NIH to study disease-spreading ticks

Scientists from the National Institutes of health have developed a laboratory model to study ticks that transmit flaviviruses — a class of viruses that includes Powassan virus, which was implicated in the death of a New York man earlier this year.

Most people are more familiar with flaviviruses spread by mosquitoes — including Zika virus and West Nest Vile — but they are also the cause of at least two tick-borne diseases, Powassan and the closely related deer tick virus. Lyme disease is still the star scourge among tick-borne diseases, but another, Powassan virus, has been making itself known.


In the last 10 years, about 75 U.S. cases of Powassan virus infection have been reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those include at least one case in Connecticut, last year in a 5-month-old child. Powassan virus infection can result in fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures, memory loss, and death. No licensed treatments or vaccines are available for Powassan virus disease.

The scientist’s unusual model for studying ticks that spread flaviviruses involves culturing organs taken from Ixodes scapularis ticks and then infecting those organ cultures with flaviviruses, according to researchers at Rocky Mountain Laboratories, part of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The researchers said model could become a tool to evaluate medical countermeasures against tick-borne viruses.

The NIAID scientists developed their model by dissecting three tick organs — the midgut, salivary glands and nervous tissue — and then culturing flaviviruses in those organs, evaluating their viability over several days. They found that Powassan virus and the related Langat virus could infect and spread in salivary glands and midgut. Langat virus is found typically in Southeast Asia and is an ideal model virus for study because it causes only rare, mild infections in people.

Ancient Viruses Found In Ice



In a plot that sounds like something out of a low-budget horror film, scientists have recently uncovered ancient, enormous viruses in ice that some say could wake up as the Earth’s climate warms. Before they begin to threaten our health, however, some of these newly-unearthed viruses may offer important clues into some of the most enduring biological mysteries — including where such viruses came from in the first place. This week scientists at the University of New South Wales in Australia found a microorganism in the lakes off the coast of Antarctica that could offer clues as to how the first viruses — which include HIV and even the virus that causes the common cold — came to be.

This video was produced by YT Wochit News using

Bell’s Palsy – Virus or Stress?

Now I am no doctor, medical researcher or pollster but when I hear from over 540 people who have either had or presently suffer from the illness of Bell’s Palsy and every single one of them tells me that their illness occurred during or immediately after a serious bout of stress, I would have to be seriously dim not to suggest that there is a connection.

Bell’s Palsy is a condition that can strike 1 in 60 of us at any time of life. In 93% of those 1 in 60, it will only ever happen once. In the unfortunate 7% it can recur at an average frequency of around 10 years.

It is usually a temporary facial palsy condition, causing paralysis of one side of the face. In around 1% of cases, including my own, it can strike both sides of the face at the same time (bilateral bell’s palsy) leaving a person with no facial expression whatsoever and in no uncertain terms, truly “wiping the smile off your face”.

In 50% of cases all of the facial paralysis will disappear within 3 months. In 20% this will take up to 6 months and in another 10% it may take up to a year to achieve a complete recovery..”And what becomes of the other 20%?” I hear you shout…

The healing of the seventh cranial nerve, also known as the facial nerve, can continue at the rate of about 0.5 – 1mm per day for up to around 18 months and some consultants would say up to 2 years.

After this time, it may be necessary to employ the services of a professional facial muscle trainer to “retrain” your facial muscles to work in their originally intended way. This training can take the form of manual Bell’s Palsy facial exercises or in some cases the use of an electrical stimulator, both of which can produce major improvements many years after the facial paralysis.

There are other treatments such as Botox injections and decompression surgery, that some suggest can alleviate long term symptoms such as synkenisis. Synkenisis is best described as remnants of facial paralysis or incorrect rejuvenation of the facial nerve, resulting in movements that are contrary to what was intended. In practical terms this may show as the corners of your mouth raising upon the closing of your eyelids; this being just one of a great many possible scenarios.

A number of medical consultants hold the belief that Bell’s Palsy is an illness with no known cause. In fact there are over 50 different illnesses that can cause facial paralysis and it is only when these have been ruled out that a diagnosis of Bell’s Palsy is comfortably arrived at. Thus it is known as an idiopathic facial palsy, meaning “of unknown cause”.

The most prevalent medical belief however, is that it is the reactivation of the herpes simplex virus (HSV 1) that is the cause of the illness. This is not the sexually transmitted herpes, this is the one that gives you the odd cold sore.

It must also be said here that just because you get cold sores, that does not in any way whatsoever, mean that you will get Bell’s Palsy. On the contrary, I have still never had a cold sore in my life and yet had bilateral Bell’s Palsy. So, there is no more reason to worry about getting suddenly being stricken with Bell’s palsy, than there is about losing another pound, dollar or euro on the weekly lottery.

The herpes simplex virus is seldom of any medical importance and as stated, is most commonly associated with cold sores. Your immune system usually cures it extremely well if ever it tries to show up.

Most of us do actually carry this virus around with us throughout our lives. 25% of people will never know they have it and never show any symptoms. 50% of people will have very mild symptoms at some point in life (not of Bell’s Palsy) and 25% may be diagnosed with it upon showing some noticeable symptoms (but again, not Bell’s Palsy).

When we initially contracted the virus through normal human contact as a child we may have shown no significant symptoms at all. However, once contracted, the virus remains with us in a dormant state until it can be reactivated by some future event or when we are particularly run down and our immune system has been weakened.

Without going into all of the medical terms, the resultant reactivation of the virus to cause Bell’s Palsy, means that the virus has been dormantly awaiting its moment of glory on our seventh cranial nerve and upon reactivation, causes it to inflame.

The seventh cranial nerve, on its way to the facial muscles, passes through the fallopian canal, a thin bony conduit in the ear area. Because of the inflammation to the nerve, when it is in the fallopian canal it can only inflame so much before it is in effect, crushing itself.

It is when this happens that the “crushing” effect stifles its ability to transmit the impulses that are required to activate the facial muscles and achieve facial expression and therefore, a paralysis of the facial expressions on the affected side are apparent.

Now, that being the most prevalent theory, the herpes simplex virus has been noticed as present in 60-70% of those who are diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy. As early as 1970, a study by researcher Shingo Murakami identified HSV-1 as the primary cause of Bell’s palsy and several subsequent studies have consistently verified Murakami’s research.

So, if we accept all of the above theory as being correct (and I would like to ask the obvious question about the other 30 – 40% who did not have HSV-1 present) then it is the virus that has caused the actual inflammation but surely, to be able to reactivate in the first place it must have taken advantage of our physical state.

If our immune system has been perfectly capable of keeping this virus at bay since we were a child, then what has and could, allow this virus to manifest its reactivation within us, in such a way as to cause an outbreak of this fashion.

It is therefore, to our immune system that we must look for the answers.

A perfectly healthy immune system would quite happily take care of this virus’ control and restraint. Therefore it must follow that for it to break out of its cell (excuse the pun) and wreak havoc with our facial nerve, the alarm bells must draw us to the conclusion of a weak immune system at the time of the breakout.

So what depletes the strength of our immune system?

Our immune system is fuelled by the good foods and drink with which we nourish ourselves. It is aided by the sunshine and fresh air in which we bathe and breath and it is also strengthened by keeping our physical health in good order, our weight reasonable and by trying to keep a positive, calm and unworried mental outlook.

Conversely, it is compromised by a lack of the aforementioned good fuels, by illness, stress, sugar (I kid you not) and by being generally run down.

I myself, although not suffering from any illness prior to having bilateral Bell’s Palsy, would definitely agree with the other components to making my immune system extremely low, stress being the main cause of each.

I was working too hard in a thankless job whilst not looking after myself properly in the food department, due either a lack of self esteem, extreme tiredness, or a feeling that there was not enough time to devote to this eating pastime. All of which are symptomatic of being very stressed.

The doctor who first diagnosed me, when I had only one side of my face paralysed, gave me a prescription which, on top of the medicinal components, advised total rest, relaxation and rejuvenation.

Having the condition for over 4 years, I have spoken to a great deal of fellow sufferers. Every single one of them truly believes that it was a build up of severe stress or in some cases a severely stressful event, that preceded their Bell’s Palsy.

Most of these people, including myself, have taken a philosophical view of the entire event and had a really good look at our lives. I mean, if you cannot even count on your own smile, then one must search for some truths that you can indeed count upon. It is most certainly an experience that will change you entire life, and for the better, if you want it to.

Although it can be said with total conviction that stress reduces our immune systems and that a positive and calm mental outlook can actually boost our immune system’s health and responsiveness, it is always a reactive and medicinal solution that is prescribed.

More importance should be placed on the preventative skills needed to live our lives with the awareness of stress and its early symptoms, rather than to try to correct the resultant illnesses that it will nearly always produce.

It is a known fact that between 80 – 90% of attendees at doctors’ surgeries are there with a condition or problem that has its foundations firmly rooted in a build up of stress.

Is it therefore the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) or for that matter, any other virus, infection or malady, that has caused the resultant complaint, or is it the tightening grip of the tentacles of stress upon our lives and therefore our physical immunity, that has forced the condition?

There apparently is no proven cure or protection from Bell’s Palsy. Time, rest and relaxation are the only widely accepted cures.

I suggest that the instructions “To lead a life with a positive, calm and unworried mental outlook, focussed upon hope, derived from a truth that can be counted upon” should be folded into a bottle and sold as the preventative medicine for all ailments, in chemists, churches, hospitals, schools and even the workplace vending machine.

I hope that you will always have a special smile and that it will always be special, to all who have the pleasure of seeing it.



Source by Rob Wilkinson

Wifi, Smart Meters Keep Alive Viruses, Bacteria, Lyme Disease, All Kinds Of Illness In Your Body



Pulsating microwave frequencies can even bring to life dormant viruses, bacteria, and dormant diseases within your genes.

Virus reprograms ocean plankton

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A virus which infects ocean plankton can reprogramme cells and change the way they absorb nutrients – potentially changing how carbon is stored in the ocean, new research shows.


Scientists from the University of Exeter have examined the DNA of the OTV6 , which infects (plant-like microbes which float in the upper part of the ).

The virus has stolen a gene from the phytoplankton, which has the surprising effect of making the infected plankton better at absorbing certain nutrients for a period – before the virus kills them.

Much of the planet’s carbon is stored in the sea by a process of algae dying and sinking to the ocean floor, and this research shows a new feature of that process.

“Availability of vitamins and nutrients determine how these phytoplankton function,” said Professor Thomas Richards, of the University of Exeter.

“We have shown that this virus reprogrammes how the phytoplankton obtain nutrients, which affects how they grow and is likely to affect how they absorb carbon dioxide.

“Cells that have the virus are more competitive in the short-term.

“This is beneficial to the virus in terms of its own reproduction – and when the virus is ready, it kills the cell and releases more of the virus to infect others.”

The scientists examined a phytoplankton species called Ostreococcus tauri.

Viruses often alter the function of infected cells, and in this case they change the way the phytoplankton takes in ammonium (which is an important nitrogen source for marine phytoplankton).

“This is important because the availability of nitrogen often limits phytoplankton growth,” said Dr Adam Monier, also of the University of Exeter.

“Our findings show that a virus, using a gene stolen from a phytoplankton, can control how nutrients are absorbed in infected phytoplankton.

“These results have implications for understanding how viruses manipulate the physiology and ecology of phytoplankton and influence marine cycles.”

Viruses are very abundant in the oceans, but the researchers said relatively little work has been done to understand how they change their hosts and therefore the wider ecosystems which they inhabit.

The Exeter-led research, funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Royal Society, involved collaborators from universities in France, Canada and the USA.

The paper, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is entitled: “Host-derived viral transporter protein for nitrogen uptake in infected marine phytoplankton.”


Explore further:
Don’t forget plankton in climate change models, says study

More information:
Adam Monier el al., “Host-derived viral transporter protein for nitrogen uptake in infected marine phytoplankton,” PNAS (2017). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1708097114

The Unforgiveness Virus by Craig Hill

Excerpt from Craig Hill’s Blog “The Unforgiveness Virus” published on August 20, 2013.

It’s much easier to talk about forgiveness than to do it; especially when you’ve been deeply hurt.  But before you can truly forgive anyone, you must first understand what forgiveness is and what it is not.

Forgiveness is not forgetting, excusing, tolerating, overlooking, condoning or justifying the behavior of another.

Forgiveness is releasing a person from accountability for his wrongdoing, sin, mistake, failure or betrayal.  It is allowing Jesus Christ to pay for the offender’s sin, rather than holding the offender accountable to pay for his own sin.

As natural human beings we feel justified in expecting people to pay a price for their sins.  And that usually goes double for the one person whose behavior has been extremely hurtful to us personally.

But as believers, we know what the Bible says about forgiveness.  So, in an attempt to obey the Word of God, many times we verbally speak words of forgiveness, but in reality we bury the real hurt deep in our hearts where it becomes a well of bitterness.

When we do this, that hurt is like a virus hiding within the hard drive of a computer.  When the right buttons are pushed it takes control and destroys everything around it.

I’m sure you may be able to relate to what I am saying.  When you were offended you may have said the words, “I forgive him.” But the next time you have seen the offender prospering, anger fills your heart and you think, “He got away with what he did to me with no punishment and no consequence,” and anger fills your heart. You then remember, “Oh yeah, I forgave him.” But the forgiveness has not truly happened in your heart. Or it may be that you were so deeply hurt that you could not even say the words “I forgive him.”

In either case, it’s important for you to understand that the unforgiveness you retain in your heart is far more destructive to you than to the one who hurt you.

I’m not going to put a superficial band aid over these deep wounds by trying to convince you to forgive those who have hurt you.  It wouldn’t work, and even if it did, it would be temporary at best.

However, we deal with this issue in depth in our Empowering Relationships, Overcoming Anger, and Ancient Paths seminars.  There, we can walk you through a process that will result in actual healing of the wound and freedom from the anger and bitterness in your heart toward the offender. If you’ll take the time to attend, I guarantee it will change your life! You can find a seminar near you by clicking on the “Locate an Event” button on the website.

 About the Author

Having a specific interest in ministering to marriages and families, Craig Hill pursued an internship and later a volunteer staff position at the New Life Counseling Center in Denver. He subsequently taught counseling and missions on the faculty of the Marilyn Hickey Bible College. In 1987, the Lord raised up Craig as Senior Pastor of a local church where he and Jan served for seven and a half years, until he was called by God to devote his full-time energy to the ministry of Family Foundations International.

दुनिया के 10 सबसे खतरनाक वायरस \ The World’s 10 Most Dangerous Viruses | Fact’s T.V



दुनिया के 10 सबसे खतरनाक वायरस \ The World’s 10 Most Dangerous Viruses | Fact’s T.V

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Encephalitis: The Causes and Risk Factors

Encephalitis is defined as a condition of irritation and swelling (inflammation) of the brain, as a result of virus, bacteria and others invasion.

II. Causes and Risk Factors
A. Causes
1. Encephalitis caused by virus
a. Rabies virus 
Rabies virus is the etiological agent of an acute encephalitis, which in absence of post exposure treatment is fatal in almost all cases. In the study to analyze the role of the immuno-inhibitory molecule B7-H1 in this virus strategy, show that the B7-H1/PD-1 pathway can be exploited locally and in an organ specific manner–here the nervous system–by a neurotropic virus to promote successful host invasion(7).

b. Herpes simplex 
Herpes simplex encephalitis (HSE) is a life-threatening consequence of herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection of the central nervous system (CNS). Although HSE is rare, mortality rates reach 70% in the absence of therapy and only a minority of individuals return to normal function, according to Scientist at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center(8).

c. Poliovirus
Poliovirus virion RNA contains a single covalently bound sequence of polyadenylic acid which is approximately 49 nucleotides long. A single, slightly longer polyadenylic acid sequence is contained in Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus RNA(9).

d. Measles virus
There are report from The Hospital for Sick Children that a case of measles inclusion-body encephalitis (MIBE) occurring in an apparently healthy 21-month-old boy 8.5 months after measles-mumps-rubella vaccination. He had no prior evidence of immune deficiency and no history of measles exposure or clinical disease, as a brain biopsy revealed histopathologic features consistent with MIBE, and measles antigens were detected by immunohistochemical staining. Electron microscop(11).

e. JC virus
Scientist at the Karolinska Institute, Huddinge University Hospital showed that JC virus (JCV) DNA was detected in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) samples from patients with progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) but not in CSF samples from patients with herpes simplex encephalitis, enteroviral meningitis, or multiple sclerosis. This suggests that inflammatory processes in the brain do not necessarily reactivate JCV, which further supports the proposal that the presence of JCV DNA in the CSF is diagnostic for PML(12)

f.  Japanese encephalitis virus
Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) has found to be a pathogen causing febrile syndrome, encephalitis, and death. Envelop (E) glycoprotein is the major target of inducing neutralizing antibodies and protective immunity in host(13)

g.  West Nile encephalitis virus
WNV disseminates to the central nervous system (CNS) and causes severe disease primarily in the immunocompromised and elderly. Experimental studies have made significant progress in dissecting the viral and host factors that determine the pathogenesis and outcome of WNV infection.(14).

h.  Eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEE virus)
The eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) complex consists of four distinct genetic lineages: one that circulates in North America (NA EEEV) and the Caribbean and three that circulate in Central and South America (SA EEEV). Differences in their geographic, pathogenic, and epidemiologic profiles prompted evaluation of their genetic diversity and evolutionary histories, according to University of Texas Medical Branch(15).

i. Etc.

2. Encephalitis caused by bacteria infection
a. Bacterial meningitis, such as herpes simplex virus
Health records from 2002 to 2006 of all children 6 months to 6 years with a discharge diagnosis from the Hospital for Sick Children (Toronto, ON) of febrile convulsion, meningitis, or encephalitis were reviewed. Rates of bacterial meningitis and HSV encephalitis in children presenting with complex febrile seizures were calculated(16). In the article of “Meningitis and Encephalitis: Introduction”, the author(s) wrote “Inflammation of the meninges (meningitis) and inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) often are seen simultaneously (meningoencephalitis) in the same animal, although either can be seen separately. In animals with meningoencephalitis, the clinical signs of meningitis often precede the clinical signs of encephalitis and may remain the predominant feature of the illness”(17)

b.Syphilis
According to a report by centre hospitalier universitaire  17-year-old patient presented for one year progressive dementia, frontal syndrome and extra pyramidal syndrome. The cerebral CT scan showed a diffuse cortical and subcortical atrophy. Blood and CSF positive antibodies confirmed the diagnosis of late congenital meningoencephalitis due to syphilis(18)
 
3. Parasites and Others
a. Toxoplasmosis
Toxoplasmosis is a rare but rapidly fatal complication that can occur following hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT), according to Kyushu University Graduate School of Medical Sciences, in a study of over a 17-yr period at our institutions, two patients received a conventional conditioning regimen followed by transplantation from an HLA-matched donor; however, they developed severe graft-vs.-host disease, which required intensive immunosuppressive therapy. Despite prophylactic treatment with trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole, their immunosuppressive state, as indicated by a low CD4(+) cell count, might have resulted in toxoplasmosis encephalitis.(19)
 
b. Malaria  
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease and associated Encephalitis to. In the article of “Mosquitoes and Diseas” posted in Illinois department of Public Health wrote “Today, however, the threat of developing encephalitis from mosquitoes is far greater than the threat of malaria in the United States. Encephalitis, meningitis and other diseases can develop from the bites of mosquitoes infected with certain viruses. These include the viruses of West Nile, St. Louis encephalitis, LaCrosse (California) encephalitis, and Eastern equine and Western equine encephalitis”(20)

c. Primary amoebic meningoencephalitis
Primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM or PAME) is a disease of the central nervous system caused by infection from Naegleria fowleri. In the report of Dayanand Medical College and Hospital (DMC & H), a 36-year-old, Indian countryman who had a history of taking bath in the village pond. Computerized tomography (CT) scan of brain showed a soft tissue non-enhancing mass with erosion of sphenoid sinus. However CSF findings showed no fungal or bacterial pathogen. Trophozoites of Naegleria fowleri were detected in the direct microscopic examination of CSF and these were grown in culture on non-nutrient agar(21).

d. Lyme disease 
Lyme borreliosis is a multisystem disorder caused by Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb). Neurological symptoms such as lymphocytic meningoradiculoneuritis (Bannwart’s syndrome), cranial neuritis (II,III,IV,V,VI), encephalitis, transverse myelitis are found in about 10% of cases during the second phase of the disease. In the chronic stage, many months or years after the initial infection(22).

e. Cryptococcus neoformans 
 reported from the Ohgaki Municipal Hospital., a 46-year-old man with hepatoma was admitted with chief complaints of headache, fever and dizziness. On admission, cerebellar signs (disturbance of finger-to-nose test and of heel-to-knee test, intention tremor, and truncal ataxia) were neurologically noted.  Head CT showed swelling and enhancement of the cerebellar cortex and dilatation of the cerebral ventriculi. Cryptococcus neoformans was detected in a culture of the patient’s CSF.(23)

f. Streptococci 
Encephalitis lethargica or von Economo disease is an atypical form of encephalitis. Also known as “sleepy sickness” (though different from the sleeping sickness transmitted by the tsetse fly)(24)

g. Staphylococci 
In the study in 1997, 4,409 cases of meningitis and 632 cases of encephalitis were reported in Poland. Meningitis incidence rate was 11.4 per 100,000, and was 3-times lower than in 1996. The etiology of meningitis cases was as follows: 2,713 (61.5%) were due to viral agents (ECHO 30 dominated), 1,351 (30.7%) were caused by bacterial agents: 144 meningococcal (3.3%) and 1,207 other bacterial. The bacterial etiology was following: 33.2% were due to Streptococcus pneumoniae, 27.6% were cased by Haemophilus influenzae type b, and 11.6% by Staphylococci.(25)

h. Autoimmune disease 
Autoimmune limbic encephalitis is a rare disorder, characterised by the subacute onset of seizures, short-term memory loss, and psychiatric and behavioural symptoms. Initially, it was recognised as a paraneoplastic disorder, but recently a subgroup of patients without systemic cancer was identified. This type of limbic encephalitis is associated with voltage-gated potassium channel (VGKC) or N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) antibodies(26).

i. Etc.

B. Risk factors
a. Age(27)
Age and people with weakened immune system are susceptible to be infected by encephalitis and bacteria virus,  depending on the type of encephalitis virus.
a.1. Newborn and infants are particularly at risk for herpes virus and arboviruses,
a.2. Infants are most vulnerable to Western equine encephalitis. Older
a.3. Children and teenagers are vulnerable to Eastern equine and La Crosse encephalitis.
a.4. Older and elderly adults are at higher risk for Eastern equine, St. Louis, and West Nile encephalitis.

b. Weakened immune system.
People with HIV/AIDS, taking immune-suppressing drugs compromised or weakened immune system are at higher risk of encephalitis.

c. Geographic regions
People who live in the geographic region with Mosquito-borne or tick-borne viruses are at higher risk of encephalitis.

d. Outdoor activities.
People who are engage a lots of outdoor activities or work that expose to ticks or mosquitoes are at increased risk of encephalitis. 

e. Seasonal risk
Mosquitoes and ticks season

f. Etc.

For the series of Encephalitis, visit http://diseases-researches.blogspot.ca/p/encephalitis.html

For more health articles, please visit http://medicaladvisorjournals.blogspot.ca 

Sources can be found at http://medicaladvisorjournals.blogspot.ca/2012/07/encephalitis-causes-and-risk-factors.html

 

Why three little virus-free pigs matter | Lifestyles

We’ve done some genetics. We’ve done DNA. We’ve done GMOs. We’ve done some immunology. We’ve done science literacy. Now, let’s get down in the weeds a little bit and put all of that together to look at just exactly why virus-free piglets are news.

Aren’t piglets just the cutest things? The three particular precious petite porkers in the picture have recently been making the rounds of the national news, usually under a headline that says something like “Scientists create virus-free pigs.” This is an excellent example of a headline that really fails to do what a headline is supposed to, which is capture the reader’s interest. Virus-free pigs. Big whoop.

If, however, you got past the lame headlines and you’ve read any of those stories, you know that this is sort of a big deal, on several different levels, and we’ll use what we’ve already talked about in some of my earlier articles about genes, viruses, DNA, genetic engineering, and the value of science literacy to explore why these three little pigs are important.

These pigs are really just like any other pigs, except they were born without any genes in their genomes that code for a number of viruses found in all other pigs, called porcine endogenous retroviruses, or PERVs (yeah, I know. Not that kind of perv). Let’s talks about what the term means and what PERVs are. The word “porcine” just means “related to pigs.” “Endogenous” means “something that is normally found in or originating from within an organism.” For instance, insulin is an endogenous human hormone, because it is produced by the pancreas and is normally present in people. “Retroviruses” are a group of viruses that use RNA (ribonucleic acid) instead of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) as their genetic material.

When a virus of any kind infects a cell, the reproductive machinery of the cell, which is normally used to make proteins and copy the DNA of the cell so that the cell can divide and reproduce, is hijacked by the virus. The virus causes the cell to make new copies of the viral genome and then to use the viral genes to make viral proteins. When the cell makes the new viral proteins, they are assembled into new viruses and the new viruses then can go out to infect other cells. Usually, the cell is destroyed in the process. Sometimes, though, the viral genes just get integrated into the genome of the infected host cell and the cell goes on living and reproducing as normal, only now, every time the cell divides, the new cell also has a copy of the viral genes in its DNA.

Sometimes, the viral genes just sit there, causing no

problems. This is called a “latent virus.” It may sit there forever doing nothing, or sometimes, something happens to activate the latent virus and the viral genes start to be reproduced, viral proteins start to be made by the infected cells and that may cause disease. The Herpes simplex family of viruses is an example of latent viruses. Other examples of latent viruses are called retroviruses. In a retrovirus, the RNA from the retrovirus is used as a template to make DNA in the infected cell, and then the DNA becomes integrated into the host cell’s genome. HIV is an example of a retrovirus that affects humans.

If you look at the genome of almost any organism, particularly complex organisms, like most of us, there is a lot of what is called “non-coding DNA.” Non-coding DNA is exactly that — it doesn’t code for any specific proteins. There is some disagreement on whether this non-coding DNA has any function at all, but the amount of it is pretty amazing. Somewhere between 80 percent and 98 percent of the human genome is non-coding. This was a bit of a surprise when the Human Genome Project was going on in the 1990s.

The Human Genome Project was a very ambitious, very wide-ranging effort to identify all the genes in the human genome and map the location where each gene would be found on our chromosomes. The early expectation was that the human genome, based on the amount of DNA it contains (along with human ego), would contain hundreds of thousands of, possibly a million, individual genes. After all, something as marvelous as we are would obviously have the most genes of any creature, right? Wrong. The initial findings of the genome project was that humans have about 30,000 individual genes that code for proteins. This low number was quite the surprise. After all, there is a single-celled protozoan that has over 60,000 genes. There is a plant that has a genome almost three times the size of the human genome. Talk about you rude awakenings! Here we are, thinking how complex and wonderful we are, and there are flowers and pond scum with larger, more complex genomes than ours!

So, what does this have to do with our story today? Well, with the discovery that the vast majority of the human genome, and the genomes of most complex organisms, for that matter, doesn’t code for proteins, it begs the question, “then why is it there and where did it come from?” Both of those are good questions that haven’t been fully answered, but part of that “extra” DNA is probably DNA that originated long, long ago in our evolutionary history as viral DNA that got integrated into our own genome. The same is likely true for much of the PERV DNA in pigs.

In the case of PERVs, the viruses are found in most of the pig’s cells, including the sperm and egg cells used in reproduction. Because they are in the reproductive cells, newborn pigs are already infected with the virus. The PERVs don’t normally cause any disease in the pigs, as they usually remains latent in pig cells. The problem with PERVs is that they can be transferred to humans and infect human cells when pig organs or tissues are transplanted into people and PERVs can potentially cause disease in humans.

This is why scientists bothered to try to make virus-free pigs. Pigs have long been used as a source of organs and tissues for transplantation into humans. One reason for this is that the anatomy and physiology of pigs is very similar to that of humans, and so many of their organs and tissues are very similar to those of humans. Pigs and people are also of similar size, so swapping out parts works pretty well because, for instance, a heart valve from a pig is just about the same size as a heart valve from a human. Producing pigs that have tissues free of PERVs is a big step into making pig organs more available and safer for transplantation into humans.

The cute little virus-free piggies in the picture were created using a couple of genetic engineering techniques that are both revolutionary and controversial. The first technique is a new technology called CRISPR (pronounced “crisper”). It stands for “Clustered, Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.” I’m not going to go into what all that means. What I will say is that it takes advantage of a genetic mechanism used by bacteria to avoid being infected by viruses. Yes, bacteria can be, and often are, infected by viruses. The CRISPR technology allows scientists to target specific gene sequences in the DNA of a cell, cut it out and replace it with a new gene sequence. CRISPR is hugely valuable in genetic research and has great promise in therapeutic use to treat genetic diseases. Theoretically, CRISPR could be used to cut out defective genes in a patient with a genetic disease and replace the bad gene with a good one. That sort of application is quite a way off. In the case of our pigs, however, CRISPR was used to cut out the genes for all the PERVs found in pig cells that were grown in a dish. The result of that was pig cells that were completely free of PERVs.

The second controversial technique that was used is called “somatic cell nuclear transfer.” A somatic cell is just a term for any of the regular, non-reproductive cells found in an organism. In this technique, the nucleus of a cell, where all the genetic material is located, is removed. That nucleus is then transferred into another cell, from which the nucleus has also been removed, essentially turning the recipient cell into a genetic copy of the donor cell. If the recipient cell is a reproductive cell, like an egg cell, and the egg is fertilized, the genes contained in the donor cell will be present in all the cells that develop from the fertilized egg. In this case, the nuclei from the cells grown in the dish that were modified to be PERV-free were injected into fertilized pig eggs. The eggs were then implanted into surrogate mother pigs and they developed into our piglets.

This technology has incredible potential in transplant therapeutics, as well as gene therapy to correct some horrible diseases. Somatic cell nuclear transfer also has another name — cloning. Dolly the Sheep, if you remember her, was the first mammal to be produced through cloning. The term “cloning” brings up all sorts of late-night horror movie terrors and visions of genetically engineered babies and so on. In reality, cloning is not fearsome or evil. It is just a fairly simple, very powerful tool in the field of genetic research.

However, here is where the science literacy part of the story comes into play. These techniques were used, in this case, as a step toward improving options for transplanted organs and tissues. It is theoretically possible, however, that these same techniques could be used for less clearly beneficial ends. It could, for instance, be further developed and adapted to be used to modify human embryos to create “designer babies.” Clearly, this is an issue with profound bioethical considerations. It is important that we, as a human society, understand this science, and that includes you.

This technology, like other forms of genetic engineering, stem cell-based therapeutics, artificial intelligence, GMOs, and other equally powerful, potentially transformative science, could be hugely valuable in improving the human condition if used properly, but the consequences of abuse of the technology are also huge. We must be part of a well-informed populace to make reasoned, rational decisions on how we want our science to be used.

Already, the scientific communities of the U.S., UK, China, and others have set strict guidelines on what types of research along the lines of that which produced our virus-free pigs is permissible, but as science moves forward, there will need to be more discussion. The benefits and consequences of these technologies are so huge that we must discuss them from a position of knowledge and understanding, not from one of fear, ignorance and emotion. This is why it is so vitally important for everyone to be scientifically literate.

Dr. Wood: Why you can’t blame mosquitoes for Zika virus cases in Washington state

There are lots of reasons Thurston County residents look forward to summer. Dealing with bug bites isn’t one of them.

Mosquitoes may be an important part of our ecosystem food web, but we’d like to avoid their bites. In fact, there is a lot to know about the way in which mosquitoes can spread diseases, like Zika.

Much in the news this past year, Zika is a virus that is spread through the bite of two species of mosquitoes. These same species of mosquitoes can spread other serious viruses such as dengue fever and chikungunya.

A mosquito becomes infected when it bites an already infected person. It then carries that infection to the next person it bites.

The mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus don’t live in Washington state. While there have been cases of Zika virus infection in the state, the cases have all been travel-related. So far, mosquitoes carrying Zika virus have only been detected in a few places in the United States, such as Brownsville, Texas; Hidalgo County, Texas; and Miami and Dade County, Florida.

That means that people living in Washington state can only become infected if they travel to areas where Zika infection is actively being transmitted or if they have unprotected sex with a Zika-infected person.

While most people who get Zika infection may have few or even no symptoms, there are some specific dangers for pregnant women. In particular, pregnant women can pass the virus to their unborn babies in the womb, and the babies may develop microcephaly, a birth defect in which a baby’s head and brain are smaller than they should be.

There is no known treatment yet for Zika virus infection, and there is not yet a vaccine to prevent Zika infection. But there are easy ways to stay safe.

The use of condoms can help prevent infection through sex.

If you plan to travel to a place where mosquitoes may carry Zika, be sure to use insect repellent, and follow the instructions on the container. Wear long sleeves and pants; use mosquito netting around beds, cribs, and strollers; and take steps to keep mosquitoes out of your home.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer lots more tips on mosquito prevention and maintain an up-to-date map showing areas where Zika virus is being spread.

The greatest risk from Zika virus is to unborn children. Pregnant women should not travel to areas with risk of Zika, and those trying to get pregnant should seriously consider restricting travel to those same areas.

Mosquito bites are always a nuisance, but by better understanding your risks, you can better protect yourself and your family.