New clues for ancient epidemics

Researchers presented findings last week on two scourges that left millions of victims in their wakes—the Black Plague and the series of epidemics which wiped out native Mexicans in the 16th Century, known as cocoliztli. The Black Plague killed an estimated 25 million Europeans and was thought to have been mainly spread by rats. But the new research applied current understandings of disease transmission and found a human model of transmission fit a lot better. Over in the New World, the cocoliztli outbreaks killed over 15 million, but researchers hadn’t pinned down the exact cause. Last week’s study puts forth Salmonella enterica, a bacterium, as a possible main offender. Good thing these contagions are in the past right? Except they’re both still present in the modern world. That’s cool.

Trash from freeloaders blocks route for emergency services

You know all those dang bacteria in your body, living there without permission, without even one of the 3.9 x 1013 of them offering to contribute to rent? Turns out about 1 in 9 of those freeloaders can neutralize gemcitabine, a pancreatic cancer drug, before it gets to work on cancer cells. While that means killing those bacteria results in a non-inhibited drug delivery, it’s not a great solution. Not only do some cancer drugs depend on the presence of other, benign microbes in your body, but using antibiotics could lead to resistance in those bacteria. And the only thing worse than bacteria-filled tumors are antibiotic-resistant bacteria-filled tumors. Hey, at least now we know what the problem is.

Good immune system? Blame it on the dog

It’s easy to blame things on the dog. Chewed furniture? Yep. That mystery puddle on the floor? Sure. Being a slobbery, disgusting vehicle for germs entering the house? Definitely. But as you’re wiping dog snot off your windows for the billionth time, look on the bright side: the microbes brought into the house by dogs are actually helping our immune systems. Kids who grow up in households with dogs are less likely to develop autoimmune diseases and allergies – potentially due to the diversity of bacteria brought into the house by Fido. What about cats, you ask? All we know for sure is cats couldn’t care less if you get sick. Here are the 5 most popular dog breeds IN THE WORLD!

That’s mentally stimulating

Ever heard of the belly-brain connection? Or about the second brain in your gut? Well here is another crazy connection between the mind and one’s midsection: electromagnetic brain stimulation—currently a treatment for major depression—promotes weight loss by improving the health of the bacteria in one’s intestines. This study, which expands upon previous research linking dTMS (deep transcranial magnetic stimulation) with reduced food cravings resulting in weight loss, found that “After five weeks of treatment, subjects receiving dTMS lost more than 3% of their body weight and more than 4% of their fat—significantly more than controls did,” according to principal investigator Livio Luzi M.D. These findings offer hope for safe, effective, and non-invasive treatments for obesity.

1. Now that’s a mouthful

It’s synonymous with illnesses and we all try to avoid it at Chipotle. Yep, it’s bacteria. But don’t break out the Purell just yet. It seems a startup has found another good use for E. coli, albeit genetically modified. This engineered strain of bacteria has an insatiable appetite for ammonia. When our bodies are unable to naturally process ammonia, it leads to urea cycle disorders which are estimated to cause up to 20% of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome cases and a myriad of other dangerous, fatal disorders. Luckily, treatment couldn’t be easier. Just one pill packed with 100 billion (with a B!) of the modified bacteria and your body will be eating ammonia like it’s turkey on Thanksgiving. Speaking of… for our US readers, this is how you carve a turkey. Gobble, gobble.

1. Better the devil you know than MRSA

Finally, some good news in the fight against antibiotic resistance… even if it’s a bit gross. A study published in Nature’s Scientific Reports found that the milk of the Tasmanian devil is effective in killing antibiotic-resistant MRSA and VRE bacteria. Young devils spend their first few months with incomplete immune systems hanging out in mama’s pouch. You may recognize an animal’s pouch as being slightly more pathogen-infested than your typical cleanroom environment. But it seems that peptides responsible for killing those bacteria are expressed in both the mother’s milk and pouch lining, protecting the joey. So yeah, new biologic sources are great and all, but we’re still a bit off-put by this. Maybe Taz can illustrate our feelings about it best.