BIOL 368: Blog

BIOL 368 (NJIT) and 28:120:368 (Rutgers)

Ecology and Evolution of Disease

This is a blog associated with the course above. Students are asked to post, in the comments section below, short vignettes of related news items that come up while the course is in session.


  • Gonorrhea is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S. Not only is gonorrhea asymptomatic, but it also has the ability to hold on to resistance genes long after exposure to antibiotics, making it very tricky to work with. Therefore, gonorrhea has been very difficult to treat because of antibiotic resistance. A significant population of people around the world are infected with gonorrhea that is resistant to all known antibiotics. The proliferation of this strain of gonorrhea could eventually lead to an incurable infection with severe health consequences. Researchers are developing a new drug called zoliflodacin, which will be the first new drug to combat drug-resistant gonorrhea in over twenty years. Recently, the last of the trails for this drug has taken place and scientists hope to make this drug available to the public by 2023. Until then, health providers across the nation are working to rapidly detect and treat this STD. Since half of STD cases occur in youths ages 15-24, younger adults are being encouraged to practice safe sex and get a routine STD screening.

  • There has been a rise in allergies in the past few decades, especially in developed countries. Between 1996 and 2016, the UK saw a five-fold increase in peanut allergies. Many theories about the rise of allergies have to do with the environment and Western lifestyles. Migrants show a higher prevalence of asthma and food allergy in their adopted country compared to their original country. One explanation offered by scientists is the improvement of hygiene. With less parasitic infections to fight, the immune system turns against what are usually harmless things, such as peanuts. Another theory suggests that vitamin D improves our immune system and helps build a healthy response, which makes us less susceptible to allergies. Most people in developed countries are vitamin D deficient, due to geography or spending less time in the sun in general, and the rate of vitamin D deficiency continues to rise. The “dual allergen exposure” theory proposes that the balance between timing, dose and form of exposure determines allergy development. A study from King’s College London showed that peanut allergies in five year olds decreased by 80% if they ate peanuts from the year they were born. Initial diagnosis can be challenging since the allergy test is stressful for children and can cause false positives. King’s College London developed a blood test that can detect allergies in children. Allergen immunotherapy reduces sensitivity of allergic patients. Other allergy treatments are still being investigated.

  • This article was about how HSV1, or Herpes Simplex Virus 1, could be associated with developing Alzheimer’s disease late in life. Research was done in Taiwan and three studies had been published about the development of senile dementia, which causes Alzheimer’s. The subjects in all studies had been severely affected by HSV1 at one point in their life and now had developed dementia. The link between HSV1 and Alzheimer’s is strong because viral DNA from the HSV1 was seen to be located within postmortem brain tissue from Alzheimer’s sufferers. Additionally, HSV1 was seen to occur more frequently in carriers of APOE- ε4, which is the gene variant that confers increased risk of Alzheimer’s. So, carriers of this gene variant may have more frequent or more harmful reactivation of HSV1-infected brain cells, which may result in the development of Alzheimer’s.

    The article suggests that antiherpes antivirals could help in treating Alzheimer’s because this treatment was seen to cause a dramatic decrease in the number of subjects who were severely affected by HSV1 and later developed dementia. The development of an HSV1 vaccine would also be most effective treatment. Additionally, more work needs to be done because this antiherpes antiviral treatment is only suggested for those who are several being affected by HSV1, not for all HSV1 sufferers. Also, those more research needs to be done on those who suffered from mild HSV1 and whether they developed dementia or Alzheimer’s later in life.

  • I found this article interesting because of our discussion on aging in class. I understood why aging leads to many problems later in our life, but reading an article touch upon aging and a neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s. This article stated that many biological processes don’t function the same way they used to, which have been implicated in Alzheimer’s disease as well. Some aging malfunctions listed in the article were impaired clearance of toxic misfolded proteins, mitochondrial and metabolic dysfunctions (such as diabetes), vascular problems and epigenetic changes and loss of synapses (which decreases communication between neurons in the brain).

    In order to treat this disease, the article discusses that new therapies that prevent, slow or stop the disease are needed and that these treatments could possibly be created with more research in aging biology. Additionally, the CDC projects that the burden of Alzheimer’s disease will triple to 14 million people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease by the year 2060. Some therapeutic attempts have already been made in removing or decreasing the product of beta-amyloid, one of the main components of amyloid plaques involved in Alzheimer’s disease. However, these attempts have been largely unsuccessful. That is why research in common biological process of aging are suggested by the article to be an effective approach in developing therapies to prevent age-related disease, like Alzheimer’s.

  • Source:

    According to the NORC (a research organization) at the University of Chicago, only 43% of surveyed people above the age of 18 reported that they received a flu vaccination. 14% said that they intended on receiving a flu shot some time soon, but close to 41% said they will never get vaccinated. This flu season is said to be a dramatic shift from the previous one in which over 80,000 people died from the flu related causes. Additionally, the H1-N1 strain is currently the dominant strain, which is said to be a good sign because the current vaccines are better matched for this strain as compared to the H3-N2 strain of last year. Although the flu season is currently mild, health experts say that it’s too early to say so, as incidences of the flu may rise later throughout the later months of the flu season. They urge all people that have not been vaccinated to do so as vaccinating yourself can help prevent or at least lessen the severity and duration of flu related illnesses.

  • An article recently published in The Washington Post details the nationwide shortage of a new vaccine called Shingrix to prevent shingles, a reactivation of chickenpox in later years that causes a painful rash and potentially lasting nerve pain. The disease affects 1 in 3 adults, with about 1 million cases per year. The risk for infection increases each year. A new version of the shingles vaccine was made available last spring and requires 2 doses. Demand has dramatically increased as the newer vaccine is supposed to provide significantly better protection than the older 1 dose version. Furthermore, people have been advised to get it even if they’ve had the older vaccine or have had chickenpox or shingles previously. GlaxoSmithKline, the British pharmaceutical manufacturer who creates the vaccine, was caught by surprise by the high demand and has been unable to keep up. One woman in Pennsylvania was told by her local pharmacy that the waiting time was 12 months. Not only is the vaccine in high demand, but also the vaccine takes 6 to 9 months to create. To further complicate the situation, many people cannot find a place to obtain the first dose let alone the second dose, which should be taken 6 months after the first. GSK did not study the immunity rate of just one dose, and recommends that people get their second dose as soon as possible.

  • Ramya Kommidi

    This article is about the possible connection between microbes in the digestive system and Parkinson’s disease. As the author mentions, the root cause of Parkinson’s is yet to be determined by scientists. It is only known that Lewy bodies and abnormally misfolded and clumped proteins kill certain neurons. Lewy bodies form when alpha-synuclein, which is produced by neurons and other cells, starts curdling into unusual strands. After a group of scientists conducted autopsies on patients, researchers found signs that Lewy bodies start to form in the nasal passages and intestine before they show up in the brain. The digestive problems associated with the onset of Parkinson’s disease for a long time were also not thought to be a cause of the disease, as much is also unknown about the gut microbiome. However, in a recent study it was found that when studying the relationship of gut microbiome and development of Parkinson’s disease in mice, when gut microbes from people diagnosed with Parkinson’s were transplanted into germ-free mice, the mice developed symptoms of the disease — symptoms that were much more severe than those in mice transplanted with microbes from healthy people. This article also presents a real life couple Martha and John Carlin, who became more interested In the link between the gut and brain after the onset of John’s Parkinson’s disease. Martha Carlin founded a company called the BioCollective to aid in microbiome research, providing free collection kits to people with Parkinson’s and the 15,000 microbiome samples she has collected so far are available to researchers. Hopefully, this accessible data will allow further research into this connection between gastroenterology and neurology that is at the forefront of much research. It may prove that our diets and environment play a larger role in our overall health because the intestine’s microbiome is very indicative of a person’s environment.

  • Ramya Kommidi

    This article details the possible link between Vitamin D deficiency and Schizophrenia. Although schizophrenia is one of the leading disabilities in the world, scientists still don’t know what exactly causes the condition. It has been noticed that schizophrenia is more common in areas of the world with less exposure to the sun. A recent study led by teams from Aarhus University in Denmark and the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, has found that newborn babies with low vitamin D levels are more at risk of developing schizophrenia later on.Previous research has additionally identified risk factors for schizophrenia as babies born in winter or spring or living in higher latitude countries. To further this research, a research team recently discovered that those born with a vitamin D deficiency had a 44 percent higher risk of developing schizophrenia later in life. Also, this deficiency in newborns could account for about 8 percent of all schizophrenia diagnoses in Denmark. A current hypothesis is that vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy may lead to this risk of schizophrenia in the child. Hopefully, with more research in randomized clinical trials of vitamin D supplements in pregnant women who are vitamin D deficient, scientists will better understand how to prevent some schizophrenia cases and how to well supplement a pregnant women’s health and nutrition.

  • This article presents the use of hydroxyurea as a safe treatment for the symptoms of sickle cell anemia for children in Africa. Before hydroxyurea, there was no way to treat the symptoms of sickle cell anemia and a lot of children died before the age of five. Sickle cell anemia is a disease in which blood cells twist themselves into a stiff semicircular shape caused by a genetic mutation thought to have arisen from Africa 7000 years ago. 300000 people died from sickle cell anemia every year, and about 75% of that number comes from Africa. Although there are upsides of being carriers of sickle cell anemia, such as protection from malaria, children who inherit both genes for sickle cell anemia are often weak from anemia, prone to infections, and liable to have crisis in which their blood cells clump and jam capillaries to the brain. The only way to treat sickle cell anemia in Africa was previously get blood transfusions and sometimes bone marrow transplants, both treatments either unavailable or extremely expensive in Africa. Without treatment, many children are at risk to opioid addiction and death from stroke or organ damage Hydroxyurea has already been used as a treatment in Europe and America, but there were fear that the pill may increase the risk of infection from local disease in African children, such as malaria.
    The drugs proved to be a success in a research done involving 600 children in Angola, Uganda, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The drug made it far less likely that children would die or need transfusions and half as likely to suffer from bouts of severe pain, and somehow less likely to get infections such as malaria. Hydroxyurea is on the WHO’s essential medicines list, and is available in generic form for about 50 cents a pill and can be stored in room temperature. Even thought the drug is available, we need to do further research as hydroxyurea has its limitations. There was no placebo group during the study of the 600 African children so the research is not complete. Hydroxyurea was originally developed to fight blood cancers like leukemia, and side effects include lowering your WBC and platelet count, lowering men’s sperm count, break off women’s hair, and turn fingernails grey. However, even with the side effects, hyroxyurea has already proven to be a huge improvement in sickle-cell anemia treatments in Africa.

  • Waterborne Vibrio bacteria that can lead to wound infections, sepsis and the stomach flu are also on the rise globally. Heat waves and high temperatures could also make Americans more vulnerable to germs in water, such as Vibrio bacteria, which can cause deadly infections. In the Northeast, shellfish are projected to make more people sick because warmer waters lead to to shell disease in lobsters and other pathogens in oysters. Vibrio is commonly found in the US via contaminated oysters and shellfish. Warming waters also require additional steps to ensure our oysters are safe to eat, because pathogenic strains of the bacteria—Vibrio parahaemolyticus have increased. Considering our love for the seafood diet, this is a serious issue impacts the food choices of Americans. This 1 degree increase in ocean climates can ultimately lead to an increase in infections. Vibrio has gone up 34% since 2006-2008, whereas other pathogens have gone down or stayed stagnant. While this isn’t exactly Vibrio cholorae, this prevalence of Vibrio is one to note for sure.
    Vezzulli, Luigi, et al. “Effects of Global Warming on Vibrio Ecology.” Microbiology spectrum (2015).

  • Yasmine Mohamed

    Article: “Game Changing” Tuberculosis Vaccine a Step Closer

    Tuberculosis is a very serious infectious bacterial disease. It mainly affects the lungs and can be spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The currently present vaccine, the BCG, is not very effective. This article presents a hopeful long term protection against the disease that kills up to 1.5 million people around the world every year. During a global summit on lung health in Southern India on Tuesday, it was claimed that the new vaccine is made up of bacterial proteins that are expected to trigger an immune response. Despite its initial success, the vaccine will still take a while to become licensed. What is revolutionary about the vaccine is that it is effective in adults who are already infected. Also, the new vaccine is very promising in terms of the current global TB situation. According to the World Health Organization, in 2018, an estimate of 10 million people fell sick with TB. Also, about 25% of the world’s population carries the bacteria in an inactive form which increases their risk of developing active TB by 5 to 10% percent.


  • Measles may have worse consequences than just the actual symptoms. A recent study shows that measles can destroy up to half of all immune memory cells (a condition termed ‘immune amnesia’), reducing immunity diseases we have previously been exposed to. Though these antibodies can be recreated through re-exposure, it may take up to years to do so. However, a vaccination against measles does not cause immune amnesia. This information makes the incidence of measles in the United States caused by the anti-vax movement much more serious. Clinicians are considering giving booster vaccines to children who recover from measles in order to combat this effect, and are starting to consider an previous infection from measles when ordering organ transplants in adults (since suppressing the immune system of an already immunocompromised person could be fatal).

  • There are numerous types of the influenza virus that circulate making it hard to develop just one universal vaccine that can be used to protect against the different virus types. However, a recent study shows promising results of a newly discovered antibody that has been proven to successfully protect mice against various influenza virus types. This antibody binds to the protein neuraminidase on the surface of the virus which is necessary for viral replication. But, the novelty of this new antibody is not that it targets neuraminidase. In fact, the most common drug used against flu viruses, Tamiflu, actually works to inactivate neuraminidase as well, but it is not always effective because of both drug resistance and the variation in neuraminidase between the different influenza viruses. This new antibody identified as 1G01 tackles this problem because it is not specific to one neuraminidase variation and when tested in mice, this antibody protected against all twelve tested strains which included human, nonhuman, and avian strains. The 1G01 antibody works by inserting a loop into the active site of neuraminidase without touching the variable regions around this conserved active site allowing it to be able to block most neuraminidases which have this conserved site. Not only does this antibody work against different strain types, it also can be administered upto 72 hours after infection and still be effective, in contrast to Tamiflu which must be administered 24 hours after flu symptoms. Clearly, this study shows that the 1G01 antibody might be the key to developing a new drug/vaccine to universally defend against most if not all different strains of influenza.

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