The other epidemic.
From 2006 to 2013, the United States had an average of 28 cases per annum of chikungunya
, a viral disease. So far, this year, there have been 1052
. Once confined to Africa and Southeast Asia, localized outbreaks have appeared in Italy, other parts of Europe, and the Americas. Although the first known locally acquired case appeared in the Caribbean in 2013, it has achieved epidemic levels with an estimated 738000 cases
. [more inside]
Computer Virus Catalog
(NSFW) shows artists' renditions of famous computer viruses.
Suspicious Virus Makes Rare Cross-Kingdom Leap From Plants to Honeybees
When HIV jumped from chimpanzees to humans sometime in the early 1900′s, it crossed a gulf spanning several million years of evolution. But tobacco ringspot virus, scientists announced last week, has made a jump that defies credulity. It has crossed a yawning chasm ~1.6 billion years wide.
"On a sunny day in 1998, Maura Gillison was walking across the campus of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, thinking about a virus. The young oncologist bumped into the director of the university's cancer centre, who asked politely about her work. Gillison described her discovery of early evidence that human papillomavirus (HPV) — a ubiquitous pathogen that infects nearly every human at some point in their lives — could be causing tens of thousands of cases of throat cancer each year in the United States. The senior doctor stared down at Gillison, not saying a word. “That was the first clue that what I was doing was interesting to others and had potential significance,” recalls Gillison."
Human papillomavirus is causing a new form of head and neck cancer— leaving researchers scrambling to understand risk factors, tests and treatments. [more inside]
A recent strain of malware called Cryptolocker (technical description from BleepingComputer
) has been infecting computers across the Internet. It's of the Ransomware (wiki)
genre of attack, and searches a computer's drive for critical files by browsing their extensions (for example, focusing on word processing documents, images and music) and encrypts them with its own key that you can then buy back from the hacker for a fee of $100 to $300 dollars payable in Bitcoins. More information about the virus and how to avoid it is available at Krebs On Security
, and the Malwarebytes Blog
, with more recent developments on Naked Security
In March 2012, inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture uncovered a problem in Elgin, Texas. Beef sausage from a small family-run meat processor appeared to have been contaminated with a nasty bacterium called Listeria monocytogenes. The bug can make people sick and, in rare cases, be deadly. The processor had to recall more than a ton of sausage. It’s the kind of story that strikes terror in the hearts of other sausage peddlers, including Mike Satzow, so he uses phages to keep his small company's sausages safe to eat.
The Saudi Arabian government has been tight-lipped about the spread of Middle East respiratory syndrome
(MERS), a disease first discovered in 2012 that has "killed more than half of those who contracted it"
, "responding slowly to requests for information and preventing outside researchers from publishing their findings about the syndrome. [more inside]
Relive techno fears of yore ... malware aficionado Daniel White collects vintage computer viruses
, infects his machines and records the results. See more examples at his YouTube channel
It's debatable whether the troubled World War Z
signals the end of the ongoing zombie craze, but the film that started it all is much more clear: Danny Boyle's
bleak, artful cult horror-drama 28 Days Later
, which saw its US premiere ten years ago this weekend.
From its iconic opening shots of an eerily abandoned London
(set to Godspeed You! Black Emperor's
brooding post-rock epic "East Hastings"
) to the frenzied chaos of its climax
, Boyle's film -- a dark yet humanist tale
of a world eviscerated by a frighteningly contagious epidemic of murderous rage -- reinvented and reinvigorated the genre that Romero built (though many insist its rabid, sprinting berserkers don't really count
And while sequel 28 Weeks Later
with its heavyhanded Iraq War allusions
failed to live up to the original (despite boasting one of the most viscerally terrifying opening sequences
in modern horror), and 28 Months
looks increasingly unlikely
, there remains a small universe of side content from the film, including music, short films, comics, and inspired-by games. [more inside]
How the Online World Is Fighting the Next Pandemic
"The online community of interest that began to form after SARS has matured into a community of practice: groups, professions, and individuals with differing skills but a shared concern for obtaining and sharing reliable information and getting it out all over the world." [more inside]
A selection of glass viruses
by artist Luke Jerram
(a full gallery
and photographs of other sculptural work
are also available directly from his site)
The Hidden Life Of the Cell (57:24)
There is a battle playing out inside your body right now. It started billions of years ago and it is still being fought in every one of us every minute of every day. It is the story of a viral infection - the battle for the cell. This film reveals the exquisite machinery of the human cell system from within the inner world of the cell itself - from the frenetic membrane surface that acts as a security system for everything passing in and out of the cell, the dynamic highways that transport cargo across the cell and the remarkable turbines that power the whole cellular world to the amazing nucleus housing DNA and the construction of thousands of different proteins all with unique tasks. The virus intends to commandeer this system to one selfish end: to make more viruses. And they will stop at nothing to achieve their goal. Exploring the very latest ideas about the evolution of life on earth and the bio-chemical processes at the heart of every one of us, and revealing a world smaller than it is possible to comprehend, in a story large enough to fill the biggest imaginations.
You may be familiar with molecular movies from my two previous megaposts collecting them, but this extended documentary uses original animation that is collected into a coherent educational narrative and is just so fucking gorgeous. Enjoy. [more inside]
Fourteen adults have also been "functionally cured" after they were given combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) for their HIV infection. [Warning: autoplay] They have been able to stop taking the treatment while still keeping their infection under control, according to a new study in the journal PLOS Pathogens.
There is an important distinction between 'functionally cured' and 'HIV negative'. [more inside]
“Viruses have no color as they are smaller than the wavelength of light,” says Jerram, in an email. “So the artworks are created as alternative representations of viruses to the artificially colored imagery we receive through the media.” Jerram and Davidson create sketches, which they then take to the glassblowers, to see whether the intricate structures of the diseases can be replicated in glass
, at approximately one million times their original size. RECENTLY
This week the FDA announced
that they were approving a new kind of flu vaccine
. Nestled in the articles was an odd fact: unlike traditional flu vaccines, the new kind, called Flublok, is produced by the cells of insects. This is the kind of detail that you might skim over without giving it a thought. If you did pause to ponder, you might be puzzled: how could insects possibly make a vaccine against viruses that infect humans? The answer may surprise you. To make vaccines, scientists are tapping into a battle between viruses and insects that’s raging in forests and fields and backyards all around us. It’s an important lesson in how to find new ideas in biotechnology: first, leave biologists free to explore the weirdest corners of nature they can find. [more inside]
The Norovirus: A Study in Puked Perfection
, "Each norovirus carries just nine protein-coding genes (you have about 20,000). Even with that skimpy genetic toolkit, noroviruses can break the locks on our cells, slip in, and hack our own DNA to make new noroviruses. The details of this invasion are sketchy, alas, because scientists haven’t figured out a good way to rear noroviruses in human cells in their labs. It’s not even clear exactly which type of cell they invade once they reach the gut. Regardless of the type, they clearly know how to exploit their hosts. Noroviruses come roaring out of the infected cells in vast numbers. And then they come roaring out of the body. Within a day of infection, noroviruses have rewired our digestive system so that stuff comes flying out from both ends." [more inside]
"I am calling you from Windows"
: A tech support scammer dials Ars Technica [more inside]
"Why do parasites harm their hosts? Conventional wisdom holds that because parasites depend on their hosts for survival and transmission, they should evolve to become benign, yet many parasites cause harm. Theory predicts that parasites could evolve virulence (i.e., parasite-induced reductions in host fitness) by balancing the transmission benefits of parasite replication with the costs of host death. This idea has led researchers to predict how human interventions—such as vaccines—may alter virulence evolution, yet empirical support is critically lacking." Two papers
demonstrate empirical evidence for related models predicting the origin of virulence: [more inside]
Provirophages and transpovirons as the diverse mobilome of giant viruses
Abstract: A distinct class of infectious agents, the virophages1 that infect giant viruses of the Mimiviridae family, has been recently described. Here we report the simultaneous discovery of a giant virus of Acanthamoeba polyphaga (Lentille virus) that contains an integrated genome2 of a virophage (Sputnik 2), and a member of a previously unknown class of mobile genetic elements3, the transpovirons4. The transpovirons are linear DNA elements of ∼7 kb [kilobases]5 that encompass six to eight protein-coding genes, two of which are homologous6 to virophage genes. Fluorescence7 in situ hybridization8 showed that the free form of the transpoviron replicates within the giant virus factory and accumulates in high copy numbers inside giant virus particles, Sputnik 2 particles, and amoeba cytoplasm. Analysis of deep-sequencing data showed that the virophage and the transpoviron can integrate9 in nearly any place in the chromosome of the giant virus host and that, although less frequently, the transpoviron can also be linked to the virophage chromosome. In addition, integrated fragments of transpoviron DNA were detected in several giant virus and Sputnik genomes. Analysis of 19 Mimivirus strains revealed three distinct transpovirons associated with three subgroups of Mimiviruses. The virophage, the transpoviron, and the previously identified self-splicing introns10 and inteins11 constitute the complex, interconnected mobilome12 of the giant viruses and are likely to substantially contribute to interviral gene transfer.
[Full Text PDF
] and two explanations in English [more inside]
is the name of a newly-identified malware program
which utilizes a previously unknown MD5 collision attack
to successfully spoof Microsoft Terminal Services, and install itself as a trusted program using Windows Update, Microsoft has confirmed.
The program appears to have targeted computers in the Middle East, and specifically Iran
; analysts have alleged it is likely created by the same entity
that designed Stuxnet. Flame has been live and actively spying since 2010
, but went undetected until recently, due to sophisticated anti-detection measures. [more inside]
U.S. and Israel have been confirmed as the authors behind the Stuxnet virus
. The program — codenamed "Olympic Games" — was started under Bush and accelerated under Obama. The virus was never meant to expand beyond the Iranian nuclear facility it targeted. (non-NYTimes link)
"Experimental adaptation of an influenza H5 HA confers respiratory droplet transmission to a reassortant H5 HA/H1N1 virus in ferrets."
After an extensive
, months-long debate
, one of two controversial
papers showing ways the H5N1 "avian" influenza virus could potentially become transmissible in mammals with only 3 or 4 mutations was published
today. The journal included an editorial on the merits and drawbacks of "publishing risky research
" with regard to biosafety. The debate included an unprecedented recommendation by The US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) to block publication -- a decision they later reversed.
's special report
has additional articles, including interviews with the teams behind both papers.
The Kaspersky analysts over at Securelist uncovered some interesting things deep in the bowels of the code of a trojan. The hooks of the trojan are written using standard, well known languages and interfaces (C++, DLLs and such), but the payload, upon analysis, seems to be written using some heretofore unknown programming language.
Can you figure out what language the Duqu trojan is written in?
(via Lambda the Ultimate Programming Blog)
It arrived at MIT in the middle of the night... 1988 computer virus
- (via Dangerous Minds) [more inside]
The committee took the unprecedented step of recommending that some details of these biological studies [be] kept from the public, so that no one could use them as recipes for new bioweapons. [more inside]
Locked up in the bowels of the medical faculty building here and accessible to only a handful of scientists lies a man-made flu virus that could change world history
if it were ever set free.
Researchers have apparently found a way to prevent HIV from damaging the immune system.
Johns Hopkins and Imperial reseachers have developed a chemical that breaks down the cholesterol membrane around HIV. This stops the virus intererfering with immune response, and may allow a vaccine that prevents infection. [more inside]
have successfully trialled
a method for controlling Dengue fever
that involves infecting populations
of mosquitoes with an endosymbiotic bacteria. The bacteria kills non-infected mosquitoes that mate with an infected individual, is passed to offspring of an infected individual, and confers resistance to Dengue upon infected individuals. [more inside]
MIT scientist Dr. Todd Rider has developed a viral infection treatment
that works by triggering host cell suicide when it finds the cell has been producing double-stranded RNA. Since dsRNA is the mechanism by which all viral infections proceed, but is not part of normal cellular function, the treatment seems both universal and safe. [more inside]
Editors of the journal Science have asked the co-authors of a 2009 paper that linked chronic fatigue syndrome to a retrovirus called XMRV to voluntarily retract the paper. Science editor-in-chief Bruce Alberts and executive editor Monica Bradford cited concerns about the validity of the findings, saying other scientists hadn't been able to replicate them, among other reasons. [more inside]
is a free wiki resource on microbes and microbiology [more inside]
is Canadian director's Bruce McDonald zombie (?) flick about language virus. In real life, Toronto's
Global News Mark McAllister
suffers a bizarre on-air episode on Wednesday, reminiscent of the CBS Serene Branson
In the 1940s Barbara McClintock
discovered the remarkable phenomenon of mobile genetic elements, or transposons
: parasitic DNA that makes up a significant fraction of the human genome. (Here is a video segment about McClintock: Part 1
.) The discovery remains highly important: we now know that transposons play a role in driving genome evolution
. Where do they come from? A compelling hypothesis is that some evolved from viruses
Now a marine biology group at UBC has found a virus whose closest genetic relative is a type of transposon.
(The paywalled paper's abstract is here
.) But that is not even the interesting part. [more inside]
The UN's FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) have announced that they believe rinderpest, an frequently fatal viral disease that affects livestock and wild ruminants, to have been eliminated. This is only the second virus, after smallpox, to have been wiped out. The BBC
and the Guardian
discuss the story in brief, and Science
has a slightly more in-depth look at it. The FAO themselves have put up an interesting history of the disease and its treatment
(Late) Friday Flash Fun: CellCraft
. Build and improve a cell, learn how real cells work, and save the Platypus species!