In order to restrict the spread of diseases such as Zika and dengue, researchers have developed a platform that can analyse clinical samples from patients to diagnose infection by 416 viruses found in the world's tropical regions.
In addition to the pathogens, the platform detects others that as yet have been identified only sporadically but could become epidemics.
Examples include Mayaro, an alphavirus related to chikungunya that is transmitted by wild mosquitoes such as Haemagogus janthinomys.
"The number of patients with suspected dengue, Zika or chikungunya infection will increase when summer arrives," said Victor Hugo Aquino, professor at the University of Sao Paulo (USP) in Brazil.
"Conventional methods are frequently unable to confirm diagnosis of these diseases, so we don't know which viruses are circulating," said Aquino.
In his view, if a tool like this had been available when Zika began circulating in Brazil, it might have been possible to restrict its spread to the initial outbreak location.
"We took a long time to realise an epidemic was under way because no one was thinking of Zika at the time," he said.
"There are several other viruses that have not yet caused problems in humans but may do so one day," Aquino said.
"They are evolving all the time, and with the degradation of natural environments infectious agents once confined to natural niches could spread farther afield," added Aquino.
Although the platform is designed above all to detect pathogens transmitted by arthropods such as mosquitoes and ticks, it can also diagnose infectious agents transmitted by small mammals, like hantavirus.
Aquino explained that the selection encompasses all viruses occurring in tropical regions with DNA sequences deposited in GenBank, a public database maintained by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), which is part of the US National Library of Medicine (NLM).
The platform consists of a DNA microarray slide with eight identical sub-arrays containing viral probes replicated at least three times to complete the array with 15,000 probes.
Each probe contains the sequences for 60 nucleotides that are complementary to the genomes of the viruses to be detected.
According to Aquino, the sequences were mounted on the basis of information from GenBank using bioinformatics.
"If a blood sample contains one of the 416 viruses included on the microchip, the pathogen's genome will bind with one of the probes to produce a marker that can be detected by a scanner," Aquino said.
The device that reads the results is the same as that used in microarray assays for the analysis of gene expression.
The validation tests do not point to cross-hybridisation, which produces a positive result for more than one infectious agent and hinders correct identification of single viruses.
The study was published in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
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Researchers have identified a gene variant that suppresses the desire to drink alcohol, an advance that could lead to development of drugs to regulate alcohol consumption.
The findings are based on the largest genome-wide association meta-analysis and replication study to date, mapping and comparing the genetics of over 105,000 light and heavy social drinkers, researchers said.
"The study identified a variation in the beta-Klotho gene linked to the regulation of social alcohol consumption. The less frequent variant – seen in approximately 40 per cent of the people in this study – is associated with a decreased desire to drink alcohol," said Dr David Mangelsdorf, from The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre in the US.
"Excessive alcohol consumption is a major public health problem worldwide, causing more than 3 million deaths per year," said Steven Kliewer, a Professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
Researchers worked on beta-Klotho and the liver hormone fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) that binds to the beta-Klotho-FGF21 receptor complex.
They conducted experiments in mice to better understand the role of beta-Klotho in alcohol drinking behaviour.
The beta-Klotho gene directs the production of the beta-Klotho protein that forms part of a receptor complex in the brain.
The study could lead to development of drugs to regulate alcohol consumption – possibly even in those with drinking problems, researchers said.
A shift from heavy to moderate social drinking could have major public health benefits, such as reduced cardiovascular disease risk, they said.
The study compared the genetics of light and heavy social drinkers of European ancestry participating in nearly four dozen other large population studies worldwide.
In addition to providing samples for genetic analysis, the participants answered questionnaires on their weekly drinking habits.
Heavy drinking was defined as more than 21 drinks per week for men and over 14 drinks per week for women. Light drinking was considered to be 14 drinks or less per week for men and seven drinks or less per week for women.
The beta-Klotho gene codes for the protein beta-Klotho, which forms a receptor complex in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) with classic receptors for FGF21, a hormone produced in the liver.
"The gene in the current study seems to work via a feedback circuit that goes from the liver, which processes alcohol, to the brain, where beta-Klotho and classic FGF21 receptors form a cellular machine, or receptor complex, which binds to the liver hormone FGF21 to signal the response to alcohol," Mangelsdorf said.
The less common gene variant identified in this study is related to a decreased desire for alcohol. So, people who have this variant tend to drink less than those without it, he said.
The study was published in the journal PNAS.
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Children delivered by cesarean section have 40 per cent greater odds of becoming overweight or obese in childhood compared to those born vaginally, according to a new research. This association was even greater if their mother was overweight or obese, suggesting that among obese mothers vaginal delivery may help reduce the intergenerational association of obesity, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University in the US.
This finding held even after accounting for the mother's age at the time of delivery, race, education, pre-pregnancy body mass index, pregnancy weight gain, air pollution exposure and the child's birth weight.
The researchers noted that having an overweight mother is often associated with overweight or obese children, regardless of how the child is born, but the effect was stronger among women who delivered through cesarean section. "We think that the reason for the difference may be due to the beneficial microbes found in the birth canal that newborns are exposed to during a vaginal birth," said lead author Noel Mueller, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University.
"We suspect that these microbes may benefit a child's health, including enhancing metabolism and training the immune system," said Mueller. Researchers analysed data on 1,441 full-term deliveries from the Boston Birth Cohort.
Among the study group, 57 per cent of the women who gave birth by Cesarean were obese, and 53 per cent of those who delivered vaginally were obese. Children ranged from ages two to eight at the time of outcome measurement.
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In a finding that could lead to better fuel cells and clean energy technologies, scientists have discovered that squeezing a platinum catalyst a fraction of a nanometre nearly doubles its activity.
A nanosize squeeze can significantly boost the performance of platinum catalysts that help generate energy in fuel cells, according to scientists at Stanford University in the US.
The team bonded a platinum catalyst to a thin material that expands and contracts as electrons move in and out, and found that squeezing the platinum a fraction of a nanometre nearly doubled its catalytic activity.
"In this study, we present a new way to fine-tune metal catalysts at the atomic scale," said Haotian Wang, a former graduate student at Stanford now at Harvard University.
"We found that ordinary battery materials can be used to control the activity of platinum and possibly for many other metal catalysts," said Wang.
The new technique can be applied to a wide range of clean technologies, Wang said, including fuel cells that use platinum catalysts to generate energy, and platinum electrolyzers that split water into oxygen and hydrogen fuel.
"Our tuning technique could make fuel cells more energy efficient and increase their power output," said Yi Cui, a professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford.
"It could also improve the hydrogen-generation efficiency of water splitters and enhance the production of other fuels and chemicals," said Cui.
Catalysts are used to make chemical reactions go faster while consuming less energy. The performance of a metal catalyst depends on its electronic structure - that is, how the electrons orbiting individual atoms are arranged.
The study focused on lithium cobalt oxide, a material widely used in batteries for cellphones and other electronic devices. The researchers stacked several layers of lithium cobalt oxide together to form a battery-like electrode.
"Applying electricity removes lithium ions from the electrode, causing it to expand by 0.01 nanometre. When lithium is reinserted during the discharge phase, the electrode contracts to its original size," Cui said.
For the experiment, the team added several layers of platinum to the lithium cobalt oxide electrode.
"Because platinum is bonded to the edge, it expands with the rest of the electrode when electricity is added and contracts during discharge," Cui said.
Separating the platinum layers a distance of 0.01 nanometre, or five per cent, had a significant impact on performance, Wang said.
"We found that compression makes platinum much more active. We observed a 90 per cent enhancement in the ability of platinum to reduce oxygen in water. This could improve the efficiency of hydrogen fuel cells," he said. The findings were published in the journal Science.
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Data gathered from lightning strikes can help precisely forecast storms, a new study has found. The study presents a new way to transform lightning strikes into weather-relevant information. The US National Weather Service has begun to use lightning in its most sophisticated forecasts, researchers said.
This method, however, is more general and could be used in a wide variety of forecasting systems, anywhere in the world, they said. "When you see lots of lightning you know where the convection, or heat-driven upward motion, is the strongest, and that is where the storm is the most intense," said Robert Holzworth, professor at University of Washington in the US.
"Almost all lightning occurs in clouds that have ice, and where there's a strong updraft," said Holzworth. Researchers tested their method on two cases: the summer 2012 derecho thunderstorm system that swept across the US and a 2013 tornado that killed several people in the Midwest.
"Using lightning data to modify the air moisture was enough to dramatically improve the short-term forecast for a strong rain, wind and storm event," said Ken Dixon, a former UW graduate student who now works for The Weather Company.
The simple method might also improve medium-range forecasts, for more than a few days out, in parts of the world that have little or no ground-level observations. The study used data from the UW-based WorldWide Lightning Location Network, which has a global record of lightning strikes going back to 2004.
Researchers use lightning to improve forecasts for convective storms, the big storms that produce thunderstorms and tornadoes. Apart from ground stations, weather forecasts are heavily dependent on weather satellites for information to start or "initialise" the numerical weather prediction models that are the foundation of modern weather prediction.
What is missing is accurate, real-time information about air moisture content, temperature and wind speed in places where there are no ground stations. "We have less skill for thunderstorms than for almost any other meteorological phenomenon. The results show that lightning data has potential to improve high-resolution forecasts of thunderstorms and convection," said Cliff Mass, professor at UW.
The new method could be helpful in forecasting storms over the ocean, where no ground instruments exist. Better knowledge of lightning-heavy tropical ocean storms could also improve weather forecasts far from the equator, Mass said, since many global weather systems originate in the tropics. The study was published in the Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology.
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India is third among countries with the largest pictorial warning on tobacco products, according to a report released today.
The report said that India has moved to the third position out of 205 countries from its earlier ranking of 136 in 2014 and 123 in 2012.
"Nepal now has the largest warning requirements in the world at 90 per cent of the package front and back.
Vanuatu will implement 90 per cent pictorial warnings in 2017.
"India and Thailand are tied for third, requiring 85 per cent pictorial warnings.
In the 2014 report, Thailand was top ranked at 85 per cent," the report said.
The Cigarette Package Health Warnings International Status Report was released today by Canadian Cancer Society at the 7th session of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), being held at Greater Noida.
The report ranks 205 countries and territories on the size of their health warnings on cigarette packages and lists countries and territories that require graphic picture warnings.
The report shows a significant global momentum towards plain packaging with 4 countries requiring plain packs and 14 working on it.
The report also shows that 105 countries and territories have required picture health warnings on cigarette packages.
"By implementing 85 per cent pictorial health warnings front and back on all tobacco packages, Indian Government has set up an example for making India a global leader and sending a strong message to the global community about India's commitment to reducing tobacco use and the sickness and poverty it causes", said Bhavna B Mukhopadhyay, Chief Executive, Voluntary Health Association of India.
While inaugurating the COP7, Union Health Minister J P Nadda had said that 2016 has been a landmark year for tobacco control activities in India.
"We have successfully implemented, from April 2016, the large pictorial health warnings occupying 85 per cent of the principal display area of tobacco packs and on all forms of tobacco," he had said.
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Sixty per cent of the 5.9 million children under five who died last year were in just 10 countries in Africa and Asia, an evaluation of global infant health revealed today.
Pneumonia was the leading killer in five of them, all in Africa: Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Tanzania, said a study published in The Lancet medical journal.
In Bangladesh, Indonesia, India and Pakistan, the main cause of death was preterm birth complications -- also the global leader -- while in China birth defects claimed most of the children who never made their fifth birthday.
"Accelerated investment in child survival is imperative," to meet the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the authors wrote.
These targets include an under-five mortality rate of no more than 25 per 1,000 births in every country by 2030.
The worst-performing countries today lose more than 90 children under five per 1,000 live births, said the researchers, citing including Angola, Central African Republic, Chad, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Somalia.
The team recommended "the uptake of breastfeeding, providing vaccines for pneumonia, malaria and diarrhoea, and improving water and sanitation," to prevent child deaths in the worst-afflicted nations of the world.
In countries with low death rates such as the United States and Russia with fewer than 10 per 1,000 births, the causes were very different -- mainly birth defects, complications from preterm delivery, and injuries such as stove burns, car accidents or drowning.
The study said nearly half -- 2.7 million -- of the 5.9 million children lost last year died within their first 28 days.
The research was funded by the UN's World Health Organization and the Bill & Melinda Gates philanthropic organisation.
Globally, four million fewer under-five children died in 2015 than in 2000, the researchers found.
This represented a 53-percent decline -- short of the two-thirds reduction target for 1990-2015 set in the Millennium Development Goals which preceded the SDGs.
The slowest progress, said the new study, was in reducing newborn deaths.
"Child survival has improved substantially since the Millennium Development Goals were set," the study's lead author Li Liu of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said.
"The problem is that this progress is uneven across all countries, meaning a high child death rate persists in many countries."
In a comment on the study, also published by The Lancet, Peter Byass of the Umea Centre for Global Research in Sweden said it was an indictment that researchers had to rely on estimates and not real, recorded numbers.
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People who sleep five or fewer hours a night are likely to drink significantly more sugary caffeinated beverages, such as sodas and energy drinks, according to a new study.
"We think there may be a positive feedback loop where sugary drinks and sleep loss reinforce one another, making it harder for people to eliminate their unhealthy sugar habit," said lead author Aric A Prather, assistant professor at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) in the US.
"This data suggests that improving people's sleep could potentially help them break out of the cycle and cut down on their sugar intake, which we know to be linked to metabolic disease," said Prather.
A growing body of research has linked sugary beverage consumption to metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions including high blood sugar and excess body fat, which can lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Lack of sleep is also associated with a higher risk for metabolic disease.
Recently, several studies have linked the two factors in school-age children, showing that children who get less sleep are more likely to drink soda and other sugary beverages during the day, said Prather.
To understand whether this is a more general pattern in the adult population, Prather and his team analysed the 2005-2012 records of 18,779 participants in the US National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES).
The researchers found that people who regularly slept five or fewer hours per night also drank 21 per cent more caffeinated sugar-sweetened beverages - including both sodas and non-carbonated energy drinks - than those who slept seven to eight hours a night.
People who slept six hours per night regularly consumed 11 per cent more caffeinated sugar-sweetened beverages. On the other hand, the team found no association between sleep duration and consumption of juice, tea or diet drinks.
Prather noted that previous research has strongly indicated that sleep deprivation increases hunger, particularly hunger for sugary and fatty foods.
"Short sleepers may seek out caffeinated sugar-sweetened beverages to increase alertness and stave off daytime sleepiness," he said.
"However, it is not clear whether drinking such beverages affects sleep patterns, or if people who do not sleep much are more driven to consume them. Unfortunately, the data in the current study do not allow us to draw any conclusions about cause and effect," he added. The study appears in the journal Sleep Health.
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Higher levels of iron in pregnant women may lead to an increased risk of gestational diabetes, a new study has warned.
The study by researchers from US National Institutes of Health (NIH) also raises questions about routine recommendations on iron supplementation in pregnancy.
Iron is regarded as a double-edged sword in living systems, as both its deficiency and excess can be harmful, researchers said.
While many guidelines recommend screening and treatment only as necessary for iron deficiency, several other groups such as the World Health Organisation (WHO recommend routine iron supplementation among pregnant women.
Emerging evidence has pointed to a possible link between higher iron stores and abnormal blood sugar control (including type 2 diabetes) in non-pregnant individuals.
Researchers did a case-control study of 107 gestational diabetes (GDM) cases and 214 controls (matched on age, gestational week of blood collection and race/ethnicity).
They looked at several biomarkers of iron status, including plasma hepcidin, ferritin, and soluble transferrin receptor (sTfR), and these data were used to calculate the sTfR:ferritin ratio, which captures both cellular iron need and availability of body iron stores.
These markers were longitudinally measured or calculated four times during pregnancy, twice before GDM diagnosis (gestational weeks 10-14 and 15-26), and twice afterwards (gestational weeks 23-31 and 33-39).
GDM diagnosis was ascertained from medical records based on oral glucose tolerance test results.
Statistical modelling was then used to calculate the odds ratio of GDM with iron status, accounting for factors such as demographics, pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI), and other major risk factors.
Researchers found that for both hepcidin and ferritin, in the second trimester of pregnancy, those in the top 25 per cent of levels of these markers had around a 2.5 times increased subsequent risk of developing GDM compared with those in the bottom 25 per cent.
Similar findings were observed for ferritin levels in the first trimester. Describing the findings as biologically plausible, researchers offer various potential explanations.
Iron may play a role in the development of GDM through several potential mechanisms. As a strong pro-oxidant, free iron can promote several cellular reactions that generate reactive oxygen species and increase the level of oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress induced from excess iron accumulation can cause damage to and death of pancreatic beta cells which produce insulin and consequently, contribute to impaired insulin synthesis and secretion.The study was published in the journal Diabetologia.
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