A chimpanzee’s life is far from simple: these highly social and intelligent creatures face any number of human and natural threats to their existence. From habitat loss and poaching to predation and Ebola, which has wiped out an estimated third of all chimpanzees, a host of perils lie in wait for these great apes, currently classified as endangered.
Their fragile status makes the findings of a recent CDC study all the more compelling and crushing: published in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal in December, the study indicated the human cold virus was responsible for a deadly 2013 respiratory disease outbreak that killed five chimps in Uganda’s Kibale National Park.
Each year, the epidemiology community keeps a close eye on the flu, a virus that is famous for mutating and changing in its severity and ability to spread. This year is an especially auspicious year for contemplating influenza: 100 years ago, the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918 killed millions of people around the world. Studying these viruses can alert the medical and scientific communities in time to stop such an outbreak from devastating humanity again.
However, studying viruses can be a tricky business. In 2014, University of Wisconsin flu experts created a “mutant” version of the 1918 flu virus, and discovered that strains of the original 1918 version still exist in the environment. Since even the strictest lab protocols can’t promise that such a virus won’t escape, this development sparked debate which prompted the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to issue a moratorium on continued studies on infectious diseases. Scientists argued that if we don’t study viruses, we won’t understand how to combat them when they inevitably occur in human and agricultural populations.
Scientists discovered a strange and foreign protein, which they named HEMO, in the blood of pregnant women. What makes this protein unusual is that the mothers-to-be do not create this protein, which is different than other proteins found in a person’s bloodstream. Instead, only the fetus and the placenta, both in the womb, produce the HEMO protein. While investigating the reason for this, the scientists discovered a direct link between the protein and a human gene that originally was a virus that infected our mammalian ancestors more than 100 million years ago.
In fact, research has found that around 100,000 bits and pieces of alien, as in not-originally-human, viral DNA now makes up about eight percent of our DNA. That means that eight percent of the genetic material that determines who we are as biological human being descends not from our human ancestors, not directly at least, but instead from ancient viruses. In comparison, that is more inherited DNA than any of your great great grandparents provide, which is about 6.25 percent.
A new study published in Science reports the development of an antibody that can treat and even prevent HIV infection. The International AIDS Society considers this advancement an “exciting breakthrough” in the fight against the virus, which claims an average of 1 million people a year.
A collaboration between pharmaceutical company Sanofi and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including scientists from Harvard Medical School, The Scripps Research Institute, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the study found a way to target 99 percent of known HIV strains by enhancing already existing antibodies found in some but not all HIV-positive people.
Researchers at IBM and the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) in Singapore have created a macromolecule––one giant molecule made of smaller subunits––that might treat multiple types of viruses and prevent infection.
According to a paper published in Macromolecules, the macromolecule warded off viruses such as influenza, dengue and Ebola successfully in a lab environment. Importantly, the macromolecule remained effective even after the viruses mutated. Researchers plan to test the Zika virus next, and they believe its similarities to a form of dengue already tested will result in yet another successful trial.