Tag Archives: University of Washington
Denmark set off alarm bells this week with its announcement that it is culling the nation’s entire mink herd — the largest in the world — to stop spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the prized fur species because of potentially dangerous mutations. Inter-species jumps of viruses make scientists nervous — as do suggestions of potentially significant mutations that result from those jumps. In this case, Danish authorities say they’ve found some genetic changes that might undermine the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines currently in development. But is this latest twist in the Covid-19 saga reason to be deeply concerned?
“This hits all the scary buttons,” noted Carl Bergstrom, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Washington. But Bergstrom and others argued that while the virus’s penchant for infecting mink bears watching, it isn’t likely to lead to a nightmare strain that is more effective at infecting peoplethan the current human virus.
“I don’t believe that a strain which gets adapted to mink poses a higher risk to humans,” said Francois Balloux, director of University College London’s Genetics Institute. “We can never rule out anything, but in principle it shouldn’t. It should definitely not increase transmission. I don’t see any good reason why it should make the virus more severe,” he said.
Let’s take a look at what’s known about the Danish situation, why inter-species jumps make scientists nervous, whether the mutations are likely to affect vaccine effectiveness, and why Balloux thinks this situation is “fantastically interesting.” Denmark is the world’s largest producer of mink — by some estimates 40%. Unfortunately, mink are susceptible to the SARS-2 virus, a fact that came to light in April when the Netherlands reported outbreaks on mink farms there. Infected humans who work in the farms transmit the virus to captive minks, which are housed in close quarters ideal for rapid transmission from mink to mink.
Occasionally, the mink infect people — a phenomenon recorded in both the Netherlands and in Denmark. In a statement, the Danish Ministry of Environment and Food said the country would cull its entire herd — estimated to be about 17 million animals — after finding mutations in the viruses from the mink that it believes would allow those viruses to evade the immune protection generated by Covid-19 vaccines.
People often say that eyes are windows to the soul. Now it appears they may also be windows to human aging. All people age, but individuals do so at different rates, some faster and others slower. While this observation is common knowledge, there is no universally accepted measure of biological aging. Numerous aging-related metrics have been proposed and tested, but no marker to date has been identified or noninvasive method developed that can accurately measure and track biological aging in individuals. In what is believed to be the first study of its kind, researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have discovered that a specialized eye scanner that accurately measures spectroscopic signals from proteins in lens of the eye can detect and track biological aging in living humans.
According to the researchers, chronological age does not adequately measure individual variation in the rate of biological aging.
“The absence of clinical tools and metrics to quantitatively evaluate how each person is aging at the molecular level represents a major impediment to understanding aging and maximizing health throughout life,” explains corresponding author Lee E. Goldstein, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology at BUSM.
“The lens contains proteins that accumulate aging-related changes throughout life. These lens proteins provide a permanent record of each person’s life history of aging. Our eye scanner can decode this record of how a person is aging at the molecular level.”
The researchers believe these results pave the way for a potentially transformative clinical tool for objective assessment and tracking of molecular aging in humans. “The framework for clinical implementation of this technology to measure molecular aging is similar to other recently adopted clinical biomarkers, including PET brain imaging for Alzheimer’s disease, bone densitometry for osteoporosis and serum blood tests for diabetes mellitus,” adds Dr. Goldstein, who also holds an appointment at Boston University College of Engineering.
While large test batteries incorporating composite metrics have been developed to track human aging, these are far removed from underlying molecular mechanisms of aging and are ill-suited for personalized longitudinal medical care. “By contrast, eye scanning technology that probes lens protein affords a rapid, noninvasive, objective technique for direct measurement of molecular aging that can be easily, quickly, and safely implemented at the point of care. Such a metric affords potential for precision medical care across the lifespan.”
The research team included investigators at Boston University College of Engineering and School of Public Health, Boston Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the University of Washington, Seattle.
The findings appear online in Journal of Gerontology: Biological Sciences.