Color’s new DNA test kit can identify inherited heart conditions

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Genetic testing company Color is mostly known for its DNA tests for cancer, but its most recent test kit is all about the heart. Color's new kit can detect predispositions to various inherited heart conditions, such as abnormal heart rhythms and any…
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Wandering Gut Bacteria Could Be Behind Conditions Like Lupus

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When scientists sequenced the human genome, it gave us an unprecedented (and organized) understanding of how genes affect our health. In recent years, researchers have taken a similar interest in understanding the human microbiome, and its impact on health — especially when it comes to the bacteria that thrive in our gut.

If you’ve ever taken a probiotic supplement, you already know that some bacteria are “good,” and that sometimes, not having enough gut bacteria can be detrimental, and even fatal. Science still has a long ways to go in fully understanding exactly how the microbiome influences our overall health, but researchers at Yale have made a discovery that’s given us a better sense of just how influential our gut bacteria can be. Especially if they decide to go rogue.

The Wandering Bacterium

The recent study, published in the journal Science, found that a specific type of gut bacteria can actually leave our gastrointestinal system and cause trouble elsewhere in the body. Furthermore, the researchers found that when that bacterium, Enterococcus gallinarum, relocates to other organs (like the lymph nodes, liver, and spleen) it appears to trigger an inflammatory response.

That response, such as the release of antibodies, seems to be linked to the development of autoimmune conditions like lupus.

The bacteria Enterococcus gallinarum, a type gut bacteria that can trigger an immune response when it relocates, appears under a microscope as blue and light orange spots.
Enterococcus gallinarum. Image Credit: Yale University

The team started by demonstrating the link in mice who had been genetically engineered to be susceptible to developing autoimmune diseases. They then confirmed that human patients with autoimmune diseases often have E. gallinarum in their livers.

Promisingly, the researchers also found that they could even suppress this autoimmune response in mice with an antibiotic or vaccine that targeted E. gallinarum. By keeping the bacterium from growing, they could reduce its impact on the immune system.

The Yale researchers aren’t the first to make the connection between the gut microbiome and autoimmune disease, but their research is now part of a much broader research effort to strengthen that connection. If clear cause-and-effect can be established between the onset of certain conditions with the presence of specific bacteria, the researchers believe that treatments to keep the bacteria at bay — such as antibiotics or vaccines — could stall, or prevent, the development of the autoimmune disease associated with it.

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Fitbit’s latest acquisition could help you manage health conditions

Fitbit is very familiar with the health care world, and its latest acquisition drives that point home. The company has bought Twine Health, whose centerpiece is a health coaching platform that helps you manage chronic conditions (such as diabetes an…
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Lawmakers call on US to extend conditions of Comcast-NBC merger

When Comcast acquired NBCUniversal back in 2011, the deal came with strings attached: among others, it had to abide by 2010-era net neutrality rules, provide affordable internet to low-income families and avoid discriminating against rivals. Well, a…
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Apple Supplier Denies Allegations Workers Endure Hazardous Conditions

A China-based Apple supply partner has been accused of having poor and even hazardous conditions for its factory workers by a local non-profit watchdog.

Workers at Catcher Technology stand on their feet for up to 10 hours a day in hot workshops, oftentimes handling toxic chemicals without proper protective clothing, advocacy group China Labor Watch alleged in a report on Tuesday. The report focused on conditions at a Catcher factory in Suqian, China — about six hours north of Shanghai.

Catcher manufactures iPhone casings and components for MacBooks. Rumors also claim that the company has been tapped to produce metal frames for an upcoming Apple AR headset.

Allegations

  • According to China Labor Watch, Catcher factory workers handle harmful chemical compounds without proper goggles or gloves to protect their hands or faces.
  • During their routine work, cutting oil may splash into their eyes and soak into the cotton gloves they are provided — leading to skin irritation, China Labor Watch reported.
  • The noise of cutting and blasting iPhone casings at the plant can reach up to 80 decibels. A level that, according to IAC acoustics, can lead to “possible damage” after eight hours of exposure.
  • In addition, China Labor Watch found that the factory’s floors are a slip hazard due to being slick with oil, and that the facility’s cafeteria food has caused sickness when eaten.

Workers at the Catcher factory make a base salary of about $ 302.84 U.S. dollars a month, about $ 1.38 an hour at the typical 55 hours a week that staff works. The low wages, allegedly, allow Catcher to keep their profit margins high.

Catcher Technology said that “none of the claims are accurate” based on their own investigations in a statement provided on Wednesday.

Apple, for its part, told Bloomberg that it maintains its monitoring staff at the Suqian facility, but sent an additional auditing team to the factory after China Labor Watch’s allegations surfaced on Tuesday. After interviewing more than 150 workers, Apple announced that it “found no evidence that Catcher was” violating the company’s stringent supplier standards.

“We know our work is never done and we investigate each and every allegation that’s made,” an Apple spokeswoman said. “We remain dedicated to doing all we can to protect the workers in our supply chain.”

Of course, the sheer scale of said supply chain makes it incredibly difficult for Apple to properly monitor and enforce its standards, Bloomberg reported.

This certainly isn’t the first time that a prominent Apple supplier has been accused of providing poor conditions for its workers. Just this month, a suicide at a Foxconn plant reignited concerns over working conditions at the massive iPhone assembler.

In its 2016 supplier responsibility report, Apple said it conducted comprehensive audits of a record 705 sites across its supply chain. In the report, Apple said the number of high-performing suppliers jumped by 59 percent, while low-performing plants decreased by 31 percent.

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China Labor Watch again cites Apple for poor Chinese factory working conditions

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Apple has come under fire again for working conditions in an iPhone and MacBook enclosure manufacturing facility, with workers allegedly undertrained, and lacking sufficient hazard protections.
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Workers describe harsh conditions at Apple supplier Catcher’s facilities

Apple supplier Catcher Technology has been accused of dire conditions for its employees who produce machined aluminum casings for iPhones and MacBooks at a manufacturing complex in the Chinese industrial city of Suqian, about six hours’ drive from Shanghai…. Read the rest of this post here


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Lab-Grown Skin With Hair Will Illuminate Treatments For Skin Conditions

Sprouting Hair Follicles

For the first time ever, scientists have successfully grown hair follicles from cultures of stem cells. Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine developed the new method for making hairy lab-grown skin from mouse pluripotent stem cells.

While it might seem like hair transplant mad science gone wrong at first, this method could be used to model diseases, develop therapies, or even treat skin disorders and cancers. Published online in the journal Cell Reports, this research builds on the team’s previous work developing a technique to grow inner ear cells from stem cells.

 Hair follicles (red) grow out of spherical skin organoids. Image Credit: Jiyoon Lee and Karl R. Koehler.
Hair follicles (red) grow out of spherical skin organoids. Image Credit: Jiyoon Lee and Karl R. Koehler.

The recent study was led by Karl Koehler, an assistant professor at IU School of Medicine. In an IU press release, Koehler said, “The skin is a complex organ that has been difficult to fully recreate and maintain in culture for research purposes. Our study shows how to encourage hair development from lab-grown mouse skin, which has been particularly troublesome for researchers to recreate in culture.”

This study identified stem-cell-culture conditions that allowed epidermis and dermis mouse cells to form a sphere-like cluster of cells called a skin “organoid.” Under these conditions, the organoids developed like skin in an embryo. Koehler elaborated in the press release, “After about 20 days, we were amazed to see that skin organoids sprouted hair follicles. The roots of the follicles protrude from the skin organoids in all directions.”

Lab-Grown Skin

After validating their findings, the researchers have begun to explore the theoretical applications of this work. Jiyoon Lee, a postdoctoral fellow in Koehler’s lab and first author on the study, thinks this research could one day allow scientists to create an entire skin organ from “scratch.”

“My hope is that by improving skin-in-a-dish models we can greatly diminish the sacrifice of experimental animals and ultimately help patients with skin-related issues live a better life,” Lee said in the press release.

An Exponential Timeline of Organ Transplants
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However, Koehler cautioned that there are still technological hurdles the team must overcome before this type of lab-grown skin can be applied in the ways that they intend. First, this experiment has not been performed with human stem cells yet. Additionally, the skin organoids are missing immune cells, blood vessels, and nerve endings that are found in skin that grows over bodies.

“The shape of skin organoids is another problem that needs to be addressed in the future,” Koehler elaborated in the press release. “Because the organoids are inside-out compared to normal skin, the layers of dead cells and hairs cannot be shed as they are normally, so we need to find a way to flip the structure of skin organoids.”

If and when these challenges are overcome, this technique could revolutionize research by providing a skin model that could be more effective and preferable to animal testing. Not only could these skin organoids push forward research into skin diseases and cancers, they could one day even provide suitable alternatives to traditional skin grafts.

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Physicists Have Created a Set of Conditions in Which Time Seems to Run in Reverse

While we all take for granted the fact that time’s arrow forever points towards the future, physicists have always had trouble showing why this is necessarily the case.

A mix of chloroform and acetone might seem like an odd place to hunt for clues, but researchers have used just such a combination to create conditions where for some purposes time actually appears to move backwards.

This research won’t take us on a journey to see dinosaurs, but it just might tell us why our Universe is stuck on a one way street.

The recent experiment conducted by an international team of physicists focused on a principal feature we often use to define time — the movement of energy.

Intuitively, time is pretty simple. We can remember the past and not the future, for example.

But when breaking things down into simple rules, we discover there’s no clear reason why a cause has to come before its effect. On the smallest levels, we can flip the formula describing the movements and interactions of particles and still get a useful picture.

So why doesn’t time wobble back and forth?

A clue lies in something called entropy. In a system cut off from gaining energy — such as our Universe — things tend to go from ordered to disordered, giving large scale systems a bias in how energy is distributed.

In terms of the laws of thermodynamics, that means you can’t put a hot object in a cold room and expect the room to get colder and the object to get hotter. Hot things tend to cool down.

Even if this doesn’t tell us exactly why time exists, thermodynamics gives us a sloping direction to investigate.

Various experiments have shown that, even on a quantum level, particles will generally behave in a way that’s dependent on initial starting conditions. In other words, they’re moving forward.

Are there limits to this generalization? Apparently so, at least according to the results of this experiment.

The team looked at chloroform, a molecule made up of a carbon atom connected to one hydrogen and three chlorine atoms.

The researchers used a strong magnetic field to line up the nuclei of the carbon and hydrogen atoms when the molecules were suspended in acetone, and manipulated a property of their particles called spin.

This allowed them to ‘listen in’ on their behavior as they slowly heated the nuclei using nuclear magnetic resonance.

Playing by the rulebook of time, as one nucleus warms up it should transfer its random movements to colder particles until they’re both the same temperature, a change that would be recognisable in their respective energy states.

In normal conditions, that’s exactly what happened. But the researchers found a rather intriguing exception when the particles were correlated.

This means certain probabilities became locked together over a distance thanks to previous interactions, a little like a softer version of quantum entanglement.

The particle correlation made a significant difference to how energy was shared between the bodies — the heated hydrogen particles got even hotter, while their colder entangled carbon partner got colder.

In other words, the study revealed the thermodynamic equivalent of reversing time in a very tiny pocket of the Universe.

“We observe a spontaneous heat flow from the cold to the hot system,” the team writes in the study.

The research was published on the pre-review website arXiv.org, which means we do need to be cautious in how we interpret the results.

And, to be clear, the work is limited to a very small scale — it won’t give us a flux capacitor we can use to swing back to the ’60s. But it does show the arrow of time isn’t absolute.

The demonstration also provides promising details on where quantum mechanics and thermodynamics overlap, which is itself an exciting brave new world physicists are still teasing apart.

On a practical level it shows how heat can be channeled in strange ways using the rules of quantum physics, which could have some interesting technical applications.

Exactly how these observations scale up from tiny to macroscopic systems the size of a Universe is something for future experiments to investigate.

In any case, it could help fill in some of the gaps in understanding why the dimension of time leans so heavily in one direction.

You can read the study on the pre-print server arXiv.org.

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