Three Short Reviews of Three Short Reads

Photo: Ariel Zambelich/WIRED

Photo: Ariel Zambelich/WIRED

Six days in to my month of reading only single-serving content like Kindle Singles, I feel like I’m behind. I’m only through three titles, which kind of defeats the purpose of an encapsulated experience every time you sit down to read. Despite it being Summer Reading Season, I still have a job; and this week was particularly busy, what with all the Apple news, visiting asteroids, the revamped Obamacare website and other excitement.

OK, enough apologies; here’s what I got into:

The Rover , by Drew Magary

I love Magary’s work, especially his stuff on Deadspin, and I was interested to see if he could bring the casual tone of his online work to fiction. He did! This is a neat story about a bored older man and his emotional attachment to a space vehicle that lands in his yard. It’s only 23 pages long—about perfect for a bedtime story—with a narrative arc a lot like an 80s movie: improbable event occurs –> protagonist has an adventure stemming from that event –> minor twist ending.

No Exit , by Gideon Lewis-Kraus

Yes, this story ran in WIRED and you can read it for free. But hold that click! The Kindle Single version is an extended cut, significantly longer than what you’ll find online or in the magazine—and it’s absolutely worth two bucks. Hell, I work here, I get the magazine for free, and I shelled out. No Exit is an amazing reality check on the popular mythology of Silicon Valley. You think it’s all piles of easy money and baby billionaires? Well, OK, there is a lot of that, but Lewis-Kraus’ beautifully written piece offers a rare glimpse of the grind that goes with the gold rush. At 48 pages, this one took me two sittings, but it’s just about right for a day at the beach.

Baghdad Country Club , by Joshuah Bearman

This came out in 2011, and I heard so much about it at the time. Then I read it, and, honestly, I shrugged. BCC tells the story of an entrepreneur who opens a bar in Baghdad’s Green Zone, and all of the acrobatics that feat required. The details are fascinating. But the story trips over those details a lot, and the arc doesn’t flow. It’s almost like you can feel the writer (who also wrote the WIRED story that became Argo ) struggling to make use of his amazing reporting. And the reporting is amazing. One fun note: I bought the 42-page piece off The Atavist and sent it to my Kindle. Then, when I sat down to read, I noticed it started at Chapter 2… See, the story begins with a video, which my Kindle couldn’t play. So read this one on your iPad, or watch the video on your laptop like I did. Then crawl into bed. (You can opt for a text-only version, but the video is pretty cool.)

Fecal source tracking in Norwegian water catchments: New methods

The Norwegian Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research, Bioforsk, has tested and implemented a set of methods for the detection of fecal pollution in Norwegian watercourses. The methods, which combine microbial and molecular biological techniques, can give answers as to whether the contamination is a result of human or animal excreta. In addition, the methods provide grounds for assessing whether the water pollution poses a health risk or not.

Fecal contamination in water is one of the most common reasons for human diseases. Molecular methods can reveal if the contaminants derive from human or animal excreta. The methods also provide a basis for determining whether water contamination constitutes a health risk or not.

Fecal water contamination occurs when excreta from humans or animals enter a water source due to e.g. sewage leakage or inadequate wastewater treatment.

As of today, it has not been customary in Norway to specify whether the contamination source derives from humans or animals. This has made it difficult to implement efficient measures against fecal water contamination, which in return makes it difficult to reduce contaminant exposure and potential health risks associated with it.

This is about to change. The Norwegian Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research, Bioforsk, has tested and implemented a set of methods for the detection of fecal pollution in Norwegian watercourses. The methods, which combine microbial and molecular biological techniques, can give answers as to whether the contamination is a result of human or animal excreta. In addition, the methods provide grounds for assessing whether the water pollution poses a health risk or not.

E. coli as indicator for fecal contamination

Fecal contamination measured in terms of the indicator bacteria E. coli can be the result of wastewater leakage, effluent discharge after inefficient sewage treatment, or agricultural runoff containing animal fecal matter entering surface and/or groundwater. The contamination happens if E. coli enters water, either directly from the contaminative source, or indirectly via e.g. soil irrigation with fecally contaminated water or use of organic animal-based fertilizers. The latter is particularly a problem after heavy rainfall with subsequent runoff.

Most strains of E. coli are harmless, but some groups, such as Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, STEC, contain types of E. coli which are particularly pathogenic. STEC is also the only group of E. coli which is transmitted from animals to humans through food and waterborne infection. It is therefore important that e.g. drinking water does not contain it.

Two-step method for contaminant detection

Adam Paruch from Bioforsk is one of the researchers involved in the testing of the new methods for determining the source of fecal contamination in water. He points out that there are several microbial methods for the detection of E. coli in water, but up until now, it has not been common practice in Norway to use molecular biology to determine exactly where these bacteria stem from, i.e. whether the source is human or animal. This has rendered it difficult to implement effective and target-specific measures against the contaminative source.

"The tool set for tracking contaminative sources consist of two steps. The first is to perform a microbiological test to determine whether a water source is affected by fecal contaminants or not. To do this we carry out a standard 18-hour test for the detection and quantification of E. coli in water samples. In the second step, which is based on genetic markers, we only concentrate on the fecally positive water samples from the first step. The well characterized host associated markers, e.g. for humans, cows and horses, can be detected both qualitatively and quantitatively. This helps us to quickly identify the major sources of contamination in a water catchment, " Paruch says.

He has collaborated closely with Lisa Paruch, a molecular biologist at Bioforsk, in testing the tool set on various smaller catchments in Norway. The results obtained so far clearly indicate that molecular analyses can be very useful for determining the specific source of fecal contaminants in water.

Methods reveal health risk potential of bacteria

In addition to fecal origin discrimination (i.e. human vs. non-human) and further identification of principle pollutants, the two researchers' analyses also included another test which rendered it possible to determine whether the bacteria present in water was pathogenic or not.

"The molecular methods used in our experiments can determine the seven most common STEC serogroups, which includes E. coli O157:H7 which induces serious illnesses and even deaths among humans. By combining microbial and molecular biological techniques, we are in the process of establishing an efficient analyses set which can provide us with exclusive supporting information for public health risk assessment," Lisa Paruch says.

Call for collaboration with authorities

In Norway, this is the first time molecular and microbial biological methods are combined in a tool set to track sources of fecal contamination in water. As of today, the methods have only been tested on a few small catchments. The plan now is to invite Norwegian environmental authorities and municipalities suffering from contaminative waters in partaking in collaborative efforts to test the methods further.

"We know that fecal contamination doesn't only derive from wastewater, so for the appropriate measures to be implemented, it is important that we find out what the actual contamination source is. Now we have established a tool set of methods which can provide us with information on this," says Trond Mæhlum, Head of Department at Bioforsk Soil and Environment.

"By implementing host-specific genetic markers from e.g. cows, horses, pigs and birds in a standard analyses set, we can use these methods to find out which target-specific measures need to be implemented to limit the discharge of fecal contaminants to waters. This can protect humans and our environment from potentially pathogenic E. coli from human and animal feces. Our hope is that authorities working with environmental, health and food security issues are interested in testing and implementing these methods further in cooperation with us," he says.

Infection in malaria-transmitting mosquito discovered

Researchers have found the first evidence of an intercellular bacterial infection in natural populations of two species of Anopheles mosquitoes, the major vectors of malaria in Africa. The infection, called Wolbachia, has been shown in labs to reduce the incidence of pathogen infections in mosquitoes and has the potential to be used in controlling malaria-transmitting mosquito populations.

"Wolbachia is an interesting bacterium that seems perfectly suited for mosquito control. However, there were strong doubts that it could ever be used against field Anopheles populations," said Flaminia Catteruccia, associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and at the University of Perugia, Italy. "We were thrilled when we identified infections in natural mosquito populations, as we knew this finding could generate novel opportunities for stopping the spread of malaria."

The study appears online June 6, 2014 in Nature Communications.

Anopheles mosquitoes are the deadliest animal on the planet. They are responsible for transmitting malaria, which causes more than 600,000 deaths each year and puts half of the world's population at risk for diseases. Wolbachia infections spread rapidly through wild insect populations by inducing a reproductive phenomenon called cytoplasm incompatibility (CI), and 66% of arthropod species are infected. However, it was commonly thought that Anopheles mosquitoes were not natural hosts for Wolbachia infections, and attempts to identify infections in these mosquitoes in the field had failed.

Co-author Francesco Baldini, from University of Perugia, Italy and HSPH, in collaboration with researchers from CNRS, France, collected Anopheles mosquitoes from villages in Burkina Faso, West Africa, and analyzed their reproductive tracts. Their objective was to identify all the bacteria in the reproductive systems of both male and female mosquitoes; they were not looking directly for Wolbachia. To their surprise, they found a novel strain of the infection, which they named wAnga.

The researchers say they can now investigate whether the wAnga strain shares properties with other Wolbachia strains, which could make control strategies possible by inducing CI and reducing Plasmodium (the parasite that causes malaria) numbers in Anopheles mosquitoes in the field. "If successful, exploiting Wolbachia infections in malaria mosquitoes could reduce the burden of the disease globally," said co-author Elena Levashina, from the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard School of Public Health . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

9 Toys You’ll Need to Celebrate Ghostbusters’ 30th Anniversary

Today marks a very special anniversary: three decades exactly since the premiere of Ghostbusters, the movie that let Bill Murray flirt with Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis pretend to be a dog, and introduced Slimer to the world.

To celebrate the anniversary, Ghostbusters is getting re-released for one day only in a couple of months. However, that screening alone might not be enough to recreate the joy you had when first seeing the movie as a kid, but don’t worry—that’s what all the new toys released to coincide with the anniversary are for.

With new releases from Lego, Minimates, and Funko POP! (amongst many others), your inner child will once again remember what it was like to be afraid of no ghosts, even as your outer adult cringes at the thought of a potential Ghostbusters III without Harold Ramis. We’ve picked out some of the best toys that are part of the anniversary celebrations for you to add to your shopping list, alongside new proton packs and ghost boxes. Just remember not to cross the streams.