Meet Měnglà Virus: the newest cousin in the Ebola and Marburg virus family tree

Ebola virus (EBOV) and Marburg virus (MARV) are two closely-related viruses in the family Filoviridae. Filoviruses are often pathogenic, causing hemorrhagic fever disease in human hosts. The Ebola outbreak of 2014 caught the world by surprise by spreading so quickly and severely that public health organizations were unprepared. The devastating outcome was a total of over 11,000 deaths by the time the outbreak ended in 2016. Research that provides further understanding of filoviruses and their potential for transmission is important in preventing future outbreaks from occurring. But what if the outbreak comes from a virus we’ve never seen before?

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Měnglà virus was discovered among filoviruses isolated from Old World fruit bats (Rousettus)

All in the viral family

A recent study published in the journal Nature Microbiology provides evidence of a newly identified filovirus species. Using serum samples taken from bats, a well-known host for filoviruses, Yang et al. isolated and identified viral RNA for an unclassified viral genome sequence using next generation sequencing analysis. This new virus genome sequence was organized with the same open reading frames as other filoviruses, encoding for nucleoprotein (NP), viral protein 35 (VP35), VP40, glycoprotein (GP), VP30, VP24, and RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (L). This new genome sequence shared up to 54% of the nucleotide sequences for the filovirus species Lloviu virus (LLOV), EBOV and MARV, with MARV being the most similar. Their analysis suggested that this novel virus should be classified within the Filoviridae family tree as a separate genus, Dianlovirus, and was named Měnglà virus (MLAV).

Continue reading “Meet Měnglà Virus: the newest cousin in the Ebola and Marburg virus family tree”

Letter from Uganda: A Promega International Internship Scholarship Recipient Shares her Experiences

Sydney Roberts, left, at work at a rural community outreach health clinic outside of Kabale, Uganda where she helped conduct basic health screenings. Here she is measuring a woman’s MUAC (midupper arm circumference).
Sydney Roberts, left, at work at a rural community outreach health clinic outside of Kabale, Uganda where she helped conduct basic health screenings. Here she is measuring a woman’s MUAC (midupper arm circumference).

We were inspired by a letter we recently received from one of the recipients of the Promega International Scientific Internship Scholarship. The scholarship supports undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. who are undertaking an international internship aimed at using science to improve the quality of life in the world. Students from all scientific fields are eligible but preference is given to those whose internships use molecular biology techniques. Students must be based in a country other than their own for at least six weeks and cannot be in a country where the recipient has already spent significant time.

Sydney Roberts, a junior at UW Madison majoring in Community and Nonprofit Leadership with a certificate in Global Health, was awarded the Spring 2018 Promega scholarship. As a result, she’s spending her spring a long way from her hometown of Cedarburg, WI. Sydney is currently working in Kabale, Uganda, a town in the southwestern part of the country near the border of Rwanda, as an intern with the Kigezi Healthcare Foundation (KIHEFO).

KIHEFO operates a primary care clinic, HIV/AIDS clinic, Nutrition and Rehabilitation center, and works with rural community groups. Sydney is supporting local staff members as they treat clients, provide counseling sessions for families affected by disease, and work on global health initiatives that support prevention of these diseases and health complications. She has only been in Uganda for a few weeks, but she says her experiences have already been life-changing. Continue reading “Letter from Uganda: A Promega International Internship Scholarship Recipient Shares her Experiences”

Zika: Another RNA Virus Emerges

no mosquitoZika virus has been in the news recently due to growing concerns about its global spread. If you have never heard of Zika virus before, you are not alone. Although first discovered in the 1940s, Zika has not been the subject of much study as infection is considered rare and the symptoms mild. However, all this has changed in recent months due to the rapid spread of the virus in Latin America, where it has been associated with an increased incidence of microcephaly, a severe birth defect where babies are born with underdeveloped brains. Although the connection of Zika with microcephaly is not yet proven, the circumstantial evidence is strong, leading the World Health Organization to declare the spread of Zika virus an international public health emergency earlier this week. Continue reading “Zika: Another RNA Virus Emerges”

Copper Containing Surfaces and Their Potential for Reducing the Spread of Infection and Antibiotic Resistant Gene Transfer

As a scientist and a jewelry artist, there are not that many occasions when my two passions overlap. As a geneticist, I find the evolution and spread of antibiotic resistant microbes to be fascinating in a “this is really cool and utterly terrifying” sort of way. As a jewelry artist, I love experimenting with new and different metals. Some of my current favorites are stainless steel, copper and bronze, which is an alloy of copper and tin. So you might be able to imagine my excitement when I came across an article in mBio discussing the public health implications of horizontal gene transfer (HGT) of antibiotic resistance genes on clinical and public touch surfaces made from copper alloys compared to those made of stainless steel (1).

Stainless steel: The unexpected, gene-transferring truth

Polishing stainless steelStainless steel is often used in clinical and public settings as work surfaces as well as other surfaces that are touched and cleaned often. Stainless steel is used in these applications for many of the same reasons I like it for jewelry: it is strong, resilient, relatively inexpensive, stain- and corrosion-resistant and will weather regular cleaning/exposure to moisture well. There is something about a gleaming stainless steel work surface that looks, well, sterile. But is it? Continue reading “Copper Containing Surfaces and Their Potential for Reducing the Spread of Infection and Antibiotic Resistant Gene Transfer”