TIME Research

Here’s Why Drug-Resistant Bacteria Could Spread Globally

Escherichia coli bacteria by scanning electron microscopy (SEM).
Scimat Scimat—Photo Researchers RM/Getty Images Escherichia coli bacteria by scanning electron microscopy (SEM).

Two genes responsible for building up drug-resistance can easily be shared between a family of bacteria

Common bacteria could be on the verge of becoming antibiotic-resistant super bugs, according to a new study.

Resistance to antibiotics is in danger of spreading globally among the type of bacteria that’s associated with causing infections in hospitals, reports the Science Daily.

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that two genes that help build up this resistance to a particularly strong class of antibiotics called carbapenems can be shared fairly easily between a family of bacteria.

“Carbapenems are one of our last resorts for treating bacterial infections, what we use when nothing else works,” said senior author Gautam Dantas.

The study was based on incidents at two Los Angeles hospitals where several patients became infected with drug-resistant bacteria that had contaminated medical equipment.

Researchers studied a family of bacteria called Enterobacteriaceae. While not all of these bacteria cause illness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae as one of the three most urgent threats among emerging forms of antibiotic-resistant disease.

The team compared the genomes of carbapenems-resistant bacteria that had been isolated in the U.S. to those from bacteria isolated in Pakistan, expecting them to be genetically different. But what they found was the two resistant genes could be shared easily between bacteria from the two geographic regions.

“Our findings also suggest it’s going to get easier for strains of these bacteria that are not yet resistant to pick up a gene that lets them survive carbapenem treatment,” Dantas said.

As drug-resistant forms of Enterobacteriaceae become more widespread, he adds, “the odds will increase that we’ll pass one of these superbugs on to a friend with a weakened immune system who can really be hurt by them.”

[Science Daily]

Read next: Study Links Widely Used Pesticides to Antibiotic Resistance

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TIME Research

Google Granted Patent for Smart Contact Lens

This undated photo released by Google shows a contact lens Google is testing to explore tear glucose.
Google/AP Google's smart contact lenses.

May allow people with diabetes to easily measure glucose levels

Google has been granted a patent for a contact lens with an embedded chip,

The patent, which was discovered by WebProNews, features a sensor in the lens. Google has previously said that it is partnering with the pharmaceutical company Novartis to create a smart contact lens that could monitor blood sugar for people with diabetes.

As TIME has previously reported, Google has been testing various prototypes of smart contact lens and is currently in talks with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about a lens that measures glucose levels in users’ tears. The company says the chip and sensor are embedded between two layers of contact lens material and a tiny pinhole lets tear fluid from the eye reach the glucose sensor, and the sensor can measure levels every second.

Diabetics must currently prick their fingers throughout the day to measure blood sugar levels, but Google believes the contact lenses would be less invasive and allow people with diabetes to check glucose more often and more easily.

When asked if the patent is indeed for the smart contact lens for diabetes patients, Google told TIME the company does not comment on patent filings. “We hold patents on a variety of ideas—some of those ideas later mature into real products or services, some don’t. Prospective product announcements should not necessarily be inferred from our patents,” a Google spokesperson said in an email.

TIME Research

High Blood Pressure Related Deaths Are Way Up: CDC

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Hypertension is a factor in many U.S. deaths

Deaths related to high blood pressure, have risen significantly over the last 13 years, according to new federal data.

A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics shows the number of hypertension-related deaths increased 61.8%, from 2000 to 2013. The researchers analyzed national cause-of-death data files and defined hypertension-related death as any mention of hypertension on the death certificate. They found that over the 13 year period, the rate rose for both sexes age 45 and older.

But report also found that the proportion of deaths where heart disease was the underlying cause of death dropped by about 6%. The proportion of deaths where stroke was the underlying cause also dropped by about 5%.

“In the areas we’ve been focusing on for the last two to three decades we really have seen a reduction in deaths,” says Dr. Clyde Yancy chief of the division of cardiology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “The lens has to increase now. This is an important message to get out that there are multiple reasons you want to get rid of hypertension, not just reducing stroke and heart disease, but minimizing the impact on diabetes and reducing your risk for cancer.” Yancy was not involved in the research.

While it is generally accepted that high blood pressure can lead to heart-related problems, studies have also shown links between hypertension and other chronic diseases. For instance, prior data has shown that hypertension can increase the risk of dying from cancer and developing the disease in the first place. The researchers report that heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes accounted for 65% of all the deaths with a mention of hypertension in 2000 and 54% in 2013.

Overall, the report shows that one out of six hypertension-related deaths was due to high blood pressure as the underlying cause. In the other deaths, high blood pressure was listed as a contributing factor.

TIME neuroscience

Your Brain Learns New Words By Seeing Them Not Hearing Them

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Chris Ryan—Getty Images/Caiaimage

To be a really proficient reader, it’s not enough to “hear” words. You also have to see them

We start to talk before we can read, so hearing words, and getting familiar with their sounds, is obviously a critical part of learning a language. But in order to read, and especially in order to read quickly, our brains have to “see” words as well.

At least that’s what Maximilian Riesenhuber, a neuroscientist at Georgetown University Medical Center, and his colleagues found in an intriguing brain-mapping study published in the Journal of Neuroscience. The scientists recruited a small group of college students to learn a set of 150 nonsense words, and they imaged their brains before and after the training.

Before they learned the words, their brains registered them as a jumble of symbols. But after they were trained to give them a meaning, the words looked more like familiar words they used every day, like car, cat or apple.

MORE: Mistakes to Avoid When Learning a Foreign Language

The difference in way the brain treated the words involved “seeing” them rather than sounding them out. The closest analogy would be for adults learning a foreign language based on a completely different alphabet system. Students would have to first learn the new alphabet, assigning sounds to each symbol, and in order to read, they would have to sound out each letter to put words together.

In a person’s native language, such reading occurs in an entirely different way. Instead of taking time to sound out each letter, the brain trains itself to recognize groups of letters it frequently sees together — c-a-r for example — and dedicates a set of neurons in a portion of the brain that activates when these letters appear.

In the functional MRI images of the volunteers’ brains, that’s what Riesenhuber saw. The visual word form area, located in the left side of the visual cortex, is like a dictionary for words, and it stores the visual representation of the letters making up thousands of words. This visual dictionary makes it possible to read at a fast pace rather than laboriously sounding out each letter of each word every time we read. After the participants were trained to learn the meaningless words, this part of their brains was activated.

MORE: An Infant’s Brain Maps Language From Birth, Study Says

“Now we are seeing words as visual objects, and phonetics is not involved any more,” he says. “We recognize the word as a chunk so we go directly from a visual pattern to the word’s meaning, and we don’t detour to the auditory system.”

The idea of a visual dictionary could also help researchers to better understanding reading or learning disorders like dyslexia. More research could reveal whether the visual word form area in people with such disabilities is different in any way, or whether they tend to read via more auditory pathways. “I helps us understand in a general way how the brain learns, the fastest way of learning, and how to build on prior learning,” says Riesenhuber.

TIME Research

Study Links Widely Used Pesticides to Antibiotic Resistance

Tractor and crop sprayer spraying in field
Getty Images

Glyphosate, 2,4-D, and dicamba found to affect bacteria in ways that could promote resistance to common antibiotics

This has not been a good week for glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup and other herbicides. On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it had classified glyphosate, the United States’ most widely used pesticide, as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Now, the chemical has another strike against it. A new study published by the American Society of Microbiology’s journal mBio has linked glyphosate and two other widely-used herbicides–2,4-D and dicamba–to one of the most pressing public health crises of our time: antibiotic resistance.

This study found that exposure to these herbicides in their commercial forms changed the way bacteria responded to a number of antibiotics, including ampicillin, ciprofloxacin, and tetracycline–drugs widely used to treat a range of deadly diseases.

Dicamba, 2,4-D, and glyphosate have been in use for decades, so why have their antibacterial-resistance effects not been documented before? As the study’s lead author, Jack Heinemann, professor of genetics at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, explains, when pesticides are tested for adverse effects, “it’s the lethal toxicity that people focus on.” In other words, how much of the chemical will kill an organism.

“What makes our study different, is that it is looking at a sub-lethal effect,” says Heinemann. “The effect we see requires that the bacteria stay alive.”

Previous studies done by other researchers have found that substances chemically similar to dicamba and 2,4-D can cause antibiotic resistance, Heinemann explains. So he and his colleagues decided to investigate whether these herbicides would produce similar effects. They added glyphosate to the study because it is chemically unlike the other two. But, to their surprise, it also produced some antibiotic resistance.

Heinemann explains that because these herbicides are not “supertoxic” to the bacteria the study tested—E. coli and Salmonellathey are not killed outright at levels typically used to kill weeds. Instead, the bacteria stay alive while activating proteins known as efflux pumps in order to rid themselves of toxins. And this defense mechanism can make the bacteria develop resistance to the threat from which it is defending itself.

Scientists know that overuse of antibiotics in humans can decrease their effectiveness. In the same way, says Heinemann, “exposure to these pesticides make the pathogens stronger.”

Although this study only looked at two laboratory strains of human pathogens, the antibiotics examined represent what he calls “broad classes” of drugs we’ve come to depend on to fight infections and the herbicides are three of the most-used worldwide.

Heinemann also notes that the different pesticides produced a variety of responses. While all three produced an antibacterial-resistant response to some of the antibiotics, some of the combinations his team tested produced no response and some increasedthe antibiotic’s effect.

Although the study is likely to be seen as controversial by some, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth assistant professor of biology, Dr. Mark Silby says it “followed established protocols” and the existing scientific literature supports its findings.

“This is a very carefully designed study,” says Dr. Michael Hansen, a senior staff scientist at Consumers Union. “It’s incredibly important work showing the complexity of an effect that hadn’t been thought about before.” The mechanisms by which the bacteria respond to toxics–in this case herbicides–are already well-known, Hansen explains. What’s new and important is looking at non-lethal levels of exposure in combination with the antibiotics.

The weed-killers used in the study were purchased at a local store and were used at levels specified in use directions, which means the scientists were testing chemicals actually in use worldwide rather than a special laboratory sample of the active compound.

How could any of this affect people?

“These herbicides are now used at such a scale that we can almost use the term ubiquitous,” says Heinemann. For one, glyphosate is used on about 94 percent of the soybeans and 89 percent of the corn grown in the U.S, while 2,4-D is the third-most widely used herbicide in the U.S., while dicamba ranks fifth in use worldwide.

The levels at which the researchers saw effects were higher than the residues allowed on food, but below what is often used in rural settings, says Heinemann.

The results of Heinemann’s study suggest there is probably a small chance that exposure through food would produce these effects, but they could be a concern in areas where the pesticides are being applied, says Hansen. Thus, the people most likely to be affected are farmers, farmworkers, and other people who live in agricultural communities.

Also to consider is the approval earlier this year of a new pesticide that combines glyphosate and 2,4-D and soybean and cotton seeds genetically engineered to resist dicamba, all of which are expected to increase use of these pesticides.

Pesticide-induced antibiotic resistance could also affect honeybees since many commercial hives are now being treated with antibiotics. It’s possible, Heinemann says, that “comingling of antibiotics and herbicides could be compromising the effectiveness of those antibiotics,” and thus honeybee health.

Meanwhile, Monsanto says it disagrees with WHO’s announcement on glyphosate. “All labeled uses of glyphosate are safe for human health and supported by one of the most extensive worldwide human health databases ever compiled on an agricultural product,” the company says in a statement on its website.

Neither Monsanto nor other pesticide manufacturers have had the opportunity to respond to the new mBio study. But the Council for Biotechnology Information said on its website “GMO Answers” last month, that glyphosate had once been considered for use as an antibiotic but that “levels needed to kill microbes are relatively high, and resistance can develop readily.” In other words, the phenomenon Heinemann and colleagues observed is not entirely unexpected.

“A jigsaw puzzle is a good metaphor,” for how these effects fit together, says the scientist.

The next steps in this research will be to test additional bacteria and pure samples of the pesticides. But for now, it’s clear that “further work is needed,” says Hansen. “This is something we need to look at as we expand the use of these herbicides.”

This article originally appeared on Civil Eats.

MONEY salaries

This Easy Negotiation Trick Could Boost Your Salary

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New research shows that framing your desired pay for a new job in a particular way can help you hit your target.

A new study finds that asking for a dollar amount during a negotiation is more successful if you put it at the bottom of a range instead of just asking for it outright.

So for example, if you’re targeting a salary of $52,000, you’re best off asking a prospective employer for something between, say, $52,000 and $56,000.

The finding, by Daniel Ames and Malia Mason of Columbia University, might seem obvious at first glance—but it actually contradicts existing schools of thought. Some experts have theorized that you should not open salary negotiations with a range because doing so could make you seem either uninformed or manipulative and might cause the person you’re negotiating with to consider only the lowest number in your offer.

Instead, the new research found, couching your request in a range can actually make you seem more cooperative and flexible—and make it harder for a prospective boss to counter with a much lower salary number without seeming impolite. The key is choosing the right high and low anchor numbers so you don’t accidentally low-ball yourself.

“The lowest number is the point offer you are aiming for, and the high number is more ambitious,” says Mason. “People who want $100,000 will often ask for $90,000 to $110,000, but it is going to be most effective to ask for $100,000 to $120,000.”

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and sometimes a different tactic might be more effective to gain the upper hand during a salary negotiation. Another study Mason conducted showed that that asking for specific, unrounded figures in negotiations can be better than asking for rounded ones, because it makes you seem more informed. So to use the same example from above, if you want about $52,000, you might want to ask for $52,500.

Those findings aren’t necessarily inconsistent, Mason points out.

“Context is important,” she says. You might be better off using a precise number if you want to send the message that “you have done your homework. But if it seems important for you to appear flexible, then you could signal that by offering a range.”

That’s one reason to pay close attention to the cues your interviewer is sending out. If he or she drops a lot of language about adaptability and cooperation, naming a range might cast you in a more positive light. Alternatively, a specific number might be appropriate if the job description seems to emphasize preparedness, knowledge, and thorough experience in the field.

But none of this is to say you should suggest a salary without being asked about it directly, says Mason. Top recruiters agree that—when you can help it—it’s best to let a potential boss be the one to bring up a number first.

Read next: The Secret Formula That Will Set you Apart in a Salary Negotiation

TIME Research

If Either of Your Parents Smoked, Go and Get Your Heart Checked Out

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Lasting damage may have been done

A study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulati suggests smoking in front of children may increase their chances of developing dangerous carotid plaque later in adulthood.

For the study, researchers used data gathered on Finnish children between 1980 and 1983, and were able to identify which children grew up in smoking households by noting the amount of cotinine that had been found in their blood samples. (Exposure to smoke increases the presence of cotinine in the blood.)

They then correlated this with examinations of the carotid artery conducted on those same — but now fully grown — individuals between 2001 and 2007.

They concluded from this that participants who had one or two parental smokers had an almost two times (1.7 times) greater risk of developing carotid plaque in adulthood compared with participants whose parents did not smoke, regardless of other factors.

The buildup of plaque can lead to the narrowing of the carotid arteries, which is linked to strokes.

The study’s findings add to the mounting evidence that exposure to smoking from parents has lasting effects on children’s physical health later in life, reports Science Daily.

Read next: 9 Subtle Signs You Could Have a Heart Problem

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TIME Research

Stinking Rich? Human Waste Contains Gold, Research Finds

Gold
Charles D. Winters—Getty Images

One million Americans could flush away almost $13 million of metals

Researchers have detected trace amounts of gold, silver and other precious metals in human waste and are exploring how to make their extraction commercially feasible — a move that may stymie the dispersal of metals in the environment and lessen our dependence on mining.

Deploying an electron microscope, Dr. Kathleen Smith and her team spent eight years unearthing minuscule metal particles in treated solid waste. “The gold we found was at the level of a minimal mineral deposit,” Smith said, meaning that a similar dispersion in rock would be profitable enough for traditional mining. Other metals recovered include silver and platinum.

Smith says metals are ubiquitous in our sewer drains, ranging from those in our personal grooming products to odor-neutralizing nanoparticles sprayed on socks. These metals crop up in wastewater treatment plants, where they can be recovered through leaching.

“We’re interested in collecting valuable metals that could be sold, including some of the more technologically important metals, such as vanadium and copper that are in cell phones, computers and alloys,” Smith said.

Separate research estimated that metals valued at $13 million could be recovered through the waste of a million Americans alone.

[EurekAlert!]

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Farmers Are Researching How to Grow Gluten-Free Wheat

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Farmers in Kansas are in the early stages of research

Kansas farmers are funding research to learn how to grow gluten-free wheat.

The Kansas Wheat Commission is putting $200,000 towards two years of research to understand all the parts of wheat’s DNA that cause problems for people with gluten sensitivities, the Associated Press reports. Researchers are focusing on various proteins in wheat—as well as exploring past varieties of wheat—that may have fallen out of favor in recent years, but may be tolerable for wider population.

Gluten is a substance in wheat that gives dough elasticity. For people with celiac disease, consuming gluten can result in intestinal problems. While a small percentage of people in the United States have celiac disease, the gluten-free diet has become widely adopted.

The research, still in the very early stages, began in July at the Wheat Innovation Center in Manhattan, Kansas, the AP reports.

Read more at the Associated Press

TIME Environment

Pollutants Created by Climate Change Are Making Airborne Allergens More Potent

Smog arrives at the banks of Songhua River on January 22, 2015 in Jilin, Jilin province of China.
ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images Smog arrives at the banks of Songhua River on Jan. 22, 2015, in Jilin, China

It could explain why more people are suffering from year to year

If you think your seasonal sneezing, wheezing and sniffling is getting worse, you aren’t simply imagining it.

Currently, some 50 million or so Americans suffer from nasal allergies, but the number is going up, and researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany say a pair of pollutants linked to climate change could be to blame. That’s according to a report in Science Daily.

The two gases are nitrogen dioxide and ground-level ozone, which appear to set off chemical changes in some airborne allergens, increasing their potency.

“Scientists have long suspected that air pollution and climate change are involved in the increasing prevalence of allergies worldwide,” said the institute’s Ulrich Pöschl. “Our research is just a starting point, but it does begin to suggest how chemical modifications in allergenic proteins occur and how they may affect allergenicity.”

Pöschl’s team found that ozone (a major component of smog) oxidizes an amino acid that sets off chemical reactions that ultimately alter an allergenic protein’s structure. Meanwhile, nitrogen dioxide (found in car exhausts) appears to alter the separation and binding capabilities of certain allergens.

Researchers believe that together, the two gases make allergens more likely to trigger the body’s immune response, especially in wet, humid and smoggy conditions.

The team hopes to identify other allergenic proteins that are modified in the environment and examine how these affect the human immune system.

[Science Daily]

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