Some thiings never change: Scientists say the bacteria circulating in the International Space Station are similar to those in homes on Earth. That’s the conclusion of researchers at the University of California, Davis, who analyzed bacteria collected by astronauts. “So ‘is it gross?’ and ‘will you see microbes from space?’ are probably the two most common questions we get about this work,” study co-author and microbiologist David Coil said. “As to the first, we are completely surrounded by mostly harmless microbes on Earth, and we see a broadly similar microbial community on the International Space Station (ISS). So it is probably no more or less gross than your living room,” he said in a university news release. Because the space station is completely enclosed, the microbes inside the station come from the people on the station and the supplies sent to them, Coil and his colleagues explained. According to study lead author Jenna Lang, “The microbiome on the surfaces on the ISS looks very much like the surfaces of its inhabitants, which is not surprising, given that they are the primary source.” Lang is a former postdoctoral scholar at UC Davis. “We were also pleased to see that the diversity was fairly high, indicating that it did not look like a ‘sick’ microbial community,” Lang added. For the study, the researchers highlighted some of the…  read on >

Hospital operating rooms produce thousands of tons of greenhouse gases each year, but changing the type of anesthesia used in surgery can help lower those emissions, researchers report. For the study, investigators assessed the carbon footprint of operating rooms at three hospitals: Vancouver General Hospital in Canada; University of Minnesota Medical Center in the United States; and John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, England. The annual carbon footprint of operating rooms in each hospital in this study ranged from about 3,200 metric tons of CO2 equivalents (CO2e) to over 5,000 metric tons of CO2e. A metric ton is 204 pounds heavier than a ton. Anesthetic gases accounted for 63 percent and 51 percent of all surgery-related emissions at Vancouver and Minnesota, respectively, but only for 4 percent of such emissions at Oxford. Other sources included energy use such as heating, air conditioning and ventilation. Anesthetic gases accounted for about 2,000 metric tons of CO2e at each North American site, 10 times higher than from the U.K. hospital. The difference is largely due to greater use of the anesthetic gas desflurane in the two North American hospitals, the researchers said. Changing from desflurane to cheaper, low-carbon alternatives could make a significant difference, according to the study published Dec. 7 in The Lancet Planetary Health. “Not only is desflurane a primary contributor to global anesthetic gas emissions, it…  read on >

What makes a poem touch your heart? New research suggests that poetry that triggers vivid mental images and positive emotions tends to be the most enjoyed. For the study, researchers had more than 400 people read and rate two types of poems — haikus and sonnets. “People disagree on what they like, of course,” said study author Amy Belfi, a postdoctoral fellow in New York University’s department of psychology. But, “while it may seem obvious that individual taste matters in judgments of poetry, we found that despite individual disagreement, it seems that certain factors consistently influence how much a poem will be enjoyed,” she said in an NYU news release. Study co-author G. Gabrielle Starr added that “the vividness of a poem consistently predicted its aesthetic appeal. Therefore, it seems that vividness of mental imagery may be a key component influencing what we like more broadly.” Starr, who was dean of NYU’s College of Arts and Science at the time of the research, is now president of Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. “While limited to poetry, our work sheds light into which components most influence our aesthetic judgments and paves the way for future research investigating how we make such judgments in other domains,” Starr said. The findings were published Nov. 30 in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. More information To…  read on >

With the traditional flood of holiday parties and festivities approaching, chances to drink excessively increase. So, what to do? Start by taking a closer look, now, at your drinking habits, one mental health expert suggests. “The holidays generate both positive and negative emotions, and drinking is one of the methods that people often use to cope,” said Dr. Karen Miotto, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Overwhelmed from the time-pressured schedules, people may see alcohol as a shortcut to relax,” she said in a UCLA news release. “While there is nothing wrong with enjoying yourself or unwinding, listen to your body and keep yourself safe. A hangover the next day is a large price to pay for a night of letting go with alcohol.” Besides using alcohol to unwind, another common reason people give for drinking is that it helps them get to sleep. “Alcohol can help people fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply for a while,” Miotto said. “But the sedative effects of alcohol can be deceiving because it is associated with decreased quality of sleep and rebound insomnia, a problem that occurs when you discontinue the substance that’s been helping you fall asleep.” Some people claim they’re not affected by alcohol. Some mistakenly feel they’re OK to drive after drinking. “With habitual, heavy drinking, people tend…  read on >

A once-monthly injection of the opioid addiction drug buprenorphine has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Millions of Americans are suffering from addiction to opioid drugs, and millions more are worried that the overdose epidemic could claim the lives of a friend or loved one,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said Thursday in an agency news release. “We need immediate actions to help those suffering from an opioid use disorder transition to lives of sobriety,” he added. The new dosage provides patients with “access to a new and longer-acting option for the treatment of opioid addiction,” Gottlieb noted. The United States is in the grip of an opioid epidemic, with the number of overdose deaths quadrupling between 2000 and 2015, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And Johns Hopkins researchers recently reported that deaths from drug overdoses rose from about 52,000 in 2015 to more than 64,000 in 2016. Most of those deaths involved opioids, including prescription pain medications such as fentanyl and oxycodone (Oxycontin), as well as the illegal drug heroin. Hence, the need for more and better treatments. “Medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction uses drugs to stabilize brain chemistry, reduce or block the euphoric effects of opioids, relieve physiological cravings and normalize body functions,” Gottlieb explained. There are three FDA-approved drugs for treatment of opioid addiction:…  read on >

Think cigars are safer than cigarettes? Think again, new research warns. Nicotine levels in so-called “small” or “filtered” cigars were found to be equal to or greater than that found in cigarettes, according to the study by researchers at Penn State’s College of Medicine. “There seems to be a perception in the public that cigars are not as harmful as cigarettes,” study author Reema Goel said in a university news release. “But our study shows that nicotine is pretty high in this class of cigars, and future regulation that affects cigarettes should also affect these cigars.” Goel is a research associate with the Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science at Penn State. Small cigars are nearly identical to cigarettes in appearance, although they are wrapped in leafy tobacco rather than paper. The study involved eight common brands of small cigars. It used machine-puffing simulators to compare their nicotine delivery levels with that of two types of cigarettes. Using two different methods for measuring nicotine, the research team found that, with both, the average amount of nicotine delivery was notably higher among small cigars than with cigarettes. “These products are basically cigarettes,” co-author John Richie, a professor of public health sciences and pharmacology at Penn State, noted in the news release. “They’re as harmful to you as cigarettes, if not more so. “It’s very important for the…  read on >