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UW-Madison Zika Research in Monkeys Could Inform Outbreak in People

zika 1Monkeys infected with Zika virus are protected from future infection, and pregnancy dramatically prolongs infection in monkeys, findings that could help in fighting the virus in people, UW-Madison researchers said Tuesday. Scientists on campus have infected 13 rhesus macaque monkeys with Zika, a virus that has caused an outbreak involving severe birth defects such as brain damage in Latin America and the Caribbean. The UW-Madison scientists, in publishing the first findings of their study in the journal Nature Communications, said six monkeys injected with the virus twice, 10 weeks apart, became infected the first time but not the second time. That is apparently because their immune systems, trained by the first infection, warded off the subsequent challenge. “We found complete protection,” said Dawn Dudley, an associate scientist at the university and first author of the study. “This is a key finding because it means a vaccine could be quite effective against the virus.”

The researchers plan to study whether infection with dengue virus, carried by the same mosquitoes that harbor Zika, increases susceptibility to Zika or vice versa, O’Connor said. They also may look closer at how much the level of virus in a mother’s blood is related to the severity of damage to the fetus. It could be that drugs or a vaccine during pregnancy might minimize birth defects.

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2016 | Erik Gjesfjeld, Christopher Kelty, Michael Alfaro, et al – Competition and extinction explain the evolution of diversity in American automobiles

ISG postdoctoral fellow, Erik Gjesfjed, and ISG faculty, Christopher Kelty and Michael Alfaro, have published a paper titled “Competition and extinction explain the evolution of diversity in American automobiles,” with Palgrave Communications, 2016

One of the most remarkable aspects of our species is that while we show surprisingly little genetic diversity, we demonstrate astonishing amounts of cultural diversity. Perhaps most impressive is the diversity of our technologies, broadly defined as all the physical objects we produce and the skills we use to produce them. Despite considerable focus on the evolution of technology by social scientists and philosophers, there have been few attempts to systematically quantify technological diversity, and therefore the dynamics of technological change remain poorly understood. Here we show a novel Bayesian model for examining technological diversification adopted from palaeontological analysis of occurrence data. We use this framework to estimate the tempo of diversification in American car and truck models produced between 1896 and 2014, and to test the relative importance of competition and extrinsic factors in shaping changes in macro-evolutionary rates. Our results identify a four-fold decrease in the origination and extinction rates of car models, and a negative net diversification rate over the last 30 years. We also demonstrate that competition played a more significant role in car model diversification than either changes in oil prices or gross domestic product. Together our analyses provide a set of tools that can enhance current research on technological and cultural evolution by providing a flexible and quantitative framework for exploring the dynamics of diversification.

When Under Attack, These Frogs Hatch Themselves

Frog, Red Eyed, Tree, Amphibian, Tropical, MacroIt’s a good thing for frog embryos to be able to hatch early. Suppose there’s a drought or some other environmental change that means the growing tadpoles would be better off in the water than in the egg. The timing of hatching is subject to cues from the environment for many species, but even among these flexible hatchers the red-eyed treefrog stands out. It can escape its egg in seconds if threatened by a predator. Dr. Warkentin and Kristina L. Cohen, a Ph.D. student in Dr. Warkentin’s lab, and Marc. A. Seid, a biologist at the University of Scranton, conducted a number of tests on embryos to determine how they manage early hatching. They published their results in The Journal of Experimental Biology. Dr. Warkentin said she didn’t know of other frogs with that speed of hatching, and that it was extraordinary to think that an embryo could have this defensive ability. “It can save its own life,” she said.

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Technique from biology helps explain the evolution of the American car

1910 Ford Model TA UCLA-led team of researchers has taken a unique approach to explain the way in which technologies evolve in modern society. Borrowing a technique that biologists might use to study the evolution of plants or animals, the scientists plotted the “births” and “deaths” of every American-made car and truck model from 1896 to 2014. “Cars are exceptionally diverse but also have a detailed history of changes, making them a model system for investigating the evolution of technology,” Gjesfjeld said. The approach allowed them to identify periods of time when new car models were being introduced at faster- or slower-than-usual rates; and to identify periods when cars were being discontinued in greater or lesser numbers.

Ultimately, Gjesfjeld said, the technique could help us make sense of the bewildering array of technologies humans have created. “Despite the use of numerous technologies in our everyday life, we lack a basic understanding of how all this technological diversity came to be,” he said.

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Monkeys Get More Selective With Age

117878_web (1)As people get older, they become choosier about how they spend their time and with whom they spend it. Now, researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on June 23 find, based on a series of experimental and behavioral studies, that similar changes take place in Barbary macaques. The findings offer an evolutionary perspective on why aging humans behave as they do, according to the researchers. “With increasing age, the monkeys became more selective in their social interactions,” Almeling says. “They had fewer ‘friends’ and invested less in social interactions. Interestingly, however, they were still interested in what was going on in their social world.”

Overall, the studies suggest that, just like humans, monkeys become more selective as they age: they select social over non-social information, and they are more selective regarding their social interactions. However, the reduced social behavior is not due to a general loss of interest in others. “Changes in social behavior in monkeys and humans may occur in the absence of a limited time perspective and are most likely deeply rooted in primate evolution,” concludes Alexandra Freund from the University of Zurich, who was also involved in the study.

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Memory Loss Caused by West Nile Virus Explained

Robyn Klein, MD, PhD, and Michael Vasek, PhD, examine images of mouse synapses. The researchers found that memory loss suffered by some survivors of West Nile encephalitis may be caused by the loss of synapses between neurons.Every year as mosquito season arrives, so does West Nile virus, causing fever in thousands of people nationwide and life-threatening brain infections in an unlucky few. About half the people who survive that infection – West Nile encephalitis – are left with permanent neurological deficits such as memory loss. New research shows that these long-term neurological problems may be due to the patient’s own immune system destroying parts of the neurons in the brain, which suggests that intervening in the immune response may help prevent brain damage so patients can recover.

“When I talk with other doctors about West Nile patients with these persistent neurological deficits, many say, ‘The virus in their brains must have killed neurons, and there’s nothing we can do about it,’” said Robyn Klein, MD, PhD, a professor of medicine and the study’s senior author. “My thinking has been, if we can determine what triggers this brain damage, maybe we can prevent it from happening or stop it afterwards.’”

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UMMS Scientists Use CRISPR To Discover Zika And Dengue Weaknesses

Zika virus infecting cells: Zika virus (red) infects cultured human cells (blue, left panel). Zika virus replication is inhibited (right panel), when UMMS researchers lowered the EMC1 protein’s levels in the human cells.Scientists at UMass Medical School have performed the first CRISPR/Cas9 screen to discover human proteins that Zika virus needs for replication. This work, led by Abraham Brass, MD, PhD, assistant professor in microbiology & physiological systems, reveals new leads that may be useful for halting Zika, dengue and other emerging viral infections. “These genetic screens give us our first look at what these viruses need to survive,” said Dr. Brass.

Using the RNAi and CRISPR/Cas9 screening technologies they’d developed for dengue and influenza, George Savidis, research associate, Paul Meraner, MD, postdoctoral fellow, and William M. McDougall, PhD, postdoctoral associate, in the Brass lab, began by knocking out or depleting each protein in the human genome one at a time, then seeing how Zika or dengue virus grew when that human protein was gone. Brass and colleagues identified multiple host proteins critical to both Zika and dengue viral replication. Among these was the AXL protein, which the virus uses to gain access to and enter the cell. They also identified the endoplasmic reticulum membrane protein complex (EMC) as critical to early-stage infection by the viruses. Together, these findings represent potential therapeutic targets that could help to treat and prevent infection. The next step is to develop therapies that inhibit Zika and dengue by targeting these proteins.

The study appears online in the journal Cell Reports.

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Federal Panel Approves First Use of CRISPR Gene Editing in Humans

DNAA federal biosafety and ethics panel on Tuesday unanimously approved the first study in patients of the genome-editing technology CRISPR/Cas9, in an experiment that would use CRISPR to create genetically-altered immune cells to attack three kinds of cancer. The experiment, proposed by scientists at the University of Pennsylvania, still needs the approval of the medical centers where it would be conducted, as well as from the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees the use of experimental treatments in people. If the study gets those okays, it would enroll patients with multiple myeloma, melanoma, and sarcoma, and be funded by the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, which was launched this year by tech mogul Sean Parker. The trial would be conducted at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (enrolling nine patients) and the University of California, San Francisco (three), as well as Penn (three). Penn would also produce the genetically-modified T cells.

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