Issue 17

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In this issue:


  • How viruses infecting bacteria in your gut can sometimes be a good thing.

  • What to do about antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

  • Ants might one day put radiologists out of busines

  • Not all fats are equal, why you shouldn't get medical advice from TikTok, and fun animal highlights.


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What if we told you that "You are what you eat" might just be true after all?

In a previous issue, we mentioned the gut-brain axis, aka the signals being sent back and forth between your tummy microbes and your brain. In fact, there’s even an entire subdivision of the nervous system dedicated to keeping your brain in the loop on all the bacterial gossip in your gut.

Why do I keep hearing about this?

Mainly because scientists are just starting to unravel the various ways in which your gut bacteria can affect you and your brain. And that’s not even the whole story — just like you have bacteria living inside you, the bacteria have viruses called bacteriophages living inside of them (it’s a real Russian doll situation). This fact led a group of scientists to wonder whether the type of bacteriophages (phages) found inside gut bacteria could affect people’s brains.

The experiment: First, the scientists tested a group of people on a series of cognitive tests. They then collected poop samples from these folks (who said science can’t be glamorous?) to analyze the bacteriophages in their guts.

What did they find?

The phages in your gut can be roughly classified into two types. The first type (called Caudovirales) live rather peacefully within the bacteria for prolonged periods of time. The second kind (Microviridae) are the complete opposite, and regularly burst the host bacterium’s body from within. When the scientists looked at peoples’ scores on the cognitive tests, they found that individuals with a higher concentration of the peaceful phages tended to perform better. On the flip side, individuals with a higher concentration of the killer phages performed worse.

Couldn’t this just be a spurious correlation?

The researchers also carried out animal experiments showing that the link between phage composition and cognition was indeed causal (for more on that, we recommend checking out the whole paper here).

So how do I end up with more good phages and less bad ones?

Diet and age can influence the kinds of viruses that end up in your body. While age is beyond your control (unless you’ve discovered the fountain of youth, in which case, hit us up), eating less fatty foods and more dairy/probiotics can increase the relative concentration of peaceful Caudovirales within your gut microbiome.

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The Leak: According to a new study, the type of viruses living inside the bacteria that live inside of you can affect your cognitive abilities. Time to take better care of the little guys in your gut (after all, they are apparently the ones pulling the strings).

Thanks to Tiffany Zarrella for sending us this. Want to participate? Check out our Leak Curator program!


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While we're on the topic of bacteria...

You know how your doctor always insists that you finish your entire course of antibiotics? Well that’s because bacteria are notorious for developing antibiotic resistance. The reason that bacteria are so good at sidestepping treatments is that they replicate with lightning speed (by some estimates, they can double their population every 20 minutes). This breakneck replication creates plenty of opportunity for genetic mutations to emerge, which can end up allowing the bacteria to become resistant to certain drugs.

That seems tricky.

The even trickier part is that doctors generally don’t know which bacterial mutations are emerging inside a patient’s body. Nor do they know when these mutations are occurring or how they may or may not confer resistance. A recent study tried to tackle this very problem.

The experiment: The researchers collected poop samples (seriously, you will not believe how much of science is just poking around in poop) and spit samples from seven patients undergoing antibiotic treatment for an infection. They then ran DNA sequencing analyses on these samples to see if they could detect bacterial genome mutations as they emerged.

And?

The good news is that antibiotic resistance mutations were indeed detectable in real-time. The less good news is that these mutations were rather variable across patients, which means there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Nonetheless, this study shows that measuring bacterial mutations can help doctors make informed decisions about what drugs to prescribe a patient and when to change drugs.

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The Leak: A new study lays out a roadmap for monitoring bacterial resistance in patients. Next stop: taking the guesswork out of antibiotic treatments in favor of informed, personalized approaches.


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Think of ants as a nuis-ants?

What if we told you that they can be trained to sniff out cancer. You’ve probably heard stories about dogs using their noses to detect certain diseases, but according to a new study, ants can do the same.

Wait a second. Do diseases…smell?

Cancer cells are known to release chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). While VOCs aren’t always odorous to people, they can apparANTly be detected by ants.

The experiment: Ants were exposed to the odor of human cancer cells while simultaneously being given a sugar reward. Over time, the ants learned that to find their sweet treat, all they had to do was follow the smell of the VOCs. They ultimately got so good at this that they were even able to discriminate between the smells of two separate types of cancer.

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The Leak: Ants can be trained to successfully detect VOCs released by cancerous cells. So who knows — maybe one day instead of a biopsy, your doctor could just release some bugs near you to make a cancer diagnosis (more like cANTcer diagnosis amirite).


Trying to watch what you eat?

Might want to pay closer attention to the sources of fat in your food, because not all fats are equal. For instance, corn oil can contribute to weight gain far more than sesame oil, and rapeseed oil is best for the health of your gut (although thanks to inflation, we’re not sure we can afford any).


Does everyone on TikTok suddenly seem like an ADHD expert?

TikTok tried to become the new WebMD for ADHD and millions have latched onto the trend. But a new study estimates that 50% of that content is inaccurate or misleading.


Who's definitely invited to next year's pride parade?


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