Ebola in pigs! [UPDATED]

I’ve mentioned repeatedly how little we know about Ebola ecology–what the reservoir host(s) are, how it’s transmitted to humans (and other species), why it causes outbreaks when it does. We know even less about the Reston subtype of Ebola, which–in contrast to the Zaire, Sudan, Ivory Coast, and Bundibugyo subtypes, originated in Asia and was first found in monkeys imported into the United States for research purposes. It also is different from the other subtypes in that it appears to be only mildly lethal to monkeys, and several asymptomatic human infections have been documented (but none where humans appear to have developed symptoms).

Now we might have another chance to study Ebola Reston in nature, as Ebola Reston has been found in pigs from the Philippines:
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Freaks of Nature and Bridgeless Gaps

Readers from waaaay back may recall an event I helped out with a few years ago, bringing together scientists, philosophers, and our resident IDist to discuss evolution and intelligent design. One of the speakers was University of Iowa professor Mark Blumberg, a colleague in the Department of Psychology. Dr. Blumberg also happens to be a prolific author, and has just released his third book in 4 years: “Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell us About Development and Evolution.”

As if that wasn’t enough (and all of this while maintaining a very active laboratory, serving as Editor-in-Chief of Behavioral Neuroscience, and as President of the International Society for Developmental Psychobiology–and presumably sleeping at some point), he’s also now getting his feet wet as a blogger, discussing the legacy of Richard Goldschmidt, and the “bridgeless gaps” between species–and between evolutionary biologists. Stop by and welcome him to the author side of the blogosphere (he’s been a reader for awhile), and look for a review of “Freaks of Nature” here at some point in the future.

Dinosaur soft tissue–just bacterial biofilm?

ResearchBlogging.org An interesting new paper is just out today in PLoS ONE. You recall the announcement a few years back that soft tissue that resembled organic tissue had been isolated from a Tyrannosaurus femur. This started off a huge controversy in the field (and beyond)–researchers disagreeing with each other whether the structures seen were indeed blood cells and vessels; creationists crowing about how this finding represented “proof” that the earth was indeed young and dinosaurs had existed just a few thousand years ago; and of course, talk of cloning and DNA analysis. On the side of “soft tissue = dino blood” were findings that reported identification of the iron-containing protein heme (potentially from the red blood cells) and morphology of cells and vessels similar to that seen in modern-day ostriches and emu. However, the new paper by Kaye et al. provides an alternative explanation: that the structures aren’t actual vessels and cells, but are instead iron-rich bacterial biofilms. More on that below.
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Summer reading 3: Good Germs, Bad Germs by Jessica Snyder Sachs

Balance is a tricky thing to find in area, and medicine is notorious for its trade-offs. A drug that may make you well in the long run may also have side effects that make taking the medicine difficult. Even drugs that we often think of as typically innocuous, such as antibiotics, can have an enormous cost associated with their use, both at the individual and the population level. Sachs covers our love-hate relationship with antibiotics and germs in general in her book, Good Germs, Bad Germs. More after the jump…
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The controversy surrounding the existence of nanobacteria

This is the sixth of 6 guest posts on infection and chronic disease.

By Courtney Cook

Kidney stone disease affects approximately 5% of Americans. While several risk factors are well-established, including genetic predisposition, metabolic diseases, lifestyle, and diet, there are still questions over the actual mechanism of calcium stone formation. Many cases do not have any kind of underlying disorder and therefore it is difficult to know how to treat these patients to prevent further stone formation.

This seemed to change when, in 1998, Kajandar and Ciftcioglu isolated an unusual microorganism in human kidney stones. Less than 100 nm across, the authors termed them “nanobacteria.” They claimed to observe self-replication as well as to have identified a unique DNA sequence. This seemed to indicate a living entity that may be playing a role in stone formation. Are they?

(More after the jump…)
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A Deeper Look into Adenovirus-36 and Obesity

This is the fifth of 6 guest posts on infection and chronic disease.

By Whitney Baker

My previous blog post examined the idea of an infectious etiology for obesity by a group of possible infectious agents. While these pathogens have been associated with obesity in humans or animals, their causative role in human obesity has not yet been established. So for this round, I thought I’d focus in on the bug showing the most evidence for human obesity: Adenovirus-36.

(More after the jump…)
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Infectious Disease-Chronic Inflammation-Cancer

This is the third of 6 guest posts on infection and chronic disease.

Does chronic IL-6 levels lead to epigenetic changes in DNA methylation that contribute to this pathway?

By Matthew Fitzgerald

How can infection be a carcinogen?

How do infectious diseases lead to cancer, if at all, is still a highly debated area of research. Do infectious diseases change the genetic information by insertions, mutation, or do bacterial toxins act as carcinogens? Does inflammation lead to free radical damage and cancer? While all of these and more are possible causes, another potential mechanism is that infection could change the epigenetics of cells at the site of infection. What is epigenetics? It is how our genetic information is controlled to tell cells what genes should be expressed and what genes should be silenced. For example what tells a stem cell to become a heart cell or kidney cell? Both contain the exact same DNA but are different because they express different genes, this is epigenetics.

(More after the jump…)
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Big Questions, Little Answers: the debate over autism

This is the second of 6 guest posts on infection and chronic disease.

By Rachel Kirby

In light of April being Autism Awareness Month it is only natural that certain topics be brought about in the media. Until now I was not aware of the controversy behind the “risk factors” of autism. Let’s begin with the basics. Autism is a brain development disorder that impairs social interaction and communication, and causes restricted and repetitive behavior, all starting before a child is three years old. Having autism may or may not involve all three characteristics. Some may even have symptoms that are independent of the diagnosis, but that can affect the individual or the family. A small fraction of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) show unusual abilities, such as memorizing an amazing amount of trivia or have extraordinarily rare talents. These are often highlighted in the media. Just this week for example the press covered a story about a girl that has an incredible gift of working with wild animals, as not many others can.

(Continued after the jump…)
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Bacteriophages to Fight Bacteria: Is this the Beginning of the End?

This is the first of 6 guest posts on infectious causes of chronic disease.

By David Massaquoi

Is this the Beginning of the end of antibiotic resistant problem or just another scientific false hope of eradicating microorganisms that have co-existed with humans for millions of years? In the days before antibiotics, some researchers saw bacteriophages, viruses that can seek out and destroy bacteria, as a promising candidate for fighting infections. Now, as more organisms develop resistance to existing antibiotics, phage research is finding new favor.

(More after the jump…)
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