Articles on Viruses

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As long-frozen parts of Earth thaw, it’s inevitable that old viruses will be unearthed. What risks do they have to humans? Gerolf Nikolay/Flickr

Ancient viruses sound scary, but there’s no need to panic

You may have seen recently that scientists recovered and “revived” a giant virus from Siberian permafrost (frozen soil) that dates back 30,000 years. The researchers raised concerns that drilling in the…
Viruses like this one may yet become a benevolent force in modern medicine. Microbe World/Flickr

From scourge to saviour: using viruses to treat serious disease

Viruses have traditionally been mankind’s enemies, causing disease and often mutating out of the reach of our medicines. But now a new technology is conscripting them into doing good. Viral vectors show…
Most biologists argue viruses aren’t alive because they can’t replicate by themselves. Tom Thai/Flikr

Explainer: what is a virus?

It may seem like a fairly fundamental question, but there is still debate over whether viruses should be considered a form of life. The diversity of viral infections is immense. Viruses cause everything…
Too much information could be a recipe for disaster. Abode of Chaos

The next pandemic could be downloaded from the internet

Last October, scientists in California sequenced the DNA for the “type H” botulinum toxin. One gram of this toxin would be sufficient to kill half a billion people, making it the deadliest substance yet…
Primates - human and non-human - can be infected by Ebola. Chris Huh

First Ebola antibody treatment to halt deadly virus in primates

As viruses go, Ebola is one that strikes particular fear. It’s infectious and four out of the five identified strains can cause severe hemorrhagic fever, which in later stages leads to bleeding from the…
Out of the lab and into real life. Mike Blyth

Africa should test smartphone microscope in the field

As a virologist working in the Gambia, the idea of a portable microscope that uses fluorescent imaging and can be attached to your smartphone to detect viruses and bacteria in the field sounds amazing…

Mammals could harbour 320,000 new viruses

At least 320,000 new and undiscovered viruses could be circulating throughout mammals and awaiting discovery. A study conducted…
Can’t handle the pressure. Stefanotshcki!

Exploding herpes virus blasts DNA into human cells

Some viruses are like tiny powerhouses. They are only nanometers in size, but their insides are jam-packed with DNA that is so highly pressurised that it explodes out during infection. Herpes simplex 1…
Helpful viruses get protected by decoy viruses in the bloodstream. Maddy Cow

Clouds of decoy viruses help cure genetic disease

The presence of foreign objects, like viruses, in our bloodstream is usually a bad thing. Evolution has created some extremely efficient immune cells that patrol the blood, seeking out material that should…
Gene expression signatures in blood can help distinguish between viral and bacterial causes of fever in young children. Shutterstock

Virus or bacteria? Using human genes to identify a fever’s cause

Scientists have discovered a new way of distinguishing between childhood fevers caused by viral infections and those caused…
The new strain (C4a) of enterovirus EV71 has infected hundreds of thousands mostly pre-school-age children in China, Cambodia and Taiwan. Image from shutterstock.com

Explainer: what is the new enterovirus or EV71?

A virus that can cause paralysis in children has been circulating in New South Wales during autumn and has recently spread to Victoria. Around 30 young children, mainly from Sydney’s northern and southeastern…
The novel coronavirus is in the same family as the SARS virus, but has some different biological features and is not as infectious. Image from shutterstock.com

Explainer: what is the new coronavirus?

Ten years ago the world was gripped by the threat of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which was caused by a coronavirus. The outbreak infected more than 8,000 people and around 800 died. Over…
Up to 80% of people who contract herpes remain completely asymptomatic. Image from shutterstock.com

Explainer: what is herpes?

When it comes to sexual health, the virus that causes those tingling blisters and angry sores of genital herpes is often the most reviled and feared. Most cases of genital herpes in humans are caused by…

Bacteria versus virus in oceanic war

The most abundant bacteria on record are also the hosts of the most abundant viruses, a result found by researchers from…

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