Are Rats Innocent of Spreading the Black Plague?

A new study suggests that human parasites—like fleas and lice—and not rats, may be responsible for spreading the Black Death that killed millions of people in Medieval Europe.

A personal favorite infectious disease of mine is the plague, what a perfect confluence of infection agent (the bacteria Yersinia pestis), susceptible population (do you know what passed as cleanliness standards in medieval Europe?), and good environmental factors (over crowding).

But it turns out that rats, previously thought to be the main culprits of spreading the plague, may not be responsible for spreading the Black Death (also, GREAT name).

Want to know more? Read about it here!

 

 

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9 Photos of Extraordinary Mummies, Ancient and Modern

Ok, who amongst us knew that there was such a thing as a “modern” mummy? Seriously, this is news to me.

At any rate, over at National Geographics, they have compiled a few photos of what they classify as an “extraordinary mummy”.

Curious? Read about it here!

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2017 year-ender: What I’ve learned from reading health news every morning

Each morning, Jill U. Adams (health journalist and an associate editor at HealthNewsReview.org) scans 26 news sites for stories that report on some claim of a health benefit by a specific intervention.

From this practice (for work it must be noted) she’s come up with a list of things that are becoming clear in health reporting this year (read the full article here):

 

Coffee. It’s neither terribly good nor terribly bad for you.

CelebritiesA study about the most attractive female lips offered up a chance for news outlets to post photos of Angelina Jolie. We’ve seen the same thing with many other celeb-focused health stories. New treatment for morning sickness? Kim Kardashian.  Wacky health claims? Gwenyth Paltrow. A “struggle” with chronic dry eyes? Marisa Tomei. It’s clickbait.

Headlines. Beware the hyped-up headline. Nothing makes me skeptical faster than a headline telling me how to live longer. And it’s hard not do a second roll of eyes when I scan ahead to see the article describing findings from an association study. I also watch for any of publisher Gary Schwitzer’s seven words you shouldn’t use.

Headlines, head-spinning version. Talk about different framings to a story! In April we blogged about seemingly opposite headlines on stories covering the same study. One news outlet’s story on colonoscopy warned readers that delaying the procedure was risky; another proclaimed waiting was okay.

Healthy foods. Please no. You can have healthy diets — such as a healthy pattern of eating that is rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. But there is no one food that will prevent cancer or make you sleep better or make you heart healthy despite what headlines may tell you. Why? Because there is no evidence for such things. Most of the studies on individual foods are association studies that rely on participants’ self-report of what they eat. They are not clinical trials that randomly put participants into an “eat blueberries” group and an “avoid blueberries” group and test the intervention for long enough in enough people to show causation.

Ill-defined interventions. Exercise is a prime example. Everyone knows by now that “exercise” is good for you. A health news story looking at exercise as an intervention should be specific  — how often, how long, and how intensely the physical fitness was measured. In December, we called out the lack of specificity in this HealthDay story review.

Proxy outcomes. Another HealthDay story, Can Coffee Perk Up Heart Health, Too?, reports on a study that measured the activation of particular gene clusters involved in inflammation. It’s quite a jump from these molecules to inflammation in general to inflammation that leads to pathology, much less to actual health outcomes. A New York Times story from the same month, Running may be good for your knees, reported on a study that found different inflammatory mediators in the knee’s synovial fluid after running or sitting for 30 minutes–which is a proxy, or a surrogate marker, for knee health.

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How The Black Death Caused Medieval Women To Shrink

The Black Death (the OG “plague”) killed a large proportion of the population of Europe in the 14th century (30%!). But even after it had run it’s course it left long lasting and interesting effects on the population left behind.

People were on average healthier after the Black Death passed through. And for some reason, women were smaller. What’s interesting is these two factors might be correlated.

What does being healthier have to do with being shorter? Read about it here!

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NASA Twins Study spots thousands of genes toggling on and off in Scott Kelly

When astronaut Scott Kelly returned to Earth after a year floating about the International Space Station, he was noticeably different from his identical twin, Mark Kelly. For one, Scott temporarily grew two inches taller, but what really fascinated people were the change in his genes. “There are over 50,000 genes in the human genome, and when floating in zero gravity, the body is trying to manage that situation in new ways,” Chris Mason, one of the principal investigators of the Twins Study and a geneticist at Weill Cornell Medicine, told PBS NewsHour. “Both DNA and RNA were found to express genes in order to compensate for a lifestyle in space.”

Which is really cool, and really important for long periods of space flight. Say, for example, to Mars…

Read about it hereImage result for Scott and Mark Kelly

 

Revisiting Gattaca in the Era of Trump

I have written exhaustively about CRISPR-Cas technology, and its potential to change science and the world as we know it.

But with this change in science as we know it, we’re faced with some pretty important ethical questions (also not the first time I’ve talked about this on NiB). However, what is new is this excellent post by Osagie K. Obasogie, who researches ethical issues surrounding reproductive and genetic technologies.

He addresses how the Trump administration, and the rise of white nationalism is concerning with the new CRISPR possibilities. It’s not like we haven’t experienced scientific projects trying to engineer better humans, one only needs to remember the aftermath of the Holocaust and the public Nuremburg trials.

It’s an interesting line of thought to walk down, and I strongly recommend reading the piece here.

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Where bacteria hides

It’s fascinating how terrible we are at long term combating human pathogens. It’s kind of like wack-a-mole, when one route is eliminated another springs right up.

On one hand, this is obviously a plug that we need more money dedicated to scientific research.

But on the other, it’s really just interesting! Take Gonorrhea for example. Or better yet, read about where Gonorrhea is hiding these days

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