Some would characterize the Rabies virus as a lethal, zombie-inducing parasite. A victim could easily be spotted by a mouth foaming in virus-infected slobber or even with a confused, aggressive temperament. The remarkable capability for this virus to infect the mammalian brain and hijack its host’s behavior presents an intriguing mechanism of the natural world. In order to enhance transmission rates, the parasite will aggravate the host’s nervous system and coax into biting another victim. Though rabies captures the attention of many neuroscientists and brains alike, the virus is being accompanied by a fierce, more exotic viral parasite lurking within the American wilderness.
Rabies- A True Parasite of Ethology
The monster is called V-RG. Its punctuated, rather embellished name may describe its function or even hint of its laboratory roots. In order to barrage the spread of rabies, the United States Department of Agriculture has engineered a well-known form of poxvirus known as Vaccinia. This special strain of Vaccinia expresses a major Rabies surface antigen named Rabies-Glycoprotein. Hence, from the name alone, one can determine V-RG stands for Vaccinia- Rabies Glycoprotein. Once the virus has been manufactured, the USDA packages it inside baits and distributes them throughout the American wilderness, which await the digestion by a raccoon, fox or possibly a redneck in Kentucky.
- V-RG packaged within a tasty crumpet-like baits. Many times containing fish oils and other attractants. Photo courtesy of cdc.gov.
Since all viruses require a host or cell for its own existence, all viruses, by definition, are obligate parasites. This truth can can be exemplified by similar viruses of V-RG: smallpox, Varicella-Zoster (chickenpox) or shingles. The enticement in using ilk similar to the viruses that caused notorious pandemics or diseases rests at the molecular level. The genomes of all poxviruses are composed of large dsDNA segment(s) in which genes stand abreast with individual promoters, and in many cases, are transcriptionally regulated by splicing or specific transcription factors. This large and ‘spacious’ genome allows researchers accessibility for gene insertions and deletions, which allows the addition of the rabies’ virus surface glycoprotein.
Yet, the most intriguing feature of V-RG resides within its mode in being a parasite. While V-RG vaccinates the American wilderness, its existence is perpetuated through our artificial selection, that is our [Humans] intentional preference on which genes exist among an organism. This is generally contrasted against the distinguished concept of Natural Selection in which traits or genes exist depending upon its fitness within nature. Though humans have embraced the notion that genetically-modified organisms (or GMO’s) may be beneficial within our many of our industries, have we imagined or thought a genetically-modified parasite could operate upon our own intelligence and technology? Nevertheless, I believe we should be reminded of the damage parasites have caused and exercise caution when introducing an elegant and exotic form of poxvirus into the World.
A Victim of Smallpox virus. The lesions (or pocks) are jammed with virion particles. Poxviruses exploits the integumentary system (skin) in order to exit the host and spread