AI Helps Scientists Discover New Viruses — Here’s Why That Matters

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Viruses are all around us, and we currently haven’t classified even a fraction of that huge and diverse population. The tiny organisms that can only survive inside a living host can wreak havoc on our bodies, but that’s not the only reason researchers are so compelled by them. We now know that viruses could be playing a part in “non viral diseases” such as liver cirrhosis, or even chronic fatigue syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease — but we still don’t understand how.

To get there, we need machine learning.

Because viruses can’t be grown in the lab, scientists have traditionally looked for new species by sampling various diverse environments (including metro carriages and sewage systems). But picking single microbes out of the dirt is a slow process that makes it difficult for researchers to understand the behavior of fast-evolving viruses.

That’s where AI comes in. Machine learning is a form of artificial intelligence used to identify complex patterns — the algorithm gets trained through a pool of data before becoming autonomous, and can be used to scan massive genomic datasets in search of new viruses.

For example, Nature reports, bioinformatician Deyvid Amgarten, who works at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, used machine learning to identify virus genomes hidden in compost piles at the city’s zoo. He told Nature he will use his findings to learn how viruses can help break down organic matter and make composting more efficient.

His work was inspired by a tool built by Jie Ren. Ren, a computational biologist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, used his algorithm to examine and compare faeces samples from people with liver cirrhosis, and healthy people. His team found some viruses more common in healthy people than in those with cirrhosis, a clue that viruses could be playing a part in the disease.

According to Nature, findings such as Ren’s leave scientists wondering if viruses could also influence elusive diseases such as chronic fatigue syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, which is estimated to affect around three million adults in the U.S. alone. Immunologist Derya Unutmaz, who works at the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in Farmington, Connecticut, echoes these speculations, observing that viruses may be the source of inflammatory reactions that could impair our metabolism and immune system.

From identifying the role of viruses in non-viral diseases, to matching viruses with specific families of bacteria to fight drug resistance, artificial intelligence may revolutionize how we navigate the largely uncharted landscape of these tiny microbes that play such a huge part in our lives.

The post AI Helps Scientists Discover New Viruses — Here’s Why That Matters appeared first on Futurism.

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Can iPhones Get Viruses? Here Are the Facts

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It’s an age-old idea that Windows and Android devices are insecure messes just waiting to pick up a virus, while Macs and iPhones are immune to such threats. And while Android can indeed pick up malware, smart habits will protect the majority of users. On the Apple side of the fence, you have to act quite foolishly to infect your Mac. But what about iOS? Can your iPhone really get a virus? Let’s look at the facts. Viruses and Malware Defined Before we discuss viruses on iOS—the operating system that powers iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touchs—it’s important to note what…

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Can iPhones Get Viruses? How to Detect & Remove Viruses from Your iPhone

Can iPhones get viruses? It’s easy to revel in false security and believe our iPhones can’t be infected by viruses; after all, the Apple ecosystem has a great track record for safety and defense against electronic invasion of all kinds. No system is completely invulnerable, however, so it’s important to know that yes, your phone can be infected with viruses and other iPhone malware. So much personal data is stored on iPhones, including photos, messages, contacts, and of course every sensitive piece of information in every email account linked to your device! It’s terrible to think what a hacker could accomplish with all that data. On an even creepier level, the iPhone has listening, viewing, and tracking capabilities that, if hacked, can allow your personal conversations, the view from your camera, and your GPS location to be viewed and stored. Knowing all this, I’m sure you’re wondering, “does my iPhone have a virus?” If so, how can we remove viruses from iPhones? Is there a way to prevent another breach? Let’s get started learning about iPhone viruses so that we can detect, delete, and keep from getting reinfected with viruses. 

Related: 3 Ways to Protect Yourself from Mobile Fraud and Identity Theft     

Virus Protection for Your iPhone: How to Keep Your Device Safe

Apple CEO Tim Cook recently stated“iPhone, iPad, and Mac are the best tools for work, offering the world’s best user experience and the strongest security.” While that assertion may be true, iPhone owners need to do their part to keep their devices virus free, and not just rely on Apple to keep malware at bay.

Don’t Jailbreak Your iPhone: Protect Your iPhone from Viruses 

Sometimes there’s a temptation to jailbreak an iPhone so that software and apps outside of the Apple ecosystem can be uploaded. While it’s an understandable urge, once you jailbreak your iPhone you not only void your warranty, but leave your device open to viruses it was formerly protected against. In 2015, 225,000 jailbreakers had their data breached and Apple ID usernames and passwords stolen by malware called KeyRaider. Some of these hacking victims had their iPhones remotely locked, and held for ransom as well. Held for ransom means exactly what it sounds like; these hacked iPhone owners had to pay cyber criminals to unlock their phones. 

Once you’ve jailbroken your phone, you’ll most likely be turned away if you bring your device to be serviced at an Apple Store. In my opinion, any convenience you may add by uploading unauthorized software and apps is far outweighed by the prospect of having to buy a new iPhone if your current device gets hacked. Beyond that, there’s the potential stress of identity theft, and all the countless hours it will take to change passwords, call banks and credit card companies, and check your credit report. Just don’t jailbreak, ok? 

Virus Protection for Your iPhone: Update iOS

It can be tempting to wait on updating your operating system; it seems like you just got comfortable with the last version! There’s a very good reason to make the switch as soon as possible, though. Operating system updates are a way for Apple to introduce new features and fix bugs, but also to keep security at the highest possible level. When a security breach, or even the possibility of one is detected, Apple programmers get to work tightening up the chinks in your iPhone’s armor. Waiting to switch to the latest version of iOS leaves your iPhone vulnerable to malware, so update as soon as you can, every time.

Apple App Store: Avoid iPhone Viruses from Apps

One of the easiest ways to keep viruses and other malware off of your iPhone is to only purchase apps through the Apple App Store, which you’re limited to anyway if you haven’t jailbroken your device. Apple’s App Store has historically been a secure platform for purchasing approved apps from vetted developers. That being said, there have been cases of apps being removed from the store after they were realized to be clever counterfeits. When an imposter app slips past App Store screeners, it’s not only a copyright issue, but a security one. This is because once a Trojan Horse app is purchased and downloaded, hackers can access your phone in ways you might not have imagined. If your phone is infected with spyware your keystrokes can be logged, your camera and keypad highjacked, and your personal data can be stolen. The point is, even in the Apple App Store you need to keep your wits about you. Before purchasing any app:

  • Make sure the app has a professional feel: the images should be smooth and unpixelated, spelling and grammar should be correct in the descriptions.
  • Check for app reviews, are they positive? Is there a large enough number of reviews to indicate that this is a legitimate app that customers are using successfully?
  • Do you recognize the app developer? Do they have a link for a company website you can follow to see this app as well as their other products?

Trust your intuition—sometimes an app just feels off, or maybe it’s a “too good to be true” situation like a free app that would usually cost at least a few dollars. If you’re still unsure, contact Apple Support with your question, and wait to download the app until your concerns have been addressed. 

Hackers can take the alternate route of infiltrating an app developer’s network to steal information gleaned from app store customers. This is why, beyond making sure that you’re only downloading from trusted app developers, you’ll want to check your privacy settings for each app. Many apps have far more access to your iPhone than they really require to perform the function they’re designed for—turn off permissions for any unnecessary access to your device.

iPhone Malware: Avoid Suspicious Links, Phishing & Robocallers

I think we’ve all had the experience by now: a questionable download in an email from a friend, a robocall that urges prompt action on a past-due account, an email from your insurance company requesting that you follow a link to update your account information. Any of these might be legitimate, or they might be scammers trying to get access to your iPhone or your personal data.

If you’ve received an email or message on social media with a link or download that seems different than your usual conversational style or content with the sender, text or call to make sure your friend is really the one who sent that message before downloading or opening anything. If your friend’s email or social media account has been hacked, it may be sending messages to their contacts without their knowledge in an attempt to spread the virus still further. Similarly, don’t call numbers left in your voicemail, or follow links emailed to you, even if they seem important or official. If your credit card company or bank is trying to contact you, call the number on the back of your card or visit the usual customer service website you’ve used in the past and report the call or email. If it’s a genuine message you’ll be able to deal with the issue through customer service, if it’s a fraudulent message, you’ve saved yourself a lot of trouble!   

iPhone Viruses: Tricky Pop-ups

This falls into the category of suspicious links above, but is so sneaky that an additional warning is warranted. Sometimes a pop-up will appear on your screen that says something really official sounding—it may even appear to be from Apple.! The pop-up is usually a variant of something like this, “Warning! Your iPhone has been compromised by a virus! Scan now!” There’s a button to tap which will supposedly scan your iPhone for the offending virus, when in reality this is a link that will infect your device with malware. If you see something like this come up on your screen, never ever engage with the pop up. Exit the website or app.    

Back up Your iPhone: Keep Your Data Safe 

Just as important as immediately updating to new versions of iOS is getting into the habit of regularly backing up your iPhone. Whether you back up your device with iCloud, iTunes, or both, your photos, contacts, and other important data are preserved. An iCloud backup will be stored in the cloud, and an iTunes backup will save your data on your computer; having both is a double assurance that if your iPhone picks up a virus, or is lost or stolen, you’ll still have access to all the information it contained. Also, you can use your backups to restore your phone if necessary; we’ll get to that in a bit.

Does My iPhone Have a Virus?

So you suspect your iPhone has a virus; it’s been acting a bit strangely lately. Well, maybe it does, but probably it doesn’t! If you’ve followed the steps for virus prevention outlined above: not jailbroken your iPhone, updated iOS as soon as possible, and avoided suspicious apps, links, and downloads ,then it’s unlikely that malware has infected your iPhone. Just in case though, let’s go over your phone’s symptoms to see if a virus is causing the problem.

iPhone Virus: Pop-Ups

If you’re experiencing lots of pop-ups when browsing Safari on your iPhone, that’s not necessarily a symptom of malware. Make sure you’ve blocked pop-ups in your Settings, then see if the problem diminishes. If pop-ups keep, well, popping up with the same frequency, you may have an issue.

iPhone Virus: Apps Crashing

Sometimes apps crash, but that should be a rare occurrence. If one or more of your apps are repeatedly crashing, make sure you’ve updated them all. If a particular app keeps crashing, try deleting and downloading it again. If one or more apps still keep crashing, maybe a virus is at play after all.

iPhone Virus: Data Usage Spikes

It’s a good idea to have at least a general idea of your typical data usage month over month, in the same way that it’s best practice to keep track of your car’s gas mileage. This is because an increase in your data usage can indicate a problem in the same way a dip in your gas mileage can. If your iPhone’s data usage is suddenly spiking it may be an indicator of malware burning through data in the background of your device.

How to Get Rid of a Virus on Your iPhone 

If you’re even marginally convinced that your iPhone has picked up a virus, it’s time to do an iCloud or an iTunes reset. This step will allow your iPhone to start over with factory settings and, hopefully, no malware.  

To reset your iPhone from an iCloud backup:

  • Open Settings.
  • Scroll down to General and tap it.

iphone viruscan iphones get viruses

  • Tap Reset at the bottom of the menu.
  • Tap Erase all Content and Settings.

can my iphone get a virushow to get rid of virus on iphone

Once your content and settings have been erased, you’ll follow these directions to restore your iPhone from your iCloud backup. Make sure to restore with a backup that was made before your iPhone was compromised with malware.

To restore your iPhone from an iTunes backup:

  • Plug your iPhone into your computer using your USB cord. If iTunes doesn’t automatically open when the computer detects your phone, open iTunes.
  • In iTunes, click on your device at the upper left. 

how to get rid of virus on iphone

  • Next, click on Restore iPhone.

how to get rid of virus on iphone

  • Follow the on screen instructions. This will completely erase your iPhone, so make sure you have a recent backup in iTunes.
  • Once your iPhone has been restored, it will start up like a brand new phone. Follow the steps of the set up process. When it’s time to restore from a backup, use a backup of iTunes dated before your suspected virus infected your device.

How to Get Rid of Viruses on Your iPhone: Apple Support

If your iPhone is still showing symptoms of a virus or other malware after you’ve followed the steps above, it’s time to contact Apple Support. If you’ve owned the device for less than a year and haven’t done anything to void your warranty, like jailbreaking, the service may be free. If you’re an Apple Care or Apple Care Plus customer, your iPhone warranty is extended, so it’s always worth checking in at the Genius Bar.

Top image credit: hurricanehank / Shutterstock.com

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Researchers Want to Hunt Unknown Viruses Before They Cause the Next Pandemic

Searching For Viral Threats

Scientists believe there are more than 1.6 million viruses in birds and mammals that we haven’t discovered yet. Approximately half of those viruses could potentially infect and cause illnesses in humans.

All it would take is one to unleash the next global pandemic.

That’s why a global cooperative, led by researchers at the University of California, Davis, has set out to identify them. In a paper published on Friday, the researchers established their goals for the Global Virome Project, an initiative to identify the unknown viruses lurking on Earth.

Beyond finding these elusive zoonotic threats — meaning the viruses are found in animals but could potentially make the leap to humans — the cooperative also envisions putting a stop to them. By knowing what we’re up against, humanity could be far better prepared to handle deadly viruses outbreaks across large areas; this project might be the key to preventing the next pandemic.

 

The number of viruses known to infect people is less than 0.1 percent of the total that could potentially do so. Image Credit: D. CARROLL ET AL/SCIENCE 2018
The number of viruses known to infect people is less than 0.1 percent of the total that could potentially do so. Image Credit: D. Carroll et al./Science 2018.

“It is time to move from reactionary mode, chasing the last horrible virus, to a proactive one,” said Jonna Mazet, Executive Director of the One Health Institute at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine and the paper’s lead author in a press release. “We can and will finally be able to identify future threats and take the steps necessary to prevent the next pandemic.”

A Pound of Cure

Over the next decade, the $ 1.2 billion Global Virome Project will work to identify about 70 percent of those potential threats. The cooperative plans to build on previous work done by the United States Agency for International Development’s PREDICT program, once of the agency’s four Emerging Pandemic Threats projects. PREDICT has identified more than 1,000 previously unknown viruses… but that accomplishment falls far short of the Global Virome Project’s ambitious goal.

The are several key pieces of information researchers need to know about a virus in order to establish its “ecological profile”: where it originates, where it thrives, what — or who — it infects, and how it’s transmitted, to name a few.

The sooner the team establish these characteristics, the sooner medical professionals can target people who are at the highest risk of emerging diseases that we don’t even know exist yet.

The number of viruses known to infect people is less than 0.1 percent of the total that could potentially do so. Image Credit: D. CARROLL ET AL/SCIENCE 2018
Image Credit: The Global Virome Project.

With its significant funding, and the commitment of scientists around the world, the Global Virome Project has the potential to achieve far more than what’s been laid out in its initial scope. As stated on the project’s website, the team is excited about the potential for their work to “lead to unrelated and often unexpected advances in human and animal health and in science.”

The benefits of preventing outbreaks go far beyond global health, though: as the team points out, preventing an outbreak could cost less than reacting to one. Pandemics are costly to wrangle — not just in terms of lives lost, but their immediate and lasting impact on a nation’s financial circumstances. Prevention, then, is not only an investment in global health — but also in the global economy.

The post Researchers Want to Hunt Unknown Viruses Before They Cause the Next Pandemic appeared first on Futurism.

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Researchers Claim Special Form of UV Light Can Safely Kill Flu Viruses

Killing Illness

In a new study from the Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC), researchers reveal that far ultraviolet C (far-UVC) light can kill flu viruses without negatively affecting human tissues. The researchers suggest that implementing this far-UVC light in places like hospitals, airports, and schools could greatly reduce the incidence of flu infections.

It is not new information that broad-spectrum UVC light has the power to kill bacteria and viruses by breaking molecular bonds — in fact, it is routinely used to sterilize surgical equipment. “Unfortunately,” study leader David J. Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at CUIMC, said in a press release, “conventional germicidal UV light is also a human health hazard and can lead to skin cancer and cataracts, which prevents its use in public spaces.”

UV light is used to sterilize medical equipment but can harm human tissues. This specialized form of UV light effectively kills the flu without damage. Image Credit: sasint / pixabay
A specialized form of UV light effectively kills the flu without being damaging to humans. Image Credit: sasint / pixabay

So placing broad-spectrum UV lights in school hallways would have disastrous effects. But this study didn’t use broad-spectrum UV light — it used far-UVC light, a narrow spectrum of radiation. This type of UV is also effective against illnesses and “has a very limited range and cannot penetrate through the outer dead-cell layer of human skin or the tear layer in the eye, so it’s not a human health hazard,” Brenner said in the press release.

The study was published on February 9 in the journal Scientific Reports.

A Deadly Flu

This year has brought with it an especially deadly flu season in the United States. It is projected to be more deadly than the Swine Flu of 2009-2010, killing about 4,000 people a week. According to Anne Schuchat, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s acting director, in an interview with Fortune, “We have a lot to learn still about influenza.”

Vaccine Myths
Click to View Full Infographic

But, while researchers continue to work tirelessly to better understand the illness, perhaps more effective and accessible treatments could be developed. Though this study indicates that very low doses of far-UVC light can inactivate flu viruses, the results still need to be replicated and explored in a variety of settings.

However, if it is confirmed that this type of light can kill flu viruses without causing any human harm, it could be a powerful tool. Overhead lights in medical facilities, public spaces, and even homes could effectively eradicate exposed viruses, preventing them from spreading and infecting new victims.

Perhaps, in the future, saving thousands of lives could be as simple as switching out a bulb.

The post Researchers Claim Special Form of UV Light Can Safely Kill Flu Viruses appeared first on Futurism.

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Artificial Intelligence Can Support Killer Viruses in the War Against Superbugs

Going Viral

Several U.S.-based biotechnology companies are developing ways to harness the power of genetics as well as AI in the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Their ally? Viruses. More specifically, bacteriophages, usually just called phages.

We’ve been treating patients who have potentially life-threatening bacterial infections with these viruses for a long time, but typically only as a last resort. Phage therapy is imperfect in practice because it can be difficult to identify the bacteria, find the right treatment, and administer it before the patient succumbs. The potential of the process lies in whether it could be sped up without sacrificing accuracy or safety, which is exactly what many researchers are attempting to do.

The Resistance

Bacteria may be small, but they’re capable of wreaking great havoc on a population. The World Health Organization knows the potential of the pathogens should not be underestimated and has deemed antibiotic-resistant bacteria to be one of the most pressing global health concerns today.

For scientists, understanding how and why bacteria become resistant to the drugs we use to treat them is only the first step. In addition to the fact that the treatments we have today are becoming less effective, we also know that we just don’t have enough of them. And given the rate at which bacteria are becoming resistant to the limited options we currently have, global public health depends on these advances coming sooner rather than later.

Bacteria: Friend or Foe

The good news is, we know quite a bit about bacteria. The single-celled organisms have existed alongside (and inside) humans for the entirety of our shared history. Humans enjoy a great deal of symbiosis with the bacteria that live in our gut, for example. Much of the bacteria that live on our skin are more friend than foe; at the very least, they don’t harm us. Often they even help. It’s disease-causing bacteria that we have to protect ourselves against.

If you have a sore throat and fever, you might go to your doctor for a strep test. If it comes back positive for Streptococcus bacteria, you’ll be prescribed a course of antibiotics. These drugs either kill bacteria outright or make it difficult for them to continue to multiply. We’ve been using antibiotics in one form or another for a long time, and they have been very effective against a number of bacteria that sicken humans. The problem is, that’s changing. Because bacteria are changing — and they’re doing so faster than we can change the drugs in response.

Bacteria become resistant to drugs in a number of ways: sometimes by changing themselves to resist the effect of the antibiotic and survive it, and other times, by “neutralizing” the drug itself, rendering it ineffective. The more a bacterium gets exposed to a certain drug, the more opportunities it has to find a way to defend itself. It only takes a single bacterium figuring out how to survive an antibiotic for resistance to spread: when it divides and multiplies, it passes its survival strategy on.

Getting to the root of antibiotic resistance may well mean infiltrating the pathogens. To do that, scientists need something smaller, yet still powerful. That’s where viruses come in.

A Tech Boost

Advances in one field of science and technology often lend themselves to solving a problem in another. Techniques in genetic engineering and DNA sequencing, for example, have opened doors to life-saving treatments and feats of medicine that seem nearly miraculous.

Whether culling through data or assisting in surgery, robots and computers are partnering with humans to improve public health. Page therapy, which up until now has only achieved partial success, could be one of the main beneficiaries of this evolving partnership.

For example, the startup AmpliPhi Biosciences, is working to sequence the genome of disease-causing bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus so they can identify the best bacteriophages for the task of defeating them, assemble them into a treatment that would be ready-made and available to patients as soon as they need them.

Another startup, Adaptive Phage Therapeutics, is working on a machine learning algorithm that could process the genetic data of the bacteria and phage much more quickly than current methods (which take hours, if not days). Once the system is trained, it will be able to match the most effective phage to a particular bacteria.

“When a patient is critically ill, every minute is important,” Adaptive Phage Therapeutics CEO Greg Merril told MIT Technology Review. Time is of the essence not just for patients who are already sick, but to everyone around the world who is vulnerable.

Both AmpliPhi Biosciences and Adaptive Phage Therapeutics are planning clinical trials, which may even begin this year. As the threat of antibiotic-resistance grows, the results can’t come soon enough.

The post Artificial Intelligence Can Support Killer Viruses in the War Against Superbugs appeared first on Futurism.

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Never-Before-Seen Viruses With Weird DNA Were Just Discovered in The Ocean

Secret Domination

The ocean is crowded. As many as 10 million viruses can be found squirming in a single millilitre of its water, and it turns out they have friends we never even knew about.

Scientists have discovered a previously unknown family of viruses that dominate the ocean and can’t be detected by standard lab tests. Researchers suspect this viral multitude may already exist outside the water — maybe even inside us.

“We don’t think it’s ocean-specific at all,” says environmental microbiologist Martin Polz from MIT.

Polz and his MIT team, together with researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, analysed three months’ worth of ocean water samples collected off the Massachusetts coast.

Electron microscope’s view of the non-tailed viruses. Image Credit: Kauffman et al.

What they found floating in the water isn’t just remarkable for what it possesses, but for what it doesn’t.

Tailless Wonders

According to the researchers, the most abundant viruses on the entire planet are double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) viruses, of which the ‘tailed’ variety (Caudovirales) are the most well-known to science.

Their mysterious tail-less counterparts are far less understood, chiefly because their biological characteristics aren’t easily picked up by common tests.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t be found. In their new study, the researchers were able to incubate tail-less viruses extracted from the waves lapping Massachusetts’ shores, and sequenced their DNA.

Of 200 viruses infecting a culture of Vibrionaceae (a family of common marine bacteria), 18 turned out to belong to a new family of small, non-tailed dsDNA viruses.

The team calls their discovery Autolykiviridae, after Autolykos (“the wolf itself”): a character from Greek mythology, who as a trickster and thief proved similarly tricky to catch.

But Autolykiviridae has been caught, and now that we know about it, the discovery is helping scientists to fill in a large missing link in virus evolution.

The tail-less viruses look to be representatives of an ancient viral lineage defined by specific types of capsids, the protein shell that encases viral DNA — which we knew commonly infects animals and single-celled organisms, but not bacteria.

The genomes of this new family are very short compared to tailed viruses, composed of about 10,000 bases, instead of the typical 40,000–50,000 for tailed viruses.

Ruthless Killers

In addition, while most viruses prey on just one or two types of bacteria, the tail-less kind looks to be able to infect dozens of different types in a variety of species, suggesting it plays an outsized role in terms of regulating (or killing) bacterial life within the ocean.

And then some. In experiments with over 300 strains of Vibrionaceae, the Autolykiviridae punched well above their weight compared to tailed bacteriophages.

In the Footsteps of Zika: The Next Critter-Borne Viruses [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

“They caused about 40 percent of the bacterial killing observed, despite comprising just 10 percent of the viruses that we isolated,” explains one of the team, microbiologist Libusha Kelly.

That ruthless efficiency might not be restricted to the deep blue sea.

With the genome in hand, the researchers searched DNA databases to see if evidence of similar, Autolykiviridae-like viruses had already been studied by scientists. Your stomach came up in the results.

“We’ve found related viral sequences in the [human] gut microbiome,” Kelly says, “but we don’t yet know how they influence microbial communities in the gut or how important they are for health.”

There’s a lot more research to be done to understand what the implications of these viruses are – in the ocean, and in ecosystems like the human body too – but it’s already clear the discovery of these elusive parasites is a big catch in itself.

“[This] opens new avenues for furthering our understanding of the roles of viruses in the ocean,” says marine biologist Jed Fuhrman from the University of Southern California, who was not involved in the research.

“In a practical sense, it also shows how we need to alter some commonly used methods in order to capture these kinds of viruses for various studies. I’d say it is an important advance in the field.”

The findings are reported in Nature.

The post Never-Before-Seen Viruses With Weird DNA Were Just Discovered in The Ocean appeared first on Futurism.

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US lifts ban on funding research for gene-modified super viruses

For the past 3 years, the US has maintained a moratorium on backing research that involves genetically modifying viruses to make them more potent, whether it's their ability to spread or their lethality. You can kiss that de facto ban goodbye, howeve…
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Nanoscopic Hyperlensing Made of Natural Crystal Allows Us to See Viruses on the Surface of Cells

Hyperlensing Nano-vision

Research from Vanderbilt University and other participating institutions have devised a new lensing technology that allows scientists to see living cells in their natural environment. The new lens is so powerful that it can allow researchers to spot a small virus on the surface of a living cell. This remarkable resolution is thanks to advances in hyperlensing, a method of creating lenses with the ability to capture objects smaller than the wavelength of light.

In a press release from Vanderbilt, team member Alexander Giles, research physicist at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, said “Controlling and manipulating light at nanoscale dimensions is notoriously difficult and inefficient. Our work provides a new path forward for the next generation of materials and devices.” Prior to this development, it was possible to view objects in the nanoscale without hyperlensing, using technology such as electron-based and atomic-force microscopes. However, the application of these technologies was prohibitive as they could only operate under a high vacuum, they would bombard samples with harmful radiation, or could only be used with freeze-dried cells. Viewing living nanoscale objects in their natural environment is impossible using these techniques.

Image credit: Keith Wood/Vanderbilt University

The laws of physics make it impossible for traditional lenses to resolve objects less than the wavelength of light. With infrared light, this barrier, known as the “diffraction limit,” doesn’t allow imaging to capture objects smaller than roughly 3,250 nanometers. The material devised by this research team is able to capture images of items as tiny as 30 nanometers in size. For perspective, the human hair has a diameter of 80,000 to 100,000 nanometers (nm).

Super Vision

The hyperlens is composed of hexagonal boron nitride (hBN), a naturally occurring crystal. Previous lenses devised with the material have been able to image objects as minuscule as the smallest known bacteria. The new research has led to an tenfold improvement in imaging capability, now equipping scientists with the ability to view many viruses, which can range in size from 20 nm to 400 nm.

In the Footsteps of Zika: The Next Critter-Borne Viruses [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

Taking this ability to view small objects in tandem with the harmless nature of the imaging technique, and we can see that with hyperlensing researchers have acquired the ability to view cell processes in their natural environment, which will surely lead to significant advances in medical and biological science. The ability to view processes such as how a virus enters a cell could equip researchers with new avenues to fight them, or see how our immune system works on the cellular level could show us new ways of bolstering its capabilities. The researchers are confident that their findings via hyperlensing can even be improved with more research using larger crystals. “Currently, we have been testing very small flakes of purified hBN,” said Joshua Caldwell, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University and research lead on the study. “We think that we will see even further improvements with larger crystals.”

The development of imaging has come a long way since the invention of the original microscope in the 17th century. We now have the ability to view the most intricate components of life. The impact this will have on biology and medicine is unknowable at this time, but the prospects are unlimited.

The post Nanoscopic Hyperlensing Made of Natural Crystal Allows Us to See Viruses on the Surface of Cells appeared first on Futurism.

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