Yes, We Have No Bananas – The Demise of the Cavendish

Whether sliced into a bowl of cereal, split in two and served with ice cream, or peeled and eaten, the banana is a common part of the American diet. Americans eat more bananas annually than oranges and apples combined. Bananas are an excellent source of vitamins, including B6 and C, magnesium, potassium, and fiber. While Americans typically view bananas as a snack food, in other parts of the world, they hold a much more important nutritional role. In some areas of Africa, where more than 200 species of the fruit are grown, bananas account for 80% of consumed calories. However, the banana that you know and love a variety called the Cavendish is in danger of being wiped out by a catastrophic disease currently spreading across the globe.


The Cavendish variety accounts for nearly 100% of the bananas imported around the world.(Photo credit: Muellek Josef/Shutterstock)

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Do You Smell a Rat … Or Should the Rat Smell You?

African giant pouched rat

Some animals, such as this African giant pouched rat, are being used to sniff out disease in humans. (Photo credit: Penny Boyd/Alamy Stock Photo)

In 1989, a paper appearing in the British medical journal The Lancet made an astounding claim. Two dermatologists reported how a patient decided to come in for an exam because her dog kept sniffing a mole on her leg. The dog even tried to bite it off at one point. Tests proved it was a malignant melanoma nearly two millimeters thick. When removed, the woman survived, and the study would eventually become known as the ‘First Lancet Letter’ or the first time in a peer-reviewed medical journal that an animal’s senses had been linked to the detection of disease. [Read more…]

Ebola Vaccine Trials Prove Successful

ebola vaccine

A woman takes part in an Ebola virus vaccine trial in Monrovia, Liberia. (Photo credit: Abbas Dulleh/AP Images)

Last summer, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was all over the news. At the outbreak’s height, many health officials feared the disease would spread across the globe, and indeed individuals in the United States and Europe were diagnosed with the disease. However, cases outside of West Africa were kept isolated and a global outbreak of the disease was prevented.

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Grazing Animals Help Spread Plant Disease

Research conducted by scientists from Oregon State University, Cornell University, and the University of North Carolina have implicated grazing animals in the spread of plant disease. The scientists studied the relationship between plant-eating animals, including mule deer, rabbits, and feral pigs, and the prevalence of barley and cereal yellow dwarf plant viruses.

Grazing animals, such as mule deer, have been implicated in the spread of plant viruses. (Photo credit: USFWS)

Grazing animals, such as mule deer, have been implicated in the spread of plant viruses. (Photo credit: USFWS)

The research showed that in areas where grazing animals were blocked from test plots, plant viruses occurred at a rate of about 5 percent. In test plots where the animals were allowed to graze, plant disease occurred at a rate of about 18 percent–a nearly 4-fold increase.

The grazing animals do not themselves actually spread the plant diseases. Instead, a byproduct of their grazing is an increase in the types of grasses preferred by insects such as aphids. The aphids are in turn directly responsible for the transmission of plant viruses from one area to another. The results of this study are important because they help to illustrate the complicated relationships that occur within ecosystems. While it is commonly thought that there is a tight connection between a disease and its host, this research shows that within ecosystems, such host-disease relationships may become tangled in a complex food web involving several different consumers.

The results of the scientists’ research was published in the December 29, 2008 issue of the journal The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Could a Dog Bite Lead to an Antibiotic-Resistant Infection?

Antibiotic-resistant infections are no longer just found in hospital patients. These infections are increasing in the general population. According to the Center for Disease Control, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection rates have risen from 2% of all staph infections in the 1970s to 63% in 2003. Environmental factors seem to contribute to the increase in infections and pets may be to blame.

Pets, even people, have MRSA and other resistant bacteria in their noses or on their skin. As long as the bacteria stay in those places, they may not cause symptoms of an infection. Once the bacteria they enter the body through a cut or bite, they can become dangerous. There is a report describing a case of a pet dog that was treated with multiple courses of antibiotics for a chronic illness that then transmitted multidrug-resistant bacteria to a human through a bite.

MRSA infections and companion animals are the focus of study by veterinarians at the University of Missouri. The team is taking samples from 750–800 pairs of owners and pets and sorting them into three groups: human healthcare workers and pets, veterinary healthcare workers and pets, and non-healthcare professionals and pets.

This study will help us evaluate the various risk factors associated with this problem,” said Middleton, an associate professor of food animal internal medicine. “Are pets a risk factor? This study will help us track where the disease started and determine what questions the physician should be asking if a patient is diagnosed with MRSA.”

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