In contrast to their negative reputation as disease causing agents, some viruses can perform crucial biological and evolutionary functions that help to shape the world we live in today, according to a new report by the American Academy of Microbiology.
“Viruses participate in essential Earth processes and influence all life forms on the planet, from contributing to biogeochemical cycles, shaping the atmospheric composition, and driving major speciation events,” states Marilyn Roossinck of Pennsylvania State University, a member of the steering committee that helped to organize the colloquium.
The report, ‘Viruses Throughout Life & Time: Friends, Foes, Change Agents,’ is based on the deliberation of a group of scientific experts who gathered for two days in San Francisco, CA in July 2013 to answer a series of questions regarding the variety of roles that viruses play in the natural world.
“The inspiration for holding the colloquium was that recent metagenomics studies of viruses have indicated we know very little about the real world of viruses. Almost all published research is about the viruses that cause disease in humans and their domesticated plants and animals. This certainly represents only a very small fraction of the viruses that really exist,” says Roossinck. “It is very important to understand the real world of viruses, as this can inform our basic understanding of life and its origins, as well as major earth phenomena like carbon cycling.”
Beyond their pathogenic impact, the report examines in depth the size of the virosphere, the origin of viruses, the overlooked biological and microbial ecological role of viruses, and how these live forms have contributed to evolution. Additional highlights from the report explain how some viruses are commensal organisms or symbionts, their functioning in microbial communities, and their role in maintaining the biosphere. The array of responsibilities taken on by viruses is due to their incredible sequence diversity and genomic plasticity, referred to as “viral dark matter”.
The report concludes by stimulating the readers to think about key questions: “What if viruses had never existed on Earth? Would life have evolved quite differently”? Continued viral research will help to answer these enticing questions.
Thank you to the American Society of Microbiology for contributing this story.
So the BRRAT (Bioterrorism Rapid Response and Technology laboratory) scientists are at it again. They just cannot keep themselves out of trouble. I am at a loss for words. There really is nothing left to say. You can’t make this stuff up folks. Three breaches of CDC (Center for Disease Control) policy regarding the safe handling of extremely dangerous bio-hazardous materials all within weeks of each other.
For the benefit of those that have not read the stories that we’ve posted previously, here is a brief recap. In June, approximately 75 scientists were exposed to the deadly Anthrax virus when it was accidentally transferred from a high-level biosafety lab to one with a lower clearance level. Then in early July, an FDA scientist found 6 vials of smallpox somewhere in the back of his freezer. Apparently it had been sitting there for decades, (sounds like a very good freezer-they certainly don’t make them to last like that anymore), waiting for some poor, unsuspecting researcher to find it and bring it back to life.
So what’s next you ask? What’s the third breach? Are you sitting down?
The CDC is reporting that the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu virus was mistakenly shipped from a high level biosafety lab to a low level Department of Agriculture Facility. That’s right. The deadly virus was mistakenly shipped to the wrong place. But wait…there’s more. According to CDC Director Thomas Frieden, more than six weeks passed between the time that the virus was sent to the Department of Agriculture until it was officially reported to the CDC.
I give up. My confidence in the system is officially shot.
So how did the CDC respond to these violations? Their official response can be seen in this press release. Here is a synopsis for those who don’t have the patients to comb through another CDC report. Keep in mind that this is my take on the response and not the official position of the CDC:
- immediate cessation on the transfer of highly dangerous biological materials (now that makes sense)
- establishment of a working group to hold scientists accountable for common sense
- establishment of a review group (do you see a pattern here?) to figure out how to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future
- BRRAT scientists can no longer work with hazardous material until it has been shown that they can act responsibly with materials that can be used to create biological weapons
- somebody might lose his/her job
So what do yo think? Are these measures strong enough? Do they reinstall your confidence in the ability of America’s top Scientists to protect the rest of us low level lab techs from contracting a deadly disease or potentially spreading it to your friends and family.
I’m not sure that I am feeling any better. Are you?