The new H7N9 bird flu virus can be transmitted between mammals not only via direct contact but also in airborne droplets, and may be capable of spreading from person to person, Chinese and American researchers have found. A study published in the journal Science and presented at a briefing in Hong Kong on Friday found that three ferrets – an animal often used for research on flu – that were in the same cage as ferrets infected with H7N9 had contracted the disease. One of three ferrets kept in separate cages nearby also became infected, through airborne exposure. The World Health Organization (WHO) has previously said it has no evidence of “sustained human to human transmission” of the virus, which has killed 36 people in China. “The findings suggest that the possibility of this virus evolving further to form the basis of a future pandemic threat cannot be excluded,” said the research team, led by bird flu expert and microbiologist Yi Guan. The virus can also infect pigs, but could not be transmitted from pig to pig or from pigs to other animals, the study showed, although the team urged authorities to maintain surveillance to check whether the virus was mutating. The WHO said the findings were useful but warned that people “have to be very careful about what’s going on the ground. Studies like that are really helpful for increasing general knowledge and it’s really helpful to know that, under lab conditions, this thing could transfer from person to person,” WHO chief spokesman Gregory Hartl told Reuters. “We’ve already seen maybe a few limited instances of human to human transmission within close family range, within close contacts, so this is another piece of the puzzle,” he said. The findings come just days after the WHO said the H7N9 virus appeared to have been brought under control in China thanks to restrictions at bird markets. H7N9 has relatively mild clinical signs in ferrets, according to the study. All the animals infected with the virus in the experiments presented symptoms for no more than seven days and all recovered from the disease. The researchers said that all cases where humans had died or become extremely ill had involved additional factors. The team also found that some infected animals did not develop fever or other clinical signs, suggesting that asymptomatic infections among humans may also be possible. “The potential public health implication of this … is that a person infected by H7N9 avian influenza virus who does not show symptoms could nevertheless spread the virus to others,” the researchers wrote in their study. “It is possible that this virus can evolve further to form the basis of a future pandemic threat,” said Maria Zhu Huachen, an assistant professor of research at HKU’s school of public health. United Nations experts said this week the bird flu outbreak in China had caused some $6.5 billion in losses to the economy. The H7N9 virus is known to have infected 131 people in mainland China and one in Taiwan since February, but no new cases have been detected since early May. –Reuters
The world's first genetically modified humans have been created, it was revealed last night. The disclosure that 30 healthy babies were born after a series of experiments in the United States provoked another furious debate about ethics. So far, two of the babies have been tested and have been found to contain genes from three 'parents'. Fifteen of the children were born in the past three years as a result of one experimental programme at the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science of St Barnabas in New Jersey. The babies were born to women who had problems conceiving. Extra genes from a female donor were inserted into their eggs before they were fertilised in an attempt to enable them to conceive. Genetic fingerprint tests on two one-year- old children confirm that they have inherited DNA from three adults --two women and one man. The fact that the children have inherited the extra genes and incorporated them into their 'germline' means that they will, in turn, be able to pass them on to their own offspring. Altering the human germline - in effect tinkering with the very make-up of our species - is a technique shunned by the vast majority of the world's scientists. Geneticists fear that one day this method could be used to create new races of humans with extra, desired characteristics such as strength or high intelligence. - Mail Online
Brown says that transhumanism is a movement to change the destiny of humanity through genetic engineering. In Inferno, the villain is obsessed with over-population and creates a virus which will make one-third of the world’s population infertile, thus reducing the population dramatically in a single generation. From an interview in Time, it appears that Brown himself believes that the world is seriously over-populated and that extreme measures are needed to curb population growth.
The publisher describes Inferno as “one hell of a read”. - BioEdge
May 24, 2013 – CHILE - SERNAGEOMIN has raised the alert level to orange. Since May 15, a progressive increase in seismic activity as well emissions of gas and now some ash have been observed. Both earthquakes related to rock fracturing and fluid movements have picked up in numbers and possibly indicate a new magmatic intrusion on its way. This scenario is confirmed by the start of small ash emissions and glow at the crater which is visible at night. The plume of gas and ash could be seen from space by the MODIS sensor, stretching about 100 km to the southeast. Copahue volcano had already experienced a first increase of activity in December, and a second one in January. No eruption followed and alert was lowered to green in April before returning to yellow again soon after. –Volcano Discovery
May 24, 2013 – CHINA - The H7N9 bird flu virus can be transmitted not only through close contact but by airborne exposure, a team at the University of Hong Kong found after extensive laboratory experiments. Though the virus appears to have been brought under control recently, the researchers urged the Hong Kong authorities to maintain strict surveillance, which should include not only poultry but humans and pigs. “We also found that the virus can infect pigs, which was not previously known,” said Dr Maria Zhu Huachen, a research assistant professor at HKU’s School of Public Health. There have been 131 confirmed human infections, with 36 deaths, the World Health Organization said. All but one of the cases was on the mainland. The virus appears to have been brought under control largely due to restrictions at bird markets and there have been no new confirmed cases since May 8. But Zhu said that although there was no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission, their study provided evidence that H7N9 was infectious and transmissible in mammals. In the study, to be published today in the journal Science, ferrets were used to evaluate the infectivity of H7N9. It was found the virus could spread through the air, from one cage to another, albeit less efficiently. Inoculated ferrets were infected before the appearance of most clinical symptoms. This means there may be more cases than have been detected or reported. We also found that the virus can infect pigs, which was not previously known. Dr Maria Zhu Huachen, HKU’s School of Public Health, “People may be transmitting the virus before they even know that they’ve got it,” Zhu said. Additional tests using pigs, a major host of influenza viruses, showed that they could also get infected with H7N9. Zhu warned that H7N9 may combine with pig viruses to generate new variants. On a more positive note, it was found that the virus is relatively mild. “Most of the fatal H7N9 cases had underlying medical conditions, so there are probably some other factors that contribute to this kind of fatality,” Zhu said. To avoid H7N9 becoming endemic in poultry populations, which would create a greater opportunity for human transmission, the researchers suggested a rethink on how live poultry markets are managed. Zhu believed the Hong Kong government had “done a very good job” in this area and should continue to do so. The government implemented a surveillance program on local and imported poultry in 1998. It includes monitoring the live poultry supply chain, pet shops, parks and the wild bird environment. She said the government had collaborated with HKU on intensive surveillance of both birds and pigs. Zhu added that people who regularly had close contact with live poultry or pigs should take precautions, have routine body checks and report their case immediately if they feel unwell. –South China Morning Post
May 24, 2013 – RUSSIA, FAR EAST - The remote volcano in the northern Kuriles is probably in eruption, the latest SVERT report and satellite images suggest. A plume of gas and steam, and possibly some minor amounts ash was seen with the MODIS sensor onboard the NASA Terra satellite this morning. Satellite data also indicate that activity had likely already started in early May, because a small thermal anomaly can be traced back on archive pictures to 7 May. One should take into account that frequent dense cloud cover often prevents such observations, so activity could have started earlier than that. It is not known what kind of activity is occurring at the volcano. Possibilities include some minor explosive (strombolian ?) activity at the summit, or lava flows that might be reaching the sea and produce the steam plume observed. The last eruption of the volcano was (probably) in 2004. –Volcano Discovery
May 23 (Reuters) - A headline-making paper last week announcing that scientists had, for the first time, cloned human embryos and harvested stem cells from them contains minor errors, the authors acknowledged on Thursday. The mistakes raised questions about how well the journal that published the paper vetted it but probably do not undermine the study's central claim.
In a statement, the journal, Cell, said "there were some minor errors" in the paper, but "we do not believe these errors impact the scientific findings of the paper." - Reuters
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