Trending News Today: Tiny Genetic Change in Zika Virus Led to Lethal Public Threat

Top news of the day from across the health care landscape.

Two promising studies showed the potential of genetic engineering to fight malaria, according to The Washington Post. Malaria is caused by a parasite living in the guts of mosquitos, which bite humans and cause infection. Although research developments have helped control transmission and prevent infection, roughly 212 cases of malaria and 429,000 deaths were reported in 2015. In the first study, the investigators focused on whether mosquitos genetically modified to be more resistant to the parasite would become weaker and less able to mate and breed. The findings showed one type of genetically modified mosquito bred well and became more attractive to normal mosquitos. The findings suggest the genetically modified mosquitoes could potentially drive their own genetic immunity to the malaria parasite into mosquito populations. For the second study, investigators used genetic modification of bacteria residing inside mosquitos to fight malaria. According to the Post, the next steps in the research is to test whether the genetically modified mosquitos and bacteria approaches work outside the lab.

Chinese scientists have pinpointed a single genetic change that caused the Zika virus to become a lethal public threat, according to the Los Angeles Times. For the study, investigators tested samples of the Zika virus taken over time to determine how their genetic structure had changed. They compared strains harvested in 2015 with those collected in Cambodia in 2010, and identified 7 sites where the RNA of the virus had changed. These changes altered Zika’s surface protein by only a single amino acid. Cloned cells were developed with each of the genetic alterations, and the resulting strains were used to infect fetal and newborn mice. The investigators found that when a cloned Zika strain with a mutation at the position S139N of the RNA caused significantly greater destruction to the brain cells of newborn mice, the LA Times reported. Next, human neural progenitor cells were infected with the Zika strain bearing the single mutation. The findings showed that the mutated virus grew and multiplied more significantly compared with the 2010 Zika strain. “The fact that this change in behavior can be almost wholly attributed to a single amino acid change in one of the virus’ surface proteins is remarkable,” Jonathan Ball, a molecular virologist at the University of Nottingham, told the LA Times. “This data, as well as evidence from other viruses like Ebola, shows us that the smallest of genetic changes can have a major impact on virus behavior.”

Yesterday, actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus announced to the world on social media that she has breast cancer, according to CNN. On her Twitter account, she wrote “1 in 8 women get breast cancer. Today, I’m the one.” Louis-Dreyfus continued using her diagnosis to draw attention to the health care system. “The good news is that I have the most glorious group of supportive and caring family and friends, and fantastic insurance through my union. The bad news is that not all women are so lucky, so let’s fight all cancers and make universal health care a reality.” HBO told CNN that Louis-Dreyfus received her diagnosis just one day after her Emmy win for lead actress in Veep.