Carl Zimmer’s been on fire recently. Here are two great articles of his to get your teeth into this week:
“How The Measles Virus Became A Master of Contagion – Phenomena: The Loom”
Measles virus is in the news recently for all the wrong reasons, but how can the virus make such a roaring comeback in developed countries if vaccination campaigns slip? The answer: it is insanely contagious. And it needs to be – once you’ve had the virus you are immune for life – so if susceptible humans are around to be infected, the virus needs to get at them to survive and continue spreading. The article also touches on a cool thought that seems paradoxical to how well the virus can spread: because it can only infect people and not animals, it’s a great candidate for eradication from the planet.
“Our Inner Viruses: Forty Million Years In the Making – Phenomena: The Loom”
When it comes to transmission between hosts, measles is at the ‘hit-and-run’ end of the spectrum: infect human and get out before the immune system kills every last one of you. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum we have endogenous retroviruses.
Retroviruses, like HIV, bury themselves in your DNA. Every time an infected cell divides into two, you get twice as many copies of virus. But when such viruses get into sperm or egg cells, things get weird. If the infected sperm or egg goes on the make a new lifeform, every cell in the new life’s body will contain of copy of the virus! Surely this must be rarity, right? Nope. In human beings, this has probably occurred more than 30 times. But as the article concludes, apes (including humans), may have finally had enough of picking up these stowaways.
For a third story, this week saw a ‘great’ example of the science media hype machine in action, not helped by the study authors’ press release one bit. Here are 5 tweets from Stephen Curry regarding both the study and one example of an accompanying news report that deftly summarised the article I had planned to write this week. Curses.