Science  25 Mar 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6024, pp. 1501

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  1. Cause of Lethal Disease In China Unmasked

    BEIJING—Each spring since 2006, a new disease in China has been killing up to 30% of its victims. Scientists aren't entirely sure how it spreads or kills, but researchers now at least know the face of this enemy. In an article published online last week in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), two teams described a new virus that appears to cause severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome (SFTS).

    SFTS came to light when people in Anhui Province in central China began dying of an illness characterized by high fever, gastrointestinal distress, and a depressed platelet count. The disease has since spread to six provinces.

    In December 2009, Xue-jie Yu, an expert on tick-borne diseases at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, isolated from a patient's blood a new bunyavirus, part of a family that includes hantavirus and Rift Valley fever virus. Then last spring and summer, researchers at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) here detected SFTS bunyavirus RNA, specific antiviral antibodies, or both in 171 out of 241 people hospitalized for SFTS. Chinese CDC virologist Li Dexin and colleagues isolated 11 strains of the bunyavirus from these samples. With their NEJM article, the Texas and Beijing teams, former rivals, share credit for the discovery. Scientists will probe whether ticks are the vector and other questions when SFTS presumably strikes this spring.

  2. Allergic to Peanuts? For Some Kids, Eating Them Helps


    A new study is adding to a small but growing pile of evidence that kids with food allergies can benefit when exposed, under a doctor's supervision, to the very food they react poorly to. Last week, a team of British researchers reported that 22 children with peanut allergies generally did well when given higher and higher doses of peanut flour, mixed into chocolate bars, over several months. After 30 weeks, the children got about 32 roasted peanuts to eat. Fourteen tolerated that dose; on average, the peanut serving size the children could handle grew 1000-fold. The work was led by pediatric allergist Andrew Clark at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, U.K., and published online 18 March in Clinical & Experimental Allergy.

    It's not the last word, and doctors warn that parents shouldn't try this on their own; the study was small and had no control group. But it builds on similar evidence for egg and milk allergies. There's also hope that eating peanuts can help prevent allergies to them in the first place. A different U.K. study, expected to end in 2014, is trying to thwart peanut allergies in hundreds of kids who are at high risk.

  3. Sperm From a Test Tube

    Generating sperm is a complicated biological feat that researchers have been trying to recreate in the lab for a century. In a paper published online in Nature this week, Takehiko Ogawa and colleagues at Yokohama City University in Japan describe a simple method that accomplishes just that. They hope the method will allow infertility researchers to study sperm development more effectively.

    The researchers took testes from 2- or 3-day-old mice and grew the organs for about a month in a petri dish with media that contained a compound often used for stem cell cultures. The testes looked relatively normal as they developed and eventually started producing mature sperm. When the researchers extracted the sperm and artificially inseminated female mice, healthy pups were born. Using the same culture method, the researchers were even able to produce sperm from young testes that had been frozen for a month. They are now trying to recreate the process with tissue samples from larger animal, including humans.