Tagged With viruses

A devastating viral disease could actually help treat and prevent brain cancer in the future, suggests yet more research, published this week in MBio. Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch and elsewhere successfully used a modified version of the Zika virus to selectively kill off certain stem cells that allow brain tumours to stay alive, at least in mice.

A fringe theory about the origins of Alzheimer's disease - that latent viral infections can sometimes trigger its emergence - has gotten perhaps its most significant bit of support yet. A complex new study published this week in Neuron has found evidence that certain viruses are not only more common in the brains of people with Alzheimer's, but that they play a direct role in the chain of events responsible for the fatal neurodegenerative disorder.

Scientists think they have stumbled upon a newly discovered mechanism that could explain why some people's hair turns grey and others become afflicted with patches of unpigmented skin, a rare, stigmatised condition called vitiligo. Their research, published last Thursday in PLOS Biology, suggests a gene that regulates the natural pigment melanin also keeps our immune system from turning on itself.

Two years ago, a consortium of scientists, lawyers, and entrepreneurs announced a plan to synthesise an artificial human genome from scratch - an extremely ambitious endeavour that's struggled to secure funding. Project organisers have now disclosed details of a scaled-down version of the venture, but with a goal that's still quite audacious: creating human cells that are invulnerable to infections.

It's generally agreed that some kind of microbe will be the first form of life we discover on another planet, moon or other space rock. But hardly anyone thinks we'll find an alien virus, which is weird, given how prolific and successful these biological entities are on Earth. A new study seeks to correct this oversight, calling for an entirely new discipline known as "astrovirology".

Since time immemorial, humans have had a knack for being complete and utter dicks to the other animals we share our planet with. Often, we even manage to screw things up for other species without meaning to. A study published earlier this month in the journal of Emerging Infectious Disease has retroactively uncovered one such incident: That time we gave a town of chimpanzees a cold bug that ultimately left five dead, including an adorable 2-year-old baby named Betty (pictured above).

Every year we go through the same motions: Scientists figure out what the most common flu strains will be, and prepare a vaccine that will best protect against it. Those who get vaccinated avoid the new strains, those who don't might get sick. But every so often, a new kind of flu pops up that doctors are unprepared to vaccinate against. That kind of flu can turn into a pandemic.

There's no limit to viral ruthlessness. These lifeless packets of genetic code cause countless ails, often without a known cure. One such monster spends most of its time as a seemingly benign strand of DNA that could sit latent for years before striking, causing cells to turn into a rare but aggressive form of skin cancer called Merkel cell carcinoma.

Experts say it's not a matter of if, but when a global scale pandemic will wipe out millions of people. And we are grossly unprepared for the next major outbreak. But in the event of a devastating pandemic -- whether it be triggered by a mutated strain of an existing virus or a bioengineered terror weapon -- there are some practical things you can do, both before and during the outbreak, to increase your odds of survival.

You probably know viruses as the demons behind your nasty cold, the not-quite-living monsters that infiltrate cells and plug in their own genetic material. But the horrible little buggers might have been crucial to forming the cells in our own bodies today.