Once-quashed bird flu report aired


The British science journal Nature has published online a Japanese avian influenza report that had been suspended because of U.S. fears it could used to wage bioterrorism.

The report by the Japanese team, led by professor Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the Institute of Medical Science at the University of Tokyo, suggests that the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu viruses that have been infecting birds in Asia since the latter 1990s have the potential to spread between mammals, including humans.

Last December, the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity urged the journal Nature to delete parts of the report due to the bioterrorism concern. It made a similar request to the U.S. journal Science over another avian flu study by a Dutch team.

In February, the World Health Organization recommended the two reports be fully published, while seeking to suspend their full release for the immediate future.

The U.S. board said in March the study would probably not immediately lead to bioterrorism, effectively withdrawing its censorship request, and the U.S. government in April allowed the reports to be fully published. The journal Science is expected to carry the Dutch team’s report shortly.

The Kawaoka team found that viruses combining a gene called the H5 haemagglutinin with the remaining genes from the human pandemic H1N1 flu virus in 2009 spread between ferrets.

Wee small hours


Scientists have pinpointed a protein that helps explain why seniors frequently have to get up in the night to urinate, a problem that can badly interfere with sleep.

Deficient levels of a protein called connexin43 trick the bladder into believing it is full, which sends a “must urinate” warning to the brain, they reported Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.

Connexin43 is part of a cascade of proteins in the so-called circadian clock — the complex mechanism by which body processes crank up during daylight and slow down at night.

During sound sleep, a healthy person produces a smaller volume of urine from the kidneys than during daytime. At the same time, more urine is stored during sleep than during the active, daylight phase. But when there are lower levels of connexin43, the smooth muscles of the bladder become oversensitized to nerve signals that give a feeling of fullness, the study says.

Researchers led by Osamu Ogawa of Kyoto University made the discovery among lab mice that had been genetically modified to lack the gene that makes connexin43.

The chronic need to urinate at night, a condition called nocturnal enuresis, also causes bedwetting by young children.