Immunology


If you're sick, stay home. Shutterstock

By Derek Gatherer, Lancaster University

It’s that time of the year again. You probably think I mean Christmas, but as a virologist the sight of glitter, fairy lights and moulting pine trees immediately makes me think of the flu season. And if there’s one thing that can ruin your family’s Christmas, it’s the arrival of that particular unwanted guest.

In the United States in the 1930s, climate change and droughts and excessive agricultural practices combined to give the country a 'Dust Bowl' - as farmers became more stressed during the Depression they farmed harder, so ancient agricultural practices got left behind.

Modern agricultural science is a little smarter. Scientists make sure farmers know the right application for pesticides and when it comes to biotech crops, they make sure pests don't develop 'herd immunity'.


Malaria is one of the most serious health problems worldwide, registering 200 million clinical cases and more than 600,000 attributable deaths per year, according to information from the World Health Organization in 2013.

Given the emerging resistance to the standard treatment most widely used throughout the world, which is based on artemisinin and its analogs, there is a need for new antimalarial compounds.


While an alarming number of wealthy people think organic food contains no chemicals, the opposite is true. Not only is everything chemical, the most organic of organic Thanksgiving meals is stuffed full of mutagens and carcinogens, at least in environmental toxicology studies on rats.

But in the real world, outside environmental fundraising, Thanksgiving dinner is not only harmless, it might even be beneficial. The turkey Americans eat on Thursday contains Strain 115, which produces the MP1 antibiotic that targets staph infections, strep throat, severe gastrointestinal diseases and roughly half of all infectious bacteria.


If you read the marketing claims for probiotics and supplements, and an alarming number of papers that have made spurious claims to feed the fad, you might think gut bacteria were the magic bullet for a lot of diseases.

A new paper says they even determine whether or not your jeans fit this week. Pizza and exercise are hereby absolved. Instead, the  types of microbes that grow in our body, influenced by our genetic makeup, influences whether we are fat or thin, according to a paper in Cell.

The structure of an asymmetrical ABC transporter complex has been determined with the aid of a high-resolution cryo-electron microscope.

ABC transporters cause bacteria and other pathogens to become resistant to antibiotics. They can also help cancer cells to defend themselves against cytostatic agents and thus determine whether chemotherapy will succeed.   

"ABC transporters causes diseases such as cystic fibrosis, while on the other hand they are responsible for the immune system recognising infected cells or cancer cells," explains Professor Robert Tampé from the Institute for Biochemistry at the Goethe University. 


A serious epidemic of poliomyelitis that struck the Republic of the Congo in 2010 has been identified as a vaccine-resistant strain of polio.

The epidemic affected 445 people in the city of Pointe-Noire, the economic capital of the country, killing almost half of them. The researchers fear the emergence of other strains against which vaccines would have little effect.

Ebola is causing a lot of concern, a few instances in the United States were enough to lead to calls to overthrow the FDA vaccine approval process and the White House declared that the United States Department of Health and Human Services was unqualified to manage a handful of cases in America so they put a lawyer in charge as an Ebola czar. The National Institutes of Health said they could not fix the problem with the $330 billion they have gotten since 2001 but they are just exploiting an outbreak for personal gain also. In reality, the impact of disease outbreaks has been declining on a per capita basis for decades.



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By Stephen Goldstein, University of Pennsylvania