topped out in Taipei, Taiwan. Set in Xinyi District just blocks from the LEED Platinum Taipei 101 skyscraper, Callebaut’s twisting tower will be filled with plants, vegetable gardens, and trees on every floor, as well as the grounds; the new greenery will be capable of absorbing 130 tons of carbon dioxide annually. The eye-catching building is expected to house the city’s most expensive luxury apartments on one of the city’s largest designated residential sites. Built mostly from concrete for seismic stability, the twenty two-story skyscraper comprises luxury apartments, rooftop clubhouses, a swimming pool, gym facilities, and car parking. The energy efficient tower’s unusual shape draws inspiration from DNA’s double helix structure and the Chinese Taiji philosophy of yin and yang. By twisting the building’s form, the architect also creates a beautiful cascade of open-air gardens that offer inhabitants panoramic and transversal views of the city. Landscape architecture firm SWA created a landscape design with 23,000 trees planted on the grounds and on every balcony. Related: Agora Tower: Twisting Skyscraper Wrapped With Vertical Gardens Breaks Ground in Taipei “The tower is eco-designed to represent the perfect fusion between Climate, Landscape and Architecture,” said the architects. “The project is eco-conceived by the integration of bioclimatic passive systems (as natural lighting and ventilation for the core and the basement, rain water recycle, low-e glass, double curtain wall) but also by the renewable energies (as the big photovoltaic solar roof and canopies, the automation for the energy saving, and lifts utilizing energy-saving regenerative drives).” The Agora Garden tower is expected for completion in September 2017. + Vincent Callebaut Architectures Images via Vincent Callebaut Architectures

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Twisting carbon-absorbing skyscraper nears completion in Taipei

Researchers discover that architecture has an impact on which microbes thrive around you

September 29, 2015 by  
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Microbes: our bodies are made up of them, our environment is teeming with them, and when they get out of balance, things go bad quickly . And while most of us are aware of the impact our diet and antibiotic use has on the bacteria, fungi and viruses that surround us, it’s a pretty safe bet that most of us haven’t considered how design impacts these microbes. But new research from the University of Oregon suggests that design has a vital influence on the balance of microbes in any given space, and the balance can shift from room to room depending on the design. Given the fact that humans spend a vast  majority of their lives indoors, it could mean big things for our health. Read the rest of Researchers discover that architecture has an impact on which microbes thrive around you

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Researchers discover that architecture has an impact on which microbes thrive around you

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