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Archive for month: May, 2017

Battle mosquitoes vigorously

Battle mosquitoes vigorously

India’s dengue deaths have long called for controlling mosquitoes through source reduction at breeding sites.

The WHO report describing the first Zika virus cases is important as it provides evidence of the virus circulating in India. While the Gujarat government says there’s no need to panic over the state’s three occurrences, it’s clear India must take greater precautions, more in areas where the Aedes mosquitoes are significantly present. The virus, which has no cure or vaccine but is not known to be deadly like dengue, was first found in India in 1964. It is known since 2015 that a virulent version, which swept the world and affected the Rio Olympics last year with some athletes withdrawing, could be headed for India as the more benign strain was within some people, and could prepare genetic grounds for the second coming.

Mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, dengue and chikungunya have taken more lives than other forms of pestilence. India’s dengue deaths have long called for controlling mosquitoes through source reduction at breeding sites. And yet the Gujarat CM took the pedantic line that there was no Zika patient in his state now as the three known cases were already treated. As none of the three had travelled abroad, it is likely the infection was picked up locally. However, the presence of Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, which are active during daytime, and the general overcrowding, lack of hygiene and very warm summers are known to be grounds for an expanding threat. There has fortunately been no case yet of microcephaly (small head and brain in new-borns), but the war on mosquitoes must be fought with increased vigour.

Source: DECCAN Chronicle

Insects resist genetic methods to control disease spread, study finds

Insects resist genetic methods to control disease spread, study finds

The research, reported in the journal Science Advances, combines advanced genetic and statistical analyses to show how certain genetic and behavioral qualities in disease-carrying insects, like mosquitoes, make these species resistant to genetic manipulation.

This resistance could complicate attempts to use CRISPR-Cas9 in the fight against malaria — a deadly mosquito-borne disease that threatens over 3 billion people worldwide — or crop blights such as the western corn rootworm, an invasive species that costs the U.S. about $1 billion in lost crops each year.

The discovery of the CRISPR-Cas9 system — or simply “CRISPR” — in the early 2010s introduced an unprecedented level of accuracy in genetic editing. Scientists can use the method to design highly precise genetic “scissors” that snip out and replace specific parts of the genome with sequences of their choosing. Two English scientists were the first to show the method could spread infertility in disease-carrying mosquitoes in late 2015.

“We found that small genetic variation within species — as well as many insects’ tendency to inbreed — can seriously impact the effectiveness of attempts to reduce their numbers using CRISPR technology,” said Michael J. Wade, Distinguished Professor of Biology at IU Bloomington. “Although rare, these naturally occurring genetic variants resistant to CRISPR are enough to halt attempts at population control using genetic technology, quickly returning wild populations to their earlier, ‘pre-CRISPR’ numbers.”

This means costly and time-consuming efforts to introduce genes that could control insect populations — such as a trait that causes female mosquitoes to lay fewer eggs — would disappear in a few months. This is because male mosquitoes — used to transmit new genes since they don’t bite — only live about 10 days.

The protective effect of naturally occurring genetic variation is strong enough to overcome the use of “gene drives” based on CRISPR-based technology — unless a gene drive is matched to the genetic background of a specific target population, Wade added. Gene drives refer to genes that spread at a rate of nearly 90 percent — significantly higher than the normal 50 percent chance of inherence that occurs in sexually reproducing organisms.

Wade, an expert in “selfish genes” that function similarly to gene drives due to their “super-Darwinian” ability to rapidly spread throughout a population, teamed up with colleagues at IU — including Gabriel E. Zentner, an expert in CRISPR-based genetic tools and assistant professor in the Department of Biology — to explore the effectiveness of CRISPR-based population control in flour beetles, a species estimated to destroy 20 percent of the world’s grain after harvest.

The team designed CRISPR-based interventions that targeted three segments in the genome of the flour beetle from four parts of the world: India, Spain, Peru and Indiana. They then analyzed the DNA of all four varieties of beetle and found naturally occurring variants in the targeted gene sequence, the presence of which would impact the effectiveness of the CRISPR-based technology.

The analysis revealed genetic variation in all four species at nearly every analyzed DNA segment, including a variance rate as high as 28 percent in the Peruvian beetles. Significantly, Wade’s statistical analysis found that a genetic variation rate as low as 1 percent — combined with a rate of inbreeding typical to mosquitos in the wild — was enough to eliminate any CRISPR-based population-control methods in six generations.

The results suggest that a careful analysis of genetic variation in the target population must precede efforts to control disease-carrying insects using CRISPR technology. They also suggest that the unintended spread of modified genes across the globe is highly unlikely since typical levels of genetic variation place a natural roadblock on spread between regions or species.

“Based on this study, anyone trying to reduce insect populations through this method should conduct a thorough genetic analysis of the target gene region to assess variation rates,” Wade said. “This will help predict the effectiveness of the method, as well as provide insight into ways to circumvent natural genetic variation through the use of Cas9 variants with an altered sequence specificity.”

Source: ScienceDaily

Radiohead has newly discovered ants species named after it

Radiohead has newly discovered ants species named after it

A new species of ant, discovered in the Venezuelan Amazon, has been named after Radiohead in honour of their contributions to music and conservation efforts.

As noted by Phys.org, Ana Ješovnik and Ted R. Schultz — of Washington’s Smithsonian Institution’s Ant Lab — discovered three species of ants while collecting data for a study. One of those — the Sericomyrmex radioheadi — was named after the upcoming Glastonbury headliner.

“We wanted to honour their music,” Ješovnik, said. “But more importantly, we wanted to acknowledge the conservation efforts of the band members, especially in raising climate-change awareness.”

Sericomyrmex literally translates to ‘silky ants’, a fungus-farming species that are reportedly ‘less well-known relatives of the famous leaf-cutter ants’. The Radioheadi breed has a white, crystal-like layer covering their bodies.

Earlier this month, a species of shrimp were named after Pink Floyd; the Synalpheus Pinkfloydi have large pink claws capably of killing small fish.


Fly landing on your food could have serious health risks, according to pest control experts

Fly landing on your food could have serious health risks, according to pest control experts

They are one of the scourges of summer and have been ruining picnics since the dawn of time (probably).

Flies – harmless but incredibly annoying, most people think.

But it turns out the insects may be a lot more dangerous than we thought.

The average fly carries 200 different types of harmful bacteria, largely thanks to the various things they land on, such as rotting food and fecal matter.

Even if you swat one away as soon as it’s landed on your sandwich, the damage has already been done.

Thanks to thousands of tiny hairs on their arms and legs, the bacteria are quickly transferred to your food, which could pose a serious health risk according to a pest control expert.

“They only need to touch your food for a second for their legs or the tiny hairs all over their bodies to transfer germs from all those nasty things they eat onto what you are eating,” Ron Harrison, an entomologist and technical services director at Orkin pest control, told the Mail Online.

“And since flies can transfer serious, contagious diseases like cholera, dysentery and typhoid, it is probably best if you avoid eating things that a fly lands on.”

What’s more, flies nearly always vomit on any food upon which they land.

Unable to chew, the insects have to throw up digestive enzymes onto the food to dissolve it and allow them to slurp it up.

Of course, it’s hard to avoid any fly ever landing on your food again, so what can you do?

The best tactic is simply to cut off the part the fly has touched and throw it away. But you should be fine to continue eating the rest. Phew.




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