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Crossing barriers: How the rabbit virus myxoma leapt into a new species

Viruses are among the most protean entities in nature, ceaselessly mutating and acquiring new characteristics. These tiny entities follow a simple and…

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Viruses are among the most protean entities in nature, ceaselessly mutating and acquiring new characteristics. These tiny entities follow a simple and relentless imperative:  infect as many host organisms as possible. Occasionally, a virus’ genomic alterations enable it to leap from one species to another, in a process known as spillover.

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Viruses are among the most protean entities in nature, ceaselessly mutating and acquiring new characteristics. These tiny entities follow a simple and relentless imperative:  infect as many host organisms as possible. Occasionally, a virus’ genomic alterations enable it to leap from one species to another, in a process known as spillover.

In new research appearing in the journal mBio, Masmudur Rahman and his Arizona State University colleagues join international researchers to investigate one such spillover event, when the myxoma virus (MYXV) made a species leap from European rabbits to Iberian hares.

The study describes M159, a virus protein called a “host range factor” that arose very recently through a fortuitous gene pickup in the myxoma virus. The resultant hybrid strain, known as MYXV-Tol, has enabled the virus to expand its existing host range, traversing the species barrier and causing lethal disease in Iberian hares.

Researchers would like to better understand these genomic transitions, as spillover events have profound implications for both human and animal health. One such recent event, caused by mutations in a novel, SARS-like virus of unknown origin, is responsible for the global pandemic of COVID-19 disease, which has killed over five million people globally.

Understanding the subtle alterations enabling viruses to make species jumps may help better prepare for outbreaks of new diseases, limit their transmission, and perhaps allow researchers to outwit viral mechanisms that set the stage for spillover events. Human-engineered therapies against pathogens (including viruses) are part of a never-ending arms race between infectious agents and their host organisms. 

In addition to its importance for the study of host- pathogen coevolution, myxoma virus has been investigated for its remarkable ability to target and kill human cancer cells, while leaving their normal healthy cell counterparts unharmed. It is one of the most promising viruses available in the new field of virotherapy, which uses cancer fighting or oncolytic viruses, including myxoma.

The new study suggests that the M159 protein not only enables MYXV-Tol to leap over the species barrier and infect hares but also appears to help this strain replicate even better in human cancer cells, potentially improving MYXV as a cancer-fighting agent.

“M159 protein is a member of the poxvirus C7-like host range factors. In the future, identifying the protein(s) that interact with M159 in hares and human cancer cells will allow us to understand whether M159 targets similar or diverse signaling pathways,” said Rahman.

Rahman is a researcher in the Biodesign Center for Immunotherapy, Vaccines and Virotherapy at ASU. He is joined by Grant McFadden, director of the center and by Arvind Varsani, a researcher in the Biodesign Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics.  McFadden, Varsani and Rahman are also researchers in ASU’s School of Life Sciences.  Additional ASU researchers include first author Ana Agueda-Pinto, Simona Kraberger, Anne Everts, Ami Gutierrez-Jensen and Honor L. Glenn.

Collaborators on the new study include researchers from Universidade do Porto, Vairão, Portugal; Universidad de Oviedo, Campus El Cristo, Oviedo, Spain; and (IRIAF), CIAG del Chaparrillo, Ciudad Real, Spain.

Specialized killer

In studying the mechanisms underlying the ability of viruses to cross species barriers, researchers rely on model organisms. The myxoma virus is a particularly attractive candidate for such investigations and is the most extensively researched field model for this type of study. This fact is due to a historical event in which MYXV was used to control populations of European rabbits in Europe and Australia, beginning in 1950.

MYXV belongs to the poxvirus family of viruses, a very large assemblage of double-stranded DNA viruses which includes many benign members as well as the virus that once caused the notoriously lethal disease smallpox.

Many kinds of viruses have spillover potential. Annual outbreaks of influenza, for example, are the result of spillover events occurring when migratory birds, acting as reservoirs for the virus, spread the disease to other species, including ducks, chickens, pigs and humans. As the virus moves from species to species, mutating strains acquire new abilities to aid their transmission and ability to evade host immune defenses.

Although the natural hosts of the MYXV virus are Sylvilagus rabbits (known in the Americas as cottontails), exposure of European rabbit populations to this virus proved 99% fatal, without any further adaptation of the virus to the European rabbit host. The highly contagious virus, spread through rabbit populations by fleas or mosquitos, produces a lethal rabbit disease known as myxomatosis. MYXV-Tol was found to cause a very similar lethal disease in hares.

Over the long term, the rabbit control strategy with MYXV failed, as evolutionary selective pressures acting on both the virus and host resulted in MYXV-resistant rabbits and attenuated virus variants. Nevertheless,  MYXV  provides a valuable laboratory tool for the study of the poorly understood dance between infectious agents and the molecular transformations used by species to thwart them.

 “Every time a virus leaps from one host species into another, we learn something new about Mother Nature,” McFadden says. “In the case of MYXV-Tol, we learned that the acquisition of a single new virus gene allowed this new virus strain access to a new host species that was previously resistant to the virus”.

New virus on the block

Evidence suggests that Iberian hares had long been exposed to MYXV or a similar virus since at least the 1990’s, with no resulting outbreak of myxomatosis occurring. Then, an altered virus strain known as MYXV-Tol appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. This new variant showed high similarity to the previously endemic form of the virus, known as MYXV-Lau, with one notable genomic exception.  The new strain had acquired a small suite of new genes, which it acquired through recombination with an as-yet-unidentified poxvirus.  The result was a supercharged variant that proved both infectious and highly lethal to hares living on the Iberian Peninsula, killing hundreds of them beginning in the Autumn of 2018.

Among the genes found in the MYXV-Tol variant was a gene coding for a protein known as M159. The new study explores this single protein as a possible culprit in MYXV-Tol’s species-hopping capacity. The researchers examined laboratory cell lines of rabbit, hare and human cells exposed to MYXV variants with and without the M159 protein.

While strains containing the novel protein did not appear more infectious to cells of European rabbits, the M159-containing strains were now highly infectious to cells from European hares, whereas strains without the protein were not, establishing M159 as the key ingredient allowing MYXV to cross the species barrier.

The study also tested two human cancer cell lines that are normally resistant to MYXV, exposing them to the M159-enhanced version. The results were dramatic. Human pancreatic cancer and melanoma cells are typically semipermissive or nonpermissive to MYXV, meaning that the virus usually replicates poorly in these cell types. However, when the M159 protein was inserted into the MYXV-Lau strain, viral replication in both cancer cell lines was significantly enhanced, suggesting the protein could be used to improve MYXV as a cancer-fighting agent against some classes of human tumors.

Further research promises to shed new light on the highly pathogenic MYXV-Tol variant as well as illuminate the mechanisms used by other poxviruses to spillover into new animal species, including humans.


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U.S. FDA will decide on redesigned COVID vaccines by early July

U.S. regulators plan to decide by early July on whether to change the design of COVID-19 vaccines this fall in order to combat more recent variants of…

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U.S. FDA will decide on redesigned COVID vaccines by early July

By Michael Erman

“The better the match of the vaccines to the circulating strain we believe may correspond to improve vaccine effectiveness, and potentially to a better durability of protection,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said at a meeting of outside advisers to the regulator.

Vials with Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine labels are seen in this illustration picture taken March 19, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

The committee is scheduled to vote on a recommendation on whether to make the change later on Tuesday.

The updated shots are likely to be redesigned to fight the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, experts say. read more The exact composition of the retooled shots and whether they also will include some of the original vaccine alongside new components will be considered at the meeting.

Pfizer Inc (PFE.N), Moderna Inc (MRNA.O) and Novavax Inc. (NVAX.O) are scheduled to present data at the meeting. All three companies have been testing versions of their vaccines updated to combat the BA.1 Omicron variant that was circulating and led to a massive surge in infections last winter.

Both Moderna and Pfizer with partner BioNTech (22UAy.DE) have said that their respective redesigned vaccines generate a better immune response against BA.1 than their current shots that were designed for the original virus that emerged from China.

They have said that their new vaccines also appear to work against the more recently circulating BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, even though that protection is not as strong as against BA.1.

Experts also want to know if the new shots will boost protection against severe disease and death for younger, healthier people or merely offer a few months’ additional safeguard against mild infection.

Scientists who have questioned the value of booster shots for young and healthy people have said a broad campaign is not needed with an updated shot either.

Other experts have championed any additional protection new vaccines may offer.

Reporting by Michael Erman Editing by Bill Berkrot and Bernadette Baum

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Source: Reuters

 

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Stock Market Today: Dow Jones, S&P 500 Edge Higher; Trip.com Stock Surges From China Covid Easing

Markets opened in the green today as they rebound from Monday’s losses.
The post Stock Market Today: Dow Jones, S&P 500 Edge Higher; Trip.com Stock…

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Stock Market Today Mid-Morning Updates

On Tuesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up by 270 points as it followed modest losses on Wall Street. Investors are still weighing the risks of red-hot inflation as rates continue to rise. Aside from the U.S., European Central Bank Leader Christine Lagarde downplayed recession concerns in the eurozone, already being destabilized by Russia’s war on Ukraine. She also says that her team is ready to raise rates at a faster pace if needed, in order to combat inflation.

Shares of Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS), Bank of America (NYSE: BAC), Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC), and Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS) raised their dividends after passing their annual stress tests. For instance, Goldman Sachs is boosting its dividend payout by 25% to $2.50 per share. On the other hand, shares of Las Vegas Sands (NYSE: LVS) and Wynn Resorts (NASDAQ: WYNN) are up today after China announced that it will be easing Covid-19 quarantine rules for international arrivals.

Among the Dow Jones leaders, shares of Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) are up by 0.13% today while Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is down by 0.79%. Meanwhile, Disney (NYSE: DIS) and Nike (NYSE: NKE) are trading mixed on Tuesday. Among the Dow financial leaders, Visa (NYSE: V) is up by 0.17% while JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM) is also up by 1.67%

Shares of EV leader Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) are up by 0.83% on Tuesday. Rival EV companies like Rivian (NASDAQ: RIVN) are down by 0.17%. Lucid Group (NASDAQ: LCID) is down by 1.09% today as well. However, Chinese EV leaders like Nio (NYSE: NIO) and Xpeng Motors (NYSE: XPEV) are trading mixed today. 

Dow Jones Today: U.S. Treasury Yields Inches Higher; House Price Increases Slows Down In April 

Following the stock market opening on Tuesday, the S&P 500, Dow, and Nasdaq are trading higher at 0.68%, 0.89%, and 0.31% respectively. Among exchange-traded funds, the Nasdaq 100 tracker Invesco QQQ Trust (NASDAQ: QQQ) is up by 0.28% while the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (NYSEARCA: SPY) is also up by 0.67%. 

The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yield currently hovers around 3.22% as the market continues to push against a bear market. Oil prices rallied for the third day today as major producers like Saudi Arabia looked unlikely to be able to boost output significantly. This comes as the West agreed to explore ways to cap the price of Russian oil. Brent crude, for instance, currently trades at around $116 per barrel.

Home prices increased slower than before in April and could be a potential sign of a cooling in prices. Diving in, prices rose by 20.4% nationally in April compared with a year earlier. This is according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Index. For comparison, home prices increased by 20.6% year-over-year in March. Cities like Tampa, Miami, and Phoenix continue to lead the pack with the strongest price gains. Tampa home prices, for instance, are up by a whopping 35.8% year-over-year.

[Read More] Top Stock Market News For Today June 28, 2022 

Trip.com Stock Gains Following Better-Than-Expected Quarterly Performance On Travel Rebound; China Covid Easing

Trip.com Group (NASDAQ: TCOM) seems to be among the top gainers in the stock market now. Evidently, TCOM stock is now up by over 14% at the opening bell today. Overall, this likely stems from the company’s latest financial update. Getting straight into it, Trip.com reported a quarterly loss per share of $0.01. Furthermore, the company’s total quarterly revenue is $649 million. For reference, consensus figures on Wall Street are a loss per share of $0.08 on revenue of $575.04 million. With these commendable results, investors looking to bet on the return of travel would be considering TCOM stock.

According to Trip.com, the company has recovering travel demand in global markets to thank for its latest quarterly performance. In particular, Trip.com highlights a bump in activity from consumers across its Europe and Asia Pacific user bases. This, the company believes, is a result of easing travel restrictions amidst countries in these regions. Moreover, Trip.com also notes that staycation-related travel in China is another notable contributor to growth for the quarter. Accordingly, its local hotel bookings are now up by 20% year-over-year.

On the whole, travel firms like Trip.com continue to thrive as consumers book their vacations. For its latest quarter, the company’s air-ticket bookings on global platforms are now up by a whopping 270% year-over-year. As mentioned earlier, this is mainly led by a rebound in demand from its European and Asian Pacific operations. Looking forward, CEO Jane sun notes that Trip.com will “remain adaptive to embrace the changing environment and be flexible with our strategies to swiftly seize growth opportunities.” With all this in mind, I could understand if TCOM stock is turning some heads in the stock market today.

TCOM stock
Source: TradingView

[Read More] Best Oil Stocks To Buy Right Now? 5 For Your Late June 2022 Watchlist 

Occidental Petroleum On The Rise Following Latest Berkshire Hathaway Stake Increase

Meanwhile, the likes of Occidental Petroleum (NYSE: OXY) seem to be gaining attention in the stock market now. For the most part, this is likely a result of the latest regulatory filing from Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK.A). Namely, Berkshire disclosed a purchase of an additional 794,000 shares of Occidental. This adds up to a $44 million transaction, bringing its total stake to about 16.4%. In total, Berkshire currently holds about 153.5 million shares of OXY stock, worth $9 billion.

All in all, Buffett’s focus on Occidental would likely draw attention to the energy firm’s shares. This is apparent as OXY stock is currently gaining by over 6% in the stock market now. According to Berkshire’s filings since March, the company’s average purchase price per share of OXY stock is $53. Following this investment, Berkshire would be bolstering its position as Occidental’s largest stakeholder. In second place on this front is investment firm Vanguard with an almost 11% stake. As a result of all this, it would not surprise me to see OXY stock making the rounds in the stock market now.

OXY stock
Source: TradingView

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The post Stock Market Today: Dow Jones, S&P 500 Edge Higher; Trip.com Stock Surges From China Covid Easing appeared first on Stock Market News, Quotes, Charts and Financial Information | StockMarket.com.

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Royal Caribbean Shares Huge News on Covid Testing, Vaccine Rules

President Michael Bayley gave some straight answers on pre-cruise covid testing and potentially dropping vaccine requirement at a Q&A during the cruise…

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President Michael Bayley gave some straight answers on pre-cruise covid testing and potentially dropping vaccine requirement at a Q&A during the cruise line's President's Cruise.

Being on a cruise has largely returned to the same experience it was before the pandemic. Mask requirements have been dropped, capacities have returned to normal, and social distancing requirements have been dropped.

In fact, aside from crew members still having to wear masks and some stray passengers opting to do so in certain indoor situations, there's really no sign of covid rules once you board your cruise.

Before you board, however, the pandemic still has an effect on cruising. Every passenger 12 and older must be vaccinated (and must prove so before getting on board) and all passengers must produce a negative covid test taken no more than two days before getting on the ship.

And, while covid remains a problem, the cruise industry sees some light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to pre-cruise protocols. Executives from the major cruise lines -- Royal Caribbean International (RCL) - Get Royal Caribbean Group Report, Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL) - Get Carnival Corporation Report, and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH) - Get Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. Report -- have said very little about plans to drop pre-cruise testing and vaccination requirements,

Now, however, Royal Caribbean President Michael Bayley has spoken out on both issues and has given cruise fans some real answers.

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When Will Covid Tests and Vaccinations Get Dropped?

The major cruise lines have largely stayed quiet about covid protocols because they remain somewhat beholden to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The current CDC rules are voluntary, but voluntary is sort of a relative term when it comes to the power the federal agency has over the cruise industry.

It makes sense that the industry has been cautious in commenting on when covid protocols may change, but with the end at least seeming feasible Bayley answered questions about both the end of pre-cruise testing and potentially dropping vaccination requirements during the 2022 Royal Caribbean President's Cruise on Ovation of the Seas, the Royal Caribbean Blog reported.

"I think pre-cruise testing is going to be around for another couple of months," Bayley said. "We obviously want it to go back to normal, but we're incredibly cognizant of our responsibilities to keep our crew, the communities and our guests safe."

Bayley was less hopeful about the end of vaccinations, according to the blog, which has no connection to Royal Caribbean.

"The no vaccine question is is a huge question that none of us know the answer to," he said. "I'm skeptical that's going to change in the in the real short term. Many and most of the destinations that we visit require a high degree of vaccination, and they expect our crew to be vaccinated."

Cruise Lines Covid Protocols Are Working

Covid has not gone anywhere, but the cruise industry has been very successful at controlling the impact of the virus. Bayley noted that the CDC shares some information with him about the "millions" of people who have sailed from U.S. ports over the past 12 months.

"And the number of people who died from COVID who'd sailed on ships over the past year was two," the Royal Caribbean Blog reported. "Two is terrible. But against the context of everything we've seen, that's it's truly been a remarkable success."

Vaccine requirements remain a touchy issue as some people have chosen not to be vaccinated and that means they cannot cruise. That seems unlikely to change anytime soon given the destinations Royal Caribbean visits and the CDC information which shows that the current protocols are working.

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