ScienceAdviser.  “Likely U.S. approval of first Chikungunya vaccine paves way to ease aches around the world.”

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Accessed on 31 October 2023, 1448 UTC.

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31st October, 2023
Today’s Visualized examines the role microbes play in placental growth. But first, catch up on the latest science news, including new evidence that the parts of plant cells that capture energy from sunlight also moonlight as immune warriors.
Likely U.S. approval of first Chikungunya vaccine paves way to ease aches around the world
A vaccine against the mosquito-borne viral disease Chikungunya likely will come to market next month, a first. The poorly tracked disease, which causes debilitating joint pain in up to 40% of people who become infected but is rarely fatal, now afflicts more than half the countries in the world—and threatens to spread further. With the imminent U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of the vaccine, made by the French company Valneva, questions have come to the fore about who will receive it, availability, cost, the disease burden, and the expanding reach of the mosquitoes that transmit the virus.

In the U.S., an immunization advisory committee for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on 26 October weighed a proposal that the vaccine be recommended for the elderly and other people who are most vulnerable to the disease and traveling to countries experiencing outbreaks. For countries that have endemic Chikungunya, vaccine uptake will depend on cost, competing health needs, and viral spread. Valneva has a licensing deal with the Butantan Institute in Brazil to bottle and sell the vaccine at discounted prices there and in other low- and middle-income countries.

Approval of the vaccine is “great news,” says Scott Weaver, a virologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch whose own lab started working on a Chikungunya vaccine nearly two decades ago.

Plant parts that capture the Sun’s energy also battle pathogens
seedlings in a petri dish
Experimental seedlings helping to reveal the role of chloroplasts in plant immunity SASHA BAKHTER/UC DAVIS COLLEGE OF BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES
When it comes to turning sunlight into cellular fuel, compartments within plant cells called chloroplasts are where all the action happens. These organelles are packed with chlorophyll, the green pigment that captures the energy from light so that it can be used to drive chemical reactions. But chloroplasts aren’t just the botanical equivalent of a solar panel—they’re also part of the plant immune system.

Botanists have known for more than a century that chloroplasts sometimes look odd, growing thin extensions called stromules. And previous research found that if a plant is sick with a bacterial or viral infection, its chloroplasts tend to have more of these stromules, which appear to pull the organelles closer to the cell’s nucleus—perhaps to facilitate communication between the two compartments. But why? And how do these stromules form? No one knew.

So a team of researchers messed with plants’ genes for kinesins, proteins involved in building cellular structures. They found one that, when present in abundance, induced stromule formation. Furthermore, when the scientists prevented tobacco and rockcress from making this particular kinesin, the plants were suddenly unable to defend themselves against infections.

While it’s not yet the full story of stromules, the discovery of this key protein will enable further study, the researchers say. “If we can better understand at the cellular level how organelles like chloroplasts help cells to defend themselves, we could help to engineer resistance to the pathogen,” co-author Savithramma Dinesh-Kumar says in a press release.

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Blood vessel maps
X-ray images of placental casts reveal that the placentas of antibiotic-treated mice have fewer, less complex blood vessel networks (right) than ones with healthy gut microbiomes (right). PRONOVOST ET AL./SCIENCE ADVANCES (2023)
We inherit many things from our parents—our eye color, for instance, or our way of laughing. Infants also acquire bacteria and other microorganisms as they’re born, which fire up their immune and digestive systems and can even aid brain development. Now, research in mice suggests that microbes play an important role in babies’ lives long before that point by promoting the health of the placenta during pregnancy.

Scientists took pregnant mice and treated some of them with broad-spectrum antibiotics, wiping out the flora living on and in their bodies. In the latter group, the mice’s placentas were much smaller and had fewer blood vessels (above, right), which led to smaller baby mice, the team reported recently in Science Advances.

Further investigation revealed that microbiota-deficient murine moms have fewer short-chain fatty acids, small fats which are mainly produced by bacteria in the gut. When the scientists added these fatty acids to the diets of pregnant, antibiotic-treated mice, they saw a corresponding increase in the size and blood vessel complexity of their placentas.

In humans, deficits in placental size and blood vessel complexity are associated with diseases like preeclampsia and increase the likelihood that a child will develop chronic health problems. The researchers hope their findings will advance our understanding of how microbiomes affect placental development, leading to better health outcomes for all.

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Last but not least
It’s Halloween, so I’m going to reveal the creature I’m most afraid of. It’s not snakes, spiders, or scorpions—I loved interacting with all sorts of deadly creatures when I was writing my book Venomous.

Instead, the animal that freaks me out the most is … mothsEspecially these ones. Come on—that’s just creepy, right?

Christie Wilcox, editor, ScienceAdviser

With contributions from Jon Cohen and Phie Jacobs

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