• High-ranking health officials are sounding the alarm about the growing resistance to antibiotics of two potentially deadly bacteria. The bacteria are: 1) Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriacae (CREs) (caused by Klebsiella pneumonia and certain kinds of Escherichia coli) and 2) Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Britain’s Chief Medical Officer and the Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) used such words as “nightmare” and “a catastrophic threat” in referring to the rapidity with which these bacteria are developing resistance to our most powerful antibiotics.
CREs cause bladder, lung and blood infections, and about half the patients infected with CREs die. Staphlococcus aureus, which causes MRSA, is an opportunistic bacterium that reproduces rapidly and, if unchecked, can overwhelm the immune system. The antibiotics carbapenem, Bactrim and vancomycin are heavy-duty drugs, and every year more bacteria are showing signs of resistance to these and other antibiotics used to combat infections.
Are new drugs coming down the pharmaceutical pipeline to replace those becoming less effective? Unfortunately, the answer is no, for the rapid advance of resistance and the fact that antibiotics are used sparingly makes producing new drugs a poor investment for pharmaceutical companies like Merck, Pfizer, or GlaxoSmithKline. (Nature, July 25, 2013; npr.org/blogs/health, Mar. 5, 2013)
• A medical condition called sepsis can result from an infection that cannot be controlled. What happens is that the immune system launches a massive response, and chemicals released from immune cells trigger widespread inflammation that overwhelms the body. About 750,000 Americans suffer from sepsis each year, and up to 50 percent of these individuals die. (Sepsis Fact Sheet, NIGMS)
• Johnny Depp, who played Edward Scissorhands in the movie of the same name, now has a 505 million-year-old fossil named after him. A paleontologist discovered a shrimp-like fossil with a pair of three-pronged claws extending from the front appendages. In recognition of Depp’s portrayal of Edward Scissorhands, the fossil was named Kootenichela deppi (Nature, May 30, 2013)
• Since we know pollution from coal-fired power plants causes health problems, is it possible to compare how many air-pollution related deaths occurred worldwide? A pair of former NASA scientists examined historical data and calculated that nuclear power has prevented 1.84 million deaths. It was also estimated that nuclear power has prevented 64 gigatons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, about the amount that coal fired power plants would have released during this same period. Of course, there is a price to be paid for substituting nuclear power for that from natural gas and coal-fired plants. Astronomical costs are involved in building and maintaining nuclear plants, in processing nuclear waste, and then ultimately decommissioning the plants (Environmental Science Technology, vol. 47, p. 4889, 2013)
• Few people accept that our memories are, more often than not, inaccurate. Research has repeatedly shown that recollections are often repressed, distorted, added to, edited and even fabricated without our conscious knowledge. Memories are not retrieved as if the experience were videotaped, and then simply replayed to recall the experience. In fact, a given memory is reassembled each time we access it, which provides the opportunity for our brain to edit the memory depending on our mood or bias. (Mind, Mood & Memory, 2010, Mass. General Hospital, Norwalk, CT)