The Pandora Report

Welcome to the first Report of 2013! Highlights include moving Plum Island to Kansas, studying the novel coronavirus which has us a little spooked, the earliest start to the flu season in 9 years, studying cells after antibiotic exposure, and giant panda blood (it’s relevant, I swear). Happy Friday!

Federal officials sign land transfer for Kansas biosecurity lab

Chalk up another victory to the government in the ongoing battle to build that animal research lab in Kansas. Unsurprisingly, many people feel very uncomfortable with the idea of a scientists handling foot-and-mouth in their backyard, especially if their backyard is a large dairy farm. It looks plans to complete the lab in Kansas are nonetheless underway.

Kansas City Star – “Department of Homeland Security officials have signed a land transfer agreement that allows for the construction of a new federal animal research lab near Kansas State University in Manhattan. Gov. Sam Brownback and members of the state’s congressional delegation announced that the move indicated the federal department is committed to building the $1.14 billion National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. Kansas was selected for the animal research lab after a lengthy competition in 2009. The Homeland Security Department will acquire about 46 acres for the lab near the north end of Kansas State. Research will be conducted on deadly animal pathogens, including foot and mouth disease.”

Hamilton lab researching spread of deadly virus

The novel coronovirus popping up in the Middle East is getting some very serious attention here in the US. Corona being a bit of a dark horse – see SARS – determining whether this new form is transmissible person-to-person remains a priority.

San  Francisco Chronicle – “Scientists at a western Montana laboratory are teaming with researchers at a university in the Netherlands to determine whether a newly discovered, deadly virus can spread from person to person. The new coronavirus was identified when a man died in Saudi Arabia in September. Five others died in Qatar and Saudi Arabia in November, the Ravalli Republic reported Thursday. Five other people were sickened by the virus, but they recovered. Until an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, killed 900 people and sickened 8,000 in 2003, most scientists viewed coronaviruses as relatively harmless.”

Flu Activity Picks Up Nationwide

According to the CDC, the 2012-2013 flu season has had the earliest start in nearly a decade, with 29 states reporting “high levels of influenza-like-illness” (ILI). For those of you interested, the CDC publishes weekly reports on just the flu (alliteratively named “FluView“), which details things like the prevalence of the strains identified. For instance, last week,  79% of the Influenza- positive tests reported to the CDC were Influenza-A, and of that 79%, 98% were H3N2, and 2% were H1N1.  Moral of the story? Get your flu shot.

CDC – “Influenza activity continues to increase in the United States and most of the country is now experiencing high levels of influenza-like-illness (ILI), according to CDC’s latest FluView report. “Reports of influenza-like-illness (ILI) are nearing what have been peak levels during moderately severe seasons,” according to Dr. Joe Bresee. CDC continues to recommend influenza vaccination and antiviral treatment when appropriate at this time. ‘While we can’t say for certain how severe this season will be, we can say that a lot of people are getting sick with influenza and we are getting reports of severe illness and hospitalizations,’ says Bresee, who is Chief of the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch in CDC’s Influenza Division.”

New strategy for bacteria antibiotic resistance

In our most science-y piece of the week, we look at the using micofluidics to study antibiotic resistance in TB. For the first time, scientists are able to monitor cell growth pre- and post-exposure to antibiotics, with some interesting results. Contrary to popular belief, bacteria which survived the antibiotics often did not stopped dividing, and therefore remained “very dynamic.”

Homeland Security Newswire – “Scientists used microfluidics to observe the behavior of individual tuberculosis-like bacteria in the presence of antibiotics. Their observations call into question the prevailing theory of bacterial resistance, and they have proposed a new explanation for why some bacteria become resistant. The research is published 4 January 2013 in the journal Science. It is often difficult completely to eliminate a bacterial infection with antibiotics; part of the population usually manages to survive. This phenomenon has been known for quite some time, dating back nearly to the discovery of penicillin. For more than fifty years, scientists have believed that the resistant bacteria were individuals that had stopped growing and dividing.”

Odd Piece of the Week: Giant Panda Blood

(image credit: Smithsonian Wild)
(image credit: Smithsonian Wild)

According to a new study conducted by researchers at the Life Sciences College of Nanjing Agricultural University in China, giant panda bloods is replete with a compound called cathelicidin-AM, which can kill bacteria in under an hour (standard antibiotics take closer to six hours). Before you start to wonder, aghast, how one farms giant panda blood, let me stop you – the compound can be synthesized, without any pandas present, in labs.

Discovery News – “Giant panda blood may hold the secret to curing superbug illnesses in humans as well as other diseases, according to new research. The teddy bear-like animals would hardly seem to be associated with industrial strength cleanser and potent antibiotics, but their link with these possible cure alls now appears to have been forged. The primary component in giant panda blood is called cathelicidin-AM. It was found after analyzing the panda’s DNA.”

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