A pox on both your houses...
October 30, 2003 9:35 AM   Subscribe

New form of mousepox developed. A scientist has created an extremely deadly form of mousepox (a relative of smallpox) through genetic engineering. The new virus kills mice even if they have been given antiviral drugs as well as a vaccine that would normally protect them.
posted by Irontom (42 comments total)
The bad news: they've done the same with cowpox, and believe it could be done to any of the many pox viruses, including ones that infect humans (hello monkeypox). The good news: the stuff isn't contagious, so there's no chance of it wiping out entire species if it were to escape from the lab. The bad news: they have no idea why. The good news: the mouse gene they used to accomplish this massive advance shouldn't affect humans. The bad news: there's no way to be sure.
posted by Irontom at 9:39 AM on October 30, 2003

* covers face with bandana ... moves to shack in Rocky Mountains *
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:41 AM on October 30, 2003

* takes swig from bottle of scotch ... rocks gently back and forth *
posted by stonerose at 9:45 AM on October 30, 2003

* reads metafilter thread on mousepox *
posted by thekorruptor at 9:51 AM on October 30, 2003

The good news: the stuff isn't contagious...


There are times I figure the human being is designed for self-destruction. It's the only reason I can think of for our species to expend so much effort doing such stupid things.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:58 AM on October 30, 2003

*looks at left hand* Hemingford Home *looks at right hand* Las Vegas..... Hemingford.... Las Vegas...
posted by PenDevil at 10:04 AM on October 30, 2003

Well we know where all these WMD thingies are coming from now...
posted by nofundy at 10:16 AM on October 30, 2003

And here I just finished watching "28 Days" and re-reading "Earth Abides"...
posted by Cerebus at 10:18 AM on October 30, 2003

Designer diseases.
Wasn't there some mention about this from our friends over at the PNAC?
posted by nofundy at 10:23 AM on October 30, 2003

Um, what could be the possible value of research like this? Oh boy, we can murder mice even faster.

How about working on curing rather incurring?
posted by fenriq at 10:25 AM on October 30, 2003

Hurray for progress!
posted by Joey Michaels at 10:26 AM on October 30, 2003

Frink brandishes a tiny death ray gun:

"With proper funding, I'm confident this little baby could destroy an area the size of New York City."
"But I want to help people, not kill them!"
"Oh. Well, to be honest, the ray only has evil applications"
posted by shepd at 10:46 AM on October 30, 2003

This isn't news! We can't take our eyes off the ball boys. We have to stay focused on finding those WMD and the evil governments that create them.
posted by canucklehead at 10:52 AM on October 30, 2003

posted by cinderful at 11:09 AM on October 30, 2003

"Um, what could be the possible value of research like this?"

Mice are a rampant in Australia, where they have optimal breeding conditions and few natural enemies. They where introduced by mistake, and have since become a pest and a threat to the livelihood of farmers as well as the indigenous wildlife.
The same goes for rabbits, cats, cane toads and foxes.

If there existed a simple, safe way of controlling these vermin, a lot would have been gained.

This is a step i the right direction.
posted by spazzm at 11:11 AM on October 30, 2003

Allright, the cane toads weren't technically introduced by mistake. But introducing them certainly was a mistake.
posted by spazzm at 11:24 AM on October 30, 2003

spazzm: This sounds nice, until the virus mutates and manages to infect something people actually want to keep around. Such as cats, or koalas or something.
posted by bshort at 11:32 AM on October 30, 2003

More info on Australian pests.
posted by spazzm at 11:32 AM on October 30, 2003

There came a day when a man with a thick gray beard and a tent of bushy hair stumbled out of one of the pavilions and began to bump into the shoulders of the people around him. He was plainly disoriented, and it was obvious to everyone who saw him that he had just passed through the crossing. He said that he was a virologist by profession. He had spent the last five days climbing the branches of an enormous maple tree, and his clothing was tacked to his skin with sap. He seemed to think that everybody who was in the park had also been in the tree with him. When someone asked him how he had died, he drew in his breath and paused for a moment before he answered. “That’s right, I died. I have to keep reminding myself. They finally did it, the sons of bitches. They found a way to pull the whole thing down.” He twisted a plug of sap from his beard. “Hey, did any of you notice some sort of thumping noise inside the tree?”

It was not long after this that the city began to empty out.

posted by homunculus at 11:35 AM on October 30, 2003

bshort: There is no evidence that such a thing will happen.

I'm sure a lot of research have to go into assuring that the virus won't mutate, loose it's deadliness if it does or something similar.

We shouldn't reject scientific advances out of hand because they remind us of the scary movie we just saw.

And feral cats are actually a problem in parts of Australia. They eat koalas.
posted by spazzm at 11:40 AM on October 30, 2003

how can cats and mice both be a threat to the livelihood of farmers? are these very, very stupid cats? or vegetarian?
posted by andrew cooke at 11:47 AM on October 30, 2003

for the rabbits, maybe you could introduce myximatosis?

oops. sorry, i just fell through a timewarp.
posted by andrew cooke at 11:48 AM on October 30, 2003

one last comment and then i'll tidy the house.

aren't the farmers an alien species in australia?
posted by andrew cooke at 11:49 AM on October 30, 2003

Still no cure for cancer, I'm guessing?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:01 PM on October 30, 2003

andrew cooke: No, farmers are not an alien species in the same sense as mice. There's been humans living in Australia for at least 6000 years.

Australia is a big place - cats can be a problem in one part of it, while mice are a problem in another part.

And apparently some rabbits are developing immunity against myxomatosis. (I guess that's what you meant by the timewarp line.)
posted by spazzm at 12:05 PM on October 30, 2003

Mice, ew. Your cat wants chicken.
posted by jfuller at 12:16 PM on October 30, 2003

The purpose of the research is thankfully not for pest control.

There are a couple of reasons I can think of that someone might want to do this work. For one, it could be useful in characterizing mousepox's normal pathogenesis. Since smallpox isn't something anyone wants to work with directly, and mousepox, which is a relative of smallpox, isn't pathogenic in humans, the latter represents a model of the human disease that can be studied without having to worry about reintroducing a nightmarish pathogen into the wild.

And second, since it's so easy to make a more deadly mousepox, it might be just as easy to do the same with smallpox. Having a nice model for such a virus may allow the development of protection (eg, a vaccine) against it.
posted by shoos at 12:54 PM on October 30, 2003

But shoos, if mousepox isn't transmittable to humans, and the antivirul drugs designed for the mousepox don't even work on it, doesn't it seem a little unlikely that this could somehow benefit the smallpox immunity community?

And isn't this how the Africanized bee-thing started? "Don't worry Pandora, we promise we won't open it."

Seems to me that nature does a good enough job designing this kind of shit without our help.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:09 PM on October 30, 2003

Um, what could be the possible value of research like this?

Um, so that we know what to do when someone modifies smallpox.
posted by callmejay at 1:10 PM on October 30, 2003

There is no evidence that such a thing will happen.

Actually, diseases jump species all the time: cowpox, monkeypox, swine flu, SARS, etc. etc.
posted by bshort at 1:22 PM on October 30, 2003

But this research revealed that the modified pox viruses are not contagious, he says.

Whatever the IL-4 gene did to make the virus more lethal also rendered it non-contagious. It doesn't appear that there's much danger of this escaping from the lab or mutating or doing a cross-species jump unless someone goes crazy with a hypodermic needle.

There's more info on the Australian version of the modified mousepox in Richard Preston's Demon in the Freezer.
posted by joaquim at 1:59 PM on October 30, 2003

* stops reading metafilter thread on mousepox *
posted by thekorruptor at 2:09 PM on October 30, 2003

Civil_Disobedient: the modified mousepox is resistant to preexisiting immunity to normal mousepox in mice. A modified smallpox may be similarly resistant in immunized humans. If a vaccine that works in mice against the modified mousepox is found it might give some insight useful in developing a human vaccine to a modified smallpox.
posted by shoos at 3:13 PM on October 30, 2003

Uhh, I could be wrong here but introducing another biological "containment" mechanism to Australia sounds like a bad idea.

Haven't you folks learned the error of doing so from the cane toads?
Or at least seen the Simpsons episode on the subject?
posted by fenriq at 3:46 PM on October 30, 2003

In 1971 smallpox from the old Soviet bioweapons program got loose in Aralsk, Kazakhstan, a place with terribly low public health standards--life expectancy for men at birth was just 40 years. Despite these seemingly ideal conditions for a runaway plague, the smallpox killed a total of three people. In 1979 an explosion at a Soviet bioweapons plant near Sverdlovsk (now called Ekaterinburg), also a place with poor public health, released a large quantity of weapons-grade anthrax spores into the air. The anthrax killed 68 people. In 1989, monkeys carrying the Ebola virus were accidentally shipped to a government facility in Reston, Virginia, just outside Washington. Workers at the facility were exposed to the virus and then moved freely among friends and family for several days before the situation was discovered. This event--the subject of Preston's book The Hot Zone--has since been discussed as if it showed how vulnerable the United States is to bioterrorism. Usually skipped over in such discussions, however, is that the Ebola loosed near the nation's capital in 1989 did not cause a single death.
posted by y2karl at 4:06 PM on October 30, 2003

For anyone interested in what went on in the Soviet bioweapons program, which was unbelievably nasty, you can download Ken Alibek's 1999 book (pdf) Biohazard here.
posted by shoos at 4:34 PM on October 30, 2003

"Actually, diseases jump species all the time: cowpox, monkeypox, swine flu, SARS, etc. etc."

Saying that mousepox is able to do something because another disease can do it is like saying humans can fly because other mammals (bats) can do it.

There is no evidence that this thing will suddenly turn out to kill humans.
posted by spazzm at 6:42 PM on October 30, 2003

I'm reminded of "Plagues and peoples"

"....and In the Dark Ages for reasons unknown, major long distance movements of Mongol people started across Central Asia. The most famous outbreak, the Black Death, devastated the known world  in the years from 1347 killing about a quarter of the  civilized  world  and half the  population of  London.   At Avignon the Pope consecrated the river so that the bodies could be  thrown in and ships with dead crews helplessly drifted  seas. 

In Italy a detention period of 40 days was enforced on newly arrived  ships - quarantine.  Fields were untilled, animals wandered .  Civil order broke down, Jews were accused of  poisoning the world and burned alive.  Preventive measures included fumigating with burning juniper;  physicians wore overalls, gloves and a nose bag soaked with cinnamon and herbs. 

The plague recrudesced over the years.   The "Great Plague" occurred in London in 1665;  the congested streets of  wooden, rat-infested  houses  were an ideal place for plague to spread.  Infected houses were closed, guarded and marked with a red cross and the inscription "The Lord have mercy on us".  Normal life and trade stopped and the dead carts trundled through the streets  to the  tolling of  bells and the call of "bring out your dead".   Bodies were burned in shallow mass graves from which arose  the stench of corruption.   The plague lasted most of   the year.  Perhaps 100,000 of the half million inhabitants of London died.  London itself was cleansed by the Great Fire the next year but the plague persisted in the countryside....

and The Columbian Exchange

"". . . the tsunami of biological exchange
did not begin until 1492........There were other avant garde humans in the Americas, certainly the Vikings about 1,000 CE, possibly Japanese fishermen, etc., but the tsunami of biological exchange did not begin until 1492. In that year the Europeans initiated contacts across the Atlantic (and, soon after, across the Pacific) which have never ceased. Their motives were economic, nationalistic, and religious, not biological. Their intentions were to make money, expand empires, and convert heathen, not to spread Old World DNA; but if we take the long view we will see that the most important aspect of their imperialistic advances has been the latter......They off-handedly and often unintentionally effected enormous augmentations and deletions in the biota of the continents, so enormous it is difficult to imagine what these biotas were like prior to Columbus, et al. A large tome would not provide enough space to list the plant, animal, and micro-organism exchanges, and a thousand volumes would be insufficient to assess their effect. In the space of this essay, we can only manage to convey an impression of the magnitude of these biological revolutions." - Alfred Crosby.

One point I might make about the mousepox is that the most virulent of diseases - to humans - have been those which have been transmitted to one human population group from another which has been genetically isolated from the first for hundreds or thousands of years. Outbreaks of "cousin" viruses are the nastiest known - see my first link for descriptions of the Smallpox outbreak in the New World.

It's not the mice I worry about - although with modern genetic tinkering....

*shuffles feet, gnaws at fingernails, drums on desktop with fingers*
posted by troutfishing at 8:46 PM on October 30, 2003

Saying that mousepox is able to do something because another disease can do it is like saying humans can fly because other mammals (bats) can do it.

You'll pardon me if I think that's about the dumbest fucking thing I've ever heard.
posted by bshort at 8:50 PM on October 30, 2003

But spazzam, humans *CAN* fly!
posted by shepd at 9:37 PM on October 30, 2003

As bshort said.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:37 PM on October 30, 2003

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