'Immortal' flatworms: Weapon against bacteria

A novel mode of defense against bacteria such as the causal agent of tuberculosis or Staphylococcus aureus has been identified in humans by studying a small, aquatic flatworm, the planarian. This discovery was made by scientists in the "Unité de Recherche sur les Maladies Infectieuses et Tropicales Emergentes" (CNRS/IRD/Inserm/Aix-Marseille Université), working in collaboration with the "Centre Méditerranéen de Médecine Moléculaire" (Inserm/Université Nice Sophia Antipolis) and other national and international research groups. Their work, published in the journal Cell Host and Microbe, highlights the importance of studying alternative model organisms, and opens the way towards new treatments against bacterial infections.

By studying an original model organism, an aquatic flatworm called the planarian, scientists have succeeded in identifying a novel mode of defense against bacteria such as the causal agent of tuberculosis (Mycobacterium tuberculosis). Present in a latent state in humans, this mechanism could be stimulated by pharmacological intervention.

Scientists in the "Infection, Genre et Grossesse" (I2G) team led by Eric Ghigo had the idea of working on the planarian Dugesia japonica after observing that the discoveries made using classic immunological models (such as the Drosophila melanogaster fruit fly or the Caenorhabditis elegans roundworm) were dwindling. Previously, this flatworm was mainly known for its extraordinary regeneration capacities, which make it potentially immortal (it cannot die of old age). It is also able to resist bacteria that are highly pathogenic or even fatal in humans, as discovered by the research team < the only one in the world to have initiated immunological studies on this organism.

To understand the reasons for such an efficient immune defense mechanism, the scientists studied the genes expressed by the planarian following its infection by bacteria that are pathogenic in humans, such as M. tuberculosis, S. aureus and the causal agent of Legionnaires' disease (Legionella pneumophila). They were thus able to identify 18 genes that make the flatworm resistant against these pathogens.

The scientists focused on one of these genes ­ MORN2 ­ which is present in the human genome and was found to be essential for eliminating all the bacteria tested. The team over-expressed this gene in human macrophages, the white blood cells responsible for eliminating pathogenic agents by digesting them (a process called phagocytosis). Thus stimulated, the macrophages became capable of eliminating the S. aureus, L. pneumophila and M. tuberculosis bacteria as well as many other pathogenic agents.

Detailed study of the mechanism of action of MORN2 revealed that it favors the sequestration of M. tuberculosis in an intracellular cavity (the phagolysosome) where the bacterium is destroyed. In fact, the causal agent of tuberculosis usually succeeds in escaping this fate, so the bacterium can then remain in a latent state in the cells and reappear when the immune system becomes weakened. This discovery thus opens the way towards new opportunities in the fight against M. tuberculosis, antibiotic-resistant strains of which are becoming increasingly widespread.

This research also demonstrates the usefulness of "exotic" model organisms such as the planarian. Indeed, the MORN2 gene has been lost during the evolution of classic model organisms such as the D. melanogaster fruit fly, although it has been conserved in humans. Without the use of this new model, the mechanisms of the human immune response discovered during this study would have remained unknown.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange) . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Minecraft Fans Spooked by Talk of Microsoft Acquisition

The word is that Microsoft may acquire Minecraft, the wildly popular game that lets you create your own virtual worlds, and Brent Smithurst isn’t very happy about it.

Minecraft is a big part of his life and the lives of his two sons, aged five and ten. “My sons mostly ignore TV and much of their computer time is spent being creative in Minecraft,” he says. “I love it because it teaches them problem solving, logic, and creativity.” But they play Minecraft on Macs, iPads, iPhones, and the Sony PlayStation 3 game console—not Microsoft devices—and Smithurst is worried that if Microsoft acquires the game, it will be left to wither on such machines.

His attitude is indicative of many who play the game. After the The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that Microsoft is nearing a $2 billion deal to buy Mojang, the company that runs Minecraft, countless fans have vented their displeasure online. Though these complaints will likely have little effect on the acquisition tasks, Microsoft does run the risk of alienating some of the game’s biggest supporters and losing them to other games, such as Roboblox , Mario Maker, and various Minecraft clones such as the free and open source Minetest.

Smithurst asked his ten-year-old son Riley what he would do if someone ruined Minecraft. “I don’t know,” he responded. “Something might come out that is really amazing and creative, but I don’t know what.”

It’s also worth noting that the founder of Minecraft and the biggest shareholder in Mojang, Markus “Notch” Persson, has expressed similarly deep concerns over this type of acquisition in the past. Big corporations operate in very different ways from startups like Mojang, and those disparate attitudes don’t always mix. That could scupper the acquisition altogether.

Considering the popularity of Minecraft, the deal does, on the whole, make good sense for Microsoft, a company that aims to run games across not only its Xbox One game console but also its Windows tablets and phones. According to the New York Times , which also cites anonymous sources, the deal is meant to ensure that Minecraft, which isn’t currently available for Windows Phone or in the online Windows Store, runs on all of Microsoft’s platforms.

What’s less clear is whether Microsoft would support updates to the game on other, non-Microsoft devices and platforms. Microsoft declined to comment, and neither Mojang nor Persson responded to our request for comment. For people like Smithurst, the worry is that Microsoft will treat Minecraft like Halo, the game it acquired in 2000. After the acquisition, Halo became the flagship title for the Xbox, and although the game was eventually released for Macintosh OS X about two years after the Xbox release, the game’s sequels were developed only for Microsoft platforms.

At the same time, Smithurst and others worry that a major corporation—be it Microsoft or any other—just won’t know what to make of a game like Minecraft. Much of Minecraft’s success is largely due to Persson bucking game industry trends. While the major game companies pursued increasingly flashy graphics, Persson opted for a decidedly low-fi style. And unlike many other newcomers to the field, Persson built for traditional desktop PCs first, instead of pursuing trendy new platforms like mobile and Facebook. And instead of selling subscriptions or in-game items, Persson sold the game for a flat fee. These decisions, and the general independent spirit of the game, won over legions of fans of all ages.

Nate Angell, another parent of Minecraft-playing kids, is worried that Microsoft will make the game the game less creative and inspiring. “My concern over a [Microsoft] acquisition is that what Minecraft now opens would constrict,” he says. “Sudden appearances like rabbits could be less magic if they come from Redmond.”

But perhaps these attitudes indicate that a marriage between Microsoft and Minecraft isn’t on the cards. Though he hasn’t publicly commented on the WSJ, Persson sounded a lot like these Minecraft when he so publicly vented his opinion of another merger of a grassroots virtual reality project with a big name tech corporation. Persson was among the many backers of the Oculus virtual reality headset who spoke out again its acquisition by Faceboook. “There’s nothing about their history that makes me trust them,” he wrote of Facebook, “and that makes them seem creepy to me.”

In 2012, Persson had contributed $10,000 to the Kickstarter campaign that bootstrapped Oculus. That entitled him to a trip to the company’s offices, and while there, he had discussed the possibility of building a special version of Minecraft that would work with the Oculus headset. But after the deal with Facebook, he dropped the idea. “Facebook is not a company of grass-roots tech enthusiasts,” he wrote. “Facebook is not a game tech company. Facebook has a history of caring about building user numbers, and nothing but building user numbers.”

Hacked Celeb Pics Made Reddit Enough Cash to Run Its Servers for a Month



If you saw Kate Upton or Jennifer Lawrence naked last week, there’s a good chance you saw them on the social news site Reddit. The self-proclaimed “front page of the Internet” was one of the main hosts of the celebrity nude photographs hacked from Apple’s iCloud accounts and leaked across the Internet. Over the weekend, Reddit cleaned up the portions of the site that hosted the stolen photos—but not before it had made a significant chunk of revenue from its role in the massive celebrity sext-spillage.

In just six days, Reddit earned enough money from the nude pics scandal to power its servers for roughly a month, says John Menese, the 33-year-old creator of a Reddit sub-forum expressly launched to share the photos. That statistic, he says, is based on how many times members of the subreddit paid for so-called Reddit “gold,” the $3.99-per-month premium accounts that users often gift to each other to bestow a few extra features and prestige. Each subreddit publicly displays the amount of server time paid for by its members’ Reddit gold, and Menese tracked his forum’s contribution until just before it went offline. His estimate of the site’s take from the sext scandal doesn’t include any advertising revenue the site may have made from the quarter billion pageviews Menese’s subreddit created during its short time on the web.

“If Reddit had wanted to, they could have banned us on Sunday when our traffic broke their servers,” says Menese, a 33-year old salesman at a Las Vegas call center. “Instead, they chose to milk a week of publicity and a month of server time in Reddit gold before they stepped in.”

Menese and another moderator of the subreddit, which they called TheFappening in a reference to Reddit’s lingo for masturbation, say that Reddit credited their users for paying for at least 27 days worth of site server time before the forum was banned Saturday. For comparison, that would mean it generated about half as much revenue from Reddit gold in six days as the site’s “programming” subreddit, the oldest on the site, earned in the four years since Reddit’s gold program was created.

Reddit staff didn’t respond to WIRED’s request for comment on its financial rewards from its TheFappening scandal. But one administrator admitted in a long note about the staff’s ambivalence on the issue that it had “hit new traffic milestones, ones which I’d be ashamed to share publicly.”

That immense traffic, however, already was waning when Reddit banned TheFappening. At its peak on September 1st, the site pulled in 141 million visitors in a day, according to numbers Menese accessed as a moderator of the subreddit. By September 2, it only attracted 45 million pageviews. By September 6, when Reddit finally pulled TheFappening from the site, the majority of the forum’s users visitors likely had moved on.

“It’s sad that Reddit already made their money and then made a show of banning the site,” says Menese.

That belated filtering, long after Reddit had received the majority of the scandal’s financial benefits, provides ammunition to critics; they accuse it of profiting from its anything-goes community at the expense of victims like the women whose photos were hacked from Apple’s iCloud accounts and subjected to its users’ horny feeding frenzy. The issue is particularly timely as the site seeks to raise a new round of investment at a valuation higher than $500 million. As T.C. Sottek wrote at the Verge, “Reddit is a kleptocracy that speaks to lofty virtues while profiting from vice,” and went on to compare TheFappening to “sexual assault, condoned by a state that earns revenue from it.”

In a statement on the scandal, Reddit CEO Yishan Wong was sympathetic but unapologetic about hosting the photos. “We understand the harm that misusing our site does to the victims of this theft, and we deeply sympathize,” he wrote. “Having said that, we are unlikely to make changes to our existing site content policies in response to this specific event.”

Menese, for his part, is unrepentant about his involvement in violating the privacy of a dozen innocent women. He argues that TheFappening only linked to the images, and that he wasn’t involved in their initial theft. He points to other existing corners of Reddit that host stolen nudes, like the “celebs” subreddit or “candid fashion police,” where users post creep shots of women under the guise of critiquing their fashion sense. “There are lots of other subreddits that have questionable content,” he says. “But they’re still up right now because people whose photos are on them don’t have lawyers.”

He’s still not sure why those sites—along with far more hideous ones like WatchPeopleDie and SexyAbortions—are allowed to persist while his own forum was banned. “Reddit basically stands up for free speech until it becomes inconvenient for them to do so,” he says.

Or, he might have added, until it no longer helps them pay their server costs.

How to Protect Yourself From Big Bank-Card Hacks

Bon Bon/Getty

With hackers stealing millions of credit and debit card numbers with seeming impunity from Target, Home Depot, and other retailers lately, it might seem as if there’s nothing the average consumer can do to protect themselves.

But you don’t have to rely on the security of Big Box retailers to shield you. With a couple of precautions, you can dramatically reduce the hassle and expense of a bank card breach if you are hit. Though you can’t guard against every scenario, a little op sec goes a long way.

Use Prepaid or Single-Use Cards for Ecommerce

There’s no liability for you when your bank card is ripped off and used fraudulently (as long as you report bogus transactions in a reasonable timeframe). But that doesn’t mean that having your card stolen is hassle-free. If you have automatic card payments set up for Netflix or your gym membership, you’ll have to cancel the card data for each account and update it when the bank issues you new digits.

Avoid the nuisance by using one card for recurring subscription charges, and a prepaid or one-time card number for shopping—especially around the holidays when the risk of a breach is much higher. Although it’s always possible that Netflix will get sprung as well, most high-profile card breaches have involved restaurants, retailers or card processors and the live transmission of unprotected data, as opposed to stored data that is, or should be, encrypted.

Single-use, or disposable, credit card numbers are tied to your real card number, but can prevent that number from being exposed if a site is hacked. Citibank, Bank of America and Discover all offer disposable card numbers. Prepaid cards, on the other hand, are independent of your real credit card account and allow you to feed money into an account at will, to maintain whatever balance you need to meet your shopping needs. If that number gets stolen, the card is easily replaced without affecting your main credit card account.

Never Use Debit Cards Except to Withdraw Funds at Bank ATM

With a credit card, you can always dispute fraudulent charges before you pay them. That’s not the case with a debit card, which is tied directly to your bank account. You can still get reimbursement for fraud on a debit card, but it will probably be well after the fact: hackers can drain your funds before you know the card number has been stolen.

So treat your debit card with extra security. Don’t use it at gas pumps or other spots prone to skimming. In fact, don’t use it for payments at all. Just treat it as an ATM card — and even then, watch out for covert PIN-capturing cameras or skimming devices affixed to a cash machine. Use debt cards only in bank ATM machines, not at in-store and in-casino ATMs where hackers and thieves can more easily tamper with the machines.

Why Apple Devices Will Soon Rule Every Aspect of Your Life


Alex Washburn / WIRED

The biggest thing Apple showed off Tuesday wasn’t a product, or even a product line. It was the way all of Apple’s products—and thousands more from other developers, manufacturers and services—now mesh together. It is like a huge ubiquitous computer now, all around us, all the time. The interface is the very world we live in.

“The product isn’t just a collection of features,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said, announcing his company’s new iPhone, “it’s how it all works together.” And really, this is true of the entire Apple line, the entire Apple experience.

Tuesday’s announcements laid open the scope of Apple’s ambitions in making everything in your life work together. A computer on every desk? Chump change. With the new iPhones, Apple Watch, Apple Pay, HomeKit, HealthKit, iBeacon and even CarPlay, Apple is building a world in which there is a computer in your every interaction, waking and sleeping.

A computer in your pocket. A computer on your body. A computer paying for all your purchases. A computer opening your hotel room door. A computer monitoring your movements as you walk though the mall. A computer watching you sleep. A computer controlling the devices in your home. A computer that tells you where you parked. A computer taking your pulse, telling you how many steps you took, how high you climbed and how many calories you burned—and sharing it all with your friends. A computer in your car. All of it the same computer: The computer in the sky that connects to the computer in your pocket and on your wrist and in your car, your office, and your home.

This is the new Apple ecosystem. Apple has turned our world into one big ubiquitous computer.

Imagine it is the morning, six months from now. You wake up as your Hue lights come alive, thanks to a setting in Apple’s HomeKit which also tells your Honeywell thermostat to turn on the heat. You want a quick breakfast, and head out for a run. Your Apple Watch tracks how far and fast you go, checks your pulse and counts your calories. It knows where you went, how many hills you climbed, and calculates how it measures up to your personalized fitness goals.

Apple CEO Tim Cook

Apple CEO Tim Cook Alex Washburn / WIRED

Back home, you select a podcast of the morning’s news from iTunes, which starts playing over the Sonos hardware you’ve installed throughout your house. As you walk from room to room, iBeacons follow you, as does the audio. Just then, your boss calls. You answer, and the call audio is routed over your home Wi-Fi network. As you walk to your car, it swaps seamlessly to LTE. You turn the key, and suddenly the call is playing over the speakers. Hang up, and the podcast picks up again where it left off. As you pull out of the driveway, your lights switch off, as does the heat.

On the way to work, you notice your calves are sore from the run. You ask Siri for a drugstore, and she directs you to a nearby Walgreens where you grab some Advil. You tap your watch on a terminal at the counter and Apple Pay debits your credit card. That reminds you. You raise your wrist and the watch springs to life. You ask Siri if there are any good Thai places close to the office. There are! You make a reservation on OpenTable with your Apple Watch (later, you’ll use the same app to pay for your dinner, too).

When you get to the office, your watch makes a note of where you park your car. You step out and take a deep breath. Your heart rate picks up just a bit as you glance at your wrist to see what awaits you today. Your watch notices, and sends it all to HealthKit. Good morning. It’s 8 a.m.

What’s truly amazing about all of this is that every piece of this gigantic computing puzzle is almost here already. Got an iPhone? You’re already in the system. Ubiquitous computing happened while we were sleeping. Sensors have filled in the world around us. They are with us everywhere we go. Now, the sensors we keep on our our bodies and in our homes can talk to each other in new ways, enabling things never before possible.

This is what Tim Cook means when he talks about how it all works together now. It is the entire stack of devices working in concert. The Apple ecosystem is like a swamp. The more we interact with it, the deeper we are drawn into it.

Fortunately, it is a very lovely swamp.

Final Fantasy’s Creator Is Jumping on the Free-to-Play Bandwagon

terrabattle 660


SEATTLE — The father of Final Fantasy has blown a lot of cash on free-to-play mobile games.

Hironobu Sakaguchi has, by his count, spent about 150,000 yen ($1,500) on Puzzle and Dragons, the mega-popular mobile puzzle RPG. “I thought, if I’m gonna spend money on it, I’m just gonna spend money on it until I’m happy,” Sakaguchi said.

Now the creator of one of the world’s best-known series of role-playing videogames is working on his own free-to-play mobile game, hoping some of that cash will flow in the other direction. WIRED caught up with Sakaguchi at Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle last month, where he was promoting his upcoming game to legions of Final Fantasy fans.

Terra Battle , produced by Sakaguchi’s studio Mistwalker, plays like a mashup of puzzle games and strategy RPGs. You build an army of warriors, then drag them around a grid of squares, attacking enemies by flanking them. The concept, Sakaguchi says, is based on a simplified version of the classic Japanese board game shogi called hasami-shogi, in which you aim to sandwich your opponent’s pieces between yours.

Sakaguchi has spent most of his career making big, bold console role-playing games. After he split Square Enix and left Final Fantasy behind, Sakaguchi launched Mistwalker, securing a contract with Microsoft to create two big RPGs, Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey, for Xbox 360. Later, he created The Last Story for Wii with Nintendo.

With opportunities to create huge console games drying up, Mistwalker’s focus is on mobile. RPG players used to paying a one-time fee and immersing themselves in Sakaguchi’s worlds for hundreds of hours at a stretch might balk at the idea of following him into the free-to-play realm, where you have to wait for an energy bar to refill before you can play again, where powerful characters are locked behind a randomized pay-to-play lottery system known as “gacha.”

Sakaguchi hopes Terra Battle won’t seem as stringent as, say, Puzzle and Dragons. “In some games, it’s really hard to get the rare characters; the percentage [of rare characters in the gacha lottery] is really low,” he says. In Terra Battle, he says he wants players have a significantly better chance of getting the rarer, more powerful characters added on to their teams.

A Little Help From His Friends

To get fans of Japanese RPGs to really, really want those extra characters, Sakaguchi is breaking out his Rolodex. After working with a veritable Who’s Who of game designers, artists and musicians over his long career, he’s calling on all of them to chip in with Terra Battle. Already on tap are Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu, original character artist Yoshitaka Amano, Final Fantasy XII director Yasumi Matsuno and Sonic the Hedgehog character designer Naoto Oshima.

Hironobu Sakaguchi.

Hironobu Sakaguchi. Mistwalker

Sakaguchi is dangling the possibility of these collaborations in front of fans as stretch goals a la Kickstarter, but instead of money, he’s seeking downloads. As more and more users download the Terra Battle app, more new characters, music and more get added to the game.

“The console game business is more about make it, ship it, and forget it,” Sakaguchi said. “Mobile games are more like a festival: You keep adding, and adding, and adding. Just yesterday, I went on Facebook and asked someone, ‘Can you make me a character?’ through Messenger.”

And if Terra Battle reaches two million downloads—all but guaranteed considering the marketing blitz and Sakaguchi’s name recognition—he says he’ll start work on a console game set in the Terra Battle universe.

“I want an MMORPG,” he says, meaning a massively multiplayer online game. “I want to keep the essence of what’s going on in [the mobile version of] Terra Battle.” The basic gameplay of aligning your characters in rows and flanking the enemy, that is, only scaled up to 3-D for the console world. But, Sakaguchi cautions, none of this is set in stone yet.

Sakaguchi says he may add even more collaborators—game designers he’s never worked with before, fans who win art contests, even other characters from other franchises. “There’s an opportunity where you can get characters from outside the Terra Battle world and plop them in,” he said.

His dream collaborator, he says, is someone he’s worked with in the past: Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama. “Again.”

Laura Hudson contributed to this story.

Hog workers carry drug-resistant bacteria even after they leave the farm

A new study suggests that nearly half of workers who care for animals in large industrial hog farming operations may be carrying home livestock-associated bacteria in their noses, and that this potentially harmful bacteria remains with them up to four days after exposure.

Researchers had believed that livestock-associated bacteria would clear from the noses of hog workers quickly -- within 24 hours. But this small study of hog workers in North Carolina, reported online Sept. 8 in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, suggests it can stick around longer. Much of the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria they carried were antibiotic resistant, likely due to the use of drugs both to treat sick hogs and to promote hog growth to ready them for market sooner. The longer the bacteria stick around in workers' noses, the researchers say, the greater the opportunity for them to potentially spread to hog workers' families, their communities and even into hospitals, where the bacteria have been associated with an increased risk of staph infections.

"Before this study, we didn't know much about the persistence of livestock-associated strains among workers in the United States whose primary full-time jobs involve working inside large industrial hog-confinement facilities," says study author Christopher D. Heaney, PhD, MS, an assistant professor in the departments of Environmental Health Sciences and Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Now we need to better understand not only how persistence of this drug-resistant bacteria may impact the health of the workers themselves, but whether there are broader public health implications."

In Europe, the children of livestock workers have been treated for infections caused by a new livestock-associated strain of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) that doesn't match the more widely found community- or hospital-associated strains. This suggests the children may have been exposed to MRSA strains through their family members who worked on livestock farms. Evidence of persistent carriage of this new livestock-associated strain and its drug resistance has led to restrictions on the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock overseas.

Statistics on the number of hog workers are tough to come by, but census data from 2007 suggest that there are roughly 292,000 livestock workers in the United States. In North Carolina, where the study was conducted, there are roughly 6,400 workers employed at 938 hog operations that reported hired labor.

The study, done in conjunction with researchers from the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health and the Statens Serum Institute and community organizers from the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help (REACH), involved 22 hog workers in North Carolina. Between June and August 2012, researchers recruited industrial hog workers to be studied for two weeks. In the first week, the goal was for workers to have at least a 24-hour stretch off from work. During that week, each participant collected nasal swabs in the morning before going to work and again in the evening, whether they worked that day or not. On the 14th day, they took two more nasal swabs. The longest time spent away from the farm was four days, with an average of two days among workers. Researchers later analyzed 327 separate nose swabs to see what kind of Staph bacteria they found, whether the strains were traditionally found in livestock or humans and whether the bacteria were drug resistant.

Eighty-six percent of the hog workers -- 19 of them -- carried at least one type of Staphylococcus aureus at some point during the study period, while 16 of them (73 percent) carried the livestock-associated strain at some point. In contrast, only about one-third of the general population carry a strain of Staphylococcus aureus associated with humans.

But 10 of the 22 workers (46 percent) were what the researchers call persistent carriers of livestock-associated Staph, meaning they had these strains in their noses all or all but one of the times they provided samples, even after leaving work at the animal confinements. Six of them persistently carried the multi-drug resistant kind of S. aureus, while one persistently carried MRSA.

Researchers found that even after up to four days away from the hog operation, the bacteria were still present in workers' noses.

Garden-variety staph are common bacteria that can live in our bodies without consequence. When they do cause infection, most aren't life threatening and appear as mild infections on the skin, like sores or boils. But staph can also cause more serious skin infections or infect surgical wounds, the bloodstream, the lungs or the urinary tract. Strains of staph like MRSA, which are resistant to some antibiotics, can be the most damaging because they can be very hard to treat.

MRSA is particularly dangerous in hospitals where the bacteria are hard to get rid of and the people there are the most vulnerable.

Heaney and the team are doing more research to see whether hog workers with persistent drug-resistant bacteria are spreading it to their family members and communities.

"We're trying to figure out if this is mainly a workplace hazard associated with hog farming or is it a threat to public health at large," he says. "To do that we need to learn more not just about how long workers carry bacteria in their noses, but how it relates to the risk of infection and other health outcomes in workers, their families, and communities."

Funding for this study was provided by the North Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Education and Research Center; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety; the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and a grant from the National Science Foundation.

"Persistence of livestock-associated antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus among industrial hog operation workers in North Carolina over 14 days," was written by Maya Nadimpalli, Jessica L. Rinsky, Steve Wing, Devon Hall, Jill Stewart, Jesper Larsen, Keeve E. Nachman, Dave C. Love, Elizabeth Pierce, Nora Pisanic, Jean Strelitz, Laurel Harduar-Morano, and Christopher D. Heaney.

Unseen Suburban Danger: Children Dying of Mosquito-Borne Diseases

James Jordan (CC), Flickr

James Jordan (CC), Flickr

Every once in a while a scientific paper pops up in my stream that makes me think, not Cool, or Ick, but: Wow, I had no idea. I’ve just read one, published last month in Pediatrics, which definitely falls into the last category. My extreme abbreviation of the findings: On average, more than 100 children and teens each year are made dangerously ill or paralyzed by infections carried by mosquitoes, and two die.

I think of mosquito-borne infections in the United States — that is, primarily West Nile virus, and the much less well-known La Crosse virus and Eastern equine encephalitis virus — as a problem of adults. I had no clue they were so dangerous to children. (And if I didn’t, most of you probably didn’t either.)

Here’s a more detailed breakdown.

The paper comes from researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Arboviral Diseases Branch, which is based in Colorado. It draws on data that state health departments sent to ArboNET, a CDC surveillance system for insect-borne diseases, between 2003 and 2012. Specifically, it examines the rates of illnesses caused by mosquitoes and ticks that occurred in people younger than 18 and that became “neuroinvasive”: that is, causing encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), meningitis (inflammation of the covering of the brain and spinal cord), paralysis, or death.

The numbers are startling — or, at least, they startled me. Over those 10 years, 1,217 children and teens developed meningitis or encephalitis from a mosquito-borne infection; 24 were paralyzed; and 22 died.

Some more detail about the main diseases responsible, which occur in different parts of the country at different levels of risk; across those 10 years:

There were 505 cases of neuroinvasive West Nile virus in children and teens, 14 cases of paralysis, and 3 deaths. That was a small fraction, just 4 percent, of the 13,108 neuroinvasive West Nile virus cases that occurred in the US; both West Nile and its most serious manifestations seem to be mostly an adult disease. The ill children were slightly more likely to be boys (61 percent of the total) and the median age of the victims was 12, though a third of them were 15-17. You probably think of a mosquito-borne disease as something that happens in tropical swampy areas, but these cases happened all across the US, in 41 states; the highest case counts were in Texas, California, Louisiana, Colorado, Arizona, Nebraska and South Dakota.

La Crosse virus, unlike West Nile, turns out to be a child’s disease, not an adult one. There were 754 neuroinvasive cases nationwide across the 10 years of the study, and 88 percent of them, 665, were in children and teens. Those included 10 cases of paralysis and 9 deaths. The sick kids were, again, more likely to be boys (62 percent), but the victim were younger overall, with a median age of 7. And the places where they were most at risk were quite different from West Nile. Though 21 states saw at least one case, 81 percent of the illnesses were concentrated in Ohio, West Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee, and 56 percent of them in just 29 counties in those four states.

Eastern equine encephalitis was much more rare — just 89 cases overall across the 10 years, 30 (34 percent) of them in children and teens — and also much more coastal: 87 percent of the cases occurred in Florida, Massachusetts, Alabama, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Louisiana or Georgia. But when it occurred it was very serious: Ten of the 30 child victims died. They were equally likely to be boys or girls, and they were young: The median age was 5, and 6 of the 30 were less than a year old.

Speaking just out of my own reporting, I don’t think the average US resident takes mosquito-borne diseases very seriously. We have some justification for that: It’s been decades since we experienced locally established malaria, and longer than that for yellow fever; and dengue and chikungunya are such new arrivals that we haven’t yet learned to fear them. So it’s difficult to wrap our heads around the possibility — low though it might be statistically — that an insect bite in the back yard could cause your child to be altered for life, or to die.

But these data show it is possible. To me, they make an urgent case for clearing out any standing water, keeping an eye on where kids and teens go in wild areas or woods, and forcing them to wear insect repellent, though they will probably hate it. The cost of not paying attention could be far too high.

Cite: James T. Gaensbauer, Nicole P. Lindsey, Kevin Messacar, J. Erin Staples and Marc Fischer. “Neuroinvasive Arboviral Disease in the United States: 2003 to 2012.” Pediatrics 2014;134;e642; originally published online August 11, 2014; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2014-0498

Philippe Starck’s Electric Mountain Bikes Boost You Up Hills in Style

Philippe Starck has designed everything from buildings and wind turbines to furniture and food. Now he’s turned his attention to battery-powered bicycles.

Electric bicycle maker Moustache Bikes tapped the French designer to create the M.A.S.S. collection, a series of four bicycles designed for different terrain: mud, asphalt, snow, and sand. The bikes, presented last month at the Eurobike trade fair, can be pedaled like any other bike but have an electric motor to help tackle those monstrous hills or lazy moments.

The bikes are powered by a Bosch lithium-ion battery that weighs 5.3 pounds and can be fully charged in 3.5 hours. How far you can go depends upon what you’re riding and where, but you’ll get at least 18 miles from the pack. Propulsion comes from your legs, of course, and a 250-watt Bosch motor that has five modes: Eco, tour, sport, turbo, or walk assist. Run it flat-out and you’ll zip along at 15.5 mph—28 mph if you’ve thrown a leg over the road-specific Asphalt model. Wheeeeeee!