home microbiome project

Worried about leaving a digital footprint behind? Your bacterial footprint could be much worse and even incriminating.

Recently, researchers traced the microbes that live on and around people within their homes. Findings from the study showed that the composition of indoor microbe communities is significantly affected by people and changes rapidly with their presence or absence.

For example, after three of the families moved into new homes, it took less than 24 hours for the microbes to spread, to the extent that the new home looked microbially the same as the previous home. One of the couples who moved had been staying in a hotel–their new home was rapidly populated with the microbes from the hotel room.

The results serve as another insight into a complex relationship between humans and the bacteria that live in, on, and around us.

We want to know where these bacteria come from,” said microbiologist Jack Gilbert, who led the study at Argonne National Labs as part of the Home Microbiome Project, in the press release. “As people spend more and more time indoors, we wanted to map out the microbes that live in our homes and the likelihood that they will settle on us.”

The research, recently published in the journal Science, was conducted over the course of six weeks. Participants included 18 people within 7 diverse American families that were recruited on Twitter for the study. There were even three dogs and one cat in the mix.

Participants swabbed their hands, feet, and noses daily as well as various surfaces in their dwellings, such as light switches, doorknobs, countertops, and floors. The samples were then sent to Argonne for DNA analysis. The composition of bacteria was most similar on hands, given the number of common surfaces people share, while noses showed more unique compositions. Furthermore, closer relationships showed more microbe sharing–whether between couples or even parents and their young children.

In one instance, bacteria called Enterobacter (known to infect immunocompromised individuals) was traced passing from one person’s hand to a countertop then to another person’s hands. The researchers commented that though we may be exposed to pathogens routinely, disease may only result when the immune system is disrupted in some way.

Mounting evidence suggests that the human-microbiome relationship may affect physical and mental health, such as obesity, along with development. In one recent study, gut bacteria from thin and obese mice can induce weight loss or gain in normal mice.

“We know that certain bacteria can make it easier for mice to put on weight, for example, and that others influence brain development in young mice,” Gilbert said. “They are essential for us to understand our health in the 21st century.”

human microbiome

Unravelling the mystery of the human microbiome will take some time due to the complexity of the composition. One startup called uBiome recently raised $4.5M from investors to sequence the human microbiome after bringing in $350,000 via a crowdfunding campaign in 2012. Scientists recently reported that 10 million genes of the microbiome have now been sequenced.

Along with considering the health implications of these findings, the researchers noted that our microbiomes were characteristic, meaning that the microbial composition is enough to identify at least the family that left it behind. Hence, microbiome analysis could be helpful in forensics. Because the microbial community changes after a person leaves a house, “You could theoretically predict whether a person has lived in this location, and how recently, with very good accuracy,” Gilbert said.

Though it will take a number of years for the microbiome to be understood, the implications of this research are deep. With all the attention in the world of technology on data to understand everything about humans, it may be the tiniest of living things that speak volumes.

[Media credit: Home Microbiome Project/Argonne National Lab, Human Genome via Science]

Drain Drones and Hydro-Saws: A Sewer Tour of LA's Underground Tech

"So, do you prefer full-immersion or ankle-deep?" Not quite the reply I’d expected from Kent Carlson, the sewer and stormwater field operations manager for the city of Los Angeles, when I requested a tour of the city’s new sewer technology.

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New HTML Is About To Make Your Phone Way Better at Using the Internet

Underneath every picture of a dog in a beekeeping suit and ice-bucket challenge video you see on the internet, there’s a complex framework of code. Soon, that framework will get a tiny tune-up that will make surfing the web on your phone faster than it’s ever been.

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home microbiome project

Worried about leaving a digital footprint behind? Your bacterial footprint could be much worse and even incriminating.

Recently, researchers traced the microbes that live on and around people within their homes. Findings from the study showed that the composition of indoor microbe communities is significantly affected by people and changes rapidly with their presence or absence.

For example, after three of the families moved into new homes, it took less than 24 hours for the microbes to spread, to the extent that the new home looked microbially the same as the previous home. One of the couples who moved had been staying in a hotel–their new home was rapidly populated with the microbes from the hotel room.

The results serve as another insight into a complex relationship between humans and the bacteria that live in, on, and around us.

We want to know where these bacteria come from,” said microbiologist Jack Gilbert, who led the study at Argonne National Labs as part of the Home Microbiome Project, in the press release. “As people spend more and more time indoors, we wanted to map out the microbes that live in our homes and the likelihood that they will settle on us.”

The research, recently published in the journal Science, was conducted over the course of six weeks. Participants included 18 people within 7 diverse American families that were recruited on Twitter for the study. There were even three dogs and one cat in the mix.

Participants swabbed their hands, feet, and noses daily as well as various surfaces in their dwellings, such as light switches, doorknobs, countertops, and floors. The samples were then sent to Argonne for DNA analysis. The composition of bacteria was most similar on hands, given the number of common surfaces people share, while noses showed more unique compositions. Furthermore, closer relationships showed more microbe sharing–whether between couples or even parents and their young children.

In one instance, bacteria called Enterobacter (known to infect immunocompromised individuals) was traced passing from one person’s hand to a countertop then to another person’s hands. The researchers commented that though we may be exposed to pathogens routinely, disease may only result when the immune system is disrupted in some way.

Mounting evidence suggests that the human-microbiome relationship may affect physical and mental health, such as obesity, along with development. In one recent study, gut bacteria from thin and obese mice can induce weight loss or gain in normal mice.

“We know that certain bacteria can make it easier for mice to put on weight, for example, and that others influence brain development in young mice,” Gilbert said. “They are essential for us to understand our health in the 21st century.”

human microbiome

Unravelling the mystery of the human microbiome will take some time due to the complexity of the composition. One startup called uBiome recently raised $4.5M from investors to sequence the human microbiome after bringing in $350,000 via a crowdfunding campaign in 2012. Scientists recently reported that 10 million genes of the microbiome have now been sequenced.

Along with considering the health implications of these findings, the researchers noted that our microbiomes were characteristic, meaning that the microbial composition is enough to identify at least the family that left it behind. Hence, microbiome analysis could be helpful in forensics. Because the microbial community changes after a person leaves a house, “You could theoretically predict whether a person has lived in this location, and how recently, with very good accuracy,” Gilbert said.

Though it will take a number of years for the microbiome to be understood, the implications of this research are deep. With all the attention in the world of technology on data to understand everything about humans, it may be the tiniest of living things that speak volumes.

[Media credit: Home Microbiome Project/Argonne National Lab, Human Genome via Science]

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Mystery (Partially) Solved: Stonehenge Was a Complete Circle

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Microgripper_holding_silicon_nanowires 1

For much of history, builders and makers fixated on the monumental—pyramids, cathedrals, skyscrapers, aircraft carriers. Increasingly, however, the cutting edge focus is smaller. Much smaller. The field of nanotechnology aims to build components or even entire machines so small they approach the atomic.

Tiny machines may cruise our bodies selectively releasing drugs, repairing cells, or hunting pathogens. Nanotechnology may yield materials with amazing new properties. But first we’ve got to learn how to manipulate matter on the tiniest scales.

Though nanotechnology is advancing, there is not yet a consistent, economical method of assembly. However, a new DARPA program called Atoms to Product (A2P) hopes to change that. The research focus of the initiative is to develop practical miniaturization and assembly methods at scales 100,000 times smaller than today’s most advanced techniques.

a2p

In addition to learning to better build nanoscale components and machines, DARPA is interested in making materials that exhibit useful nanoscale properties on human scales. Some of these, they say, include quantized electrical characteristics, glueless adhesion, rapid temperature changes, and tunable light absorption and scattering.

molecular nanotech“If successful, A2P could help enable creation of entirely new classes of materials that exhibit nanoscale properties at all scales,” DARPA program manager John Main said in a news release, “It could lead to the ability to miniaturize materials, processes and devices that can’t be miniaturized with current technology, as well as build three-dimensional products and systems at much smaller sizes.”

Main notes that such assembly naturally occurs in plants and animals, each of which is made up of cells and proteins a million or a billion times smaller than the organism itself. He hopes to enable similar assembly for manmade materials and devices.

Though the announcement didn’t specify exactly what approaches will be pursued, a few fascinating methods we’ve covered for making on tiny scales include specially folded DNA and 3D printed structures with nearly nanoscale details. (See video.)

Though Atoms to Product is a new program, it isn’t DARPA’s first foray into nanotechnology. The agency has funded research over the years, including prior study of tip-based nanofabrication using Atomic Force Microscope cantilevers and tips (these are a bit like record player needles with tips a few atoms wide).

Will the agency’s latest nanotechnology efforts yield a breakthrough? Maybe, maybe not. But DARPA is known for early involvement in hugely influential technologies like GPS, the internet, and graphical user interfaces. Recent projects include self-driving cars and advanced robotics (among an array of other emerging technologies).

DARPA’s work is often of the moonshot variety. Not all of it will necessarily have immediate impact. But when it does work, it tends to go big. Advanced nanotech is in that category. More practical approaches to building on the nanoscale could have wide ranging influence from health and medicine to manufacturing and materials science.

Learn more about the research at DARPA.mil, “Atoms to Product: Aiming to Make Nanoscale Benefits Life-Sized.”

[Image Credits: Nanob, Walter Denkins; Microscale gripper holding silicon nanowires, Cristian Mølhave/Wikimedia Commons]

You Can Stream a Crazy Amount of Good Kung Fu on Netflix Right Now

Netflix has a lot of kung fu, and almost all of it is great. I say almost because some of it is very terrible, such as Protector 2. Recently added to Netflix’s roster and starring Muay Thai superstar Tony Jaa, the Protector 2 is the culmination of terrible CGI choices and a half-assed plot. Luckily, Netflix has much better to choose from.

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So Ryan Adams' New Punk Rock EP Is Actually Pretty Good

Alt-country crooner Ryan Adams typically makes music fit for a rom-com’s opening credits, but he has a lesser-known punk side, and 1984 showcases the best of it.

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rsa food

Powerful lectures chock full of information sometimes can be challenging to process and the need for visualization is so great that ultimately it takes an organization like the RSA to find a highly creative way to illustrate this valuable content.

The London-based RSA, or Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce, is a 258-year-old charity devoted to creating social progress and spreading world-changing ideas. In videos using whiteboard-like sketching that have gone viral over the years, they pull audio from their free events and animate sequences as an innovative way to share complex information.

In case you missed some of the best they’ve offered over the last year or so, we’ve collected a few of these shorts here as your Saturday food for thought.

Food Rules for Healthy People and Planet
From his speech at the RSA, award-winning food writer Michael Pollan talks about how we need to become more mindful of what we eat, and how we can make food choices that are better for ourselves and our planet.

Pollan begins with an eye-opening statistic: In 2008, we grew enough food to feed 11 billion people. Half of it was not eaten by humans, but fed to animals to sustain our meat habit.

A common question about food is: ‘Can we produce enough food to feed everyone on the planet?” Michael Pollan shows us the question we should be asking is, “How can we properly use the abundance of food we’re growing to feed everyone?”

Growth is Not Enough
Even as global economic growth has quadrupled since 1970, mainstream projections indicate it will quadruple again by 2050. In this short, Kate Raworth, a renegade economist teaching at Oxford University, makes a powerful argument that while our politicians are hung up on keeping the growth curve rising, GDP does not tell us all we need to know about a country’s wealth and well-being.

As economist Simon Kuznets wrote in 1934, “The wealth of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measure of its national income.” Raworth argues we need to look beyond economic growth alone for a true measure of prosperity and progress.

She asks, “What if instead of starting with economic growth, we start with the fundamentals of what we care about. Everybody meets their human rights, living within the means of this planet. Then we ask, what kind of economic system would take us there?”

Re-Imagining Work
“71% of the American workforce is not happy at work”, begins Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer at Microsoft in this short on Re-imagining Work.

How can we get people more engaged, more productive, and happier at work? Is technology part of the problem, and could it also be part of the solution?

Coplin imagines what might be possible if more organisations embraced the full, empowering potential of technology and encouraged a truly open, collaborative and flexible working culture.

Know of other videos which explain big problems in a unique, visual way? Share them in the comments.

[Media credit: RSA]

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