New Research Sheds Light on Zika

Scientists working to understand the implications of Zika’s new prevalence in the Americas have found strong evidence that infection with the virus can cause fetal abnormalities and even miscarriage in pregnant women. On The Pump Handle, Liz Borkowski examines a series of studies conducted on Zika, including one which found the virus infected “most of the cortical neuron progenitors, which form the brain’s cortex” more quickly than other types of stem cell. This may be how the virus causes microcephaly, a birth defect resulting from abnormal brain development in the womb. On Discovering Biology in a Digital World, Sandra Porter leads a hunt for potential drugs against Zika by looking at the molecular level, comparing known drugs to the protein structures of the virus. And on Respectful Insolence, Orac questions whether DDT could play a role in fighting the outbreak.


Zeroing in on Zika and Microcephaly

On The Pump Handle, Liz Borkowski reports on a “public health nightmare” in Brazil that threatens to become more common around the world. The culprit is a virus called Zika, known to cause mild infections since 1947 but now “linked to nearly 4,000 cases of microcephaly – infants born with abnormally small brains and heads.” On Aetiology, Tara C. Smith writes that the link between Zika and microcephaly is not conclusive, and explains how scientists will search for a definite relationship. In the meantime, officials in Brazil and other South American countries are telling women to postpone becoming pregnant. On Respectful Insolence, Orac writes “there’s enough evidence there to raise justified concerns, but there’s an incredible amount of uncertainty, and humans tend not to deal with uncertainty very well at all.”

Zika, which is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, is newly prevalent in South America, and threatens regions as far north as Florida and the southeastern United States. Barring eradication and/or manipulation of mosquito populations, Zika is set to spread, as climate change warms temperate latitudes. Orac notes that medical science is unprepared to protect humans from the virus itself; there has no historical incentive to develop a vaccine for Zika because the primary symptoms are so mild. But now Zika and associated cases of microcephaly will attract a lot of scientific resources, as well as a lot of conspiracy mongering—documented by Orac and Tara C. Smith on Aetiology—including Mike Adams’ claim that the U.S. government is “testing a bioweapon delivery system against humanity.” On Pharyngula, PZ Myers looks at the bright side: “this one, tragic as its consequences can be, isn’t the big pandemic that will kill us all.”



Last Week on

Perovskite solar cells can not only emit light, they can also emit up to 70% of absorbed sunlight as lasers.

Critical signaling molecules can be used to convert stem cells to neural progenitor cells, increasing the yield of healthy motor neurons and decreasing the time required to grow them.

Mexican blind cavefish are so close to their sighted kin that they are considered the same species, but they use pressure waves (from opening and closing their mouths) to navigate in the dark.

Electrostatic assembly allows luminescent elements (like Europium) to be embedded in nanodiamonds; these glowing particles “can be used as biomarkers, allowing researchers to track things that are happening inside cells.”

In a rather cruel experiment, researchers tortured male rats by isolating them, depriving them of food and water, clamping their tails, shocking them with electricity, dunking them in cold water, placing them in soiled bedding, and keeping the lights on all night.  Then they cut off and dissected the rats’ testicles to look for signs of stress in their reproductive cells.

On the brighter side of testicular slices, researchers have shown that cancer cells cannot survive a new process for removing and freezing a sample of testicular tissue from boys with cancer.  The process could allow patients to sidestep infertility caused by radiation and chemotherapy by implanting spermatogonial stem cells back into survivors when they reach adulthood.

A newly engineered bacterium can better manufacture pinene, “a hydrocarbon produced by trees that could potentially replace high-energy fuels, such as JP-10, in missiles and other aerospace applications.”

Weather extremes don’t always cause crops to fail; extra rain (as opposed to drought) can boost yields significantly, but it also boosts mosquito populations and the prevalence of mosquito-borne disease.

People with children “experienced less physical pain, felt they had more enjoyment in their lives, earned higher incomes, were better educated, and were healthier” than childless individuals, but still reported lower overall life satisfaction.

Like everyone else, most prisoners feel they are kinder and more moral than the average person; they also feel they are equally law-abiding.

Male wasps mouth the antennae of females during coitus to make them horny (with an oral pheromone), but a second exposure to the pheromone causes a lady wasp to lose interest in “unlocking her genitals” and start looking for fly larvae to deposit her eggs in.

Mafia members, despite their violent lifestyle, are highly social and not likely to be psychopaths.

Using more wood in building construction could reduce CO2 emissions related to the manufacture of steel and concrete while maintaining sustainable forestry practices.

New research replicates a pioneering 19th-century study of blood flow to the brain during cognitive processing.

Some children with autism respond favorably to naltexone, an opiate antagonist, but the drug did not demonstrate an impact on core features of the disorder.

Dogs placed in foster homes—dressed in “Adopt Me” vests and taken to public places—relieve crowding in animal shelters and are more likely to be adopted for the long-term.

Many “hot” foods, like capsaicin, activate the TRPV1 receptor; deceptive showmen apply ginger to the anuses of older horses to make their tails more erect.

Growing soccer players at elite levels of play are more likely to develop cam deformities of the hip.

A patient who lost his hippocampus in a motorcycle accident (and his ability to form new memories) still understands the concepts of past and future, yet he has no regrets, and cannot imagine anyone having regrets (even Richard Nixon).

Hybrid cars get better gas mileage in countries like India and China due to higher levels of traffic congestion.

Among 65,226 UK residents, eating 7 servings of fruits and vegetables per day reduced risk of death from all causes by 42%.