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Viruses may be ‘watching’ you – some microbes lie in wait until their hosts unknowingly give them the signal to start multiplying and kill them

Phages, or viruses that infect bacteria, can lie dormant within chromosomes until they’re triggered to replicate and burst out of their hosts.

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Phages can sense bacterial DNA damage, which triggers them to replicate and jump ship. Design Cells/iStock via Getty Images Plus

After more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, you might picture a virus as a nasty spiked ball – a mindless killer that gets into a cell and hijacks its machinery to create a gazillion copies of itself before bursting out. For many viruses, including the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the “mindless killer” epithet is essentially true.

But there’s more to virus biology than meets the eye.

Take HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV is a retrovirus that does not go directly on a killing spree when it enters a cell. Instead, it integrates itself into your chromosomes and chills, waiting for the right moment to command the cell to make copies of it and burst out to infect other immune cells and eventually cause AIDS.

Exactly what moment HIV is waiting for is still an area of active study. But research on other viruses has long hinted that these pathogens can be quite “thoughtful” about killing. Of course, viruses cannot think the way you and I do. But, as it turns out, evolution has endowed them with some pretty elaborate decision-making mechanisms. Some viruses, for instance, will choose to leave the cell they have been residing in if they detect DNA damage. Not even viruses, it appears, like to stay in a sinking ship.

My laboratory has been studying the molecular biology of bacteriophages, or phages for short, the viruses that infect bacteria, for over two decades. Recently, my colleagues and I have shown that phages can listen for key cellular signals to help them in their decision-making. Even worse, they can use the cell’s own “ears” to do the listening for them.

Escaping DNA damage

If the enemy of your enemy is your friend, phages are certainly your friends. Phages control bacterial populations in nature, and clinicians are increasingly using them to treat bacterial infections that do not respond to antibiotics.

The best studied phage, lambda, works a bit like HIV. Upon entering the bacterial cell, lambda decides whether to replicate and kill the cell outright, like most viruses do, or to integrate itself into the cell’s chromosome, as HIV does. If the latter, lambda harmlessly replicates with its host each time the bacteria divides.

This video shows a lambda phage infecting E. coli.

But, like HIV, lambda is not just sitting idle. It uses a special protein called CI like a stethoscope to listen for signs of DNA damage within the bacterial cell. If the bacterium’s DNA gets compromised, that’s bad news for the lambda phage nested within it. Damaged DNA leads straight to evolution’s landfill because it’s useless for the phage that needs it to reproduce. So lambda turns on its replication genes, makes copies of itself and bursts out of the cell to look for more undamaged cells to infect.

Tapping the cell’s communication system

Some phages, instead of gathering intel with their own proteins, tap the infected cell’s very own DNA damage sensor: LexA.

Proteins like CI and LexA are transcription factors that turn genes on and off by binding to specific genetic patterns within the DNA instruction book that is the chromosome. Some phages like Coliphage 186 have figured out that they don’t need their own viral CI protein if they have a short DNA sequence in their chromosomes that bacterial LexA can bind to. Upon detecting DNA damage, LexA will activate the phage’s replicate-and-kill genes, essentially double-crossing the cell into committing suicide while allowing the phage to escape.

Scientists first reported CI’s role in phage decision-making in the 1980s and Coliphage 186’s counterintelligence trick in the late 1990s. Since then, there have been a few other reports of phages tapping bacterial communication systems. One example is phage phi29, which exploits its host’s transcription factor to detect when the bacterium is getting ready to generate a spore, or a kind of bacterial egg capable of surviving extreme environments. Phi29 instructs the cell to package its DNA into the spore, killing the budding bacteria once the spore germinates.

Transcription factors turn genes on and off.

In our recently published research, my colleagues and I show that several groups of phages have independently evolved the ability to tap into yet another bacterial communication system: the CtrA protein. CtrA integrates multiple internal and external signals to set in motion different developmental processes in bacteria. Key among these is the production of bacterial appendages called flagella and pili. Turns out, these phages attach themselves to the pili and flagella of bacteria in order to infect them.

Our leading hypothesis is that phages use CtrA to guesstimate when there will be enough bacteria nearby sporting pili and flagella that they can readily infect. A pretty smart trick for a “mindless killer.”

These are not the only phages that make elaborate decisions – all without the benefit of even having a brain. Some phages that infect Bacillus bacteria produce a small molecule each time they infect a cell. The phages can sense this molecule and use it to count the number of phage infections taking place around them. Like alien invaders, this count helps decide when they should switch on their replicate-and-kill genes, killing only when hosts are relatively abundant. This way, the phages make sure that they never run out of hosts to infect and guarantee their own long-term survival.

Countering viral counterintelligence

You may be wondering why you should care about the counterintelligence ops run by bacterial viruses. While bacteria are very different from people, the viruses that infect them are not that different from the viruses that infect humans. Pretty much every single trick played by phages has later been shown to be used by human viruses. If a phage can tap bacterial communication lines, why wouldn’t a human virus tap yours?

So far, researchers don’t know what human viruses could be listening for if they hijack these lines, but plenty of options come to mind. I believe that, like phages, human viruses could potentially be able to count their numbers to strategize, detect cell growth and tissue formation and even monitor immune responses. For now, these possibilities are only speculation, but scientific investigation is underway.

Having viruses listening to your cells’ private conversations is not the rosiest of pictures, but it’s not without a silver lining. As intelligence agencies all around the world know well, counterintelligence works only when it’s covert. Once detected, the system can very easily be exploited to feed misinformation to your enemy. Similarly, I believe that future antiviral therapies may be able to combine conventional artillery, like antivirals that prevent viral replication, with information warfare trickery, such as making the virus believe the cell it is in belongs to a different tissue.

But, hush, don’t tell anybody. Viruses could be listening!

Ivan Erill receives funding from the US National Science Foundation

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Decrease in Japanese children’s ability to balance during movement related to COVID-19 activity restrictions

A team of researchers from Nagoya University in central Japan investigated how restrictions on children’s activities during the COVID-19 pandemic affected…

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A team of researchers from Nagoya University in central Japan investigated how restrictions on children’s activities during the COVID-19 pandemic affected their life habits and their abilities to perform physical activities. By comparing medical examination data before and after the onset of the pandemic, they found that physical functions among adolescents deteriorated, including their dynamic balance. They also found that the children had higher body fat levels and worse life habits. Rather than a lack of exercise time, this may have been because of a lack of quality exercise due to activity restrictions.  

Credit: Credit must be given when image is used

A team of researchers from Nagoya University in central Japan investigated how restrictions on children’s activities during the COVID-19 pandemic affected their life habits and their abilities to perform physical activities. By comparing medical examination data before and after the onset of the pandemic, they found that physical functions among adolescents deteriorated, including their dynamic balance. They also found that the children had higher body fat levels and worse life habits. Rather than a lack of exercise time, this may have been because of a lack of quality exercise due to activity restrictions.  

During the COVID-19 pandemic, in Japan, as in other countries, schools and sports clubs tried to prevent the spread of infection by reducing physical education and restricting outdoor physical activities, club activities, and sports. However, children who are denied opportunities for physical activity with social elements may develop bad habits. During the pandemic, children, like adults, increased the time they spent looking at television, smartphone, and computer screens, exercised less, and slept less. Such changes in lifestyle can harm adolescent bodies, leading to weight gain and health problems. 

Visiting Researcher Tadashi Ito and Professor Hideshi Sugiura from the Department of Biological Functional Science at the Nagoya University Graduate School of Medicine, together with Dr. Yuji Ito from the Department of Pediatrics at Nagoya University Hospital, and  Dr. Nobuhiko Ochi and Dr. Koji Noritake from Aichi Prefectural Mikawa Aoitori Medical and Rehabilitation Center for Developmental Disabilities, conducted a study of Japanese children and students in elementary and junior high schools, aged 9-15, by analyzing data from physical examinations before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. They evaluated the children’s muscle strength, dynamic balance functions, walking speed, body fat percentage, screen time, sleep time, quality of life, and physical activity time.  

The researchers found that after the onset of the pandemic, children were more likely to have decreased balance ability when moving, larger body fat percentage, report spending more time looking at TV, computers or smartphones, and sleep less. Since there were no changes in the time spent on physical activity or the number of meals eaten, Sugiura and his colleagues suggest that the worsening of physical functions was related to the quality of exercise of the children. The researchers reported their findings in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.  

“Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Japan after April 2020, children have not been able to engage in sufficient physical education, sports activities, and outdoor play at school. It became clear that balance ability during movement was easily affected, lifestyle habits were disrupted, and the percentage of body fat was likely to increase,” explained Ito. “This may have been because of shorter outdoor playtime and club activities, which impeded children’s ability to learn the motor skills necessary to balance during movement.” 

“Limitations on children’s opportunities for physical activity because of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus have had a significant impact on the development of physical function and lifestyle and may cause physical deterioration and health problems in the future,” warned Ito. “Especially, the risk of injury to children may increase because of a reduced dynamic balance function.” 

The results suggest that even after the novel coronavirus becomes endemic, it is important to consider the effects of social restrictions on the body composition of adolescents. Since physical activities with a social element may be important for health, authorities should prioritize preventing the reduction of children’s physical inactivity and actively encourage them to play outdoors and exercise. The group has some recommendations for families worried about the effects of school closings and other coronavirus measures on their children. “It is important for children to practice dynamic balance ability, maintaining balance to avoid falling over while performing movements,” Ito advised. “To improve balance function in children, it is important to incorporate enhanced content, such as short-term exercise programs specifically designed to improve balance functions.” 


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These Are The World’s Richest Billionaires Over The Past 10 Years

These Are The World’s Richest Billionaires Over The Past 10 Years

The last decade has seen a number of changes in the world’s richest billionaires…

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These Are The World's Richest Billionaires Over The Past 10 Years

The last decade has seen a number of changes in the world’s richest billionaires list.

For one, there are new faces at the top of the leaderboard that were never there before. But, as Visual Capitalist's Nick Routley details below, one of the most obvious changes though, is that the richest billionaires have accumulated a lot more wealth in recent years.

Using annual data from Forbes on the richest billionaires, Routley has visualized the wealth and ranking of the top 10 billionaires over the past decade.

Who are the World’s Richest Billionaires?

While the pecking order has fluctuated, the leaderboard remains very exclusive. Out of a possible 10 spots, there are only 19 individuals that have made the list over the last decade.

Here’s the current list of richest billionaires in 2022, including when they first made the list (if in the last decade):

 

*Billionaires with “-” first made the list at an earlier date. Example: Mukesh Ambani made the 2008 list.

 

Microsoft co-founder turned philanthropist, Bill Gates, is a perennial presence at the top of these lists. Gates is currently at his lowest rank over this time period, but is still in fourth spot. The billionaire has pledged to give away nearly all of his fortune to the eponymously named Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

From 2018 to 2021, Jeff Bezos sat at the top of the world’s richest people ranking, only to be bumped out by Elon Musk. In 2020, Bezos became the first person to amass a $200 billion fortune after Amazon’s stock price surged during the pandemic. In recent months, Bezos’ net worth has taken a hit as Amazon’s share price has fallen back down to Earth.

Today, Elon Musk is the world’s richest person.

The Rich Get Richer

Over time, the median net worth of the richest billionaires has grown significantly.

 

Most fortunes are held in the form of business equity, real estate, and publicly-traded stocks—all asset classes that have benefited from the era of cheap money and ultra-low interest rates.

 

Over the decade period, the median net worth of the top 10 billionaires has nearly tripled from $39 billion to $115 billion.

In fact, the first billionaire to pass the $100 billion threshold was Jeff Bezos in 2018, when he took the top spot on the list from Bill Gates. However, now all but two on the top 10 wealthiest list are centibillionaires.

Tyler Durden Mon, 12/05/2022 - 20:40

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Government

Contradictions, Lies, And “I Don’t Recalls”: The Fauci Deposition

Contradictions, Lies, And "I Don’t Recalls": The Fauci Deposition

Authored by Techno Fog via The Reactionary,

Today, Missouri Attoney General…

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Contradictions, Lies, And "I Don't Recalls": The Fauci Deposition

Authored by Techno Fog via The Reactionary,

Today, Missouri Attoney General Eric Schmitt released the transcript of the testimony of Dr. Anthony Fauci. As you might recall, Fauci was deposed as part of an ongoing federal lawsuit challenging the Biden Administration’s violations of the First Amendment in targeting and suppressing the speech of Americans who challenged the government’s narrative on COVID-19.

Here is the Fauci deposition transcript.

And here are the highlights…

EcoHealth Alliance - the Peter Daszak group - is knee-deep in the Wuhan controversy, having been funded by the Fauci’s NIH for coronavirus and gain of function research in China (and having worked with the Chinese team in Wuhan). What does Fauci say about EcoHealth Alliance? Over two years after the COVID-19 pandemic began, and after millions dead worldwide, he’s “vaguely familiar” with their work.

In early 2020, Fauci was put on notice that his group - NIAID - had funded EcoHealth alliance on bat coronavirus research for the past five years.

This coincided with early reports - directly to Fauci, from Jeremy Ferrar and Christian Anderson - “of the possibility of there being a manipulation of the virus” based on the fact that “it was an unusual virus.”

Fauci conceded that he was specifically made aware by Anderson that “the unusual features of the virus” make it look “potentially engineered.”

Fauci couldn’t recall why he sent an article discussing gain of function research in China to his deputy, Hugh Auchincloss, telling him it was essential that they speak on the phone. He couldn’t recall speaking with Auchincloss via phone that day. But remarkably, Fauci did remember assigning research tasks to Auchincloss

Fauci was evasive on conversations with Francis Collins about whether NIAID may have funded coronavirus-related research in China, eventually stating “I don’t recall.”

The phrase “I don’t recall” was prominent in Fauci’s deposition. He said it a total of 174 times:

For example, Fauci couldn’t remember what anyone said on a call discussing whether the virus originated in a lab:

During that same call, Fauci couldn’t recall whether anyone expressed concern that the lab leak “might discredit scientific funding projects.” He also couldn’t recall whether there was a discussion about a lab leak distracting from the virus response. Fauci did remember, however, that they agreed there needed to be more time to investigate the virus origins - including the lab leak theory.

What else couldn’t Fauci remember? Whether, early into the pandemic, his confidants raised concerns about social media posts about the origins of COVID-19.

Yet Fauci did admit he was concerned about social media posts blaming China for the pandemic. He even admitted the accidental lab leak “certainly is a possibility,” contradicting his prior claims to National Geographic where he said the virus “could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated.”

Fauci also couldn’t recall whether he had any conversations with Daszak about the origins of COVID-19 in February 2020, but admitted those conversations might have happened: “I told you before that I did not remember any direct conversations with him about the origin, and I said I very well might have had conversations but I don't specifically remember conversations.” And he couldn’t recall telling the media early on during the pandemic that the virus was consistent with a jump “from an animal to a human.”

Fauci said he was in the dark on social media actions to curb speech and suspend accounts that posted COVID-19 information that didn’t fit the mainstream narrative: “I’m not aware of suppression of speech on social media.” Yet it was Fauci’s proclamations of the truth, whether about the origins of COVID-19 to the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, that led to social media companies banning discussions of contrary information.

Regarding those removals of content, Fauci had no personal knowledge of a US Government/Social Media effort to curb “misinformation.” But he conceded the possibility numerous times.

Then there’s the issue of masks. In February 2020, Fauci informed an acquaintance that was traveling: “I do not recommend that you wear a mask.” Fauci would later become a vocal proponent of masks only two months later.

I’m near my Substack length limit - posting the excerpts does that - but you can see from Fauci’s testimony that his public statements about COVID-19 origins and the necessity to wear a mask didn’t match his private conversations. This has been known for some time, but it’s finally nice to get him on record.

Again, read it all and subscribe here.

Tyler Durden Mon, 12/05/2022 - 21:40

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