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This week in Zika: Haiti hit early, possible monkey hosts, and more

Zika watch for April 29, 2016
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As the threat of a Zika outbreak in the United States creeps steadily closer, ideas about how to handle the virus continue to clash. 

Congress has yet to agree to President Barack Obama’s February request for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to address the threat, leaving states scrambling to protect residents. And thousands of Floridians have banded together against a proposed field trial of genetically modified mosquitoes (the engineered insects can’t produce viable offspring, potentially curbing Zika’s spread). As of April 29, more than 166,000 people have signed a petition to prevent the mosquitoes’ release in the Florida Keys. (In March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released preliminary findings that the mosquitoes weren’t likely to harm humans or the environment.)

The turmoil underscores widespread uncertainty about how to fight Zika. It’s a problem other countries are grappling with in the run up to the Summer Olympic Games — hosted by Brazil, Zika’s ground zero. On April 27, South Korea’s Olympic committee announced that its athletes would, except when competing, wear “Zika-proof” uniforms — long-sleeved tops and pants treated with bug repellent.

marmosetMeanwhile, scientists continue to fill in unknowns about Zika’s biology and origin. From recent Zika news and studies:

  • The first commercial test for Zika was authorized for emergency use by the FDA on April 28. The test can detect Zika virus RNA in the blood, and could speed results for patients with suspected infections. Doctors have been relying on government-approved labs, which can take more than three weeks to return test results.
  • Zika hit Haiti months before the first reported cases in Brazil, scientists report April 25 in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. Researchers detected the virus in three Haitian children infected in December 2014. The finding raises questions about Zika’s spread through the Americas. Haitian and Brazilian strains are similar (both have an Asian origin), but genetic analyses suggest that Zika was buzzing around Haiti as early as mid-2013 without raising alarms.
  • Both African and Asian strains of the virus can infect and shrink lab-grown minibrains, mimicking the birth defect microcephaly, researchers report April 22 in Cell. The work relies on a new type of miniorgan that resembles the forebrain, and builds on previous findings that Zika can kill the stem cells needed to build the brain.
  • In Brazil, mosquitoes could potentially transmit Zika from monkeys to humans. Scientists have detected the virus in 7 of 24 marmosets and capuchin monkeys captured across one northeastern state in the country. The animals, most of which lived among people, might act as reservoirs for the virus, researchers report April 20 at

Japan’s latest X-ray telescope is officially dead

By Christopher Crockett 6:51pm, April 28, 2016
The Japanese space agency has officially declared its latest X-ray telescope a loss.

Nightshade plants bleed sugar as a call to ants for backup

By Helen Thompson 4:08pm, April 28, 2016
Bittersweet nightshade produces sugary wound goo to lure in ant protectors that eat herbivores, researchers have found.
Planetary Science

Hubble telescope finds small moon orbiting dwarf planet Makemake

By Christopher Crockett 11:31am, April 27, 2016
Hubble Space Telescope images from April 2015 show that the dwarf planet Makemake has a tiny moon.
Science & Society,, Neuroscience

Findings on wobbly memories questioned

By Laura Sanders 3:00pm, April 25, 2016
In contrast to older studies, new results suggest that new memories don’t interfere with older, similar ones.
Plants,, Epigenetics,, Cells

Plants might remember with prions

By Susan Milius 3:00pm, April 25, 2016
A plant protein has passed lab tests for prionlike powers as molecular memory.

Hubble telescope snaps stunning pic for its 26th birthday

By Christopher Crockett 7:00am, April 22, 2016
For its 26th anniversary, the Hubble Space Telescope snapped a picture of star blowing bubbles in space.
Health,, Microbiology

This week in Zika: Assessing risk, mosquito range, a transmission first and more

By Meghan Rosen 3:52pm, April 15, 2016
Several new reports document Zika infection in U.S. pregnant women, a case of male sexual transmission, the range of Zika-carrying mosquitoes and more.
Genetics,, Fungi

Gene-edited mushroom doesn’t need regulation, USDA says

By Tina Hesman Saey 3:16pm, April 15, 2016
A CRISPR-edited mushroom isn’t like other GMOs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says.
Animals,, Numbers

Math models predict mysterious monarch navigation

By Helen Thompson 6:00am, April 15, 2016
Researchers have come up with a series of equations to predict how monarchs use their eyes and antennae to figure out how to get to Mexico.

Itty bitty engine puts a single atom to work

By Emily Conover 2:04pm, April 14, 2016
Scientists have created a miniature heat engine out of a single atom.
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