Something really important regarding the Zika virus has come to light recently which may, in my opinion, refocus the investigation and reporting of the situation in Brazil entirely.
The Zika virus has recently been identified, and very well-documented, in a (microcephalic) fetal brain during autopsy. This provides a pretty direct link between the Zika virus, Brazil, and microcephaly. Keep in mind that the Zika virus should not, and has not historically caused microcephaly, by the way, which is what made concerns about adding a larvicide to the drinking water in Brazil more of a likely cause of microcephaly. Clearly much attention and action has been taken in that regard; however, locating the Zika virus in the brain of a microcephalic fetus changes things.
Before I continue writing about the fetus which was found to have been infected with the Zika virus, I can’t stop wondering what the nexus may be here which may have super charged the evolutionary process. I can’t help but think that with Brazil’s extensive and prolonged growing of Round Up Ready soy crops; which then required the widespread, prolonged and massive usage of the weedkiller, Round Up (glyphosate); plus the addition of a larvicide into their drinking water (Sumilarv, which is the commercial name for pyriproxyfen) and (in case all of these circumstances weren’t enough), Brazil has also introduced genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes into the environment for necessary vector control. There is an awful lot of impaired protein synthesis, injection of lethal genes, dampened growth hormones, and disrupted development going on here to confound many scientific disciplines. I just really hope someone can sort this mess out, and soon.
Back to the point of this post…
The (aborted) fetus I mentioned above (which was found to have been infected by the Zika virus) was from a woman who had been in Brazil while pregnant, but who then returned home to Slovenia where she realized (through medical examinations) that her fetus’ development in utero was so abnormal that he probably would not survive. He was missing most of his brain. I’m sorry, there isn’t an easy way to say that.
She terminated the pregnancy and thankfully allowed the scientific community to study, very thoroughly, what was going on and what led to this situation regarding her pregnancy. There were extensive interviews done, a complete and detailed autopsy (which produced excellent scientific reports), with research shared between her country and the US (which is why this is in the New England Journal of Medicine). Some of the information the mother provided is unverifiable. She says that she felt “flu like” during her pregnancy. She currently has no sign of the Zika virus in her body, but the thing is that she wouldn’t have it in her body at this point anyway since it’s short-lived.
The fetal brain, however, has clearly been infected with the Zika virus. If this were a “whodunit” drama, such evidence would be considered “the smoking gun.” This is so important that it may disrupt the notion that Sumilarv in the drinking water is the main culprit, although only time will tell.
A little background: the Zika virus has been around a long time. It’s part of a family of viruses known as flaviviruses and it shares a lot of traits with other mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever, chikungunya, yellow fever, West Nile Virus, and some forms of encephalitis, such as Japanese encephalitis. Up until recently, people weren’t particularly bothered by the Zika virus, if they were even aware that that’s what they were suffering from. They ended up feeling, for the most part, like they had a mild case of the flu which is why so many of us had never heard of it before. Those who have heard of Zika before weren’t really alarmed or concerned when mention of an outbreak began to circulate. Zika has consistently been no big deal.
There is virtually no record of microcephaly being caused by the Zika virus…
- Despite the fact that these mosquito-borne viruses have been around for over a century, with the Zika virus being detected back in 1947 (you can thank the Rockefellers for that one), and many millions of people having fallen ill from them, they have not caused microcephaly. Adding to the weirdness, microcephaly normally “presents” with other anomalies, such as heart problems. In Brazil, that is not happening. It seems as if this form of Zika has very concentrated effects on the human (developing) brain and eye area, which would be consistent with the usually minor symptoms related to Zika (orbital pain, headaches), but which did not include microcephaly.
- This type of virus, Flaviviradae, should not be able to radically and quickly change into something that is lethal to developing fetuses unless there is something else going on to put it on some sort of evolutionary “viral steroids.” A few things that stood out to me were the issue of something called clonal interference. This is the process by which beneficial mutations compete, and then interfere, with each other as they proceed toward fixation. This can happen in asexual populations (how about GM mosquitos?), with an adaptive evolution of the virus happening at a much faster rate, although this usually only happens with (-)ssRNA viruses (which Zika is not), but who can know, with certainty, what will happen when someone meddles with the evolutionary process, like releasing genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes into nature. This release often includes GM female mosquitos (biting) in the release, as well, which is not good. The company that has pioneered this type of mosquito (Oxitec) doesn’t allow female GM mosquitoes to be released deliberately, but it’s just extremely difficult to weed out all the females when you’re releasing millions of insects at a time.
Here’s the kicker: there are “evolutionary costs” associated with recombining RNA viruses, with a sort of jostling for position within a host (complementation). The newly recombined (defective) virus can actually parasitize the fully functioning virus and they can both “co-infect” the same host cell. This step happens as each version of the virus sort of “dukes it out” for supremacy. What if this is what is happening now in Brazil?
Why do I ask this question? Because of the study of the microcephalic fetal brain I mentioned earlier. The paper regarding this clinical finding of Zika in the brain, which appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, can be read here.
Back to those GM mosquitoes…
As I mentioned, in addition to the many millions of genetically modified male mosquitos which get released to control the Aedes mosquito population, there have been some quality control issues and some GM female mosquitoes (who bite – males don’t bite) have gotten into probably most batches of what gets released. This causes a hypothetical problem, or maybe the whole GM mosquito game has caused more than simply “hypothetical” problems…a ramped up, super sized, extra virulent Zika virus strain.
But what evolutionary impact might GM mosquitoes have on the virulence (strength and adaptation ability) of diseases like dengue, Zika, etc. when the vector that transmits the disease (in this case, the Aedes mosquito) is initially, or intermittently, suppressed by the insertion (into their natural environment) of genetically modified insects? However unlikely and rare, an RNA virus recombination “event” could happen which makes affected viral strains much more unpredictable and worse (lethal).
A 2009 research paper entitled, “The Impact of Transgenic Mosquitoes on Dengue Virulence to Humans and Mosquitoes” (Jan Medlock et al) posits: “Despite the promise of these new control strategies, their impact on the evolution of virulence to both the human and the mosquito hosts must be considered.”
In fact, researchers really don’t know. Medlock’s paper says, “A transgene may be effective at reducing infections with dengue, at the expense of causing an increase in virulence to humans.” Medlock’s paper concludes with:
“Transgene fixation in the mosquito population is expected to be much quicker than the evolution of virulence in the dengue virus. However, if the timescales of the two processes were similar, the evolutionary effects of transgenesis on the dengue virus might affect the spread of the transgene itself….In addition, the effect [benefit to humans] of an introduced transgene may be mitigated [offset, or lessened by the virus itself] by an evolutionary response in dengue virus.”
Here’s the thing – the Zika virus is what is called a positive sense, single-stranded RNA molecule, which is written like this: (+)ssRNA. It is 10794 bases long. Transmission of the Zika virus is thought to follow other closely related flaviviruses, which is to say that they are transmitted from a mosquito vector to a mammalian host or other transmission types that do not involve handing something down to your offspring, and this is called horizontal transmission. Vertical transmission is when the mosquito passes the virus to its offspring, or when a mother passes the virus to her fetus. It seems that the Zika outbreak in Brazil would then be both vertical and horizontal transmission of a virus. This has been seen before in yellow fever and the West Nile Virus.
Flavivirus is a genus of viruses in the family Flaviviridae. As previously mentioned, this genus includes the West Nile virus, dengue virus, tick-borne encephalitis virus, yellow fever virus, Zika virus and several other viruses which may cause encephalitis.
Again, these flaviviruses don’t do something called recombine very often as noted in Etienne Simon-Loriere’s paper,”Why do RNA viruses recombine:“
“However, recombination appears to be far less frequent in other families of (+)ssRNA viruses, including the Flaviviridae, in which only occasional instances have been reported.”
This is different from a lot of other viruses. For example, you could become sick from the flu virus, accidentally pass it on to your neighbor, who then gets sick. In the meantime, you’ve gotten better, but your neighbor is still sick. It is possible that even during that short amount of time, you could then visit your neighbor and get a slightly different (recombined) version of your same flu, which is just different ENOUGH so that you don’t have immunity to it.
Genetically modified mosquitoes may have more to do with the problem than with the solution
The type of mosquito that transmits Zika is called the Aedes aegypti. Genetically modified Aedes mosquitos (referred to as OX513A) have been introduced by the many millions into Brazil by a relatively new company out of Oxford University called Oxitec. This is where I need to digress a bit and point something out which is strange. Oxitec, which has become somewhat of a tech “darling,” is also introducing GM mosquitoes in the Florida Keys (for no apparently good reason) and was recently bought by an American company, called Intrexon. Here’s where my “uh oh” antenna went up about Oxitec. First of all, the World Health Organization can’t seem to get cozy enough with this little company. They’re bizarrely infatuated, as evidenced, for example, here, here, or here.
Factor in some of the biggest names in the chemical, pharmaceutical, and junk food industry, and that GM mosquito seems like even less of a good idea. Blogger Jon Rappoport has a funny take on a potentially bad situation:
“The company releasing the GE mosquitoes, Oxitec, has grants for their experiments from Bill Gates—never a good sign.
Oxitec is owned by Intrexon, which is owned by billionaire Randal J Kirk. The Hoovers profile of Intrexon, offers this:
“One man’s frankenfood is another man’s solution to world hunger. Intrexon is developing technology that uses synthetic biology, or biological engineering, to make advances in everything from pharmaceuticals to genetically modified plants and animals. The company has development agreements with AquaBounty (genetically modified salmon…”
Genetically modified animals. Just what we need. What could go wrong? And the highly controversial GE salmon is under attack for the usual reason: the omission of actual science that proves this fish is safe for consumption and won’t wreak havoc in the aqua-environment.
Intrexon employs the famous Dr. Sam Broder as its Senior Vice-President, Health Sector. For six years, Broder was the Director of the US National Cancer Institute. He was instrumental in bringing the AIDS drug, AZT, to market. This previously failed chemotherapy drug was taken off the shelf and subjected to a scandal-ridden clinical trial, which resulted in FDA approval. AZT is extremely toxic. It prevents human cells from replicating. It suppresses the immune system—the very system AIDS is supposed to be attacking. Other than that, no problem.
On November 28, 2011, Intrexon Chairman Randal Kirk welcomed two new executives to the company’s board of directors: Robert B. Shapiro and Jeffrey B. Kindler. Shapiro was the former CEO of Monsanto and NutraSweet (aspartame). Kindler was the former CEO of drug giant Pfizer and Executive VP and General Counsel of McDonald’s. If those boys don’t inspire trust, who could? Cancer-causing Roundup, brain-attacking aspartame, Bextra ($2.3 billion fine paid out), and check-your-colon-at-the-door Big Macs. If they release a genetically-engineered mosquito, you know it’s safe—and delicious, too.”
Also of interest was a recent announcement (SEC 13G filing of February 12, 2016) I came across which indicates other big fish in the Intrexon “sea,” such as Abigail P. Johnson of Fidelity Management. Johnson is apparently worth about $13 billion dollars, and she’s recently decided to own a lot of Intrexon (and therefore Oxitec which includes those pesky GM mosquitoes).
Rappoport suggests a sort of “false flag” situation going on in Brazil, which oddly enough occurred to me as well a few weeks ago, but we’ll probably never know. Again, Rappoport’s theoretical narrative is pretty funny:
“Okay, boys, here’s what we do. We’ve got this old virus called Zika. It’s been around for 60 years that we know of. It never caused anything serious. A real dud. But we’ve got to explain all these babies born with small heads and brain damage. We’ve got to protect some important people and shield them from heavy blame. So let’s bring back Zika. Even though very few mothers who give birth to babies with defects have the dud-virus, we can finesse that. People are idiots. So let’s build up Zika into a terrifying killer. Get our PR folks moving. Spread some money around. You know, the usual. And we make out on the back-end with a Zika vaccine.”
The regions which have come under attack from this very extreme Zika virus which seems linked to microcephaly suspiciously coincides with the areas in Brazil where genetically modified mosquitoes were released. See for yourself below. Oxitec’s GM mosquito release map has 3 spots in purple where they’ve released millions of their critters labeled 1, 2, and 3:
Now check out the map below from the Brazilian government where they’ve grouped cases and occurrences of microcephaly in various shades of red and orange. I’ve circled the main two areas of (initial) concentration:
And while I love both science and sushi, Christie Wilcox, who contributes for Discover Magazine under the column Science Sushi, has an attitude problem. Yes, I can be a bitch, but no one pays me to write under their publication by line. Wilcox claims to know that it’s an absurd conspiracy theory that GM mosquitoes could have anything to do with microcephaly and the Zika virus…okay, fine. She should have been more careful though because while the GM mosquitoes may not have had a hand in the start up of the virus, they may very well have amplified and altered its virulence. She adamantly will not consider that GM mosquitoes might play any role in Brazil or elsewhere. In her article, “No, GM mosquitoes didn’t start the Zika outbreak,” among her incorrect assumptions and statements about this issue, she says things like this (keep in mind that she’s prattling on about how inaccurate everyone is who even suspects a cover up, conspiracy, or anything underhanded going on with the GM mosquitoes):
“And, if the nails aren’t already in the coffin, then there’s this: when Zika hit French Polynesia in 2014, they also saw a trend of increasing microcephaly. There are no GM mosquitoes in French Polynesia, then or now: so how did they end up with the supposed “mutant” virus that caused birth defects?”
Well, perhaps Wilcox should get off her high horse and start doing a little of her own critical thinking and/or fact checking.
She can start with a Google search, work her way up to Oxitec’s own website or maybe something they’ve published like this paper, which clearly states they did release GM mosquitoes in French Polynesia, among other places. Here is a screenshot from their report:
Also in that same paper, published by Oxitec’s Luke Alphey, she can see for herself that even Oxitec had concerns about how their mosquitoes may alter the virulence of diseases:
Moreover, she should maybe take note of an article out of Australia which discusses a Brazilian study, called the Mattos Report which found cases of microcephaly in Brazil have actually surged at least as far back as 2012, which dovetails nicely with Oxitec’s own timeline of releasing genetically modified mosquitoes in Brazil.
I’d like to point something else out. too. A few days ago. I wrote about the potentially harmful health impacts of a larvicide, which is commercially known as Sumilarv (pyriproxyfen) being added to water reservoirs in northeastern Brazil to kill mosquitoes. Sumilarv, which is marketed by Sumitomo and Monsanto, was being discussed by two non-governmental health organizations, ABRASCO (Brazil) and Physicians in Crop Sprayed Towns (Argentina). After I wrote about that, which can be read here, I received a small avalanche of quasi-threatening, but definitely-harassing messages from people associated with the chemical industry. It was something akin to what I get from the fossil fuel industry, except worse.
One of my readers, an environmentalist named Sage R. also kindly sent a few links to illustrate the fuss those very same people were making on a Wikipedia page about the larvicide Sumilarv (active ingredient: pyriproxyfen). You can see the edits and general annoyances they’ve launched against Wikipdia here and check this page of edit information on Wikipedia’s pyriproxyfen page, particularly towards the end with a literal explosion of meddling by the chemical industry in 2016. Anecdotally, this makes me wonder if the Sumilarv concerns remain key to understanding microcephaly in Brazil. I’m really not sure. I suppose that time will tell, but it won’t happen fast enough for the people who have been impacted by the Zika virus.
UPDATE February 19th: I’ve been trying to figure out how an Oxitec GM mosquito would interfere, biologically, with a developing human embryo. I found a very interesting article by Yoichi Shimatsu which can be read in full here. I was really just looking for a logical and credible scientific link between the mosquito’s lethal genetic manipulation and the (very) severe cases of microcephaly which have presented in Brazil. I feel like I need to say a few things about my own feelings and background: I don’t write about biological warfare, I write about a lot of other things, but that is not one of them; I dislike conspiracy theories (although I now know better than to just dismiss them outright); I’m not anti-vaccination (all four of my kids have had, literally, all of their vaccinations, on schedule and they’re all teenagers so it’s been fine); and I don’t know if Bill Gates is some human form of evil, or a heroic figure. I’m open to evidence on pretty much anything.
The sort of large-scale conspiracies and diabolic plots that Shimatsu discusses are not as beyond the pale as they would appear. I just don’t know enough about what he refers to to make any sort of judgement, and history has proven that a lot of what he claims is happening now in Brazil has, in fact, actually been done before elsewhere, sadly. Having said that, my interest in his article focuses on the scientific link he proposes between the GM mosquito and the microcephaly which I have excerpted below (I made really pertinent parts of this section bold):
“When the hatched males become pupae, a gene-interfering protein called tTA is introduced into their bodies. The tTA (tetracycline-controlled Transcriptional Activation) makes the captive mosquitoes dependent on the antibiotic tetracycline. Without this antibiotic, the protein becomes activated and attaches to the GATA-transcription gene in the mosquito’s DNA, blocking organ maturation and thereby resulting in “auto-cide”.
After growing wings in early adulthood, the tetracycline-dosed tTA-carrying males are released into the wild in large swarms to mate with wild local female mosquitoes. The tTA protein is transferred via mating into the target females. The mother mosquito is not immediately killed off (as she is not tetracycline dependent). The tTA penetrates her eggs, which like their father, requires tetracycline to prevent gene shutdown.
The female mosquito lays her eggs in a watery environment, and these tetracycline-dependent eggs hatch into pupae. As the pupae grow (while any tetracycline residue breaks down), the tTA is activated and attaches to the tetO complex surrounding the GATA gene sections of the mosquito DNA. The GATA gene sequence reverse-transcribe (encode with mirror effect to produce) GATA proteins, which provide the “master-plans” for embryonic development of organs and muscles. A blocked gene creates mangled proteins, meaning the pupae have no chance of becoming fully formed adult mosquitoes.
Mother Mosquito Bites Human
The obvious flaw in the Oxitec method is the fact that the female mosquito is not killed early on. To provide sustenance to the eggs in its sac, the mother mosquito feeds on the blood of birds and mammals, including humans. Oxitec guarantees that the dengue virus cannot replicate inside the female’s saliva glands, due to the presence of RIDL, and therefore she represents no threat of infection to humans, other than an annoying bite. That claim has proven overly optimistic, considering the many cases of mosquito-derived ZIKA virus infections inside the field-test zones.
The situation becomes more serious when the mosquito bites a pregnant women, thereby transmitting the lethal gene-blocking protein. In the early development stage, human embryos are not much different from mosquito pupae. About 44 percent of genes in the DNA of mammals are shared with insects, due to common evolutionary ancestral species. Therefore, RIDL will have a disruptive effect on the GATA sequences in human DNA. In mammals, seven types of GATA proteins are crucial for development of embryos into healthy normal children.
Damage to the GATA-1 protein is associated with Down Syndrome, the diminished skullcap condition similar to the recent cases of microcephaly in Brazilian infants. Autopsies done on aborted fetuses indicate that the Brazilian microcephaly are far more severe than Down Syndrome, showing smoothness of the brain surface with a complete absence of the rills and wrinkles necessary for cognition and sensory functions. Notice how the news media are not discussing the severity of the damage. (ZIKA fragments were found in all microcephaly-affected babies, indicating the involvement of the Aedes aeqypti mosquito.)
Brain damage more severe than Down Syndrome is due to the tTA effect on production of the GATA-4 protein. GATA-4 interacts with a co-factor called FOG-2 (friend of GATA), to promote and manage development of the embryonic brain, nerves and heartbeat. The physical abnormalities caused by the Oxitec “death gene” on the other five GATA proteins can be expected to appear as the Brazilian infants grow further.“
If there are additional updates to this mystery, they will be posted here as well.
If you’d like to read some of the reports and documents that I used for this post (in addition to the links provided within the body of the text above), here you go:
“Brazil asks whether Zika acts alone to cause birth defects,” Nature, July 25, 2016.
* ECDC (European) report of November 24, 2015 re: Brazil and Zika;
* WHO & PAHO epidemiological report of December 1, 2105 re: Brazil and Zika;
* ECDC (European) report of January 13, 2016 re: Brazil and Zika;
* Center for Disease Control (CDC) report of January 26, 2016 re: Brazil and Zika;
* French Polynesian doctor agrees with Zika/microcephaly link from 2013 epidemic;
* Another article about the Mattos Report from Brazil, February 7, 2016;
* New York Times article from February 12, 2016 about microcephaly (see, in particular Question #18);