Leeches may help prevent the next coronavirus outbreak

Using the latest biotechnology, a team led by Professor Douglas Yu of Britain’s University of East Anglia extracted DNA from digested blood in leeches’ stomachs, determined what animals they had fed on, and then produced a model of the distribution of wild animals in the Ailao Shan Nature Reserve in Yunnan province.

The same DNA analysis method could feasibly be used to examine drain water for evidence of illegal wildlife consumed or traded in markets, Yu says…

Wild animals are a reservoir of viruses that, due to their ability to rapidly change genetic make-up, regularly “jump” to other species, including humans…

Until recently, biotechnology couldn’t separate individual bits of DNA in the “soup” to identify which animals they came from. But the latest technology can process multiple DNA molecules at the same time, and it has become a powerful forensic tool.

Without seeing or touching the animals, their presence can be detected from a sample of soil, water – or the remnants of digested blood in a leech’s stomach.

Yu’s team extracted DNA from leeches’ stomachs, then applied sophisticated statistical software that could compare the different DNA sequences against animal DNA sequences in existing databases, similar to how facial recognition software matches an image of an individual face from a set of millions…

The results closely matched the biology of the animals. “The right species were found in the right places,” Yu says. It also gelled with previous records of animal sightings in Ailao Shan. The leeches could be trusted.

Scientific methods don’t really care what country, culture or economic system they operate in. Yes, everything from context to funding vary; but, real data produces a catalog of information that can provide new and revealing information, conclusions.

Good for you, Doctor Yu.

Biologists find surprising number of unknown viruses in sewage

Though viruses are the most abundant life form on Earth, our knowledge of the viral universe is limited to a tiny fraction of the viruses that likely exist. In a paper published in the online journal mBio, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Barcelona found that raw sewage is home to thousands of novel, undiscovered viruses, some of which could relate to human health.

There are roughly 1.8 million species of organisms on our planet, and each one is host to untold numbers of unique viruses, but only about 3,000 have been identified to date. To explore this diversity and to better characterize the unknown viruses, James Pipas…Roger Hendrix and…Michael Grabe…are developing new techniques to look for novel viruses in unique places around the world…The team searched for the genetic signatures of viruses present in raw sewage from North America, Europe, and Africa…

“What was surprising was that the vast majority of viruses we found were viruses that had not been detected or described before,” says Hendrix.

The viruses that were already known included human pathogens like Human papillomavirus and norovirus, which causes diarrhea. Also present were several viruses belonging to those familiar denizens of sewers everywhere: rodents and cockroaches. Bacteria are also present in sewage, so it was not surprising that the viruses that prey on bacteria dominated the known genetic signatures. Finally, a large number of the known viruses found in raw sewage came from plants, probably owing to the fact that humans eat plants, and plant viruses outnumber other types of viruses in human stool…

The main application of this new technology, says Hendrix, will be to discover new viruses and to study gene exchange among viruses. “The big question we’re interested in is, ‘Where do emerging viruses come from?’” he says. The team’s hypothesis is that new viruses emerge, in large part, through gene exchange. But before research on gene exchange can begin in earnest, large numbers of viruses must be studied, the researchers say.

First you have to see the forest before you can pick out a particular tree to work on,” says Pipas. “If gene exchange is occurring among viruses, then we want to know where those genes are coming from, and if we only know about a small percentage of the viruses that exist, then we’re missing most of the forest.”

Great. Just what we need to know. Now, all those sci-fi movies about mutated creatures rising up from the sewers to eat all of us become a bit more real.

I know, I know. I have a strange sense of humor.

What impresses me the most – once again – is how little we know of this world we live on and within. This is just the kind of basic research the know-nothings in Congress and assorted flat-earthers resent and joke about. Their cognizance of the material world is shallow in direct proportion to the amount of time they spend whining about their self-ordained superstitious reasons for the ills that befall humankind.

Try a microscopic look at hotel hygiene – if you dare!


Who had the room before you checked in?

Philip Tierno doesn’t feel comfortable staying in hotels. He knows too much.

The microbiologist travels with an impervious mattress and pillow cover to protect against the unseen debris that guests leave behind in what he compares to the lost Roman civilization, particles “literally buried over time” in the bed.

“What I’m saying is it’s not just you in bed, it’s who comes after you,” said Tierno, director of microbiology and immunology at New York University’s Langone Medical Center.

More disturbingly, it’s who comes before you, too.

When it comes to hotel bedding, allergens are the biggest problem for guests, Tierno said. Evidence of bedbugs is an immediate dealbreaker for Tierno, but we’ll leave them out of the picture here since that problem is closely related to the presence of guests, not germs.

You can probably imagine what might be lurking in the mattress, but here’s a sampling for those who hesitated: skin cells (when humans sleep they shed about 1.5 million cells or cell clusters an hour), human hair, bodily secretions, fungi, bacteria, dust, dust mites, lint, insect parts, pollen, cosmetics … and more…

Tierno has conducted a number of scientific hotel room studies over the years and is the author of “The Secret Life of Germs…”

“When you have people, unfortunately you have transmission of germs,” Tierno said.

RTFA. You’ll never want to leave home and travel again.

Some of the tales are so disgusting they’re hilarious. Har!