- Cigarettes May Cause Infections
- Come to Wired.com’s Biometric Super Bowl Party
- Bill Gates Funds Research Into Climate Hacking
Posted: 29 Jan 2010 01:38 AM PST
The tobacco in cigarettes hosts a bacterial bonanza — literally hundreds of different germs, including those responsible for many human illnesses, a new study finds.
"Nearly every paper that you pick up discussing the health effects of cigarettes starts out with something to the effect that smokers and people exposed to secondhand smoke experience high rates of respiratory infections," notes Amy Sapkota of the University of Maryland, College Park. The presumption has been that smoking renders people vulnerable to disease by impairing lung function or immunity. And it may well do both.
"But nobody talks about cigarettes as a source of those infections," she says. Her new data now suggest that's distinctly possible.
If these germs are alive, something she has not yet confirmed, just handling cigarettes or putting an unlit one to the mouth could be enough to cause an infection.
The idea that tobacco might contain viable germs isn't just idle conjecture. Several research teams have isolated bacteria from tobacco that they could grow out in petri dishes. Those earlier investigations tended to hunt for — and, when found, attempted to grow — only one or two species of interest, Sapkota says.
What's novel in her study: She and her colleagues probed for genetic material from any and every bacterium in a cigarette's tobacco. Under sterile conditions, the researchers opened up cigarettes and then performed a series of tests on the leafy bits. For instance, they isolated all of the ribosomal material and then homed in on its long, species-specific stretches known as 16S regions. These genetic segments were then compared to 16S patches characteristic of known bacterial species.
Sapkota's team had 16S probes for close to 800 different bacteria and found matches to many hundreds in the four brands of cigarettes screened: Marlboro Red, Camel, Kool Filter Kings and Lucky Strike Original Red. These cigarettes are "among the most commonly smoked brands in Westernized countries and represent three major tobacco companies," Sapkota notes. All were purchased in Lyon, France, where she was completing her postdoctoral studies.
Among the large number of germs whose DNA laced these cigarettes were: Campylobacter, which can cause food poisoning and Guillain-Barre Syndrome; Clostridium, which causes food poisoning and pneumonias; Corynebacterium, also associated with pneumonias and other diseases; E. coli; Klebsiella, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Stenotrophomonas maltophilia, all of which are associated not only with pneumonia but also with urinary tract infections; and a number of Staphylococcus species that underlie the most common and serious hospital-associated infections.
Sapkota's team lists many of these — including the most prevalent bacteria in the tobacco they studied — in a paper published early, online in Environmental Health Perspectives.
Some people have criticized the idea of infectious cigarettes, arguing that as tobacco burns, it would kill any germs present. But Sapkota is not so sure that's true. The tobacco farthest from the burning tip might be a balmy temperature, from a bacterial point of view. And here's "a really wild idea," she says: What if the smoke particles traveling through the still-unburned part of a cigarette pick up some germs and then ferry them deeply into the lung, where they're unlikely to be cleared? Wouldn't that be the prescription for disease?
Of course, there's also plenty of chances for a smoker to become exposed prior to lighting up. And, of course, the potential for highest oral exposure would come from chewing tobacco — and nasal exposures from snuff.
Sapkota, an environmental health scientist, plans to follow up her preliminary data to see which types of tobacco are most likely to host viable germs, and whether those bacteria are transported into the body, either during smoking or by the insertion of unburned tobacco products (including chewing tobacco) into the mouth.
Several thousand potentially toxic chemicals have been isolated from cigarettes. Sapkota says that it's not hard to imagine that the number of germs hosted by tobacco products could rival that of the carcinogens and other poisons residing in or produced by burning tobacco.
How so, when she's only found genetic material indicting hundreds of germs? Owing to the bacterial probes available when Sapkota began her tobacco work, she was only able to screen for 700-odd species. But newer probes on the market can now screen for the bacterial 16S genetic material of 5,000 or more germs. And if she used such huge batteries of probes now, she said she fully expects she could turn up at least 1,000 hitchhiking bacterial species in tobacco products.
Posted: 28 Jan 2010 03:11 PM PST
You've seen your fair share of sad Super Bowl parties: the guacamole, the cheap beer, the bored significant others. Well, forget all that!
Wired Sciencehas a distinctly different, nerdier kind of Super Bowl party planned.
We want you to come to the Wiredoffice in San Francisco's SoMA neighborhood to drink good beer, eat pizza — and have your biometric responses to the game and commercials measured.
We've partnered with research firm Innerscope, founded by social neuroscientist Carl Marci of Massachusetts General Hospital and Brian Levine, formerly of the MIT Media Lab. They'll strap up our readers with their technology.
During the game, you'll have your heart rate, skin moisture, movement and breathing measured by a belt-like device. That data will be aggregated to create an evaluation of what Wired.com readers thought about the commercials during the game. We'll also be slicing and dicing the data to look for interesting correlations and patterns.
Normally, Innerscope measures the physiological responses of focus groups to advertisements and different kinds of media to see how and why a commercial is working. But they'll be working on and for you all during Super Bowl Sunday.
And beyond your role as guinea pigs, you'll also get to meet Beer Robot and hang out with some Wired staffers who would love to watch the Super Bowl at work with you.
Now, this is a real study and we want the best results possible, so if you want to come to the party, fill out thisquestionnaire designed by Innerscope (Google Documents form). If you qualify for the study, we'll contact you with more details. Unfortunately, space is limited. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.
Image: Jon Snyder/Wired.com (Note: The pictured vest is an earlier version of Innerscope's vest. The new ones are even slicker).
Posted: 28 Jan 2010 01:21 PM PST
Bill Gates has sunk at least $4.5 million of his personal wealth into geoengineering research.
While it's a small chunk of Gates' vast personal fortune, it's a sign that the founder of Microsoftthinks we shouldat leastbe lookinginto the controversial practice of intentionally altering the Earth's climate on a global scale.
"[Gates] views geoengineering as a way to buy time, but it's not a solution to the problem" of climate change, Gates' spokesperson John Pinette toldScience Insider. "Bill views this as an important avenue for research — among many others, including new forms of clean energy."
The money will be directed by two high-level scientists at the forefront of geoengineering research: climate scientist Ken Caldeira, of Stanford's Carnegie Department of Global Ecology, and physicist David Keith of the University of Calgary. They will decide which technologies should receive the cash in order to alter the stratosphere to reflect solar energy, filter carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere and brighten ocean clouds.
Gates' funding is in line with his recent essay on climate policy in which he called for radical innovations inelectricity generation and transportation.
"If the goal is to get the transportation and electrical sectors down to zero emissions you clearly need innovation that leads to entirely new approaches to generating power," Gates wrote. "While it is all well and good to insulate houses and turn off lights, to really solve this problem we need to spend more time on accelerating innovation."
But he did not sound the triumphant, can-do note heard from manyadvocates ofgreen technology. Gates is worried that the world's citizens, companies and governments are not focused on the right solutions.
"The world is distracted from what counts on this issue in a big way," he wrote.
Many researchers have described geoengineering as a "backstop" if the world's attempts to cut its carbon dioxide emissions fail, though some climate activists have warned that there is a moral hazard in assuming that geoengineering could bail us out of the worst implications of the derangement of the atmosphere.
"My biggest problem with the backstop argument is that it encourages people to think there's a do-over if we screw up our response to climate chaosM, when in fact, we don't have any proven response or remedy," wrote Worldchanging co-founder Alex Steffen on his website 2007.
In a related development Keith,one of the scientists directingGates' money,co-authored a Nature editorial this week calling for an international fund for "solar-radiation management" in addition to traditional carbon emissions cuts.
"Solar-radiation management may be the only human response that can fend off rapid and high-consequence climate change impacts," Keith said in a press release Wednesday. "The risks of not doing research outweigh the risks of doing it."
He and his co-authors, Edward Parson at the University of Michigan and Granger Morgan at Carnegie Mellon University, propose a budget for solar-radiation management (aka geoengineering), beginning with $10 million a year now and growing to $1 billion annually by the end of 2020. The organization that manages the funds would also develop the governance structures to provide transparent risk analysis and manage feedback from the world's countries.
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