Predict the global spread of dengue with a new tool

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Researchers at CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, QUT and Queensland Health have developed a new tool to predict the global spread of human infectious diseases, like dengue, and track them to their source.

The tool draws on travel data from the International Air Transportation Association and dengue incidence rates from the Global Health Data Exchange to derive new insights about the spreading dynamics of dengue, a mosquito-borne disease.

Dr Jess Liebig, postdoctoral fellow at CSIRO’s data science arm Data61, said international travel significantly contributes to the rapid spread of dengue from endemic to non-endemic countries.

“According to the World Health Organisation, around half the world’s population is at risk of contracting dengue,” Dr Liebig said.

“By understanding the travel behaviour of infected individuals, we can estimate the number of infections that are imported into different countries each month.

“The tool also determines the infections’ country of origin and is able to uncover the routes along which dengue is most likely spread,”

In non-endemic countries such as Australia, local outbreaks are triggered by individuals who acquire the disease overseas and transmit the virus to local mosquitoes.

Professor Raja Jurdak, QUT, said that in many locations around the globe, infected individuals are not diagnosed, and dengue can be under-reported to health authorities, making it challenging to monitor risk and prevent the spread of infection.

“According to recent studies, around 92 per cent of symptomatic infections are not reported to health authorities mainly due to low awareness levels and misdiagnosis,” Professor Jurdak said.

“Our tool is one of the first to be able to forecast the absolute number of dengue importations, rather than the relative risk, at a global level.”

The tool identifies the travel route from Puerto Rico to Florida as having the highest predicted volume of dengue-infected passengers travelling to a non-endemic region.

“This provides a useful tool to assist public health authorities with dengue preparedness,” Dr Cassie Jansen, researcher at Queensland Health said.

“It can also help authorities to identify those locations where new dengue outbreaks may occur, following the arrival of infected passengers.”

The tool can be applied to other vector-borne diseases of global concern such as malaria, Zika and chikungunya.

It expands on previous work, which modelled how dengue infections from overseas might spread in Australia.

The research is part of the Disease Networks and Mobility (DiNeMo) project aimed at developing a real-time alert and surveillance system for human infectious diseases.

An earlier model was developed to predict the spread of dengue within Australia.

Learn more: New tool to predict the global spread of dengue

 

 

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Scientists have engineered mosquitoes to be resistant to spreading the devastating Zika virus

Zika resistant mosquitoes were given a redeye gene to distinguish them.

Scientists from Australia’s national science agency CSIRO and the University of California San Diego have engineered mosquitoes to be resistant to spreading the devastating Zika virus

Zika virus caused more than 4000 cases of serious birth defects in 2015 and is still a risk to millions of people.

Detailed in a paper published today in PNAS, the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were engineered by the university and tested by CSIRO in partnership with other research organisations.

“Our study found the mosquitoes with an anti-Zika gene were unable to pick up Zika when they fed, so they were incapable of spreading the virus to anybody else,” CSIRO Senior Research Scientist and paper co-author Dr Prasad Paradkar said.

“With further investigation, this mosquito could potentially one day be used to replace populations of wild Aedes aegypti, adding to the arsenal of control strategies against this mosquito to halt the virus’ spread around the world.”

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes normally pick up the Zika virus when they feed on the blood of an infected person, and can then spread the virus to the next person they feed on.

The study focussed on a synthetic anti-Zika gene (anti-ZIKV), which was injected into mosquito embryos along with a red-eye gene to differentiate them from normal mosquitoes. Once the mosquitoes were adults, the anti-Zika gene prevented them from picking up the virus when they fed.

Dr Paradkar said while Zika has spread to 86 countries, it is not currently present in Australia – but the biggest transmitter of the virus, the invasive Aedes aegypti mosquito, is established in northern Queensland and the Torres Strait.

“People in 86 countries across Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific are at risk of Zika. Infection during pregnancy can cause life-threatening complications to a foetus or newborn baby, including birth defects such as microcephaly,” Dr Paradkar said.

“With increased globalisation and international travel, the virus is capable of making it to Australian shores someday – so we’re collaborating with international partners to find innovative ways to reduce the risk both to Australians and to people around the world.”

The mosquitoes were tested in the quarantined insectary at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong, CSIRO’s national biocontainment facility designed to allow scientific research into the most dangerous infectious agents in the world.

The study builds on CSIRO’s history of work against mosquito-borne diseases, including an Aedes aegypti suppression trial in Innisfail last year, alongside years of work developing risk assessment frameworks around mosquito studies now used by the World Health Organisation.

Learn more: Mozzies get their wings clipped in spreading Zika virus

 

 

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Fecal transplants could be effective to treat ulcerative colitis

via NEWS am Medicine

Poo transplant or “Faecal microbiota transplantation” (FMT) can successfully treat patients with ulcerative colitis, new research from the University of Adelaide shows.

The randomised, double-blind study – published in the journal JAMA – was a collaboration between the University of Adelaide, South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), CSIRO and CALHN (SA Health).

It involved 73 adults with mild to moderate active ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease which effects the lining of the large intestine and rectum causing symptoms including pain, bloody stools and an increased risk of colon cancer.

Patients received either pooled donor FMT that had been anaerobically processed or their own stool as placebo via colonoscopy followed by two enemas.

Researchers found a short duration of low intensity FMT using anaerobically (in an oxygen-free environment) prepared pooled donor FMT could induce remission in ulcerative colitis, with a 32% rate of remission compared to 9% with placebo. This is a similar treatment result to the best currently available therapies.

Many of the currently available therapies for ulcerative colitis improve the disease by suppressing the immune system which can lead to potential side effects like infection or malignancy.

“The most important difference in this trial compared to previous studies is the use of anaerobic (oxygen-free) stool processing,” says study leader Dr Sam Costello, Gastroentrologist, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Lecturer, University of Adelaide’s Medical School.

“Many gut bacteria die with exposure to oxygen and we know that with anaerobic stool processing a large number of donor bacteria survive so that they can be administered to the patient.

“We believe that this may be the reason that we had a good therapeutic effect with only a small number of treatments.”

An agreement has already been reached with UK company Microbiotica to commercialise the development of a microbial therapeutic from the study.

“Our long-term aim is to develop rationally designed microbial therapies that can replace FMT,’’ says Dr Costello.

“These will have bacteria in a pill that can carry out the therapeutic effect without the need to take whole faeces.

“This is obviously a better and less smelly option.”

Further studies will investigate whether FMT can maintain remission in ulcerative colitis.

Learn more: POO TRANSPLANT EFFECTIVE TREATMENT FOR CHRONIC BOWEL CONDITION

 

 

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Bulk hydrogen can be transported in the form of ammonia using existing infrastructure and then reconverted back to hydrogen

The Toyota Mirai fuel cell vehicle, ready to be fuelled with CSIRO-produced hydrogen

Australia is a step closer to a new hydrogen production and export industry following the national science agency’s successful refuelling of two fuel cell vehicles.

CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshall was one of the first to ride in the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo vehicles powered by ultra-high purity hydrogen, produced in Queensland using CSIRO’s membrane technology.

This technology will pave the way for bulk hydrogen to be transported in the form of ammonia, using existing infrastructure, and then reconverted back to hydrogen at the point of use.

It has the potential to fill the gap in the technology chain to supply fuel cell vehicles around the world with low-emissions hydrogen sourced from Australia.

The membrane separates ultra-high purity hydrogen from ammonia, while blocking all other gases.

It links hydrogen production, distribution and delivery in the form of a modular unit that can be used at, or near, a refuelling station.

This means that the transportation and storage of hydrogen – currently a complex and relatively expensive process – is simplified, allowing bulk hydrogen to be transported economically and efficiently in the form of liquid ammonia.

Recent advances in solar and electrochemical technologies mean renewable hydrogen production is expected to become competitive with fossil fuel-based production, providing an opportunity to decarbonise both the energy and transport sectors while creating new export opportunities.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall is excited by the prospect of a growing global market for clean hydrogen, and the potential for a national renewable hydrogen export industry, to benefit Australia.

“This is a watershed moment for energy, and we look forward to applying CSIRO innovation to enable this exciting renewably-sourced fuel and energy storage medium a smoother path to market,” Dr Marshall said.

“I’m delighted to see strong collaboration and the application of CSIRO know-how to what is a key part of the overall energy mix.”

BOC Sales and Marketing Director Bruce Currie congratulated CSIRO on the successful refuelling of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, which proves the effectiveness of CSIRO’s membrane technology from generation, right through to point of use.

“BOC’s innovative engineering team are proud to be collaborating with CSIRO researchers on this technology breakthrough, as we focus on advancing the hydrogen economy and global transition towards clean hydrogen for mobility and energy,” Mr Currie said.

Following this successful demonstration, the technology will be increased in scale and deployed in several larger-scale demonstrations, in Australia and abroad.

The project received $1.7 million from the Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF), which was matched by CSIRO.

In addition to its membrane technology, CSIRO is applying its expertise to all stages of the hydrogen technology chain (including solar photovoltaics, solar thermal, grid management, water electrolysis, ammonia synthesis, direct ammonia utilisation via combustion and/or fuel cells, as well as hydrogen production).

 

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Scientists have confirmed the hybridisation of two of the world’s major pest species into a new and concerning mega-pest

Globalisation and increased movement between countries and continents means movement of agricultural pests is becoming more common. Global trade means global pests.

One of the pests, the cotton bollworm, is widespread in Africa, Asia and Europe and causes damage to over 100 crops, including corn, cotton, tomato and soybean.

The damage and controlling the pest costs billions of dollars a year.

It is extremely mobile and has developed resistance to all pesticides used against it.

The other pest, the corn earworm, is a native of the Americas and has comparatively limited resistance and host range.

However, the combination of the two, in a novel hybrid with unlimited geographical boundaries is cause for major concern.

The CSIRO researchers in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA provides clear evidence of the hybridisation of the two moths in Brazil.

“A hybrid such as this could go completely undetected should it invade another country. It is critical that we look beyond our own backyard to help fortify Australia’s defense and response to biosecurity threats,” Research Director leading CSIRO’s Biosecurity Risk Evaluation and Preparedness Program Dr Paul De Barro said.

“As Australia’s national science agency, we are constantly looking for new ways to protect the nation and technology like genome sequencing, is helping to tip the scales in our favour.”

While a combination of insecticides currently controls these pests well in Australia, it is important to study the pests themselves for sustainable long-term management world-wide.

The scientists confirmed that among the group of caterpillars studied, every individual was a hybrid.

“No two hybrids were the same suggesting a ‘hybrid swarm’ where multiple versions of different hybrids can be present within one population,” fellow CSIRO Scientist Dr Tom Walsh said.

The bollworm, commonly found in Australia, attacks more crops and develops much more resistance to pesticides than the earworm.

A concerning finding among the Brazilian hybrids was that one was 51 per cent earworm but included a known resistance gene from the bollworm.

Lead author of the paper Dr Craig Anderson, a former CSIRO scientist now based at The University of Edinburgh, believes the hybrid study has wide-ranging implications for the agricultural community across the Americas.

“On top of the impact already felt in South America, recent estimates that 65 per cent of the USA’s agricultural output is at risk of being affected by the bollworm demonstrates that this work has the potential to instigate changes to research priorities that will have direct ramifications for the people of America, through the food on their tables and the clothes on their backs,” Dr Anderson said.

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