Assignment ll: Microbes in the News

Can airborne viruses survive in water?

This article discusses an equine herpes virus and its ability to survive in water. This causes a problem for shared water among animals. It also gives insight into viruses that can survive outside of their preferred conditions.

The first thing that came to mind after reading this article is the infectious game we played with the beach ball. This was the same lecture we talked about possible ways an infection can be passed: airborne, contact. However, for me, a combination was never considered.

An airborne virus also being able to survive in water makes the area spreading of that virus that much wider. The article mentions that even when the animal with the virus is absent, other animals were getting the infection through the shared water. This is important because trying to maintain the spread of an infection is only possible when you know all of the pathways of infection.

My question is: Have viruses always been able to survive outside of their ideal environment?

A life commandeered

It was made for you.

A connection before you were

ever born.

When it feels out, into the dark, you’ll be there

and you’ll draw it in.


Surrounded by your kin

a familiar grasp

But its none of them.

You are beset.


Just a pinch and a push

and its done.

An itch and tingle and you’ve become more

than you’ve ever been,

an extra length

of soul incised and tied.

It fit, in a blink, and it settled into you.

Like the last lie you’d ever tell yourself.


Divided, you persist as you can.

The shame you feel

when you see it in your progeny.

A beastly poison in their being.

You know it is a matter of time.


Bracing, you and yours

fall apart.

The thing you kept and passed on,

wrested from you all the mechanisms of life.

You watch as you are dismantled.

And with your last attempt for salvation,

if not for you, then for others,

you rip and raise high

a sign of the anathema.


Artist Statement:

Learning about lysogenic viral cycle was one of those times in biology that I felt there was something poetic going on. The nature of the invasion and destruction of cells from this type of virus made me think about things in human lives that are applicable. Where ideas are impregnated and can have profound influences on how we live. The cycle seems dark and sad to me. But like in the human spirit, the drive of life at all levels can be at times selfless in the face of defeat. I was instantly drawn to the idea of a cell’s MHC showing the on the outside what was going to destroy it from the inside. It seemed to have a greater meaning than its evolutionary utility. Although what is described in the poem is meant more for a bacteriophage, I took some license with what would possibly be more appropriately an endogenous retrovirus in humans.

A2 Microbes in the News

A Taste For Pork Helped A Deadly Virus Jump To Humans

In 1999, in a small town in Malaysia, a scientist named Dr. Kaw  Bing Chua made a discovery crucial for the restructuring of the agriculture and farming industry across Malaysia (as well as Singapore, the Philippines, and several other countries). Chua discovered the virus later to known by the name of Nipah. Chua, a grad student studying virology at the time pinpointed this virus as one spreading across the country, yet no one at the time believed it.  Over the course of the next year a disease more deadly than Ebola was spreading rapidly throughout the town of Nipah, Malaysia. It eventually caught the attention of the government, and since most common viruses were spread through mosquitoes, the government treated it that way. However, after months of efforts to decrease the rate of spreading, nothing was working. This is when Chua comes back into the story. Chua was adamant that the virus in question was not in fact spread through mosquitoes, but actually through pigs. He came to this conclusion when he observed that the only demographic of people not getting the disease were Muslim, and hence were not eating pigs. Chua connected with a lab in Fort Collins, Colorado where he was able to see the virus through a special camera at their lab. The virus was identified and confirmed to be one that spreads through livestock. This led to the researchers at the CO facility contacting the Malaysian government,  who then immediately switched procedures and began focusing on stopping the spread between pigs and pigs to people.

This relates strongly to what we’ve been discussing most recently in class.  Learning how a disease spreads is critical for studying how to stop or slow it. Once the Malaysian government realized that Chua’s observations were correct, they changed policies throughout their nation. The entire farming industry was turned over and reshaped in order to minimize the spread of infectious diseases, such as the deadly Nipah virus. It really struck me in this article that the key to reducing outbreaks is to start by preventing them in the first place. The article elaborates on how serious a threat diseases like measles pose for humans. Nipah, like measles, is a respiratory virus. It spreads through close proximity, like when the pigs lived in extremely close quarters, but it also can spread just through the air. This is why taking advantage of any available immunizations is key to reducing outbreaks of potentially deadly pathogens. One question that stuck with me after reading this article was how specifically is this virus adapting to its conditions? The first outbreaks of Nipah were only due to pig to human transfers, but as of late, the virus spreads from human to human.



Microbes in the News Assignment: Post #2

Article and link: “New HIV reservoir discovered: Findings reveal a second target for cure research’, Science Daily (it should be noted that the article on Science Daily sites the University of North Carolina Health Care as their source and mentions that the original findings were published in Nature Medicine on this same date), April 17, 2017.


Summary: This article describes scientists’ recent discovery that there is another cell within the human body which can act as a reservoir for HIV in addition to T cells: the macrophage. This discovery that macrophages are susceptible to infection by HIV is very important to current research focusing on the treatment of AIDS: this tells researchers that a successful treatment or cure would have to be effective in ridding the virus from both T cells and macrophages. One investigation found that viral replication within macrophages is effectively repressed when antiretroviral therapy is administered; however, the study also found that this effect is only temporary. Following treatment conclusion, macrophages still act as reservoirs for the virus and therefore remain capable of reinfecting the host. More research must be conducted in order to find the most effective way to resolve HIV infection of macrophage cells.


Connections: This relates to information we have discussed over the course of the semester in that it discusses a virus, HIV, and also cells involved in the immune response (T cells and macrophages). It also relates to the resolution of disease through treatment and also the ways in which viral cells can find ways to persist inside a host even following treatment; both of these are subjects which were briefly touched on in class this semester.


Critical analysis: I found it interesting to learn that HIV can also afflict host macrophage cells in addition to the host’s T cells. It has been known for some time that HIV targets T cells, but I had not heard of any other types of cells being specifically targeted by the virus. I also found it interesting that the antiretroviral therapy typically used in treating HIV infections in T cells does not work effectively on macrophages. I expect that the story is scientifically accurate as I have not seen indications to the contrary. I also did not find anything confusing in the article that would need to be corrected.  I believe that they did a good job in relating this news; it seemed as though they kept their audience in mind, and focused on relating the pertinent details and implications of this discovery without making the article too technical for those who may not have the background to understand a technical explanation.
Question: What are the most significant differences in terms of structure between T cells and macrophages which would cause antiretroviral therapeutic (ART) agents to be effective on T cells but ineffective in macrophages? Which ART’s were tested on the macrophages? What is their mechanism of action? Are scientists already aware of the specific reason that the ART does not work on macrophages?

A2: Microbes in the News

Ben-Gurion U. researchers develop membranes that remove viruses from drinking water


Summary:  In a cooperative research effort between the Israeli and US universities, a hydrogel was developed to coat exisiting  commercial ultrafiltration membranes in order to increase their ability to repel and filter viruses, specifically Adenovirus and norovirus. The impetus for its development, and the advantage over normal methods of filtering viruses, is because it can function without amounts of energy and without additional chemical disinfecting products.

Connections:  This article relates to our discussions in class regarding both water purification in the form of filtration of pathogens, as well as food/water safety methods on a large scale.

Critical Analysis:  This article is interesting because it addresses the issue of public waste water as a critical entry point for microbes into municipal drinking water. In our lecture discussion during class we did not delve much into the that particular issue. The article highlights the cost of current methods of waste filtration and treatment, but does not give much in the way of details for the size of the issue, nor the extent of contamination that these cities are facing. To that same point, they fail to explain how effective the hydrogel is at ‘repelling’ viruses. Though the article seems to be a brief overview for the layman, I don’t believe the readers would have been bored by statistics to reinforce the information they provided. However, if this is an effective method that can be applied to control measures already in place, the results could be outstanding for reuse of potable water.

Question:  How long are the researchers expecting the hydrogel coating to maintain efficacy? Will the gel last as long as the existing filter it is applied to, and what will the added costs for cities planning to implement this extra barrier in their water supply?

Common virus may be celiac disease culprit

—  Article and link:

“Common virus may be celiac disease culprit’

Science News Magazine

6 April 2017

—  Summary:   A study in mice suggests a reovirus (a common virus responsible for upper respiratory infections and fever in children) could cause celiac disease by blocking the immune systems regulatory response. If the first time gluten is consumed by a child while infected by a reovirus, the immune system will mount an attack against the food particle. This would cause the damage to the intestines when gluten is consumed by someone with celiac disease.

—  Connections:   We have learned about the immune system and what triggers it. There is normally a regulatory response to prevent food particles from being attacked and in this case the immune system thinks that gluten is an invader when it was originally present with a reovirus.

—  Critical analysis:   It is great that we are finally beginning to understand the underlying cause of celiac disease. We had always thought it was an immune response but why the immune system attacked gluten specifically was always a mystery. This article seems factual since it does not make any definite claims; it is only reporting what the peer reviewed paper said. It does a great job breaking down the science so that anyone can understand it and it gives you enough information to make conclusions for yourself.

—  Question:

I would like to know: how can viruses stimulate the activity of an enzyme? This is discussed in the article but not really explained. We have learned that viruses inject genetic material, so does the virus code for a protein that interacts with the enzyme or does the genetic material alone bind to the enzyme?

Microbes in the News Assignment: Post #1

Article and link: “Zika-Fighting Sterile Mosquitoes Released Near Key West’, NBC News, April 19, 2017.

Summary: This article aims to describe the testing of new experimental methods for the reduction of Aedes aegypti mosquito populations, a species which has been previously linked to the spread of multiple diseases, including the Zika virus. The ultimate goal of this testing is to control the spread of the Zika virus through controlling these insect vector populations. One such method has recently been tested in Key West, Florida, where lab-raised male mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia spp. of bacterium were released into habitats known to harbor populations of Aedes aegypti. The lab-raised male mosquitoes will breed with the wild female mosquitoes; however, due to the Wolbachia spp. carried by the male parent, the young produced by this coupling cannot survive to adulthood. While this method involves the use of microbes, there is another technique mentioned which instead involves genetic modification of lab-raised male mosquitoes to obtain a similar result.

Connections: This article related to the material in class through its association with Zika virus, which was covered both in our course material and also in the guest lecture given by Dan Stinchcomb. The use of these microbes by humans to alter a detrimental aspect of an environment is also an example of microbes functioning in environmental bioremediation, another topic covered in class.

Critical analysis: I found this method for mosquito population control extremely interesting. We had learned in class that certain microbes can be used to confer certain health benefits to a host organism through the transfer of particular genes, but I had not yet heard much of this particular strategy involving using members of a population as hosts for the microbe with the aim of stopping the spread of a disease from an insect vector to a human population. Both this method as well as the genetic engineering process mentioned towards the end of the article, if such methods prove effective in their goal and also harmless to the environment, would be extremely useful in inhibiting the spread of the Zika virus and thereby preventing further human infections.

This article was written in such a way as to inform the general public. As such, the scientific details and mechanisms behind the ideas discussed are not mentioned in great detail. In terms of the limited scientific details provided, I believe the article was scientifically accurate, though somewhat vague. The explanation of the science involved was somewhat simplified, and I did not detect any confusing aspects. While I personally feel that they could have included more detail behind the processes mentioned, I can see that the inclusion of too much detail could have been confusing to someone not well-versed in biological concepts. I think the article adequately communicated the highlights of the science to the public, as it stuck to the main ideas and results of the testing in an attempt to be clear and to communicate their ideas effectively.

Question: What is the mechanism by which Wolbachia spp. inhibits the development of the next generation of mosquito? Would the inhibition of mosquito populations through such methods reduce their numbers to the point where other organisms in the food chain might be affected (most specifically those organisms in the food chain which utilize mosquitoes as a food source)? In reference to the genetic engineering method for the control of mosquito population, what is altered or added in the genome of the mosquitoes in order to obtain the desired effect?

Researchers use frog mucus to fight the flu


Summary: The frog species Hydrophylax  bhuvistaraa secretes slime that contains a peptide that targets human H1 flu virus. Urumin, the peptide targets viruses without being toxic and harmful to human cells. This could present new ways to fight influenza in humans. Urumin targets  hemagglutinin, completely denaturing the virus after exposure.

Connections: We learned about the antibiotic penicillin in class. Penicillin is made by a fungi in order to kill bacteria it might be in competition with for nutrients. Urumin, which is secreted by the frogs, is also for the frogs own benefit. Just in the way that we sued penicillin, a naturally produced antibiotic to our advantage, we hope to use Urumin to treat influenza.

Critical Analysis:  This article seems very scientifically accurate. However, I do think mainstream media tends to sensationalize these kinds of discoveries. They had quotes from experts backing up their claims, but it would likely be a long time before Urumin would ever be able to actually be used in humans.

Question: What exactly is  hemagglutinin in the H1 virus, what makes it unique to the virus?

“For Microbes Fighting Viruses, A Fast Response Means a Better Defense.”

“For microbes fighting viruses, a fast response means a better defense”
29 March 2017

Researchers at The Rockefeller University are studying how microbes are using CRISPR to fend off incoming viral threats. CRISPR is important in genome editing and in bacterial immune system. CRISPR operates by obtaining sections of viral DNA that it then catalogs for future recognition. Before this study was conducted, it was unknown as to when the CRISPR started acting on the invading viral DNA. As this research has revealed, CRISPR starts to act upon viral DNA as it is being injected into the bacterium.   The CRISPR takes snippets of the ends of the viral DNA first introduced into the cell. The researchers also tried to modify the spacers of the CRISPR to pick up portions of the end of the viral DNA, and the bacterium struggled to proliferate, indicating that they do in fact grab snippets at the period of initial entry. Grabbing viral DNA at the initial period of entry is essential in recognizing the intrusion early.

We have studied virulence in class and the cycles that viruses utilize to inject and reproduce within their hosts. Two such cycles are the lytic cycle and the lysogenic cycle. Bacteriophages can inject DNA into a host cell. This article also represents “The Red Queen Hypothesis,” in which the bacteria are trying to stay ahead of the virus so they do not meet an early demise.

Critical Analysis:
I have heard of CRISPR being used as a gene editing tool, but I didn’t realize its importance to bacterial immune systems. I also didn’t realize that in order to fend off viruses, the CRISPR would take snippets of the inbound viral DNA and catalog it for later reference. No underestimating the power of microbes!

Why do some bacteria lack CRISPR genes or have very few?

Discovery of an HIV reservoir marker: New avenue toward eliminating the virus

Date: March 15, 2017

Source: CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange)

Summary:  A protein marker has been discovered that allows cells carrying dormant HIV viruses to be distinguished from healthy cells. This will allow the isolation, and hopefully the destruction of such HIV reservoir cells in order to make remission possible.


Connection: We have recently been discussing the reproductive cycles of viruses and how some varieties have the ability to go dormant for periods of time and remain undetected by the host.The dormant viruses inside of reservoir cells may reemerge at any given time.In the case of HIV, the ability of the virus to do so is the reason why patients must receive treatments for the rest of their lives in order to suppress the virus.

Analysis: This article is relatively short, but informative. The writing is easy to follow in layperson terms, but still conveys the discovery effectively. The journal is cited at the bottom of the page, so if one wanted to read the entire discovery in scientific terms, they would be able to. It appears to be scientifically sound, and considering it was published in Nature, that is another mark of its credibility. The fact that something like this has been discovered poses great possibilities in eventually curing HIV, and it was exciting to see this when I was looking up articles.

However, they did have a very small study group, and I hope to see this expanded upon in future studies. Only 12 HIV-positive individuals were checked for the marking protein, and while it was found in all the individuals, I think that for good  science it should have more verified successes before considering it a solidly proven fact.

Question: How long has this research been in progress? It states that the idea of identifying reservoir proteins has been around since 1996, so has this research been in progress for the last 21 years?