Dirt is all around, I mean, truly, all around. We wash it off our produce, get it smashed into the soles of our shoes, and vacuum it out of our homes. But is dirt really that bad? The stories this week look at dirt as a source of antibiotics and a disposal method for chemical weapons. We also look at Ebola and other stories you may have missed.
Have a fabulous week!
DARPA has a new idea for eliminating chemical weapons—breaking them into safe compounds like oxides and earth metal salts, in other words, soil. Considering the drawbacks for current disposal methods, the agency’s Agnostic Compact Demilitarization of Chemical Weapons program has put out a call for proposals for a weapons-to-dirt plan.
Popular Mechanics—“The defense research agency is looking for a transportable system that can fit in a 40-foot-long shipping container and process at least 55 gallons of chemical weapons and precursor material every hour for a 48-hour period. Processing will be conducted near the chemical weapons storage site, use local materials (such as dirt of plant matter), and produce no hazardous waste.”
A study published this week in Nature looks at a new antibiotic, called Teixobactin, which could keep working for “longer than any other” before bacteria could develop resistance. It is still at least four years away from availability and can only treat gram-positive bacteria like staph, strep, and TB. And where was this new antimicrobial found? Dirt from a grassy field in Maine.
The Washington Post—“Most microbiologists only ever work with around 1 percent of microbes—the ones that will grow politely in the lab. But the rest refuse to grow on traditional growth media, like petri dishes. But there are potential antibiotics all over the world being created by plants, fungi, and microorganisms. Lewis and his colleagues sandwiched soil between two semi-permeable membranes, effectively tricking soil microbes into growing in a “natural” environment that was actually a lab culture.
Among the 10,000 organisms and 25 antibiotics they grew in this new type of culturing method is Teixobactin. It successfully obliterated MRSA and drug-resistant TB in cell cultures and in mice, and did so without any signs that the bacteria might become resistant to it.”
This Week in Ebola
Ebola has reached beyond health. Since the outbreak began, in Sierra Leone a combination of curfew, a ban on public gatherings, plummeting GDP, and inflation have fueled economic freefall. And remember when Texas nurse Amber Joy Vinson got on a plane to Ohio to shop for bridesmaid gowns for her own wedding? Well the store, announced it will be going out of business due to flagging sales and stigma of being the “Ebola” bridal store. The pharmaceutical industry is chugging along in creation of and testing of possible vaccines for the Ebola virus; all of this comes at a time where the number of deaths is over 8,200 and the number of cases stands at over 20,000. The Economist has an amazing series of charts, maps, and graphs that look at the scope of the outbreak.
Meanwhile, the British nurse diagnosed with Ebola is in critical, but stable, condition, and an American health care worker was transported to the Nebraska Medical Center’s specialized biocontainment unit for observation. Travelers from Mali will no longer face enhanced screening when they arrive in the U.S., as the last case in Mali was December 5 and there are no active cases in the country.
Lastly, there were two interesting first-person stories from those who have returned from West Africa. First, an NPR correspondent in Washington DC writes about the terrifying moment when he woke up with a fever within 21 days of his return from Liberia. Then, an Australian MSF nurse wrote about the “sheer brutality” of the Ebola virus he experienced while in Liberia.
Stories You May Have Missed
- In the continuing court case over whether or not Haitians afflicted with cholera after the earthquake can sue the United Nations, a U.S. District Court in Manhattan dismissed the lawsuit. A lawyer for the plaintiffs said they would appeal the ruling.
- The California Department of Health is investigating nine cases of measles which were linked to Disneyland or Disney California Adventure. Looks like even the most magical place on earth isn’t immune from contagious disease.
- A new vaccine awareness campaign, The Art of Saving a Life, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is highlighting the contribution of Edward Jenner and others. ASAL includes 30 commissioned worked of photography, visual art, and literature that tell the different ways vaccines have impacted history.
- In a leaked report from a chemical weapons watchdog, additional findings confirm that chemical weapons were used in Syria. However, the 117-page report does not clarify which side used them.
- Genetically modified mosquitos provide possibilities to control mosquito borne diseases like chikungunya and dengue, but do they also provide an opening for other mosquito species to flourish? Smithsonian investigates.
Image Credit: United Nations University