"Humans as Superorganisms: How Microbes, Viruses, Imprinted Genes and Other Selfish Entities Shape Our Behavior" by Peter Kramer and Paola Bressan discusses the idea that an individual homo sapiens is only one component of the human superorganism we call a person, focusing on the psychological and psychiatric ramifications thereof. (Paola Bressan previously.)
"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]
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.
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]
Sneezing in Slow Motion; somehow simultaneously more fascinating, terrifying, and disgusting than you'd imagine it'd be. [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]
Since mid-2011, a substantial rise in pertussis [Whooping Cough] cases has been reported in the state of Washington. In response to this increase, the Washington State Secretary of Health declared a pertussis epidemic on April 3, 2012. By June 16, the reported number of cases in Washington in 2012 had reached 2,520 (37.5 cases per 100,000 residents), a 1,300% increase compared with the same period in 2011 and the highest number of cases reported in any year since 1942 [Make sure you don't miss Figure 1]. Commentators are already drawing corellations with the fact that Washington State leads the nation in vaccine non-compliance, Washington State's recent cutbacks in public health funding, and increases in the number of uninsured (PDF). [more inside]
Health ministers from the World Health Organization's (WHO's) 193 member states will meet this week to debate when to destroy the two last known remaining stocks of the virus that causes smallpox. [more inside]
A German researcher accidentally jabbed her finger with a hypodermic loaded with the deadly Ebola virus. 48 hours later, she was injected with an untested, experimental vaccine, developed by an international team of virologists and biologists. Though she may never have been infected, she was certainly in danger; in 2004, a similar incident caused the death of a Russian scientist at a former Soviet biological weapons lab.
In their own words... Researchers at the National Institutes of Health recall the early years of AIDS, from diagnosis of the then-unknown disease, to discovering the viral cause, and from there to the search for treatments. The site features interviews (including several with virologist Robert Gallo), early publications, and a collection of archived image materials.
Strike at Government Lab Enters Third Month. This is happening at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, which studies highly contagious viruses. Maintenance workers are on strike and the replacement workers have been involved with missing equipment and an accident. The official site boldly declares that "Not once in our more than 40 years of operation has an animal pathogen escaped from Plum Island." Somehow I am not filled with confidence. And, while they say they only deal with animal pathogens, there is a lot of crossover with Foot and Mouth and West Nile. Should we be worried about this?
The Big Picture Book of Viruses is "intended to serve as both a catalog of virus pictures on the Internet and as an educational resource to those seeking more information about viruses. To this end, it is intimately linked to All the Virology on the WWW, and our collection of Virology Courses and Tutorials." Interesting electron micrographs include pictures of Marburg and Ebola viruses and T-4 like phages. Once a bio geek, always a bio geek. And for some other information about why viruses always matter see The 1918 Influenza Pandemic (sorry the page design sucks but it's a good read) and The American Experience: Influenza 1918. Are you sure that runny nose is just allergies?
Ever wonder what HIV-1 looks like? (scroll down). All the Virology on the WWW contains reams and reams of information on HIV and AIDS, including the aforementioned pictures and a prodigious list o' links, amongst other info.