Poopbots Running Amok In The Muck


Yes, dear reader, you read the gringa’s post title correctly, poopbots. And they are literally running amok in Boston’s subterranean muck. Mario and Luigi are pioneering waste miners delving the stinky depths of Boston’s sewers. They are gathering data from human effluence for epidemiologists so they can uncover even darker secrets of human health and behavior. So what does the future of poop collection and dissection look like?

MIT researchers involved in Senseable City Lab’s project, aptly named Underworlds, are on a mission to help scientists predict outbreaks of dangerous and deadly diseases. They also want to help discover some of the causes of chronic diseases whose origins in human health remain a mystery. And they believe clues to solving these mysteries lie deep in the sewers, secreted in what’s been excreted.

Project leader, Carlo Ratti, uses the example of influenza to explain. Before a widespread outbreak is evident in local hospitals, the virus could have already been detected in the human waste produced by those first afflicted. Once a city makes poop monitoring a regular thing, they can isolate and respond to any outbreak much more rapidly. Hopefully, future widespread epidemics can be prevented.

Mario and Luigi scan for industrial toxins, human biomarkers, and other chemicals related to contagious disease and chronic illnesses such as diabetes. It’s kind of like an urban poop census. The Environmental Protection Agency is completely on board with the idea of an urban poop census. They see this ambitious project as the latest advance in an inexpensive way to monitor public health in a timely manner that is relevant. The gringa believes that EPA agents are probably just glad to say good-bye to the days of scooping poop to fill their sample quotas.

Luigi and Mario are controlled remotely and use a GPS system to navigate. Within fifteen minutes of a flush, a fresh sample can be collected. By gathering samples so soon after a dump event scientists can determine the difference between chemicals a person is exposed to as opposed to chemicals a person ingested. The most common food products found in human waste thus far in the project are rice, wheat and beans. However, the occasional pomegranate seed collection makes for a nice surprise.

If the underworld of human poop analysis by robots interests you, Underworlds has its own website. Interested poop fans can gaze in wonder as data is disseminated to reveal what types of viruses are in the local water supply right alongside any bacteria or chemicals. If all goes well with Mario and Luigi, the state of Massachusetts may expand their poop inspection territory. The gringa suspects this will, indeed, be the case considering that even Kuwaiti poopers have been so impressed they have implemented their own poopbots in partnership with Underworlds.

Although MIT has long been heralded for the many scientists and engineers and mathematical geniuses who have graduated there, now, it will forever be remembered as the institute of poop pioneers. Better a pioneer than just a lowly pile, is what the gringa says!

Sources:

qz.com

underworlds.mit.edu

senseable.mit.edu

 

Image Credit: https://blog.adafruit.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/2368.jpg

 

 

 

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What Does Your “SNIP” Say About You?


A team of researchers have been studying 17 “snips” and recently published their findings in Nature Genetics. “Snips” are known as genetic tweaks found in DNA. These scientists delved deep into the genetic material of thousands of humans who participated in the study, all hoping to contribute to the future of medicine by doctors and patients, alike, being able to discover reliable genetic markers that will indicate certain diseases.

One of the lead researchers involved in the project is a Harvard psychiatrist, Professor Roy Perlis, who serves as Associate Director of the Psychiatric Genetics Program for Massachusetts General Hospital. His greatest hopes have been realized in the findings of the research. Discovered were genetic variations that occurred consistently in people who suffered with depression. What is the potential of this discovery in providing relief for depression sufferers and possibly preventing its development in a person who is genetically marked as a potential candidate?

There exists private genomics companies where a client can basically spit in a cup, have their DNA analyzed and learn any number of secrets that may be hiding there, like the potential for developing depression. This type of information, long before the onset of an illness, can transform healthcare as we know it. Rather than show up at a psychiatrist’s office in a full-blown state of debilitating depression, a person can begin preventative measures far in advance, thus improving their chances for a depression-free life of the highest quality.  This could potentially save patients and health insurance providers thousands of dollars per patient throughout that patient’s lifetime (and this could possibly be the motive behind some of the loudest critics).

The findings of the research determined 17 DNA markers linked with Major Depressive Disorder. Some of these variations are also connected with other psychiatric disorders thus connecting depression as a role player in the development of other forms of mental illness. If depression is, say, step one down the road of developing schizophrenia, imagine how many lives can be saved from such suffering if that single step can be avoided altogether.

Because effective treatment of any mental illness depends on patients self-reporting their symptoms and cooperating with treatment measures, mental illness is often under-reported and under-treated as a natural result of the mentally ill not having the capacity to recognize symptoms, or in denial of what they indicate, and often inconsistently participating in the critical component of treatment. By establishing awareness and beginning preventative treatment long before a patient becomes symptomatic, the chances of long-term success are greatly increased because medical professionals are dealing with a psychiatrically healthy  individual from the beginning.

The gringa sees all the critics and naysayers have to say. They are worried about misdiagnosis. They are worried about genomics companies offering unauthorized medical advice. But the gringa is not a Negative Nellie. The gringa is a Positive Polly. I believe that any person who is seeking out the services of a genomics company, willing to pay their own hard-earned money to get an analysis of their DNA in order to better understand their health risks, is a person who is not going to make bad decisions such as exploring medical treatment and advice from non-professionals. I also don’t believe they will be the type of people to be hampered with a misdiagnosis. I believe they will be some of the best informed patients a doctor will ever deal with. So enough with the criticism and embrace an advance in medical science that will most certainly save lives, preserve lives and improve the quality of those lives, as well as the lives of the loved ones surrounding them.

Sources:

www.nature.com

http://chgr.org/index-faculty_perlis.html

www.businessinsider.com

www.theguardian.com

Image Credit: images.boomsbeat.com

 

 

Scientists Have Feelings, Too


So often the subject of climate change is politicized and scientists are treated as if they have some kind of hidden agenda. The gringa assures the dear reader that most scientists are scientists because they love science. At their very core they are dreamers and artists who move through the world of science with an idealism that their knowledge can help make the world a better place.

So, rather than delve into criticizing these folks as being part of some sinister conspiracy to take over the world, think about how they feel about what they know and how everyone else is reacting to their publication of their work. It may very well change how you feel about the subject. Perhaps it may even light a fire within your own heart to do your best to be a part of changing the world for the better.

A website, www.isthishowyoufeel.com, has documented dozens of letters from scientists who study climate change. These letters are responses to  Author Joe Duggan who put this simple question to scientists: “How do you feel about climate change?” The gringa was extremely interested, to say the least.

I have only touched on highlights of their responses. To read the handwritten letters in their entirety (except for one that was typewritten), you will have to visit the website or, if you’re lucky, the most recent location where the letters are exhibited. You can also find that information on the website.

Professor Emeritus Neville Nicholls, School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment, Monash University, Australia is:

  • Confident we will adapt, reduce emissions and slow global warming

Dr. Anna Harper, Research Fellow, University of Exeter is:

  • Powerless about the power of those who are resisting action
  • Discouraged that the public is not understanding that we cannot wait to act
  • Frustrated that others cannot be convinced that we are being irresponsible
  • Optimistic for the opportunity to redefine how humans live
  • Hopeful in man’s creative and innovative talents

Professor Stefan Rahmstorf, Head of Earth System Analysis, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research is:

  • Frustrated to be in a nightmare where no one realizes the threat is real

Dr. Jessica Carilli, Assistant Professor, University of Massachusetts, Boston is:

  • Dismayed
  • Depressed at how humans have destroyed natural habitats and how so many don’t care
  • Powerless
  • Sad
  • Overwhelmed of the problem’s magnitude
  • Hopeful in politicians and grassroots movements that want to bring about change
  • Unwilling to give up
  • Amazed at human ingenuity to create solutions

Dr. Carlo Buontempo, European Climate Service Team Leader, Met Office Hadley Centre is:

  • Tired, especially of debating the subject
  • Outraged at the human species lack of response
  • Optimistic in collective knowledge

Agus Santoso, Senior Research Associate, University of New South Wales is:

  • Overwhelmed by the debate
  • Intrigued by the science
  • Tiresome of the political motivations behind debate of the subject

Professor Donald J. Wuebbles, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois is:

  • Concerned about the legacy we are leaving future generations
  • Hope in humanity’s history as problem solvers

Professor Mark Maslin, Professor of Climatology, University College London is:

  • Challenged because climate change makes all other global challenges worse
  • Optimistic as conditions continue to improve for humanity worldwide

This is just a sampling of a few of the letters that can be read in their entirety on the website www.isthishowyoufeel.com. The gringa loved reading all of these letters. I felt much closer to these elusive creatures that are so often reduced to lumps of data on paper.

Despite their levels of frustration, almost all of them are confident and hopeful. That speaks volumes to the gringa that if these folks are staring the facts and models in the face that predict the extinction of humanity, yet remain hopeful and confident that this problem can be averted, I will sleep well tonight. And, tomorrow, I will reapply myself to being a part of the solution.

How ’bout you, dear reader? How do you feel about all this mess?

Source: http://www.isthishowyoufeel.com

Photo credit: www.practicalpedal.com