What Is Snack? The New Dating App That’s ‘Tinder Meets TikTok’

Dating can only be described as a Great Garbage Fire. If you’re single in 2021, we feel you. From those whose bios read like an aggressive checklist no one can fulfil, to the profile pictures that aren’t exactly old, but certainly don’t reflect the ribbing time has given your potential suitor over the years, dating int he modern world is rife with obstacles. With technology at our fingertips and connections afforded with the ease of a simple swipe, it’s never been easier to find someone on the World Wide Web, but there lies the rub: where we used to treat the other person with dignity and respect, now we simply take the easy options, be it euthanising a relationship or letting someone down. Why admit your true feelings and reject someone when you can just disappear off the face of the earth by ghosting? 

Aware of the pitfalls of modern dating, a new dating app has emerged promising to do better by way of honesty and authenticity. Called Snack, the new app is billed as a cross between TikTok and Tinder and has been designed with younger generations in mind. Given the popularity of TikTok, the app leads with video rather than static images. So, instead of simply swiping, you can now post videos to a feed and have direct messages with the person when they like your post. Users can even use TikTok to log in and share their TikToks directly with others on the dating app. 

If the thought of videoing someone on a first date sounds horrifying, it’s not as bad as it seems. Basically, users can upload videos to the platform just like they would profile pictures. The idea is that it’s a better way to showcase your interests and lifestyle, and can hopefully lead to more fulfilling and authentic connections. It comes after a recent report from Tinder saw daters place greater importance on honesty and authenticity. Given that more than 50 per cent of Tinder users belong to Gen Z, Snack might just be the next best thing. 

How Bumble Founder And CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd Turned Negatives Into Motivation

This Dating App Is Banning People For Body Shaming

Founders of Snack are now calling on Gen Z creators, influencers and community members to invest in the project. “I want Gen Z to have a seat at the table and help shape what Snack becomes,” said founder Kim Kaplan in an interview with TechCrunch. 

Dating apps aren’t going anywhere – for many people, this is how they choose to look for love. But with all the uncertainty that exists in the modern world, how they are shaped to protect the safety of users and lead to more honest connections is something that remains to be seen. Certainly, this initiative from Snack is one step forward (if done correctly), and it might just become the norm across the board in coming years. Along with Snack’s recent development, Bumble has introduced a ban on users who body shame matches as it’s hoped dating platforms become a safer and more inclusive place for those looking for love. 

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FDA Warns Cell Phone, Smart Watch Magnets Affect Medical Devices

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is recommending patients and caregivers keep cell phones and smart watches at least 6 inches away from implanted medical devices, such as pacemakers and defibrillators.

Today’s warning comes on the heels of recent research reporting that high field strength magnets in newer smartphones may cause some implanted medical devices to switch to “magnet mode” and suspend normal lifesaving operations until the magnet is moved away.

This, for example, may cause a cardiac defibrillator to be unable to detect tachycardia events, the agency noted. The magnets may also change the operational mode such as turning on asynchronous mode in a pacemaker.

“The FDA is aware of published articles which describe the effect that sufficiently strong magnetic fields can turn on the magnetic safe mode when in close contact,” it said. “The FDA also conducted its own testing on some products that use the high field strength magnet feature and have confirmed the magnetic field is both consistent with the publications and strong enough to turn on the magnetic safety mode of the medical devices in question.”

The FDA said it believes the risk to patients is low and is not aware of any adverse events associated with this issue at this time.

The American Heart Association has also cautioned that magnetic fields can inhibit the pulse generators for implantable cardioverter-defibrillator and pacemakers.

The FDA offered the following simple precautions for individuals with implanted medical devices:

  • Keep the consumer electronics, such as certain cell phones and smart watches, 6 inches away from implanted medical devices.

  • Do not carry consumer electronics in a pocket over the medical device.

  • Check your device using your home monitoring system, if you have one.

  • Talk to your healthcare provider if you are experiencing any symptoms or have questions regarding magnets in consumer electronics and implanted medical devices.

Follow Patrice Wendling on Twitter: @pwendl. For more from theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology, join us on Twitter and Facebook.

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New study reveals where memories of familiar places are stored in the brain

New study reveals where memories of familiar places are stored in the brain

As we move through the world, what we see is seamlessly integrated with our memory of the broader spatial environment. How does the brain accomplish this feat? A new study from Dartmouth College reveals that three regions of the brain in the posterior cerebral cortex, which the researchers call “place-memory areas,” form a link between the brain’s perceptual and memory systems. The findings are published in Nature Communications.

“As we navigate our surroundings, information enters the visual cortex and somehow ends up as knowledge of where we are—the question is where this transformation into spatial knowledge occurs. We think that the place-memory areas might be where this happens,” explains lead author Adam Steel, a Neukom Fellow with the department of psychology and brain sciences in the Robertson Lab at Dartmouth. “When you look at the location of the brain areas that process visual scenes and those that process spatial memories, these place-memory areas literally form a bridge between the two systems. Each of the brain areas involved in visual processing are paired with a place-memory counterpart.”

For the study, an innovative methodology was employed. Participants were asked to perceive and recall places that they had been to in the real world during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which produced high-resolution, subject specific maps of brain activity. Past studies on scene perception and memory have often used stimuli that participants knew of but had never visited, like famous landmarks, and have pooled data across many subjects. By mapping the brain activity of individual participants using real-world places that they had been to, researchers were able to untangle the brain’s fine-grained organization.

In one experiment, 14 participants provided a list of people that they knew personally and places that they have visited in real-life (e.g., their father or their childhood home). Then, while in the fMRI scanner, the participants imagined that they were seeing those people or visiting those places. Comparing the brain activity between people and places revealed the place-memory areas. Importantly, when the researchers compared these newly identified regions to the brain areas that process visual scenes, the new regions were overlapping but distinct.

“We were surprised,” says Steel, “because the classic understanding is that the brain areas that perceive should be the same areas that are engaged during memory recall.”

In another experiment, the team investigated whether the place-memory areas were involved in recognition of familiar places. During fMRI scanning, participants were presented with panning images of familiar and unfamiliar real-world locations downloaded from Google Street View. When the researchers looked at the neural activity, they found that the place-memory areas were more active when images of familiar places were shown. The scene-perception areas did not show the same enhancement when viewing familiar places. This suggests that the place-memory areas play an important role in recognizing familiar locations.

“Our findings help explain how a generic image of a clock tower becomes one that we recognize, such as Baker-Berry Library’s tower here on Dartmouth’s campus,” says Steel.

“It’s thrilling to discover a new set of brain areas,” says senior author Caroline Robertson, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth. “Learning how the mind is organized is at the heart of the quest of understanding what makes us human.”

“The place-memory network provides a new framework for understanding the neural processes that drive memory-guided visual behaviors, including navigation,” explains Robertson.

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Esophageal Cancer: Preop Chemoradiotherapy Benefit for 10 Years

Among patients with locally advanced resectable esophageal or junctional cancer, the overall survival benefit conferred by preoperative chemoradiotherapy persists for at least 10 years, according to long-term results of the Chemoradiotherapy for Esophageal Cancer Followed by Surgery Study (CROSS). As a result of earlier publication of CROSS data, chemoradiotherapy followed by surgery has become one of the standards of care for patients with locally advanced resectable esophageal cancer, stated lead author Ben M. Eyck, MD, of Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and colleagues in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

In the multicenter, randomized trial, initiated in 2004, 178 patients randomized to chemoradiotherapy with subsequent surgery and 188 patients randomized to surgery alone were followed with overall survival as the primary, and cause-specific survival and risks of locoregional and distant relapse as the secondary endpoints. Chemoradiotherapy consisted of 5 weekly cycles of carboplatin (area under the curve of 2 mg/mL/min) and paclitaxel (50 mg/m2 body surface area on days 1, 8, 15, 22, and 29) with concurrent radiotherapy (41.4 Gy in 23 fractions, 5 days per week. Mean age was 60 years (around 78% male), with squamous cell carcinoma (23%) and adenocarcinoma (75%) as the predominant histologies.

The first analysis showed low short-term toxicity and 2-year survival increased from 50% for patients receiving surgery alone to 67% for neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy plus surgery. Five-year follow-up data were consistent with initial reporting. Long-term benefits and harms of this regimen remain unclear, according to the researchers. Neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy’s side effects could lead to long-term death from other causes than esophageal cancer, and may not be preventing but rather merely postponing cancer-related death. The aim of the current analysis was to determine whether the observed benefits persisted beyond 5 years.

As of Dec. 31, 2018, 117/178 patients in the chemoradiotherapy-surgery arm and 144/188 in the surgery arm had died. Median follow-up for surviving patients was 147 months. Patients in the chemoradiotherapy surgery arm had better overall survival than patients in the surgery arm (hazard ratio, 0.70; 95% confidence interval, 0.55-0.89; P = .004), with a 10-year overall survival of 38% (95% CI, 31-45) and 25% (95% CI, 19-32), respectively. No significant subgroup differences were observed for overall survival. Also, there was no evidence of a time-dependent effect of neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy on overall survival. The major effect of neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy, landmark analyses showed, was in the first 5 years of follow-up, with the effect on overall survival stabilized thereafter, with a hazard ratio approaching 1.00.

Cause-Specific Mortality

Eighty-four of 178 patients in the chemoradiotherapy-surgery arm died of esophageal cancer, with 32 dying of other causes. In the surgery arm, 121/188 died of esophageal cancer and 22 of other causes. The hazard ratio for esophageal cancer death in the chemoradiotherapy-surgery arm was 0.60 (95% CI, 0.46 to 0.80), with 10-year absolute risks of 47% (95% CI, 40-54) and 64% (95% CI,57-71), respectively, in the two arms. Death from other causes was comparable, with 10-year absolute risks of 15% (95% CI, 10-21) and 11% (95% CI, 7-16), respectively, for chemoradiotherapy-surgery versus surgery alone.

Locoregional Relapse

Locoregional relapse rates were 8% (15/178) and 18% (33/188) in the chemoradiotherapy-surgery and surgery arms, respectively (HR, 0.39; 95% CI, 0.21-0.72). Eighty-seven percent of those developed within 3 years of follow-up in the chemoradiotherapy arm, with the median relapse-free interval at 3.9 months. In the surgery arm, 28 of 33 relapses (85%) developed within 3 years and the median relapse-free interval was 7.1 months. Beyond 6 years, there were no further relapses in either arm.

While synchronous distant plus locoregional relapse developed in 23 of 178 patients (13%) in the chemoradiotherapy-surgery arm and in 42 of 188 patients (22%) in the surgery arm (HR, 0.43; 95% CI, 0.26-0.72), isolated distant relapse developed at similar rates (around 27.5%) in both groups. Risk of distant relapse (with or without locoregional relapse) was lower in the chemoradiotherapy-surgery arm (HR, 0.61; 95%CI, 0.45-0.84). The median relapse-free interval was 15.1 months (interquartile range, 9.3-27.6) in the chemoradiotherapy-surgery arm and 9.0 months (IQR, 5.3-19.7) in the surgery arm.

Safety and Health-Related Quality of Life

The combination of paclitaxel and carboplatin with concurrent 41.4 Gy radiotherapy before surgery seems safe in the long term and does not significantly increase the risk of toxicity-related death, the researchers stated. Within the CROSS trial, short-term and long-term health-related quality of life after neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy plus surgery for surviving patients was comparable to that after surgery alone.

Long-term Persistent Overall Survival Benefit

Ten-year CROSS results show that “for locally advanced resectable cancer of the esophagus or esophagogastric junction, preoperative chemoradiotherapy induces a long-term persistent improvement in overall survival.” Also, neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy does not lead to an increased risk of death from other causes, and the survival benefit of long-term survivors is not compromised, compared with surgery alone. Furthermore, neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy plus surgery according to CROSS can still be regarded as a standard of care, the researchers added.

Eyck and colleagues are currently performing the phase II TNT-OES-1 trial. It combines FLOT (fluorouracil, leucovorin, oxaliplatin and docetaxel) chemotherapy followed by CROSS chemoradiotherapy in patients with advanced esophageal and junctional adenocarcinoma. If this regimen appears to be safe in advanced cancer, they plan to perform a phase III trial with this regimen in locally advanced cancer. In addition, they are currently evaluating the implementation of adjuvant nivolumab in clinical practice for patients with pathologically residual disease after CROSS + surgery, based on the recently published CheckMate 577 trial .

“If possible, we prefer adding better systemic therapy to chemoradiotherapy rather than replacing chemoradiotherapy with systemic therapy alone,” Eyck said in an interview. “The reason for this is that we would like to allow patients with a complete response to neoadjuvant therapy to undergo active surveillance instead of surgery in the near future. … Since the pathologically complete response rate after regimens containing radiotherapy is substantially higher, we still prefer the addition of radiotherapy.”

The study was funded by the Dutch Cancer Foundation (KWF Kankerbestrijding). Eyck reported no disclosures. Several of the coauthors reported consulting and advisory roles with a variety of pharmaceutical companies.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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Victorian paramedics are experiencing high levels of psychological distress

paramedic ems

A new study led by researchers at Swinburne University of Technology and RMIT University has found that more than a third of Victorian paramedics feel burned out by their work and are experiencing significant levels of stress.

The findings of this study, which was conducted by Human Resource Management, Marketing and Management experts from Swinburne and RMIT, Professor Peter Holland, Dr. Lara Thynne, Dr. Julian Vieceli and Dr. Tse Leng Tham are taken from a comprehensive survey of the paramedic workforce in conjunction with the Victorian Ambulance Union.

The survey of 663 staff was conducted over a four-week period in September and October 2020, at the height of the second lockdown in Victoria.

Unmotivated and distressed

This report forms the second part of a study on Victorian paramedic and ambulance transport workforce. This study addresses the key indicators associated with workplace climate, workplace wellbeing, and the mental health and wellbeing of Victorian paramedics and ambulance workers.

It was found that while the workforce appeared to be highly engaged in their work, increased workload levels due to the pandemic were sapping motivation and causing significant distress. The elevated levels of stress were especially evident during the second wave of COVID-19 in Victoria.

“There is an underlying concern about work intensification and the increased pressure on quality when completing the job. Fifty-eight percent of respondents expressed that they often have more work than they can do well, with over 34 percent indicating this was a daily occurrence,” says Professor Holland.

Another factor contributing to the decline in engagement with this workforce is the low sense of psychological safety.

“Psychological safety is closely related to the concept of trust. Respondents were asked how safe they felt admitting mistakes or voicing concerns and how these were received by other team members. Qualitative data indicates a level of apprehension in sharing key information regarding personal, employee and patient safety, which is concerning,” explains Dr. Tham.

Another key finding of the study was around respondents’ intention to leave the profession. While nearly nine percent of paramedics and ambulance workers indicate an intention to seek new employment opportunities within the next year, approximately three in 10 respondents said they often think about quitting.

“This result raises cause for concern regarding the retention of these highly skilled staff,” says Dr. Thynne.

The way forward

The COVID-19 pandemic has added an exceptional level of stress on an already busy workforce and increased the occupational health and safety risks to these professionals.

“There were numerous episodes of staff needing to quarantine due to potential infection, further stretching the capabilities of the workforce due to staff shortages and increased workloads,” says Professor Holland.

Despite this, engagement and job satisfaction levels for this workforce are at a healthy level.

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SARS-CoV-2 mRNA Vaccine Might Trigger Corneal-Transplant Rejection

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Two older women who underwent a Descemet’s membrane endothelial keratoplasty (DMEK) transplant and later received a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine have presented with symptoms and signs of endothelial graft rejection, according to a new U.K. report.

In one case, the DMEK was recent at the time of vaccination, but in the other it had taken place years earlier. In both cases, one unilateral and the other bilateral, the transplant rejection was treated successfully with topical corticosteroids.

The authors believe this to be both “the first report of temporal association between corneal transplant rejection following immunisation against COVID-19 and the first report of DMEK rejection following any immunization,” they write in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

Among corneal transplants, DMEK is the least likely to result in rejection, note Dr. Maria Phylactou of Moorfields Eye Hospital, in London, and colleagues.

“Clinicians and patients should be aware of the potential of corneal graft rejection associated with vaccine administration and may wish to consider vaccination in advance of planned non-urgent keratoplasties,” they advise. “Patients should be counseled on the symptoms and signs that require urgent review to allow early treatment of any confirmed rejection episode.”

In the first case, a 66-year-old woman underwent an uneventful DMEK in her right eye. Her history was notable for HIV infection that was well controlled (undetectable viral load) with Triumeq.

Fourteen days after DMEK, she received the first dose of mRNA vaccine BNT162b2 (Pfizer-BioNTech).

This patient presented a week later with acute-onset blurred vision, redness and photophobia in her right eye. Clinical examination found indications typical of acute endothelial graft rejection.

The frequency of topical steroid (dexamethasone 0.1%) was increased from four times daily to every hour. Signs and symptoms began to resolve after three days, and by four weeks after the rejection onset, visual acuity was good and there was no active inflammation.

In the second case, an 83-year-old woman had undergone DMEK in her right eye six years earlier and in her left eye three years earlier. She presented with symptoms of rejection two months after receiving her first dose of BNT162b2 and three weeks after the second dose.

Bilateral simultaneous acute endothelial graft rejection was diagnosed, and hourly steroid drops were begun. Seven days later, signs of inflammation were reduced and both grafts were functioning well, at which time the frequency of topical dexamethasone was reduced.

In a joint email to Reuters Health, Dr. Phylactou and her two coauthors, Drs. Olivia Li and Frank Larkin, also of Moorfields Eye Hospital, noted that “simultaneous immunological rejection of donor corneas from two different donors in the right and left eyes is exceptionally rare, further increasing the probability of a casual association with vaccination.”

They speculated that “the patient’s antibody response triggered by vaccination caused immunological injury to the internal (endothelial) surface of the transplanted donor cornea.”

They continued: “The question as to why corneal transplant rejection has not yet been widely reported may relate to the fact that vaccination campaigns are in early stages in many countries. We expect to hear of further such reported cases.”

Their report states, “Patients with corneal transplants and their clinicians should not be deterred from COVID-19 vaccination . . . and should note that both patients responded well to topical steroid treatment.”

Dr. Viral Juthani, director of ophthalmology at the Montefiore Health System’s Hutchinson campus, in New York City, told Reuters Health by email, “The fact that Case 2 reported by the authors was a bilateral, simultaneous graft rejection event is suspicious for causality, as this is rarely seen in clinical practice, and especially after DMEK surgery.”

He emphasized that “the benefits of vaccination outweigh the potential risks. However, as the authors mention, it is reasonable to restart or increase rejection prophylaxis with topical steroids in the peri-vaccination period for existing transplants, and to delay future transplantation until after vaccination and an immunization period has elapsed.”

SOURCE: https://bit.ly/3bgplBf British Journal of Ophthalmology, online April 28, 2021.

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Researchers test medical marijuana as possible therapy for chronic itch

Medical marijuana

Chronic itch—known clinically as chronic pruritus—is characterized as an unrelenting and sometimes even debilitating sensation to itch, and often lowers the quality of life for those who suffer with it. Treating the condition has been difficult because there are few Food and Drug Administration-approved therapies. Now, a recent case study by Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers provides evidence that a promising option for patients with chronic itch may already be available: medical marijuana (cannabis).

A report on the team’s findings was published in JAMA Dermatology.

“Chronic itch can be an especially difficult condition to treat, with off-label therapeutics often utilized,” says Shawn Kwatra, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “With the increased utilization of medical marijuana and our knowledge of the role of the endocannabinoid system [a complex cell-signaling system that regulates a variety of functions in the body] in chronic itch, we decided to try medical marijuana with a patient who failed several therapies and had few options left.”

Kwatra and his colleagues examined an African American woman in her 60s with a 10-year history of chronic itch. The patient initially arrived at the Johns Hopkins Itch Center with complaints of extreme pruritus on her arms, legs and stomach. Upon a skin examination, numerous hyperpigmented, raised skin lesions were revealed. Several treatments were offered to the patient—including several systemic therapies, centrally acting nasal sprays, steroid creams and phototherapy—but they all failed.

Kwatra says that using medical marijuana—either by smoking or in liquid form —provided the woman with nearly instantaneous improvement.

“We had the patient rate her symptoms using a numerical rating scale, where 10 is the worst itch and zero is no itch at all,” Kwatra says. “She started at 10 but dropped to 4 within 10 minutes after initial administration of the medical marijuana. With continued use of the cannabis, the patient’s itch disappeared altogether.”

The researchers believe that one of the active ingredients in medical marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol—commonly known by its abbreviation THC—attaches itself to brain receptors that influence the nervous system. When this occurs, inflammation and nervous system activity decrease, which also could lead to a reduction in skin sensations such as itchiness.

Kwatra says that although conclusive studies have yet to be done to validate medical marijuana as an effective measure for the relief of previously unmanageable itch, he believes it warrants further clinical trials.

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Dealing with COVID catastrophe, India now reporting 'black fungus'

Amid the staggering 300,000 to 400,000 COVID-19 infections reported daily over the last week in India, doctors are now reporting a new problem: a growing number of a deadly fungal infections among those recovering from coronavirus.

Experts believe these infections, known as mucormycosis — which had a high prevalence in India, compared to other countries, prior to the current pandemic — are not caused by COVID-19 itself.

Rather, some doctors in India believe these fungal infections are exacerbated by the use of steroids, a common treatment for COVID-19, which can suppress the immune system.

Mucorales is a fungus found worldwide and most people with working immune systems never know they have been in contact with this mold since the immune system does its job of keeping it at bay.

Unfortunately, people who have a suppressed immune system and those with uncontrolled diabetes are particularly susceptible to this rare fungal infection. Without proper immune defense, this type of fungus can cause life-threatening illness in the body.

It manifests as a black, fungal infection in the sinuses or lungs and can spread from the sinuses to the brain. Other more rare places to have this infection are in the skin, gut, kidney or throughout the body known as disseminated infection.

PHOTO: Health workers wearing personal protective equipment suits attend to COVID-19 coronavirus patients inside a temporary COVID care facility in New Delhi on May 2, 2021.

More than half of people who develop mucormycosis die, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s typically treated with anti-fungal medication, either through an IV or by mouth, and the infected tissue may need to be removed surgically.

In case reports published in the scientific journal Mycopathologia, authors named this disease COVID-19 associated mucormycosis, or CAM, and a review of recent literature found that most cases were associated with diabetes, but they also found at least three cases that showed an association with steroid treatments in patients with COVID-19.

Three of the eight cases studied were patients in the United States. India has the second-highest prevalence of diabetes in the world and the United States has the third highest, which may also place these patients at higher risk.

More research about the association of COVID-19, mucormycosis and the use of steroids is needed, but it’s a combination of problems that can quickly lead to death if it is not recognized and treated early.

Dr. Jade A. Cobern, a pediatric resident in Baltimore entering the field of preventive medicine, is a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.

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Ancient people had far different microorganisms in their guts than modern humans

Only an anthropologist would treasure millennia-old human feces found in dry caves. Just ask Dr. Meradeth Snow, a University of Montana researcher and co-chair of UM's Department of Anthropology.

She is part of an international team, led by the Harvard Medical School-affiliated Joslin Diabetes Center, that used human "paleofeces" to discover that ancient people had far different microorganisms living in their guts than we do in modern times.

Snow said studying the gut microbes found in the ancient fecal material may offer clues to combat diseases like diabetes that afflict people living in today's industrialized societies.

We need to have some specific microorganisms in the right ratios for our bodies to operate effectively. It's a symbiotic relationship. But when we study people today – anywhere on the planet – we know that their gut microbiomes have been influenced by our modern world, either through diet, chemicals, antibiotics or a host of other things. So understanding what the gut microbiome looked like before industrialization happened helps us understand what's different in today's guts."

Dr. Meradeth Snow, Researcher, University of Montana

This new research was published May 12 in the prestigious journal Nature. The article is titled "Reconstruction of ancient microbial genomes from the human gut." Snow and UM graduate student Tre Blohm are among the 28 authors of the piece, who hail from institutions around the globe.

Snow said the feces they studied came from dry caves in Utah and northern Mexico. So what does the 1,000-year-old human excrement look like?

"The caves these paleofeces came from are known for their amazing preservation," she said. "Things that would normally degrade over time look almost brand new. So the paleofeces looked like, well, feces that are very dried out."

Snow and Blohm worked hands-on with the precious specimens, suiting up in a clean-room laboratory at UM to avoid contamination from the environment or any other microorganisms – not an easy task when the tiny creatures are literally in and on everything. They would carefully collect a small portion that allowed them to separate out the DNA from the rest of the material. Blohm then used the sequenced DNA to confirm the paleofeces came from ancient people.

The senior author of the Nature paper is Aleksandar Kostic of the Joslin Diabetes Center. In previous studies of children living in Finland and Russia, he and his partners revealed that kids living in industrialized areas – who are much more likely to develop Type 1 diabetes than those in non-industrialized areas – have very different gut microbiomes.

"We were able to identify specific microbes and microbial products that we believe hampered a proper immune education in early life," Kostic said. "And this leads later on to higher incidents of not just Type 1 diabetes, but other autoimmune and allergic diseases."

Kostic wanted to find a healthy human microbiome without the effects of modern industrialization, but he became convinced that couldn't happen with any modern living people, pointing out that even tribes in the remote Amazon are contracting COVID-19.

So that's when the researchers turned to samples collected from arid environments in the North American Southwest. The DNA from eight well-preserved ancient gut samples were compared with the DNA of 789 modern samples. Half the modern samples came from people eating diets where most food comes from grocery stores, and the remainder came from people consuming non-industrialized foods mostly grown in their own communities.

The differences between microbiome populations were striking. For instance, a bacterium known as Treponema succinifaciens wasn't in a single "industrialized" population's microbiome the team analyzed, but it was in every single one of the eight ancient microbiomes. But researchers found the ancient microbiomes did match up more closely with modern non-industrialized population's microbiomes.

The scientists found that almost 40% of the ancient microbial species had never been seen before. Kostic speculated on what caused the high genetic variability:

"In ancient cultures, the foods you're eating are very diverse and can support a more eclectic collection of microbes," Kostic said. "But as you move toward industrialization and more of a grocery-store diet, you lose a lot of nutrients that help to support a more diverse microbiome."

Moreover, the ancient microbial populations incorporated fewer genes related to antibiotic resistance. The ancient samples also featured lower numbers of genes that produce proteins that degrade the intestinal mucus layer, which then can produce inflammation that is linked with various diseases.

Snow and several coauthors and museum collection managers also led a project to ensure the inclusion of Indigenous perspectives in the research.

"This was a really vital part of the work that had to accompany this kind of research," she said. "Initially, we sent out multiple letters and emails and called the tribal historic preservation officers of the all the recognized tribes in the Southwest region. Then we met with anyone who was interested, doing short presentations and answering questions and following up with interested parties.

"The feedback we received was noteworthy, in that we needed to keep in mind that these paleofeces have to ties their ancestors, and we needed to be – and hopefully have been – as respectful as possible about them," she said.

"There is a long history of misuse of genetic data from Indigenous communities, and we strove to be mindful of this by meeting and speaking with as many people as possible to obtain their insights and perspectives. We hope that this will set a precedent for us as scientists and others working with genetic material from Indigenous communities past and present."

Snow said the research overall revealed some fascinating things.

"The biggest finding is that the gut microbiome in the past was far more diverse than today – and this loss of diversity is something we are seeing in humans around the world," she said. "It's really important that we learn more about these little microorganisms and what they do for us in our symbiotic relationships.

"In the end, it could make us all healthier."


The University of Montana

Posted in: Microbiology | Genomics

Tags: Anthropologist, Antibiotic, Antibiotic Resistance, Children, Contamination, Diabetes, Diet, DNA, Education, Genes, Genetic, Inflammation, Laboratory, Medical School, Microbiome, Nutrients, Research, Type 1 Diabetes

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Why You Need To Watch Netflix’s ‘Pieces Of A Woman’

As Netflix continues on its quest for Oscar glory, the streaming platform has been known to offer some serious contenders for Best Picture. Every month, the new additions feature a plethora of entertainment choices, ranging from scintillating documentaries that come to define pop culture, to dramatic films that you can only hope are watched on the big screen. This year, all attention was cast on Kornél Mundruczó’s film, Pieces of A Woman, starring Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf. 

That the film drew critical attention was unsurprising. For anyone that’s watched Pieces of A Woman, you’ll know just how strong the acting is. But a large part of why the film seems to have struck a nerve in public consciousness and conversation, is for its portrayal of loss – namely, that of losing a child through birth. Despite being a rather devastating commonality, going through childbirth to lose a baby is rarely given the attention it deserves, leaving those who have gone through it to suffer largely alone. 

The film focuses on a young couple from Boston who lose their baby when a home birth goes awry. It’s intimate, traumatic, and deeply emotional. But though the tragedy certainly centres around the childbirth, the movie is far more than a story of birth alone. Rather, it chronicles the immediate emotional aftermath of a loss that comes to be life-defining. 

When 10 to 20 per cent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, this film shines a spotlight on something so often ignored, or pushed to the peripheries. Rarely are miscarriages talked about with such raw vulnerability and honesty, and not surprisingly they’ve been largely left off our screens in favour of the romantic vision of birth and pregnancy. But though we may see vignettes of miscarriage on our social media feeds from time to time, or through the media via celebrity accounts like that of Chrissy Teigen or Meghan Markle, the fact Pieces of a Woman turns such an experience into a two-hour film is deeply significant. If those who have lived such trauma are to be made to felt less alone in their grief, they need to see their stories represented on screen. 

The film is by no means an easy watch. Their pain is real and felt intensely. But the film provides an incredible insight into what it means to go through such a loss and how it comes to colour your life, becoming something you live with daily. Though its worth mentioning that the film’s star in LaBeouf, who plays male protagonist Sean, has recently been accused of sexual battery by his former girlfriend, musician FKA Twigs, Netflix has pulled LaBeouf from the film’s publicity. It would be a detriment to let to the issues facing LaBeouf to overshadow the film, particularly when all credit belongs to Kirby who is profoundly honest in her portrayal of Martha. 

Pieces of A Woman is available to stream now on Netflix Australia. 

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