Peril on Wings: 6 of America’s Most Dangerous Mosquitoes

With the spread of the Zika virus, the threat posed by the tiny mosquito has been magnified into shark-size proportions.

But among the more than 3,000 species of the insect worldwide, only two in the Americas are known carriers of the virus: the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus).

The potential range of the two species in the United States helps explain where Zika could be a threat. The yellow fever mosquito, for instance, prefers the hot and humid climate in Florida and the southeastern part of the country. But it has colonized states as far west as California and Hawaii, and has the potential to live as far north as Connecticut in warmer weather, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Asian tiger mosquito, meanwhile, also favors tropical and subtropical locales but can withstand cooler temperatures, so it can range farther. In summertime, the insect can sometimes even be found in northern states like Maine and Minnesota.

Read at New York Times

The List of Zika Birth Defects is Even Longer Than We Thought

Even without microcephaly, seizures and developmental delays may appear in the months following birth

 

The full scope of Zika-related birth defects may extend far beyond abnormally small heads and brain damage. Research to be presented next week at a teratology conference in San Antonio, Texas, suggests that serious joint problems, seizures, vision impairment, trouble feeding and persistent crying can be added to the list of risks from Zika exposure in the womb.

The new findings confirm doctors’ concerns that even when Zika-exposed babies are born without microcephaly and appear largely normal at birth they can go on to have health issues including seizures and developmental delays that only become apparent in the weeks and months after birth. The new work also reinforces recent findings that suggest the type of outcomes the babies experience also varies by what trimester their mothers were in when they were exposed to Zika—with few cases of microcephaly when mothers were exposed during the third trimester.

 

Read at Scientific American

Inside The Human Brain: How Watching TV Changes Neural Pathways Versus Reading A Book

For thousands of years, stories have been told through the pages of a book. But with the advent of new technologies, the ways humans communicate their memories, discoveries, recipes, and life lessons have increasingly been captured and retold through a variety of mediums, one of the most revolutionary being the television. In the years since 1927, when the first TV set flickered to life before viewers’ eyes, what have we learned about its effects on the human brain? Are we better or worse off with visual storytelling?

Researchers have devoted innumerable hours to studying how TV affects our brains differently than reading. The prevalence of smartphones, tablets, e-readers, and computers has added new meaning to the term “screen time,” and scientists are still working to compile a growing body of research to untangle the copious ways in which storytelling affects our brain’s neural pathways, both in the short run and permanently.

“At a minimum, we can say that reading stories reconfigures brain networks for at least a few days. It shows how stories can stay with us. This may have profound implications for children and the role of reading in shaping their brains.”

 

Read at Medical Daily

 

NIH panel to review proposal for first in human test of CRISPR

  • A federal advisory panel  will review a proposal for the first in human test of CRISPR/cas9 gene-editing technology, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
  • Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania plan to edit two genes in T-cells using CRISPR in a study aimed at targeting myeloma, melanoma, and sarcoma tumor cells, reports MIT Technology Review.
  • The study proposal will be reviewed by the Recombinant DNA Advisory committee (RAC) at its meeting to be held on June 21 and 22.

Read at BioPharma Dive

World Health Organization Drops Coffee’s Status as Possible Carcinogen

Move comes 25 years after group said beverage may lead to bladder cancer

 

Coffee drinkers have gotten some good news.

Twenty-five years after classifying coffee as a possible carcinogen leading to bladder cancer, the World Health Organization’s cancer research arm has reversed course, saying on Wednesday that coffee is not classifiable as a carcinogen.

The organization also said that coffee has no carcinogenic effects on other cancers, including those of the pancreas and prostate, and has even been seen to reduce the risk of liver and uterine cancers.

The agency is finally joining other major research organizations in those findings. Numerous studies in recent years have shown no conclusive link between cancer and coffee and have actually shown protective benefits in certain types of cancer.

The about-face by the WHO came after its International Agency for Research on Cancer reviewed more than 1,000 studies that showed coffee is not a cancer culprit.

Dr. Dana Loomis, the IARC official who was responsible for the evaluation, told a group of reporters on Wednesday that the body of scientific evidence on coffee had become much larger and stronger since 1991, when the IARC first classified coffee as a possible carcinogen. He said the positive associations between coffee and bladder cancer upon which the previous classification was based were confounded by, among other things, the fact that some cancer patients in those studies also smoked.

Dr. Loomis said it is not the first time the IARC has downgraded the cancer risk of a substance “but it happens seldom.”

 

Read at Wall Street Journal

Panel Endorses ‘Gene Drive’ Technology That Can Alter Entire Species

A revolutionary technology known as “gene drive,” which for the first time gives humans the power to alter or perhaps eliminate entire populations of organisms in the wild, has stirred both excitement and fear since scientists proposed a means to construct it two years ago.

Scientists dream of deploying gene drive, for example, to wipe out malaria-carrying mosquitoes that cause the deaths of 300,000 African children each year, or invasive rodents that damage island ecosystems. But some experts have warned that the technique could lead to unforeseen harm to the environment. Some scientists have called on the federal government to regulate it, and some environmental watchdogs have called for a moratorium.

On Wednesday, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, the premier advisory group for the federal government on scientific matters, endorsed continued research on the technology, concluding after nearly a yearlong study that while it poses risks, its possible benefits make it crucial to pursue. The group also set out a path to conducting what it called “carefully controlled field trials,” despite what some scientists say is the substantial risk of inadvertent release into the environment.

Read at New York Times

Educate Your Immune System

Our bodies are confused by this 21st-century world.

 

IN the last half-century, the prevalence of autoimmune disease — disorders in which the immune system attacks healthy tissue in the body — has increased sharply in the developed world. An estimated one in 13 Americans has one of these often debilitating, generally lifelong conditions. Many, like Type 1 diabetes and celiac disease, are linked with specific gene variants of the immune system, suggesting a strong genetic component. But their prevalence has increased much faster — in two or three generations — than it’s likely the human gene pool has changed.

Many researchers are interested in how the human microbiome — the community of microbes that live mostly in the gut and are thought to calibrate our immune systems — may have contributed to the rise of these disorders. Perhaps society-wide shifts in these microbial communities, driven by changes in what we eat and in the quantity and type of microbes we’re exposed to in our daily lives, have increased our vulnerability.

Read at New York times

Most Scientists Believe There Is A “Crisis” Reproducing Experiments

More than 70% of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments, and more than half have failed to reproduce their own experiments. Those are some of the telling figures that emerged from Nature‘s survey of 1,576 researchers who took a brief online questionnaire on reproducibility in research.

The data reveal sometimes-contradictory attitudes towards reproducibility. Although 52% of those surveyed agree that there is a significant ‘crisis’ of reproducibility, less than 31% think that failure to reproduce published results means that the result is probably wrong, and most say that they still trust the published literature.

 

Read at Nature