NEWS SCAN: Lab biosafety on modified H5N1, US BSE risk classification, lowered mosquito susceptibility to DEET

Feb 21, 2013

Public comment period open on NIH amendments regarding lab-modified H5N1
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced today its official recommendations regarding enhanced biosafety precautions for research involving recombinant DNA technology on modified highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu viruses. The recommended changes, which would be amendments to the NIH Guidelines, were developed by NIH's Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC) on the heels of a year-long controversy surrounding two studies on H5N1 viruses that were laboratory-modified to be transmissible among mammals. A public comment period is open until March 25. Written or electronic comments can be sent to the Office of Biotechnology Activities, National Institutes of Health, 6705 Rockledge Dr, Ste 750, MSC 7985, Bethesda, MD 20892-7985 or Questions or requests for more information can be requested by e-mail to the same address or by calling 301-496-9838.
Feb 21 NIH notice in the Federal Register
Jan 25 CIDRAP News story on the amendments (with links to other background stories)

US risk classification for BSE upgraded
The United States is an important step closer to moving from a "controlled" to a "negligible" risk status for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or "mad cow" disease) after a recommendation for the change from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). Formal adoption of the new risk classification is expected in May at the OIE's General Assembly meeting in Paris. OIE determines a country's risk status based on actions the country has taken to manage the risk of the disease. US policies in this regard, which include removal of specified risk materials for all animals presented for slaughter, a strong feed ban that protects cattle from the disease, and an ongoing BSE surveillance program that allows the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to detect the disease in the cattle population, are "robust and comprehensive," according to Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, as quoted in a USDA press release yesterday. The new classification is expected to support efforts to increase exports of US beef and beef products. Said Vilsack, "This is a significant achievement for the United States, American beef producers and businesses, and federal and state partners who work in coordination to maintain a system of three interlocking safeguards against BSE that protect our public and animal health."
Feb 20 USDA press release

Study: Mosquitoes can overcome DEET's repellent smell
Exposure to the smell of DEET, one of the most widely used mosquito repellents, appears to render the insects insensitive to the smell upon reexposure several hours later, says a study published yesterday in PLoS One. The study authors examined host-seeking behavior and electrophysiologic responses of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes after preexposure to DEET. Three hours after exposure, the mosquitoes showed behavioral insensitivity to the presence of DEET (ie, they were not deterred by DEET on a human arm or an artificial heat source). Electroantennography showed the behavior to be related to a decreased response of the insects' olfactory receptor neurons. The findings add further knowledge to previous study findings that some mosquitoes and flies are insensitive to the DEET smell because of a genetic change in their odor receptors. The use of repellants like DEET is crucial in fighting dengue fever and other mosquito-borne diseases. The lead author, James Logan, PhD, is quoted in a Public Library of Science (PLoS) press release as saying that the new finding "doesn't mean we should stop using repellents—on the contrary, DEET is a very good repellent, and is still recommended for use in high risk areas. However, we are keeping a close eye on how mosquitoes can overcome the repellent and ways in which we can combat this."
Feb 20 PLoS One study
Feb 20 PLoS press release

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