Powerful Antibiotic Discovered Using Machine Learning For First Time

science - Posted On:2020-02-21 02:14:58 Source: slashdot

A powerful antibiotic that kills some of the most dangerous drug-resistant bacteria in the world has been discovered using artificial intelligence. The Guardian reports: To find new antibiotics, the researchers first trained a "deep learning" algorithm to identify the sorts of molecules that kill bacteria. To do this, they fed the program information on the atomic and molecular features of nearly 2,500 drugs and natural compounds, and how well or not the substance blocked the growth of the bug E coli. Once the algorithm had learned what molecular features made for good antibiotics, the scientists set it working on a library of more than 6,000 compounds under investigation for treating various human diseases. Rather than looking for any potential antimicrobials, the algorithm focused on compounds that looked effective but unlike existing antibiotics. This boosted the chances that the drugs would work in radical new ways that bugs had yet to develop resistance to. Jonathan Stokes, the first author of the study, said it took a matter of hours for the algorithm to assess the compounds and come up with some promising antibiotics. One, which the researchers named "halicin" after Hal, the astronaut-bothering AI in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, looked particularly potent. Writing in the journal Cell, the researchers describe how they treated numerous drug-resistant infections with halicin, a compound that was originally developed to treat diabetes, but which fell by the wayside before it reached the clinic. Tests on bacteria collected from patients showed that halicin killed Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bug that causes TB, and strains of Enterobacteriaceae that are resistant to carbapenems, a group of antibiotics that are considered the last resort for such infections. Halicin also cleared C difficile and multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii infections in mice. Three days after being set loose on a database of about 1.5 billion compounds, the algorithm returned a shortlist of 23 potential antibiotics, of which two appear to be particularly potent. "[The senior researcher] now wants to use the algorithm to find antibiotics that are more selective in the bacteria they kill," adds The Guardian. "This would mean that taking the antibiotic kills only the bugs causing an infection, and not all the healthy bacteria that live in the gut. More ambitiously, the scientists aim to use the algorithm to design potent new antibiotics from scratch." Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Neanderthals may have interbred with a much older human lineage

Science - Posted On:2020-02-20 17:14:59 Source: arstechnica

Shortly before the publication of the first Neanderthal genome, a number of researchers had seen hints that there might be something strange lurking in the statistics of the human genome. The publication of the genome erased any doubts about these hints and provided a clear identity for the strangeness: a few percent of the bases in European and Asian populations came from our now-extinct relatives.

But what if we didn't have the certainty provided by the Neanderthal genome? That's the situation where we find ourselves now, as several studies have recently identified "ghost lineages"—hints of branches in the human family tree for which we have no DNA sequence but find their imprint on the genomes of populations alive today. The existence of these ghost lineages is based on statistical arguments, and so it is very dependent upon statistical methods and underlying assumptions, which means they're prone to being the subject of disagreement within the community that studies human evolution.

Now, researchers at the University of Utah are arguing they have evidence of a very old ghost lineage contributing to Neanderthals and Denisovans (and so, indirectly, possibly to us). This is undoubtedly going to be a claim that others in the field contest, in part because the evidence comes from an analysis that would also revise the dates of many key events in human evolution. But it's interesting to look at in light of how scientists deal with a question that may never be answered by definitive data.

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Human activities responsible for more methane emissions than thought

Science - Posted On:2020-02-20 13:30:01 Source: arstechnica

It’s called the “bomb curve”—a drastic spike in the amount of radioactive (but harmless) carbon-14 in the atmosphere, ushered in by the nuclear age. Scientists can sometimes utilize it as a marker in time when it’s captured by something like tree rings, for example. But the bomb curve can also obscure answers by muddying the waters. That includes the question of just how much methane emissions human activities have released.

Different sources of methane emissions, ranging from plant decay in wetlands to bubbling seeps around mud volcanoes, come with different signatures of carbon isotopes. Geological sources of methane are quite old, giving any carbon-14 plenty of time to radioactively decay and disappear. Carbon in methane from recently alive plant material, on the other hand, will still have about the same amount of carbon-14 we find in the atmosphere (where it is continually produced).

So if the share of carbon-14-bearing methane in the atmosphere were to decrease, you could determine that “old carbon” methane emissions were increasing. The “bomb curve” ruins that trick by introducing a new variable that has nothing to do with categories of methane emissions. And that has made it harder for researchers to figure out how certain natural sources of methane compare to human-caused emissions. We know how much is going into the atmosphere, but we don’t quite know exactly how much of it is our fault.

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Two passengers from coronavirus-stricken cruise ship die in Japan

Science - Posted On:2020-02-20 12:45:00 Source: arstechnica

Two former passengers of the Diamond Princess cruise ship have died in Japan after contracting the new coronavirus as it ran rampant among the 3,711 people on board.

The two deceased passengers were an 87-year-old man and an 84-year-old woman, both Japanese, according to the Japanese health ministry. Local media reported that they had been taken from the ship to hospitals on February 11 and 12. Both had underlying health conditions, according to local media.

The deaths are the first reported from the cruise ship’s COVID-19 outbreak, which has hit 621 confirmed cases since the first case detected February 1. According to local media, 27 others sickened on the ship are in serious condition. Given that preliminary estimates of the disease’s mortality rate in China is around 2 percent, experts at the World Health Organization said Thursday that they were not surprised by the cruise ship deaths.

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Coronavirus cuts Chinese carbon emissions by up to 25 percent

Science - Posted On:2020-02-20 12:30:00 Source: arstechnica

On Monday, we discussed the possibility that the coronavirus outbreak could interrupt global trade and just-in-time manufacturing, causing car makers to miss ambitious new European carbon emissions regulations. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but in the meantime, the virus has had a concrete effect on CO2, and it's surprisingly positive when seen through the lenses of climate change and air pollution.

According to a report in CarbonBrief, the disruption to China's economy has meant that the country has emitted about 25 percent less CO2 into the atmosphere over the past two weeks than it would if businesses were operating as normal. Traditionally, everything shuts in China for the Lunar New Year celebrations, then kicks back into gear a week later.

But not this year. Factories and other businesses have remained shuttered. Coal-use at power plants is at a four-year low. Oil and steel production are both lower than at any point since the Chinese economy suffered a slowdown in 2015. And domestic air travel has been seriously curtailed as the Chinese government attempts to contain the spread of the epidemic. All told, this equates to about 100 million fewer tons of CO2 in the atmosphere, or a 6 percent reduction of global emissions. Assuming that China's economy doesn't get put into overdrive to compensate, that could well mean that we see global CO2 levels remain flat or even possibly decrease slightly by the end of 2020.

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Japan’s space agency moving ahead with Phobos lander mission

Science - Posted On:2020-02-20 09:59:57 Source: arstechnica

Japan's space agency has finalized a plan to send a probe to the Martian moons of Phobos and Deimos, and it includes an ambitious lander to collect samples from Phobos to return to Earth.

The agency, JAXA, submitted the plan to the country's science ministry on Wednesday, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported. On Twitter, the Martian Moons Exploration (MMX) official account also announced that it had formally moved from design into the "development" phase of operations. The space agency estimated the total cost for the mission would come to $417 million.

The current plan calls for a 2024 launch of the probe on an H-3 rocket, a new booster built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and expected to debut late this year or in 2021. The MMX spacecraft would enter into orbit around Mars in 2025 and return to Earth in 2029.

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ICANN To Hold First-Ever Remote Public Meeting Due To COVID-19 Outbreak

science - Posted On:2020-02-20 05:14:57 Source: slashdot

penciling_in shares a report from CircleID: The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has announced that its ICANN67 Public Meeting, which was to be held in Cancun, Mexico, will now be held via remote participation-only. This decision was made as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, considered a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organization. The meeting, scheduled for March 7-12, 2020, marks the first time in ICANN's history that it will hold a Public Meeting solely with remote participation. "This is a decision that the ICANN Board has been considering since the outbreak was first announced and it is one that we haven't taken lightly," said Maarten Botterman, ICANN Board Chair. "We know that changing this meeting to remote participation-only will have an impact on and cause disruption to our community; however, this decision is about people. Protecting the health and safety of the ICANN community is our top priority." Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Chemotherapy For Cancer Could Soon Be Unviable Because of Superbugs

science - Posted On:2020-02-19 21:14:59 Source: slashdot

schwit1 quotes a report from MSN: Cancer doctors fear superbugs which can't be treated with antibiotics will soon remove chemotherapy as a treatment option for their patients, a survey has revealed. Cancer patients are more vulnerable to infections because the disease and its treatments can stop the immune system from working correctly. Of the 100 oncologists in the U.K. surveyed between December 20, 2019 and February 3, 2020 by the Longitude Prize -- which was established to tackle antimicrobial resistance in cancer care -- 95 percent said they were worried about the effect superbugs could have on their patients. An estimated one in five cancer patients need antibiotics during their treatment, according to existing research cited by the authors of the report, and cancers including multiple myeloma and acute leukemia can't be treated without them. The survey revealed that 46 percent of doctors believe drug-resistant bugs will make chemotherapy unviable. Some cancer treatments, which the report didn't name, will be obsolete in five years, 28 percent of the cancer doctors predicted. A further 39 percent forecast this would happen within the next decade, and 15 percent in two decades. Four in 10 (41 percent) said they had seen a rise in patients developing drug-resistant infections in the last year, with 23 percent of their cancer patients developing an infection during treatment on average. As many as 65,000 cancer patients are at risk of catching a superbug infection after having surgery in the U.K. in this decade, the data suggested. Among the doctors surveyed, 5 percent of their patients who had surgery developed an infection which didn't respond to antibiotics. A total of 86 percent of the doctors said the bugs Staphylococcus, E. coli and pseudomona put cancer patients at the most risk of serious harm. The research also highlighted frustrations clinicians have with the way infections are diagnosed, with 60 percent saying laboratories take too long to identify them in their patients. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Americans on coronavirus cruise ship barred from US after failed quarantine

Science - Posted On:2020-02-19 17:45:00 Source: arstechnica

On Wednesday, the initial 14-day quarantine aboard a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan, officially ended. But the grueling saga seems far from for over for the ship’s 3,711 passengers and crew.

As the quarantine time ran out, Japanese officials were still reporting dozens of new cases of COVID-19 aboard. As of Wednesday, the number of coronavirus infections linked to the ship total 621—by far the largest cluster of COVID-19 infections anywhere outside of China. The next-largest cluster outside of China is in Singapore, which has 84 confirmed cases.

Japanese health officials are facing international criticism for their handling of the quarantine on the ship, the Diamond Princess. The quarantine was intended to curb the spread of disease by keeping people aboard, isolated from each other and from the public on land. But as cases mounted over the two weeks, it became clear that the control efforts only enabled the new coronavirus to spread. In fact, the 621 cases include at least three Japanese health officials, who were there to support the quarantine efforts but ended up becoming infected themselves.

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Battery charging meets machine learning

Science - Posted On:2020-02-19 17:29:59 Source: arstechnica

Batteries tend to involve lots of trade-offs. You can have high capacity, but it means more weight and a slower charge. Or you can charge quickly, and see the lifetime of your battery drop with each cycle. There are ways to optimize this—figure out the fastest charging you can do without cutting into the battery life—but that varies from product to product and requires extensive testing to identify.

But perhaps that testing is not so extensive, thanks to a new system described in the journal Nature. The system uses a combination of machine learning and Bayesian inference to rapidly zero in on the optimal charging pattern for any battery, cutting the amount of testing needed down considerably.

Fast charging is obviously useful for everything from phones to cars. But when a battery is subjected to fast charging, it doesn't store its ions quite as efficiently. The overall capacity will go down, and there's the potential for permanent damage, as some of the lithium ends up precipitating out and becoming unavailable for future use.

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Can You Solve the 'Hanging Cable' Problem, Used as an Amazon Interview Question?

science - Posted On:2020-02-19 12:30:00 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader shares a problem that Amazon asks in its interviews: A cable of 80 meters is hanging from the top of two poles that are both 50 meters off the ground. What is the distance between the two poles (to one decimal point) if the center cable is (a) 20 meters off the ground and (b) 10 meters off the ground? Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Google parent pulls the plug on power-generating kite project

Science - Posted On:2020-02-19 10:29:57 Source: arstechnica

Google-parent Alphabet is shutting down its power-generating kites company Makani, the first closure of a so-called moonshot project since founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin stepped back from management in December.

Sundar Pichai, who took over as Alphabet chief executive, is under pressure to stem losses from the company’s “Other Bets” segment, which includes endeavors such as self-driving cars and Internet-providing balloons. Other Bets lost $4.8 billion last year—widening from a $3.4 billion loss in 2018.

Makani was acquired in 2013 and taken into the experimental “X” lab. It was developing airborne wind turbines that could be tethered to floating buoys, removing the need for the expensive ocean bed structures needed to support permanent turbines.

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Divided, we fall: How ant behavior mimics political polarization

Science - Posted On:2020-02-19 06:59:57 Source: arstechnica

Ants may be tiny critters with tiny brains, but these social insects are capable of collectively organizing themselves into a highly efficient community to ensure the colony survives. And it seems that the social dynamics of how division of labor emerges in an ant colony is similar to how political polarization develops in human social networks, according to a recent paper in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

"Our findings suggest that division of labor and political polarization—two social phenomena not typically considered together—may actually be driven by the same process," said co-author Chris Tokita, a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University. "Division of labor is seen as a benefit to societies, while political polarization usually isn't, but we found that the same dynamics could theoretically give rise to them both."

Tokita and his advisor/co-author, Corina Tarnita, were collaborating with a group at Rockefeller University that was using camera tracking to study ants—specifically, how division of labor emerges in very small groups (between 12-16 ants). Their job was to devise a model for a behavioral mechanism that would explain the patterns that the Rockefeller people had observed in their experiments. "Originally, we thought social interactions might play a part," Tokita told Ars. "But it turns out we didn't need to think about social interactions to capture their results."

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Researchers Combine Lasers and Terahertz Waves In Camera That Sees 'Unseen' Detail

science - Posted On:2020-02-19 02:14:58 Source: slashdot

A team of physicists at the University of Sussex has successfully developed the first nonlinear camera capable of capturing high-resolution images of the interior of solid objects using terahertz (THz) radiation. Phys.Org reports: Led by Professor Marco Peccianti of the Emergent Photonics (EPic) Lab, Luana Olivieri, Dr. Juan S. Totero Gongora and a team of research students built a new type of THz camera capable of detecting THz electromagnetic waves with unprecedented accuracy. Images produced using THz radiation are called 'hyperspectral' because the image consists of pixels, each one containing the electromagnetic signature of the object in that point. The EPic Lab team used a single-pixel camera to image sample objects with patterns of THz light. The prototype they built can detect how the object alters different patterns of THz light. By combining this information with the shape of each original pattern, the camera reveals the image of an object as well as its chemical composition. Sources of THz radiation are very faint and hyperspectral imaging had, until now, limited fidelity. To overcome this, The Sussex team shone a standard laser onto a unique non-linear material capable of converting visible light to THz. The prototype camera creates THz electromagnetic waves very close to the sample, similar to how a microscope works. As THz waves can travel right through an object without affecting it, the resulting images reveal the shape and composition of objects in three dimensions. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Why Are HIV Drugs Being Used To Treat the New Coronavirus?

science - Posted On:2020-02-18 22:44:59 Source: slashdot

Gizmodo's Ed Cara explains why HIV drugs are being used to treat the new coronavirus. An anonymous reader shares the report: On Tuesday, the Japanese government announced it will begin clinical trials to test treatments for the deadly new coronavirus that's engulfed China and spread to over two dozen countries. Rather than new drugs, they'll be studying existing medications already used to treat HIV and other viral diseases. But why exactly are researchers hopeful that these drugs can be repurposed for the new coronavirus, and how likely are they to work? The new coronavirus, recently named SARS-CoV-2 due to its close genetic ties to the SARS coronavirus, is made out of RNA. Other RNA viruses include the ones that cause Ebola, hepatitis C, and yes, HIV/AIDS. RNA viruses come in all shapes and sizes, and those that infect humans can do so in different ways. But many of the drugs that go after HIV and the hepatitis C virus broadly target weaknesses found in all sorts of viruses. The approved hepatitis C drug ribavirin, for instance, interferes with something called the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase, an enzyme essential for many viruses -- including coronaviruses -- to produce more of themselves inside a cell. HIV drugs like lopinavir inhibit other enzymes that allow viruses to break down certain proteins, which cripples their ability to infect cells and replicate. Broad antiviral drugs like lopinavir should be able to work against SARS-CoV-2, scientists theorize. And there's already some circumstantial evidence they do. Some of these drugs have been successfully tested out for SARS and MERS, for instance, two other nasty coronaviruses that have emerged in recent years. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Protein-Powered Device Creates Electricity From Moisture In the Air

science - Posted On:2020-02-18 20:29:58 Source: slashdot

Slashdot readers fahrbot-bot and operator_error share a report from Phys.Org: Scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed a device that uses a natural protein to create electricity from moisture in the air, a new technology they say could have significant implications for the future of renewable energy, climate change and in the future of medicine. As reported today in Nature, the laboratories of electrical engineer Jun Yao and microbiologist Derek Lovley at UMass Amherst have created a device they call an "Air-gen," or air-powered generator, with electrically conductive protein nanowires produced by the microbe Geobacter. The Air-gen connects electrodes to the protein nanowires in such a way that electrical current is generated from the water vapor naturally present in the atmosphere. The new technology developed in Yao's lab is non-polluting, renewable and low-cost. It can generate power even in areas with extremely low humidity such as the Sahara Desert. It has significant advantages over other forms of renewable energy including solar and wind, Lovley says, because unlike these other renewable energy sources, the Air-gen does not require sunlight or wind, and "it even works indoors." The Air-gen device requires only a thin film of protein nanowires less than 10 microns thick, the researchers explain. The bottom of the film rests on an electrode, while a smaller electrode that covers only part of the nanowire film sits on top. The film adsorbs water vapor from the atmosphere. A combination of the electrical conductivity and surface chemistry of the protein nanowires, coupled with the fine pores between the nanowires within the film, establishes the conditions that generate an electrical current between the two electrodes. "We are literally making electricity out of thin air," says Yao. "The Air-gen generates clean energy 24/7." Lovely adds, "It's the most amazing and exciting application of protein nanowires yet." The current generation of Air-gen devices can power small electronics, and they are expected to be brought to commercial scale soon. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Did birds still migrate during ice ages?

Science - Posted On:2020-02-18 19:14:59 Source: arstechnica

Even thought it was, in most ways, identical to the present planet, the Earth still looked very different at the bottom of the last ice age 20,000 years ago. The globe was around 4°C cooler on average, and ice sheets covered large portions of the Northern Hemisphere, including Canada and Scandinavia. One thing you might wonder, given how much of the planet was barely habitable, is what migratory species did.

Given the loss of all that habitat to mile-thick glacial ice and a reduced winter-summer contrast courtesy of Earth’s orbital cycles, some researchers have hypothesized that bird migration wasn’t much of a thing then. Is it possible that bird species turned this behavior on and off through the ice ages?

A team led by Yale’s Marius Somveille tested this idea with a model of the factors controlling migratory behavior—and it predicts patterns surprisingly similar to the present day.

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SpaceX Wants To Launch 4 Tourists Into Super High Orbit

science - Posted On:2020-02-18 19:14:59 Source: slashdot

SpaceX is working with Space Adventures to launch up to four tourists into a super high orbit, possible by the end of next year. "Ticket prices are not being divulged but expected to be in the millions," reports NBC Los Angeles. From the report: For this trip, paying customers will skip the space station and instead orbit two to three times higher, or roughly 500 miles to 750 miles above Earth. It's a lofty goal that would approach the record 850-mile-high orbit achieved by Gemini 11's Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon in 1966. The tourist flight "will forge a path to making spaceflight possible for all people who dream of it," SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement. SpaceX will use the same kind of Dragon capsule that will launch NASA astronauts to the space station, possibly in another few months. The capsule has flown only once in space so far, making its debut last year in a successful test flight without a crew. Space Adventures spokeswoman Stacey Tearne said the tourist flight could occur in the last quarter of 2021. The company is in discussions with "several potential clients." No professional pilot or astronaut will be required, Tearne said, because the Dragon is fully autonomous. But passengers will be able to control the spacecraft if required, she said in an email. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Almost Half of Connected Medical Devices Are Vulnerable To Hackers Exploiting BlueKeep

science - Posted On:2020-02-18 18:29:59 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: Connected medical devices are twice as likely to be vulnerable to the BlueKeep exploit than other devices on hospital networks, putting patients and staff at additional risk from cyber attacks. This is especially concerning when healthcare is already such a popular target for hacking campaigns. BlueKeep is a vulnerability in Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) service which was discovered last year, and impacts Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows Server 2008. According to figures in a new report from researchers at healthcare cybersecurity company CyberMDX, 22% of all Windows devices in a typical hospital are exposed to BlueKeep because they haven't received the relevant patches. And when it comes to connected medical devices running on Windows, the figure rises to 45% -- meaning almost half are vulnerable. Connected devices on hospital networks can include radiology equipment, monitors, x-ray and ultrasound devices, anesthesia machines and more. If these devices aren't patched, it's possible that destructive cyber attacks searching for machines vulnerable to BlueKeep could put hospital networks -- and patients -- at risk. "One of the key problems for hospitals is that many devices are classed as obsolete: Windows 7, for example, is vulnerable to BlueKeep and no longer supported by Microsoft, but remains common across hospital networks," adds ZDNet. "Any further vulnerabilities uncovered in Windows 7 -- and other out-of-support operating systems -- aren't guaranteed security patches, leaving networks potentially at further risk going forward." Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Are Plastic Containers Safe For Our Food? Experts Say It's Hard To Know

science - Posted On:2020-02-18 14:00:00 Source: slashdot

Many of us have an overflowing kitchen cupboard of plastic containers to store our leftovers. But as awareness grows over the health and environmental pitfalls of plastic, some consumers may be wondering: Is it time to ditch that stash of old deli containers? From a report: Only 9% of all the plastic waste ever created has been recycled. From its contributions to global heating and pollution, to the chemicals and microplastics that migrate into our bodies, the food chain and the environment, the true cost of this cheap material is becoming more apparent. There are thousands of compounds found in plastic products across the food chain, and relatively little is known about most of them. But what we do know of some chemicals contained in plastic is concerning. Phthalates, for example, which are used to make plastic more flexible and are found in food packaging and plastic wrap, have been found by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in measurable levels across the US population (including in the body of Guardian journalist Emily Holden). They have been linked to reproductive dysfunction in animal studies and some researchers have suggested [PDF] links to decreased fertility, neurodevelopmental issues and asthma in humans. BPA, another chemical widely added to food plastics and can linings, has been subject to increasing regulations after studies linked the chemical to neonatal and infant brain and reproductive harm. But BPS and BPF, two common replacements used in products marketed as "BPA-free," may have similar effects to their predecessor: studies out of both the University of Texas and Washington State University found that even at a dose of one part per trillion, BPS could disrupt cell functioning. A 2019 study from New York University linked childhood obesity with BPS and BPF. There are many other chemicals added to plastic during production, and researchers concede that many gaps remain in our understanding of how they affect health and development. But research that is adding to concerns about the "miracle material" is growing. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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